Death, Grief, Grief Writing, Love, Memoir, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, On Writing, Write to heal

The Healing Letter

I often share with people how effective writing can be in the healing process. Penning my memoir A LOVELY WOMAN allowed me to express, and ultimately work through, many feelings I hadn’t touched on in years. Articulating our thoughts and feelings on paper can help us understand them better. If you are sad or grieving and you don’t know where to start perhaps penning a letter to the person you have lost might help.

Personally, I love writing with a pen. For me there’s something visceral about putting pen to paper; it’s an act almost as innate as taking a breath. I’ve been keeping a diary for most of my life now on a daily basis. But typing is faster and I do that too. I would suggest either method.

If writing a memoir or a book sounds daunting or not your style, perhaps try writing a poem. I have friends who have discovered profound healing through poetry writing. If poetry seems intimidating maybe writing a letter to your mother, or the person you are missing might be a good alternative. For those of us missing our mothers there are so many things we still want to say to them. You’ll know what those things are when you sit down and begin writing. If you don’t know where to start perhaps consider the following eight reflections:

  1. What I miss most about you is…
  2. What I wish I could tell you now is…
  3. What I wish I’d said or hadn’t said is…
  4. My strongest memory of you when I was growing up is…
  5. What’s most difficult for me now is…
  6. What I’d like to ask you is…
  7. What I’m most grateful for is…
  8. I’m keeping you close to my heart by…

Feel free to play around with the wording of the above prompts to suit your own situation.

Once the letter is complete keep your writing private and close to your heart if this is what feels right to you. Read your letter aloud in the privacy of your home, if you feel inclined. I do this a lot with my writing. Sometimes it brings on tears, but the emotional release can be powerful. Maybe you may choose to read your letter at the cemetery, the beach or a place that was special to you and your mother. Perhaps read it to a trusted friend? I keep most of my writing. You could find a special box for it, or keep it in a drawer beside your bed. Perhaps revisit it, add to it over time and watch how your answers grow. Or crumple it up and dispose of it if that feels more healing to you.

Writing cannot bring our loved ones back to us. But it can bring us a little closer to them with each thought and each wish we put down on the page. It helps us express what sometimes is difficult to express in words. Maybe just give it a try?

 “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” ~ William Wordsworth

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10 Books For Motherless Daughters, Death, Grief stories, Memoir, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, On Writing

10 Books I Recommend for Motherless Daughters

Beverly Cleary said “If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it.” I didn’t see the book I wanted. I didn’t see the book I needed, so I decided to write it. It took years. I haven’t found an agent for A LOVELY WOMAN, but I won’t give up. There are many, many motherless daughters out there who need to know that they are not alone. There are grieving children, devastated dads, inexperienced teachers, hurting grandparents and concerned friends who desperately want to read as much as they can on grief and loss so that they may learn and grow through other people’s traumatic experiences. There are people struggling to cope with a profound loss who want to move forward and take healthy children along with them. Books help. Through shared experiences we can heal. It took me years to believe that I had a story worth sharing.

My mother died when I was 11. She got sick when I was very young. I was, and am, blessed to have a supportive, loving, devoted father who raised me with care and kindness. I didn’t however have any friends who lost their mother and so I felt very alone in this. I longed to meet another little girl whose mother had died. And I didn’t find these ‘friends’ in books either. I’ve always been a reader but it wasn’t until my twenties that I found a book on mother loss that I could relate to.

Since then I’ve discovered several wonderful books written by women about the death of their mothers. These books have meant the world to me. Each one is unique, every story so personal, but as human beings we relate to the emotions and what tugs at our heart strings. The ability of the author/character to push through the pain empowers us. We read on. I’ve put together a list of my favorite books on mother loss. All but one are non-fiction and memoir. My list is in no particular order but I will begin with the ‘mother’ of all motherless daughters books.

1.MOTHERLESS DAUGHTERS: THE LEGACY OF LOSS by Hope Edelman

This book had a major impact on me. I hadn’t heard of MOTHERLESS DAUGHTERS until I moved to the USA in my late twenties and discovered the Portland Motherless Daughters group through meetup. This book deeply examines all aspects of mother loss and in reading it I immediately felt less alone. In amazement I read the shared experiences and feelings of other motherless daughters and learned that contrary to what I believed it is natural for a daughter to continue grieving for her mother. This was a breakthrough for me. Missing my mother was not only natural but also universal.

