Leigh Van Der Horst’s first book, Without My Mum, explores the sisterhood amongst motherless mothers. Featuring stories from mothers around the world, Without My Mum offers resounding reassurance that no motherless mother is ever alone. Van Der Horst features motherly wisdom from a inspiring popular personalities such as Jools Oliver, Lisa Wilkinson, Megan Gale, Amanda de Cadenet and Natalie Bassingthwaighte.
Q&A with LEIGH VAN DER HORST // WITHOUT MY MUM
THE BODY BOOK [TBB]: You’ve just written your first book, Without My Mum, about the loss of your mother to cancer. Tell us about how you made the decision to write about your experience.
LEIGH: When my mother died, I was 32 and felt so alone in my grief so I searched for ways to try to relate but never found anything that suited me at that time in my life, especially as I was a young mother to 3 little boys. It occurred to me over time that many other women felt the same and so I thought well, maybe it’s up to me to create what we all need, and so I did! The whole process took roughly 3 years, in between working and raising my boys (plus adding one more to the brood!).
TBB: You self-funded this entire project all the while being a mother and a part-time nurse. How did you find the courage to take this on? Where did that strength come from?
LEIGH: First and foremost, witnessing people that I love desperately trying to stay alive has given me a whole new outlook on life and in turn taught me that you do only live once and therefore, I feel that if you have a burning desire to accomplish something, then you just have to find a way to do it! Life is a precious gift and we all have courage and strength, it just might take something huge to bring those qualities to the surface. I had many times when the heavy weight of emotional baggage almost stopped me from continuing on with my book, but I knew how special it would be for many women and also how wonderful it would feel to see it in print. All of that just kept me going. I’m not going to lie though, it was an exhausting process as I mostly focussed on it late at night when everyone was in bed. My boys have been very patient with me. I’ve sure had some cranky moments during the creation of it!
TBB: What is the one thing you would want your sons to have learned from your mother that you try to instill in them yourself?
LEIGH: That life is what you make it. Mum used to say that all the time and for many years, I really didn’t understand the concept of what she meant. But now I do. I teach my boys that what they put in their life, they will get back. If they moan about how hard it all is, then it will be hard. It is so important to have a good attitude and perspective in life and be grateful, as at times, life can certainly be tough. The odd curve ball can come your way, that’s inevitable. It’s how you cope and deal with these moments that shape your life.
TBB: What is one thing that anyone going through the grieving process can do now to begin their healing?
LEIGH: A huge part of healing is acceptance. One of the major lessons I was taught after my mother died was that I couldn’t control the event, but I could control my reaction to it. Grief takes time. And everyone is different but once you accept what has happened and decide that you will move forward and embrace the life that you have, things just begin to feel a whole lot better. When I feel down, I just remember that my mum wouldn’t want to see me sad just as I would never want my own children to feel low, and then I rise up and face the world again. Losing someone we love is never ok but it’s extremely important that we live our lives to the full. That’s how we can best honour those we miss.
TBB: What does a grateful heart mean to you?
LEIGH: A grateful heart is simply a strong internal feeling that life is good. No matter what happens, I live each day aware that I have a blessed life. My life is not perfect but I choose to see the good moments in the day, and let go of things that don’t have a positive impact on my family or myself.
TBB: How do you practice gratitude in your everyday life?
LEIGH: It truly begins when my eyes open in the morning. Usually to my youngest who desperately beckons me! For that split second I do think ‘urgh, is it morning already?’ but then it all kicks in. All it takes is a minute to collect your thoughts and think ‘OK, it’s another beautiful day, bring it on!’ and you are on your way! I have a frantic life, as a mum of 4 I am dragged everywhere all the time and it does wear me down sometimes but I am so lucky. I really am. It’s being able to see through the exhaustion and fast pace and say ‘yep, it’s all good. I’m alive, I’m well, my family is happy, Life is good!’ I do however make a point every day to be still in a moment whether it be sitting quietly or watering the garden but I rest my mind. I listen to the world around me, I take a deep breath and I absorb the beauty. This is so important to me. I remember seeing my mother doing the exact same thing as a child and I would just look at her and wonder what she was thinking. Now I know. She was thinking ‘life is good’. And it is.