Birthdays, Birthdays without my mother, Death, Family, Grief, Grief stories, In honor of my mother, Love, Motherless Daughter, Mothers and Daughters, My mother's birthday, Writing on Grief

Still My Mother’s Birthday

My mother was born on February 18th. She’s not alive anymore but that special date, February 18th, whispers to me like a soft little hum in my ear all year round until February lands and I anticipate her birthday in all of its painful glory.

I asked Mam once what her favorite number was and she told me it was 18. So I know one of her favorite things. I don’t know her favorite color although I suspect it may have been a shade of purple, like lavender perhaps? I don’t know what her favorite food was or her favorite drink. I never asked her if she had a favorite book or a favorite friend? She had so many friends and was such a sweet person that I don’t think she would have admitted to having a favorite, but I’d like to hear her responses. I like the number 18 too. It’s probably my favorite number although before Mam told me hers, my favorite number was 8.

I was born in January, Mam’s birthday is in February and my dad’s birthday is in March. Three consecutive months of family birthdays beginning with mine at the very start of each new year. And we’ve been without Mam now since I was 11 years old. Yes, this time of year is trying for me emotionally.

Mam died in March, just three days before my dad’s birthday, and followed quickly by the hullabaloo of Mother’s Day which in Ireland, where I was born and raised, is celebrated a mere few weeks after the date she died.

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

Today, as always on Mam’s birthday, I’ll speak silently to her. I’ll wish her a happy birthday wherever she may be, and I’ll tell her I miss her and wish she hadn’t been taken from us so soon. This year I have a book written in her honor and it is ready to be sent out into the world when the time is right. I hope and pray that the time will soon be right. A LOVELY WOMAN is a story of mother loss. It is Mam’s story and my story, and it explores the universal experience of love, mother loss and grief. My memoir sheds light on early childhood anxiety and the ways we learn to cope and is a testament to family, resilience, compassion and truth-telling. I’ve poured my heart into this book.

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

Much love,

Carmel X

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

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“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”

Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man

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A Messy World, Being Kind, Childhood grief, Gratitude, Grief, Love, Moments, Motherless Daughter, On Writing, Storytelling, Writing Memoir, Writing on Grief

Showing Myself Kindness

It’s a messy world out there and I’m one of those deeply feeling people Glennon Doyle Melton is talking to when she says,

“You are not a mess. You are a feeling person in a messy world.”

These words have really helped me. And my new goal with this quote in mind, is to be the kindest person I can be…to myself.

I’m writing a memoir about losing my mother to ovarian cancer when I was 11 years old. In fact, I’ve written the book. I just have to edit it, again, for maybe the eighteenth time, because I’m determined to get this just right. So I’m back editing my memoir, and it’s painful. It’s painful because I have to reread all the heartbreaking things that happened in my childhood as a result of Mam getting cancer: the first time my mother told my brother and me that she needed to go into hospital to get an operation; the time I lay awake in bed crying into the night because I missed her; those Mother’s Days when Mam was not around; the Christmas she couldn’t be with us at home because she was in hospital; the time she got stung by a wasp when she was already so sick and weak; when my eyes landed on her smiling face as she waved from the back of a taxi returning unexpectedly from the hospital and I almost exploded with happiness because there she was, heading home, to be with us; gripping my dad in the hallway of our home as sympathizers lined up to tell us how sorry they were…

Every time I reread, rearrange, rewrite the words, they hurt my heart. So, these days in particular, as I write my memoir, I need to be kind to myself.

Writing A LOVELY WOMAN has been cathartic for me because it has allowed me to feel, to cry and to release my grief while I process all that happened. But it’s not easy to go back over the story day in and day out, year in and year out, while I reexamine the writing, query agents and wait.

Yesterday while I was meditating online with Oprah and Deepak, I realized how tight my jaw was and that my neck ached. I noticed how good it felt to lie on my yoga bolster and breathe.

I breathed in and I let go. I let go of all thoughts and I relaxed my body deeper into the bolster.

I’m a newly wed and exhausted from all that the wedding entailed. The upcoming election has me exhausted. The injustices around the world leave me weary. With all of this and my current work project, so close to my heart yet utterly draining at times, I decided I needed to be more kind to myself. I wanted to find a way to connect with my deepest self, to fill up with gratitude for what I do have in my life, for the gifts around me. I created this simple, yet potentially powerful set of reflections.

