After Mother Loss, Childhood grief, Connecting through grief, Death, Grief, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Talking grief

My Mother Is Dead but I Still Want to Talk About Her

Dear readers, let me be clear here. My mother is dead and I still want to talk about her, but that doesn’t mean I always want to talk about her. I don’t want my friends who read this thinking they should bring up Mam’s name during every conversation just because I’ve written this blog. Obviously, there is no need to bring her into every discussion, so, before you decide to run in the other direction when next we meet, for fear of not knowing whether or not to bring up my mother, please read on.

Before I began writing about my experiences of early mother loss I didn’t have many opportunities to talk about Mam. At home, with my father and brother, I could talk about her all I wanted. They were always open to sharing memories, answering questions and thumbing through photographs with me, and this helped a lot as I navigated my grief journey. But I wanted to talk about Mam out in the world too. For several years I didn’t speak about her, because it’s hard to bring your dead mother into casual everyday conversations. People feel awkward when the subject of death comes up. They don’t know what to say or how to respond. Discussions fall flat, people stare at their cuticles as if never having seen them before. The floor is suddenly incredibly interesting, or someone has to dash off somewhere very fast.

All those times in my life when my companions or classmates got to celebrate their mothers or complain about them, casually call them on the phone, praise and adore them, in my presence, I too, longed to talk about Mam, but couldn’t. And it hurt to the core, over and over again. So, now I’m writing about my mother on Facebook; in my memoir (in-progress), Briefly I Knew My Mother; on this blog, and through the stories I’ve shared people have gotten to know Kathleen a little.

I write to connect with others who know what it’s like to lose someone very special. It’s important for me to build community with motherless daughters and especially with women whose mothers died when they were children. And I write to keep my mother’s memory alive. As long as we say their names, the people who have died live on.

On March 2, 2020, thirty two years after Mam’s death, I posted one of my favorite black and white photographs of my mother on social media. In the picture she is glowing, offering the photographer her radiant smile. Beneath the photo I wrote a few lines about it being her death anniversary and to my delight I received some kind comments about my mother and the anniversary of her death. My friend, Steve, posted “Through you Carmel, we love mam too” and his words touched me deeply, because if I have given others an idea of the woman my mother was, so many years after she died, I have accomplished something beautiful, something significant and worthwhile. Writing about her and sharing special stories from my memories of growing up as her daughter, allows me to feel connected to my mother in ways that nobody else can. As Kathleen’s daughter I carry her with me in this world everyday.

I wish my mother didn’t get sick and die when I was only 11, and though I want to talk about her and tell stories with her in them, because she died when I was so young, I don’t have an abundance of stories. I remember a lot, more than most of my friends remember, and yet it’s not enough. I know little to nothing about her childhood or her teenage years or the time before she met my father and I never got to know her from any perspective other than a child’s. This is one of the heartbreaking things I hear frequently from women who lost their mothers early in life. We want to hear stories of our mothers from those who have them. Shared stories are a gift to both the teller, and to the person listening.

My friend, Mari, posted a comment beneath the photograph on March 2. She offered simply and with such heart “I’m so sorry that she died – and so grateful for the life she gave you.” How beautiful to receive a direct, love-filled message like this! As one of two founding members of the Grief Rites Foundation, Mari is not afraid to use the word “died”. My mother died and we can say the word. In all the years since Mam’s death less than a handful of people have actually said the words “I’m so sorry that your mother died.” I didn’t realize this (and I write about grief and death regularly) until I read Mari’s comment and it made a powerful impact on me. I knew she got it. She understood.

As with every blog I write I hope something on this page resonates with my readers, those of you who have lost a loved one and people looking to know how to support a grieving friend. Often a listening ear is all that is needed, a few minutes to talk, a chance to process something out loud. When you speak from a place of love and acknowledge a person’s situation honestly, you are doing it right. Thank you all for being in my life. We are here, but for a fleeting moment in time.

“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” – George Eliot

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After Mother Loss, Anniversary, Being Kind, Childhood grief, Death, Family, Grief, Moments, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, Moving forward after loss, Sad anniversaries

When Anniversaries Are Sad

Today (August 11th) is significant for two reasons.

