A Messy World, After Mother Loss, Being Kind, Being present for those grieving, Childhood grief, Children grieve, Connecting through grief, Coronavirus, Death, Family, Gratitude, Grief, Grief stories, Grief Writing, In honor of my mother, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Moving forward after loss, On Writing, Pandemic, Talking grief, Writing on Grief

Striking Acts of Decency

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

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

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

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

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

― Amelia Earhart

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

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Dear 11 Year Old Me (a letter)

Today, November 21, 2019, in honor of Children’s Grief Awareness Day, I penned and recorded a letter to eleven year old me, the age I was when my mother, Kathleen, died. I share my recorded version at this link on my public Facebook page if you would like to take a listen. Below is a transcript of my letter.

The Highmark Caring Place, A Center for Grieving Children, Adolescents and Their Families, created Children’s Grief Awareness Day to raise awareness of the distress and impact that the death of a loved one has in the life of a child. It “seeks to bring attention to the fact that often support can make all the difference in the life of a grieving child.” Children’s Grief Awareness Day is observed every year on the third Thursday in November and is now recognized by organizations around the world.

To be honest it is not easy for me to put this personal letter into cyberspace. However, I sense that my words might touch others who need them, making it worth my hesitation to share. Also, I came across this quote by Brene Brown providing me with the encouraging little shove I needed.

“People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.”
― Brené Brown, Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Advice I’ve received from both professionals in the field of grief and psychic mediums over the past few years has been to visualize myself as a child, the age I was when my mother was ill with cancer, and embrace her (little me), talk to her and console her with comforting words. Although I don’t do this very often, I’ve found it to be a worthwhile endeavor.

So here is my letter:

Dear 11 year old me,

I’m writing this to you when I’m 42 years old. I know at your age 42 seems so mature, grown up and far into the future and in some ways it is but I’m still the same Carmel with many of the same values, dreams and aspirations.

My dear 11 year old Carmel I see you clearly to this day. I feel your unwavering love for family, your love for those close friends you hold so dear and I feel your pain. You are being so brave now that Mam has passed on. You watched her suffer a lot for too many years. You witnessed the pain anxiety and sorrow of those you love the most.

Dear little 11 year old me, you bear so much fear and sadness for such a little girl. Not only did you worry deeply about the mother you loved so much, but you also worry for your kind, devoted, loving father and your older brother and you hold any anger you feel inside to protect those you deeply care for. You shouldn’t have to go through all of this. You allow your anger to show at school sometimes and you regularly get into trouble for it. Teachers get annoyed with you. They become frustrated when you lose concentration during school time. They don’t understand your pain. They never ask you how you are doing. You don’t have many opportunities during class to express yourself verbally or creatively and this is very difficult for you. I still feel this inside. Sometimes division and multiplication just don’t seem that important because you have other things on your mind. But you are diligent and always do your work, along with all of the extra work you are given for talking back to a teacher or laughing with a friend when you aren’t supposed to be laughing. It is good to laugh, little one, and you do love having fun. You love playing with your friends, doing activities with Dad and your brother. Life holds many beautiful experiences for you. Savor those moments of delight.

I’m proud of you, Carmel, for consistently doing your best in school when it is truly a challenging environment for you. Your friends can’t relate to your personal experiences and no trusted adult is available for you at school. You will take those difficult experiences and turn them into love. You will become the kind of early childhood educator you need today and, Carmel, when you get older you will shower so much love, compassion, empathy and care onto little children who need support. They will feel your genuine love for them and what you have to give will make a significant impact in the lives of innocent children.

Dear 11 year old me, you love little children and babies and you will work with them for many years. Children will touch your heart and bring you so much joy and love. Because of how much love you have inside you’ll remember each of them, you’ll give extra attention to the ones whose mothers are sick, fathers have died, brothers have abused them and so forth. You understand vulnerability and innocence. You are a very special soul.

Carmel, you will travel through this life fearlessly at times, moving to far away countries, trying out lots of various jobs. You will also feel anxiety, sadness and anger and it is okay to feel sad and angry. Express these in safe places when you can. Keep journaling and writing. Your beautiful, considerate words and insight will touch a lot of people’s hearts someday. Your story is important. What you have to say is valid. Believe in yourself. Keep playing and having fun. It’s okay to laugh. It’s actually very important. Try to release some of that worry. It is a burden and won’t change anything. I want you to know that you don’t need to worry about Dad as he will be with you in your life for many, many wonderful years. He will be a close, loyal confidante and dear friend to you always. So, don’t worry anymore.

You are a brave, bright, giving soul and you are loved. Keep shining that light.

I love you.

(In the featured image above I am sitting in our back garden on a bench, displaying the medals I won in Irish dancing competitions and a trophy my mother presented to me for doing well in school. The trophy was not a usual occurrence. Given the tough time we were all going through she wanted to offer me encouragement. I was thrilled with it and have the trophy to this day.)

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After Mother Loss, Being present for those grieving, Connecting through grief, Death, Grief, Grief Writing, Love, Mother Loss, Writing on Grief

To My Readers Across the Globe

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

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

Our stories are powerful. Vulnerability births connection.

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

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

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

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

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

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Motherless Daughter. Fatherless Son.

Several weeks ago following a public reading where I read an essay I had written about childhood mother loss a young woman approached and told me, through tears, how optimistic she felt on seeing me read in front of so many people. It wasn’t just the story I had written, she said, though it really moved her, what she felt most optimistic about was seeing me, apparently doing so well today, following such a traumatic loss in my early life. I thanked her and told her I appreciated her coming to the reading. She nodded, clearly upset and I realized there was more to her interaction with me than I initially thought.

“My best friend just lost her battle with cancer,” she blurted. “Now, there is a little eight year old girl without a mother.”

“Oh I’m so sorry to hear that,” I responded, my palm automatically moving to my heart.

“Yes, it’s very sad. Every day is a struggle. But your reading gave me hope. To see you stand up there, after all these years and to hear you express yourself, what you went through, so articulately…I know she’ll be okay now.”

