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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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.)

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

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

The following 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 twelve 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 reasons I read so many memoirs.

Twelve 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? Wrong. 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 1. asking permission of the grieving relative or person closest to the deceased 2. referring to the grieving person and their own unique and significant pain and 3. requesting that people connect with the grieving person on her page or privately if they so desire. Posting about missing somebody after a death is a beautiful thing if the family has given you permission. Please be mindful as to how you approach it.
  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 person or in private rather than on someone else’s post is much more meaningful. Check to see if the person who is grieving has written something of her own, telling her own personal story and offer a genuine response to that.
  5. DO NOT ignore significant dates, in particular death anniversaries, Mother’s Day and birthdays. Make that call. It will be worth it, and 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 is suffering a loss surely that date is etched in your brain. If not, take note and write it down so that you don’t forget. What do most of us look for in a real long-lasting friendship? I would say we wish to be thought of and remembered on special and tough days. We want to know that friends have not forgotten the most challenging times in our lives. As a friend I want to offer a little light in the dark for those I love when they need it. One way to do this is to 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. After many hours surrounded by people I needed to take a breather. I went outside for some fresh air and a walk in a nearby park. Unexpectedly I burst into tears as soon as I was away from the event. Right at that moment my phone rang and it was a friend of mine whose daughter had been in my classroom the previous year. My friend had lost his father a few months prior and so, fresh in his own grief, he understood how I would be missing my mother on Mother’s Day. He said he just 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. Even though I’d only known this man less than a year he was the only one who called on Mother’s Day to say he understood how hard it must be for me. To have my loss acknowledged, my mother remembered and my feelings validated meant so much to me at that time. 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 here. 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. DO NOT tell a motherless daughter that she really should wear jewelry (or clothes or use her mother’s things) belonging to her mother in order to honor her mother’s memory. This is laying an unnecessary guilt-trip on the shoulders of that woman. She isn’t wearing them for her own personal reasons, or perhaps she is, in private enjoying these things. Bottom line is that she doesn’t need somebody else telling her what she should or shouldn’t do in regards to her mother’s things.
  11. DO NOT talk 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 and mindful, 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. Both said “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 were so completely clueless about my feelings.
  12. DO NOT overthink this list, tell me to chill out and decide that it’s all too much to consider. Really, is any of this that difficult? If we are more mindful in our interactions with friends, if we take the time to consider how we would feel in a particular situation and if we make the effort to learn from those who have gone through challenges then we’ll do just fine. I promise. And sincerely I appreciate all the love I receive on a regular basis since beginning this very personal journey of sharing.

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

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

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Much love,

Carmel X

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

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Being Kind, Childhood grief, Death, Grief, Grief stories, Love, Moments, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter

Compassion Blooms

I see my sadness in your sadness.

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

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

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

I see my sadness in other people’s sadness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Different, but the same.

Sadness around us.

Human suffering. Humanity suffering.

Because we love.

Humanity.

Love.

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

Peace and love to you all this new year.

Much love,

Carmel X

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

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