A Father's Role, Family, Gratitude, Grief, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, The Importance of Family

The Important Role My Dad Played in My Life Following My Mother’s Death.

My dad is the reason I am a well-adjusted, grateful, loving and happy person today. I have no doubt about it. Sure, I have my down days. There are days when the developments in our world deeply upset me. I truly wonder at the human race. There are several occasions when I miss my mother who died when I was only eleven years old. I feel angry and ripped off and lonely for her and for the person she would be today. I crave the companionship of my mother when I have questions only she could answer, or when I see a mother and daughter out to lunch or sharing a dressing room in a boutique that I know Mam would have enjoyed. I miss Mam often throughout my days. It’s a given. I loved and I lost. But I have to say that I feel truly, unimaginably blessed to have the father I have. Who would I have become without his love and guidance down through the years? I don’t know. I don’t wish to know.

My mother chose well when she chose Dad. She married in her mid-thirties having waited until she was sure she had found the right man. She had. My dad is a gem and she knew that. I wish I could ask her to share with me that story. I want to know when exactly she knew that dad was the one for her. There are things I really want to know the answer to but these answers were hers only and they died along with her in 1988. As a child I never thought to ask these things. How would I? The American poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, says in her poem of the same title “Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.”

Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age
The child is grown, and puts away childish things.
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.

Last year, shortly after I started writing about mother loss, I received a thoughtful, courteous message from a man who had read my piece “3 Things I’ve Learned Since Losing My Mother” in Huffington Post. He told me that his wife had died and that he was now raising their young children alone. He appreciated my article and wondered if I could tell him some of the most important things Dad had done to help during my moments of grief. He said he wanted to be that kind of father for his own children. I wrote back to him immediately.

When I hear from fathers looking for guidance in how to raise their motherless little ones I feel three things. One, my heart aches because out there is another father struggling to get through life without his beloved wife. And other heartbroken children are commencing a new and challenging chapter of their lives without their mommas. The second thing these messages do for me is give me hope. These men want to do their very best for their children. They are not afraid to reach out for support and to ask for help. They love their daughters and sons and they want to do right by them. And, thirdly, I feel blessed that I can offer some advice to these fathers based on the experience I was fortunate enough to have in my own life.

Hope Edelman says in “Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss.”:

“The degree to which a surviving parent copes is the most important indicator of the child’s long-term adaptation. Kids whose surviving parents are unable to function effectively in the parenting role show more anxiety and depression, as well as sleep and health problems, than those whose parents have a strong support network and solid inner resources to rely on.”

Dad had no guide book, no therapist and no Google but he followed his heart and helped my brother and me in the best ways he could. He prepared us for Mam’s death by speaking to us about the seriousness of her illness once it became clear to him and to the doctors that Mam could not survive much longer. He let us know that he was going to be there for us, then and into the future and that we wouldn’t be alone. He was true to his word. He was always there for us.

Dad offered guidance when necessary and listened to our stories, our hopes and our worries without judgment. Dad allowed us to grow into ourselves without criticism or fuss. He collected me from late night discos when I requested, never complaining about the hours he had to stay up. He didn’t ask too many questions and I always felt able to tell him anything. He patiently taught my brother and I how to drive and generously loaned us his car. He trusted us. I died my hair pink, green and bright red while I was in college, before it was a thing, and Dad just smiled. He welcomed my friends into our home and never complained about the loud music blasting from my room. I truly felt my dad embrace me for who I was as I grew into my womanhood and in return for his trust we gave him no reason to worry.

Of great importance to us was keeping Mam’s presence alive in our home. We kept plenty of Mam’s things around and I was free to use any of her stuff as I wanted. I wore some of her clothes as I grew into them, used her comb, dabbed her perfume on my arm and took one of her rings as my own. There hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t worn it. Dad welcomed questions about Mam and did his best to answer them. He brought her name into conversations and shared memories of her from time to time. Memories of Mam surrounded us in a healthy way, and still do. Photos of her were kept in their frames and cards from her were stored as treasured keepsakes. Dad supported my writing of “A Lovely Woman”, the memoir I penned about losing Mam. He asks from time to time how the search for an agent is going and I know I have his blessing every step of this journey.

