Being present for those grieving, Childhood grief, Collective Grieving, Connecting through grief, Coronavirus, Death, Grief, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Motherless Tribe, Moving forward after loss, Pandemic, Support groups, Talking grief

Power of Collective Grieving

I wrote an essay about mother loss and collective grieving in February of 2020. A prominent publication here in the U.S. thought it was an important piece and was set to publish it in March when the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe. As the weeks passed they pulled back, telling me their focus was now on COVID-19 stories and they no longer wished to purchase my essay. In honor of National Grief Awareness Day (August 30,2020) I’ve decided to share it to my personal blog because I think we should all encourage one another to talk more openly about grief, not less, especially during a global pandemic. With a few updates and edits, here is my piece.

In January 2020 I attended a Motherless Daughters’ luncheon in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, hosted by Hope Edelman, author of the bestselling book Motherless Daughters and upcoming book The Aftergrief. The occasion brought together twenty motherless women from several states including California, Oregon, Minnesota and New York. While gathered together for photographs on the beautiful grounds of Aldersgate Retreat Center we learned of an horrific helicopter crash in Calabasas, not far from where we were gathering. Several people lost their lives in the tragic accident including Kobe Bryant, a celebrity basketball player and his daughter, Gianna. Christina Mauser, a basketball coach and mother of three, also lost her life in the crash. Her bereaved husband, Matt, who was interviewed shortly after the accident, spoke of the comfort his eleven-year-old daughter gained from knowing that so many others were mourning along with them.

Every day people lose loved ones to illness, tragic accidents and age-related diseases. Now more than ever families are worried about COVID-19 and the health and well-being of people closest to them. When someone we love dies our lives are forever changed, trajectories once assumed and imagined thrown into chaos.  As a young child, born and raised in Ireland, I became acquainted with uncertainty and death too early in life. My mother died from ovarian cancer when I was eleven years old, following a lengthy illness and suffering. How I responded to such an impactful loss has changed over the years, depending on various chapters and stages of my life, but grief and anxiety have followed me into adulthood, a relentless cautioning to remain alert to both the opportunities and the dangers.

I sat in a brightly lit, spacious room that particular Sunday in January, a mile from the Pacific Ocean, with women whose mothers are no longer alive. Gathered together to network and share our hopes and fears as we move forward collectively and individually, we discussed future projects, meaningful accomplishments and past challenges, all stemming from having lost our mothers prematurely. Seated on comfortable rustic chairs and couches, we sought solace, companionship and validation from others in our tribe. The Los Angeles sunshine streamed in through large windows, warming us as we cried together and laughed. It took several of us years to get to this place but we all recognize how incredibly lonely the grief journey can be and how helpful it is to discuss loss with those who share a similar experience. Loss can leave one feeling as though no one could possibly understand your anguish but the process of expressing grief outwardly with others can be transformative.

I live in Portland, Oregon where I write on the topic of maternal loss and for me, the deepest healing began in my thirties after I started writing and sharing openly about my mother’s death. Over the years I’ve had opportunities to connect with women of all ages whose moms have died and I’ve come to understand the power of collective grieving. As we wrapped up our Motherless Daughter’s gathering at Aldersgate Retreat Center, twenty women stood side by side in a circle. We had permission to honor our mothers in that room, to say their names out loud. Glancing around at the other women, I recognized their expressions of hope, relief and gratitude. Tears were shed when the group session came to a close and we promised to stay in touch with one another moving forward.

As I edit this piece on the eve of National Grief Awareness Day, my thoughts return to Matt and Christina Mauser’s eleven-year-old daughter, who sought comfort in her father’s arms and expressed reassurance in knowing they were not grieving alone. That little girl’s stunning articulation gave me pause. Unable to verbalize my grief feelings for a large chunk of my life, I gradually came to understand the healing nature of grief expressed. Whether it is shared on the page, with a friend or in a support group, grief expressed in safe places and acknowledged by others can be exceptionally validating. US actor Chadwick Boseman, best known for playing Black Panther in the hit Marvel superhero franchise, died of cancer on August 28, 2020. Fans of the actor and people who knew him personally are expressing their grief on social media. Collective grieving offers us a unique sense of comfort. People dive in, expressing their sadness while feeling buoyed by the empathy and compassion of those who understand.

Every day during this pandemic humans around the world are collectively grieving. There is comfort in knowing we are not going through this alone. People can reach out to each other, across social media platforms, in an email or a handwritten letter, or by picking up the phone. We can do this today on National Grief Awareness Day because speaking openly about our grief can create powerful human connections. Our honesty and vulnerability leads not only to our own healing, but the healing of others.

~by Carmel Breathnach

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

Standard
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.

Standard
After Mother Loss, Death, Grief, Mother Loss, Mother's Day, Mother's Day Without My Mother, Motherless Daughter, Motherless mother's day

20 Mother’s Day Ideas for the Motherless During COVID-19

This year, 2020, Mother’s Day looks very different from previous Mother’s Days. Many people won’t be able to spend time with their moms, take her out to dinner, spoil her with flowers and chocolate, because we are all quarantined during COVID-19. This is sad for families. The pandemic is posing real challenges to everyday life. People are scared, anxious, grieving and we are all feeling uncertain about the future. Nobody knows how long this new way of experiencing life will go on. Personally, I’m living moment to moment and day by day. I’m focusing on positive things and trying not to worry too much while taking the necessary precautions and checking in with the most vulnerable in our family and our community. For people who have lost loved ones during this pandemic, I put my hand on my heart when I say how truly sorry I am for your heartache. It’s devastating to lose a loved one. We all need to take care of each other and offer kindness and friendship along the way. Healing takes time.

For those of us whose mothers have died, especially if we don’t have children of our own, this Mother’s Day won’t be too much different to previous Mother’s Days in certain aspects, unless of course this is your first without her. We aren’t able to spend time with our mothers, we can’t take her out to dinner or spoil her with flowers and chocolate and we don’t make plans to be with her on these occasions because we can’t be with her. She’s no longer around. I haven’t celebrated Mother’s Day with my mam, Kathleen, since I was a young child. Actually, Mam didn’t think much of the holiday, labeling it a ‘Hallmark Holiday’ and something made up by greeting card companies to make money. It was really after her death that Mother’s Day began to impact me more and more. My beautiful mother was missing in my life and everyone around me was celebrating theirs. I don’t like Mother’s Day and I’m happy when I can just ignore it. I think it will be much easier for me to do that this year.

