Dear readers, let me be clear here. My mother is dead and I still want to talk about her, but that doesn’t mean I always want to talk about her. I don’t want my friends who read this thinking they should bring up Mam’s name during every conversation just because I’ve written this blog. Obviously, there is no need to bring her into every discussion, so, before you decide to run in the other direction when next we meet, for fear of not knowing whether or not to bring up my mother, please read on.
Before I began writing about my experiences of early mother loss I didn’t have many opportunities to talk about Mam. At home, with my father and brother, I could talk about her all I wanted. They were always open to sharing memories, answering questions and thumbing through photographs with me, and this helped a lot as I navigated my grief journey. But I wanted to talk about Mam out in the world too. For several years I didn’t speak about her, because it’s hard to bring your dead mother into casual everyday conversations. People feel awkward when the subject of death comes up. They don’t know what to say or how to respond. Discussions fall flat, people stare at their cuticles as if never having seen them before. The floor is suddenly incredibly interesting, or someone has to dash off somewhere very fast.
All those times in my life when my companions or classmates got to celebrate their mothers or complain about them, casually call them on the phone, praise and adore them, in my presence, I too, longed to talk about Mam, but couldn’t. And it hurt to the core, over and over again. So, now I’m writing about my mother on Facebook; in my memoir (in-progress), Briefly I Knew My Mother; on this blog, and through the stories I’ve shared people have gotten to know Kathleen a little.
I write to connect with others who know what it’s like to lose someone very special. It’s important for me to build community with motherless daughters and especially with women whose mothers died when they were children. And I write to keep my mother’s memory alive. As long as we say their names, the people who have died live on.
On March 2, 2020, thirty two years after Mam’s death, I posted one of my favorite black and white photographs of my mother on social media. In the picture she is glowing, offering the photographer her radiant smile. Beneath the photo I wrote a few lines about it being her death anniversary and to my delight I received some kind comments about my mother and the anniversary of her death. My friend, Steve, posted “Through you Carmel, we love mam too” and his words touched me deeply, because if I have given others an idea of the woman my mother was, so many years after she died, I have accomplished something beautiful, something significant and worthwhile. Writing about her and sharing special stories from my memories of growing up as her daughter, allows me to feel connected to my mother in ways that nobody else can. As Kathleen’s daughter I carry her with me in this world everyday.
I wish my mother didn’t get sick and die when I was only 11, and though I want to talk about her and tell stories with her in them, because she died when I was so young, I don’t have an abundance of stories. I remember a lot, more than most of my friends remember, and yet it’s not enough. I know little to nothing about her childhood or her teenage years or the time before she met my father and I never got to know her from any perspective other than a child’s. This is one of the heartbreaking things I hear frequently from women who lost their mothers early in life. We want to hear stories of our mothers from those who have them. Shared stories are a gift to both the teller, and to the person listening.
My friend, Mari, posted a comment beneath the photograph on March 2. She offered simply and with such heart “I’m so sorry that she died – and so grateful for the life she gave you.” How beautiful to receive a direct, love-filled message like this! As one of two founding members of the Grief Rites Foundation, Mari is not afraid to use the word “died”. My mother died and we can say the word. In all the years since Mam’s death less than a handful of people have actually said the words “I’m so sorry that your mother died.” I didn’t realize this (and I write about grief and death regularly) until I read Mari’s comment and it made a powerful impact on me. I knew she got it. She understood.
As with every blog I write I hope something on this page resonates with my readers, those of you who have lost a loved one and people looking to know how to support a grieving friend. Often a listening ear is all that is needed, a few minutes to talk, a chance to process something out loud. When you speak from a place of love and acknowledge a person’s situation honestly, you are doing it right. Thank you all for being in my life. We are here, but for a fleeting moment in time.
“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” – George Eliot
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