I am one of the fortunate ones. Not because I lost my dear mother way too early in my life, but because I was blessed with a caring and kind father who gave so much of his heart and his life to raising us children in a supportive and loving home following such a huge loss. Many, many motherless daughters and sons live a very different story to mine. Many have their family lives ripped apart because a father cannot cope emotionally. Some abuse their children. Often times fathers flee the scene and the child no longer has a secure and loving life that was once theirs. I’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories that I know this happens frequently.

There are other ways, different to my family’s experience, to find happiness in the wake of mother loss. Although generally extremely difficult for children whose fathers remarry, depending on the age of the child, children do grow up to adore their new step-mother or at least to accept them. Many find a new love and happiness in this extension of family while some experience the pain of replacement. I’m sure we all know some wonderful, devoted step-mothers who love bereaved children as their own. It is important for grieving fathers to find their happiness again too. It is a complicated affair.

I am blessed to still have my dad in my life. We don’t see each other as often as I’d like due to distance but he is always at the end of the phone line and when possible we spend quality time together. Recently I asked him about the immediate impact of losing Mam. He said he felt lost at the start and wondered how he would manage. He admitted to feeling his way day by day as time went on. Following Mam’s death he says he was exhausted but that having us, my brother and me, was a great help to him. He concentrated on our needs and we were companions for him. Helping us, he said, helped him.

As Father’s Day approaches this coming weekend I want to acknowledge the love and devotion my father gave to me and emphasize the significant role that fathers play in the life of a motherless daughter or son. I learned to thrive and grow into the considerate, assertive, loving person I am today because of what I went through and how my father guided me in those years when Mam was sick and following her death. Dad’s love and support is invaluable while the rewards for both parent and child are boundless. My heart overflows with love for my dad and when we have an opportunity to spend time together every moment is treasured. Losing my mother at such an early age resulted in a constant anxiety about losing my father. That is practically a given when a child loses a parent. But it has also given me reason to appreciate the moments. I got married last September and my father was there to walk me up the aisle. For both of us this was a moment. I choked back my happy tears when those doors opened to a room full of smiles and Etta James sang “At Last.” This day was a blessing, in more ways than one.

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Love heals us. Love is the answer. Love is the way through the pain and into the light.

I am sorry for those who have lost their fathers. And I am sorry for those who never knew theirs or have suffered pain at the hands of their fathers. There is too much pain in this world and sometimes I wonder how we get through this life at all. Perhaps, again, the answer is love. Finding love where we can. Seeking out those with a loving heart. Healing each other. Sharing our pain and learning from other people’s stories. Listening. Sending an abundance of love into this fragile world.

I conclude by wishing my kind, sweet dad a happy Father’s Day, and to all the dads out there doing their best for their children, I wish the same! Your presence in your child’s life is significant. You are valued. Let your children see that they are valued too.

Much love,

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.

My father quote

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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 of Santa Claus, games and toys, books, attending mass, a glorious open fire and delicious home cooked meals with hot tea and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on the television. My small family consisted of Dad, Mam, my older brother and me and we loved Christmas. The carol singing, tree decorating, Christmas lights, and the joy of giving and receiving filled us with cheer.

When I was nine Mam had to remain in hospital during the Christmas and this 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 father did his best to keep Christmas morning as normal as possible. The Cabbage Patch Kid I requested was 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. What we wanted was our mother home with us on Christmas Day.

After visiting Mam in the hospital, Dad took my brother and me on a drive to the village of Menlo, a few miles outside of Galway city, where he pulled the car in at the side of Lough Corrib. Wrapped in our winter coats and hats we stepped out onto soggy ground and stared as a beautiful swan floated before us on the still grey water. For several minutes my full attention was on that striking swan. With my tiny hand nestled in dad’s hand we admired her as she glided on the lake. I remember that moment. There was beauty in it. My dad remembers it too.