Mam & Dad married on this date at home in Ireland in ’73. I have a photo of them on their special day enlarged and framed in our home. The picture represents happiness, genuine love & beautiful promise. Coincidentally Dad & I were the same age (39) when each of us got married. (We both waited patiently until we found ‘the one’.) In 1988 my mother died. Sometimes I glance through my parent’s wedding album. The photos, mostly in black and white, reflect so much joy and hope. My parent’s union was built on mutual respect and a devotion which saw Mam through her illness, my father by her side.

This next photograph is of me and my Granny on our birthday in Galway. I think I might have been 7 years of age in that picture. We shared the same birth date, January 3, and always celebrated together. This is the second reason for today’s significance: on this day (August 11th) 30 years ago Granny (Dad’s mother) died suddenly. I was only 12 when she was taken from us, the year after Mam lost her battle with cancer.

So, in my early years I came face to face with happy, celebratory occasions & brutal, devastating days. I knew what was possible. Life was often terribly sad. Honestly, I feel hard done by having lost so many significant people at such a young age. It’s not easy to admit that but it’s true. Often people go through life surrounded by close family & a tight community of loved ones who share a history. Those of us who learn trauma in our youth carry it inside of us even as it appears we are thriving. In fact loneliness, anxiety and fear are part of our everyday lives. Loneliness specifically for our loved ones who have died. We also tend to be sensitive, compassionate and alert and appreciative of people and moments. But we always crave our people. My mother is irreplaceable because she was my mother & she raised me.

Life is complicated & so are our emotions & our reactions to our experiences. We get on with things but we never get over major losses. We simply do our best to be our best. In honor of my parents, my beloved mother and Granny Walshe, I try hard to live my best life. Granny & Mam faced several challenges of their own but they were both strong, capable and happy women. They are an inspiration to me & I am grateful to them for everything. I just wish they were still here because I’ve been craving some maternal hugs from those women whose lineage I descend from. It has been over thirty years…

This is all to say let’s look out for each other and try to be patient in the face of trauma and grief. Keep an eye on those little sweethearts who lose a significant person early on in life. Please be there for them if you can. Create a space for them to talk or just be themselves. They are scared and in shock and they will need a lot of support. Also, if you do still have your folks and/or grandparents and you love them, let them know, or go spend some quality time with them. And, if you know someone who has grieved and lost try not to assume that their people are replaceable. They are not. And they won’t ever get over the loss. They’ll get on, but they’ll be sad about it, forever. Some days or occasions will be more challenging than others. Their reactions to certain things might stem from their early losses. You might see no connection but the connection is obvious to the bereaved (or sometimes it isn’t).They are angry but the anger might look like something else. It’s complicated.

You never know what’s going on in another person’s life. Let’s be gentle with each other and ourselves. Our hearts continue to love every day but this powerful organ is also fragile and often bruised. Kindness goes a long way.

Some of us hold a store of sad anniversaries in our hearts, significant dates that circle around year after year. We don’t know what to do with these dates or how to acknowledge them. Today I’m honoring the memories by writing about it. I’m remembering my parents and their beautiful, happy day. I’m thinking of Granny and how in the photo we wore the exact same colors though it wasn’t planned, and how thrilled she was when I was born on January 3. These days of interesting coincidences carry sadness for me, but also joy and gratitude. Captured in these pictures are moments filled with delight, hope and surprise. Each one of us lives for moments such as these, every moment creating a unique life and offering us precious memories. I reflect on the memories and each is rich with love. For that, and for so much else, I am grateful.

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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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. Every child I knew had a mother and that meant I was different. I had nobody to talk to who understood what it felt like for 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 often receive messages thanking me for my blog posts and though I’ve never met most of these people I can now see that there are people who understand. I had no idea that so many women lost their mothers when they were young children because back then I knew of nobody my age or even a little older, in my position. Now that we are all more connected through technology I see how 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. It is devastating, anxiety-producing and lonely to lose your mother as a child. Until we talk about it we carry that trauma around in our bodies. The more we talk openly about death and loss the better a society we are. I wrote BRIEFLY I KNEW MY MOTHER, my memoir-in-progress, to show others what a child’s journey through anxiety, mother loss and grief looks like. I turned out okay. I got through school and I earned two college degrees. I taught young children in elementary and kindergarten for thirteen years and I am married to a wonderful man. 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.

