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Author Dara Kurtz: Why its so important to give yourself permission to feel all the feelings during this difficult time

By Debra Wallace

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Give yourself permission to feel all the feelings. Don’t force yourself to pretend you’re fine if you aren’t fine. It’s OK to feel sad and ask for help, and to tell people you aren’t OK. Acceptance of whatever situation you’re dealing with is very important. You can’t deal with something if you aren’t willing to accept whatever situation you find yourself in. Focus on what you had, not what you lost. For too long, instead of counting my blessings, I counted my losses. Being honest about your situation, and asking yourself what you can do to help yourself get through whatever life tosses your way, is a positive way you can help yourself. The hard part about loss is that no-one can do it for you and you can only distract yourself for so long. People have to be willing to let themselves feel the uncomfortable feelings of sadness and pain, to get through it, and eventually to the other side. It took me 20 years to figure this out!

When Dara Kurtz discovered she was pregnant with her first child it was both a sweet and bitter time in her life; sweet as she anticipated the birth of her first daughter and bitter because her beloved mother was fighting for her life.

These circle of life moments in her journey as a daughter and new mother came with exhilarating highs and the deepest lows.

Kurtz poetically describes the pain and joy in her new book “I Am My Mother’s Daughter: Wisdom on Life, Loss, and Love,” (Mandel Vilar Press), and at the same time inspires us to hug a little tighter and express our feelings of love, so there are few regrets later in our lives.

Her mother Terry Schuman Hirsch died of cancer when Kurtz was 28 years old, and this loss and the loss of her grandmothers was so painful that for decades she was afraid to re-read their letters to her; which she kept in a Ziploc bag at the bottom of her drawer.

One day she longed to connect with the strong women who had loved and reared her, and she re-read these letters, which brought back beautiful and important family memories and taught her a myriad of life lessons.

These letters — and the powerful messages and memories they shared — caused her to reflect on the priceless love between mothers and daughters and how wisdom and traditions can be passed on from one generation to the next.

Kurtz, of Winston Salem, North Carolina, was eager to share her loving and lovely story that inspires us to strengthen the bonds between mothers and daughters, to remember and honor family traditions, to let go of the pain and loss, and make the most of each day of our lives.


What inspired you to write this book?

It wasn’t a book that I thought I would write. Reading the letters was a way to get to know my mother and grandmother better, and that experience changed so much for me in a positive way that I had to write this story.

What changed?

It’s been 20 years since my mother passed away and grief followed me around like my shadow. I didn’t realize it completely. My daughter, Zoe, was born shortly before my mom died and it was all about being a happy mom. Nobody talked about grief or loss 20 years ago. I was the only one in my friends’ circle who lost a parent, and I felt it was best to put on a happy face. I didn’t know how to make peace with my mom’s death. I was angry because she was cheated and I was cheated. Every celebration for Zoe was a reminder of another year that my mom isn’t here and another event that she is missing. I was stuck in grief, but I didn’t see it.

[Dara Kurtz’s precious letters from her mother and grandmothers]

So, you took the letters out of the drawer and re-read them?

Yes, I re-read those letters, and I immediately remembered the positivity, every single day that she was alive because she truly realized how precious life is. It was like she was telling me, ‘Dara, go back to the biz of living and let go of the pain and sadness.’ Reading those letters helped me make peace with my mom’s death 20 years after she passed away. So, writing this book was amazing and I am so proud of it; to personally able to let go of the sadness.

They say when people die young or in their middle years that they can be compared with an unfinished symphony.

Yes, I felt like that a lot with my mom. Hard to find your peace and let go of someone when she had so much living left to do; so much unfinished business that it hurt my heart and physically bothered me. Which is why I had so much trouble finding peace with her death. When people mentioned the unfished symphony comparison it hit me in my vulnerable. I felt that way with my daughter’s baby naming and both of my daughters’ bat mitzvahs.

You didn’t discover the letters shortly before writing the book?

No, I knew that they were there, but I had forgotten they were there. It wasn’t something I thought I would get something out of them other than to just feel sad. I was blown away by how much wisdom they contained. I felt like I was having a conversation with my mom and my two grandmothers. It was the biggest gift I could have received. I am so grateful that I have the letters, and so grateful that I had the courage to sit down and read them.

