Death, Family, Grief, Grief stories, Mother Loss, Mother's Day, Mother's Day Without My Mother, Motherless Daughter, Motherless mother's day, Support groups

Getting Through Mother’s Day Without a Mother

When my mother died in Ireland in 1988 I did not know a single child (other than my older brother) whose mother had also died. I did not know of another child who didn’t have a mother in their life, day in and day out. For me that meant I was different to all the other children. I had nobody to talk to who understood what it felt like for a child, a little girl of eleven, to have lost her mother. As I’ve previously mentioned in my writing I had, and still have, a wonderful, supportive and loving father in my life who was happy to talk about my mother and keep her beautiful memory alive in our home. I am the capable, loving, independent person I am today because my father stayed by my side, guiding me and loving me through it all. I will always be grateful for him.

That said, it is refreshing to see an increase in the number of grief support groups online and an acceptance and appreciation of what these groups offer. Vulnerability is no longer seen as a weakness. People who wish to share their stories of heartbreak and loss now have several platforms from which to share. I receive messages of thanks regularly for sharing my story. As a result of messages sent from people I’ve never met I no longer feel alone in my own particular loss. I could never have imagined the amount of women out there who also lost their mothers when they were young children. I really had no idea! Now that the world has been made smaller through use of technology I know this to be the case. Our heart stories help others. Our experiences can guide and empower those who feel alone and afraid. Why should people feel alone in their grief when death and grieving is a natural part of the life cycle?

We shouldn’t feel alone. I know firsthand what it feels like to lose a mother as a young child. It is devastating, scary, anxiety-producing and lonely. The more we talk openly about death and loss the more support will be made available for grievers. I wrote A LOVELY WOMAN to show others what a child’s journey through anxiety, mother loss and grief might look like. I turned out okay. I got through school, and I earned two degrees. I taught young children in elementary and kindergarten for thirteen years and I loved the children in my care. I have a wonderful husband. I’m happy and grateful for the life I have. But there have been struggles over the years as a result of losing Mam. It’s helpful to find your tribe. So today when I see so many people sharing their stories of grief openly, as they become ready, I believe it to be a healthy thing.

If you haven’t yet found an online group to support you in your grief or your journey without a mother; if you haven’t found friends who understand or can relate to your feelings; or if you just want to work through this grief period alone for a while here are some suggestions for getting through Mother’s Day.

Online grief support groups and pages dedicated to grief and loss are popping up and thousands of people are joining them. More and more people are open to sharing their heart stories while offering support and comfort to fellow grievers. I know these communities to be welcoming and supportive. Here are a few of my favorites (I include both of my pages also):

  • Without My Mum hosted by Leigh Van Der Horst, author of  the book ‘Without My Mum.’
  • Motherless Daughters is a page dedicated to mother loss with supportive posts and comments by a community of over 400,000 followers.
  • Hope Edelman has a website dedicated to her work in the field of mother loss and grief. On her site she lists statewide support groups for those missing their mothers. She also has a public Facebook page where she shares a wealth of information and stories pertaining to grief and loss.
  • Grief Rites Foundation is a Portland based community movement where people openly share their grief stories.
  • Modern Loss offers candid content, community and resources on loss and grief. These ladies organize the ANNUAL MOTHER’S DAY SWAP. If you missed it this year keep an eye out for next year’s event.
  • Modern Loss closed group for the Modern Loss community.
  • OptionB.Org is dedicated to giving you the tools you need to build resilience after grief and trauma. Opportunities to join groups for solidarity and support, and find information from experts.
  • Motherless Daughters Virtual Support Group is a global support network hosted by my friend Adrienne for women who have experienced mother loss.
  • Project Brave Birds is a page run by my friend Cheryl where the journeys and achievements of inspirational motherless women are celebrated.
  • A Lovely woman is where I blog regularly about mother loss, early childhood loss and grief.
  • My Facebook author page offers support, inspiration and healing to women who have experienced mother loss & to all grievers worldwide.
  • Meetup.com offers an opportunity to find or organize your own Motherless Daughter group. I found the Portland group through Meet Up many, many years ago.

