An Open Letter To Mum & The Paperback Countdown

Life is manic at the moment – beautiful at times and tough in others. Last week was the three-year anniversary of Mum’s death and so I decided to turn to my escape once more, using words to mark the occasion. I have spent a lot of time writing about Mum but this time I decided to write to her through an open letter. It is posted on my Huffington Post page and here is again in full:

“Dear Mum,

I cannot begin to comprehend how three years have gone by since you left this world.

On one hand it seems like just yesterday we were nattering away on the phone, heading out to share a cream tea or off to the theatre together. On the other hand I feel like it has been forever since I have seen your warm smile and heard your infectious giggle (which would escalate into hysterics, tears streaming down your face).

I miss you. I miss you so, so much. I miss your calming, nurturing ways. I miss the way I could call you with any problem – no matter how trivial – and you would talk me through it and help me to find the perfect solution. I miss linking my arm through yours. I miss your hugs.

I have not forgotten the advice that you gave me in your final days – to allow myself to feel whatever I feel. I had a tough start with that, admittedly. I bottled things up and I put on a brave face – my, ‘I’m Okay’ mask – which I have observed as such a natural reaction for anyone who has lost a loved one. The trickiest of them all was being able to embrace moments of happiness without the sharp pain of guilt because you are not here. I’m getting there.

I have always been a terrible sleeper, as you know. I was once torn apart by nightmares that would haunt me night after night. Waking up from those was like losing you all over again. But, in the past year I have started to dream about you – beautiful you. Now there are times when I wake up and I feel like you have been right there beside me.

I have so much to thank you for, Mum. I don’t even know where to begin. Thank you for being so patient with me as a teen, when I probably had a few moments of being a bit of a sarcastic madam (she still makes the odd appearance). Thank you for passing down your love of crosswords, although somehow it seems your intelligence didn’t make it so I am yet to complete one. Thank you for encouraging me to follow both my head and my heart. Most importantly, thank you for teaching me that family comes above all else and for showing me, Dad and the girls, so much love.

Now, this may seem a strange one but I would also like to thank you for my 28th Birthday gift of Eurostar vouchers. I always thought we would be able to go to Paris together someday. How I wish we’d had more time. But I want you to know that I put those vouchers to good use.

I was certain that you must still be a part of the trip so I decided to go to Paris to celebrate your 60th Birthday. While I was there, I left a creative tribute for you around the city. You would never believe how much has happened and how much your legacy has grown since that weekend. You are such an inspirational woman it is no wonder that there is so much magic behind it all.

You may be wondering why I am writing to you so openly. Well, you always taught me to be an honest person and as someone who wears their heart on their sleeve, sharing our story and my experience of grief through the written word has helped me immensely. On top of that, it seems to have opened up a discussion – a heart wrenching but necessary one – and with death as such a taboo in society, this can only be a good thing. By sharing our thoughts and feelings with each other it can help us to feel less alone. I know you would be a massive advocate of this.

I will never look for ‘acceptance’ and ‘closure’ or even begin to try to make sense of what has happened. I know that your death will stay with me forever. But I will continue to stay as strong as I can for you – finding my own way to deal with it day by day, month by month and year by year. I will never stop trying to make you proud. You always made me believe that I could take on the world and, as time has gone on, I have started to believe this again.

Saying goodbye now is easier than before. Because really, you are not gone, Mum. I am taking you with me every step of the way.

Yours always,

Rachael x”

I feel very lucky that so soon after such a difficult milestone, I am able to have the light of the paperback release ahead of me. It is exactly one week today and Simon and Schuster UK have started a twitter countdown:

If you are an avid tweeter, please share away and look out for the next one!

I will be back next week with more stories.

Until then, have a wonderful one.

Rachael x

A Heartfelt Note for Rose on the Brooklyn Bridge

This blog began as a way to document my personal tribute to my mum. To celebrate what would have been her 60th birthday, I scattered 60 handwritten postcards around Paris in her memory and I wrote my email address on them in case anyone was to find one. (You can read more in my Glamour article here.)

