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.

Standard
After Mother Loss, Death, Grief, Mother Loss, Mother's Day, Mother's Day Without My Mother, Motherless Daughter, Motherless mother's day

20 Mother’s Day Ideas for the Motherless During COVID-19

This year, 2020, Mother’s Day looks very different from previous Mother’s Days. Many people won’t be able to spend time with their moms, take her out to dinner, spoil her with flowers and chocolate, because we are all quarantined during COVID-19. This is sad for families. The pandemic is posing real challenges to everyday life. People are scared, anxious, grieving and we are all feeling uncertain about the future. Nobody knows how long this new way of experiencing life will go on. Personally, I’m living moment to moment and day by day. I’m focusing on positive things and trying not to worry too much while taking the necessary precautions and checking in with the most vulnerable in our family and our community. For people who have lost loved ones during this pandemic, I put my hand on my heart when I say how truly sorry I am for your heartache. It’s devastating to lose a loved one. We all need to take care of each other and offer kindness and friendship along the way. Healing takes time.

For those of us whose mothers have died, especially if we don’t have children of our own, this Mother’s Day won’t be too much different to previous Mother’s Days in certain aspects, unless of course this is your first without her. We aren’t able to spend time with our mothers, we can’t take her out to dinner or spoil her with flowers and chocolate and we don’t make plans to be with her on these occasions because we can’t be with her. She’s no longer around. I haven’t celebrated Mother’s Day with my mam, Kathleen, since I was a young child. Actually, Mam didn’t think much of the holiday, labeling it a ‘Hallmark Holiday’ and something made up by greeting card companies to make money. It was really after her death that Mother’s Day began to impact me more and more. My beautiful mother was missing in my life and everyone around me was celebrating theirs. I don’t like Mother’s Day and I’m happy when I can just ignore it. I think it will be much easier for me to do that this year.

At home in Ireland in my mother Kathleen’s arms

If you, a motherless daughter, are looking for ideas on how to celebrate your mom on Mother’s Day I wrote a blog post on this topic three years ago that has been viewed by over 55,000 people globally. This goes to prove just how many of us around the world are missing our mother’s presence from our lives. During quarantine while many of us shelter-in-place, a few of the 12 suggestions I offer on that blog post are obsolete, like meeting up with friends for coffee for example, though of course the ideas are still helpful and we can work with them. This year, due to the current situation, there are more virtual opportunities out there for us to explore.

I set to work on a new list today, researching and piecing together what I hope might be helpful for my readers. People will need help and support with their grief this weekend. I know there are broken hearts right now reaching for answers, wishing their moms were here in the world again. I hope this list offers some comfort. Another option of course is to seek out a good grief therapist and to discuss your situation with her. Grief is complicated and the journey takes a while. For now, here is my updated list of 20 ideas for this year’s Mother’s Day for the motherless.

1. empowerHER, a nonprofit for girls and young women who have experienced the loss of their mothers is hosting a virtual Mother’s Day Retreat May 9th + 10th and registration is free. The Retreat is geared towards girls up to age 24, but women of all ages are encouraged to join.

2. Reimagine is offering a worldwide virtual festival on embracing life, facing death, and loving fully in the face of COVID-19. There are several events throughout the weekend and beyond and I will list a couple of them below. Do check out the event’s schedule page as there is something for everyone here.

3. Find a time in the day, preferably morning to meditate for at least five minutes. Ideally about twenty minutes feels right for me, but do what you can. Light your favorite scented candle. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and invite your mother into your space. Breathe. Hold her in your thoughts. Focus on the gratitude you feel for your mother and the gift of life that she gave you. Reflect on some memories you have of her. Let the tears flow if they come. Grief is love, remember. I use the Insight Timer app on my phone which is free and offers the most wonderful selection of meditations.

4. Display a picture of your mother in a prominent place. Wear a pendant containing her photograph throughout the day if you have one or carry a memory of her in your heart. Speak to her. Pray to her if you find comfort in prayer.

5. If you can go outside safely, purchase a beautiful bouquet of flowers for your mother and place them in your home. Or order them over the phone to be delivered. Flowers lend cheer and beauty to a space. They can remind you of the love you have for your mother and the love she had for you. Perhaps see if you can order your mother’s favorite flowers, if you know what those were.

6. As part of Reimagine’s Life, Loss and Love event, Portland author and all-round wonderful human, Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things (among other works), will be interviewed by Shelby Forsythia on Sunday MAY 10 at 11:00am-12:00pm PDT. Click on this link for more information. The event is free with a suggested donation.

7. Hosted By Alica Forneret of Dead Moms Club, as part of Reimagine’s event, is a conversation about being a motherless daughter while raising children. Guests Claire Bidwell Smith, Hope Edelman, Susan Lieu, and Megan Carmichael will share stories and memories on May 10 at 2:00-3:00pm PDT.

8. Check out this list of 10 Books I Recommend for Motherless Daughters. Perhaps you can order some of these online, preferably from your local independent bookstore to help support them during these worrying times for small businesses. Or maybe you have one of these books on your bookshelf but you haven’t had the time to read it yet. Another option is to purchase these books in audio form. I love a good audio book to enjoy while driving or cooking. Allow yourself a few quiet reading hours in bed Sunday morning or settle into a cozy chair with a cup of hot tea or coffee and an author’s story. Maybe in her story you will recognize yours.