The Christmases that followed Mam’s death were hard but my family remained close and because we kept many of the same Christmas rituals we were able to move forward together. Our Christmas tree always stands in the corner of the living room by a window where my mother once decided it should be. Our Christmas decorations are comprised of random pieces collected by Mam and Dad down through the years. Some of these decorations are beginning to fall apart while many are as good as new after thirty plus years. Unique and vintage pieces, they each tell a different story. We attend Christmas Eve mass as a family, though now I get away with skipping church on Christmas Day, and the hymns sung in both English and Irish take me back in time. Dad lights a beautiful fire and my brother and I  hang our Christmas stockings on either side of the fireplace as we’ve always done, 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 because of time spent with family, texts from friends, decorated trees, warm fires, delicious food, heartfelt conversation, gift giving, candles lighting, crackers popping and time to read and rest. Time for stillness and reflection. And lots of hot tea.

I credit Dad for the smooth transition after we lost Mam. No doubt there was terrible sorrow and disbelief at losing the mother we loved so much, my father losing his beloved wife. But Dad remained strong and he held us all up by working hard to create a nice memorial place for Mam, close to our home in Galway. Her grave is pretty with a simple but stylish headstone and flowers that burst into color in the spring. I pray to my mother at her grave and I’m grateful that we have this place to honor and remember her but honestly I don’t feel any closer to Mam when I’m there. We visit it every Christmas Eve after mass in the dark, cold night if it isn’t raining. I like to think of Mam being with me always, and being in my heart and our home, not in the cold, damp earth. So I think of the grave as a place where we honor her. It’s hers. Mam’s name is engraved there and people who read it will know it’s hers, but I keep my mother with me everywhere I go. I don’t leave her behind in that graveyard.

It has always helped that Dad was able and willing to talk about Mam after we lost her. In the 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’ll light a candle in Mam’s honor. We lit a candle for Mam on my wedding day last September and it was a beautiful thing. A warm light shone for her and flowers from my dad’s garden sat bunched together in a little jug (her jug), while my husband and I spoke our vows.

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I think about people who don’t like Christmas, those who feel they have nothing to celebrate, those who feel lost and lonely, hurt and afraid. Christmas can be a terribly hard time for some. I remember my little self, a small nine year old girl, gripping my father’s hand while taking in the beauty of a swan on a still lake as 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 so many of us go through, in different ways, at different times. It may sound strange but I think I’m one of the fortunate ones. Not because I lost my mother. That part of my story is tragic and always will be. I’m fortunate because the light came through. Mam lives on inside of me. I feel her with me. I write about her and it helps. Poetry and the written word speak volumes and I always find a quote of someone’s that resonates. We are in each other’s stories.

I recall that swan. I can still see her. Beautiful and alone on Lough Corrib that Christmas Day. Beauty is all around us. Let’s look for the beauty wherever we can. And if we cannot do it this Christmas, maybe another day. One small thing of beauty. You may recall it forever after.

For now, and into the future, much love…

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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A Messy World, Being Kind, Childhood grief, Gratitude, Grief, Love, Moments, Motherless Daughter, On Writing, Storytelling, Writing Memoir, Writing on Grief

Showing Myself Kindness

It’s a messy world out there and I’m one of those deeply feeling people Glennon Doyle Melton is talking to when she says,

“You are not a mess. You are a feeling person in a messy world.”

These words have really helped me. And my new goal with this quote in mind, is to be the kindest person I can be…to myself.

I’m writing a memoir about losing my mother to ovarian cancer when I was 11 years old. In fact, I’ve written the book. I just have to edit it, again, for maybe the eighteenth time, because I’m determined to get this just right. So I’m back editing my memoir, and it’s painful. It’s painful because I have to reread all the heartbreaking things that happened in my childhood as a result of Mam getting cancer: the first time my mother told my brother and me that she needed to go into hospital to get an operation; the time I lay awake in bed crying into the night because I missed her; those Mother’s Days when Mam was not around; the Christmas she couldn’t be with us at home because she was in hospital; the time she got stung by a wasp when she was already so sick and weak; when my eyes landed on her smiling face as she waved from the back of a taxi returning unexpectedly from the hospital and I almost exploded with happiness because there she was, heading home, to be with us; gripping my dad in the hallway of our home as sympathizers lined up to tell us how sorry they were…

Every time I reread, rearrange, rewrite the words, they hurt my heart. So, these days in particular, as I write my memoir, I need to be kind to myself.