At home in Ireland in my mother Kathleen’s arms

If you, a motherless daughter, are looking for ideas on how to celebrate your mom on Mother’s Day I wrote a blog post on this topic three years ago that has been viewed by over 55,000 people globally. This goes to prove just how many of us around the world are missing our mother’s presence from our lives. During quarantine while many of us shelter-in-place, a few of the 12 suggestions I offer on that blog post are obsolete, like meeting up with friends for coffee for example, though of course the ideas are still helpful and we can work with them. This year, due to the current situation, there are more virtual opportunities out there for us to explore.

I set to work on a new list today, researching and piecing together what I hope might be helpful for my readers. People will need help and support with their grief this weekend. I know there are broken hearts right now reaching for answers, wishing their moms were here in the world again. I hope this list offers some comfort. Another option of course is to seek out a good grief therapist and to discuss your situation with her. Grief is complicated and the journey takes a while. For now, here is my updated list of 20 ideas for this year’s Mother’s Day for the motherless.

1. empowerHER, a nonprofit for girls and young women who have experienced the loss of their mothers is hosting a virtual Mother’s Day Retreat May 9th + 10th and registration is free. The Retreat is geared towards girls up to age 24, but women of all ages are encouraged to join.

2. Reimagine is offering a worldwide virtual festival on embracing life, facing death, and loving fully in the face of COVID-19. There are several events throughout the weekend and beyond and I will list a couple of them below. Do check out the event’s schedule page as there is something for everyone here.

3. Find a time in the day, preferably morning to meditate for at least five minutes. Ideally about twenty minutes feels right for me, but do what you can. Light your favorite scented candle. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and invite your mother into your space. Breathe. Hold her in your thoughts. Focus on the gratitude you feel for your mother and the gift of life that she gave you. Reflect on some memories you have of her. Let the tears flow if they come. Grief is love, remember. I use the Insight Timer app on my phone which is free and offers the most wonderful selection of meditations.

4. Display a picture of your mother in a prominent place. Wear a pendant containing her photograph throughout the day if you have one or carry a memory of her in your heart. Speak to her. Pray to her if you find comfort in prayer.

5. If you can go outside safely, purchase a beautiful bouquet of flowers for your mother and place them in your home. Or order them over the phone to be delivered. Flowers lend cheer and beauty to a space. They can remind you of the love you have for your mother and the love she had for you. Perhaps see if you can order your mother’s favorite flowers, if you know what those were.

6. As part of Reimagine’s Life, Loss and Love event, Portland author and all-round wonderful human, Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things (among other works), will be interviewed by Shelby Forsythia on Sunday MAY 10 at 11:00am-12:00pm PDT. Click on this link for more information. The event is free with a suggested donation.

7. Hosted By Alica Forneret of Dead Moms Club, as part of Reimagine’s event, is a conversation about being a motherless daughter while raising children. Guests Claire Bidwell Smith, Hope Edelman, Susan Lieu, and Megan Carmichael will share stories and memories on May 10 at 2:00-3:00pm PDT.

8. Check out this list of 10 Books I Recommend for Motherless Daughters. Perhaps you can order some of these online, preferably from your local independent bookstore to help support them during these worrying times for small businesses. Or maybe you have one of these books on your bookshelf but you haven’t had the time to read it yet. Another option is to purchase these books in audio form. I love a good audio book to enjoy while driving or cooking. Allow yourself a few quiet reading hours in bed Sunday morning or settle into a cozy chair with a cup of hot tea or coffee and an author’s story. Maybe in her story you will recognize yours.

9. Create a collage using pictures from magazines or inspiring photo journals that you have around your house or apartment. Paste pictures that remind you of your mother onto a large piece of card stock or paperboard, or into an art journal. I did this once with the Portland Motherless Daughter’s group when I was the organizer, several years back. After thirty minutes or so working quietly on our collages we shared them with the others in the group. The collages were beautiful, colorful representations of our mothers. I still have mine.

10. If you have a bathtub allow yourself the luxury of some soaking time. Isn’t there something so soothing about nestling down into a bathtub, candles lit, maybe some calming music playing close by? Perhaps listen to a song that reminds you of your mother. It might make you cry and that’s okay because you are alone, taking care of your needs. Crying is often such a good release. I love to add a few drops of pure essential lavender oil into my tub and often this is where I meditate. Give yourself this time for nurture and relaxation. For those of us without mothers we need to find kind and gentle ways to take care of ourselves.

11. Read and share blog posts by other motherless daughters. My blog A LOVELY WOMAN has several blog entries about mother loss and many are specifically written for Motherless Mother’s Days. I also have a Facebook page where I post about grief regularly. Project Brave birds, hosted by my friend in Australia, is an inspiring page dedicated to celebrating the journeys and achievements of brave girls and women who have lost their mothers around the world. Without My Mum is an active private group page hosted by Leigh Van Der Horst where women share their feelings on mother loss and offer up support. Motherloss International is a Facebook page dedicated to maternal loss. Motherless Daughters Facebook community page shares many articles on mother loss including my own. These are valuable and loving places to go for comfort and support. My purpose in writing is to connect with others around the world who are experiencing a similar loss, in particular women and girls. I share the work of others widely on my social media platforms, always giving the authors credit, because each of us has stories that will touch people in different ways. The goal of writing and sharing for me, is to get this information out there, to those who need it. There is no reason for people to think they are alone in their grief process, or their experience of deep loss. Of course our individual experiences are unique but it helps to know that there are people out there who understand. Sharing our stories helps others. Sharing the work of others also helps.