9. Create a collage using pictures from magazines or inspiring photo journals that you have around your house or apartment. Paste pictures that remind you of your mother onto a large piece of card stock or paperboard, or into an art journal. I did this once with the Portland Motherless Daughter’s group when I was the organizer, several years back. After thirty minutes or so working quietly on our collages we shared them with the others in the group. The collages were beautiful, colorful representations of our mothers. I still have mine.

10. If you have a bathtub allow yourself the luxury of some soaking time. Isn’t there something so soothing about nestling down into a bathtub, candles lit, maybe some calming music playing close by? Perhaps listen to a song that reminds you of your mother. It might make you cry and that’s okay because you are alone, taking care of your needs. Crying is often such a good release. I love to add a few drops of pure essential lavender oil into my tub and often this is where I meditate. Give yourself this time for nurture and relaxation. For those of us without mothers we need to find kind and gentle ways to take care of ourselves.

11. Read and share blog posts by other motherless daughters. My blog A LOVELY WOMAN has several blog entries about mother loss and many are specifically written for Motherless Mother’s Days. I also have a Facebook page where I post about grief regularly. Project Brave birds, hosted by my friend in Australia, is an inspiring page dedicated to celebrating the journeys and achievements of brave girls and women who have lost their mothers around the world. Without My Mum is an active private group page hosted by Leigh Van Der Horst where women share their feelings on mother loss and offer up support. Motherloss International is a Facebook page dedicated to maternal loss. Motherless Daughters Facebook community page shares many articles on mother loss including my own. These are valuable and loving places to go for comfort and support. My purpose in writing is to connect with others around the world who are experiencing a similar loss, in particular women and girls. I share the work of others widely on my social media platforms, always giving the authors credit, because each of us has stories that will touch people in different ways. The goal of writing and sharing for me, is to get this information out there, to those who need it. There is no reason for people to think they are alone in their grief process, or their experience of deep loss. Of course our individual experiences are unique but it helps to know that there are people out there who understand. Sharing our stories helps others. Sharing the work of others also helps.

12. Write. Write in a journal or on a page, just put your feelings out there. I like putting pen or pencil to paper. It feels more cathartic for me. Are you angry? Devastated? Lonely? Anxious? Write it all down. Or write something. You can burn this text later if you like, but it’s important to express your deeply held feelings. Writing is the number one thing that has helped me process and come to terms with my loss.

Putting pen to paper at home in my garden

13. Write a letter to your mother. This is therapeutic and can be a valuable exercise while grieving. Let yourself cry or laugh as you write & release whatever needs to pour from you. Is there something you really want to share with your mother today? Put down the words. It may even turn into a book! I’ve written a blog post about this called The Healing Letter where I offer writing prompts to help with your letter.

14. Call a friend who has experienced a similar loss to you. They might have more time to talk now that we are quarantined. Of course, the opposite might be true, but it’s worth checking in with them. Try not to feel rejected if they don’t take you up on a chat. Sometimes we feel like discussing our losses and sometimes we don’t. Hold compassion for your friend and try calling another person..

15. Zoom call with friends or family or a local support group. Perhaps create your own group Zoom call with other motherless daughters you know.

16. If you have a garden or a local park is currently open to visitors, take some time to enjoy the outdoors. Mother Nature is incredibly healing. I like to sit beneath the blossoms, inhale the fresh scents of nature, feel the soft breeze against my skin and marvel at this life we are given. I enjoy going for walks because they give me time to sort through my thoughts, figure things out or just let stuff go that I no longer need to hold onto. If you are a gardener, maybe planting some new flowers on Mother’s Day might be a way to honor your mom. You can watch them grow and think of her. Tending a garden is relaxing, rewarding and healing.

17. Perhaps prepare and cook one of your mom’s favorite dishes for mealtime on Sunday. Crack open a bottle of wine or brew some tea in her honor. If you don’t know how to cook that beloved dish of hers or you don’t remember what it was, cook a favorite of yours, or order a meal from a local restaurant, sit back and enjoy.

18. Do you love podcasts as much as I love podcasts? Because I tend to be a busy, active person, podcasts are a new way for me to slow down a little and relax. I listen to them while preparing lunch or taking a bath and sometimes my husband and I will listen together, snuggled up on our couch at home. Recently I wrote a blog post about some of my favorites pertaining to grief and mother loss. Check these out.

19. COVID-19 is presenting us all with many challenges. Some people are really struggling. A great way to lift your own spirits is by giving to others, if you can, what you can. There are so many opportunities for giving. Local and global non-profits need help. I suggest donating what you can to local grief support centers, organizations helping women who are fleeing abusive situations, non-profits aiding victims of child abuse, foster care organizations, refugee families, state and national parks, small local businesses, tribal nations…the list goes on. If anyone would like specific suggestions I can offer some in the comments below.

20. No matter what Mother’s Day holds for you this year, and for many I know it holds heartbreak, I hope you are able to show yourself kindness. From one motherless daughter to another, sending love and virtual hugs as Mother’s Day 2020 approaches. Take care of yourselves, and each other!

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.

Standard
Connecting through grief, Death, Gratitude, Grief, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Moving forward after loss, Podcasts

5 Podcasts I Recommend for Motherless Daughters

One of my new favorite things are podcasts. I love that I can select a topic I’m particularly interested in, search for online discussions on that topic, say, the craft of writing, inspirational women’s stories or conversations around grief, and several podcasts will pop up for me to choose from with an entire thirty minutes to an hour dedicated to my chosen topic. During this pandemic when people are advised to stay home it is a perfect time to explore our podcast options, most of which we can access on our phones or laptops. We don’t have a television in our house and these days I’m avoiding the news and radio stations apart from those dedicated to music, because I need a break from overwhelming, unsettling broadcasts about the global pandemic. I stay informed but I’m selective, in order to keep anxiety and fear at bay. While we look out for the most vulnerable in our communities and make extra efforts to stay in touch with our loved ones, we must also practice kindness for ourselves.