Other suggestions for this Mother’s Day weekend include:

  • Try writing a healing letter to your mother on Mother’s Day. It might allow you to feel closer to her, and less alone.
  • See if any of these book suggestions might help. Getting lost in a book, especially one I can relate to, is always of comfort to me. Make yourself a warm cup of tea and find a cozy chair where you can put your feet up. Some of these books will make you cry, others will allow you to feel less alone. All of them helped me in one way or another.
  • Hope and Claire are hosting a free 30-minute conference call for motherless daughters at 9 PST/12 EST Saturday morning (May 12), the day before Mother’s Day.
  • Motherless Mother’s Day Ceremony to be held in Portland, Oregon on Saturday (May 12). Suggestions for participation are given on the page for those unable to attend in person.
  • Give to a charity in honor of your mother or volunteer for an organization where your expertise is appreciated. Examples include EmpowerHer, Womenforwomen, Girl’s Inc., The Dougy Center and Camp Erin.
  • If you’re in Australia check out this fabulous idea Trees For Mum.
  • Take a look at my blog post and see if any of these twelve ideas help.
  • Most of all be kind to yourself.
  • Share my blog post What Not to Do When Someone You Know Has Lost Their Mother. It’s one of my most popular blogs but I’ve a feeling it’s mostly us motherless daughters who are reading and sharing it! 🙂

Sending big hugs and lots of love to you this weekend. Next week we’ll carry on feeling the soft breeze on our cheeks, listening to the bird song in the air, rushing about getting on with our day. Take time to breathe and give yourself some sweet care. Listen for the whisper of your mother’s voice. Her love is with you, today and always.

Much love,

Carmel X

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

 

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

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

The following points may seem obvious. At least they do to me, but since we are all human and nobody is perfect I’ve decided to put this list together. Also, the first thing on my list happened to me today bringing to my attention that people need reminders every now and again. In fact, all twelve points have happened to me, many of them on multiple occasions, so if you know all of this already please feel free to share it with somebody who doesn’t. It might prevent an awkward or upsetting situation from happening in the future and we all strive to be better people, right? I, for one, know that I’ve much to learn from others and their personal experiences. That’s one of the reasons I read so many memoirs.

Twelve things NOT to do when someone you know has lost their mother:

