Almost a year ago to the day, The Chronicle decided to revamp the weekly Women 2day page.
Before, the features I wrote focused on inspiring women from the Chester area, but I decided to focus more on raising awareness of various issues I felt were important to women, drawing on my own experience in any way I could.
The first article I featured on the new page, was an issue close to my heart – how I felt there should be more specific grief support for people , and in my case, women like me who do not have mothers – and now I want to revisit the issue and write an update on how things have changed in a year.
Many years ago I read a book called Motherless Daughters, written by American journalist Hope Edelman, who described her experience of losing her 42-year-old mother to cancer when she was 17.
She wrote it because she couldn’t find help in books during her struggle to cope with her loss, as back then there were no support groups or online chat rooms.
Her book became a lifeline to thousands of women who were struggling with life without their mothers, particularly as they faced difficult milestones like graduation, weddings or the birth of a first child.
While there are many books written on grief in general, there wasn’t anything that specifically related to mother loss.
Simply knowing that someone else out there shared their feelings struck a chord with women who found immense consolation in knowing they weren’t alone, and the book’s success inspired Hope to set up scores of support groups across America, where motherless women could meet up, share their experiences and gain unconditional strength from each other.
When my mother died when I was 17, I didn’t even know these kind of groups existed in the world.
After reading the book, I searched everywhere for a group I could join to talk to others about how I was feeling. But I could not find one in the entire UK, which was very disappointing.
After writing about the issue last year, I wasn’t expecting much of a response at all. So I was pleasantly surprised when many women contacted me saying they felt the same, that there really should be some kind of outlet for this ‘sisterhood’ in the country. It got me thinking.
So, choosing to ignore the certain unhelpful advice I received, as a first step, I decided to set up a private Facebook group called ‘UK Motherless Daughters ’ which could act as a forum for women who did not have mothers and were living with their grief each day.
My group is not specifically aimed at women whose mothers have died – it is for anyone who feels the loss of a mother in their life, whether that be through death, abandonment or estrangement.
I set up the group in March 2014, and through word of mouth, have built up a successful following as a place to allow women to interact with people who feel the same as them, to keep their mother’s memory alive, and to gain strength from the words of others who understand and don’t judge.
It currently has more than 100 members of various ages from all over the country, and what is especially heartwarming is that the group has even created new friendships, with members from at least three regions currently in the process of organising a face-to-face meeting.
For anyone who has lost someone they love, regardless of whether it was last week or 30 years ago, the pain and gnawing emptiness of it does not leave you.
The beauty of specific support groups like these is that the old concept of taking a year to grieve and then getting on with life, thankfully seems to be fading, and instead, women who have lost their mothers are encouraged to keep a lifelong connection with them, in whatever way they are comfortable doing so.
When Hope Edelman first published her book in 1994, it was a revelation. Since then, similar books have been written, support groups have been set up, and more therapists and counsellors have begun to focus on the issues.
Therese Rando, a clinical psychologist who directs The Institute for the Study and Treatment of Loss in Rhode Island, USA, says: “There have been motherless daughters since the beginning of time. But Hope wrote about it in such a powerful way that she not only told her story, but identified the issues of growing up without a mother. She struck an extremely important chord.”
Resources for motherless boys pale in comparison. Because, according to Hope, men simply don’t talk about it as frequently.
“The men and boys who lost their mothers early may hurt as much as the girls, but are not as likely to be less verbal about it”, explains American psychologist Arthur Kovacs. “We’re taught to be stoic.”
For now at least, the spotlight seems to be on the motherless daughters. And whatever age a girl or young woman is when she loses her mother, some issues seem universal.
Often, mothers pass on different skills to their daughters, and its these things she may miss out on learning about what it’s like to be a woman, a wife, or a mother. It can be as simple as a girl learning how her mother applies lipstick so it stays on or how to fold clothes neatly.
Me – I miss the little things like being able to text my mum during the day, or asking how long I should cook something for.
But having the opportunity to share these longings with others who also miss it, is invaluable.
One of the lovely ladies I’ve been fortunate enough to come into contact with through my Facebook group is Sarah Docherty from Buckley, and she’s using her experience to help a very worthy cause.
Like mine did, Sarah’s mum Marjorie spent her last days at The Hospice of the Good Shepherd in Backford, and the vital care she received from staff there was exemplary – so much so, that in June, Sarah is climbing Wales’ highest mountain, Snowdon, to raise money for them.
Sarah, 41, said: “The hospice played a vital part in the care of my amazing, brave, beautiful mum as she lost her battle with cancer. The support they gave our family at a time when our lives were torn apart, was incredible. The staff and nurses there are a truly remarkable team, to whom we will be forever grateful.
“This will also be keeping mum’s memory alive and celebrating her life. The hospice helps improve the quality of life for those living with any incurable illness, and gives support to family, friends and carers. The staff are truly remarkable people who let us move in to be with mum, cooked our meals, ran us baths, and were right there with us when our worlds fell apart. I will be forever grateful to them.”
To provide the excellent care they do, the Hospice at Backford needs to raise more than £6,800 every day, so if you can donate to Sarah’s cause, you could be making the difference to a family going through the unbearable torment of watching a loved one die.
“Please donate to this fantastic charity; it doesn’t matter how small the amount – every penny counts. I know in my heart that Mum would be so proud, so no matter how many hours it takes, I’ll reach the summit of Snowdon wearing my Hospice T-shirt, carrying mum’s photo, and will open a bottle of champagne to toast the memory of the most amazing woman I have ever been fortunate enough to know – my mum," adds Sarah.
- To donate to Sarah’s cause, visit www.justgiving.com/Sarah-Docherty.