Writing A LOVELY WOMAN has been cathartic for me because it has allowed me to feel, to cry and to release my grief while I process all that happened. But it’s not easy to go back over the story day in and day out, year in and year out, while I reexamine the writing, query agents and wait.

Yesterday while I was meditating online with Oprah and Deepak, I realized how tight my jaw was and that my neck ached. I noticed how good it felt to lie on my yoga bolster and breathe.

I breathed in and I let go. I let go of all thoughts and I relaxed my body deeper into the bolster.

I’m a newly wed and exhausted from all that the wedding entailed. The upcoming election has me exhausted. The injustices around the world leave me weary. With all of this and my current work project, so close to my heart yet utterly draining at times, I decided I needed to be more kind to myself. I wanted to find a way to connect with my deepest self, to fill up with gratitude for what I do have in my life, for the gifts around me. I created this simple, yet potentially powerful set of reflections.

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Throughout my day I allow myself a few minutes to sit with these questions and at night I run through them in my mind before going to sleep. There is grounding to be found in each reflection as I’m reminded to take a moment for myself. These reflections offer an opportunity to express gratitude, receive nurturing and experience joy. Each one speaks to who I am.

I shall continue working on A LOVELY WOMAN; my mother’s story. My story. Our story. Stories have a beautiful way of connecting all of us, touching others, bridging differences and splitting our hearts wide open in this messy, messy world. But we do need to allow ourselves moments of kindness throughout the day. And I remind myself that I am not a mess, I am a feeling person, sharing my story in this challenging, but beautiful world.

Much love,

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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Gratitude, Grief, Motherless Daughter, Writing Memoir, Writing on Grief

Revealing is Healing

Two years ago I left my job as a kindergarten teacher of ten years. I was a teacher before that, in elementary school, or primary, as we say in Ireland, for a couple of years. I loved teaching and I love children but I was no longer feeling fulfilled in my job. It took me a couple of years to put some savings together and plan for at least eight months of living expenses without needing to work. My plan was to write my memoir. I needed to write my story for several reasons.

I lost my mother to cancer when I was 11 years old. Mam was diagnosed when I was 5 and for the next several years we watched her fight, suffer, live and die. The pain of all this was almost unbearable but my brother and I were blessed with an amazing father so we pushed on through to the other side. Thing is, I never really grieved back then. I cried, of course. My heart broke. But I wanted so badly for everything else to be okay: Dad to be healthy, my brother to be healthy and there to be no more illness in our lives. I was so tired of hospitals and drips and doctors. My 11 year old self couldn’t handle anymore anxiety after years of hoping, praying, anticipating. My memoir would allow me the opportunity to process what happened from a safe distance. I would relive my thoughts and emotions, be in control of my story and make sense of it all on the page. Writing my memoir would allow me to heal.

And it did. While I wrote I often cried. I laughed too. And I realized how blessed I have been in my life. Writing about Mam’s actual death had me hanging my head in sorrow while tears dripped on to the table top. At times I sobbed aloud. Every time I revisited that scene my emotional response was the same. But gradually the sobbing subsided and I found peace. I broke through to the other side. I was ready to leave those twenty four hours behind on the page and spring forward.

I came to understand that before and after Mam’s illness there was so much love. I was such a happy little girl. My parents were attentive and loving. Writing about my happy childhood brought me all sorts of good feelings. And following Mam’s death my father cared for us with such devotion and love that I realized my memoir would not be complete without paying tribute to his huge heart. I saw that my father continued on after Mam’s death with grace and courage. I was able to look back on our family story as a whole story – the good and the bad, and by writing it all down I was able to see that beneath all the suffering emerged a true love story. My life has always been filled with love. Suffering: yes. Anxiety:definitely. Trauma, grief and anger: yes, yes and yes. But so much love. And plenty of happiness too.