One way to take a break is to schedule in an hour for yourself, some time in the day, where you can listen to a podcast episode. There are so many amazing podcasts out there, with talented, empathic hosts and I just love to tune in when I’m preparing lunch in the kitchen, settling down with a mug of hot tea in the evening or when I allow myself the time to take a warm Epsom salt bath. Sometimes I’ll play an episode while I’m outside tending to the garden or sitting on the deck as our spring blossoms burst forth. I welcome the soothing voices of these hosts and their guests and am eager to learn from their experiences. In this blog I’m delighted to share a few of my favorites. Although these particular podcasts aren’t specifically tailored towards motherless women, I think many will gain some level of comfort and wisdom from the episodes. I believe that anybody grieving the loss of a significant other will draw reassurance from these shared stories, and for people wishing to support grieving loved ones, many helpful suggestions are offered.

Here are five of my current favorites, in no particular order.

  1. Widowed Parent Podcast hosted by Jenny Lisk

Host, Jenny Lisk, is doing a fabulous job interviewing widowed parents, experts in the field of grief and people who lost a parent when they were young, for her podcast. Jenny’s webpage is clear and accessible. She has a wonderful ‘Start Here‘ page where episodes of the show are clearly divided into sections, with guests’ names listed alongside numbered episodes. Episode 35 is a discussion with Allison Gilbert on keeping memories of our loved ones alive. In episode 54 we listen as Brennan Wood, Executive Director at The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families speaks about her own personal loss. And in episode 48 I tell my story of losing my mother when I was eleven and how her death has continued to impact my life to this day. There is something for everyone in this podcast including short “pandemic special” episodes like this one with Buffy Peters of Hamilton’s Academy of Grief and Loss.

2. Moving Beyond hosted by Psychic Medium Fleur and Grief Therapist Claire Bidwell Smith

This is a relatively new podcast and I love it. I attended a motherless daughter’s retreat with Claire a few years ago in Ojai and I’ve read and love all of her books. I’ve also seen Medium Fleur here in Portland, Oregon when she came to town for an event, the results of which blew my mind. In this podcast Claire offers tools to assist a person during their grief and then we experience a psychic mediumship session as Fleur connects each person with a loved one in the spirit world. I have not had a reading with Fleur but someday in the future I hope to. Check out this podcast if you’re curious about the after life. It’s both comforting and mind-blowing.

3. Grief Gratitude and Greatness hosted by Sarah Shaoul

Sarah Shaoul has a beautiful, gentle voice and I could listen to her interview guests for hours at a time, and I have. I’ve listened to a few of these episodes back to back as Sarah thoughtfully raises questions about lessons associated with guest’s experiences. Each episode is varied as this podcast explores the different ways people grieve with a focus on the gratitude that allows us to keep going following a loss. In this episode Frances Badalamenti discusses becoming a mother as she loses hers.

4. Unlocking Us hosted by Brene Brown

I know most of you already know who Brene Brown is. Professor, lecturer and author of several best-selling books, Brene has spent her career studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. But did you know she has a podcast? And it’s so good! This particular episode with grief expert David Kessler, reveals what he has learned about love, loss, and finding meaning in his grief. An enlightening, comforting episode, I intend to listen to this one again and again.

5. Grief Out Loud hosted by Jana DeCristofaro and produced by The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families in Portland, Oregon

The Dougy Center provides support for children, teens, young adults, and their families grieving a death. They offer support and training locally, nationally, and internationally to individuals and organizations seeking to assist children in grief. This illuminating podcast offers a wide mix of personal stories, tips for supporting anybody grieving a loss and interviews with bereavement professionals. There are so many episodes worth listening to here, but if you are looking for one that addresses mother’s day, as it fast approaches, try episode 13 titled Grieving Through Mother’s Day.

I hope you find these interesting and helpful! Let me know in the comments below what you think and please feel free to share some of your favorite podcasts on the topic of mother loss and grief. Like or follow my public Facebook page here where I frequently post articles, quotes & information about mother loss, grief and the writing process.

Take care, Carmel X

“The most basic of all human needs is to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Ralph Nichols

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

20190116_151618.jpg

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.

Standard
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.

Screenshot_20181029-235522_Facebook

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.

Standard
In honor of my mother, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Wedding Day Without My Mother, Without my mother

15 Ways to Honor Your Deceased Mother on Your Wedding Day

Many of us imagine that our wedding day will be one of the best days of our lives. But for women whose mothers have died, navigating the wedding planning and the big day can be difficult and painful. My mother died when I was eleven years old, obviously several years before I was ready to even consider getting married, but her absence from my wedding preparations at thirty nine years of age was felt throughout the process, and on the beautiful day itself. I know there are many motherless women excited for their wedding day while at the same time experiencing a range of emotions from anxiety and dread to sorrow and anger. Women have asked my advice on how best to honor their mothers during the ceremony. Here are fifteen ideas:

1.Place a favorite photograph of your mother in a pretty frame and place it on the ceremony table facing you and the guests throughout the celebration. You can glance at that photograph, see her face, and know she is with you in spirit.

Dublin Ireland

2. My father and I picked flowers from our garden at home, including two beautiful red roses that came from my maternal grandfather’s rose bush – a gift to my parents many moons before. My husband and I held these roses during the Rose Ceremony and the flowers were displayed in an old pottery jug of my mother’s which was placed on the table next to her photograph. Did your mother have a garden? Or something special of hers that you can incorporate into the ceremony?

