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Hope Edelman on Being a Motherless Daughter, Her Mother’s Cookbook, and the Surprising Way Her Daughter Stays Connected to the Grandmother She Never Knew

In March 1996, just a few weeks after my mother died, I was given a copy of Hope Edelman’s pioneering book, Motherless Daughters. How could this book exist?! I thought to myself. Hope put into words what I was unable to articulate myself. Yes, I was a daughter without a mother and that’s why I hurt so much.

Hope’s mother died of breast cancer when she was in high school. After the overwhelming success of her first book, she went on to write many other influential works, including Letters from Motherless Daughters and Motherless Mothers. In quick order, she became an icon to many motherless daughters, including me. She’d suffered early, and hard, and came out the other side a well-adjusted and happy wife and mother of two beautiful girls. If she could thrive after loss, so could we.

Hope continues to write and is now a coach specializing in early loss. She also leads, along with author and therapist Claire Bidwell Smith, three-day healing retreats for motherless daughters. Taking place in several locations across the country, these meaningful getaways vary in focus – some are for women who were 18 and under when their mothers died, others are for women who were into their early 20s.

They also offer a retreat once a year centered on adult mother loss. Learn more here: www.motherlessdaughtersretreats.com.

It brings me enormous joy to also let you know that Hope and I are dear friends. She and I even shared a tent at 13,500 feet when we were leading our first Motherless Daughters and Parentless Parents trek to Peru. In many ways, Hope inspired me to write Passed and Present. It was over coffee, in a tiny café in Cusco, that we began brainstorming the book. Hope offered her enthusiasm, suggestions, and leads for essential interviews. She then honored me by writing the Foreword.

In Hope’s interview with me about grief and resilience, she reveals the two items in her kitchen that keep her most connected to her mother and one imaginative way she uses photography to help one of her daughters know the grandmother she never got to meet.

Allison: What one memento reminds you most of your loved one?
Hope: I have my mother’s Better Homes and Gardens loose-leaf style cookbook from the 1960s, the one decorated with red and white diamonds on the cover, and I use it with my daughters to make some of the recipes from my childhood. They’re all loaded to the hilt with butter and sugar, so we don’t make them often, but every time we take the cookbook out (and use my mother’s rolling pin) it’s an occasion to talk about her. Though my daughters never got to meet her, it’s a way to bring them all together into my kitchen, as I imagine I might have done if she’d lived.

Allison: Where do you keep the cookbook?
Hope: The cookbook is in the cabinet with all the other cookbooks, spine out, so I can easily see it. The rolling pin is kept in a kitchen drawer with my other baking implements. Funny story: I once brought the rolling pin in my suitcase up to the San Francisco Bay Area for one of author Joyce Maynard’s pie-baking parties, so the rolling pin has been up and down the length of California, a state my mother visited once and loved.

Allison: Would you describe yourself as someone who uses photographs creatively? What ideas can you pass along for making photos more meaningful? (Here’s an example from my blog.)
Hope: One of my favorite photos of my mother was taken of her at about age two, banging on a piano in her family’s house. It became a famous family photo because my mother went on to become an accomplished pianist and music teacher in her 20s. When my older daughter was two, I posed her in a similar position, in profile, and took her photo. It looked so much like the photo of my mother at the same age that I had both photos framed similarly and hang them side by side in our home.

Allison: What do you know now about keeping the memory of your loved ones alive, particularly your mother and father, that you didn’t know when these losses occurred?
Hope: How important it would become once I had children. Some days I’m so sad that my daughters never got to have a relationship with their maternal grandmother, and that they were both so young when my father died. I understand how important it is to talk about my parents all the time so my children feel a sense of heritage. Otherwise, their only roots on my family’s side are through my siblings and me, and though I have amazing an amazing brother and sister, we can’t offer them the experience of knowing the prior generation. Stories, photos, items, and videos are all we have to work with.

Allison: Loss is a great teacher. In what way have you derived greater joy and meaning from life following loss?
Hope: My mother only lived to be 42, and I’ve now outlived her for an entire decade. That’s a mind-blowing realization to me, every day. I don’t take being here for granted, and I really try not to focus on small disappointments or setbacks. I mean, I’m here, I’m healthy, I’ve lived to see my first child graduate from high school — something my mother never got to do — and I’m on track to see the second one graduate, too. To me, that’s huge. I try to approach each day with positivity and gratitude and a zest for life. I recently arrived at a conference in the Midwest one day late, and when I got there someone said, “Hope’s here! The energy has arrived!” and I thought, well, if that’s the one thing I can offer to a room, I’ll take it.

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