Since then, the project has now moved forwards with the overwhelming amount of messages received from people who are sharing their own stories. I invited readers to become a part of the magic via 60 Postcards Stateside and I set off to New York City to scatter the individual notes.

Today’s post is for Tony, who wrote a heartfelt note to his mother, Rose.

IMG_9793

“Hi there, 

Please don’t throw me away but take a few minutes to read.  

This card is in memory of my mother, Rose, who loved New York. Sadly I never really knew her. She gave birth to me in Dublin in 1953 when she was just 17. She looked after me for 18 months but in May 1955 gave me up for adoption. I was adopted and went to live in England. She then set off on the boat for New York, where she worked hard and made many friends. It wasn’t until 1987 when I decided to trace her that I found she had been taken ill in 1974, returned to Ireland and died aged only 39. I met her sisters and brother and heard who an amazing, loving and lovely person she was. I don’t know if it’s genetic but my daughter loves New York and would love to live and work there. Not a day goes by without me thinking of Rose and I’m sure that between 1955 and 1974, while living in New York, not a day would have gone by without her thinking of me and praying that life worked out OK. I can let her know now that it did. 

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Tony.”

I know Tony, as the daughter he refers to in his message is one of my closest friends, Beccy. Yet, this postcard came as a complete surprise and I felt so moved when I read about his search for Rose.

Beccy was with me for that very first trip to Paris and I lived with her for 4 years – she was there through it all. She flew off to Canada last year but we were able to meet in New York on her way home and so, naturally, we wanted to do this one together.

I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was about 12 so why not give it a whirl for the first time in years on the TERRIFYING roads of New York? Sure. We went to the bike hire shop in Brooklyn, signed a disclaimer saying that we would be responsible for our own deaths (great) and set off for the Brooklyn Bridge via Prospect Park and many a gorgeous NY street. I was wobbling about like crazy but we ignored the beeping cars, embraced the downhill straights and enjoyed a pit stop for an ice cream en route.

10683619_10152955944370873_7511260270403440823_o

Our plan was to leave Tony’s postcard for Rose on the Brooklyn Bridge – a structure full of history, brimming with tourists and a gorgeous spot connecting Brooklyn with Manhattan. Beccy tied it to the railings with ribbon, we hopped on our bikes and rode away – hoping that it would be read.

The beautiful, Rose

The beautiful, Rose

In Tony’s letter (to accompany his postcard) he describes how, despite the fact that he was unable to meet his mother in person, he has now connected with new family members and they continue to tell him all about Rose and her warm and wonderful nature. I had the pleasure of meeting one of his cousins in NYC , too.

I’ve sobbed all over again writing this one up. It is an incredible story. There may be heartbreak in the separation of Tony from his mum, but there is so much beauty in the fact that he is still able to get to know her through others. And now, she lives on through him and his children too.

Tony, Rose – I will be raising a glass to you this evening.

With love,

Rachael x

Every single one of these postcards has a different story, a unique message and an overwhelming amount of warmth and love embedded in the words. If you would like to do a postcard tribute of your own, please do get in touch – I would love to help.

Email: 60postcards@gmail.com

Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Instagram

 

60 Postcards Hits 2 Years; From Paris to Now

Hi there.

So, it has now been an utterly astonishing 2 YEARS since that first trip to Paris, where the 60 Postcards project began. I still can’t quite comprehend how so much has happened since that long weekend but I thought, to see the New Year in, it would be nice to review the journey over the past 24 months.

December 2012 – 60 Postcards in Paris

The month was December, the location was Paris and the reason for the long weekend there was my wonderful mother. Frustrated and lost after her sudden death to bowel cancer in February 2012, I wanted to celebrate what would have been her 60th birthday by spreading her memory around the City of Love. I chose to reach out to the tourists and locals who may stumble upon a postcard and wrote my email address on each one, in case anyone was to find one and get in touch.