Dublin Ireland

3. My husband and I displayed photographs of our parents on their wedding days and these were moved throughout the day depending on the celebration, for example, they were next to our wedding cake later in the evening.

Dublin Ireland

4. My mother’s name was included in our wedding booklet where we mentioned the parents of the bride and groom. My mother was not going to be at my wedding but she is still one of my parents and there was no question about having her name on the booklet. (Many people choose to omit the names of the deceased and focus only on those in attendance.)

5. A month before our wedding I attended a Motherless Daughter’s Retreat with Hope Edelman, Claire Bidwell Smith and twenty one other motherless daughters in beautiful Ojai, California. I attended the retreat in order to bond with other women who understood the pain of early mother loss. The timing was right for me as the build-up to our wedding had sent a flood of fresh grievances my way. In a little shop in Ojai I came across a gorgeous handbag, perfect for my wedding outfit. I purchased it some days later and on my special day I carried the handbag with me along with the love, understanding and best wishes of my new tribe of motherless sisters. Are you a member of a motherless daughters’ group? There are many of these groups now, all over the USA and internationally. Or perhaps you have a friend whose mother died? She may be able to offer you comfort that nobody else can offer on the day. Keep her close.

6. Months before our wedding I ordered a gorgeous Candle of Remembrance from an Irish company and chose the image and the wording (from a selection) that best suited my mother. I lit the candle in my mother’s honor when the celebrant mentioned her name and her absence at the beginning of the ceremony. Many companies offer Remembrance Candles.

Dublin Ireland

7. A few years after my mother died I found a stunning ring of hers that fit me perfectly. I’ve worn it every day since then and I wore it on my wedding day. Do you wear something that once belonged to your mother? I find it very comforting to wear her ring daily.

8. I wanted to incorporate another piece of my mother’s jewelry into my outfit and with the help of local designer Holly Stalder we came up with the idea of creating a pretty hairpiece using my mother’s costume jewelry brooch and some fabric pieces similar to my wedding dress. This was a fun endeavor and I love the result so much!

20180814_171050

9. My father mentioned my mother in his speech and it proved to be a special, important moment for me; honoring Mam by speaking of her in front of family and friends. My bridesmaid who is one of my best friends since our earliest years also spoke of Mam and honored her memory with beautiful, touching words of remembrance. I spoke of Mam briefly during my speech and it felt good to bring her memory into the space.

10. Having my father present on my wedding day, being there to walk me up the aisle and offer his joy, love and best wishes to my husband and me, our guests and our friends, meant the world to me. My mother chose a wonderful husband, a man who would look after their two children with a kind heart and who would honor their love by being the best dad he could be. My mother would have been proud, and very grateful. Not everyone will have the presence of a father on their wedding day, but perhaps you have a brother, a sister, a grandparent or someone else who loves you and can support you on the day.

14458892_10154138655127968_1859234802_n

These are some of my favorite ways other women have honored their mothers on their wedding day:

11. Re-stage one of your mother’s wedding pictures. I love this idea and if I had thought of it prior to my wedding I would have attempted it.

12. Sew a heart from a piece of your mother’s fabric onto the inside of your wedding gown. That way you can hold a piece of your mother very close.

13. Wear a locket containing her photograph or attach it to your bouquet.

14. Hold a moment of silence in her memory.

15. Lace your mother’s wedding band into your gown. This one can look really beautiful.

Our wedding day proved to be one of my favorite days ever. I know my mother would want that for me. I hope this post can give other motherless daughters ideas but I also want to offer encouragement and support. Love is a blessing and our special unions in life are gifts. The day passes so quickly. Focus on all the positive, love-filled aspects of the day if you can.

Sending love and best wishes for your special day,

~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.

Photo credits to Jefferies photography, Ireland and Annie Bracken (last image)

Standard
After Mother Loss, Childhood grief, Death, Grief, Grief Writing, Motherless Daughter, Support groups, Write to heal

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.

Hope at Blackbird studios.jpg

(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.)

Standard
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 TEN 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 ten 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 many reasons I read memoirs. Empathy is a door into other people’s experiences and when we immerse ourselves in somebody’s story, tapping into the struggle of another human being, we get to exercise those empathy muscles. Here are my suggestions.

TEN 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? Even so, 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 a) asking permission of the grieving relative or person closest to the deceased b) referring to the grieving person and their own unique and significant pain and c) requesting that people connect with the grieving person on her page or privately. Posting about missing somebody after a death is a beautiful thing if the family has given you permission or if you were extremely close to the deceased. Please be mindful as to how you approach it. It’s hurtful to be tagged in someone else’s post about your own mother and follow along as they receive kind messages and condolences throughout the day.
  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 private (rather than on someone else’s page) is more meaningful. Check to see if the bereaved person has written something of her own, describing her personal journey and offer a genuine response to that.
  5. TRY NOT TO FORGET significant dates, in particular death anniversaries, Mother’s Day and birthdays. Mark them on your calendar and make that call. 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 suffered a major loss surely that date is etched in your brain? No. Then maybe take note and write it down in order to remember. What do most of us look for in a genuine lengthy friendship? I would say we wish to be thought of and held in that friend’s heart. Well, this includes being thought about on tough days like the anniversary of your mother’s death. We want to know that our friends haven’t forgotten our most challenging life experiences. 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. (I get that people don’t know what to say! We ‘grief-writers’ are working on that). After many hours surrounded by people I needed to take a breather because in that crowded room I felt alone. Outside in a nearby park I burst into tears. Nobody had any idea how painful this day was for me. Right then my phone rang. It was a friend whose father had died a few months prior and so, fresh in his own grief, he understood what I might be feeling. He said he 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. I’d known this man less than a year and yet he was the one who called me. To have my loss acknowledged, my mother remembered and my feelings validated meant so much to me, 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 in another story of mine. 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. BE MINDFUL of speaking 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, 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 announcing “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 forgot what I could never forget.

