Have you ever started a book that you know is going to be hard on you? One that you know you’ll identify with but you know is going to make old hurts into fresh wounds again? That’s how I felt about Without My Mother. I also knew I very much wanted to read it because knowing I would identify with it seemed more important than how much it might hurt. I was also lucky enough to catch up with the author, Leigh Van Der Horst, who told me a bit about her process in writing this book.
This piece previously appeared on Kidspot.
Without My Mum.
In my life, I can honestly say that nothing else has impacted me the way losing my mother has. It was the single most devastating and isolating experience I’ve ever lived through and has changed me in more ways than I can count. So when I was given the opportunity to read Leigh Van Der Horst’s book, Without My Mum, I didn’t hesitate.
Leigh chronicles the story of her mother’s illness, beginning with the moment she heard the news which was to have a profound impact on her life. Leigh shares excerpts from her journals and allows a window into the last few years with her mother right up until the moment of her passing.
While no two experiences of loss will ever be the same, there was a certain comfort in reading about how Leigh felt torn between her desire to care for her mother throughout her illness and the need to care for her own young family and herself.
When your mother is dying, the roles reverse.
The urge to drop everything and care for your mum is overpowering and, when you are living through it, it’s hard to fathom that the world is still turning around you. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you are still needed. Your children, partner and friends still need you and it takes someone to remind you of that to bring you back to earth. In Leigh’s story, and in mine, that reminder often came from our mothers. Even in the midst of illness, they still mothered us.
Leigh’s story is told with candour and grace, holding nothing back. Losing her mum could have broken Leigh’s spirit and no one would have blamed her for it. Instead, Leigh drew strength from her experience and, not only did she write down her story, she sought out the stories of other “motherless mothers”. Dozens of women from around the globe shared their experiences of loss, their longing and their own strength.
Without My Mum is not a catalogue of sadness – far from it. Sadness is present, of course, but it’s not the overarching theme of this book. Instead, the overall feeling is one of solidarity and comfort in shared experience. While nothing can take away from the pain of such a loss, it does help more than I ever realised to know that you aren’t alone.
Leigh has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the process of writing and collating Without My Mum.
1. The story of losing your mother is never an easy one to tell. Was the actual process cathartic?
Overall, yes. I knew my story inside out by the end of it so ultimately, I gained a lot of comfort from reading the contributions that others courageously wrote. I was in awe of the strength of so many and floored by just how they were able to re-build after suffering such sadness. They are all so inspiring.
2. I imagine actually chronicling your story made you closely examine how you felt throughout your mum’s illness and passing. How has writing Without My Mum changed your perspective?
I think if anything, it has allowed me the chance to reflect and accept that I was actually so strong throughout it all and for that I am very proud of myself. I certainly had my low moments but to experience such devastation and continue to raise children while protecting them from the heartache is something worthy of acknowledging.
3. What was it that made you decide to share the story of losing your mum and to collect the shared experiences of others?
Quite simply, I felt so alone when my mum died and I wanted to connect with others who had experienced similar but I just didn’t know how, so I created my own version of what I craved. I have since gone on to host a private Facebook group (called ‘Without My Mum’) that continues to connect and encourage those who have lost their mums. It is truly a very beautiful online space.
4. Can you tell us how striking up a friendship with Jools Oliver came about and how she helped you with the book?
The beautiful Jools and I became friends when Instagram was born. I think we connected on the basis of both being a mother to four. We have now been good friends for over three years and she is a real inspiration to me.
Jools knew about the idea of my book in the very early stages and as she lost her father when she was young, she understood the void and the utter sadness that is felt with the loss of a parent. She was one of my main encouragers as I wrote the book, spurring me on and was happy to recommend it after reading it as so much of Without My Mum touched her heart. I am very grateful to her for her unwavering support and generosity and she has certainly brought lots of awareness to my book.
She is just as lovely as you would imagine her to be. They all are.
5. The response to your book has been overwhelmingly positive. What has the feedback been like from readers?
Thank you, yes, it has and I am so grateful. I was so nervous to put it out into the world as it is very raw and honest but that is the only way I know to be.
The reader feedback is just precious. I receive lots of emails and letters from women who share with me that the book has helped them in one way or another and that they are so relieved to relate on the topic. So many women feel alone as I did when Mum died and I love that this book brings us all together.
I only ever wrote Without My Mum with the vision of perhaps just one woman finding it on a bookshelf, deciding to take it home to read and then feeling so much stronger after reading it. I have had lots of comments describing that exact scene and for that I am just so happy.
Without My Mum by Leigh Van Der Horst can be purchased online here.
#FYBF @ With Some Grace.