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 much more love.

We rise by lifting others

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Grief, Motherless Daughter, Writing Memoir, Writing on Grief

My Burning Desire to Write ‘A Lovely Woman’

I’ve wanted to write my memoir, A Lovely Woman, for a long time. Keeping a daily diary since I was a child and journaling on and off for many years means it’s my second nature to put thoughts to paper. About ten years ago I determined to write about a loss that defined my life from a very early age. I began piecing it together. But I lacked confidence and wasn’t ready to dive deep into all that sorrow. I turned to other stories, completing one fictional story that I’ve yet to do anything with. The strong desire to write about Mam’s death, and our lives following her passing, never left me. Often I’d revisit the story, digging through papers to reread what was written. Most of it was terrible. But it was a start. My emotions tumbled out on to the page without structure, without a clear plan of where I wanted this book to go or where I wanted to take the reader. I’m so grateful I didn’t try to do anything with those poorly written first drafts. I just knew the timing wasn’t right.

One day a few years ago I received my subscribed Oprah magazine in the mail.On the cover I read that Oprah was relaunching her book club for a book called Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I turned to the article and discovered that Cheryl had lost her mother to cancer at age 22. My heart raced. Here was a woman I could connect with. I couldn’t wait to read more! Devastated by her loss she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail alone. This journey was what ultimately saved her. Intrigued and excited, I was also nervous. Somebody else had written a book about losing their mother to cancer. They had done it before me. And this amazing woman was also living in Portland, Oregon, the same city where I now lived. I wondered where my book would fit in to all of this. Would people want to read another book on motherloss? How would mine compare to this one, chosen by Oprah to relaunch her book club?

I went to see Cheryl read from her book and speak in Portland. I devoured Wild within days. Wild is a beautiful book, riveting and raw. I found myself crying and laughing in its pages.There were several things in the book that I could relate to but I realized I had nothing to be anxious about because one thing Wild wasn’t was my story. I understood then that it didn’t matter how many books were written about motherloss and grief. My memoir, told in my voice, would be different. Only I have lived my story and only I can tell it. Something inside me was immensely moved by Cheryl’s words, and I wasn’t the only one. Soon people all over the world were reading this book, following Cheryl on social media and thanking her for writing Wild. I saw how many people needed this book and how comforting it was for readers to recognize themselves in another person’s story. It was truly inspiring.

A couple of years later the time was right for me to tell my story. After ten years as kindergarten teacher I was completely burned out in that job. My four ten hour work days were wearing on me and my desire to write full time was like an itch I just couldn’t scratch. The story I needed to write was A Lovely Woman. I couldn’t think of anything else. My mind was consumed with ideas. I carried notepaper and pen with me everywhere I went so that I could write ideas down. I was so tired at the end of each work day and busy falling in love at the weekend, so instead of launching into my memoir I devoured books on writing, reading any chance I could get. I read Sol Stein’s books on writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I managed to save some money and gathered the courage to quit my job.

I immediately set to work on my memoir, getting up every morning with enthusiasm and often remaining at the computer for eight hours straight, pushing it away only when my boyfriend arrived in time for dinner.The story came together quite easily for me this time round although I’ve edited it nine times in all. I opened up to my friends about what I was writing and eventually shared my thoughts with people on my new author’s page. I expected to be met with skepticism and apprehension. Instead I received admiration, encouragement and applause. People believed in me and my story.

I’ve since come to realize a few things. Timing is everything. John Quincy Adams said:

“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”

I’m so glad I held off on writing my story until now. My book wouldn’t be half the book it is had I written it ten years ago.

Also, I’ve learned that people are behind me, believing in me, even when I think they mightn’t be, or when I don’t fully believe in myself. Through story we relate to one another. I’m writing this story for myself, but more importantly I’m writing it for all those readers out there who might need it. I just finished reading The Rules of Inheritance  , a gem by Claire Bidwell Smith and another book on motherloss and grief The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke. Hope Edelman pioneered the Motherless Daughters movement with her book which I read several years ago when I first moved to the USA from Ireland. The theme is the same but our stories are all unique.

I’ve yet to query agents. I’ve a long way to go before my book is in print. There may be several more edits, headaches and heartache. But I’ll keep sending it out into the world hoping that someone will love it. I won’t give up on this story. I believe it is meant to be shared.

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

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