“When a mother dies, a daughter grieves. And then her life moves on. She does, thankfully, feel happiness again. But the missing her, the wanting her, the wishing she were still here – I will not lie to you, although you probably already know. That part never ends.” -Hope Edelman

I’m forever grateful to Hope for the time and love that she put into writing this book.

2.THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES by Sue Monk Kidd

It has been six years since I read this book but what I remember most about it is 1. I loved it and couldn’t put it down. 2. This was the first fictional book I read, other than the gorgeous TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, that featured a young motherless girl as the protagonist. I loved Lily and I related to her deep musings about her dead mother.

“My mother died…but if I brought it up, people would suddenly get interested in their hangnails and cuticles.”

“The bag contained a pair of white cotton gloves stained the color of age. When I pulled them out I thought, Her very hands were inside here.”

At times this book pierced my heart. How was it that Lily could articulate some of my exact thoughts? But this is what books do best. They generate feelings, enhance our lives and give us words for what we already know deep down inside.

3.WILD by Cheryl Strayed

WILD is a beautifully written book by author Cheryl Strayed who lives here in Portland, Oregon. Cheryl’s memoir addresses the themes of mother loss and grief, and the demons the author faces as a result of her mother’s death. I didn’t personally relate to the drug use or some of the ways in which Cheryl deals with her mother’s death, and the challenging Pacific Crest Trail hike is way out of my league, but I did relate to Cheryl’s pain. Everyone reacts differently in the face of grief and trauma and Cheryl’s gut-wrenching story drew me in with the first lines. This author is one brave and beautiful human. I couldn’t put this memoir down.

“My mother used to say something that drove me nuts. There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.” -Cheryl Strayed

This book is filled with encouraging, beautiful quotes. I’m a huge fan of Cheryl Strayed.

4.THE LONG GOODBYE by Meghan O’Rourke

In this intensely personal memoir, spot on with the grief a Mother’s death brings, the author examines her own relationships and reactions to death. Meghan has a beautiful way with words and although the book is a tough read due to the heavy subject matter I highly recommend it to motherless daughters. Meghan addresses America’s lack of traditions and rituals around death and I related deeply to her writing on societal expectations on the grieving process.

“It is human to want our friends and family to recover from pain, to look for a silver lining – or so I reminded myself. But when people stop mentioning the dead person’s name to you, the silence can seem worse than the pain of hearing those familiar, beloved syllables.” -Meghan O’Rourke

This book is an important contribution to a culture struggling to confront death and deal with grief.

5.THE RULES OF INHERITANCE by Claire Bidwell Smith

This is a raw, brutal and touching memoir about Claire’s struggle with life following the death of her beloved mother. Both of her parents were diagnosed with cancer when she was fourteen. Claire takes us on a heartbreaking journey. Powerful and emotional it was Claire’s recounting of the suffering and subsequent death of her father towards the book’s end that really got me. I sat sobbing quietly in a local coffee shop, the book held close to my face, unable to cease my flow of tears. Claire is a talented writer with a bounty of wisdom to share.

“In all my years of grief, and in my years as a bereavement counselor, the single most powerful healing mechanism I’ve found is simple presence. The opportunity for a person to feel seen and heard in the middle of one of the loneliest experiences in their life can have a profound effect.” -Claire Bidwell Smith

 

6.AFTER THIS: WHEN LIFE IS OVER WHERE DO WE GO? by Claire Bidwell Smith

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Claire has experienced several losses in her life, including the death of her mother, her father and several close friends. These losses coupled with her profession as a grief counselor set her on the path to exploring the afterlife. In this book Claire takes us along with her as she works to understand grief and find ways to connect and stay connected with loved ones in the afterlife. This exploratory journey is engrossing and thought-provoking and Claire’s findings were extremely comforting to me. I highly recommend this beautiful book. It left me with a strong sense of peace.

“If there’s one message that comes through more than any other, it’s this one. They want you to know they’re still here, they’re still connected to you. They want you to go on, to live your life. ” -Claire Bidwell Smith

 

7.BLACKBIRD by Jennifer Lauck

This book drew me in from the very beginning. An engrossing memoir BLACKBIRD rocked me, crushed me and left me shaking and in awe. BLACKBIRD is a memoir about mother loss, grief, adoption, love and family. Jennifer uses the voice of the child to relate her story and I love that she does because I also use my child’s voice in my memoir A LOVELY WOMAN. I relate to the author’s confusion, acceptance and sorrow over her mother’s illness as portrayed when she was a little girl.