  1. DO NOT email a motherless daughter gift advertisements for Mother’s Day. I know, unbelievable right? Wrong. It happened, and the person knows my mother isn’t alive. Just what I didn’t need in the mail. The message on the ad stated “Pamper your mother this Mother’s Day”. Really? Please don’t do this. It’s bad enough that our inboxes are automatically bombarded with these kinds of advertisements leading up to Mother’s Day.
  2. DO NOT invite them to your own Mother’s Day event and expect them to be in a cheerful mood for the entire party when everyone around you is celebrating the wonder of mothers and those who have them. (If the motherless daughter is particularly close to your mother, then this may be a different case, but please ask them sincerely if being at the party is where they want to be). I hear from women all of the time about how hard Mother’s Day events are for them, but they do it to please a partner or keep others happy.
  3. DO NOT post publicly about missing somebody who has died, on a date that is significant and meaningful to that person and their family, without 1. asking permission of the grieving relative or person closest to the deceased 2. referring to the grieving person and their own unique and significant pain and 3. requesting that people connect with the grieving person on her page or privately if they so desire. Posting about missing somebody after a death is a beautiful thing if the family has given you permission. Please be mindful as to how you approach it.
  4. (In connection with above post) DO NOT offer your condolences to somebody for their loss on another person’s page and simply assume, or hope that she’ll see it. A personal message, a kind gesture offered in person or in private rather than on someone else’s post is much more meaningful. Check to see if the person who is grieving has written something of her own, telling her own personal story and offer a genuine response to that.
  5. DO NOT ignore significant dates, in particular death anniversaries, Mother’s Day and birthdays. Make that call. It will be worth it, and often it will only take five minutes. We can’t all remember significant dates for everyone. I get that. But if you have a very close friend or family member who is suffering a loss surely that date is etched in your brain. If not, take note and write it down so that you don’t forget. What do most of us look for in a real long-lasting friendship? I would say we wish to be thought of and remembered on special and tough days. We want to know that friends have not forgotten the most challenging times in our lives. As a friend I want to offer a little light in the dark for those I love when they need it. One way to do this is to offer a kind and sincere thought on the anniversary of a rough day. Believe me, it makes a difference. Here’s a brief story of a time a friend really helped lift my spirits and all it took was a phone call. I was at an all-day Mother’s Day event and the celebrations were wearing on me. Nobody had mentioned the fact that I no longer had my mother, even though several people at the event were aware of this. After many hours surrounded by people I needed to take a breather. I went outside for some fresh air and a walk in a nearby park. Unexpectedly I burst into tears as soon as I was away from the event. Right at that moment my phone rang and it was a friend of mine whose daughter had been in my classroom the previous year. My friend had lost his father a few months prior and so, fresh in his own grief, he understood how I would be missing my mother on Mother’s Day. He said he just wanted to check on me and see how I was doing. This small (but huge in the moment) act of kindness changed the entire trajectory of my day. Even though I’d only known this man less than a year he was the only one who called on Mother’s Day to say he understood how hard it must be for me. To have my loss acknowledged, my mother remembered and my feelings validated meant so much to me at that time. I’ve never forgotten it.
  6. DO NOT tell a motherless daughter that you wish you didn’t have to spend the day with your annoying, cranky mother. Just don’t.
  7. DO NOT compare your loss with somebody else’s. Grief is one of the hardest things life will ever throw our way. Losing a loved one changes us, and our lives forever. I feel deeply for any person who is grieving. For motherless daughters Mother’s Day is a wretched day. The bombardment of advertisements telling us how we should pamper and celebrate our mothers when we no longer have them is heart-wrenching. For women whose babies/children have died it is a cruel reminder of a massive loss. The day is tough on widowed parents, terminally ill mothers and families where a terminally ill mother is fighting for her life. Let’s not compare one loss to another. This has happened to me, on several occasions. I recall one occasion here. Pain is pain. Nobody wants to lose the person they love. We are all in this life together.
  8. DO NOT, if you are a teacher or a grown up, assume that a child has their mother at home. I still can’t believe how insensitive my teachers were following my mother’s death. “Take this home to your mother!” they would say, handing me a note for home. I would look them straight in the eye in disbelief but they would continue on down the classroom aisle with no thought given to what they had said. These teachers were well aware of my loss. We were from a small town and my school was relatively small. They just didn’t think about what they were saying. It didn’t matter to them enough to choose their powerful words with more care.
  9. DO NOT tell a motherless daughter they should be over their loss by now. It doesn’t matter if it’s a year, twenty years or fifty years, we never ‘get over’ losing our mothers. I have dear friends who lost their mothers forty and fifty years ago and they still miss and long for them. I lost my mother thirty years ago and although the passage of time heals in some ways I’ve never stopped missing Mam. I’ve longed for her throughout my life at different periods such as when shopping for my wedding dress and other seemingly insignificant times such as strolling down the street and spotting a flower she would love or catching the scent of a perfume she wore.
  10. DO NOT tell a motherless daughter that she really should wear jewelry (or clothes or use her mother’s things) belonging to her mother in order to honor her mother’s memory. This is laying an unnecessary guilt-trip on the shoulders of that woman. She isn’t wearing them for her own personal reasons, or perhaps she is, in private enjoying these things. Bottom line is that she doesn’t need somebody else telling her what she should or shouldn’t do in regards to her mother’s things.
  11. DO NOT talk in a group about the blessing of having a nurturing, loving mother while a friend who is motherless sits listening. I am in no way suggesting to daughters (or sons) not to celebrate and cheer on their mothers because any love expressed is a beautiful thing. It warms my heart deeply to see mothers and daughters interact in loving ways. I wrote about the beautiful mother-daughter bond here and here. Be considerate and mindful, is what I’m saying. Two of my college friends gushed about their mothers in front of me one day. We had just returned to campus after a weekend at home with our families. They described everything their mothers did for them, how nurturing they were and how much they loved them. Both said “Where would we be without our mothers?” Granted I was blessed with a gem of a father so I could have shot back ”Where would we be without our fathers?” but my heart hung heavy by that point, not only as a result of being reminded of what I was missing, but because my two lovely friends were so completely clueless about my feelings.
  12. DO NOT overthink this list, tell me to chill out and decide that it’s all too much to consider. Really, is any of this that difficult? If we are more mindful in our interactions with friends, if we take the time to consider how we would feel in a particular situation and if we make the effort to learn from those who have gone through challenges then we’ll do just fine. I promise. And sincerely I appreciate all the love I receive on a regular basis since beginning this very personal journey of sharing.