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Throughout my day I allow myself a few minutes to sit with these questions and at night I run through them in my mind before going to sleep. There is grounding to be found in each reflection as I’m reminded to take a moment for myself. These reflections offer an opportunity to express gratitude, receive nurturing and experience joy. Each one speaks to who I am.

I shall continue working on A LOVELY WOMAN; my mother’s story. My story. Our story. Stories have a beautiful way of connecting all of us, touching others, bridging differences and splitting our hearts wide open in this messy, messy world. But we do need to allow ourselves moments of kindness throughout the day. And I remind myself that I am not a mess, I am a feeling person, sharing my story in this challenging, but beautiful world.

Much love,

Carmel X

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

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Gratitude, Grief, Motherless Daughter, Writing Memoir, Writing on Grief

Revealing is Healing

Two years ago I left my job as a kindergarten teacher of ten years. I was a teacher before that, in elementary school, or primary, as we say in Ireland, for a couple of years. I loved teaching and I love children but I was no longer feeling fulfilled in my job. It took me a couple of years to put some savings together and plan for at least eight months of living expenses without needing to work. My plan was to write my memoir. I needed to write my story for several reasons.

I lost my mother to cancer when I was 11 years old. Mam was diagnosed when I was 5 and for the next several years we watched her fight, suffer, live and die. The pain of all this was almost unbearable but my brother and I were blessed with an amazing father so we pushed on through to the other side. Thing is, I never really grieved back then. I cried, of course. My heart broke. But I wanted so badly for everything else to be okay: Dad to be healthy, my brother to be healthy and there to be no more illness in our lives. I was so tired of hospitals and drips and doctors. My 11 year old self couldn’t handle anymore anxiety after years of hoping, praying, anticipating. My memoir would allow me the opportunity to process what happened from a safe distance. I would relive my thoughts and emotions, be in control of my story and make sense of it all on the page. Writing my memoir would allow me to heal.

And it did. While I wrote I often cried. I laughed too. And I realized how blessed I have been in my life. Writing about Mam’s actual death had me hanging my head in sorrow while tears dripped on to the table top. At times I sobbed aloud. Every time I revisited that scene my emotional response was the same. But gradually the sobbing subsided and I found peace. I broke through to the other side. I was ready to leave those twenty four hours behind on the page and spring forward.

I came to understand that before and after Mam’s illness there was so much love. I was such a happy little girl. My parents were attentive and loving. Writing about my happy childhood brought me all sorts of good feelings. And following Mam’s death my father cared for us with such devotion and love that I realized my memoir would not be complete without paying tribute to his huge heart. I saw that my father continued on after Mam’s death with grace and courage. I was able to look back on our family story as a whole story – the good and the bad, and by writing it all down I was able to see that beneath all the suffering emerged a true love story. My life has always been filled with love. Suffering: yes. Anxiety:definitely. Trauma, grief and anger: yes, yes and yes. But so much love. And plenty of happiness too.

My main reason for writing this book was to reach out to others. To continue a conversation that Motherless Daughters and grieving families are now having, that they weren’t having when I was growing up. I knew of no motherless daughter when I was a child. As a family we spoke about Mam, but there were no books for me to read, no person outside of the family to talk with about my feelings. Starting an author’s page on Facebook was my way to connect with people about grief and loss, in particular motherloss. It’s also my way of sharing posts about writing and how writing can be healing.

“Through our reading we can travel to other times and other places, into other peoples minds and hearts and souls: it is a transcendent experience.” ― Louise DeSalvo

Through my local Motherless Daughter’s meet-up group I recently found out about a workshop at The Blackbird Studio For Writers in Portland. A small group of us had the pleasure of learning from Hope Edelman and Jennifer Lauck while discussing our stories and writing. Through social media I’ve been networking with women who are reaching out, writing and learning about their own pain and loss. Writing is bringing women into my life who would never be in my life otherwise and the connection to these brave, inspiring ladies is one of the best reasons for sharing my story. To not feel alone, to find compassion and support, to be acknowledged for who you are because of how your life has been, are gifts that come only from opening up and revealing who we are, and why.

