Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk Through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing

    Grief and loss are not uncommon, but Laura Formentini’s ability to put heart to paper is a gift. In the year following her son’s sudden death, Formentini was inspired by poets like Deepak Chopra to process her journey through words. A beautiful, playful collection of letters and fables written to her son, “Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk Through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing” gives us insight to the healing process. Acting as a guide, we walk with Formentini as she transforms grief with love. After reading the inspiring work, we had some questions for this gifted, inspiring writer.

    “Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk Through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing” is an intriguing title. What is the meaning behind Twentyone Olive Trees?

    I was working in Ethiopia in 2019 when I received word that my 21-year-old son had taken his life on the other side of the globe. An Ethiopian man, a stranger, stood by my side that entire day, holding my hand for 10 hours or so as I was ready for my trip halfway across the world on four different flights and thirty-five hours alone. In my darkest hour, he was a guiding light. I conveyed my gratitude for his kind gesture when I was finally ready to board my first flight, but the stranger declined, claiming that “he had done nothing exceptional; it had simply been his human responsibility.” This selfless act of kindness saved my life and stayed with me.

    While I was back in the United States, only five or six weeks after my son’s death, I felt compelled to begin writing. While it was an initially cathartic means of releasing my suffering, I gradually realized that sharing my story might help others relate to my pain and not feel alone in their grief. Grief is love that has nowhere to go, and writing has much aided me in allowing that emotion to flow rather than stagnate. We may liberate ourselves from the darkness, become free, and reconnect with the world in a much more meaningful way if we create an intention to let our emotions flow and move as quickly as possible.

    I picked the title “Twentyone Olive Trees” because my son Blaise was twenty-one at the time of his passing, and the olive trees because they symbolize strength, power, and an undeniable connection to the earth. They represent a will to not only live but to thrive. I have seen some olive trees in Southern Italy and Greece that are nearly one thousand years old and have survived the elements for so long. The book is subdivided into twenty-one chapters, with a fable and a poem in each one, where the fables capture the wisdom that my son and I learned living and traveling together. In contrast, the poems are very personal and reflect the arc of my transformation from the initial uncontrollable pain to, eventually, my acceptance and healing.

    Writing is obviously a powerful healer. Are there other ways you practice healing and self-care? 

    I have been practicing yoga, transcendental meditation, and walking meditation in nature for years, which are powerful reminders that we are all on a temporary journey here on Earth. Meditation isn’t as hard as many people think, and it’s one of, if not the most important, vehicles to stay connected to our purpose and, at the same time, grounded. The practice of daily journaling is also potent. Instead of keeping our thoughts in our minds, we can let them flow on paper and re-read them at any time in a second moment to reassess our thoughts and potentially see how much we have grown in the meantime. I also love museums since I have an archaeology and art history background. When I’m in a city with a lot of them, I try to fit in as many exhibits and art as I can; when I can’t travel, I learn as much as I can via Wondrium, one of my favorite paid programs. Surrounding myself with beauty, learning, and history raises my vibration when I feel depleted.

    “Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk Through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing” is about facing, processing, and accepting grief. Your powerful words even find hope and peace beyond grief. How did writing help you with this journey?

    Writing Twentyone Olive Trees has been a cathartic and emotional experience. As I worked on the book, I shed many tears and did much introspection, cleansing, and letting go. It felt like something I should write for myself first, then share with the rest of the world. I eventually saw that it was supposed to be a gift, just like a dear friend sitting next to you and comforting you in your darkest hours, reminding you that it’s OK to cry and grieve, that it’s OK to experience all that agony. Still, it’s also OKAY to let go and recover. Healing does not imply that you stop thinking about your loss but rather think about it differently. It entails letting up resistance, embracing what is, and being grateful for our journey’s development.

    “Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk Through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing” is filled with fables that give insight and joy. Which story is your favorite?

    “The Boy and the Bronze Statue” is my favorite story. It means a lot to me because it depicts my son Blaise’s journey while attending film school in Prague, Czech Republic, which I visited several times while he was there. Prague has a mystical air; its beauty is almost ethereal, and it’s the ideal backdrop for my son’s story of frantically trying to fit in a world where he just felt alienated. He pursued acting not for the sake of fame or fortune but for the love of the trade, and he was fortunate enough to meet some fantastic people while attending school there. His empathy and deep sensibilities, on the other hand, were always in jeopardy as he found it so challenging to be connected to the material world. He is even depicted in the illustration at the end of the narrative when he had long hair. There are several references to Blaise in the book, but they are subtle, and only those who knew him may notice them.

    You’re not just a writer, you’re also a non-profit photographer and philanthropist. You use your heart and gifts in so many ways. After writing such a momentous work, do you have anything else planned you hope to share?

    One of my goals is to establish a healing refuge for grieving mothers called Twentyone Olive Trees Temple, where women who have lost a child can find hope and healing and where I will plant an olive grove for meditation and rejuvenation. I’m now considering several destinations throughout the world. However, Costa Rica remains one of my favorites. The center will serve as a place of renewal, reconnecting with ourselves after such a tragic loss and connection with other mothers who have experienced similar tragedies. The quickest route out, in my opinion, is through. Even though losing a child is by far the most terrible occurrence a mother can face, we all possess the power and strength to overcome any obstacle, especially if we connect with like-minded folks and feel our hand is held in our darkest hour. Although we must remember that an infinite source of wisdom and love runs through us at all times and that we are always supported and cherished, it is sometimes necessary to feel that our environment is supportive enough for our growth and advancement and that we are never alone in our grief, especially in the early stages.

    What kind of music are you listening to when you are writing, and when you are off the clock? Who are your favorite artists? 

    I am a fan of folk music and Peia Luzzi. I was first introduced to Peia’s music when I did an ayahuasca retreat in Costa Rica. Her mesmerizing rhythms and soaring vocals are timeless and transcendent. With Liron Meyuhas on percussion and Peter Klaassen on double bass, the trio hails from the United States, Canada, and Israel. They create a deep organic soundtrack by weaving together rich groves, powerful percussion, expansive, ethereal vocals, and layers of charangon and harmonium. Their performances include accurate re-imaginings of traditional folk treasures. I also love Nessi Gomes and Ajeet Kaur. Ajeet is a yogi and recording artist who draws on the spiritual traditions of Ireland, India, and other world folk traditions in her music and teaching. Her love of yoga, meditation, and spiritual music collide with her traditional Irish heritage and her everlasting love of poetry expressed via song.

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