If you haven’t yet found an online grief support group following your mom’s death or if your friends can’t 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 people are open to sharing their heart stories while offering support and comfort to fellow grievers. These communities are welcoming and supportive. Here are a few of my favorites (I include my own pages in the list):

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mother Loss International is a Facebook page offering community, support and kindness.
  • Without My Mum hosted by Leigh Van Der Horst, author of the book ‘Without My Mum.’ Opportunity to join a private group on this page.
  • Motherless Daughters is a page dedicated to mother loss with supportive posts and comments by a community of over 400,000 followers.
  • 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.
  • Modern Loss closed group for the Modern Loss community.
  • OptionB.Org offers the tools you need to build resilience after grief and trauma. There are opportunities here to join specific 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.
  • Meetup.com offers an opportunity to find or organize your own Motherless Daughter group. I found the Portland group through Meet Up many years ago and became organizer for one year.
  • The Imaginary Library on Instagram is one woman’s beautifully illustrated and relatable grief-journey.
  • Motherless Daughter’s Early Mother Loss Group on Facebook is wonderfully supportive.
  • Claire Bidwell Smith is an author and grief therapist. Claire frequently shares personal stories of her own grief journey on her beautiful Instagram page.

Suggestions for 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. I give some suggestions on how to attempt this on my blog.
  • See if any of these book suggestions might help. Make yourself a warm cup of tea, settle into a cozy chair and 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 sometimes hosts a free 30-minute conference call for motherless daughters the day before Mother’s Day. Check out her page for details.
  • Motherless Mother’s Day Ceremony to be held in Portland, Oregon. Suggestions for participation are given on the page for those unable to attend in person. Or perhaps hold your own.
  • 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 Mother’s Day. Notice the soft breeze on your cheek, listen to bird song in the trees, 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. Speak to her. Place your hand on your heart. That’s where she is.

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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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.

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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

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Mother Loss, Mother's Day, Mother's Day Without My Mother, Motherless Daughter, Motherless mother's day

Motherless Mother’s Day

To all of you who are without your mother today I understand the grief that you are experiencing. I understand the loneliness and the longing you are feeling. You want to share so many life experiences with your mother and she would want to be here to share those occasions with you. To those of you who didn’t have a loving, caring, devoted mother I can only imagine the sadness experienced in that situation. Our experiences differ, but the deep longing we have for a loving mother is similar. All of us crave nurturing from the woman who brought us into this world, or for the person who carried us in this world after another brought us in. We will always miss that person when they are no longer around.

It is okay to feel sad, ripped off, angry, envious, tired, fed up. It is okay to cry. And it is okay to laugh. It is okay to feel okay. Whatever your feelings, they are yours and they are valid. Our life has brought us to this place. We are here now to live in the moment and feel whatever it is we are feeling, to experience new things as our lives unfold, different to what it was before.

Let’s keep in mind that others are grieving this mother’s day. There are children who have mothers who can’t love them back. There are adults who have mothers who can’t love them back. There are sick mommas out there, mommas who won’t be around much longer, women who want to be mommas but can’t and mommas who have lost their children. There are motherless mothers who want to celebrate with their children but are so overwhelmed by their own grieving that they cannot.

Check out these suggestions of mine for the motherless on Mother’s Day. Perhaps you’ll find an idea that will work for you. Or maybe you might share with us something that has brought comfort into your life as you navigate the rough days.  Please feel free to post a picture of your mom on my author’s page following any of my most recent posts, in particular on mother’s day. This is a picture of my mother, Kathleen.

Momma

You are not alone although it certainly might feel that way. There are so many of us who are motherless and understand the feeling of living without a mother. And for people who are fortunate to have their mother this Mother’s Day, I send blessings and happiness. What a glorious thing!

Keeping you all in my thoughts today! Sending love and hugs…

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 heart aches for sisters more than anything it aches for women helping women like flowers ache for spring” Rupi Kaur

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Grief, Mother Loss, Mother's Day, Mother's Day Without My Mother, Motherless Daughter, Without my mother

12 Ideas for Motherless Daughters on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is challenging for those of us without our mothers. It’s a difficult day for people who never knew their mothers and for those abandoned by the person who was supposed to love them more than anything. I was blessed to have a devoted and loving mother for the first eleven years of my life. My post is written from this perspective.