I thanked the lady and told her how sorry I was for her loss and for the little girl’s loss. I wanted to tell her if she needed anything to let me know, but sometimes it’s difficult to do that with a stranger because people are private and wish to deal with things their own way. Also, there isn’t a lot I can do because I can’t bring a mother back and that is all anybody really wants. I mentioned my blog and my FB page where I post regularly on grief and mother loss. I don’t know if she has visited either but I think of our interaction often. I’m glad my essay moved that lady, and gave her hope. We often have no idea in any given moment who needs our stories the most.

I’m glad the little girl has a caring, nurturing woman to look out for her. I hope they are thriving in this world that manages to break our hearts wide open with sorrow while continuing to gift us with tremendous joy and love. The lady told me that even though the girl is only eight she loves to pen stories about her mother. It was my turn to shed a tear. Her mother will not be forgotten.

Many children draw or create art from pain and sadness, as we adults do. One little boy I had in Kindergarten a few years ago drew his way through his father’s terminal illness. And when the little boy came to visit me after transitioning to first grade he carried with him a picture of his dad, drawn in yellow and brown crayons.

“How is your dad?” I asked him, taking the picture into my hands and admiring the portrait.

“He died,” he said simply.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, reaching out and giving the little boy a hug. “How are you?”

“Okay,” he said, before quickly changing the subject. He told me I could keep the picture. I knew he wanted to tell me about his dad but it was easier for him to show me a drawing than tell me straight out. Art is a way for our hearts to speak when words can’t explain the depth of our grieving.

That little girl will have her own story to live and tell, as will that first grade boy, as I have mine, and you have yours. We carry within us a blend of such sad stories and very beautiful ones.

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We are all tremendously resilient. Spread your wings and fly loves! Or crawl at first, if that is what you can manage. Take a deep, deep inhale and let go. Drop those shoulders. Pick up a pencil. We inspire others by being brave and sharing our creations. I’ve learned, and continue to learn so much from humans of all ages and walks of life. I’ve always believed in my inner strength and knowing. I have known heartbreaking sadness and I’ve experienced life’s most precious joys. Don’t give up story-makers, dream-creators, resilient beautiful beings! We’re all on this Mother Earth together and we can help each other. Now fly!

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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15 Ways to Honor Your Deceased Mother on Your Wedding Day

Many of us imagine that our wedding day will be one of the best days of our lives. But for women whose mothers have died, navigating the wedding planning and the big day can be difficult and painful. My mother died when I was eleven years old, obviously several years before I was ready to even consider getting married, but her absence from my wedding preparations at thirty nine years of age was felt throughout the process, and on the beautiful day itself. I know there are many motherless women excited for their wedding day while at the same time experiencing a range of emotions from anxiety and dread to sorrow and anger. Women have asked my advice on how best to honor their mothers during the ceremony. Here are fifteen ideas:

1.Place a favorite photograph of your mother in a pretty frame and place it on the ceremony table facing you and the guests throughout the celebration. You can glance at that photograph, see her face, and know she is with you in spirit.

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2. My father and I picked flowers from our garden at home, including two beautiful red roses that came from my maternal grandfather’s rose bush – a gift to my parents many moons before. My husband and I held these roses during the Rose Ceremony and the flowers were displayed in an old pottery jug of my mother’s which was placed on the table next to her photograph. Did your mother have a garden? Or something special of hers that you can incorporate into the ceremony?

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3. My husband and I displayed photographs of our parents on their wedding days and these were moved throughout the day depending on the celebration, for example, they were next to our wedding cake later in the evening.

Dublin Ireland

4. My mother’s name was included in our wedding booklet where we mentioned the parents of the bride and groom. My mother was not going to be at my wedding but she is still one of my parents and there was no question about having her name on the booklet. (Many people choose to omit the names of the deceased and focus only on those in attendance.)

5. A month before our wedding I attended a Motherless Daughter’s Retreat with Hope Edelman, Claire Bidwell Smith and twenty one other motherless daughters in beautiful Ojai, California. I attended the retreat in order to bond with other women who understood the pain of early mother loss. The timing was right for me as the build-up to our wedding had sent a flood of fresh grievances my way. In a little shop in Ojai I came across a gorgeous handbag, perfect for my wedding outfit. I purchased it some days later and on my special day I carried the handbag with me along with the love, understanding and best wishes of my new tribe of motherless sisters. Are you a member of a motherless daughters’ group? There are many of these groups now, all over the USA and internationally. Or perhaps you have a friend whose mother died? She may be able to offer you comfort that nobody else can offer on the day. Keep her close.

6. Months before our wedding I ordered a gorgeous Candle of Remembrance from an Irish company and chose the image and the wording (from a selection) that best suited my mother. I lit the candle in my mother’s honor when the celebrant mentioned her name and her absence at the beginning of the ceremony. Many companies offer Remembrance Candles.

Dublin Ireland

7. A few years after my mother died I found a stunning ring of hers that fit me perfectly. I’ve worn it every day since then and I wore it on my wedding day. Do you wear something that once belonged to your mother? I find it very comforting to wear her ring daily.

8. I wanted to incorporate another piece of my mother’s jewelry into my outfit and with the help of local designer Holly Stalder we came up with the idea of creating a pretty hairpiece using my mother’s costume jewelry brooch and some fabric pieces similar to my wedding dress. This was a fun endeavor and I love the result so much!

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9. My father mentioned my mother in his speech and it proved to be a special, important moment for me; honoring Mam by speaking of her in front of family and friends. My bridesmaid who is one of my best friends since our earliest years also spoke of Mam and honored her memory with beautiful, touching words of remembrance. I spoke of Mam briefly during my speech and it felt good to bring her memory into the space.

10. Having my father present on my wedding day, being there to walk me up the aisle and offer his joy, love and best wishes to my husband and me, our guests and our friends, meant the world to me. My mother chose a wonderful husband, a man who would look after their two children with a kind heart and who would honor their love by being the best dad he could be. My mother would have been proud, and very grateful. Not everyone will have the presence of a father on their wedding day, but perhaps you have a brother, a sister, a grandparent or someone else who loves you and can support you on the day.

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These are some of my favorite ways other women have honored their mothers on their wedding day:

11. Re-stage one of your mother’s wedding pictures. I love this idea and if I had thought of it prior to my wedding I would have attempted it.

12. Sew a heart from a piece of your mother’s fabric onto the inside of your wedding gown. That way you can hold a piece of your mother very close.