12. Write. Write in a journal or on a page, just put your feelings out there. I like putting pen or pencil to paper. It feels more cathartic for me. Are you angry? Devastated? Lonely? Anxious? Write it all down. Or write something. You can burn this text later if you like, but it’s important to express your deeply held feelings. Writing is the number one thing that has helped me process and come to terms with my loss.

Putting pen to paper at home in my garden

13. Write a letter to your mother. This is therapeutic and can be a valuable exercise while grieving. Let yourself cry or laugh as you write & release whatever needs to pour from you. Is there something you really want to share with your mother today? Put down the words. It may even turn into a book! I’ve written a blog post about this called The Healing Letter where I offer writing prompts to help with your letter.

14. Call a friend who has experienced a similar loss to you. They might have more time to talk now that we are quarantined. Of course, the opposite might be true, but it’s worth checking in with them. Try not to feel rejected if they don’t take you up on a chat. Sometimes we feel like discussing our losses and sometimes we don’t. Hold compassion for your friend and try calling another person..

15. Zoom call with friends or family or a local support group. Perhaps create your own group Zoom call with other motherless daughters you know.

16. If you have a garden or a local park is currently open to visitors, take some time to enjoy the outdoors. Mother Nature is incredibly healing. I like to sit beneath the blossoms, inhale the fresh scents of nature, feel the soft breeze against my skin and marvel at this life we are given. I enjoy going for walks because they give me time to sort through my thoughts, figure things out or just let stuff go that I no longer need to hold onto. If you are a gardener, maybe planting some new flowers on Mother’s Day might be a way to honor your mom. You can watch them grow and think of her. Tending a garden is relaxing, rewarding and healing.

17. Perhaps prepare and cook one of your mom’s favorite dishes for mealtime on Sunday. Crack open a bottle of wine or brew some tea in her honor. If you don’t know how to cook that beloved dish of hers or you don’t remember what it was, cook a favorite of yours, or order a meal from a local restaurant, sit back and enjoy.

18. Do you love podcasts as much as I love podcasts? Because I tend to be a busy, active person, podcasts are a new way for me to slow down a little and relax. I listen to them while preparing lunch or taking a bath and sometimes my husband and I will listen together, snuggled up on our couch at home. Recently I wrote a blog post about some of my favorites pertaining to grief and mother loss. Check these out.

19. COVID-19 is presenting us all with many challenges. Some people are really struggling. A great way to lift your own spirits is by giving to others, if you can, what you can. There are so many opportunities for giving. Local and global non-profits need help. I suggest donating what you can to local grief support centers, organizations helping women who are fleeing abusive situations, non-profits aiding victims of child abuse, foster care organizations, refugee families, state and national parks, small local businesses, tribal nations…the list goes on. If anyone would like specific suggestions I can offer some in the comments below.

20. No matter what Mother’s Day holds for you this year, and for many I know it holds heartbreak, I hope you are able to show yourself kindness. From one motherless daughter to another, sending love and virtual hugs as Mother’s Day 2020 approaches. Take care of yourselves, and each other!

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.

Standard
Connecting through grief, Death, Gratitude, Grief, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Moving forward after loss, Podcasts

5 Podcasts I Recommend for Motherless Daughters

One of my new favorite things are podcasts. I love that I can select a topic I’m particularly interested in, search for online discussions on that topic, say, the craft of writing, inspirational women’s stories or conversations around grief, and several podcasts will pop up for me to choose from with an entire thirty minutes to an hour dedicated to my chosen topic. During this pandemic when people are advised to stay home it is a perfect time to explore our podcast options, most of which we can access on our phones or laptops. We don’t have a television in our house and these days I’m avoiding the news and radio stations apart from those dedicated to music, because I need a break from overwhelming, unsettling broadcasts about the global pandemic. I stay informed but I’m selective, in order to keep anxiety and fear at bay. While we look out for the most vulnerable in our communities and make extra efforts to stay in touch with our loved ones, we must also practice kindness for ourselves.

One way to take a break is to schedule in an hour for yourself, some time in the day, where you can listen to a podcast episode. There are so many amazing podcasts out there, with talented, empathic hosts and I just love to tune in when I’m preparing lunch in the kitchen, settling down with a mug of hot tea in the evening or when I allow myself the time to take a warm Epsom salt bath. Sometimes I’ll play an episode while I’m outside tending to the garden or sitting on the deck as our spring blossoms burst forth. I welcome the soothing voices of these hosts and their guests and am eager to learn from their experiences. In this blog I’m delighted to share a few of my favorites. Although these particular podcasts aren’t specifically tailored towards motherless women, I think many will gain some level of comfort and wisdom from the episodes. I believe that anybody grieving the loss of a significant other will draw reassurance from these shared stories, and for people wishing to support grieving loved ones, many helpful suggestions are offered.

Here are five of my current favorites, in no particular order.

  1. Widowed Parent Podcast hosted by Jenny Lisk

Host, Jenny Lisk, is doing a fabulous job interviewing widowed parents, experts in the field of grief and people who lost a parent when they were young, for her podcast. Jenny’s webpage is clear and accessible. She has a wonderful ‘Start Here‘ page where episodes of the show are clearly divided into sections, with guests’ names listed alongside numbered episodes. Episode 35 is a discussion with Allison Gilbert on keeping memories of our loved ones alive. In episode 54 we listen as Brennan Wood, Executive Director at The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families speaks about her own personal loss. And in episode 48 I tell my story of losing my mother when I was eleven and how her death has continued to impact my life to this day. There is something for everyone in this podcast including short “pandemic special” episodes like this one with Buffy Peters of Hamilton’s Academy of Grief and Loss.

2. Moving Beyond hosted by Psychic Medium Fleur and Grief Therapist Claire Bidwell Smith

This is a relatively new podcast and I love it. I attended a motherless daughter’s retreat with Claire a few years ago in Ojai and I’ve read and love all of her books. I’ve also seen Medium Fleur here in Portland, Oregon when she came to town for an event, the results of which blew my mind. In this podcast Claire offers tools to assist a person during their grief and then we experience a psychic mediumship session as Fleur connects each person with a loved one in the spirit world. I have not had a reading with Fleur but someday in the future I hope to. Check out this podcast if you’re curious about the after life. It’s both comforting and mind-blowing.

