Beverly Cleary said “If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it.” I didn’t see the book I wanted. I didn’t see the book I needed, so I decided to write it. It took years. I haven’t found an agent for A LOVELY WOMAN, but I won’t give up. There are many, many motherless daughters out there who need to know that they are not alone. There are grieving children, devastated dads, inexperienced teachers, hurting grandparents and concerned friends who desperately want to read as much as they can on grief and loss so that they may learn and grow through other people’s traumatic experiences. There are people struggling to cope with a profound loss who want to move forward and take healthy children along with them. Books help. Through shared experiences we can heal. It took me years to believe that I had a story worth sharing.
My mother died when I was 11. She got sick when I was very young. I was, and am, blessed to have a supportive, loving, devoted father who raised me with care and kindness. I didn’t however have any friends who lost their mother and so I felt very alone in this. I longed to meet another little girl whose mother had died. And I didn’t find these ‘friends’ in books either. I’ve always been a reader but it wasn’t until my twenties that I found a book on mother loss that I could relate to.
Since then I’ve discovered several wonderful books written by women about the death of their mothers. These books have meant the world to me. Each one is unique, every story so personal, but as human beings we relate to the emotions and what tugs at our heart strings. The ability of the author/character to push through the pain empowers us. We read on. I’ve put together a list of my favorite books on mother loss. All but one are non-fiction and memoir. My list is in no particular order but I will begin with the ‘mother’ of all motherless daughters books.
1.MOTHERLESS DAUGHTERS: THE LEGACY OF LOSS by Hope Edelman
This book had a major impact on me. I hadn’t heard of MOTHERLESS DAUGHTERS until I moved to the USA in my late twenties and discovered the Portland Motherless Daughters group through meetup. The book deeply examines all aspects of mother loss and in reading it I immediately felt less alone. In amazement I read the shared experiences and feelings of other motherless daughters and learned that contrary to what I believed it is natural for a daughter to continue grieving for her mother. This was a breakthrough for me. Missing my mother was not only natural but also universal.
“When a mother dies, a daughter grieves. And then her life moves on. She does, thankfully, feel happiness again. But the missing her, the wanting her, the wishing she were still here – I will not lie to you, although you probably already know. That part never ends.” -Hope Edelman
I’m forever grateful to Hope for the time and love that she put into writing this book.
2.THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES by Sue Monk Kidd
It has been six years since I read this book but what I remember most about it is 1. I loved it and couldn’t put it down. 2. It was the first fictional book I read, other than the gorgeous TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, that featured a young motherless girl as the protagonist. I loved Lily and I related to her deep musings about her dead mother.
“My mother died…but if I brought it up, people would suddenly get interested in their hangnails and cuticles.”
“The bag contained a pair of white cotton gloves stained the color of age. When I pulled them out I thought, Her very hands were inside here.”
At times this book pierced my heart. How was it that Lily could articulate some of my exact thoughts? But this is what books do best. They generate feelings, enhance our lives and give us words for what we already know deep down inside.
3.WILD by Cheryl Strayed
WILD is a beautifully written book by author Cheryl Strayed who lives here in Portland, Oregon. Cheryl’s memoir addresses the themes of mother loss and grief, and the demons the author faces as a result of her mother’s death. I didn’t personally relate to the drug use or some of the ways in which Cheryl deals with her mother’s death, and the challenging Pacific Crest Trail hike is way out of my league, but I did relate to Cheryl’s pain. Everyone reacts differently in the face of grief and trauma and Cheryl’s gut-wrenching story drew me in with the first lines. I couldn’t put this memoir down.
“My mother used to say something that drove me nuts. There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.” -Cheryl Strayed
This book is filled with encouraging, beautiful quotes. I’m a huge fan of Cheryl Strayed.
4.THE LONG GOODBYE by Meghan O’Rourke
In this intensely personal memoir, spot on with the grief a mother’s death brings, the author examines her own relationships and reactions to death. Meghan has a beautiful way with words and although the book is a tough read due to the heavy subject matter I highly recommend it to motherless daughters. Meghan addresses America’s lack of traditions and rituals around death and I related deeply to her writing on societal expectations on the grieving process.
“It is human to want our friends and family to recover from pain, to look for a silver lining – or so I reminded myself. But when people stop mentioning the dead person’s name to you, the silence can seem worse than the pain of hearing those familiar, beloved syllables.” -Meghan O’Rourke
This book is an important contribution to a culture struggling to confront death and deal with grief.