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.

Screenshot_20180417-134851

If you are interested in finding more 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.

Screenshot_20180420-132710

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.

Standard
Anniversary, Death, Family, Grief, Grief stories, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter

Thirty Years Without My Mother

On March 2nd, 1988 my dear mother, Kathleen, passed away from ovarian cancer, at home in Ireland, where I was born and raised. I was eleven and my brother was a couple of years my senior. It’s hard to believe it has been thirty years, and yet it does seem like a lifetime since I was held by my mother.

My family stuck together through everything. In this way I feel fortunate. Dad, grieving but kind and present, guided us through the tough times with a gentle, open heart. We didn’t see therapists or read books on grief, we just plowed forward with determination and love. I don’t know if there were therapists around our town in those days. Nobody spoke about therapists. Things are different now, but even as I got older if a person saw a therapist back home they were seen as weak, or weird. That isn’t the reason we didn’t seek one out. The thought just didn’t cross anyone’s minds. I didn’t know of any books about grief or mother loss either, though I was curious to find one. I secretly longed to read a book about a little girl my own age whose mother was sick and died. I wanted to know what another eleven year old girl would do in similar circumstances. Concerns about my impending years of puberty and how I’d tackle female issues without my mother took up space in my mind and I wanted to feel like I had a friend who understood, even if that friend was a character in a book whose story was similar to mine.

I never did find that book. It wasn’t until many years later, as an adult, that I came across a book on the subject of mother loss. I’ve seen a therapist on a couple of occasions but honestly I never felt that I needed grief counseling. For certain, grief counseling can be of enormous help to some people. It just wasn’t what I needed. Or perhaps I didn’t find the right person. Maybe the timing was off. I’m not sure.

Growing up I could talk to my father about anything and I relied on him for love and consistent care. He never let me down. We often spoke about Mam, and we still do. Permitted to look through her things, wear her clothes if I wished and explore her belongings, it brought Dad happiness to witness my continued love for my mother. Every day I wear a ring of hers, gifted to Mam from my father. On my wedding day in 2016, along with my mother’s ring, I wore a beautiful brooch of hers embedded in a unique hair set made locally for the occasion. We keep the memory of my much-loved mother alive to this day by displaying family photos around the house. We were able to move on with our lives, creating new experiences and memories, while treasuring openly the woman at the center of our lives.

It’s hard to imagine that my mother is gone from us three decades now; a vibrant, beautiful spirit in her healthy days, and a courageous, kind human-being during the tough years. These past thirty years have been a real mix of ups and downs. For those of us who lost a loved one early in life we are constantly riding the unpredictable waves of emotions. In the first few years I focused on school, drama classes and my friendships. It felt important to me to stay strong for my family’s sake. Genuinely happy many of those days, I had great friends and a comfortable home, albeit without my mother. School was not my favorite place and as the years passed my anxiety there increased. Even as a child the focus in school was placed on listening to teachers, enjoying little to no P.E. or art and chastisement for any little thing.

I didn’t understand it back then but I experienced a sense of relief following my mother’s death. After watching her suffer for so many years we were all exhausted and often frantic with worry. The progression of her illness broke our hearts. For six years we hoped and prayed that she would get better, but she didn’t and there was so much pain during those years. When Mam died I was broken-hearted, but a feeling of lightness descended upon me and I just let go. This is a difficult thing to explain to anybody who hasn’t watched someone they love suffer for a long period of time and it’s even harder to admit to ourselves. Now, after all of these years I long for even one more minute with her. What a miracle that would be!

Going through puberty posed challenges for me. I was eleven when my mother died so it was all ahead of me. I wanted to ask Mam so many questions. My friends and I surmised and speculated about things but I longed to ask Mam about girl stuff. I wanted to know what her responses would be. My friends told me I wouldn’t ask Mam private things even if she were alive, but I knew that I would.

Unexpectedly, in my mid twenties I experienced deep sadness and regret over not having the relationship I saw other women my age enjoying with their moms. I craved maternal love, that particular way only a mother can love her child and I knew my mother, a nurturing, loving person, would have given me that unconditional love. I believe my grieving truly started then. In my studio apartment here in Portland, I would suddenly break down and cry at the thought of her. I felt terribly hard done by. It was during these years that I sought out energy healers and psychics. A few of the female healers appeared to have the ability to connect with my mother’s spirit and the readings offered much comfort. During these sessions I felt certain my mother’s spirit was close. Shortly after this time I began writing about my loss and connecting with other motherless daughters.

There are times when I feel deep pangs of sorrow and I wish Mam had been granted a much longer life than what she was given. Today, she would be eighty years old had she lived. But I allow myself to think and talk about her every day and writing about her over the years has really helped me process her death. I started this blog two years ago on this date and am happy to have connected with so many motherless daughters who have read and related to what I have shared. We all have our own stories, but we find comfort in the connections we make through writing. I’m working on my memoir Briefly I Knew My Mother to honor my mother’s memory while helping others understand the long arc of grief, in particular in regards to early loss.