13. Wear a locket containing her photograph or attach it to your bouquet.

14. Hold a moment of silence in her memory.

15. Lace your mother’s wedding band into your gown. This one can look really beautiful.

Our wedding day proved to be one of my favorite days ever. I know my mother would want that for me. I hope this post can give other motherless daughters ideas but I also want to offer encouragement and support. Love is a blessing and our special unions in life are gifts. The day passes so quickly. Focus on all the positive, love-filled aspects of the day if you can.

Sending love and best wishes for your special day,

~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.

Photo credits to Jefferies photography, Ireland and Annie Bracken (last image)

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Being there for someone who has lost a mother, Death, Grief, Grief stories, Love, Mother Loss, Mother's Day Without My Mother, Motherless Daughter, Offering support to someone who has lost their mother

What Not to Do When Someone You Know Has Lost Their Mother

The following TEN points may seem obvious. At least they do to me, but since we are all human and nobody is perfect I’ve decided to put this list together. Also, the first thing on my list happened to me today bringing to my attention that people need reminders every now and again. In fact, all ten points have happened to me, many of them on multiple occasions, so if you know all of this already please feel free to share it with somebody who doesn’t. It might prevent an awkward or upsetting situation from happening in the future and we all strive to be better people, right? I, for one, know that I’ve much to learn from others and their personal experiences. That’s one of the many reasons I read memoirs. Empathy is a door into other people’s experiences and when we immerse ourselves in somebody’s story, tapping into the struggle of another human being, we get to exercise those empathy muscles. Here are my suggestions.

TEN things NOT to do when someone you know has lost their mother:

  1. DO NOT email a motherless daughter gift advertisements for Mother’s Day. I know, unbelievable right? Even so, it happened, and the person knows my mother isn’t alive. Just what I didn’t need in the mail. The message on the ad stated “Pamper your mother this Mother’s Day”. Really? Please don’t do this. It’s bad enough that our inboxes are automatically bombarded with these kinds of advertisements leading up to Mother’s Day.
  2. DO NOT invite them to your own Mother’s Day event and expect them to be in a cheerful mood for the entire party when everyone around you is celebrating the wonder of mothers and those who have them. (If the motherless daughter is particularly close to your mother, then this may be a different case, but please ask them sincerely if being at the party is where they want to be). I hear from women all of the time about how hard Mother’s Day events are for them, but they do it to please a partner or keep others happy.
  3. DO NOT post publicly about missing somebody who has died, on a date that is significant and meaningful to that person and their family, without a) asking permission of the grieving relative or person closest to the deceased b) referring to the grieving person and their own unique and significant pain and c) requesting that people connect with the grieving person on her page or privately. Posting about missing somebody after a death is a beautiful thing if the family has given you permission or if you were extremely close to the deceased. Please be mindful as to how you approach it. It’s hurtful to be tagged in someone else’s post about your own mother and follow along as they receive kind messages and condolences throughout the day.
  4. (In connection with above post) DO NOT offer your condolences to somebody for their loss on another person’s page and simply assume, or hope that she’ll see it. A personal message, a kind gesture offered in private (rather than on someone else’s page) is more meaningful. Check to see if the bereaved person has written something of her own, describing her personal journey and offer a genuine response to that.
  5. TRY NOT TO FORGET significant dates, in particular death anniversaries, Mother’s Day and birthdays. Mark them on your calendar and make that call. Often it will only take five minutes. We can’t all remember significant dates for everyone. I get that. But if you have a very close friend or family member who suffered a major loss surely that date is etched in your brain? No. Then maybe take note and write it down in order to remember. What do most of us look for in a genuine lengthy friendship? I would say we wish to be thought of and held in that friend’s heart. Well, this includes being thought about on tough days like the anniversary of your mother’s death. We want to know that our friends haven’t forgotten our most challenging life experiences. Offer a kind and sincere thought on the anniversary of a rough day. Believe me, it makes a difference. Here’s a brief story of a time a friend really helped lift my spirits and all it took was a phone call. I was at an all-day Mother’s Day event and the celebrations were wearing on me. Nobody had mentioned the fact that I no longer had my mother, even though several people at the event were aware of this. (I get that people don’t know what to say! We ‘grief-writers’ are working on that). After many hours surrounded by people I needed to take a breather because in that crowded room I felt alone. Outside in a nearby park I burst into tears. Nobody had any idea how painful this day was for me. Right then my phone rang. It was a friend whose father had died a few months prior and so, fresh in his own grief, he understood what I might be feeling. He said he wanted to check on me and see how I was doing. This small (but huge in the moment) act of kindness changed the entire trajectory of my day. I’d known this man less than a year and yet he was the one who called me. To have my loss acknowledged, my mother remembered and my feelings validated meant so much to me, I’ve never forgotten it.
  6. DO NOT tell a motherless daughter that you wish you didn’t have to spend the day with your annoying, cranky mother. Just don’t.
  7. DO NOT compare your loss with somebody else’s. Grief is one of the hardest things life will ever throw our way. Losing a loved one changes us, and our lives forever. I feel deeply for any person who is grieving. For motherless daughters Mother’s Day is a wretched day. The bombardment of advertisements telling us how we should pamper and celebrate our mothers when we no longer have them is heart-wrenching. For women whose babies/children have died it is a cruel reminder of a massive loss. The day is tough on widowed parents, terminally ill mothers and families where a terminally ill mother is fighting for her life. Let’s not compare one loss to another. This has happened to me, on several occasions. I recall one occasion in another story of mine. Pain is pain. Nobody wants to lose the person they love. We are all in this life together.
  8. DO NOT, if you are a teacher or a grown up, assume that a child has their mother at home. I still can’t believe how insensitive my teachers were following my mother’s death. “Take this home to your mother!” they would say, handing me a note for home. I would look them straight in the eye in disbelief but they would continue on down the classroom aisle with no thought given to what they had said. These teachers were well aware of my loss. We were from a small town and my school was relatively small. They just didn’t think about what they were saying. It didn’t matter to them enough to choose their powerful words with more care.
  9. DO NOT tell a motherless daughter they should be over their loss by now. It doesn’t matter if it’s a year, twenty years or fifty years, we never ‘get over’ losing our mothers. I have dear friends who lost their mothers forty and fifty years ago and they still miss and long for them. I lost my mother thirty years ago and although the passage of time heals in some ways I’ve never stopped missing Mam. I’ve longed for her throughout my life at different periods such as when shopping for my wedding dress and other seemingly insignificant times such as strolling down the street and spotting a flower she would love or catching the scent of a perfume she wore.
  10. BE MINDFUL of speaking in a group about the blessing of having a nurturing, loving mother while a friend who is motherless sits listening. I am in no way suggesting to daughters (or sons) not to celebrate and cheer on their mothers because any love expressed is a beautiful thing. It warms my heart deeply to see mothers and daughters interact in loving ways. I wrote about the beautiful mother-daughter bond here and here. Be considerate, is what I’m saying. Two of my college friends gushed about their mothers in front of me one day. We had just returned to campus after a weekend at home with our families. They described everything their mothers did for them, how nurturing they were and how much they loved them announcing “Where would we be without our mothers?” Granted I was blessed with a gem of a father so I could have shot back ”Where would we be without our fathers?” but my heart hung heavy by that point, not only as a result of being reminded of what I was missing, but because my two lovely friends forgot what I could never forget.