5.THE RULES OF INHERITANCE by Claire Bidwell Smith
A raw, brutal and touching memoir about Claire’s struggle with life following the death of her beloved mother. Both of the author’s parents were diagnosed with cancer when she was fourteen. Claire takes us on a heartbreaking journey. Powerful and emotional it was Claire’s recounting of the suffering and subsequent death of her father towards the book’s end that really got me. I sat sobbing quietly in a local coffee shop, the book held close to my face, unable to cease my flow of tears. Claire is a talented writer with a bounty of wisdom to share.
“In all my years of grief, and in my years as a bereavement counselor, the single most powerful healing mechanism I’ve found is simple presence. The opportunity for a person to feel seen and heard in the middle of one of the loneliest experiences in their life can have a profound effect.” -Claire Bidwell Smith
6.AFTER THIS: WHEN LIFE IS OVER WHERE DO WE GO? by Claire Bidwell Smith
Claire has experienced several losses in her life, including the death of her mother, her father and several close friends. These losses coupled with her profession as a grief counselor set her on the path to exploring the afterlife. In this book Claire takes us along with her as she works to understand grief and find ways to connect and stay connected with loved ones in the afterlife. Her exploratory journey is engrossing and thought-provoking and Claire’s findings were extremely comforting to me. I highly recommend this beautiful book. It left me with a strong sense of peace.
“If there’s one message that comes through more than any other, it’s this one. They want you to know they’re still here, they’re still connected to you. They want you to go on, to live your life. ” -Claire Bidwell Smith
7.BLACKBIRD by Jennifer Lauck
This book drew me in from the very beginning. An engrossing memoir BLACKBIRD rocked me, crushed me and left me shaking and in awe. BLACKBIRD is a memoir about mother loss, grief, adoption, love and family. Jennifer uses the voice of the child to relate her story and I love that she does because I also use my child’s voice in my memoir A LOVELY WOMAN. I relate to the author’s confusion, acceptance and sorrow over her mother’s illness as portrayed when she was a little girl.
“Without Momma, it’s like being lost without a reason, and inside my body is an empty space that can’t get filled up.” -Jennifer Lauck
Jennifer suffers terribly and BLACKBIRD is a tough read for that reason. However, her story is a testimony to survival and one of the best memoirs I have ever read.
8.LETTERS FROM MOTHERLESS DAUGHTERS: WORDS OF COURAGE, GRIEF AND HEALING by Hope Edelman
I loved this book which is made up of letters written by motherless daughters aged thirteen years and into their seventies. There are also many insightful offerings from Hope throughout. Motherless daughters share the same feelings and emotions, similar fears and anxieties and an intense loneliness for the mother we’ve lost. It’s comforting to read the stories of other women and young girls. We are not alone. This book helps remind us of that.
9.THE MERCY PAPERS: A MEMOIR OF THREE WEEKS by Robin Romm
I’m currently reading Robin’s heart-wrenching book after recently learning about it on a Dear Sugar podcast. At about three quarters of the way in I’m completely taken with Robin’s story of love and loss. Bravely, this loving daughter shares her experience of three agonizing weeks leading to her mother’s death. Robin tells it as it is, and it is tough and scary to watch your mother’s health fail. Heavy reading sprinkled with humor this important book is thoroughly absorbing. Robin is a brilliant writer.
“We could get a cup of coffee. But who wants coffee? Who wants to see anyone in the outside world? The outside world has gotten increasingly foreign. People smile for no reason, purchase sugary snacks, worry over leaky roofs out loud to strangers. Who needs this?” -Robin Romm
10. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT by The Welch family
Okay, this one is a little different. A compelling memoir told from the perspectives of four Welch children, orphaned in their youth after their wealthy father dies in a mysterious car accident, and their loving mother loses her battle with cancer. This is an authentic, heart-wrenching story of family, loss and grief.
“If his scent was still alive, how could he be dead?” -THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
I know that there are other books written about mother loss out there, and many beautiful books about grief. I haven’t gotten to them yet, but I hope to someday. Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments section below. Books mean different things to different people. Determined and brave enough to share their valuable stories with us, I have the utmost respect for each of the authors above. It is my dream to publish A LOVELY WOMAN, my own story of mother loss, in the near future. Sharing our heart stories is not easy, but it is important. We can lift each other up with our words and find ourselves in the pages of someone else’s story.