My main reason for writing this book was to reach out to others. To continue a conversation that Motherless Daughters and grieving families are now having, that they weren’t having when I was growing up. I knew of no motherless daughter when I was a child. As a family we spoke about Mam, but there were no books for me to read, no person outside of the family to talk with about my feelings. Starting an author’s page on Facebook was my way to connect with people about grief and loss, in particular motherloss. It’s also my way of sharing posts about writing and how writing can be healing.

“Through our reading we can travel to other times and other places, into other peoples minds and hearts and souls: it is a transcendent experience.” ― Louise DeSalvo

Through my local Motherless Daughter’s meet-up group I recently found out about a workshop at The Blackbird Studio For Writers in Portland. A small group of us had the pleasure of learning from Hope Edelman and Jennifer Lauck while discussing our stories and writing. Through social media I’ve been networking with women who are reaching out, writing and learning about their own pain and loss. Writing is bringing women into my life who would never be in my life otherwise and the connection to these brave, inspiring ladies is one of the best reasons for sharing my story. To not feel alone, to find compassion and support, to be acknowledged for who you are because of how your life has been, are gifts that come only from opening up and revealing who we are, and why.

“What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak….it was born in the moments when we accumulated silent things within us.”
Gaston Bachelard

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Gratitude, Grief, Moments, Mother and daughter, Motherless Daughter

The Beauty of Mothers

There is a young Asian woman living across from me. She has a new baby, a young child, a partner and a mother. I’m aware of this not because I know her, we’re both relatively new to this neighborhood, but because throughout my day I catch glimpses into her life. My writing desk is situated close to a large window that looks down directly into the back of her home. Like us, that family has a large glass sliding door in their kitchen and that’s where I often see the young mother rocking baby or feeding baby or singing to baby. I also witness this when I’m in our kitchen sitting at the table. What has struck me the most from witnessing all of this is the longing I feel, not for a baby as many might imagine given my age, but for my mother.

This woman’s mother is tiny. She wears her greying hair tied up in an Asian style knot where her glasses often rest. She shuffles about in slippers and wears a light pair of pants and a heavy mauve sweater that comes almost to her knees. Buttons run the entire length of her sweater on the back and she wears a turtle neck underneath, even when it’s sunny. It’s not like I’m spying on the family. Our glass windows face theirs and they spend a few hours a day on and off the patio, especially now that the weather is so warm.

What I’ve been noticing are the little things. How the old mother is so helpful; stepping inside the house for a paper towel that she hands out to her daughter with the baby, taking the empty food bowl from her daughter and bringing it inside while daughter rocks baby in the shade. This adorable little mother comes out with the mop when her daughter has taken the baby inside, and she rinses it out over and over, presumably after mopping the kitchen floor. I’ve watched her spoon feed the baby until the child’s mother came out, in her black and white tie-dye pajamas, ready to take over. I’ve seen her water the family’s plants and sweep dust from the doorstep.

These are the things I notice that touch me deeply because I am without my mother. It’s not that she lives far away or that I don’t get on with her or anything like that, it’s that my mother died and there is no hope that I’ll ever get to see her again. And so when I witness a woman with her mother, doing everyday things that most people take for granted, it stirs several emotions. Sometimes there’s jealousy and sometimes sorrow, and almost always that sudden intense reminder that I am motherless. Even after all these years. But there are other emotions too. Strong ones. I feel a rush of love for this mother and daughter and for the bond that they share. I want to dash over and tell them how lucky they are and how lovely. I’m certain that many daughters don’t realize how blessed they are in the moments. When that woman is holding her daughter’s baby, cooing into its ears, rocking it to sleep so that her daughter can have a little break, that is a gift so precious to behold.

Every relationship is different and I understand that mother-daughter relationships aren’t always smooth. I’ve known women who’ve lost their mothers after a tumultuous life-long relationship with them and yet they miss their mothers dearly. Each relationship is unique but from my point of view I know what I am missing. I’m missing a dear woman who would love to be a part of my life today and if I could have any of these little moments that my neighbor has with her mother, with or without the baby, for even a minute, I would take it. I would look deep into my dear mother’s eyes, I would touch her soft hand and I would say “Thank you. I love you.”

I’ve heard this quote though I don’t know who originally said it-

“Life doesn’t come with a manual, it comes with a mother.”

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