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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(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.)

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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.

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

Talking Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

A Motherless Tribe.

A Motherless Tribe

I’m a strong believer in sharing our hearts,
sharing our love,
sharing our thoughts,
and to my motherless sisters
who have lost as I,
our precious sweet mothers
who are no longer close by,
we can guide one another
and share our hearts,
share our grief
as we fall apart.
We can speak our sorrows,
make time to meet,
help each other
get back on our feet.
What we’ve lost
can never be replaced,
we long for our mother,
just to see her face.
I like to imagine my mother with me in spirit,
she’s in nature and beauty
and a bird’s song when I hear it.
Some of us sense our mothers close by;
some of us lose her completely when she dies.
Our experiences differ,
our beliefs aren’t the same,
but because we long for our mothers,
we know each other’s pain.
We are motherless daughters,
a tribe of our own;
let’s connect and share our stories,
we are not alone.
by Carmel Breathnach 2017

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

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Twenty Nine Years On

March 2, 1988 my mother, Kathleen, died quietly in her bed as my father sat watching over her. In bedrooms on either side of my parent’s room, my brother and I slept soundly, my aunt asleep in the bed next to mine. Just writing this, recalling the moment Mam took her last breath, has me choking back tears. I imagine my kind father, his heart tortured from years of watching his beloved suffer, realize that my mother has left us, forever.

Right now, this is the hardest thing for me. Knowing the loss my father suffered much too early in his married life. He didn’t deserve this blow. None of us did. Mam was one of the kindest, most thoughtful, nurturing and capable people I’ve ever had the chance to know. And I only knew her for eleven years.

Last August I attended the first ever Motherless Daughters Retreat with Hope Edelman and Claire Bidwell Smith whose books I have cherished. I had just finished reading Claire’s second book After This when I decided to look her up on social media. The timing was immaculate. Her most recent post was in reference to an Ojai Motherless Daughters Retreat and I really wanted to go. It was to be held in August and I was getting married in September. Preparing for our wedding without my mother was proving challenging. I was missing Mam in a whole new way. The prospect of spending a weekend with Hope, Claire and a group of motherless daughters who lost their mothers early in life, was very appealing to me. But the retreat was booked to capacity and I was so disappointed. However, within days of contacting Hope there was a cancellation and after several others on the cancellation list had been contacted I was offered the spot. I literally jumped out of my office chair with joy.

The weekend I spent in Ojai with twenty three beautiful, strong, vibrant, inspiring ladies was truly a gift. Twenty four of us, from diverse backgrounds, arrived in Ojai, from across the USA, Canada and Australia. We sat together and shared our deeply personal stories of mother loss. We nodded in unison on hearing each other’s stories, cried together and laughed. We got vulnerable in that space, because we could. We understood each other’s pain. Our stories were different, but the same. Our mothers were taken from us too soon and we continue to miss them every single day.

What a powerful and comforting experience for me to be in a space with twenty four women who understood my grief, who got why some days were so hard and others so good. Why, after decades, we still long for the mother who loved and cared for us as nobody else can. We worked through things together but most importantly we held space for each other. What was most valuable about this experience, for me personally, is the sisterhood I gained. I found my tribe in Ojai. We continue to connect online regularly and when we’re feeling anxious, down or confused about something we have a safe place to share our thoughts. We celebrate happy times, like weddings and birthdays, and we hold a special place in our hearts for each other.

When I was in Ojai I saw a beautiful grey purse that I thought might be a nice addition on my wedding day. It was a little pricey so I didn’t purchase it. But after I left I was sorry I didn’t buy it. Not only was the purse perfect for my grey wedding gown, but had I bought it I could carry a little piece of Ojai with me on my special day. After a few days deliberation I rang the store and ordered it over the phone. On September 24 when I got married I had my Ojai purse with me throughout the celebrations. The purse reminded me of my newfound supportive community who understood the challenges and delights this important day would bring. Their messages, sent on the morning of our wedding, meant so much.

And so, on the anniversary of my mother’s passing-I’m typing this around the time that she left our world- I feel a strong sense of community now that I have my Ojai sisters. I’ll share with them that today is my mother’s anniversary. They’ll know exactly what that means.

Growing up I didn’t know anyone who lost their mother early in life. I met some very special ladies in Portland, Oregon through the Motherless Daughters group and I remain close to a few of them. It’s life-changing to have these connections. It’s necessary for healing to occur. There are others who will hold us and love us and be there for us, but the connection between motherless daughters is a special one. The heaviness in our hearts is truly shared. At least that is my experience. Sharing builds community and I have experienced this through writing, as other motherless daughters continue to reach out to me with their stories and concerns. We need to build more bridges and connect with each other. It’s important to weave these invisible nets of love. Today I will hold space for Mam’s beautiful memory. I’ll hold space for my dad and my brother and eleven year old me. And grown up me, well, I’ll be okay. I’m surrounded by love and I can feel it.

Much love,

Carmel X

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