Childhood grief, Death, Grief, Grief stories, Grief Writing, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Support groups

Talking Grief

I can’t overemphasize the value of finding somebody to talk to about your grief; somebody who understands, somebody who cares, somebody who listens without judgment. We are rarely totally alone on the path of mourning, although it does sometimes feel that way.

For years and years I didn’t talk about my loss. I was only eleven when Mam died, so I didn’t process her death as I would have had she died when I was an adult. I went about my days, playing with friends, getting into trouble at school (minor troubles like talking too much when I should have been listening or cracking up laughing with my BFF when we should have been paying attention to the teacher), spending hours on my homework and enjoying home-life with my dad and brother. But, there were times when things were hard for me. Hitting puberty without my mother caused anxiety and embarrassment. Meeting new friends who didn’t know about my loss caused anxiety and embarrassment. They would mention something about parents and as I’d quickly relate my situation I’d end up almost wanting to apologize for being the bearer of such bad news while hoping that this new fact could be ignored by the others and we could just move on. There were other things too. But, what really would have made a difference I believe is had I met another little girl who shared my experience at the time.

There was no little girl who ever said “My mother died too.”

I didn’t hear those words ever. And in that way I was alone in my loss. My dad was, and is, always willing and open to talking about Mam. I am blessed in that regard. Dad was there for me every step of the way. But in social circles there was nobody who understood.

And that is why, when in my late twenties I found Hope Edelman’s book ‘Motherless Daughters, that I found a tribe of women who were like me. I couldn’t believe there were so many of us because I had never met another young woman who was without her mother. Many blessings come with finding your tribe. We don’t all share the exact same feelings and experiences and that is okay. We understand the power of sharing our stories and the value of having people there to listen.

Here in Portland, Oregon we are fortunate to have the Grief Rites Foundation which provides awareness, advocacy and education to the grieving community. On a monthly basis storytellers come together and share their stories of life, loss and love in a safe space. Grief Rites says they are about “Taking back our right to grieve. Our right to mourn. Our right to live. Our right to love. Our right to remember.” I just love those words, especially ‘Our right to remember’, because often when we lose someone we don’t feel that we have the right, or the safe place, to remember those dear loved ones we miss so much.

People don’t know what to say when I tell them that I’m writing a memoir about losing my mother to cancer when I was a child. When the conversation comes up about mother loss people try to say the right thing with good intention but unless they really get it, clichés are usually offered. I’m used to it after all of these years and I don’t take it to heart. A listening ear, or a kind word is often all that is needed.

What hurts is when people say something without putting thought into it, something that is said to invalidate your grief. A few years ago I was reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. Wild is a gorgeous book about bravery and loss, self-discovery and healing, love and heart-ache. My friend had also read Wild just a few months before me. We were sitting together having lunch, looking out over a beautiful lake; Wild beside me on the wooden bench. “Her heartache, her loss, her grief is so huge,” my friend said to me. I was only a few chapters in but I was already familiar with Cheryl’s aching heart, and I related to her words in a way that was not only powerful but refreshing. Cheryl had experienced the loss of her mother, one I experienced as a child, and although our experiences were quite different, we both loved so resolutely the woman who had birthed us, and we both felt all those emotions that came following her death; anger, frustration, bitterness, guilt, emptiness and on and on. I was connecting in a deep and meaningful way with the author when my friend said, in between bites of her sandwich, “I know you lost your mother when you were a child, but she (the author) was so close to hers, they were like best friends! Her loss was felt at such a deep level because she grew up feeling so close to her.” She went on to say a few things about why Cheryl’s loss was more harrowing than mine while I sat dumbfounded, hurting and in disbelief that anyone, let alone a kind, smart friend of mine would compare mother loss like that. What hurt me most was that she didn’t know what I had lost. I didn’t know what I had lost when I lost it! But nobody else can possibly know anything so personal, and nobody should be the judge of that.

