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'When I was 2, my beautiful mother took her life. This is how I honour her.'

Content warning: this post deals with themes of suicide and abuse, and might be triggering for some readers. 

This year will mark my 24th Mother’s Day as a motherless daughter.

It was March 27, 1996, when my beautiful mother took her precious life, ascending to heaven to become my guardian angel.

My mum left behind three daughters. I was just two-and-a-half. Although I was a young child, the tragic death of a mother is heartbreaking and indescribably tough at any age, especially losing one to suicide.

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Besides being a motherless daughter, I am also an orphan. My dad was physically abusive and I have not seen him since I was 12 years old.

I’ve spent most of my adulthood living abroad working in PR and communications. I studied in Miami and worked in New York for a year, and recently I relocated to London. I have created a beautiful life for myself.

Although I am Australian, and it will always be a special place to me, it reminds me of the immense pain that I endured growing up as a motherless daughter.

Throughout my childhood and youth, I was silenced. I was not allowed to grieve my mother’s death, nor do I have any recollection of being told that my mother even passed away.

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A newborn Olivia with her late mother. Image: Supplied.
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It was forbidden and deemed wrong to talk about ‘her’, and if I did I would get punished. I also did not know or distinguish the difference between discipline and abuse.

A fist replaced a smack. I was subject to the wooden spoon, and starved instead of fed.

I was forcefully pushed (not sent) to the ‘naughty corner’ and locked in my bedroom when I would ask 'where is my Mummy?'

Stemming from my turbulent childhood, and as a result of being a motherless daughter, I never had any guidance or skills taught on how to wholeheartedly love, value and accept myself.

I sought some sort of mother substitute and looked for outlets where I could be educated on what most people consider to be instinctive human emotions, and for someone to help me answer the questions I had surrounding my feelings of grief.

I have now forged the foundations of my morals and behaviours from a mixture of self-help books, TED talks, and empowering mentors such as Brené Brown, Tony Robbins and Louise Hay.

I would watch, read, and listen intently to make notes that really resonated with me in my journal and have continued to do so to this day — it is my way of healing.

As a child I turned to books: it was my escape, and through my journal, I had a communication channel between me and my mother.

Today, I have the ability to truly connect with her when I am writing. I talk to her and tell her my thoughts and feelings. I know she is listening and is helping me grow. I can really feel her.

Hope Edelman, author of the classic grief guidebook Motherless Daughters, states that mourning is a lifelong process, especially for those who lost their mothers when they were young children.

"We manage, but we're damaged," she writes. She also emphasises the unique role a mother plays in the lives of her children, which means that grief for her returns in waves each time an important milestone is reached or when she is faced with a difficult encounter, no matter how many years have passed since her final goodbye.

I have learned over many years that grief surrounding severe loss is not linear: healing takes time. My emotions have been heightened during this time in lockdown in the lead up to two Mother’s Days (UK and Australian) this year as well as the anniversary of my mother’s death.

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This anniversary is all the more powerful and difficult as I am now at the age at which she took her life: 26 years.

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Olivia honouring her mother. Image: Supplied.

Hope Edelman wrote Motherless Daughters because she was unable to find anything on the topic after grieving for her mother who died from breast cancer when Edelman was just 17.

I have found hope from her book, and want to continue on her legacy for motherless daughters around the world. I've met many, and my greatest source of comfort has come from these women; we truly get each other.

Ahead of Mother's Day, I have put together my list of how we can find solace within ourselves, and connect with our lost mothers as we endure this lockdown.

  1. Make your mother the centre of the day. Plant a flower in remembrance of her, or buy her favourite flowers for your room.
  2. If she liked to cook, make one of her recipes.
  3. If you are into art, paint a picture of you two together in the present day. Use colours 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.
  4. Write to your mother. This is therapeutic, I do it all the time — it can be a valuable exercise while grieving. Let your emotions wash over you as you write and release.
  5. Light a candle in remembrance.
  6. Connect with your mum spiritually. Talk to her, tell her what’s on your mind as if she were here physically.
  7. Utilise the day to celebrate your life instead, do what nurtures and inspires you most in honour of the life your mother gave you. Watch or listen to some personal development exercises such as TED Talks, podcasts, or books; get out in nature; video call your friends to lift your spirits.
  8. Connect with motherless daughter support groups virtually via online forums, social media or video calls. For Australia, I highly recommend The Motherless Daughters Australia Association. To help cope with the emotions and thoughts that can amp up during isolation (especially on Mother's Day), and to offer sisterhood and support on an international spectrum, Hope Edelman and Clare Bidwall Smith (a therapist and grief and anxiety expert) have created an online Motherless Daughters Support Group via Zoom.

I am a survivor: mentally strong, determined, self-reliant and independent. I consider myself a positive, resilient, ambitious young woman, and I want to make a real difference in this world.

I truly believe that the death of my mother has shaped and moulded who I am today.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

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