Being present for those grieving, Childhood grief, Collective Grieving, Connecting through grief, Coronavirus, Death, Grief, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Motherless Tribe, Moving forward after loss, Pandemic, Support groups, Talking grief

Power of Collective Grieving

I wrote an essay about mother loss and collective grieving in February of 2020. A prominent publication here in the U.S. thought it was an important piece and was set to publish it in March when the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe. As the weeks passed they pulled back, telling me their focus was now on COVID-19 stories and they no longer wished to purchase my essay. In honor of National Grief Awareness Day (August 30,2020) I’ve decided to share it to my personal blog because I think we should all encourage one another to talk more openly about grief, not less, especially during a global pandemic. With a few updates and edits, here is my piece.

In January 2020 I attended a Motherless Daughters’ luncheon in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, hosted by Hope Edelman, author of the bestselling book Motherless Daughters and upcoming book The Aftergrief. The occasion brought together twenty motherless women from several states including California, Oregon, Minnesota and New York. While gathered together for photographs on the beautiful grounds of Aldersgate Retreat Center we learned of an horrific helicopter crash in Calabasas, not far from where we were gathering. Several people lost their lives in the tragic accident including Kobe Bryant, a celebrity basketball player and his daughter, Gianna. Christina Mauser, a basketball coach and mother of three, also lost her life in the crash. Her bereaved husband, Matt, who was interviewed shortly after the accident, spoke of the comfort his eleven-year-old daughter gained from knowing that so many others were mourning along with them.

Every day people lose loved ones to illness, tragic accidents and age-related diseases. Now more than ever families are worried about COVID-19 and the health and well-being of people closest to them. When someone we love dies our lives are forever changed, trajectories once assumed and imagined thrown into chaos.  As a young child, born and raised in Ireland, I became acquainted with uncertainty and death too early in life. My mother died from ovarian cancer when I was eleven years old, following a lengthy illness and suffering. How I responded to such an impactful loss has changed over the years, depending on various chapters and stages of my life, but grief and anxiety have followed me into adulthood, a relentless cautioning to remain alert to both the opportunities and the dangers.

I sat in a brightly lit, spacious room that particular Sunday in January, a mile from the Pacific Ocean, with women whose mothers are no longer alive. Gathered together to network and share our hopes and fears as we move forward collectively and individually, we discussed future projects, meaningful accomplishments and past challenges, all stemming from having lost our mothers prematurely. Seated on comfortable rustic chairs and couches, we sought solace, companionship and validation from others in our tribe. The Los Angeles sunshine streamed in through large windows, warming us as we cried together and laughed. It took several of us years to get to this place but we all recognize how incredibly lonely the grief journey can be and how helpful it is to discuss loss with those who share a similar experience. Loss can leave one feeling as though no one could possibly understand your anguish but the process of expressing grief outwardly with others can be transformative.

I live in Portland, Oregon where I write on the topic of maternal loss and for me, the deepest healing began in my thirties after I started writing and sharing openly about my mother’s death. Over the years I’ve had opportunities to connect with women of all ages whose moms have died and I’ve come to understand the power of collective grieving. As we wrapped up our Motherless Daughter’s gathering at Aldersgate Retreat Center, twenty women stood side by side in a circle. We had permission to honor our mothers in that room, to say their names out loud. Glancing around at the other women, I recognized their expressions of hope, relief and gratitude. Tears were shed when the group session came to a close and we promised to stay in touch with one another moving forward.

As I edit this piece on the eve of National Grief Awareness Day, my thoughts return to Matt and Christina Mauser’s eleven-year-old daughter, who sought comfort in her father’s arms and expressed reassurance in knowing they were not grieving alone. That little girl’s stunning articulation gave me pause. Unable to verbalize my grief feelings for a large chunk of my life, I gradually came to understand the healing nature of grief expressed. Whether it is shared on the page, with a friend or in a support group, grief expressed in safe places and acknowledged by others can be exceptionally validating. US actor Chadwick Boseman, best known for playing Black Panther in the hit Marvel superhero franchise, died of cancer on August 28, 2020. Fans of the actor and people who knew him personally are expressing their grief on social media. Collective grieving offers us a unique sense of comfort. People dive in, expressing their sadness while feeling buoyed by the empathy and compassion of those who understand.

Every day during this pandemic humans around the world are collectively grieving. There is comfort in knowing we are not going through this alone. People can reach out to each other, across social media platforms, in an email or a handwritten letter, or by picking up the phone. We can do this today on National Grief Awareness Day because speaking openly about our grief can create powerful human connections. Our honesty and vulnerability leads not only to our own healing, but the healing of others.

~by Carmel Breathnach

Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

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Striking Acts of Decency

“Our house began flooding with constant visitors. We had night nurses on rotation who helped my father look after my mother but weekdays from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. others stepped in. Not every friend or neighbor was able to dedicate several hours a day on a weekly basis to my mother’s care but in their own ways they showed up. Showering us with kindness during my mother’s illness people stopped by with flowers, home baked brown soda bread, apple tarts and biscuits. They dropped off cards, well wishes, mass bouquets and cake. One lady patched up my jeans on a few occasions because my mother no longer could. A friend took home our ironing. My father’s cousin, a nurse, spent days at a time away from her husband in Dublin to help look after my mother. She taught me how to fold my clothes and how to bake chocolate eclairs. Relatives from all over Ireland visited every weekend. My mother, cocooned in love, slipped away from us gradually.”