“Without Momma, it’s like being lost without a reason, and inside my body is an empty space that can’t get filled up.” -Jennifer Lauck

Jennifer suffers terribly in this book and it is a tough read for that reason. However, her story is a testimony to survival and one of the best memoirs I have ever read.

8.LETTERS FROM MOTHERLESS DAUGHTERS: WORDS OF COURAGE, GRIEF AND HEALING by Hope Edelman

I loved this book which is made up of letters written by motherless daughters aged thirteen years and into their seventies. There are also many insightful offerings from Hope throughout. Motherless daughters share the same feelings and emotions, similar fears and anxieties and an intense loneliness for the mother we’ve lost. It’s comforting to read the stories of other women and young girls. We are not alone. This book helps remind us of that.

9.THE MERCY PAPERS: A MEMOIR OF THREE WEEKS by Robin Romm

I’m currently reading this book after learning about it on a Dear Sugar podcast recently. I’m about three quarters of the way through and what I can say about it is this. Robin tells it as it is and it’s not pretty. She is bravely sharing her experiences of three agonizing weeks leading to her mother’s death. It’s mostly very heavy reading but humor is sprinkled in there among the sadness and chaos. Robin’s writing is absolutely brilliant.

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“We could get a cup of coffee. But who wants coffee? Who wants to see anyone in the outside world? The outside world has gotten increasingly foreign. People smile for no reason, purchase sugary snacks, worry over leaky roofs out loud to strangers. Who needs this?” -Robin Romm

 

10. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT  by The Welch family

Okay, this one is a little different. A compelling memoir told from the perspectives of four Welch children, orphaned in their youth after their wealthy father dies in a mysterious car accident, and their loving mother loses her battle with cancer. This is an authentic, heart-wrenching story of family, loss and grief.

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“If his scent was still alive, how could he be dead?” -THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

I know that there are other books written about mother loss out there, and many beautiful books about grief. I haven’t gotten to them yet, but I hope to someday. Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments section below. Books mean different things to different people. Determined and brave enough to share their valuable stories with us, I have the utmost respect for each of the authors above. It is my dream to publish A LOVELY WOMAN, my own story of mother loss, in the near future. Sharing our heart stories is not easy, but it is important. We can lift each other up with our words and find ourselves in the pages of someone else’s story.

“We read to know we’re not alone.”
William Nicholson, Shadowlands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Death, Grief, Grief stories, In honor of my mother, Love, Mother's Day, Motherless Daughter, Mothers and Daughters, Without my mother

Mother’s Day Without My Mother

A spiritual healer once gave me this advice: “Close your eyes and visualize yourself as a young child when you were feeling anxious.You didn’t even realize you were scared. Now hold that child close to you and whisper to her that she will be okay. Tell her that she is not alone. Hold her. Let her rest against you. Visualize it. She’ll hear you.”

I performed the visualization. I hope it helped little me. It helps me now just to imagine that I am holding my five year old self tight, hugging me close, running my fingers through my soft, clean hair.

Love is really the only thing that counts, isn’t it? We all crave it. Everybody wants to be loved. And if we are fortunate enough to have love in our lives, we do everything we can to hold on to it. When somebody we love loves us back, wants to hold us, hear what we have to say and spend time with us, it is a gift like no other. When we lose that somebody, the grief we experience feels unbearable.

But grief is love that is stored inside of us with no place to go. We grieve because we have loved. And to love is a beautiful thing.

This past week I read a very sad story. I read that a beautiful family has been ripped apart suddenly and tragically, a young nursing mother left to raise her newborn baby in the wake of losing her four year old daughter. The young woman’s husband sustained serious brain injuries and is fighting for his life. This story choked me up. There is so much sadness and tragedy in our world. I find it hard to take sometimes. I’m a highly sensitive person which according to Susan Cain, author of ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking‘ means that I ‘feel exceptionally strong emotions-sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear.’ I also believe that I have a deeper empathy and compassion for those suffering as a result of the years I spent watching my mother battle cancer. I know what it feels like to be afraid of losing someone you love, to feel helpless as you watch them suffer, to lose that person and never see them again. It’s a pain so cutting and deep that it can take your breath away.