My article for Glamour last year (60 Postcards; One Unique Tributesummarises the trip and the tribute.

10847861_10152855474765873_4010308926359508989_n

1962330_10152855486925873_7939864662056452645_o

March 2013 – The Beginning of the Blog

It took me three months to share my story. I knew that by documenting the magic of the postcards and the responses, I would also be talking openly about my grief – something which I had found so hard to deal with. But as the very first words hit the page, I felt a release. I realised how much of a taboo death still is, and how speaking out should not be something to be afraid of.

I have written 95 posts – approximately 720,00 words – and after a quiet couple of months recently (due to the development of the project behind the scenes), I am looking forward to writing again.

(You can read the very first post here.)

April 2013 – NYC – Part 1: More Postcards & Meeting a Finder

10828009_10152855487020873_2466524384437642799_o

When I received an email from ballet dancing, NYC based postcard finder, Stephanie, I knew I had to get out there to scatter more postcards and see her perform. While I was there (with friend Caroline), I met so many wonderful characters, stumbled across inspirational projects and really didn’t want to come home. One of the projects was a Before I Die wall and I took part by writing a message on there:

10687930_10152907762300873_3332624499718108006_o

I was incredibly lucky – my hope for the future came far sooner than I could ever imagine….

September 2013 – The Book Deal

10854886_10152855480405873_536153480373238453_o

Suddenly, it was more than the odd blog post that I was going to have to write. My world felt like it had changed in so many ways since the trip to Paris but it was on signing a book deal with Simon & Schuster UK when it totally flipped upside down. My extra curricular writing became a real life role as I took some time away from my full-time job for an energy company.

I can understand why so many people assumed it would be a book of my blog posts. But I didn’t want that. Although some of what I had already written has been echoed and adapted, I wanted the book to have a real narrative and to go into far more depth about both Mum and the postcards.

I buried my head in my laptop for a few months and fuelled with fear, emotion, passion and a hell of a lot of coffee – I wrote my memoir 60 Postcards.

February 2014 – The Release of 60 Postcards

I didn’t sleep all that well the night before the release of the book. I will never forget walking into the Foyles in Waterloo and seeing it on the shelf for the very first time. I thoroughly enjoyed a few chats on the radio and seeing my story in an article or two. It was all very surreal. When postcard finder, Stephanie, flew over for the book launch at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel in March, it really was the icing on the cake.

10834939_10152855492600873_3643599077919835645_o

October 2014 – NYC – Part 2: Postcards Scattered Stateside

As the months after the book released passed, I adored the emails that would fill my inbox from readers sharing their own stories. This is where my mind started to kick into action and with my strong desire to move forward with my own grief, I wanted to create an opportunity for other people to be a part of the project. 60 Postcards Stateside was the plan and I set off for NYC again. And this time I would be the messenger.

10284851_10152855519765873_6049961150537211007_o-2

2015 – New Year Plans

High up on the 60 Postcards New Year event list is the release of the paperback – with a lovely new cover.

60 postcards_pb for cosmo

After the success of the New York trip, delivering memories on behalf of other people – I was sure that it was time to take this project to the next level. A social enterprise is a very daunting thing to be starting, but I am game. I am ready. I am petrified and excited in equal measure and now it will be a very busy year ensuring that I work fiercely hard at creating a network, platform and service that can offer help to those suffering from grief, using creativity either anonymously or for the world to see.

I won’t be able to do this alone and I hope to hold a focus group to bounce off some ideas and gain some honest and valuable feedback. More to come on that very soon!

Phew. I think that’s everything for now. Let the hard work begin.

Wishing you all a very happy New Year and a wonderful 2015.

With love,

Rachael x

PS I have also been invited to blog on the Huffington Post platform (first article here) and I will be releasing a New Year piece in the next week :).