We can all make comparisons. I met with the wonderfully smart author of The Mercy Papers, Robin Romm, at Powell’s recently and when I told her of my loss she was very sympathetic. She said it was difficult for her to lose her mother when she was a young adult but that it was another thing to lose Mam when I was a child. I appreciated her sentiments but said that it was difficult either way. In Robin’s gut-wrenching book she shows us how difficult losing her mother was for her.

What happened in my life is of course very sad. I didn’t get to have my mother for long and she was a kind, devoted, intelligent woman who could’ve taught me so much. But there are friends of mine who lost their moms at an even younger age than me. I get messages from women who lost their mothers when they were only babies. These stories break my heart in two. I’m broken for the sweet mother who had to leave her baby and I’m broken for the baby who will grow into childhood without her mother and into adulthood yearning to know their momma. Losing the person we love so deeply rips us apart at any age.

It’s not kind or valuable in any way to use our stories to undermine somebody else’s story, or to seek to accrue more sympathy than somebody else. What we need to do is deepen our understanding of one another by hearing what the person is saying, asking questions and really listening to the response, reading about other people’s experiences and thinking before we speak. If we can increase our powers of empathy and emerge from our experiences as new people we can tear down the artificial wall that stands between us and the other. We can grow as humans. We can support one another. We can create safe places for those who need to grieve, share, laugh and love. This goes for anybody’s story, whatever it is. Let’s reach for one another, use our voices and connect with love.

“When we share our stories, what it does is, it opens up our hearts for other people to share their stories. And it gives us the sense that we are not alone on this journey.” Janine Shepherd

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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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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.

My father quote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grief, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Motherless Tribe, Mothers and Daughters, Poems about mother loss, sisterhood, Support groups, Without my mother

A Motherless Tribe.

A Motherless Tribe

I’m a strong believer in sharing our hearts,
sharing our love,
sharing our thoughts,
and to my motherless sisters
who have lost as I,
our precious sweet mothers
who are no longer close by,
we can guide one another
and share our hearts,
share our grief
as we fall apart.
We can speak our sorrows,
make time to meet,
help each other
get back on our feet.
What we’ve lost
can never be replaced,
we long for our mother,
just to see her face.
I like to imagine my mother with me in spirit,
she’s in nature and beauty
and a bird’s song when I hear it.
Some of us sense our mothers close by;
some of us lose her completely when she dies.
Our experiences differ,
our beliefs aren’t the same,
but because we long for our mothers,
we know each other’s pain.
We are motherless daughters,
a tribe of our own;
let’s connect and share our stories,
we are not alone.
by Carmel Breathnach 2017
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Grief, Mother Loss, Mother's Day, Mother's Day Without My Mother, Motherless Daughter, Without my mother

12 Ideas for Motherless Daughters on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is challenging for those of us without our mothers. It’s a difficult day for people who never knew their mothers and for those abandoned by the person who was supposed to love them more than anything. I was blessed to have a devoted and loving mother for the first eleven years of my life. This piece is written from this perspective.

I’ve written previous blogs about Mother’s Day. I personally experience two every year: Ireland’s Mother’s Day in March, and here in the USA in May. Honestly, one is enough, but as I’m from Ireland my feed announces Mother’s Day in all of its glory both times of the year. Around the globe mothers are celebrated and this is a wonderful thing, but for many it is a sad day.

I found this sweet little card that I made for my mammy when I was probably five or six years old. Dad saved it and gave it to me along with a couple of others. The card and the cute little message inside bring me close to tears. Mammy died when I was eleven.

