For nearly a quarter-century, Mother’s Day has been a day of sad “what ifs” for Michelle Shreeve.
The Gilbert writer – who wrote columns for teens for several years in AFN while she lived in Ahwatukee – can’t help thinking of the mother taken away from her by death in December 1993, when she was 9.
“In the beginning, Mother’s Days were rough and hurt a lot,” Shreeve said. “I would send my mom flowers to be delivered to her gravestone at the California cemetery she’s buried in. I would also watch comforting motherless daughter or mother-daughter movies to help make it through the day, not to mention talk to her and cry.”
Over time, though she got married and celebrated Mother’s Day on behalf of her mother-in-law and stepmom, too, that sadness lingered.
This Mother’s Day was a bit different from the 23 that came before. Feelings of accomplishment and hope were there.
Last month, Shreeve’s book – inspired by her mother’s death and the loss she’s dealt with for 25 years – finally hit the shelves.
“Parental Death: The Ultimate Teen Guide” is based on her interviews with 90 people ranging in age from pre-teen to the mid-80s. It is book #56 in the “It Happened to Me Ultimate Teen Guide” series, published by Rowman & Littlefield and available at Barnes & Noble bookstores and hardback and digital forms on a variety of book-sale websites.
While she had been “lightly researching the topic of parental death since the time of her loss, she began working on it in earnest in 2014. Over the last four years, Shreeve also was busy earning two master’s degrees, but she persisted in her interviews with people who lost their mom or dad at a young age.
“I want to make sure kids, teens, young adults and grieving families know that they’re not alone in this, and that there are many others who have gone through parental death or are currently going through it like they are,” she said.
“When I was young and going through my own personal loss, I used to get scared and worried about my future,” Shreeve explained. “I would often think my life was in trouble because I didn’t have two parents to support me like most of my peers did. I would think to myself, there has to be someone out there who lost a mother/parent like I did but was still able to make it. I knew that I couldn’t be the only person out there.”
So, before she interviewed people, she did some research, discovering “many notable people – Nobel Prize Laureates, actors, athletes, musicians, philosophers and more who grew up to give something positive back to the world but who also lost a parent, like I did.”
“I thought if they could make it through their childhood without one or both of their parents, and still pursue their dreams or give something positive back to the world, then maybe I could make it too. And that gave me strength and motivation on my challenging days. I also used it as a therapeutic coping method.”
As much as she learned from research, she learned even more in her interviews.
“Each and every one of the participants story was heartbreaking, especially when realizing what they went through at such a young age,” Shreeve said. “There were many times when I had to walk away from the computer as my heart broke for each participant. … Let’s just say many tears were shed and went into this book that came from both the participants and myself.”
The stories intertwined in the book are from people who lost one or both their parents at a young age. The advice at the end “are from those who lost their parents at a young age who are now at various different ages as they can reflect how their parent’s death impacted their life into the years and decades.”
“In the book, I tell children and teens there are two ways you can handle your loss throughout the rest of your life: You can either use it as a handicap and say you don’t know how to do this or that because your parent wasn’t there to teach you, or you can learn things on your own, be there for yourself instead of dependent on others and teach yourself the things your late parent left off teaching you.”
“Something I’ve noticed over coping with the death of my mother over the past 24 years is, helping others feels like the right thing to do.”
These days, Shreeve tries to avoid focusing on her loss.
“I try to act like she’s still here,” she explained. “I talk to people about her, I watch movies that I think she and I would have probably watched together, I look at old pictures and I even talk to her daily. I’ve learned a lot about myself, some things the hard way... but that is why I wanted to share this book with other kids and teens who might be struggling with parental death.
“I didn’t want them to feel like they have to face their loss alone and unarmed. This book should prove that they are indeed not alone and should give them a good idea on how to cope with healthy coping mechanisms.”
Shreeve also compiled lists of “mother-daughter movies, motherless daughter movies, father-son books, fatherless son books and more.”
What’s not in the book is at pinterest.com/Michelle_shreev. The book can also be found at rowman.com/ISBN/9781442270879/Parental-Death-The-Ultimate-Teen-Guide. Shreeve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.