Over the years I’ve written previous pieces about Mother’s Day. I personally experience two every year: Ireland’s Mother’s Day in March, and here in the USA in May. Honestly, one is enough, but as I’m from Ireland my feed announces Mother’s Day in all of its glory both times of the year. Around the globe mothers are celebrated and this is a wonderful thing, but for many it is a sad day.

I found this sweet little card that I made for my mammy when I was probably five or six years old. Dad saved it and gave it to me along with a couple of others. The card and the cute little message inside bring me close to tears. Mammy died when I was eleven.

Mothers day card

Motherless women are asking how they should spend Mother’s Day when they no longer have their mother around to celebrate. For some it is the dreaded first Mother’s Day since a mother’s death and it is not going to be easy. It’s probably going to be very painful. But there are some things we can do to make it bearable and special. Possibly even fun. Here are 12 ideas:

  1. Find a time in the day, preferably morning to meditate for five minutes or fifteen if you can, whatever feels good to you. Light your favorite scented candle. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and invite your mother into your space. 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. Breathe.
  2. Display a picture of your mother in a prominent place. Wear a pendant containing her photograph throughout the day. Hold her in your heart. Speak to her.
  3. Buy a beautiful bouquet of flowers, for your mother, and place them in your home. 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.
  4. Is there a song that reminds you of your mother? Or a song that brings you peace? A song that deeply moves me is Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heaven’. The first time I heard it I thought the song had been written for me. Have a good cry if you need to.
  5. Create a collage using pictures from magazines or inspiring photo journals. Paste pictures that remind you of your mother onto a large piece of card stock or paperboard. I did this once with the Portland Motherless Daughter’s group when I was the organizer. We sat around together working quietly on our collages and then those who wanted to, shared their pictures. The collages were beautiful. Mommas were represented by the choice of flowers, colors and symbolic pictures selected.
  6. If you are a mother let yourself be treated by your family and celebrated. It is what your mother would want. And you deserve it.
  7. Go to your local bookstore, your library, or online if that’s your preference and order one of the books on my list of 10 Books I Recommend for Motherless Daughters. I suggest going to a bookstore or library because the act of getting out of the house with a goal in mind will allow you to focus on something else for a while. Perhaps you’ll pass a beautiful tree on your drive or better yet, on your walk if that is an option. If you have one of these books already at home you might want to settle in to a cozy chair with a cup of hot tea or coffee and reread it.
  8. Read blog posts by motherless daughters. Reading about other people’s experiences can bring comfort. One feels understood and less alone. My blog A LOVELY WOMAN has several blog entries about mother loss and I also have a Facebook page where I post about grief regularly. Project Brave birds 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. And the 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.
  9. Write a letter to your mother. This is therapeutic and can be a valuable exercise while grieving. Let yourself cry and 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!
  10. If you know somebody who has lost their mother invite them to meet for coffee or a walk in the park. Dedicate an hour to talking about your mothers. Or seek out a Motherless Daughters meetup group in your city. Host a potluck for motherless daughters or work on that collage I mentioned previously with other motherless daughters. Spend time with those who understand the tremendous impact of this great loss.
  11. Take part in this new Mother’s Day gift swap idea. I’m unable to participate this year but I’d love to hear from those of you who try it.
  12. If you just want to get away from it all plan a trip. Travel somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Go in honor of your mother. Plan something ahead of time that will keep your mind off the Hallmark holiday. I often take a trip on this day and I will be traveling again this May. I make the day about what I want it to be. If you can’t afford to travel somewhere or you can’t get away for an entire day take a walk in your favorite park, go for a short hike or a drive in the countryside. Go solo or bring your favorite person or a precious pet. Immerse yourself in nature. It is truly healing.

We are going to feel lonely, despairing and possibly unheard this Mother’s Day. It isn’t helpful to conceal or deny our emotions. But also let us remember that we carry our mothers with us wherever we go. They live on through us and they want us to be happy and to live our lives in joy. This is not always easy, but I believe it’s possible and it’s certainly worth 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.

