The year 2020 marks the 106-year anniversary of the official national holiday of Mother’s Day, which honors the influence of mothers and maternal bonds in society. Anna Jarvis, one of the many influential women of the last century and a motherless daughter herself, was responsible for lobbying President Woodrow Wilson to create the national holiday. It’s a beautiful day that should be embraced. Yet, it’s also a day that feels like a deep-cutting, double-edged sword for me — this year will mark 24 years that I’ve spent Mother’s Day as a motherless daughter.
It was March 27, 1996 when my beautiful mother jumped from Bangally Headland near Sydney, Australia, taking her own life and ascending into heaven to become my guardian angel. My mum left behind three daughters. I was just two and a half years old, and although I was a young girl, the death of a mother is heartbreaking and indescribably tough at any age. Especially when you lose them to suicide.
I was born in Australia, but am currently living in London. I’ve created a beautiful life for myself. Before being here, I studied at the University of Miami (Go Canes!) and then lived and worked in New York City. I’ve spent most of my adulthood living internationally and working within the public relations and creative communication sphere. Although Australia will always be a special place to me, it reminds me of the immense pain I endured while growing up.
Throughout my life, I’ve suffered many traumatic experiences and have had significant emotional hardship. Besides being a motherless daughter, I am also an orphan. My father was physically abusive — I haven’t seen him since I was 12 years old.
Throughout my childhood, I felt silenced. I wasn’t allowed to grieve my mother’s death, nor do I have any recollection of being told that she had passed away. It was a forbidden subject and deemed wrong to talk about her. If I did, I got punished — and I didn’t know how to distinguish the difference between discipline and abuse. A fist replaced a smack. I was subject to the wooden spoon and was starved instead of fed. I was forcefully pushed — not sent — to the ‘naughty corner.’ I thought it was normal to be hit by my father for accidentally waking him up on a Sunday morning when my sister and I would fight over our dolls. I was locked in my bedroom whenever I asked “Where is my Mummy?”
My turbulent childhood meant I never had guidance nor learn how to wholeheartedly love, value or accept myself. So, I sought out maternal figures, looked for outlets where I could learn what most people consider to be instinctive human emotions — self-love, self-worth, self-acceptance and self-empowerment — and searched for someone to help me deal with the questions I had surrounding my feelings of grief, abandonment, anger, hurt and loneliness.
The University of Miami has had such a significant influence on my life. Not only did the university given me the opportunity to flourish in my academic and professional career, but in other facets of life as well. I’m now enriched with the memories of my experiences, strong mentors, sisterhood and friendships that will remain dear to me forever. I wouldn’t be the successful woman I am today if it weren’t for the wonderful support system that I found at UM. I will always consider the school to be a family and a special place I can call home — that’s something I never had growing up.
I’ve formed the foundations of my morals and habits from a mixture of advice from my grandma, UM teachers, peers and Mahoney RA’s. Self-help books, TED talks and empowering mentors such as Brené Brown, Tony Robbins and Louise Hay has also helped me immensely. I would watch, read and listen intently and take notes on what resonated with me in my journal. And I continue to do that to this day. It’s my way of healing, and it bolsters my personal development to be better and do better. Even as a child, I turned to books. They were my escape from the world. And I used my journal as a communication channel between my mother and I. Today, I have the ability to completely switch off and connect with her when I’m writing. I talk to her and tell her my thoughts and feelings. I know she’s listening and helping me grow — I can feel her.
Hope Edelman, author of the popular grief book “Motherless Daughters,” explained how mourning is a life-long process, especially for those who lost their mothers as young children. “We manage, but we’re damaged,” Edelman said. She wrote the book because she couldn’t find anything on the topic after she grieved her own mother, who died from breast cancer when Edelman was just 17. She also emphasizes the unique role a mother plays in the lives of her children, which makes grief come in waves each time an important milestone or difficult encounter occurs. I’ve learned over many years of grief that it isn’t linear — healing takes time and can be a confronting process. I’ve found ‘hope’ from her book, and want to continue on her legacy and aid in the grieving process for other motherless daughters around the world.
My emotions have been heightened during this time in coronavirus lockdown. I’ll experience two Mother’s Day (UK and universal) as well as the anniversary of my mother’s death. On Mother’s Day, I usually make sure to look after myself and celebrate my angelically present mum. I connect with her through both writing and nature. For example, we both love the ocean. So this year, I wanted to take a trip to the UK seaside. But now I won’t be able to do that. I also usually pay my respects by going to church, lighting a candle, writing a prayer, engraving her name on a locket and placing it in a symbolic place where I’m living at the time. In the past, I’ve done this in Australia and New York. But this year, I won’t be able to do that either. But this whole experience has really made me appreciate my current life.