This Sunday, March 26, is Mother’s Day in Ireland where I grew up. It is Mother’s Day in the UK and in other parts of the world. I’ve already planned an escape for our USA Mother’s Day in May. Everyone will celebrate their mothers, as they should, but it’s really, really hard for those of us who have lost ours. We are forced to remember exactly what we live without.

I’m reading a book called ‘The Happiness Project‘ at the moment. It’s a great book by Gretchen Rubin about finding happiness in everyday places and things. I’m generally a happy person. I’m full of gratitude for many aspects of my life but I wanted to see what I could learn from this happiness project of hers. Only a few pages in the author needs advice so she calls her mother for a ‘pep talk.’ Then she casually mentions that throughout her life her mother made her feel ‘that nothing was insurmountable.’ There it is! That jolt of awareness! That sadness in my chest because I didn’t have that. There were no phone calls to my mother for pep talks. She wasn’t there after my eleventh year.

Mother’s Day during my school years were the worst. Teachers encouraged us all to create cards or dedicate art projects to our mothers. None of my teachers ever addressed the fact that I no longer had a mother. I felt awkward, different, sad, bewildered. I probably doodled on a page or drew a picture for Dad. I don’t remember exactly what I did, but I remember the pain in my heart on those occasions and just feeling so left out.

This coming Mother’s Day I want to visualize eleven year old me. I want to hold her close and whisper that she is loved and that she will be okay. I got this. I am strong. My mother is with me always. I am part of her and she is part of me. Blessed to still have my dad, I carry his love with me everyday, and I carry the strength of my ancestors who have gone before us.

I know that there are people around the world suffering great sadness and injustices as I write. Their pain is my pain. Their joy is my joy. For those people fortunate enough to still have their mothers and to be mothers, I wish them all a day filled with love and happiness. And for those of us who have loved and lost, I hear you and I see you. We understand each other’s sorrow. Let’s lift each other up in whatever ways we can. Let’s honor the mothers in all of us, every day. The world needs more mothering and much more love.

We rise by lifting others

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Anniversary, Death, Grief, Love, Motherless Daughter, Mothers and Daughters, sisterhood, Support groups

Twenty Nine Years On

March 2, 1988 my mother, Kathleen, died quietly in her bed as Dad sat watching over her. In bedrooms on either side of my parent’s room, my brother and I slept soundly, my aunt asleep in the bed next to mine. Just writing this, recalling the moment my mother took her last breath, has me choking back tears. I imagine my kind father, his heart tortured from years of watching my mother suffer and helping her however he could, realize that my mother has left us, forever.

Right now, this is the hardest thing for me. Knowing the loss my father suffered much too early in his married life. He didn’t deserve this blow. None of us did. Mam should have been allowed to live. She was one of the kindest, most thoughtful, nurturing and capable people I’ve ever had the chance to know. And I only knew her for eleven years.

Last August I attended the first ever Motherless Daughters Retreat with Hope Edelman and Claire Bidwell Smith whose books I have devoured and cherished. I had just finished reading Claire’s second book After This  when I decided to look her up on social media. The timing was immaculate. The first post of hers that I saw was in reference to the Ojai Motherless Daughters Retreat and I really wanted to go. It was to be held in August and I was getting married in September. Preparing for our wedding without my mother was proving challenging. I was missing Mam in a whole new way. The prospect of spending a weekend with Hope, Claire and a group of motherless daughters who lost their mothers early in life comforted me. I was terribly disappointed to learn that the retreat was booked to capacity, but within days of contacting Hope there was a cancellation and after several others on the cancellation list had been contacted I was offered the spot. I literally jumped out of my office chair with joy.

The weekend I spent in Ojai with twenty four beautiful, strong, vibrant, inspiring ladies was truly a gift. Twenty four of us, from diverse backgrounds, arrived from across the USA, Canada and Australia. We sat together and shared our deeply personal stories of mother loss. We nodded, cried, laughed, sighed. We understood each other’s pain. Our stories were different, but the same. Our mothers were taken from us way too soon and we continue to miss them every single day.