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

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

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Much love,

Carmel X

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

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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 A LOVELY WOMAN 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.

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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.

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“May my heart be kind, my mind fierce, and my spirit brave.” – Kath Forsyth, The Witches of Eileanan
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Being Kind, Childhood grief, Death, Grief, Grief stories, Love, Moments, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter

Compassion Blooms

I see my sadness in your sadness.

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

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

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

I see my sadness in other people’s sadness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Different, but the same.

Sadness around us.

Human suffering. Humanity suffering.

Because we love.

Humanity.

Love.

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

Peace and love to you all this new year.

Much love,

Carmel X

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

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Childhood grief, Coco, Death, Family, Grief, Grief Writing, Love, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Remembering the Dead

‘Coco’ Reminds Us to Remember the Dead

My husband suggested I might like to see the new Pixar movie, Coco. Since we don’t go to many movies I wondered why he thought I would like Coco. After he mentioned that the film addressed the theme of death and the afterlife I was intrigued. We went to see it a few days ago and I’ve been reflecting on it since. A culturally sensitive and family-friendly animated film set in Mexico; Coco is centered on death, the importance of family and the legacy we leave behind. Coco takes place during the Day of the Dead when according to Mexican tradition, or as interpreted by the film writers, those who have passed over to the other side are allowed to cross back over to the land of the living so long as someone from the living world remembers them. Miguel, a young boy from the charming Mexican village of Santa Cecilia, crosses a bridge made of marigold petals and slips into the underworld on Dia de los Muertos. Coco is the name of Miguel’s great-grandmother, who turns out to be the heart of the story. This is not a scary movie. The afterlife is portrayed as colorful and primarily cheerful where decorative skeletons take part in fiestas and alebrijes or spirit animals spread their wings and fly.

I enjoyed everything about this film, but what touched me most of all was when Miguel came to understand the importance of family, including generations past, and the gift of remembering those who have gone before us. Miguel forges a bond with his deceased ancestors in the afterlife where he learns that if a dead person is forgotten by everyone alive, they die for a second time, and nobody knows where those spirits end up. Coco packs an emotional wallop and I was moved to tears as the young boy, back in the living world, tries to help silent Mama Coco recall the father who loved her. Miguel wants more than anything to help keep the memory of the dead alive.

This beautiful film caused me to reflect on our current traditions surrounding death. In Ireland, where I was born and raised, and here in the USA, we have a funeral for the deceased, and a burial or a cremation, or some memorial immediately following the person’s death. However, after that we don’t celebrate those who have gone before us, at least not to the extent that people do for Dia de los Muertos. In Ireland we have memorial masses once a year, if a family chooses to do this in honor of the deceased. My father requests this every year for my mother, and her name is in the local mass bulletin around the anniversary of her passing. This is meaningful and important. We want our loved ones to be remembered. But there is something beautiful and celebratory about a multi-day holiday which focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. The intent of Dia de los Muertos is to help support their spiritual journey and encourage visits by the souls.