3. Grief Gratitude and Greatness hosted by Sarah Shaoul

Sarah Shaoul has a beautiful, gentle voice and I could listen to her interview guests for hours at a time, and I have. I’ve listened to a few of these episodes back to back as Sarah thoughtfully raises questions about lessons associated with guest’s experiences. Each episode is varied as this podcast explores the different ways people grieve with a focus on the gratitude that allows us to keep going following a loss. In this episode Frances Badalamenti discusses becoming a mother as she loses hers.

4. Unlocking Us hosted by Brene Brown

I know most of you already know who Brene Brown is. Professor, lecturer and author of several best-selling books, Brene has spent her career studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. But did you know she has a podcast? And it’s so good! This particular episode with grief expert David Kessler, reveals what he has learned about love, loss, and finding meaning in his grief. An enlightening, comforting episode, I intend to listen to this one again and again.

5. Grief Out Loud hosted by Jana DeCristofaro and produced by The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families in Portland, Oregon

The Dougy Center provides support for children, teens, young adults, and their families grieving a death. They offer support and training locally, nationally, and internationally to individuals and organizations seeking to assist children in grief. This illuminating podcast offers a wide mix of personal stories, tips for supporting anybody grieving a loss and interviews with bereavement professionals. There are so many episodes worth listening to here, but if you are looking for one that addresses mother’s day, as it fast approaches, try episode 13 titled Grieving Through Mother’s Day.

I hope you find these interesting and helpful! Let me know in the comments below what you think and please feel free to share some of your favorite podcasts on the topic of mother loss and grief. Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

Take care, Carmel X

“The most basic of all human needs is to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Ralph Nichols

Standard
After Mother Loss, Childhood grief, Connecting through grief, Death, Grief, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Talking grief

My Mother Is Dead but I Still Want to Talk About Her

Dear readers, let me be clear here. My mother is dead and I still want to talk about her, but that doesn’t mean I always want to talk about her. I don’t want my friends who read this thinking they should bring up Mam’s name during every conversation just because I’ve written this blog. Obviously, there is no need to bring her into every discussion, so, before you decide to run in the other direction when next we meet, for fear of not knowing whether or not to bring up my mother, please read on.

Before I began writing about my experiences of early mother loss I didn’t have many opportunities to talk about Mam. At home, with my father and brother, I could talk about her all I wanted. They were always open to sharing memories, answering questions and thumbing through photographs with me, and this helped a lot as I navigated my grief journey. But I wanted to talk about Mam out in the world too. For several years I didn’t speak about her, because it’s hard to bring your dead mother into casual everyday conversations. People feel awkward when the subject of death comes up. They don’t know what to say or how to respond. Discussions fall flat, people stare at their cuticles as if never having seen them before. The floor is suddenly incredibly interesting, or someone has to dash off somewhere very fast.

All those times in my life when my companions or classmates got to celebrate their mothers or complain about them, casually call them on the phone, praise and adore them, in my presence, I too, longed to talk about Mam, but couldn’t. And it hurt to the core, over and over again. So, now I’m writing about my mother on Facebook; in my memoir (in-progress), Briefly I Knew My Mother; on this blog, and through the stories I’ve shared people have gotten to know Kathleen a little.

I write to connect with others who know what it’s like to lose someone very special. It’s important for me to build community with motherless daughters and especially with women whose mothers died when they were children. And I write to keep my mother’s memory alive. As long as we say their names, the people who have died live on.

On March 2, 2020, thirty two years after Mam’s death, I posted one of my favorite black and white photographs of my mother on social media. In the picture she is glowing, offering the photographer her radiant smile. Beneath the photo I wrote a few lines about it being her death anniversary and to my delight I received some kind comments about my mother and the anniversary of her death. My friend, Steve, posted “Through you Carmel, we love mam too” and his words touched me deeply, because if I have given others an idea of the woman my mother was, so many years after she died, I have accomplished something beautiful, something significant and worthwhile. Writing about her and sharing special stories from my memories of growing up as her daughter, allows me to feel connected to my mother in ways that nobody else can. As Kathleen’s daughter I carry her with me in this world everyday.

I wish my mother didn’t get sick and die when I was only 11, and though I want to talk about her and tell stories with her in them, because she died when I was so young, I don’t have an abundance of stories. I remember a lot, more than most of my friends remember, and yet it’s not enough. I know little to nothing about her childhood or her teenage years or the time before she met my father and I never got to know her from any perspective other than a child’s. This is one of the heartbreaking things I hear frequently from women who lost their mothers early in life. We want to hear stories of our mothers from those who have them. Shared stories are a gift to both the teller, and to the person listening.

My friend, Mari, posted a comment beneath the photograph on March 2. She offered simply and with such heart “I’m so sorry that she died – and so grateful for the life she gave you.” How beautiful to receive a direct, love-filled message like this! As one of two founding members of the Grief Rites Foundation, Mari is not afraid to use the word “died”. My mother died and we can say the word. In all the years since Mam’s death less than a handful of people have actually said the words “I’m so sorry that your mother died.” I didn’t realize this (and I write about grief and death regularly) until I read Mari’s comment and it made a powerful impact on me. I knew she got it. She understood.

As with every blog I write I hope something on this page resonates with my readers, those of you who have lost a loved one and people looking to know how to support a grieving friend. Often a listening ear is all that is needed, a few minutes to talk, a chance to process something out loud. When you speak from a place of love and acknowledge a person’s situation honestly, you are doing it right. Thank you all for being in my life. We are here, but for a fleeting moment in time.

“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” – George Eliot

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

Standard
After Mother Loss, Childhood grief, Children grieve, Grief, Grief stories, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Write to heal, Writing on Grief

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.)

Standard
After Mother Loss, Anniversary, Being Kind, Childhood grief, Death, Family, Grief, Moments, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Moving forward after loss, Sad anniversaries

When Anniversaries Are Sad

Today (August 11th) is significant for two reasons.