What a powerful and comforting experience for me to be in a space with twenty four women who understood my grief, why some days were so hard and others so good. Why, after so many years, we still long for the mother who loved and cared for us as nobody else can. We worked through things together. We held space for each other. We talked and we listened. The most valuable piece of this experience, for me personally, is the sisterhood I gained. I found my tribe in Ojai. We continue to connect online regularly and when we’re feeling anxious, down or confused about something we have a safe place to share our thoughts. We celebrate happy times, like weddings and birthdays, and we hold a special place in our hearts for each other.

When I was in Ojai I saw a beautiful grey purse that I thought might be a nice addition on my wedding day. It was a little pricey so I didn’t purchase it. But after I left I was sorry I didn’t get it. Not only was the purse perfect for my gown, but I could carry a little piece of Ojai around with me on my special day. I rang the store and ordered it over the phone. On September 24 when I got married I had my Ojai purse with me all day. This purse was a reminder that out there in the world was a community of ladies who understood the challenges and delights this important day would bring. Their messages, sent on the morning of our wedding, meant so much.

And so, on the anniversary of my mother’s passing-I’m typing this around the time that she left our world- I feel a strong sense of community now that I have my Ojai sisters. I’ll share with them that today is my mother’s anniversary. They’ll know exactly what that means.

Growing up I didn’t know anyone who lost their mother early in life. I met some very special ladies in Portland, Oregon through the Motherless Daughters group and I remain close to some of them. It’s life-changing to have these connections. It’s necessary for healing to occur. There are others who will hold us and love us and be there for us, but the connection between motherless daughters is a special one. The heaviness in our hearts is truly shared. At least that is my experience. I’ve achieved this in my writing because motherless daughters have reached out to me with their stories. We need to build more bridges and connect with each other. It’s important to weave these invisible nets of love. Today I will hold space for Mam’s beautiful memory. I’ll hold space for my dad and my brother and eleven year old me. And grown up me, well, I’ll be okay. I’m surrounded by love and I can feel it.

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Birthdays, Birthdays without my mother, Death, Family, Grief, Grief stories, In honor of my mother, Love, Motherless Daughter, Mothers and Daughters, My mother's birthday, Writing on Grief

Still My Mother’s Birthday

My mother was born on February 18th. She’s not alive anymore but that special date, February 18th is like a soft little hum in the back of my mind until the new year comes round and I anticipate it’s arrival in all of its painful glory.

I asked Mam once what her favorite number was and she told me it was 18. So I know one of her favorite things. I don’t know her favorite color although I suspect it may have been a light shade of purple: lavender perhaps? I don’t know what her favorite food was or her favorite drink. I never asked her if she had a favorite book or a favorite friend? She had so many friends and was such a sweet person that I don’t think she would have admitted to having a favorite, but I’d like to hear her responses. I like the number 18 too. It’s probably my favorite number although before Mam told me hers, my favorite number was 8.

I was born in January, Mam’s birthday is in February and my dad’s birthday is in March. Three consecutive months of family birthdays beginning with mine at the very start of each new year. And we’ve been without Mam now since I was 11 years old. Yes, this time of year is trying for me emotionally.

Mam died in March, just three days before my dad’s birthday, and then comes the hullabaloo of Mother’s Day which in Ireland, where I was born and raised, is celebrated a mere few weeks after the date she died.

Mam’s birthday and the anniversary of her death are quietly remembered by those who were closest to Mam. My dad and I call each other on those dates. But in the years since Mam died rarely does anybody else mention her to me on these sad but special occasions. It’s just a date to most people. Many forget. Others don’t want to cause upset. I know that family members call my dad on March 2nd. It’s a nice thing to do. It might not be an easy thing to do but it does help. Just to know that the person who meant the world to you is being thought of, that their death did not wipe out their memory, that your loss is recognized by those who love you.

Today as always, on Mam’s birthday, I’ll speak silently to her. I’ll wish her a happy birthday wherever she may be, and I’ll tell her I miss her and wish she hadn’t been taken from us so soon. This year I have a book written in her honor and it is ready to be sent out into the world when the time is right. I hope and pray that the time will soon be right. A LOVELY WOMAN is a story of mother loss. It is Mam’s story and my story, and it is a universal story of courage, family unity, grief and love.

Happy Birthday, Mam, wherever you are! You were born on this day many years ago and it is a special, wonderful, magical day. I’ll light a candle in your honor, take out some photos of us and sip a cup of hot tea. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?