Mothers day card

Motherless women are asking how they should spend Mother’s Day when they no longer have their mother around to celebrate. For some it is the dreaded first Mother’s Day since a mother’s death. May 14th is not going to be easy. It’s probably going to be very painful. But there are some things we can do to make it bearable and special. Possibly even fun. Here are 12 ideas:

  1. Find a time in the day, preferably morning to meditate for five minutes or fifteen if you can, whatever feels good to you. Light your favorite scented candle. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and invite your mother into your space. Hold her in your thoughts. Focus on the gratitude you feel for your mother and the gift of life that she gave you. Reflect on some memories you have of her. Let the tears flow if they come. Grief is love, remember. Breathe.
  2. Display a picture of your mother in a prominent place. Wear a pendant containing her photograph throughout the day. Hold her in your heart. Speak to her.
  3. Buy a beautiful bouquet of flowers, for your mother, and place them in your home. Flowers lend cheer and beauty to a space. They can remind you of the love you have for your mother and the love she had for you.
  4. Is there a song that reminds you of your mother? Or a song that brings you peace? A song that deeply moves me is Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heaven’. The first time I heard it I thought the song had been written for me. Have a good cry if you need to.
  5. Create a collage using pictures from magazines or inspiring photo journals. Paste pictures that remind you of your mother onto a large piece of card stock or paperboard. I did this once with the Portland Motherless Daughter’s group when I was the organizer. We sat around together working quietly on our collages and then those who wanted to, shared their pictures. The collages were beautiful. Mommas were represented by the choice of flowers, colors and symbolic pictures selected.
  6. If you are a mother let yourself be treated by your family and celebrated. It is what your mother would want. And you deserve it.
  7. Go to your local bookstore, your library, or online if that’s your preference and order one of the books on my list of 10 Books I Recommend for Motherless Daughters. I suggest going to a bookstore or library because the act of getting out of the house with a goal in mind will allow you to focus on something else for a while. Perhaps you’ll pass a beautiful tree on your drive or better yet, on your walk if that is an option. If you have one of these books already at home you might want to settle in to a cozy chair with a cup of hot tea or coffee and reread it.
  8. Read blog posts by motherless daughters. Reading about other people’s experiences can bring comfort. One feels understood and less alone. My blog A LOVELY WOMAN has several blog entries about mother loss and I also have a Facebook page where I post about grief regularly. Project Brave birds is an inspiring page dedicated to celebrating the journeys and achievements of brave girls and women who have lost their mothers around the world. Without My Mum is an active private group page hosted by Leigh Van Der Horst where women share their feelings on mother loss and offer up support. And the Motherless Daughters Facebook community page shares many articles on mother loss including my own. These are valuable and loving places to go for comfort and support.
  9. Write a letter to your mother. This is therapeutic and can be a valuable exercise in grieving. Let yourself cry and laugh. Release whatever needs to be released. Put down the words. It may even turn into a book!
  10. If you know somebody who has lost their mother invite them to meet for coffee or a walk in the park. Dedicate an hour to talking about your mothers. Or seek out a Motherless Daughters meetup group in your city. Host a potluck for motherless daughters or work on that collage I mentioned previously with other motherless daughters. Spend time with those who understand the tremendous impact of this great loss.
  11. Take part in this new Mother’s Day gift swap idea. I’m unable to participate this year but I’d love to hear from those of you who try it.
  12. If you just want to get away from it all plan a trip. Travel somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Go in honor of your mother. Plan something ahead of time that will keep your mind off the Hallmark holiday. I often take a trip on this day and I will be traveling again this May 14th. I make the day about what I want it to be. If you can’t afford to travel somewhere or you can’t get away for an entire day take a walk in your favorite park, go for a short hike or a drive in the countryside. Go solo or bring your favorite person or a precious pet. Immerse yourself in nature. It is truly healing.

We are going to feel lonely, despairing and possibly unheard this Mother’s Day. It isn’t helpful to conceal or deny our emotions. But also let us remember that we carry our mothers with us wherever we go. They live on through us and they want us to be happy and to live our lives in joy. This is not always easy, but I believe it’s possible and it’s certainly worth a try.

They are not dead who live
In hearts they leave behind.
In those whom they have blessed
They live a life again,
And shall live through the years
Eternal life, and grow
Each day more beautiful
As time declares their good,
Forgets the rest, and proves
Their immortality.
They Softly Walk by Hugh Robert Orr
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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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