Mam & Dad married on this date at home in Ireland in ’73. I have a photo of them on their special day enlarged and framed in our home. The picture represents happiness, genuine love & beautiful promise. Coincidentally Dad & I were the same age (39) when each of us got married. (We both waited patiently until we found ‘the one’.) In 1988 my mother died. Sometimes I glance through my parent’s wedding album. The photos, mostly in black and white, reflect so much joy and hope. My parent’s union was built on mutual respect and a devotion which saw Mam through her illness, my father by her side.

This next photograph is of me and my Granny on our birthday in Galway. I think I might have been 7 years of age in that picture. We shared the same birth date, January 3, and always celebrated together. This is the second reason for today’s significance: on this day (August 11th) 30 years ago Granny (Dad’s mother) died suddenly. I was only 12 when she was taken from us, the year after Mam lost her battle with cancer.

So, in my early years I came face to face with happy, celebratory occasions & brutal, devastating days. I knew what was possible. Life was often terribly sad. Honestly, I feel hard done by having lost so many significant people at such a young age. It’s not easy to admit that but it’s true. Often people go through life surrounded by close family & a tight community of loved ones who share a history. Those of us who learn trauma in our youth carry it inside of us even as it appears we are thriving. In fact loneliness, anxiety and fear are part of our everyday lives. Loneliness specifically for our loved ones who have died. We also tend to be sensitive, compassionate and alert and appreciative of people and moments. But we always crave our people. My mother is irreplaceable because she was my mother & she raised me.

Life is complicated & so are our emotions & our reactions to our experiences. We get on with things but we never get over major losses. We simply do our best to be our best. In honor of my parents, my beloved mother and Granny Walshe, I try hard to live my best life. Granny & Mam faced several challenges of their own but they were both strong, capable and happy women. They are an inspiration to me & I am grateful to them for everything. I just wish they were still here because I’ve been craving some maternal hugs from those women whose lineage I descend from. It has been over thirty years…

This is all to say let’s look out for each other and try to be patient in the face of trauma and grief. Keep an eye on those little sweethearts who lose a significant person early on in life. Please be there for them if you can. Create a space for them to talk or just be themselves. They are scared and in shock and they will need a lot of support. Also, if you do still have your folks and/or grandparents and you love them, let them know, or go spend some quality time with them. And, if you know someone who has grieved and lost try not to assume that their people are replaceable. They are not. And they won’t ever get over the loss. They’ll get on, but they’ll be sad about it, forever. Some days or occasions will be more challenging than others. Their reactions to certain things might stem from their early losses. You might see no connection but the connection is obvious to the bereaved (or sometimes it isn’t).They are angry but the anger might look like something else. It’s complicated.

You never know what’s going on in another person’s life. Let’s be gentle with each other and ourselves. Our hearts continue to love every day but this powerful organ is also fragile and often bruised. Kindness goes a long way.

Some of us hold a store of sad anniversaries in our hearts, significant dates that circle around year after year. We don’t know what to do with these dates or how to acknowledge them. Today I’m honoring the memories by writing about it. I’m remembering my parents and their beautiful, happy day. I’m thinking of Granny and how in the photo we wore the exact same colors though it wasn’t planned, and how thrilled she was when I was born on January 3. These days of interesting coincidences carry sadness for me, but also joy and gratitude. Captured in these pictures are moments filled with delight, hope and surprise. Each one of us lives for moments such as these, every moment creating a unique life and offering us precious memories. I reflect on the memories and each is rich with love. For that, and for so much else, I am grateful.

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.

Standard
A Father's Role, After Mother Loss, Childhood grief, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, The Importance of Family

7 Ways My Father Supported His Children Following My Mother’s Death

I was eleven. My brother was thirteen. Mam had been sick for several years and when she died in 1988 my father continued to love and care for us, offering the majority of his time and energy to his bereaved children. Dad did so much for us. I am an independent, resilient and compassionate being today as a result of my father’s devotion to his family. Here are seven of the ways my dad supported us as we navigated the challenging period following my mother’s death from cancer.

1. By holding on to keepsakes & other specific physical objects belonging to my mother, my father kept my mother’s memory alive in our home. Nothing of hers was removed prematurely. Many of her things remain in our lives to this day. In fact yesterday I wore a lovely purple sweater of hers that I pulled from the closet in our sitting room. Over the years I’ve discovered things belonging to her that surprise me. She lives on in our lives through photographs, cards she received or penned to us, items of clothing, her old but functioning button accordion & other things she valued and loved. My father carefully chose photographs of Mam to frame and place around our home following her death. Every room contains memories of my mother.

2. We spoke about my mother regularly after her passing. Though I didn’t talk about Mam to others she was often mentioned in our home. I sometimes asked questions about her past and Dad answered to the best of his ability. Together we recalled her favorite songs, frequently looked through family photo albums and as we got older we acknowledged the absence her death left.

3. My father made sure to welcome our friends into our home. I spent ample time with my peers both at our house and in theirs. Blessed with wonderful friends who cared about me I spent hours on end laughing with them and having fun. I lost myself in childish games and silliness. Such relief! Dad often drove us around to local events, treated us to train rides and parties and invited my pals on various excursions. To this day my friends recall his warmth and kindness.

4. My father took us on trips abroad after Mam died. We visited London, The Isle of Man, Jersey and in later years other countries in Europe such as Italy and Switzerland. Dad planned visits to our cousins in Dublin, Galway, Waterford and Limerick. We went on short boat excursions and joined a walking club. Dad made sure to keep us occupied while at the same time allowing us plenty of down time as needed.

5. We were encouraged to share our feelings at home. We didn’t get in trouble for sharing how we felt. As a child I wanted to protect my father and my focus after Mam died was on making sure he was okay. So, I wasn’t about to upset him by revealing too many emotions. But, when I did wish to share something with him he was always there, listening carefully, making no judgments. He gently advised or offered compassion if a solution couldn’t be found. To this day my dad is that same kind, gentle listener. He doesn’t pretend to have all the answers but his listening ear is ready.