“What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak….it was born in the moments when we accumulated silent things within us.”
Gaston Bachelard

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Grief, Motherless Daughter, Writing Memoir, Writing on Grief

My Burning Desire to Write ‘A Lovely Woman’

I’ve wanted to write my memoir, A Lovely Woman, for a long time. Keeping a daily diary since I was a child and journaling on and off for many years means it’s my second nature to put thoughts to paper. About ten years ago I determined to write about a loss that defined my life from a very early age. I began piecing it together. But I lacked confidence and wasn’t ready to dive deep into all that sorrow. I turned to other stories, completing one fictional story that I’ve yet to do anything with. The strong desire to write about Mam’s death, and our lives following her passing, never left me. Often I’d revisit the story, digging through papers to reread what was written. Most of it was terrible. But it was a start. My emotions tumbled out on to the page without structure, without a clear plan of where I wanted this book to go or where I wanted to take the reader. I’m so grateful I didn’t try to do anything with those poorly written first drafts. I just knew the timing wasn’t right.

One day a few years ago I received my subscribed Oprah magazine in the mail.On the cover I read that Oprah was relaunching her book club for a book called Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I turned to the article and discovered that Cheryl had lost her mother to cancer at age 22. My heart raced. Here was a woman I could connect with. I couldn’t wait to read more! Devastated by her loss she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail alone. This journey was what ultimately saved her. Intrigued and excited, I was also nervous. Somebody else had written a book about losing their mother to cancer. They had done it before me. And this amazing woman was also living in Portland, Oregon, the same city where I now lived. I wondered where my book would fit in to all of this. Would people want to read another book on motherloss? How would mine compare to this one, chosen by Oprah to relaunch her book club?

I went to see Cheryl read from her book and speak in Portland. I devoured Wild within days. Wild is a beautiful book, riveting and raw. I found myself crying and laughing in its pages.There were several things in the book that I could relate to but I realized I had nothing to be anxious about because one thing Wild wasn’t was my story. I understood then that it didn’t matter how many books were written about motherloss and grief. My memoir, told in my voice, would be different. Only I have lived my story and only I can tell it. Something inside me was immensely moved by Cheryl’s words, and I wasn’t the only one. Soon people all over the world were reading this book, following Cheryl on social media and thanking her for writing Wild. I saw how many people needed this book and how comforting it was for readers to recognize themselves in another person’s story. It was truly inspiring.

A couple of years later the time was right for me to tell my story. After ten years as kindergarten teacher I was completely burned out in that job. My four ten hour work days were wearing on me and my desire to write full time was like an itch I just couldn’t scratch. The story I needed to write was A Lovely Woman. I couldn’t think of anything else. My mind was consumed with ideas. I carried notepaper and pen with me everywhere I went so that I could write ideas down. I was so tired at the end of each work day and busy falling in love at the weekend, so instead of launching into my memoir I devoured books on writing, reading any chance I could get. I read Sol Stein’s books on writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I managed to save some money and gathered the courage to quit my job.

I immediately set to work on my memoir, getting up every morning with enthusiasm and often remaining at the computer for eight hours straight, pushing it away only when my boyfriend arrived in time for dinner.The story came together quite easily for me this time round although I’ve edited it nine times in all. I opened up to my friends about what I was writing and eventually shared my thoughts with people on my new author’s page. I expected to be met with skepticism and apprehension. Instead I received admiration, encouragement and applause. People believed in me and my story.

I’ve since come to realize a few things. Timing is everything. John Quincy Adams said:

“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”

I’m so glad I held off on writing my story until now. My book wouldn’t be half the book it is had I written it ten years ago.

Also, I’ve learned that people are behind me, believing in me, even when I think they mightn’t be, or when I don’t fully believe in myself. Through story we relate to one another. I’m writing this story for myself, but more importantly I’m writing it for all those readers out there who might need it. I just finished reading The Rules of Inheritance  , a gem by Claire Bidwell Smith and another book on motherloss and grief The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke. Hope Edelman pioneered the Motherless Daughters movement with her book which I read several years ago when I first moved to the USA from Ireland. The theme is the same but our stories are all unique.

I’ve yet to query agents. I’ve a long way to go before my book is in print. There may be several more edits, headaches and heartache. But I’ll keep sending it out into the world hoping that someone will love it. I won’t give up on this story. I believe it is meant to be shared.

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

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