Assured that the dead would be insulted by mourning or sadness, Dia de los Muertos celebrates the lives of the deceased with food, drink, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life. Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a natural part of the human experience, a continuum with birth, childhood, and growing up to become a contributing member of the community. On Dia de los Muertos, the dead are also a part of the community, awakened from their eternal sleep to share celebrations with their loved ones. (National Geographic)

I love this idea. The dead are honored with ofrendas-small, private altars honoring each person. Ofrendas often have flowers, candles, the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, photos, and personal mementos of the person being remembered.

In Ojai with Hope Edelman, Claire Bidwell Smith and a small group of motherless daughters we each had the opportunity to display photographs of our mothers on a table decorated with flowers and candles. The moment was precious and significant. I think we should do this kind of thing more often. We should celebrate openly those who have passed on. Sometimes these occasions will be sad and sometimes, depending on many factors, these ceremonies will be joyous and comforting.

We who have lost loved ones yearn for the sense of their presence with us. The times when we share with others our memories of someone we loved and lost leaves us feeling nostalgic but energized because we can speak of these people who are still alive in our memories, the people we wish were still alive on earth today. These experiences warm and strengthen us as we discuss life, loved ones, loss and all that we know. Coco shows us that even after death, the spirit (and love) lingers on. In my writing I keep my mother’s memory alive every day. And I have framed photographs of her in several rooms around our home. Perhaps I’ll create a family collage next, consisting of photos of my grandparents, my uncles and loved ones who have crossed over to the other side.

Coco is an emotional film. It is also reassuring, visually appealing, thought-provoking and family friendly. For a child struggling to understand the death of a loved one this film offers an insight into how memories can keep the deceased alive in our minds. A respectful, realistic and beautiful portrayal of family life and customs in Mexico, Coco has a lot to offer. Spirit animals, dances with the dead, celebratory memorials…there is much to explore here. Death isn’t necessarily the end. I cried while watching Coco, but it was a good-feeling cry. There is much to be celebrated.

Much love,

Carmel X

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

The dead are not distant or absent. They are alongside us. When we lose someone to death, we lose their physical image and presence; they slip out of visible form into invisible presence. This alteration of form is the reason we cannot see the dead. But because we cannot see them does not mean that they are not there. (John O’Donohue -Our Departed Loved Ones)
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Childhood grief, Death, Grief, Grief stories, Grief Writing, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Support groups

Talking Grief

I can’t overemphasize the value of finding somebody to talk to about your grief; somebody who understands, somebody who cares, somebody who listens without judgment. We are rarely totally alone on the path of mourning, although it does sometimes feel that way.

For years and years I didn’t talk about my loss. I was only eleven when Mam died, so I didn’t process her death as I would have had she died when I was an adult. I went about my days, playing with friends, getting into trouble at school (minor troubles like talking too much when I should have been listening or cracking up laughing with my BFF when we should have been paying attention to the teacher), spending hours on my homework and enjoying home-life with my dad and brother. But, there were times when things were hard for me. Hitting puberty without my mother caused anxiety and embarrassment. Meeting new friends who didn’t know about my loss caused anxiety and embarrassment. They would mention something about parents and as I’d quickly relate my situation I’d end up almost wanting to apologize for being the bearer of such bad news while hoping that this new fact could be ignored by the others and we could just move on. There were other things too. But, what really would have made a difference I believe is had I met another little girl who shared my experience at the time.

There was no little girl who ever said “My mother died too.”

I didn’t hear those words ever. And in that way I was alone in my loss. My dad was, and is, always willing and open to talking about Mam. I am blessed in that regard. Dad was there for me every step of the way. But in social circles there was nobody who understood.

And that is why, when in my late twenties I found Hope Edelman’s book ‘Motherless Daughters, that I found a tribe of women who were like me. I couldn’t believe there were so many of us because I had never met another young woman who was without her mother. Many blessings come with finding your tribe. We don’t all share the exact same feelings and experiences and that is okay. We understand the power of sharing our stories and the value of having people there to listen.