6. Dad learned how to cook from my mother. After she died he was able to recreate several of her dishes from scratch such as her famous cod with Taytos dish, her shepherd’s pie and her mashed potatoes with gravy. For years my father cooked so many of her delicious meals for us in our kitchen where once four of us sat together. Eating these same meals, meals my mother served us, allowed for a smoother transition after her death. Not everything was different. Not everything had changed. The food we put into our bodies on a daily basis stayed mostly the same and my mother was remembered at meal times.

7. We were permitted space. My brother and I had our own rooms and when our doors were closed we didn’t interrupt each other without knocking. Fortunately all three of us enjoyed our own company. We often read, drew, wrote and listened to music by ourselves. This private time was crucial for me. I frequently wrote in my diary and journals releasing all of my emotions on to the page. I liked to draw and color as these activities calmed and soothed me. And I created dance routines in front of the mirror to songs by Irish band Something Happens and Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”

Father’s Day is upon us once again. I extend my deepest sympathies to those who are without a father today. I understand loss and loneliness and I’m so truly sorry for anyone grieving at this time.

I will celebrate this Father’s Day with my dad in Ireland. It has been years since I was able to spend the day with him and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so today.

Father’s Day is hopefully a time when the culture says, ‘This is our moment to look at who our men and boys are.” -Michael Gurian

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

Continue reading

Standard
Being Kind, Being present for those grieving, Connecting through grief, Death, Grief, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Moving forward after loss, Support groups

11 Ways to be Present for a Grieving Friend

1.Offer specific help & follow through

Do something helpful. Be of service. Doing practical things such as laundry, picking up groceries or washing the dishes for your friend is often what makes a difference.

2. Send a thoughtful card in the mail

There are no expiration dates for sending cards in the mail. Often it comes as a small blessing to receive it later because your friend is still grieving and everyone else has moved on. Make it loving and personal while avoiding useless clichés.

3. Bring them food

Your friend needs nourishment. Let her know that you are dropping food at her door and continue to do it for as long as you are able, after other people have moved on.

4. Remember important dates

Take note of those dates that your friend will never forget: anniversaries, birthdays and holidays, and pick up the phone or send a message to let them know you are thinking of them.

5. Speak the deceased person’s name

It is a blessing when a friend refers to a deceased loved one because we keep that person’s memory alive in recollections of their time with us. Your friend has not forgotten them, show him that you haven’t either and say that person’s name.

6. Let them talk. Listen

Bear witness, and allow your friend to be upset, angry, or to say nothing at all. Offer your compassion and presence, not a solution. There is no solution.

7. Be mindful

Sometimes people want to help but they don’t know what to say. Grief is messy. Be sensitive. What would you want to talk about in similar circumstances? What topic might be difficult for your friend to discuss right now? Watch your friend for cues. Pay attention to their body language. Or just ask.

8. Be patient

People often need to sit in the darkness for a while. Be a kind friend and sit with them.

9. Recall memories

If you have a memory of the deceased person, share it with your friend. It helps to recall moments of joy or hilarity. To a grieving person it is a gift.

10. Make introductions

When the time is right suggest some online support groups to your friend, or give him the name of a highly regarded local therapist. If you know someone in similar circumstances introduce them. It can be of great support to a grieving individual to meet new people or other families with similar experiences.

11. Continue to show up

After everyone else is gone be there for your friend. She is still grieving.

You can do this & together we will make the world a more loving, open, caring place! Hugs,

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.

Standard
After Mother Loss, Being there for someone who has lost a mother, Childhood grief, Connecting through grief, Death, Fatherless Sons, Grief stories, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Moving forward after loss

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.

20190116_151618.jpg

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.

Standard
Childhood grief, Connecting through grief, Death, Grief, Grief Writing, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Support groups

Sit for a While in the Darkness

Every day I am inspired by the kindness and sincerity of individuals wishing to offer support and compassion to those hurting and grieving online. Yes, I am referring to the internet, where there appears to be no end to the cruel mean rants of trolls and other nasty, insensitive folk. But when I take time to visit inspiring online support groups and individual pages where trolls are blocked and safe spaces abide I witness offerings of empathy, compassion and reassurance. This is encouraging.

When somebody close to us dies and our lives are in turmoil we aren’t looking for people to make things better. What we need is people who are willing to admit that life is hard, to sit with us in the dark, to call and check in, to let us know we are in their thoughts. Sometimes people don’t have friends in their lives who understand the grieving process and here is where the specific support groups online allow for connections and understanding between folk who ‘get it’.

Spending time with our grief and allowing for all types of feelings is a key part of the healing journey. You don’t need to know how you are feeling when somebody asks. You don’t need to have any answers. Your answers will change from moment to moment and day to day. There is nothing linear about the grieving process. Some days will whisper beauty while others will overwhelm and send floods of tears. Your heart is broken; it is okay to take as much time as you need, and it’s okay to not have things figured out.

People who are capable of offering empathy, kindness and understanding are a gift to those who carry a weight so heavy they cannot fathom how to get through the darkest hours. Phone-calls and check-ins, plans to get together and letting a friend know you are there for her if she needs to call are all ways to make a difference to someone who is sad and mourning. It helps a grieving person to know that she is being thought of, especially months down the line when most people have forgotten or think she has forgotten the loss.

Screenshot_20181029-235522_Facebook

My mother died when I was eleven years old and I continually revisit things I thought I understood about death and grief. There are so many layers to loss and grieving and I am still peeling back those layers more than thirty years on. I think of my mother every day and I still miss her though the floods of tears are rare now. I went through a period of crying a lot. It came years after my loss. It came upon me completely unexpectedly. I cried through the confusion and anger and wrote grief onto the page. The darkness of losing my mother to ovarian cancer when I was so young continually pushes me into the light and through writing I work to reach others who have lost someone they love. I want to let them know they are not alone and they too will get through the heartache.

“Where we’re broken…that’s where the light comes in and the love leaks out.” – Anthony Martignetti

The process of grieving takes time and nobody should feel under pressure to move through it quickly. It just doesn’t work that way. Grief therapy can be very helpful for some people and a number of online support groups exist allowing people to voice their heartbreak to a network of people who understand loss. It is heartwarming to read the sincere, encouraging messages from others who can empathize. Strangers can reach out across oceans to offer words of comfort to those in need. What a beautiful thing!