An essay of mine combining the story of my mother’s death when I was 11, with the outpouring of kindness towards my father that I’m witnessing-long distance-from the US, during the pandemic, was published in Pendemic.ie yesterday. The above paragraph is an extract from the piece. Read the entire essay “Reports of Striking Acts of Decency” here. All writing submitted to the site since March 2020 will be preserved by Irish Poetry Reading Archive at UCD Library.

We are all going through a tough, challenging time at the moment, grieving a life we used to live and freedoms we took for granted. Far too many lives have been lost and continue to be lost. My essay was written to show readers that there is hope, we can inspire and lift one another, we can offer love instead of hatred and fear. Each one of us has our limitations but we can reach out in small ways to make a difference. I remember kindnesses shown to my family over thirty years ago. No kindness or act of love is too small.

Be well. Stay safe. Stay aware. Spread the love.

“No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.”

― Amelia Earhart

Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

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To My Readers Across the Globe

In the past three days alone, several people from countries spanning the globe visited my blog pages to read stories of mother loss & grief. In search of books by women/girls whose mothers have died (always the most popular search), gathering ideas for honoring mom at their upcoming wedding & reading of how others have lived beyond a mother’s death, these individuals are grieving a loss while simultaneously moving towards thriving. My blog stats offer (minimal) information about the diversity of readers, the searches entered into Google & the questions posed by people all over the world (obviously no specific details are given, just age demographics, country of search etc.) & while it blows my mind to see readers from across the globe it also reminds me of how connected in love we humans are.

In the past three days women & men from Afghanistan, the UK, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Ireland, Malaysia and the USA have clicked on my blog page. What powerful message does this bring? Grief is ubiquitous. Not one person alive won’t experience it. Anyone who comes to this blog is feeling a deep sense of loss & longing, a need for connection and advice on how to get through the challenging journey following a loved one’s passing. People want uplifting stories that might help encourage them and allow them to feel less alone in their journey. Love (& grief which is love with no place to go) is the common thread connecting each one of us, obliterating our differences.

Our stories are powerful. Vulnerability births connection.

Everyone here is going through something. Every human being across this planet loves, & everybody knows the pain of grief, or will, someday.

Mother loss is traumatic at any age & throughout our lives most people will experience it. For a child to experience mother loss (as I did when eleven years young) the trauma lingers & weaves its way in & out of our everydays. It’s necessary to talk about this stuff. Otherwise it lodges in our cells & causes debilitating pain. It is not a secret that we grieve & it is not something to be ashamed of.

Our sisters & brothers across this earth are reaching out to gather encouraging stories as they navigate loss. In just the past three days I see how many of you are here, reading my words, possibly in search of a piece of your story in mine. Our stories are unique and personal to us, as our healing journey will be, but the common thread is love and those of us who have experienced the death of a loved one can truly empathize.

I am honored & humbled to have the opportunity to share my story with people who need to read what I have to say. I’m grateful to have an online platform that somehow reaches individuals in these countries & the far corners of this incredible planet. We are all in this beautiful, painful, challenging, joyous place together. Experiencing the death of a loved one is excruciatingly painful and healing from this loss takes time and work. In my experience there’s no closure. The wound heals in time but reopens depending on circumstance. Life carries us forward, however, and we learn to live our fullest lives. Take your time with healing. Seek comfort in nature, words, stories, people’s kindnesses and know that you are not alone in feeling this type of pain. All over the world we are witnesses to heartache. I see you & because of this my heart is full this morning as I wish you all peace in your grief, love and safety and the strength to carry on as you navigate the rocky and meandering road ahead.

Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

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11 Ways to be Present for a Grieving Friend

1.Offer specific help & follow through

Do something helpful. Be of service. Doing practical things such as laundry, picking up groceries or washing the dishes for your friend is often what makes a difference.

2. Send a thoughtful card in the mail

There are no expiration dates for sending cards in the mail. Often it comes as a small blessing to receive it later because your friend is still grieving and everyone else has moved on. Make it loving and personal while avoiding useless clichés.

3. Bring them food

Your friend needs nourishment. Let her know that you are dropping food at her door and continue to do it for as long as you are able, after other people have moved on.

4. Remember important dates

Take note of those dates that your friend will never forget: anniversaries, birthdays and holidays, and pick up the phone or send a message to let them know you are thinking of them.

5. Speak the deceased person’s name

It is a blessing when a friend refers to a deceased loved one because we keep that person’s memory alive in recollections of their time with us. Your friend has not forgotten them, show him that you haven’t either and say that person’s name.

6. Let them talk. Listen

Bear witness, and allow your friend to be upset, angry, or to say nothing at all. Offer your compassion and presence, not a solution. There is no solution.

7. Be mindful

Sometimes people want to help but they don’t know what to say. Grief is messy. Be sensitive. What would you want to talk about in similar circumstances? What topic might be difficult for your friend to discuss right now? Watch your friend for cues. Pay attention to their body language. Or just ask.

8. Be patient

People often need to sit in the darkness for a while. Be a kind friend and sit with them.

9. Recall memories

If you have a memory of the deceased person, share it with your friend. It helps to recall moments of joy or hilarity. To a grieving person it is a gift.

10. Make introductions

When the time is right suggest some online support groups to your friend, or give him the name of a highly regarded local therapist. If you know someone in similar circumstances introduce them. It can be of great support to a grieving individual to meet new people or other families with similar experiences.

11. Continue to show up

After everyone else is gone be there for your friend. She is still grieving.

You can do this & together we will make the world a more loving, open, caring place! Hugs,

Carmel X

Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

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