If we are more mindful in our interactions with friends, if we take the time to consider how we would feel in a particular situation and if we make the effort to learn from those who have gone through challenges then we’ll do just fine. I promise. And sincerely I appreciate all the love I receive on a regular basis since beginning this very personal journey of sharing.

Previously I wrote a piece on how to be present for someone who has lost their mother. If I can help comfort another woman or give ideas to those who want to do better for a grieving friend then I’m doing my work. I saw this picture on Instagram recently by Mari Andrew, a writer and illustrator based in NYC. I relate.

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If you are interested in finding more tips or advice on how to help a grieving friend or someone going through a really tough time pick up a copy of this book by Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell. It’s packed with great advice.

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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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Thirty Years Without My Mother

On March 2nd, 1988 my dear mother, Kathleen, passed away from ovarian cancer, at home in Ireland, where I was born and raised. I was eleven and my brother was a couple of years my senior. It’s hard to believe it has been thirty years, and yet it does seem like a lifetime since I was held by my mother.

My family stuck together through everything. In this way I feel fortunate. Dad, grieving but kind and present, guided us through the tough times with a gentle, open heart. We didn’t see therapists or read books on grief, we just plowed forward with determination and love. I don’t know if there were therapists around our town in those days. Nobody spoke about therapists. Things are different now, but even as I got older if a person saw a therapist back home they were seen as weak, or weird. That isn’t the reason we didn’t seek one out. The thought just didn’t cross anyone’s minds. I didn’t know of any books about grief or mother loss either, though I was curious to find one. I secretly longed to read a book about a little girl my own age whose mother was sick and died. I wanted to know what another eleven year old girl would do in similar circumstances. Concerns about my impending years of puberty and how I’d tackle female issues without my mother took up space in my mind and I wanted to feel like I had a friend who understood, even if that friend was a character in a book whose story was similar to mine.

I never did find that book. It wasn’t until many years later, as an adult, that I came across a book on the subject of mother loss. I’ve seen a therapist on a couple of occasions but honestly I never felt that I needed grief counseling. For certain, grief counseling can be of enormous help to some people. It just wasn’t what I needed. Or perhaps I didn’t find the right person. Maybe the timing was off. I’m not sure.

Growing up I could talk to my father about anything and I relied on him for love and consistent care. He never let me down. We often spoke about Mam, and we still do. Permitted to look through her things, wear her clothes if I wished and explore her belongings, it brought Dad happiness to witness my continued love for my mother. Every day I wear a ring of hers, gifted to Mam from my father. On my wedding day in 2016, along with my mother’s ring, I wore a beautiful brooch of hers embedded in a unique hair set made locally for the occasion. We keep the memory of my much-loved mother alive to this day by displaying family photos around the house. We were able to move on with our lives, creating new experiences and memories, while treasuring openly the woman at the center of our lives.

It’s hard to imagine that my mother is gone from us three decades now; a vibrant, beautiful spirit in her healthy days, and a courageous, kind human-being during the tough years. These past thirty years have been a real mix of ups and downs. For those of us who lost a loved one early in life we are constantly riding the unpredictable waves of emotions. In the first few years I focused on school, drama classes and my friendships. It felt important to me to stay strong for my family’s sake. Genuinely happy many of those days, I had great friends and a comfortable home, albeit without my mother. School was not my favorite place and as the years passed my anxiety there increased. Even as a child the focus in school was placed on listening to teachers, enjoying little to no P.E. or art and chastisement for any little thing.

I didn’t understand it back then but I experienced a sense of relief following my mother’s death. After watching her suffer for so many years we were all exhausted and often frantic with worry. The progression of her illness broke our hearts. For six years we hoped and prayed that she would get better, but she didn’t and there was so much pain during those years. When Mam died I was broken-hearted, but a feeling of lightness descended upon me and I just let go. This is a difficult thing to explain to anybody who hasn’t watched someone they love suffer for a long period of time and it’s even harder to admit to ourselves. Now, after all of these years I long for even one more minute with her. What a miracle that would be!

Going through puberty posed challenges for me. I was eleven when my mother died so it was all ahead of me. I wanted to ask Mam so many questions. My friends and I surmised and speculated about things but I longed to ask Mam about girl stuff. I wanted to know what her responses would be. My friends told me I wouldn’t ask Mam private things even if she were alive, but I knew that I would.

Unexpectedly, in my mid twenties I experienced deep sadness and regret over not having the relationship I saw other women my age enjoying with their moms. I craved maternal love, that particular way only a mother can love her child and I knew my mother, a nurturing, loving person, would have given me that unconditional love. I believe my grieving truly started then. In my studio apartment here in Portland, I would suddenly break down and cry at the thought of her. I felt terribly hard done by. It was during these years that I sought out energy healers and psychics. A few of the female healers appeared to have the ability to connect with my mother’s spirit and the readings offered much comfort. During these sessions I felt certain my mother’s spirit was close. Shortly after this time I began writing about my loss and connecting with other motherless daughters.