Much of the deep grieving we must undertake alone. We need to sit with the darkness and pain, to allow it, to sob it and scream it and feel the deep down aches in every cell of our body.

It isn’t easy.

It is very painful.

But the light that is you will find its way to the surface when you are ready.

~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.

Standard
In honor of my mother, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Wedding Day Without My Mother, Without my mother

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.

Dublin Ireland

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?

Dublin Ireland

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!

20180814_171050

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.

14458892_10154138655127968_1859234802_n

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)

Standard
Connecting through grief, Death, Grief, Grief stories, Motherless Daughter

Connecting Through Grief

Recently an article I wrote about a moving grief connection I had with my L.A. Lyft driver was published in Modern Loss. I wrote and shared that story “Mother Loss and My Lyft Driver” because the powerful, albeit brief, conversation the Lyft driver and I had has stayed with me since, and the interaction occurred two years ago. Hesitant to talk about my writing career when the Lyft driver asked me what it is I do, I mentioned only that I am a writer, hoping he would move on from that and ask no more questions. For those of us who have experienced the death of someone close to us, we understand the feeling of awkwardness and discomfort that comes with relating a loss. We don’t want to make anybody feel bad as we explain how we’ve lost one of the most important people in our lives. We don’t want to ruin anyone’s day, or be a Debbie Downer.

But as more of us write about our grief experiences and talk about death more openly we are seeing that the majority of people do really want to talk about a loss they have suffered. Since writing the story “Mother Loss and My Lyft Driver” I have experienced another grief conversation in a Lyft, also in L.A. with a young lady who brought up the topic herself. When I asked how her day was going she told me she was in a lot of pain. Her back was giving her trouble. I asked if it was related to work but she said it was mostly a result of stress and grief. I listened as she opened her heart to me on the drive to LAX. Her beloved father had died a couple of years before and her mother died when she was a child. This young lady moved to the USA from Syria when she was seventeen and was now trying to make a new life for herself. She was struggling. Before I got out of the car at LAX I told her that my mother died when I was eleven and so I understood her sorrow and pain, although it was different to mine. She put a hand to her heart and started to sob. I offered my card explaining that I write about mother loss and grief and I encouraged her to contact me if she needed to talk more. I said I knew people; grief therapists and councilors who may be able to help her. She thanked me and placed my card in her purse. I never did hear from her but I still think of her and I hope she is doing okay. Perhaps by allowing her the time to talk, by listening to her story when she needed to release so much helped in some way.

The Lyft driver I wrote about in my published piece wanted to talk about his loss also. Words of nostalgia and love for his dead mother poured from him as he drove me to my hotel that sunny day in L.A. I believe we both felt better after our grief chat.

Sometimes people don’t feel like talking about a loss. That’s understandable. There are times when I want to talk about my mother’s death and times when I don’t. But I now believe more folks than we think long for a safe space to grieve, to share memories of their loved ones passed and to be granted the opportunity to revisit these memories whether they bring tears, comfort or laughter.

And if you are a listener all you need to do is that; listen. You really can’t get that wrong. By listening you are acknowledging another human being’s pain. That in itself is a true gift to give somebody.

As Cheryl Strayed once said “Compassion isn’t about solutions. It’s about giving all the love that you got.”

Listening is one way to give love.

And as my friend Emily, who also understands loss and the sidestepping of grief conversations said “It’s refreshing and builds connection when we lean into these conversations.”

So let’s refresh and lean in to grief conversations together.

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.)

Standard
After Mother Loss, Childhood grief, Death, Grief, Grief Writing, Motherless Daughter, Support groups, Write to heal

Childhood Grief Honored Through Words

“Is Carmel afraid of death? No. Is Carmel afraid of what may come after death? No. What is Carmel afraid of?
Lucy has her eyes closed as she poses questions to the healers and spirits from alternative dimensions, messengers who connect with Lucy in her healing room when she calls upon them. She must ask the right questions in order to receive the correct answers…”

I’m honored to have a prose piece I wrote, titled Witnessing Carmel, published in VoiceCatcher today. The article is centered on childhood mother loss and it’s lasting effects, the persistent anxiety that follows and a deep down desire to heal.

It’s not an easy thing to spill our hearts onto paper and show our vulnerable side to a world of strangers, but it is through truth telling and sharing our heart stories that we reach and connect with other hearts, and so I keep doing this.

Two years ago, in June 2016, I had the pleasure of working with Hope Edelman and Jennifer Lauck at Blackbird Studio in Portland, Oregon. Back then I was editing my memoir A Lovely Woman and I attended the weekend writer’s course to receive  guidance and encouragement from two spectacular authors of memoir, Hope and Jennifer. Both have written about mother loss and grief. The experience of working with other writers, the majority of whom shared similar themes to my story: grief, mother loss, trauma, hope, love and connection, was a worthwhile, emotional and joyful experience. I formed life-long connections at that workshop, learned a lot and received valuable insights through the sharing of our stories.

Hope at Blackbird studios.jpg

(Photo taken by Blackbird Studios)

I have always been a writer. I’ve kept a daily diary since I was ten years old, months before my mother died. I write every day and though that writing isn’t always in the form of memoir my life-long experiences continue to shape my words. As the late and much respected Portland author Ursula K. Le Guin said:

“We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”

I am grateful to VoiceCatcher for appreciating my voice and publishing my truth story. In Witnessing Carmel I detail a particular occasion when I went in search of healing and discovered something profound that I’d never fully understood. Anxiety around illness and death has followed me into adulthood from a young age, but it’s understandable, as Lucy the healer tells me, it’s completely understandable.