People ask if it will get better or easier over time, if they will ever stop missing the person they loved and lost. My mother died thirty years ago and I can say this; things do get easier eventually, the weight of the loss does lighten, but the void will always be there. I’ve never stopped missing Mam and I’ve missed her in varying ways. Some years have been harder than others. Why particular years were more challenging depended on phases and experiences in my life and so our grief journeys are not linear. Some moments are heavy and sad, while others are filled with beauty and joy. Life is but a collection of moments. Getting through a moment is easier than getting through a day or a week or a year. The key is to try and find something beautiful in a moment and go with that into the next. Hold your person in your heart, keep them in your thoughts, but live as best you can in each precious moment.

The sadness we experience in grief is borne out of the love that grew within us for that particular person. Love is a tremendous gift. My mother and father showed me the true meaning of love by caring for the other deeply and in their unconditional love for their children. I keep a photograph of my mother in a beautiful vintage frame on a table in our hallway alongside a scented candle, a couple of plants, fresh flowers and a bowl of lavender. I pass this area frequently, glancing at Mam’s smiling happy face as I carry on with my day. Her spirit is with with me, I can feel it. No, it’s not the same as having her here in person; chatting together over a cup of tea, but it’s a comfort to me nonetheless. Mam has a prominent place in my heart, to this day, thirty years following her death, and a prominent place in our home.

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.

20180301_165642

Standard
After Mother Loss, Death, Grief, Grief Writing, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Moving forward after loss

Moving Forward After Mother Loss

We can’t go back in time. We can only move forward. Moment to moment. There is no changing what has happened no matter how much we want the outcome to be different. And in standing still, which we may do for a while, there can be no growth. Our bodies and spirits gravitate towards recovery and healing so eventually we must move in that direction, but it can take a long time, and a lot of effort. How do we activate our healing when all we want to do is cry? When all we want is for the person we have lost to reappear and hold us and tell us everything is okay, just as it was before, but better because we now know what it feels like to lose them and the most amazing feeling ever would be to have them back.

Well, crying is a good step. Crying is a release and it is healing. I didn’t cry all that much in the first decade following my mother’s death. I cried in the second decade, and into the third. So, I know that grieving is a process and that it can present itself throughout our lives depending on circumstances. I’ve lived some of the happiest days of my life in the years since my mother died, but I’ve also lived black days. Days where I couldn’t stop crying, staring at the photo of Mam on my fridge, imploring “Where are you? Are you here? Why did this have to happen to us? I neeeeed you!”

This is the journey of life. The days of cherry blossoms and playful baby goats; warm sunshine kissing bare skin; a comforting hug from someone you love; the fragrance of spring in the violet-blue hyacinths on your coffee table, but also, the sorrow that wells up inside you when the scent of nail polish takes you right back to the days of sitting beside your long-dead mother as she delicately painted your tiny fingernails.

What do we do? We move forward, reaching for the pleasant gifts of life. We must, if we are to survive.

Cheryl Strayed quoted her mother in her stunning book ”Wild when she said:

“There’s always a sunrise and always a sunset and it’s up to you to choose to be there for it,’ said my mother. ‘Put yourself in the way of beauty.”

Is it easy? Not always. Is it possible? Yes.

Following tragedy we will never be the same person we were beforehand. Gathering all of the shredded pieces of ourselves together we gradually become who we need to be as we take our next steps. We learn as we go along, figuring out what works for us, facing adversity head on and sometimes crying. Moment to moment.

Throughout my life many of the universe’s gifts have inspired me to step from one moment into the next. After my mother died it was my father’s love and devotion towards my brother and me that kept me afloat. His love for us gave me something to hold on to. I didn’t lose all hope in the world, though my innocence was shattered at an early age. One caring and devoted adult in a child’s life can make all the difference. My brother and I were blessed with a wonderful dad.

I had close friends in school who cared about me and the laughter we shared, even on the toughest days, allowed a lightness to enter my being when otherwise it could not. Laughter is an instant release from those thoughts that cause pain. One of my closest friends, Tara, could always make me laugh. I needed her compassionate spirit close to me in school following my mother’s death, and we gravitated towards one another no matter how much our teachers tried to pry us apart. I will never understand why it was more important to my teachers that I concentrate on my math or my writing than it was that I laugh with my pal in the aftermath of such tragedy. My work was exemplary. I loved to write and read and my teachers had no reason to worry about that side of things. School granted me a chance to interact with my friends and I needed those interactions. I was only eleven. Plenty of time for austerity. Laughter is one of the best prescriptions for wellness. As a teacher of young children I laughed a lot when I was in the classroom with them. I encouraged laughter and joy more than anything. What a gift little ones are! They remind us to pay attention to the simplest of life’s blessings.

Making art, creating, writing, dancing, singing; all of these things can save a person. Find that which your soul is drawn to and give yourself the time and space to dive right in. Art lifts you out of the analytical thinking left brain and drops you into the expressive, imaginative right brain where you can let go of the pain for a while. Writing has always been my go-to and when I gave myself the time and permission to write about Mam’s illness and death in Briefly I Knew My Mother a weight so heavy and burdensome lifted. My mother loved to dance and sing so these activities not only bring me joy they bring me closer to her.

I know that sometimes none of this will seem to matter. We are too heartbroken and devastated to consider stepping towards anything that removes us from thinking of the person we have lost. There are times when all we want is that person back. I understand. I so completely understand. The void we experience following a loss often feels like too much to bear.