There are times when I feel deep pangs of sorrow and I wish Mam had been granted a much longer life than what she was given. Today, she would be eighty years old had she lived. But I allow myself to think and talk about her every day and writing about her over the years has really helped me process her death. I started this blog two years ago on this date and am happy to have connected with so many motherless daughters who have read and related to what I have shared. We all have our own stories, but we find comfort in the connections we make through writing. I’m working on my memoir Briefly I Knew My Mother to honor my mother’s memory while helping others understand the long arc of grief, in particular in regards to early loss.

People ask if it will get better or easier over time, if they will ever stop missing the person they loved and lost. My mother died thirty years ago and I can say this; things do get easier eventually, the weight of the loss does lighten, but the void will always be there. I’ve never stopped missing Mam and I’ve missed her in varying ways. Some years have been harder than others. Why particular years were more challenging depended on phases and experiences in my life and so our grief journeys are not linear. Some moments are heavy and sad, while others are filled with beauty and joy. Life is but a collection of moments. Getting through a moment is easier than getting through a day or a week or a year. The key is to try and find something beautiful in a moment and go with that into the next. Hold your person in your heart, keep them in your thoughts, but live as best you can in each precious moment.

The sadness we experience in grief is borne out of the love that grew within us for that particular person. Love is a tremendous gift. My mother and father showed me the true meaning of love by caring for the other deeply and in their unconditional love for their children. I keep a photograph of my mother in a beautiful vintage frame on a table in our hallway alongside a scented candle, a couple of plants, fresh flowers and a bowl of lavender. I pass this area frequently, glancing at Mam’s smiling happy face as I carry on with my day. Her spirit is with with me, I can feel it. No, it’s not the same as having her here in person; chatting together over a cup of tea, but it’s a comfort to me nonetheless. Mam has a prominent place in my heart, to this day, thirty years following her death, and a prominent place in our home.

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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After Mother Loss, Death, Grief, Grief Writing, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Moving forward after loss

Moving Forward After Mother Loss

We can’t go back in time. We can only move forward. Moment to moment. There is no changing what has happened no matter how much we want the outcome to be different. And in standing still, which we may do for a while, there can be no growth. Our bodies and spirits gravitate towards recovery and healing so eventually we must move in that direction, but it can take a long time, and a lot of effort. How do we activate our healing when all we want to do is cry? When all we want is for the person we have lost to reappear and hold us and tell us everything is okay, just as it was before, but better because we now know what it feels like to lose them and the most amazing feeling ever would be to have them back.

Well, crying is a good step. Crying is a release and it is healing. I didn’t cry all that much in the first decade following my mother’s death. I cried in the second decade, and into the third. So, I know that grieving is a process and that it can present itself throughout our lives depending on circumstances. I’ve lived some of the happiest days of my life in the years since my mother died, but I’ve also lived black days. Days where I couldn’t stop crying, staring at the photo of Mam on my fridge, imploring “Where are you? Are you here? Why did this have to happen to us? I neeeeed you!”

This is the journey of life. The days of cherry blossoms and playful baby goats; warm sunshine kissing bare skin; a comforting hug from someone you love; the fragrance of spring in the violet-blue hyacinths on your coffee table, but also, the sorrow that wells up inside you when the scent of nail polish takes you right back to the days of sitting beside your long-dead mother as she delicately painted your tiny fingernails.

What do we do? We move forward, reaching for the pleasant gifts of life. We must, if we are to survive.

Cheryl Strayed quoted her mother in her stunning book ”Wild when she said:

“There’s always a sunrise and always a sunset and it’s up to you to choose to be there for it,’ said my mother. ‘Put yourself in the way of beauty.”

Is it easy? Not always. Is it possible? Yes.

Following tragedy we will never be the same person we were beforehand. Gathering all of the shredded pieces of ourselves together we gradually become who we need to be as we take our next steps. We learn as we go along, figuring out what works for us, facing adversity head on and sometimes crying. Moment to moment.

Throughout my life many of the universe’s gifts have inspired me to step from one moment into the next. After my mother died it was my father’s love and devotion towards my brother and me that kept me afloat. His love for us gave me something to hold on to. I didn’t lose all hope in the world, though my innocence was shattered at an early age. One caring and devoted adult in a child’s life can make all the difference. My brother and I were blessed with a wonderful dad.

I had close friends in school who cared about me and the laughter we shared, even on the toughest days, allowed a lightness to enter my being when otherwise it could not. Laughter is an instant release from those thoughts that cause pain. One of my closest friends, Tara, could always make me laugh. I needed her compassionate spirit close to me in school following my mother’s death, and we gravitated towards one another no matter how much our teachers tried to pry us apart. I will never understand why it was more important to my teachers that I concentrate on my math or my writing than it was that I laugh with my pal in the aftermath of such tragedy. My work was exemplary. I loved to write and read and my teachers had no reason to worry about that side of things. School granted me a chance to interact with my friends and I needed those interactions. I was only eleven. Plenty of time for austerity. Laughter is one of the best prescriptions for wellness. As a teacher of young children I laughed a lot when I was in the classroom with them. I encouraged laughter and joy more than anything. What a gift little ones are! They remind us to pay attention to the simplest of life’s blessings.

Making art, creating, writing, dancing, singing; all of these things can save a person. Find that which your soul is drawn to and give yourself the time and space to dive right in. Art lifts you out of the analytical thinking left brain and drops you into the expressive, imaginative right brain where you can let go of the pain for a while. Writing has always been my go-to and when I gave myself the time and permission to write about Mam’s illness and death in Briefly I Knew My Mother a weight so heavy and burdensome lifted. My mother loved to dance and sing so these activities not only bring me joy they bring me closer to her.

I know that sometimes none of this will seem to matter. We are too heartbroken and devastated to consider stepping towards anything that removes us from thinking of the person we have lost. There are times when all we want is that person back. I understand. I so completely understand. The void we experience following a loss often feels like too much to bear.

It takes time. That’s why we must be kind to ourselves and listen to what our soul is trying to tell us. Our inner voice knows what we need. Laughter is an instant release. It creates space. Friends give us comfort. Take everything moment to moment. But we must do the work. When we are ready it is ultimately up to us.

