Bestselling author Laura Formentini chatted about her moving book “Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing.”
“Twentyone Olive Trees” is more than just a book. It is her personal journey of transformation portrayed as a collection of letters and poetry she wrote to her son Blaise, after his death.
Before each of the letters, 21 fable narratives unfold, further illuminating this intimate look at coping with loss and acceptance that intrigues, inspires, and gives hope to readers looking for answers about life and death, and those who long to transform their grief into something beautiful.
She chose the title “Twentyone Olive Trees” because her son was 21 when he died, and they will plant twenty-one olive trees in his honor at a healing sanctuary that they are currently creating.
The olive tree is a symbol of many things, including longevity and peace, and the planting of them, and this book is her way of keeping her son’s story alive. The letters provide an insight into my shift from grief to understanding as she processes the circumstances of her son’s untimely death.
Blaise was not only her soulmate but her partner in crime on so many different adventures. She started writing these letters to him just about five weeks after his passing, which happened in the Western United States while she was abroad collecting stories of hope and transformation in Ethiopia, in early August 2019. He had a brief, yet very intense life here on earth.
They lived together on two different continents, and traveled seemingly everywhere around the world together, often to the most remote and unusual areas (such as Lappland in Northern Finland).
All the while they had amazing and profound conversations, ate the craziest foods, and exchanged as much laughter and eccentricities as they did confrontations.
Laura Formentini is an author, nonprofit photographer, and activist. While working as an advocate to encourage people to travel, see more of the world, and catalyze positive global change, she became a child welfare activist and a supporter of the prevention of cruelty to animals. Her philanthropic work spans the globe, touching lives in Puerto Rico, Kenya, Malawi, Italy, and numerous countries in Asia.
Over the years, Laura has sponsored more than forty children through Plan International, an organization that advocates for children’s rights and equality for girls. She is currently partnering with them to write a book revealing untold stories about the positive impacts of child sponsorship.
Laura is also writing “Coming Home,” a memoir about her philanthropic work in Africa, and finding creative ways to travel safely as she continues to spread the message that practicing “Love in Action” not only brings healing to our personal lives but holds the key to healing the world.
She holds a Bachelor of Science in Archaeology and Art History from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and has worked as an archaeologist in numerous European countries.
‘Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing’ is a deeply personal work. What made you want to share your story with readers?
On one of my African journeys, where I was collecting stories of transformation for one of my books, I received the news that my son had taken his life, on the other side of the globe. His name was Blaise, and he was an incredibly sweet, generous, and ultra-sensitive soul. We were what most people would call “soulmates.”
We had even planned to work together in the nonprofit field. I would fundraise, and we would tell stories of positive transformation through the documentaries he would create. We had both found our passions and shared the same emotions.
After receiving the call that would change my life, I will never forget how an Ethiopian stranger held my hand the entire day and didn’t let go until it was time for me to board my plane to go back to the United States.
Every few minutes, the stranger asked me in his beautiful Amharic accent (Amharic Is the official language of Ethiopia), “are you okay, my sister? Are you okay?”
While I was utterly distraught about how I would manage on the desperately long trip back without going crazy, his presence immediately became my lifeline. He met me as I shivered and shook and cried, not knowing what to do, how to handle the very long trip back, and also not knowing how he would take the situation with me.
I will never stop thanking the stranger for being with me that day because I wouldn’t have made it without him and his precious presence. When I asked him why he took such good care of me when he didn’t even know me, he answered, “I didn’t do anything special, Laura! It was my human responsibility.” And that is what motivated me to write my book, ‘Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing’.
Like the stranger, I have a human responsibility to lift as many people as possible with this book, which traces my path from devastation to acceptance and, eventually, healing. The book combines fables, poems, and letters to my son. All of it is accompanied by wonderful illustrations.
These are stories coming from my own actual experience of grief. I hope that these stories will give people something to hold on to during their grief and dark moments, like the stranger held my hand, so they can glow once again or find the wisdom needed to shine even brighter.
This book has been very popular with readers and reviewers, which is not surprising given its depth and beauty. While writing ‘Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing’ did you learn anything new about yourself?
The experience of writing this book turned out to be an enormous learning curve about myself, what I am capable of if I focus my energy and positive thinking, and why it is so important to look at things from a higher perspective. In an attempt to let out my unbearable pain in a cathartic way, I discovered my infinite inner strength, wisdom, and unique ability to move forward positively because I know it’s precisely what Blaise would’ve wanted.
How long did it take for you to write your book and what was one of the challenges you faced while writing it, and conversely one of your successes?
I started writing the first letters and poems to my son just a few weeks after he passed away, and I’d say, that from beginning to end, including the proofreading and formatting, it took about 2.5 years. Although it was tough to be completely vulnerable and put all of my emotions on paper, I learned that writing is very healing and that the more we face our feelings the faster we heal. I have also learned that all grievers go through a series of five emotions: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and eventually acceptance.
I believe it is possible to go beyond the acceptance phase and even heal. I have learned that experiencing the loss of a dear loved one transforms what you thought life was about. Even though their lives can never be restored, it is in our power to create lasting change in their honor and breathe new life into their transformation.
It is my experience that transforming my pain brought me back “home” in a spiritual sense. I have learned that everything in nature transforms; in fact, we all belong to the constant natural process of change, including birth, death, and rebirth.
Doesn’t the butterfly leave its chrysalis to take on its new wings to the air? Doesn’t the barred owl roost in its majestic nest, only to leave it after nesting season is over? Doesn’t transformation always include a next phase?
The knowledge will dawn on you powerfully, like nothing else in your life. They never have and will never leave you. I have also learned that meditation is essential as we go through our grieving process. It is beneficial because it reconnects us to our true self, which is peaceful and eternal, and we can always go back to that when we find ourselves in the midst of the turmoil of our day-to-day life.
What was the most interesting or meaningful feedback you have received from a reader about this book?
One of the best reviews states that “this book does a fantastic job of reminding you that despite terrible times, life is still possible and things can still become better; it is just a case of finding a new routine and coping mechanisms.
This book reminds you that grief and loss are awful experiences, but the impact on you really can vary and depends upon how much you let those feelings overwhelm you. It is a reminder that there is no shame in these feelings; it is just a more significant transformation and not the end of life but can become a new beginning.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to read this book, and I am so in awe at the author being able to process what she went through and create this gem as a type of self-help book for others.”
Since ‘Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing’ has been so popular, I have to ask – do you have another book or project in the works you can tell us about?
I have been working in the nonprofit field as a photographer for a few years, and I have also been a fundraiser for various causes around the world. I have been involved in animal welfare, children’s homes, and communities in Africa.
I have already completed another book, “Coming Home,” on my experience working with a children’s home in Kenya; it’s a beautiful story of unconditional love, resilience, and perseverance that I hope will inspire the younger generations to appreciate life and to learn that, in the end, we are all the same.
Her poignant book “Twentyone Olive Trees: A Mother’s Walk through the Grief of Suicide to Hope and Healing” is available on Amazon by clicking here.