It takes time. That’s why we must be kind to ourselves and listen to what our soul is trying to tell us. Our inner voice knows what we need. Laughter is an instant release. It creates space. Friends give us comfort. Take everything moment to moment. But we must do the work. When we are ready it is ultimately up to us.

Nature offers us many gifts. I am always calmer following a walk in the forest. Regularly I crave a warm lake in which to float, releasing myself to the water as it carries me along. Our universe is rich with beauty. When we give ourselves to it our souls respond to the sweet magnificence of the hummingbird, the soft comforting warmth of a furry family pet and the immense strength of the redwood tree.

27751706_10160352557110393_3752409130622923026_n

In March of this year my mother will be dead thirty years. It’s an astonishing amount of time. Life threw my family a tremendous burden and a whole lot of heartbreak when we were all just starting off together as a little family. It’s not fair. But what in life is?

In those thirty years since I have lived sad times, bewildering times and happy joyful times. Some years propose questions and other years offer answers.

Moment to moment we can allow the answers to filter through, be it in stillness or art, writing or friendship. Look for that door, the one that appeals to you, the one that draws you over, and then when you’re ready to step on through, open it. Take all that you need with you on your next journey: your memories, the love you’ll always carry for the person you’ve lost, and breathe deeply as you go. Joy and beauty will greet you on the other side, showing up in your art, your words and your song, in the garden, on a hike, in another person’s smile. We are part of all that is. It is a great mystery but one that we are in together. The grief journey is gut-wrenching at the worst of times, but our lives are richer for the love we have experienced. Take it moment to moment, that’s all we can do. Then reach for that door handle. And visualize what you want to find on the other side!

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.

20171231_200313

“May my heart be kind, my mind fierce, and my spirit brave.” – Kath Forsyth, The Witches of Eileanan
Standard
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.

364029-Vera-Nazarian-Quote-Sometimes-reaching-out-and-taking-someone-s.jpg

Standard
Death, Grief, Grief Writing, Love, Memoir, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, On Writing, Write to heal

The Healing Letter

I often share with people how effective writing can be in the healing process. Penning my memoir Briefly I Knew My Mother allowed me to express, and ultimately work through, many feelings I hadn’t touched on in years. Articulating our thoughts and feelings on paper can help us understand them better. If you are sad or grieving and you don’t know where to start perhaps penning a letter to the person you have lost might help.

Personally, I love writing with a pen. For me there’s something visceral about putting pen to paper; it’s an act almost as innate as taking a breath. I’ve been keeping a diary for most of my life now on a daily basis. But typing is faster and I do that too. I would suggest either method.

If writing a memoir or a book sounds daunting or not your style, perhaps try writing a poem. I have friends who have discovered profound healing through poetry writing. If poetry seems intimidating maybe writing a letter to your mother, or the person you are missing might be a good alternative. For those of us missing our mothers there are so many things we still want to say to them. You’ll know what those things are when you sit down and begin writing. If you don’t know where to start perhaps consider the following eight reflections:

  1. What I miss most about you is…
  2. What I wish I could tell you now is…
  3. What I wish I’d said or hadn’t said is…
  4. My strongest memory of you when I was growing up is…
  5. What’s most difficult for me now is…
  6. What I’d like to ask you is…
  7. What I’m most grateful for is…
  8. I’m keeping you close to my heart by…

Feel free to play around with the wording of the above prompts to suit your own situation.

Once the letter is complete keep your writing private and close to your heart if this is what feels right to you. Read your letter aloud in the privacy of your home, if you feel inclined. I do this a lot with my writing. Sometimes it brings on tears, but the emotional release can be powerful. Maybe you may choose to read your letter at the cemetery, the beach or a place that was special to you and your mother. Perhaps read it to a trusted friend? I keep most of my writing. You could find a special box for it, or keep it in a drawer beside your bed. Perhaps revisit it, add to it over time and watch how your answers grow. Or crumple it up and dispose of it if that feels more healing to you.

Writing cannot bring our loved ones back to us. But it can bring us a little closer to them with each thought and each wish we put down on the page. It helps us express what sometimes is difficult to express in words. Maybe just give it a try?

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.

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” ~ William Wordsworth

Standard
A Father's Role, Family, Gratitude, Grief, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, The Importance of Family

The Important Role My Dad Played in My Life Following My Mother’s Death.

My dad is the reason I am a well-adjusted, grateful, loving and happy person today. I have no doubt about it. Sure, I have my down days. There are days when the developments in our world deeply upset me. I truly wonder at the human race. There are several occasions when I miss my mother who died when I was only eleven years old. I feel angry and ripped off and lonely for her and for the person she would be today. I crave the companionship of my mother when I have questions only she could answer, or when I see a mother and daughter out to lunch or sharing a dressing room in a boutique that I know Mam would have enjoyed. I miss Mam often throughout my days. It’s a given. I loved and I lost. But I have to say that I feel truly, unimaginably blessed to have the father I have. Who would I have become without his love and guidance down through the years? I don’t know. I don’t wish to know.

My mother chose well when she chose Dad. She married in her mid-thirties having waited until she was sure she had found the right man. She had. My dad is a gem and she knew that. I wish I could ask her to share with me that story. I want to know when exactly she knew that dad was the one for her. There are things I really want to know the answer to but these answers were hers only and they died along with her in 1988. As a child I never thought to ask these things. How would I? The American poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, says in her poem of the same title “Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.”

Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age
The child is grown, and puts away childish things.
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.