I hope that people will give my book during the upcoming holidays and write a letter of love as a precious gift. People don’t really need more stuff, especially when we are not going out. But writing a letter to a beloved parent or friend for the holidays will make heartfelt, meaningful connections for people.

How has your life changed since writing your lovely book?

Writing this book helped me release a lot of the sadness I’ve been caring around for a long time. Finding the letters was life-changing for me because I felt like I was having a conversation with my mom. I could feel her personality, hear her voice, and I got a dose of her wisdom. I felt like she was saying to me, ‘It’s time to let go of the sadness.’ This is exactly what I’ve been able to do. I still miss her every day, but I’ve been able to finally make peace with her death.

I’ve also been hearing from so many people who love the book. They say that it’s helping them look at their own relationships, family traditions, connections, and I love this. I shared so much of myself in this book, for the purpose of helping other people. It thrills me that it’s doing that I had hoped it would do, and I know my mom would love this. I’m incredibly grateful I was able to write this book. It’s really a dream come true.

What has the reaction been to your book so far?

Wonderful. The book came out on September 1 and there have been podcasts, articles, Zoom events and there are more coming up this fall. There were a lot of in-person events that were put on hold because of the pandemic. Overall, people are really touched by it. It has been heart-felt after sitting, writing, and crying. People have said they appreciated that I was so open, honest, and real and they felt it.

I heard from so many women who said they lost their mothers when they were younger and they loved that I understood. They also wished other people would talk about these difficult issues and their feelings more. People often feel so alone and they said ‘you understood how it felt.’ If someone has lost their mom, or another loved one, it helps them deal with their grief in an easier way. I am sure a book like this would have helped me 20 years ago. And for those who are lucky enough to have their moms, the book connects with them and reminds us not to have regrets. I wanted you to have a joyful experience. I am so grateful for that.

[Dara’s daughters (L to R) Avi and Zoe]

How did your daughters, Zoe, 21, and Avi, 18, respond to the book?

I did a Facebook live with Avi and a webinar with Zoe. This has been so much fun. They are both extremely proud of me and the book. As close as we are, we’ve had some deeper conversations as a result of the book. When we were having the events I asked Zoe how she felt and was she aware of what I was feeling. My mom passed away right after I had Zoe, yet she didn’t feel my grief at all.

I know that our kids watch everything that we do. So, the way I managed my mom’s grief wasn’t the best way, but I don’t judge myself. My younger version of myself did the best that I could, and some of that was being stuck in my grief, and there are a lot of better ways to process it. So, I feel that I could have handled things a little differently. The older they get the book will mean a lot more to them as they mature. Right now, they are focused on being teens and in college than the deep themes in this book.

With COVID-19 restrictions and people feeling so disconnected your book is important right now?

I hope that people will give my book during the upcoming holidays and write a letter of love as a precious gift. People don’t really need more stuff, especially when we are not going out. But writing a letter to a beloved parent or friend for the holidays will make heartfelt, meaningful connections for people.

How did you handle your grief of losing your mom coupled with the joy of your new baby?

It was really hard. I felt lost and didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. I did my best to put on a happy face and be the best mom I could be. I also threw myself into my work, and had my best year ever as a financial advisor. I’ve learned you can’t run from grief and it eventually catches up with you. Distracting myself probably wasn’t the best way to handle the situation but at the time, I wasn’t ready to accept what had happened. I did go to counseling and eventually a support group for people who had lost a parent, but I was sad and angry and got stuck in my grief. I felt like my mom had been cheated, that we had been cheated, and this was hard to release.

[Inspiring Author Dara Kurtz]

What advice do you have for those going through difficult times of loss, especially during COVID-19?

Give yourself permission to feel all the feelings. Don’t force yourself to pretend you’re fine if you aren’t fine. It’s OK to feel sad and ask for help, and to tell people you aren’t OK. Acceptance of whatever situation you’re dealing with is very important. You can’t deal with something if you aren’t willing to accept whatever situation you find yourself in. Focus on what you had, not what you lost. For too long, instead of counting my blessings, I counted my losses. Being honest about your situation, and asking yourself what you can do to help yourself get through whatever life tosses your way, is a positive way you can help yourself. The hard part about loss is that no-one can do it for you and you can only distract yourself for so long. People have to be willing to let themselves feel the uncomfortable feelings of sadness and pain, to get through it, and eventually to the other side. It took me 20 years to figure this out!

