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.

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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.

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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)
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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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