Nature offers us many gifts. I am always calmer following a walk in the forest. Regularly I crave a warm lake in which to float, releasing myself to the water as it carries me along. Our universe is rich with beauty. When we give ourselves to it our souls respond to the sweet magnificence of the hummingbird, the soft comforting warmth of a furry family pet and the immense strength of the redwood tree.

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In March of this year my mother will be dead thirty years. It’s an astonishing amount of time. Life threw my family a tremendous burden and a whole lot of heartbreak when we were all just starting off together as a little family. It’s not fair. But what in life is?

In those thirty years since I have lived sad times, bewildering times and happy joyful times. Some years propose questions and other years offer answers.

Moment to moment we can allow the answers to filter through, be it in stillness or art, writing or friendship. Look for that door, the one that appeals to you, the one that draws you over, and then when you’re ready to step on through, open it. Take all that you need with you on your next journey: your memories, the love you’ll always carry for the person you’ve lost, and breathe deeply as you go. Joy and beauty will greet you on the other side, showing up in your art, your words and your song, in the garden, on a hike, in another person’s smile. We are part of all that is. It is a great mystery but one that we are in together. The grief journey is gut-wrenching at the worst of times, but our lives are richer for the love we have experienced. Take it moment to moment, that’s all we can do. Then reach for that door handle. And visualize what you want to find on the other side!

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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“May my heart be kind, my mind fierce, and my spirit brave.” – Kath Forsyth, The Witches of Eileanan
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Being Kind, Childhood grief, Death, Grief, Grief stories, Love, Moments, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter

Compassion Blooms

I see my sadness in your sadness.

I lost Mam when I was 11 years old. As a young child I watched my beloved mother suffer as she attempted in so many ways to get well again. She was in and out of hospital for weeks, sometimes months at a time. She had to leave her husband and children while she spent days attached to drips in hospitals around the country. It must have been almost unbearable for her. But she fought with all that she had, for her life and for us. She fought for as long as she was able, until she could fight no more.

Today I feel my eleven year old pain, and I feel the pain of every child who grieves the loss of their mother. I hurt for children who have lost a father, a sibling or that special somebody who meant the world to them. I weep for those who are going through suffering, whether they are watching a parent fight for their lives or they are fighting for their own life. Because I know what pain, anxiety and loss feels like to a child, and although my circumstances are different to theirs as humans we know what a broken heart feels like.

To the little five year old girl who was in my classroom and whose mother had just been diagnosed with cancer; the little five year old boy whose dad was dying from aggressive cancer; the little girl whose father committed suicide; the little girl whose brother had sexually abused her; I wanted so badly to protect each of you from your pain. Your precious little hearts and bodies were aching and I saw each one of you. I still hold you all in my heart. For some of you it has been more than fifteen years but I remember each of you by name and I can see each of your tiny faces in my memory.

I see my sadness in other people’s sadness.

I see it in fathers, widowers, husbands who are in and out of the hospital visiting a suffering loved one and in adoring partners who want nothing more than the health and well-being of their chosen love. My heart breaks for them. It isn’t easy. And everything doesn’t always turn out as we want it to. I don’t know if there really is a divine plan. It doesn’t make sense to those of us who have lost someone, and it doesn’t help to hear that part of the divine plan is losing the good ones.

For the grieving parent who has lost a child; the woman who goes through miscarriage after miscarriage; the girl who has lost the love of her life; the man who experiences grief in every cell of his being; the child who misses a parent so much they just want to die; the person who misses a grandmother more than anyone; I feel your sorrows. I do. Our situations and circumstances are different and our pain is different in form but I know what it is like to hurt and despair. We have lost and feel broken, unsure of how to go on, angry at the world, envious of those who have what we no longer have.

Many of us know the pain of losing someone. Not everyone does. Unfortunately everybody will. Instead of bitterness and cruelty towards one another it is time to reach out and offer space for others. None of us know the full extent of the pain that another person is carrying on any given day. Let’s pause and consider this before we pass judgement or criticize. We can offer compassion. And let us never forget that we too deserve space and compassion. Let’s do the best we can in any given moment. We must take care of our own hearts too.

I went to hear Joe Biden speak in November here in Portland, Oregon. Joe has written a book about the death of his son Beau and much of the talk centered on the pain of that loss. Also mentioned was the loss of Joe’s first wife and baby daughter in a tragic car accident and yet Joe was able to look out into the audience and say to us, “I know that my grief is nothing compared to what some of you have experienced. Everyone in this room has gone through something.” He said that he didn’t mean to make his grief sound worse than anybody else’s. He wanted to acknowledge that we all have our burdens to carry.

Every one of us can speak of our losses, share our stories, and assert our needs while acknowledging that this is a world filled with people who understand heartache and burden. As we embark on a new journey in this bright and shiny new year let’s celebrate all the love that there is in the world. Love is a gift in all of its forms. Let’s not deny another person’s love. We can reach out to one another, offer a listening ear and share our vulnerabilities and our stories.

I began a Facebook page in which to share personal stories of mother loss and updates on my memoir. It has since morphed into a page where I share various grief articles (although still with an emphasis on mother loss), because as humans we all have the ability to relate to another person’s sorrow. I see my loss in another person’s loss. It is extremely helpful, of course, to connect with people who share similar experiences e.g Motherless Daughter’s groups, because within our tribe we experience a connection that can carry us when we are having trouble standing on our own.

In 2018 let’s see if we can reach out to each other more. To the refugee who has had to flee their home, leave their family and an entire life behind; to the child who finds themselves in trouble because a parent isn’t present in their lives; to the single mother who is trying her best to be present for their child and to those parents doing their best to care for a sick child. I see my struggles in their struggles.

Different, but the same.

Sadness around us.

Human suffering. Humanity suffering.

Because we love.

Humanity.

Love.

Let’s be the light, even as we ourselves struggle. Let’s be the light in this precious world of ours. Love wins, even when it hurts.

Peace and love to you all this new year.