The anniversary of my mum’s death this year is especially powerful and difficult — I’m now 26 years old, the same age as my mother when she took her own life. It’s already hard enough to be a motherless daughter from suicide, where feelings of isolation are commonly endured. But now that we’re all in physical isolation too, it’s even harder. But I have chosen to focus on all facets of my health at this time. Most notably my mental, spiritual and physical health. I’m doing yoga, meditation and working on writing a book centered on my experience as an orphan. I hope that it will resonate with those going through similar situations and help with their healing. I’ve also been getting creative in the kitchen and connecting with nature — I go out in the sun whenever possible, because that’s where I feel her presence most.
I’ve met many motherless young women at the University of Miami and all around the globe. My greatest source of comfort has come from these women — we just get each other. We have a sorority-like sisterhood, and it’s been such a great and comforting support network. But there are still moments in our lives — especially throughout this uncertain and challenging time of COVID-19 — when we all need survival kits to guide us. In celebration of the anniversary of Mother’s Day, I put together a list of how those who’ve lost maternal figures can find solace within themselves and connect with their mothers during this Mother’s Day in lockdown:
- Make your mother the center of the day.
- Plant a flower in remembrance of your mum, or buy your mum’s favorite flowers for your room. Flowers radiate and bring beauty to a space. They can act as a symbol of the love you have for your mother and the love she had for you.
- If she liked to cook, make one of her recipes.
- If you’re into art, or even if you have never tried, paint a picture of you two together in the present day. Use colors that represent your mum and how you are feeling. Place this picture in your room or in a special spot in your house as a reminder that your mum is always here.
- Write to your mother. This is therapeutic, I do it all the time. This can be a valuable exercise while grieving. Let your emotions wash over you as you write and release. I buy my mum postcards from all the countries I have been blessed to visit, I write to her in the language of the country that I’m in at the time, filling her in on my experiences. I then address them to her in heaven.
- Light a candle in remembrance of your Mum – a candle signifies the love and light that she still radiates in your life
- Pour yourself and your mum a glass of her or your favorite wine.
- Connect with your mum spiritually. Talk to your mum, tell her what’s on your mind as if she was here physically.
- Utilize the day to celebrate your life instead, do what nurtures and inspires you most in honor of the life your mother gave you such as:
- Implement self-care into your routine to help keep your mindset in check.
- Find a time in the day, preferably morning, to meditate if you can. Whatever works best for you. You could light your favorite scented candle. Find a comfortable setting to sit and eyes closed. Invite your mother into your space. Hold her in your thoughts. Focus on the gratitude and love you feel for your mother and the gift of life that she gave you. Reflect on some memories you have of her or tell her about your day, your thoughts and feelings. Let the tears flow if they come. remember that grief is love. Focus on your breathing. Inhale, exhale. You’re safe.
- Watch/listen to some personal development exercises such as TED Talks, podcasts or books.
- Disconnect your phone to reconnect with yourself.
- Gratitude journaling: write down three things you love about yourself, three things you‘re grateful for and three goals for the day/week ahead.
- Switch up your COVID-19 government-approved exercise and get out in nature where permitted.
- Do a YouTube workout from home: exercise boosts your endorphins.
- Video call your friends, sorority sisters, RA, or a romantic interest to lift your spirits.
- Connect with your friends and/or motherless daughter support groups virtually via online forums, social media or video calls.
- To help cope with the emotions and thoughts that can build up during isolation (especially on Mother’s Day), and to offer support on an international spectrum, Hope Edelman (author) and Clare Bidwall Smith (therapist and grief and anxiety expert) have created an online Motherless Daughters Support Group via Zoom.
I truly believe that the death of my mother has shaped and molded who I am today. I am a survivor: mentally strong, determined, strong-willed, self-reliant and independent. I consider myself a positive, resilient and ambitious young woman who has always wanted to make a real difference in this world. This is an open letter to my beautiful mother:
“Perhaps they’re not stars in the sky, but rather openings where our loved ones shine through to let us know that they are happy. To the most beautiful, sparkling guardian angel — Happy Mother’s Day. Although you may no longer be with me physically, I’m sending breakfast in bed with a side of cuddles and kisses up to the gates of heaven. Mumma, despite the current COVID-19 situation, and although I may be feeling physically and mentally isolated without you, thank you for paving the way and guiding me angelically through every life situation and on to the right path in becoming just like you: a strong, loving, resilient, kind and compassionate woman. I love you, I miss you and I eternally honor you.”
words & photos_olivia wells illustration_rachel rader