Here in Portland, Oregon we are fortunate to have the Grief Rites Foundation which provides awareness, advocacy and education to the grieving community. On a monthly basis storytellers come together and share their stories of life, loss and love in a safe space. Grief Rites says they are about “Taking back our right to grieve. Our right to mourn. Our right to live. Our right to love. Our right to remember.” I just love those words, especially ‘Our right to remember’, because often when we lose someone we don’t feel that we have the right, or the safe place, to remember those dear loved ones we miss so much.

People don’t know what to say when I tell them that I’m writing a memoir about losing my mother to cancer when I was a child. When the conversation comes up about mother loss people try to say the right thing with good intention but unless they really get it, clichés are usually offered. I’m used to it after all of these years and I don’t take it to heart. A listening ear, or a kind word is often all that is needed.

What hurts is when people say something without putting thought into it, something that is said to invalidate your grief. A few years ago I was reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. Wild is a gorgeous book about bravery and loss, self-discovery and healing, love and heart-ache. My friend had also read Wild just a few months before me. We were sitting together having lunch, looking out over a beautiful lake; Wild beside me on the wooden bench. “Her heartache, her loss, her grief is so huge,” my friend said to me. I was only a few chapters in but I was already familiar with Cheryl’s aching heart, and I related to her words in a way that was not only powerful but refreshing. Cheryl had experienced the loss of her mother, one I experienced as a child, and although our experiences were quite different, we both loved so resolutely the woman who had birthed us, and we both felt all those emotions that came following her death; anger, frustration, bitterness, guilt, emptiness and on and on. I was connecting in a deep and meaningful way with the author when my friend said, in between bites of her sandwich, “I know you lost your mother when you were a child, but she (the author) was so close to hers, they were like best friends! Her loss was felt at such a deep level because she grew up feeling so close to her.” She went on to say a few things about why Cheryl’s loss was more harrowing than mine while I sat dumbfounded, hurting and in disbelief that anyone, let alone a kind, smart friend of mine would compare mother loss like that. What hurt me most was that she didn’t know what I had lost. I didn’t know what I had lost when I lost it! But nobody else can possibly know anything so personal, and nobody should be the judge of that.

We can all make comparisons. I met with the wonderfully smart author of The Mercy Papers, Robin Romm, at Powell’s recently and when I told her of my loss she was very sympathetic. She said it was difficult for her to lose her mother when she was a young adult but that it was another thing to lose Mam when I was a child. I appreciated her sentiments but said that it was difficult either way. In Robin’s gut-wrenching book she shows us how difficult losing her mother was for her.

What happened in my life is of course very sad. I didn’t get to have my mother for long and she was a kind, devoted, intelligent woman who could’ve taught me so much. But there are friends of mine who lost their moms at an even younger age than me. I get messages from women who lost their mothers when they were only babies. These stories break my heart in two. I’m broken for the sweet mother who had to leave her baby and I’m broken for the baby who will grow into childhood without her mother and into adulthood yearning to know their momma. Losing the person we love so deeply rips us apart at any age.

It’s not kind or valuable in any way to use our stories to undermine somebody else’s story, or to seek to accrue more sympathy than somebody else. What we need to do is deepen our understanding of one another by hearing what the person is saying, asking questions and really listening to the response, reading about other people’s experiences and thinking before we speak. If we can increase our powers of empathy and emerge from our experiences as new people we can tear down the artificial wall that stands between us and the other. We can grow as humans. We can support one another. We can create safe places for those who need to grieve, share, laugh and love. This goes for anybody’s story, whatever it is. Let’s reach for one another, use our voices and connect with love.

Much love,

Carmel X

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

“When we share our stories, what it does is, it opens up our hearts for other people to share their stories. And it gives us the sense that we are not alone on this journey.” Janine Shepherd

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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 A LOVELY WOMAN 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

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