They are not dead who live
In hearts they leave behind.
In those whom they have blessed
They live a life again,
And shall live through the years
Eternal life, and grow
Each day more beautiful
As time declares their good,
Forgets the rest, and proves
Their immortality.
They Softly Walk by Hugh Robert Orr
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10 Books For Motherless Daughters, Death, Grief stories, Memoir, Mother Loss, Motherless Daughter, On Writing

10 Books I Recommend for Motherless Daughters

Beverly Cleary said “If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it.” I didn’t see the book I wanted. I didn’t see the book I needed, so I decided to write it. Currently I am editing my memoir-in-progress Briefly I Knew My Mother, a personal story of early mother loss and the long-term effects of childhood grief. Soon I hope to have my memoir ready to send out into the world.

We search for ourselves in the stories of others.  A great memoir can provide comfort, hope and education to the reader because when we find ourselves on the page of somebody else’s book we no longer feel so alone. Memoir can help us realize deeply buried emotions and feelings we haven’t yet acknowledged or explored. Motherless daughters, grieving children, devastated fathers and anxious teens all need to know that they are not alone in their loss. Teachers, grandparents and concerned friends of grieving individuals often turn to books in search of insight and guidance. Books help us in so many ways. It is through shared experiences we connect, and in turn, heal.

It took me years to believe that I had a story worth sharing. My mother died when I was 11. She got sick when I was very young. Blessed to have a supportive and devoted father who raised me with care and kindness, I didn’t however have any friends who lost their mother early and so in this way I felt alone. I longed to meet another little girl whose mother had died. I didn’t find these ‘friends’ in books either. I’ve always been a reader but it wasn’t until my twenties that I found a book on mother loss that I could relate to.

Since then I’ve discovered several wonderful books about mother loss by female authors, a few of whom live in Portland, Oregon, where I currently reside. These books have meant the world to me. Every story here is unique, but the struggles, pain & courage portrayed in these beautiful works are relatable. The author’s/character’s ability to push through pain and adapt to circumstances empowers us. I’ve put together a list of my favorite books on the topic of mother loss. All but one are non-fiction/memoir. My list is in no particular order but I begin with the ‘mother’ of all motherless daughters’ books, one that continues to positively impact thousands of motherless daughters around the globe.

1.MOTHERLESS DAUGHTERS: THE LEGACY OF LOSS by Hope Edelman

This book had a major impact on me. I hadn’t heard of MOTHERLESS DAUGHTERS until I moved to the USA in my late twenties and discovered the Portland Motherless Daughters group through meetup. The book deeply examines all aspects of mother loss and in reading it, for the first time in my life I immediately felt less alone in my experience of early loss. In amazement I read the shared experiences and feelings of other motherless daughters and learned that contrary to what I believed it is natural for a daughter to continue grieving for her mother. For me this was a breakthrough. Missing my mother was not only natural but universal.

“When a mother dies, a daughter grieves. And then her life moves on. She does, thankfully, feel happiness again. But the missing her, the wanting her, the wishing she were still here – I will not lie to you, although you probably already know. That part never ends.” -Hope Edelman

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Hope on a few occasions, at motherless daughter’s retreats and writing workshops. Hope continues to write on the topic of grief and I appreciate the time and love she puts into this meaningful work.

2.THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES by Sue Monk Kidd

It has been years since I read this gorgeous book but what moved me most about The Secret Life of Bees was its portrayal of Lily as a young motherless child attempting to come to grips with her loss and grief. The Secret Life Of Bees was the first fictional book I read, other than the stunning novel TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, to feature a young motherless girl as the protagonist. I loved Lily and I related to her deep musings about her dead mother.

“My mother died…but if I brought it up, people would suddenly get interested in their hangnails and cuticles.”

“The bag contained a pair of white cotton gloves stained the color of age. When I pulled them out I thought, Her very hands were inside here.”

At times this book pierced my heart. How was it that Lily could articulate some of my exact thoughts? But this is what books do best. They generate feelings, enhance our lives and give us words for what we already know deep down inside.

3.WILD by Cheryl Strayed

WILD is a beautifully written book by Portland author Cheryl Strayed. Cheryl’s memoir addresses the themes of mother loss and grief and the challenges the author faces as a result of her mother’s death. I didn’t personally relate to some of the ways in which Cheryl attempts to deal with her mother’s death but this is one of the gifts of memoir: empathy muscles are exercised as readers are exposed to the many ways in which grief can impact us. As individuals we all react differently in the face of grief and trauma. I did, of course, relate to Cheryl’s enormous sense of loss and her honest expressions of gut-wrenching sorrow grabbed me. This inspiring, gripping book drew me in with the first lines.

