MINNEAPOLIS — Ahead of Mother's Day, a local organization is raising $20,000 to support Minnesota girls whose mothers have died. Girls Rise Up, a program within the nonprofit She Climbs Mountains, provides young girls support through one-on-one matches with adult women who are also motherless. In addition to mentorship, they provide group activities.
For the president and founder, Christine Friberg, of Roseville, the cause is deeply personal.
Nothing could have prepared Friberg for the death of her mother at age 15. Her mother, Loralee, died after battling ovarian cancer for more than three years.
"Very quickly after she died, I realized that it changed how I was in the world," Friberg said. "It changed my lens, and I also realized I knew no one else with that experience."
She also said the death of her mother, who she described as smart and silly, was never talked about in her home.
"My dad was never overt about saying don’t talk about it, but we didn’t talk about it," Friberg said. "There was a message of not really processing, not really acknowledging the grief."
She says it wasn't until decades later, at age 39, that she connected with another woman at a prenatal yoga studio where she was working. At the time, Friberg was pregnant with her fourth child, and the woman, a soon-to-be mother, expressed anxiety and pain about becoming a new mother without having her own mom in her life.
"I said, 'I have resources I'd love to share with you,'" Friberg recalled telling the woman, and she shared with her articles and books that she'd found helpful. "Oddly, two weeks later, the same thing happened with a different woman."
Friberg soon found a calling to provide the type of support to other women that she felt she never had. She began offering a five-week course to motherless mothers at the yoga studio and soon expanded her reach to all women whose mothers have died, either at a young age or as an older adult.
In 2017, Friberg founded the nonprofit She Climbs Mountains. The name is an homage to her mother, a nature lover who had the goal of climbing Mount Rainier.
"She didn’t climb the actual mountain, but she did. It’s a metaphor. And it’s also a metaphor for grief. Those of us who are grieving daughters – that we are climbing this mountain together," Friberg said.
Climbing alongside Friberg is Shadia Tobkin, of Maple Plain. Tobkin's mother Hattie died when Tobkin was just 13, from lymphoma.
"My mom was fiery," Tobkin said. "She was six-foot-tall Lebanese woman from a small town in North Dakota but became a fashion major. She dressed like she was from New York. She definitely commanded a room."
Tobkin now serves as the program director for Girls Rise Up, working with Friberg to develop and schedule around 10 activities each year for girls. They partner with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the one-on-one mentorship part of the program runs similarly to other Big/Little matches.
"I have a Little in Girls Rise Up, and I think it’s maybe more healing for me than it is for her," Tobkin said. "She’s around the age that I was when I lost my mom, and I think it gives me so much more grace for myself and what I went through at that time, because a 13-year-old child is not able developmentally to be able to deal with the grief."
This weekend, Girls Rise Up is hosting a brunch, and She Climbs Mountains will hold a tea for members.
"I still have a hard time with Mother’s Day," Tobkin said. "Even though I’m a mom myself and I’m celebrated and loved on that day, it’s still a day that I’m a child and I don’t have a mom to be with."
However, she said it has been cathartic to serve other women in similar situations. Friberg feels the same way.
"It’s so meaningful to be with other people who just get it... who know what it is to live your life without your mom," Friberg said. "There’s so much comfort in being with people who just understand you."
To donate to the organization, visit this site.
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