Please tell me more.

During Covid-19, so many people are feeling disconnected from their loved ones, fearful about what could happen, and dealing with loss. The above will help with the loss. Being intentional about looking for ways to feel more connected to loved ones, even from a distance, is very important right now. A lot of what I share in the book about how to connect with people is very relevant right now. I’ve found that letter writing and using an online sharing journal are tools that help me feel more connected to the people I love and miss right now. And, of course, it’s all about taking care of yourself and trying to stay as healthy as possible.

What did your two daughters say about the finished book? Do you have an anecdote or two to share about them?

We’ve had some beautiful conversations because of the book, and they have done a few online events with me, since everything is via zoom, and this has been really fun. We’ve always been very close, and the older they get, I feel confident this will continue. My relationship with both my daughters and their relationship with one another is incredibly important to me and something I am very intentional about. Honest communication and loving not judging is the key. My daughters love the little notes I’ve always written to them, and I’ve been sending Zoe letters at college, which she loves.

One night during the pandemic, after spending months together, we were all bickering and feeling frustrated. We decided we needed to have an open conversation and late one night, the three of us sat up and hashed it out. The deal was, we could say whatever we needed to say, about whatever was frustrating us about each other. We promised we wouldn’t get defensive or angry, and then we would move on. My husband, Jon, came in and wanted to sit with us and participate.

Then what happened?

The three of us shook our heads, said absolutely not, at the same time, and that it was something we had to do together. I’m the stricter parent, and my daughters never get frustrated with Jon. My daughters agree that I can push their buttons more than anyone and vice versa. At the end of the night, we all hugged it out and laughed and it was exactly what we needed after months of being trapped in the house together. We aren’t perfect and our relationships aren’t perfect. It’s real, and that is incredibly meaningful to me.

I have a lot of really beautiful things, but my most meaningful possession is a bag full of old letters. The connections we have to the people we love and care about is what can fill us up right now. Turning to a friend or loved one when life feels overwhelming and not feeling alone. This is what matters so much to me.

What are the messages or life lessons you want to share with my readers?

Relationships take work. If you want to have a close relationship with someone, you have to be willing to make an effort and put the time in, and recognize it isn’t always going to be unicorns and rainbows. I’ve learned you get out of something that you’re willing to put into it. If you aren’t close to someone, it’s never too late. Be willing to open up, let yourself feel vulnerable, say what you want to say, and don’t hold back. Tell the people you love and care about how you feel.

[Loving Family — Avi, Dara, Jon, and Zoe Kurtz]

What other messages do you have to share?

You can’t control other people or what they decide to do. You can only control yourself and how you react in a given situation. You can’t force someone to want to have a close relationship with you or make someone like you. When it comes to mending relationships, I’d rather try and be disappointed than never try and always wonder.

What else do you want to say about this?

Give yourself permission to create the life you want to be living, and make sure you define success for yourself, based on what you think is important. You don’t want to wake up and realize that you’ve been chasing someone else’s dreams. I try to be really aware of this when it comes to my daughters and the decisions, they’re making for themselves. Of course, I give them my opinion, even when I’m not asked, but I have to respect what they want for themselves. I think they know I will always support them, even if we don’t agree.

What do you see as the ‘silver lining’ during this global health pandemic?

I would say the ‘silver lining’ is spending time with loved ones. I am literally talking to you while wearing my pajamas. I’ve hardly worn any of my cute outfits since the pandemic started. None of that feels necessary or relevant. It is time for a really important conversation right now — what is filling you up right now? If you are not into materialistic things it comes down to connections.

I have a lot of really beautiful things, but my most meaningful possession is a bag full of old letters. The connections we have to the people we love and care about is what can fill us up right now. Turning to a friend or loved one when life feels overwhelming and not feeling alone. This is what matters so much to me.

So, reaching out to people or taking the time to write and send a hand-written letter, especially during the holiday season. This is going to mean so much more than giving someone an ugly sweater. People are looking for meaningful ways to connect. People are starting to find that what really matters, and what is priceless, is going to the mailbox and getting a hand-written letter. It is such a nice gesture, especially after being isolated. It is a real gift!

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