Grief is a difficult, messy subject to experience, much less to write about in a meaningful, healing way – but that’s exactly what Laura Formentini has done. Her beautiful skill with words has manifested “Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk Through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing”, written after the loss of her son, Blaise. They traveled the world and had many adventures, which inspired this elegant collection of letters and fables Formentini she wrote for her son, and now shares with us. Inspired, we wanted to know more about this prolific writer and more about this spiritual journey through grief.
Deepak Chopra says your stories about finding “daily miracles of healing and transformation and liberation” are a revelation and insight to wisdom. “Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk Through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing” paints a story of learning, healing, and love. What started this quest of writing this book?
In 2019, I was working in Ethiopia when I got word that my 21-year-old son had ended his life on the other side of the world. While I was preparing for my trip halfway around the globe by myself, an Ethiopian man, a stranger, stood by my side that entire day, holding my hand. He was a beacon in my darkest hour. When the time came for me to board that plane after ten or so hours together, I expressed gratitude for his kindness, but the stranger declined, saying that “he had done nothing special; it was his human responsibility.” This spontaneous act of compassion not only saved my life- it stayed with me.
When COVID-19 first began claiming thousands of lives in the United States and worldwide in 2020, the percentage of people grieving was a lot higher, and I was already dealing with the pain of my son’s suicide. Everything looked, felt, and sounded different all of a sudden. I was at a loss on what to do next, but the stranger’s selfless act of kindness toward me made me realize that we will never know how much our actions- big and small- may impact someone else’s life. While he didn’t think he had done anything special, his actions saved me. You could do the same and save someone else’s life. We will never know how the power of love inside each of us will unravel for others. This is why I have decided to make it a daily routine to practice acts of kindness. I decided to write Twentyone Olive Trees as a way to pay the Ethiopian stranger’s act of kindness forward and to help heal the wounds of the grieving. It was my way of starting the process of practicing random acts of kindness.
“Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk Through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing” is more than a book, it’s a place to process grief. What is something surprising you learned about grief while writing this?
I have learned that grief is indeed love that has nowhere to go. If we can let that love flow, instead of letting it stagnate inside our bodies and minds, we will realize that grief starts to dissolve. Although I first started writing the poems, and subsequently the fables, to heal myself, I soon realized that the process was incredibly cathartic and that maybe it could help many others going through their dark moments. Grief is a natural response to any form of loss, whether it’s death, an artificial or natural disaster, or even divorce or a job loss. It’s our natural way of mourning something or someone that is no longer in our reality. We have an attachment to something or someone, and we feel disoriented by the new fact. We don’t know where to place that love that was once so comforting. We are lost.
Losing a person who is dear to us can be the most traumatic experience. I know it can because I was in utter distress when I lost my son, and the pain was uncontrollable. However, when I started releasing my pain through writing, I suddenly felt a shift in mood. It was an incredibly positive shift. My emotions began to flow in different directions as I explored my creativity and unleashed my potential as a writer. The moment I realized that it could very well be a cathartic book for others, my whole being started to feel reactivated, and one thing led to another until I published my story.
“Twentyone Olive Trees” is not just a series of letters; it’s a journey through grief and healing. What do you wish readers to take away from this creative, powerful story?
I wish readers, particularly the trauma survivors, to feel that they can stop grieving and no longer feel stuck in their pain. I wish people to hear my tale of transformation and understand that undergoing a traumatic loss through all the stages of grief doesn’t have to end with “acceptance” but that it can continue to “heal” by learning how to step out of their specific problem and to elevate their state of mind instead. This happens by gaining a deeper awareness that by practicing random acts of kindness as a form of human responsibility, they can reconnect with the world and the universal truth that we are all in this together. It happened to me- a stranger saved me, and I repaid his act of compassion by creating a “friend” that sits with you throughout all the stages of your pain and suffering as you grieve.
Grief is something that many struggles to explain, much less expression through story and elegant words. While writing “Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk Through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing” did you have a special process or support system?
I knew that my mission was to write and complete a book to help others right after my very first few poems. I had a “knowing” since I’d wake up every morning around 3 or 4 with a strong urge to sit and write my story and create something helpful and cathartic for others. I would then light a candle, create a firm intention, and let the words flow. It was almost as if my son was there writing with me- we were (and still are) true soulmates, and it doesn’t surprise me to feel that our work together was meant to continue on two different dimensions. He was a strong empath, just like myself, and I know how difficult his time on earth had been. I feel our collaboration worked even better on two different planes of existence than on just our physical one.
You are not only a nonprofit photographer and philanthropist who strives to capture the stories of ordinary people, but you’re an empath. Being a writer and photographer, you’re a voice for empathic people navigating the struggles of life. Is there another book or project that we can look forward to?
I am currently in the process of publishing my other book, “Coming Home,” on my experience working at a Children’s Home on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, where I collected the autobiographies of the one hundred twenty orphaned children in the hopes that it would help the kids and teenagers of our “first world countries” put their lives in perspective. I am also looking for land to build my Twentyone Olive Trees Healing Sanctuary for grieving mothers, where mothers who have lost their children will be able to come and find hope, solace, inspiration, and connection with other mothers and healing practitioners from all walks of life. Although I have looked at different locations for the sanctuary, my heart is still in Costa Rica, where I have received many healing blessings myself and where life is connected with the powerfully nurturing energy of nature.
To find out more about Laura Formentini and “Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk Through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing” head over to Amazon.