“My mother used to say something that drove me nuts. There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.” -Cheryl Strayed

WILD is filled with encouraging quotes, some of which now appear in her book Brave Enough. As Cheryl lives here in Portland, Oregon I’ve had the joy of meeting her on several occasions. She is a beautiful human.

4.THE LONG GOODBYE by Meghan O’Rourke

In this intensely personal memoir, spot on with the grief a mother’s death brings, the author examines her own relationships and reactions to death. Meghan has a beautiful way with words and although the book is a tough read due to the heavy subject matter I highly recommend it to motherless daughters. Meghan addresses America’s lack of traditions and rituals around death and I related deeply to her writing on societal expectations surrounding the grieving process.

“It is human to want our friends and family to recover from pain, to look for a silver lining – or so I reminded myself. But when people stop mentioning the dead person’s name to you, the silence can seem worse than the pain of hearing those familiar, beloved syllables.” -Meghan O’Rourke

This book is an important contribution to a culture struggling to confront death and deal with grief.

5.THE RULES OF INHERITANCE by Claire Bidwell Smith

A raw, brutal and touching memoir about Claire’s struggle with life following the death of her beloved mother. Both of the author’s parents were diagnosed with cancer when she was fourteen and Claire takes us on a heartbreaking journey of loss and grief. Powerful and emotional it was Claire’s recounting of the suffering and subsequent death of her father towards the book’s end that really got me. I sat sobbing quietly in a local coffee shop, the book held close to my face, unable to cease my flow of tears. Claire is a talented writer with a bounty of wisdom to share.

“In all my years of grief, and in my years as a bereavement counselor, the single most powerful healing mechanism I’ve found is simple presence. The opportunity for a person to feel seen and heard in the middle of one of the loneliest experiences in their life can have a profound effect.” -Claire Bidwell Smith

6.AFTER THIS: WHEN LIFE IS OVER WHERE DO WE GO? by Claire Bidwell Smith

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Another one by Claire who has experienced several losses in her life, including the death of her mother, her father and several close friends. These losses coupled with her profession as a grief counselor set her on the path to exploring the afterlife. I had the pleasure of attending the first Motherless Daughter’s Retreat with Claire and Hope a few years ago and I took the opportunity to tell Claire how much I love this particular book of hers. In it she works to understand grief and find ways to connect and stay connected with loved ones in the afterlife. Her exploratory journey is engrossing and thought-provoking and Claire’s findings were extremely comforting to me. I highly recommend this beautiful book. It left me with a strong sense of peace.

“If there’s one message that comes through more than any other, it’s this one. They want you to know they’re still here, they’re still connected to you. They want you to go on, to live your life. ” -Claire Bidwell Smith

7.BLACKBIRD by Jennifer Lauck

This book drew me in from the very beginning. An engrossing memoir BLACKBIRD rocked me, crushed me and left me shaking and in awe. BLACKBIRD is a memoir about mother loss, grief, adoption, love and family. Jennifer uses the voice of the child to relate her story and I love that she does because I also use the child’s voice in my memoir-in-progress Briefly I Knew My Mother. In reading the thoughts and emotions of little Jennifer, I was able to relate to the author’s confusion, sorrow and acceptance of her mother’s illness.

“Without Momma, it’s like being lost without a reason, and inside my body is an empty space that can’t get filled up.” -Jennifer Lauck

Jennifer suffers tremendously as a young child and BLACKBIRD is a tough read for that reason. However, her story is a testimony to survival and one of the best memoirs I have ever read. A few years ago I took part in a weekend writing workshop here in Portland, with Jennifer and Hope at Jennifer’s writing studio. I highly recommend checking out her classes if you live locally.

8.LETTERS FROM MOTHERLESS DAUGHTERS: WORDS OF COURAGE, GRIEF AND HEALING by Hope Edelman

This book is composed of letters written by motherless daughters aged from thirteen years into their seventies. Those of us who are motherless daughters will find ourselves in the lines of these letters and realize we’re not alone in our anger, sorrow and loneliness. Also included are insightful offerings from Hope. Women continue to experience profound sorrow and an enormous sense of loss following the death of their mother and I found the letters shared in this book to be deeply comforting.