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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Childhood grief, Coco, Death, Family, Grief, Grief Writing, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Remembering the Dead

‘Coco’ Reminds Us to Remember the Dead

My husband suggested I might like to see the new Pixar movie, Coco. Since we don’t go to many movies I wondered why he thought I would like Coco. After he mentioned that the film addressed the theme of death and the afterlife I was intrigued. We went to see it a few days ago and I’ve been reflecting on it since. A culturally sensitive and family-friendly animated film set in Mexico; Coco is centered on death, the importance of family and the legacy we leave behind. Coco takes place during the Day of the Dead when according to Mexican tradition, or as interpreted by the film writers, those who have passed over to the other side are allowed to cross back over to the land of the living so long as someone from the living world remembers them. Miguel, a young boy from the charming Mexican village of Santa Cecilia, crosses a bridge made of marigold petals and slips into the underworld on Dia de los Muertos. Coco is the name of Miguel’s great-grandmother, who turns out to be the heart of the story. This is not a scary movie. The afterlife is portrayed as colorful and primarily cheerful where decorative skeletons take part in fiestas and alebrijes or spirit animals spread their wings and fly.

I enjoyed everything about this film, but what touched me most of all was when Miguel came to understand the importance of family, including generations past, and the gift of remembering those who have gone before us. Miguel forges a bond with his deceased ancestors in the afterlife where he learns that if a dead person is forgotten by everyone alive, they die for a second time, and nobody knows where those spirits end up. Coco packs an emotional wallop and I was moved to tears as the young boy, back in the living world, tries to help silent Mama Coco recall the father who loved her. Miguel wants more than anything to help keep the memory of the dead alive.

This beautiful film caused me to reflect on our current traditions surrounding death. In Ireland, where I was born and raised, and here in the USA, we have a funeral for the deceased, and a burial or a cremation, or some memorial immediately following the person’s death. However, after that we don’t celebrate those who have gone before us, at least not to the extent that people do for Dia de los Muertos. In Ireland we have memorial masses once a year, if a family chooses to do this in honor of the deceased. My father requests this every year for my mother, and her name is in the local mass bulletin around the anniversary of her passing. This is meaningful and important. We want our loved ones to be remembered. But there is something beautiful and celebratory about a multi-day holiday which focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The intent of Dia de los Muertos is to help support their spiritual journey and encourage visits by the souls.

Assured that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community. On Dia de los Muertos, the dead are also a part of the community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones. (National Geographic)

I love this idea. The dead are honored with ofrendas-small, private altars honoring each person. Ofrendas often have flowers, candles, the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, photos, and personal mementos of the person being remembered.

In Ojai with Hope Edelman, Claire Bidwell Smith and a small group of motherless daughters we each had the opportunity to display photographs of our mothers on a table decorated with flowers and candles. The moment was precious and significant. I think we should do this kind of thing more often. We should celebrate openly those who have passed on. Sometimes these occasions will be sad and sometimes, depending on many factors, these ceremonies will be joyous and comforting.

We who have lost loved ones yearn for the sense of their presence with us. The times when we share with others our memories of someone we loved and lost leaves us feeling nostalgic but energized because we can speak of these people who are still alive in our memories, the people we wish were still alive on earth today. These experiences warm and strengthen us as we discuss life, loved ones, loss and all that we know. Coco shows us that even after death, the spirit (and love) lingers on. In my writing I keep my mother’s memory alive every day. And I have framed photographs of her in several rooms around our home. Perhaps I’ll create a family collage next, consisting of photos of my grandparents, my uncles and loved ones who have crossed over to the other side.

Coco is an emotional film. It is also reassuring, visually appealing, thought-provoking and family friendly. For a child struggling to understand the death of a loved one this film offers an insight into how memories can keep the deceased alive in our minds. A respectful, realistic and beautiful portrayal of family life and customs in Mexico, Coco has a lot to offer. Spirit animals, dances with the dead, celebratory memorials…there is much to explore here. Death isn’t necessarily the end. I cried while watching Coco, but it was a good-feeling cry. There is much to be celebrated.

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.

The dead are not distant or absent. They are alongside us. When we lose someone to death, we lose their physical image and presence; they slip out of visible form into invisible presence. This alteration of form is the reason we cannot see the dead. But because we cannot see them does not mean that they are not there. (John O’Donohue -Our Departed Loved Ones)
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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 Briefly I Knew My Mother 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?

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.

“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, ran her comb through my long hair, 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 “Briefly I knew My Mother”, 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 far too early in my life, but because I was blessed with a caring and kind father who raised us children in a supportive and loving home following such a huge loss. Other 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 or flee and the child no longer has the 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.

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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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

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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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 more love.

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.

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 my father 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 Mam took her last breath, has me choking back tears. I imagine my kind father, his heart tortured from years of watching his beloved suffer, 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 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 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. Her most recent post was in reference to an 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, was very appealing to me. But the retreat was booked to capacity and I was so disappointed. However, 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 three beautiful, strong, vibrant, inspiring ladies was truly a gift. Twenty four of us, from diverse backgrounds, arrived in Ojai, from across the USA, Canada and Australia. We sat together and shared our deeply personal stories of mother loss. We nodded in unison on hearing each other’s stories, cried together and laughed. We got vulnerable in that space, because we could. We understood each other’s pain. Our stories were different, but the same. Our mothers were taken from us 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, who got why some days were so hard and others so good. Why, after decades, we still long for the mother who loved and cared for us as nobody else can. We worked through things together but most importantly we held space for each other. What was most valuable about 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 buy it. Not only was the purse perfect for my grey wedding gown, but had I bought it I could carry a little piece of Ojai with me on my special day. After a few days deliberation I rang the store and ordered it over the phone. On September 24 when I got married I had my Ojai purse with me throughout the celebrations. The purse reminded me of my newfound supportive community 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 a few 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. Sharing builds community and I have experienced this through writing, as other motherless daughters continue to reach out to me with their stories and concerns. 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.

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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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, whispers to me like a soft little hum in my ear all year round until February lands and I anticipate her birthday 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 shade of purple, like 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 followed quickly by 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 my mother. Dad and I call each other on those dates and some family members call my father on March 2nd which we appreciate. It’s a nice thing to do. But in the years since Mam died rarely does anybody else mention her to me on these sad but significant occasions. I understand that many people forget dates. People don’t want to bring it up, don’t want to upset me. But, guess what? I know what date it is and I’m well aware of what I’m missing. I haven’t forgotten. It is always nice to know that someone is thinking of you. To know that the person who meant the world to you is being thought of, that their death did not cancel out their memory, that your loss is recognized by those who love you is one of the greatest, most meaningful gifts you can give anybody.