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“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”

Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man

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Death, Grief, Love, Motherless Daughter, Mothers and Daughters

Mothers and Daughters

When a friend of mine posted this photograph of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher I could not take my eyes from it as my heart filled with awe, envy and love for these two women. Now, I’m not a Star Wars fan. I have only ever seen one of the films and I remember nothing about it. And I don’t watch many movies so I haven’t seen Debbie or Carrie in anything. I didn’t know either of them until social media went on fire following Carrie’s death. So the emotions I felt on seeing this beautiful image did not arise out of devotion to these actors or their film roles, but from a place deep inside myself where a little girl is longing to be held and have her hair stroked by her mother and to feel an ounce of what these ladies were feeling when this photograph was snapped.

The feelings that rushed over me on seeing this photograph came from a deep place. I love to watch mothers and daughters together, enjoying each other’s company, showing their affection towards each other, being supportive and laughing in tandem. I smile when mothers kindly offer advice to their grown children, even when that advice is waved away. I’ve written about my appreciation of the mother-daughter bond in my blog post The Beauty of Mothers. It truly is a unique and special bond.

I am in awe of this bond because my mother died when I was 11 years old. I have no experience of Mam from my adult perspective. As a grown woman I never got to sit down with her and ask her grown up things. There is so much I’d love to discuss with her now. For most of my life I’ve been without my mother. And isn’t our mother supposed to be with us always, guiding us along, protecting us on our journey, teaching us things like her recipe for drop scones that I’ve never been able to replicate? Holding my hand, hearing my words when nobody else quite understands because she’s my mother and she would always understand!

And why was my mother taken when so many others were allowed to keep theirs? At 11 years old I silently asked this question because I knew nobody else who was without their mother. Enter envy. Every motherless daughter I’ve connected with who lost their mother early in life feels this envy too. We want our mothers with us. There’s an empty hole in our hearts that cannot be filled since losing the person who brought us into this world.

I remember spending a lot of time in my friend’s house during secondary school in Ireland. My friend and her mother did not get on, but I loved both of them. My friend was fun, out-going, creative and wild. Her mother was younger than many of my other pal’s mothers and much more open to talking about things. She spoke candidly to my friend and I about alcohol, boyfriends, puberty and birth control. I enjoyed talking with her but my friend just wanted to avoid her mother. They fought like cats and dogs, banging doors and yelling at each other. I wanted to say to my friend “She’s your mother, please at least give her a chance,” and I did sometimes say things like that, but rarely did it work. My friend was a blossoming teenager, strong-willed and stubborn. She didn’t need any motherly advice. And yet she’d say to me, “I can’t imagine not having my mother.” She had sincere compassion for me.

“The relationship between parents and children, but especially between mothers and daughters, is tremendously powerful, scarcely to be comprehended in any rational way.”  Joyce Carol Oates

 

The above photograph moved me. I felt a sincere appreciation for this mother-daughter moment. Even if it was fleeting. I don’t know. But this precious captured moment is one that I and many other women who lost their moms early in life will never have. It brings joy to my heart to see it.

I since read that Debbie Reynolds wrote in her 2013 autobiography, Unsinkable:

“It’s not natural to outlive your child. This has always been my greatest fear. I don’t know if I could survive that. Carrie is my child and I love her with every ounce of strength I possess.”

It is likely that the death of her daughter led to Debbie Reynolds’ stroke as she sat at home making arrangements for Carrie’s funeral. It is likely that this woman could not imagine life without her daughter. I can believe that because I am certain of the love that exists between a mother and daughter. Not everyone is blessed to have this loving bond but many are.

A friend of mine blurted on hearing of Debbie’s death, “I need to call my mother more often!” What a gift it is to have your mother at the end of that phone line.

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Christmas Without My Mother, Death, Family, Gratitude, Grief, Love, Moments, Motherless Daughter, The Importance of Family

Celebrating Christmas Without Mam

In my life I’ve celebrated ten Christmases with my mother.The first couple I don’t recall. And the last two were very difficult. Mam was in hospital for my ninth Christmas. She wasn’t well enough to come home. Dad took my brother and I to visit her and we sat around the hospital bed thinking this was not how Christmas was supposed to be. For my tenth Christmas Mam was at home but both she and I were ill. In hindsight I’m certain that I was terribly anxious about the situation (Mam’s cancer) and my body was buckling under the stress. I spent all of Christmas (days of celebrations in Ireland) and my birthday, which is on January 3rd, in bed sick. Mammy returned to hospital on January 4th, and died at home with us on March 2nd, 1988, when I was eleven.