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

Standard
Death, Family, Grief, Grief stories, Mother Loss, Mother's Day, Mother's Day Without My Mother, Motherless Daughter, Motherless mother's day, Support groups

Getting Through Mother’s Day Without a Mother

When my mother died in Ireland in 1988 I did not know a single child (other than my older brother) whose mother had also died. Every child I knew had a mother and that meant I was different. I had nobody to talk to who understood what it felt like for a little girl of eleven to have lost her mother. As I’ve previously mentioned in my writing I had, and still have, a wonderful, supportive and loving father in my life who was happy to talk about my mother and keep her beautiful memory alive in our home. I am the capable, loving, independent person I am today because my father stayed by my side, guiding me and loving me through it all. I will always be grateful for him.

That said, it is refreshing to see an increase in the number of grief support groups online and an acceptance and appreciation of what these groups offer. Vulnerability is no longer seen as a weakness. People who wish to share their stories of heartbreak and loss now have several platforms from which to share. I often receive messages thanking me for my blog posts and though I’ve never met most of these people I can now see that there are people who understand. I had no idea that so many women lost their mothers when they were young children because back then I knew of nobody my age or even a little older, in my position. Now that we are all more connected through technology I see how our heart stories help others. Our experiences can guide and empower those who feel alone and afraid. Why should people feel alone in their grief when death and grieving is a natural part of the life cycle?

We shouldn’t feel alone. It is devastating, anxiety-producing and lonely to lose your mother as a child. Until we talk about it we carry that trauma around in our bodies. The more we talk openly about death and loss the better a society we are. I wrote BRIEFLY I KNEW MY MOTHER, my memoir-in-progress, to show others what a child’s journey through anxiety, mother loss and grief looks like. I turned out okay. I got through school and I earned two college degrees. I taught young children in elementary and kindergarten for thirteen years and I am married to a wonderful man. I’m happy and grateful for the life I have. But there have been struggles over the years as a result of losing Mam. It’s helpful to find your tribe.

If you haven’t yet found an online grief support group following your mom’s death or if your friends can’t relate to your feelings, or if you just want to work through this grief period alone for a while, here are some suggestions for getting through Mother’s Day.

Online grief support groups and pages dedicated to grief and loss are popping up and thousands of people are joining them. More people are open to sharing their heart stories while offering support and comfort to fellow grievers. These communities are welcoming and supportive. Here are a few of my favorites (I include my own pages in the list):

  • A Lovely Woman is where I blog regularly about mother loss, early childhood loss and grief.
  • My Facebook author page offers support, inspiration and healing to women who have experienced mother loss & to all grievers worldwide.
  • Hope Edelman has a website dedicated to her work in the field of mother loss and grief. On her site she lists statewide support groups for those missing their mothers. She also has a public Facebook page where she shares a wealth of information and stories pertaining to grief and loss.
  • Mother Loss International is a Facebook page offering community, support and kindness.
  • Without My Mum hosted by Leigh Van Der Horst, author of the book ‘Without My Mum.’ Opportunity to join a private group on this page.
  • Motherless Daughters is a page dedicated to mother loss with supportive posts and comments by a community of over 400,000 followers.
  • Grief Rites Foundation is a Portland based community movement where people openly share their grief stories.
  • Modern Loss offers candid content, community and resources on loss and grief. These ladies organize the ANNUAL MOTHER’S DAY SWAP.
  • Modern Loss closed group for the Modern Loss community.
  • OptionB.Org offers the tools you need to build resilience after grief and trauma. There are opportunities here to join specific groups for solidarity and support and find information from experts.
  • Motherless Daughters Virtual Support Group is a global support network hosted by my friend Adrienne for women who have experienced mother loss.
  • Project Brave Birds is a page run by my friend Cheryl where the journeys and achievements of inspirational motherless women are celebrated.
  • Meetup.com offers an opportunity to find or organize your own Motherless Daughter group. I found the Portland group through Meet Up many years ago and became organizer for one year.
  • The Imaginary Library on Instagram is one woman’s beautifully illustrated and relatable grief-journey.
  • Motherless Daughter’s Early Mother Loss Group on Facebook is wonderfully supportive.
  • Claire Bidwell Smith is an author and grief therapist. Claire frequently shares personal stories of her own grief journey on her beautiful Instagram page.

Suggestions for Mother’s Day weekend include:

  • Try writing a healing letter to your mother on Mother’s Day. It might allow you to feel closer to her, and less alone. I give some suggestions on how to attempt this on my blog.
  • See if any of these book suggestions might help. Make yourself a warm cup of tea, settle into a cozy chair and put your feet up. Some of these books will make you cry, others will allow you to feel less alone. All of them helped me in one way or another.
  • Hope sometimes hosts a free 30-minute conference call for motherless daughters the day before Mother’s Day. Check out her page for details.
  • Motherless Mother’s Day Ceremony to be held in Portland, Oregon. Suggestions for participation are given on the page for those unable to attend in person. Or perhaps hold your own.
  • Give to a charity in honor of your mother or volunteer for an organization where your expertise is appreciated. Examples include EmpowerHer, Womenforwomen, Girl’s Inc., The Dougy Center and Camp Erin.
  • If you’re in Australia check out this fabulous idea Trees For Mum.
  • Take a look at my blog post and see if any of these twelve ideas help.
  • Most of all be kind to yourself.
  • Share my blog post What Not to Do When Someone You Know Has Lost Their Mother. It’s one of my most popular blogs but I’ve a feeling it’s mostly us motherless daughters who are reading and sharing it! 🙂

Sending big hugs and lots of love to you this Mother’s Day. Notice the soft breeze on your cheek, listen to bird song in the trees, take time to breathe and give yourself some sweet care. Listen for the whisper of your mother’s voice. Her love is with you today and always. Speak to her. Place your hand on your heart. That’s where she is.

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.

Standard
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.

Screenshot_20180417-134851

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.

Screenshot_20180420-132710

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.

Standard
Anniversary, Death, Family, Grief, Grief stories, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter

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.

20180301_165642

Standard
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.

27751706_10160352557110393_3752409130622923026_n

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.

20171231_200313

“May my heart be kind, my mind fierce, and my spirit brave.” – Kath Forsyth, The Witches of Eileanan
Standard
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.

364029-Vera-Nazarian-Quote-Sometimes-reaching-out-and-taking-someone-s.jpg

Standard
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)
Standard