9.THE MERCY PAPERS: A MEMOIR OF THREE WEEKS by Robin Romm

I’m currently reading Robin’s heart-wrenching book after learning about it on a Dear Sugar podcast. At about three quarters of the way in I’m completely taken with Robin’s story of love and loss. Bravely this loving daughter shares her experience of three agonizing weeks leading to her mother’s death. Robin tells it as it is; it’s tough and scary to witness one’s mother’s failing health. Sprinkled with humor THE MERCY PAPERS is thoroughly absorbing. Robin is a brilliant writer.

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“We could get a cup of coffee. But who wants coffee? Who wants to see anyone in the outside world? The outside world has gotten increasingly foreign. People smile for no reason, purchase sugary snacks, worry over leaky roofs out loud to strangers. Who needs this?” -Robin Romm

10. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT by The Welch family

Okay, this one is a little different. A compelling memoir told from the perspectives of four Welch children, orphaned in their youth after their wealthy father dies in a mysterious car accident, and their loving mother loses her battle with cancer. The children in this story lose both parents and it is gut-wrenching to witness such sorrow.  The Kids Are All Right is an authentic, heartbreaking story of family, loss and grief.

The kids are alright

“If his scent was still alive, how could he be dead?” -THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

Other books on the topic of mother loss exist and there are, of course, several on the subject of grief. In the future I will post a blog about these but for now please feel free to share your favorites in the comments section below. Books mean different things to different people and it is not easy to write and share such personal stories. I have the utmost respect for each of the authors above. My goal is to publish BRIEFLY I KNEW MY MOTHER, my personal story of mother loss, in the near future. Sharing our heart stories is not easy, but it is important. We can lift each other up with our words and generate healing and connection by finding ourselves in the pages of someone else’s story.

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.

“We read to know we’re not alone.”
William Nicholson, Shadowlands

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Death, Grief, Grief stories, In honor of my mother, Love, Mother's Day, Motherless Daughter, Mothers and Daughters, Without my mother

Mother’s Day Without My Mother

A spiritual healer once gave me this advice: “Close your eyes and visualize yourself as a young child when you were feeling anxious.You didn’t even realize you were scared. Now hold that child close to you and whisper to her that she will be okay. Tell her that she is not alone. Hold her. Let her rest against you. Visualize it. She’ll hear you.”

I performed the visualization. I hope it helped little me. It helps me now just to imagine that I am holding my five year old self tight, hugging me close, running my fingers through my soft, clean hair.

Love is really the only thing that counts, isn’t it? We all crave it. Everybody wants to be loved. And if we are fortunate enough to have love in our lives, we do everything we can to hold on to it. When somebody we love loves us back, wants to hold us, hear what we have to say and spend time with us, it is a gift like no other. When we lose that somebody, the grief we experience feels unbearable.

But grief is love that is stored inside of us with no place to go. We grieve because we have loved. And to love is a beautiful thing.

This past week I read a very sad story. I read that a beautiful family has been ripped apart suddenly and tragically, a young nursing mother left to raise her newborn baby in the wake of losing her four year old daughter. The young woman’s husband sustained serious brain injuries and is fighting for his life. This story choked me up. There is so much sadness and tragedy in our world. I find it hard to take sometimes. I’m a highly sensitive person which according to Susan Cain, author of ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking‘ means that I ‘feel exceptionally strong emotions-sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear.’ I also believe that I have a deeper empathy and compassion for those suffering as a result of the years I spent watching my mother battle cancer. I know what it feels like to be afraid of losing someone you love, to feel helpless as you watch them suffer, to lose that person and never see them again. It’s a pain so cutting and deep that it can take your breath away.

This Sunday, March 26, is Mother’s Day in Ireland where I grew up. It is Mother’s Day in the UK and in other parts of the world. I’ve already planned an escape for our USA Mother’s Day in May. Everyone will celebrate their mothers, as they should, but it’s really, really hard for those of us who have lost ours. We are forced to remember exactly what we live without.