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Christmas 1983

The Christmases with Mam that I do remember are filled with happy memories. It was a time for close family to be together; playing with toys, reading books, going to mass, sitting by an open fire, preparing, sharing and eating delicious home cooked meals, drinking tea, sharing stories and watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory together. My small family consisted of Dad, Mam, my older brother and me. We all loved Christmas. The carol singing, the tree decorating, the lights, the cosy fire, the warmth of family, the good food and the joy of giving and receiving.

The Christmas when I was nine and Mam had to remain in hospital was confusing and sad. I understood for years that Mam was battling an illness. But that she couldn’t be home with us on the most special day of the year (it was that to me) was hard to take. My dad did his best to keep Christmas morning as normal as possible. I got my Cabbage Patch Kid beneath the tree, we visited Granny and my aunt in the morning and we went to mass. But of course it didn’t feel the same without Mam. Something was very wrong and life was showing us at an early age that we couldn’t always have what we wanted. Even when all we wanted was our mother home with us on Christmas Day.

After the hospital visit with Mam, my dad took us on a drive to a small lake. We stepped out of the car, wrapped up in our winter clothes and a beautiful swan floated gracefully before us on the water. For a few minutes at that lake all I could focus on was the beauty of the swan before me. I held my dad’s hand and stared. I remember that moment. There was beauty in it. My dad remembers it too.

The Christmases that followed Mam’s death were hard but they got easier. She was, and still is, always, missed. We kept some of the same Christmas rituals. We place the tree in the spot where Mam liked it in our living room. The majority of our Christmas decorations are a collection that Mam and Dad gathered together, some so old they are beginning to fall apart, several in as good a shape as they were twenty years ago; vintage and unique. We go to Christmas Eve mass as a family, though I get away with skipping Christmas Day mass now (staying in bed is more appealing!) We place gifts beneath the tree and open them as a family in front of Dad’s beautiful fire. My brother and I still hang our Christmas stockings on either side of the fireplace as was the case when Mam first got them for us, our names in red velvet lettering across the tops of each.

After Mam died we started going to my aunt’s house for dinner. Christmas Day became a different kind of day but it is still one that I love. If I were to list the reasons I love Christmas my list would include: time with family, messages from friends, decorated tree, warm fire, time for rest, delicious food, conversation, gift giving and receiving, Christmas songs & choirs, candles lighting, time to read and lots of hot tea. Time. Time to be still.

I credit my dad for the smooth transition. No doubt there was terrible sorrow and disbelief at losing the mother we loved so much, my dad losing his beloved wife. But Dad remained strong and he held us all up. He worked hard to create a nice memorial place for Mam, her grave colorful with freshly planted flowers and free of weeds. I never felt close to Mam at her grave. It never felt right that the cold earth separated her from us, though I can appreciate the beauty of the fresh flowers and the nice headstone where her name is engraved. We visit it every Christmas Eve after mass. Dad was always able and willing to talk about Mam to me. In my earlier days I didn’t talk about her too much because I didn’t want to upset anybody. Outside of our immediate family Mam wasn’t discussed often. But Dad spoke about her. She was and is, always remembered in our little family.

“…when people stop mentioning the dead person’s name to you, the silence can seem worse than the pain of hearing those familiar, beloved syllables.” Meghan O’Rourke

This Christmas I think I’ll light a candle in Mam’s honor. We did this on my wedding day last September and it was a beautiful thing, to have a light shining in her memory, with flower’s from my dad’s garden in a little jug (her jug), beside us as my husband and I said our vows.

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I think about the people who don’t like Christmas, who feel they have nothing to celebrate, who feel lost and lonely, hurt and afraid. Christmas can be a terribly hard time for people. I think back to my little self, a small nine year old, holding hands with my dad as we took in the beauty of the swan before us while my mother lay suffering in the hospital on Christmas day. I worry for my ten year old self, sick in bed on my mother’s last ever Christmas with us. My poor mother. I consider my father. My brother. The pain that so many go through, in different ways, at different times. I’m one of the fortunate ones. The light came through. Mam lives on inside of me. I write about her and it helps. Poetry and the written word speak volumes and I always find a quote that resonates. Let’s look for the beauty where we can. And if we cannot do it this Christmas, maybe another day.

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