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. Briefly I Knew My Mother is a story of mother loss. It is Mam’s story and my story, and it explores the universal experience of love, mother loss and grief. My memoir sheds light on early childhood anxiety and the ways we learn to cope and is a testament to family, resilience, compassion and truth-telling. I’ve poured my heart into this book.

Happy Birthday, Mam, wherever you are! You were born on this day many, many years ago and it is a special, wonderful, magical day. I’ll light a candle in your honor and browse through some photographs of us while sipping a cup of hot tea. Come sit with me while I browse? I have a feeling you will.

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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“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.

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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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 Mam’s illness 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 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 tough 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 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. Dad remained strong and he held us all up by allowing for a smooth transition into our new normal.

Dad put a lot of thought into creating a nice memorial place for Mam, close to our home in Galway. My brother and I went along with Dad to help choose her gravestone. I was eleven but can clearly recall the experience. My mother’s grave is pretty with a simple but stylish headstone and flowers that burst into color in the spring. I pray at her grave, I talk to Mam, grateful to have this place where we can reflect but I don’t feel any closer to her when I’m there. We visit every Christmas Eve after mass in the dark, cold night if it isn’t raining. I like to think Mam is with me always, in my heart and our home, not in the cold, damp earth. The grave is a place where we honor her. 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 my mother’s little ceramic jug, as my husband and I spoke our vows.

mams-pic-and-candle

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 the Christmas 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 Briefly I Knew My Mother 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.

did-i

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 Briefly I Knew My Mother; 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.

glennon-quote

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Death, Grief, Love, Motherless Daughter

3 Things I’ve Learned Since Losing My Mother

My mother died from ovarian cancer when I was a young child. I’m in my late thirties now and I’m still navigating this loss as I move through life. I’ve lived most of my life without my mother at this point but I still miss her. Here are 3 things I’ve learned since losing Mam.

1. Grief is not linear and is not soley expressed through tears.

Someone you love has been taken away from you and your heart has broken into pieces. It’s natural to grieve but we all grieve differently. Grief shows up in anger, sorrow, guilt, fear, and sometimes peace. It is unpredictable and at times exhausting.

I cried when my mother died, and I cried at her funeral when my school choir sang “Be Not Afraid.” I didn’t cry a whole lot in the immediate years that followed, at least not directly as a result of Mam’s death, but probably indirectly related to it. I certainly felt fear and anger and other emotions related directly to my loss. Then sadness hit me like a tonne of bricks one day when I was in my early twenties. A compassionate friend asked me about Mam and as I hadn’t spoken about her to anyone outside the family I broke down. It was a good release. The years have brought many stages of grieving. Mother’s Day is never easy. Shopping for my wedding dress without my mother has brought up intense feelings of loss. And sometimes it just hits me hard, on a regular day, yanking me out of my pleasant thoughts. A mother in a dressing room with her daughter and they’re trying on clothes together, admiring how the other looks. The mother telling the daughter how beautiful she is. Or a friend of mine, meeting her mother for lunch and I can’t even imagine what that would be like! I can’t even fathom the amazing joy of having lunch right now with Mam! And then I get that heaviness in my chest and my stomach feels bad. There’s no closure. My grieving stems from having loved so deeply. I have learned to tune into the emotions I’m feeling and to acknowledge the love, the pain and the loss.

2. There are no replacements.

Nobody can replace your mother. We love our mothers in our own individual ways. Our mothers care for us when we’re sick, guide us in life the best ways they can, listen to us, and love us unconditionally. For a mother her child is always her first priority. And we sense this. We feel it. We know it, even if she doesn’t say it.

My mother was beyond happy when I was born a healthy baby girl. I was told that she called me her little angel. She carried me in her womb for 9 months. By the time I was born we had that unbreakable bond and she knew me from that first second of my existence. There’s never going to be a replacement for that person who loved me, probably more than she loved herself. The joy in her eyes when she saw me, the warmth of her arms wrapped around me, the pain in her eyes when she had to say goodbye are all ways that I remember the deep love she had for me. Mam prepared lunches for me everyday to take to school, named muffins after me because they were my favorite and surprised me with the best doll she could find when I was a few years old. She repaired my soft toys when they tore, taught me to have manners and sit up straight, wiped my eyes when I cried and my nose when I was sick. Today I look for certain qualities in people. I look for a warmth, a radiance, a compassion and kindness that Mam had. I look for humor, a voice of sense and strength of character. These are traits that my mother had. I find some of them in others. But it’s never the same. There’ll never be another Mam. She’s irreplacable on so many levels.

A mother is she who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take.
– Cardinal Mermillod

3. There are other people who will love you and people for you to love.

Family members and friends will love you. They might not know exactly what your needs are or how to address them but it’s worth reaching out to them. People struggle with different things. Perhaps family members cannot love you, or be there for you and we may have to look around, let go, reach further than we might want to, to find the people who really love us, but there is someone out there to love you and there’s someone in need of your love.

I was blessed with the kindest most devoted father who gave my brother and me all the love and care we needed. My dad is a gem in my life. He calls me to hear my news and to share his. He worries when I’m not feeling good and is overjoyed when I’m happiest. He listens to my concerns and trusts me to make the right decisions. My dad has helped me so much in dealing with my loss, through caring for me and loving me unconditionally. I have the most wonderful fiancé who loves me to no end. And I’ve friends in my life who I know truly care about me. I’ve been blessed with a lovely family but it doesn’t mean that I don’t reach out to others. I’ve reconnected with old friends after years of distance. I’ve discovered things I have in common with others and opened up to new friendships. Having people to love is truly healing. I was a kindergarten teacher for ten years. I loved the children in my care and they showed me so much love in return. By spreading love we invite more love into our lives. Try volunteering or working in a school or a hospital. There are people everywhere in need of love. Our world is so big and yet so small now, in this age of technology. We can reach out to others across continents. Our mothers were the first to show us the true meaning of love. In honor of our mothers let’s spread that love wherever we can.

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.

There is no death, daughter. People die only when we forget them,’ my mother explained shortly before she left me. ‘If you can remember me, I will be with you always.’

Isabel Allende

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