Last year, shortly after I started writing about mother loss, I received a thoughtful, courteous message from a man who had read my piece “3 Things I’ve Learned Since Losing My Mother” in Huffington Post. He told me that his wife had died and that he was now raising their young children alone. He appreciated my article and wondered if I could tell him some of the most important things Dad had done to help during my moments of grief. He said he wanted to be that kind of father for his own children. I wrote back to him immediately.

When I hear from fathers looking for guidance in how to raise their motherless little ones I feel three things. One, my heart aches because out there is another father struggling to get through life without his beloved wife. And other heartbroken children are commencing a new and challenging chapter of their lives without their mommas. The second thing these messages do for me is give me hope. These men want to do their very best for their children. They are not afraid to reach out for support and to ask for help. They love their daughters and sons and they want to do right by them. And, thirdly, I feel blessed that I can offer some advice to these fathers based on the experience I was fortunate enough to have in my own life.

Hope Edelman says in “Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss.”:

“The degree to which a surviving parent copes is the most important indicator of the child’s long-term adaptation. Kids whose surviving parents are unable to function effectively in the parenting role show more anxiety and depression, as well as sleep and health problems, than those whose parents have a strong support network and solid inner resources to rely on.”

Dad had no guide book, no therapist and no Google but he followed his heart and helped my brother and me in the best ways he could. He prepared us for Mam’s death by speaking to us about the seriousness of her illness once it became clear to him and to the doctors that Mam could not survive much longer. He let us know that he was going to be there for us, then and into the future and that we wouldn’t be alone. He was true to his word. He was always there for us.

Dad offered guidance when necessary and listened to our stories, our hopes and our worries without judgment. Dad allowed us to grow into ourselves without criticism or fuss. He collected me from late night discos when I requested, never complaining about the hours he had to stay up. He didn’t ask too many questions and I always felt able to tell him anything. He patiently taught my brother and I how to drive and generously loaned us his car. He trusted us. I died my hair pink, green and bright red while I was in college, before it was a thing, and Dad just smiled. He welcomed my friends into our home and never complained about the loud music blasting from my room. I truly felt my dad embrace me for who I was as I grew into my womanhood and in return for his trust we gave him no reason to worry.

Of great importance to us was keeping Mam’s presence alive in our home. We kept plenty of Mam’s things around and I was free to use any of her stuff as I wanted. I wore some of her clothes as I grew into them, ran her comb through my long hair, dabbed her perfume on my arm and took one of her rings as my own. There hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t worn it. Dad welcomed questions about Mam and did his best to answer them. He brought her name into conversations and shared memories of her from time to time. Memories of Mam surrounded us in a healthy way, and still do. Photos of her were kept in their frames and cards from her were stored as treasured keepsakes. Dad supported my writing of “Briefly I knew My Mother”, the memoir I penned about losing Mam. He asks from time to time how the search for an agent is going and I know I have his blessing every step of this journey.

I am one of the fortunate ones. Not because I lost my dear mother far too early in my life, but because I was blessed with a caring and kind father who raised us children in a supportive and loving home following such a huge loss. Other motherless daughters and sons live a very different story to mine. Many have their family lives ripped apart because a father cannot cope emotionally. Some abuse their children or flee and the child no longer has the secure and loving life that was once theirs. I’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories that I know this happens frequently.

There are other ways, different to my family’s experience, to find happiness in the wake of mother loss. Although generally extremely difficult for children whose fathers remarry, depending on the age of the child, children do grow up to adore their new step-mother or at least to accept them. Many find a new love and happiness in this extension of family while some experience the pain of replacement. I’m sure we all know some wonderful, devoted step-mothers who love bereaved children as their own. It is important for grieving fathers to find their happiness again too.

I am blessed to still have my dad in my life. We don’t see each other as often as I’d like due to distance but he is always at the end of the phone line and when possible we spend quality time together. Recently I asked him about the immediate impact of losing Mam. He said he felt lost at the start and wondered how he would manage. He admitted to feeling his way day by day as time went on. Following Mam’s death he says he was exhausted but that having us, my brother and me, was a great help to him. He concentrated on our needs and we were companions for him. Helping us, he said, helped him.

As Father’s Day approaches this coming weekend I want to acknowledge the love and devotion my father gave to me and emphasize the significant role that fathers play in the life of a motherless daughter or son. I learned to thrive and grow into the considerate, assertive, loving person I am today because of what I went through and how my father guided me in those years when Mam was sick and following her death. Dad’s love and support is invaluable while the rewards for both parent and child are boundless. My heart overflows with love for my dad and when we have an opportunity to spend time together every moment is treasured. Losing my mother at such an early age resulted in a constant anxiety about losing my father. That is practically a given when a child loses a parent. But it has also given me reason to appreciate the moments. I got married last September and my father was there to walk me up the aisle. For both of us this was a moment. I choked back my happy tears when those doors opened to a room full of smiles and Etta James sang “At Last.” This day was a blessing, in more ways than one.

14458892_10154138655127968_1859234802_n

Love heals us. Love is the answer. Love is the way through the pain and into the light.

I am sorry for those who have lost their fathers. And I am sorry for those who never knew theirs or have suffered pain at the hands of their fathers. There is too much pain in this world and sometimes I wonder how we get through this life at all. Perhaps, again, the answer is love. Finding love where we can. Seeking out those with a loving heart. Healing each other. Sharing our pain and learning from other people’s stories. Listening. Sending an abundance of love into this fragile world.

I conclude by wishing my kind, sweet dad a happy Father’s Day, and to all the dads out there doing their best for their children, I wish the same! Your presence in your child’s life is significant. You are valued. Let your children see that they are valued too.

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.

My father quote

Standard
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.

Standard