I’m reading a book called ‘The Happiness Project‘ at the moment. It’s a great book by Gretchen Rubin about finding happiness in everyday places and things. I’m generally a happy person. I’m full of gratitude for many aspects of my life but I wanted to see what I could learn from this happiness project of hers. Only a few pages in the author needs advice so she calls her mother for a ‘pep talk.’ Then she casually mentions that throughout her life her mother made her feel ‘that nothing was insurmountable.’ There it is! That jolt of awareness! That sadness in my chest because I didn’t have that. There were no phone calls to my mother for pep talks. She wasn’t there after my eleventh year.

Mother’s Day during my school years were the worst. Teachers encouraged us all to create cards or dedicate art projects to our mothers. None of my teachers ever addressed the fact that I no longer had a mother. I felt awkward, different, sad, bewildered. I probably doodled on a page or drew a picture for Dad. I don’t remember exactly what I did, but I remember the pain in my heart on those occasions and just feeling so left out.

This coming Mother’s Day I want to visualize eleven year old me. I want to hold her close and whisper that she is loved and that she will be okay. I got this. I am strong. My mother is with me always. I am part of her and she is part of me. Blessed to still have my dad, I carry his love with me everyday, and I carry the strength of my ancestors who have gone before us.

I know that there are people around the world suffering great sadness and injustices as I write. Their pain is my pain. Their joy is my joy. For those people fortunate enough to still have their mothers and to be mothers, I wish them all a day filled with love and happiness. And for those of us who have loved and lost, I hear you and I see you. We understand each other’s sorrow. Let’s lift each other up in whatever ways we can. Let’s honor the mothers in all of us, every day. The world needs more mothering and more 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.

We rise by lifting others

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Still My Mother’s Birthday

My mother was born on February 18th. She’s not alive anymore but that special date, February 18th, whispers to me like a soft little hum in my ear all year round until February lands and I anticipate her birthday in all of its painful glory.

I asked Mam once what her favorite number was and she told me it was 18. So I know one of her favorite things. I don’t know her favorite color although I suspect it may have been a shade of purple, like lavender perhaps? I don’t know what her favorite food was or her favorite drink. I never asked her if she had a favorite book or a favorite friend? She had so many friends and was such a sweet person that I don’t think she would have admitted to having a favorite, but I’d like to hear her responses. I like the number 18 too. It’s probably my favorite number although before Mam told me hers, my favorite number was 8.

I was born in January, Mam’s birthday is in February and my dad’s birthday is in March. Three consecutive months of family birthdays beginning with mine at the very start of each new year. And we’ve been without Mam now since I was 11 years old. Yes, this time of year is trying for me emotionally.

Mam died in March, just three days before my dad’s birthday, and followed quickly by the hullabaloo of Mother’s Day which in Ireland, where I was born and raised, is celebrated a mere few weeks after the date she died.

Mam’s birthday and the anniversary of her death are quietly remembered by those who were closest to my mother. Dad and I call each other on those dates and some family members call my father on March 2nd which we appreciate. It’s a nice thing to do. But in the years since Mam died rarely does anybody else mention her to me on these sad but significant occasions. I understand that many people forget dates. People don’t want to bring it up, don’t want to upset me. But, guess what? I know what date it is and I’m well aware of what I’m missing. I haven’t forgotten. It is always nice to know that someone is thinking of you. To know that the person who meant the world to you is being thought of, that their death did not cancel out their memory, that your loss is recognized by those who love you is one of the greatest, most meaningful gifts you can give anybody.

Today, as always on Mam’s birthday, I’ll speak silently to her. I’ll wish her a happy birthday wherever she may be, and I’ll tell her I miss her and wish she hadn’t been taken from us so soon. This year I have a book written in her honor and it is ready to be sent out into the world when the time is right. I hope and pray that the time will soon be right. Briefly I Knew My Mother is a story of mother loss. It is Mam’s story and my story, and it explores the universal experience of love, mother loss and grief. My memoir sheds light on early childhood anxiety and the ways we learn to cope and is a testament to family, resilience, compassion and truth-telling. I’ve poured my heart into this book.

Happy Birthday, Mam, wherever you are! You were born on this day many, many years ago and it is a special, wonderful, magical day. I’ll light a candle in your honor and browse through some photographs of us while sipping a cup of hot tea. Come sit with me while I browse? I have a feeling you will.

Much love,

Carmel X

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“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”

Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man

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