Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

En route to visit Mom in a Minnesota care center July 6, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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A rural scene between New Ulm and Morgan.


THE HIGHWAY STRETCHED before us, long, like a line drawn through the landscape. Separating fields and farm sites under clouds suspended in an infinite blue sky. The type of clouds that identify a summer day in Minnesota. Southwestern Minnesota. It is my favorite of skies.


Agriculture defines this region of Minnesota.


Our destination, a care center, lay 120 miles to the west. As Randy and I traveled, I tried not to think about what may await us. Would the visit go well? I’d arranged earlier in the week for an outdoors visit with my mom as allowed now by the Minnesota Department of Health. It’d been nearly four months since I’d seen her, on the weekend before care centers closed to visitors due to COVID-19. My mom is on hospice, has been for a year. I recognize that in itself is remarkable. I needed to see her. Phone calls and/or video chats have not been an option due to her health.


A red barn pops among grain bins on this farm site along Brown County Road 29 near New Ulm.


Along the route, I like to photograph scenes. I set my camera on a fast shutter speed, try to frame as best I can and shoot through windows that are all too often splattered with bugs or reflecting sunlight. But I still photograph. It passes the time and allows me to share my world and perspectives in a way that words don’t always fully cover.


Acres and acres of corn and soybeans (with some oats and peas mixed in) spread across the southwestern Minnesota landscape, broken only by farm sites and small towns.


Once on the west side of Mankato, I feel like I’m entering my home territory, the place of expansive farm fields and wide skies. The place where I feel small compared to both. It is a familiar and comforting world. The place that shaped me and which I still hold dear.


My favorite beauty of a barn along Brown County Road 29.


Some barns are weathered by time and the elements and often fall into piles of rotting wood.


I’m wondering whether this barn/shed is old or new. No matter, it’s lovely.


I appreciate well-kept farm sites where owners show care in upkeep of buildings. Along Brown County Road 29, what I call the back road between New Ulm and Morgan, sit some particularly lovely old barns, a vanishing landmark. Few of these hold animals anymore, which leads to the demise of these once hardworking agrarian buildings.



I also am drawn to vintage silos, now abandoned. Farming has changed so much, making the buildings of our ancestors outdated and mostly now storage spaces or simply visual reminders of the past.


The front entry of Parkview Senior Living in Belview, our destination.


All of that I considered as the miles rolled before us. After a pit stop at a park restroom in Redwood Falls, we covered the last 15 miles, arriving at our destination 10 minutes late. Had I not stopped first at the Faribault Farmers’ Market for a garden flower bouquet, we would have arrived on schedule. But I wanted to bring Mom a gift. And flowers are universal in their ability to bring joy.

Following a temp check, health screening, providing contact info and signing necessary forms, we were ready for the supervised one-hour allotted outdoor social-distancing visit. I already expected the designated visit site, a patio in full morning sun and next to three noisy air conditioners, would not work. It didn’t. No one could hear and the heat was too much. We shifted to Plan B, which was to talk via phone with Mom on one side of glass doors/windows, us on the other. That also proved challenging as Mom didn’t understand anything Randy or I said. But the staffer, bless her, repeated whatever we said and thus we managed.

I found myself trying to talk on topics that would spark a connection with Mom. A mention of Curious George, which she’s developed a fondness for, brought a smile. The Parkview staff has ordered dvds for Mom (so caring) after discovering the naughty monkey of children’s book fame makes her happy and holds her interest. I brought two Curious George books and she smiled at the gift.

Mom also reacted when I talked about her childhood pet lamb, Duke. I recognize that memories of yesteryear are much stronger than the memories of 20 minutes ago for the elderly. The aide mentioned that Mom’s one-room country school teacher lives at Parkview, too. I knew this as Mom told me years earlier. Hazel is 104, Mom 88.

We held our cell phones up to the glass, showing Mom photos of her great grandchildren/our grandchildren, four and 18 months. She’s never met Isaac. But images of the pair and photos of her own grandchildren brought smiles.

When I observed Mom drifting, her eyes shifting away from us, I would wave my hands and say, “Mom,” and then she would come back, into the moment. That happened often. I could tell she was tiring and it was time to leave. As much as I wanted to rush through the glass barriers and hug her, I couldn’t. So I told her repeatedly that I loved her. And I fake-blew a kiss. And in that moment, as the aide swung Mom’s chair to wheel her back to her room, I felt a strong connection of love. A bittersweet moment. I just stood there and watched. My heart breaking, yet filled with gratitude for one more visit.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


36 Responses to “En route to visit Mom in a Minnesota care center”

  1. Bev Walker Says:

    Audrey, that was such a tender moment you shared bringing to mind memories of visiting on the farm. These times are so difficult for everyone especially the seniors! Hugs!!

    • It’s so good to hear from you, dear cousin. I thought of you when we were in Madison visiting “the kids.” Just returned today.

      But to the “visiting” you mention…such sweet memories. I always enjoyed your sister’s Tiger Beat magazines.

  2. Littlesundog Says:

    Gee, that’s difficult. Kind of breaks our hearts not to have the physical touch with our families. I’m glad you went to see your mom and so thankful the staffer was good to help. I spent yesterday in tears a lot – it was by baby sister’s birthday, and I miss her so much. I would have made my bi-annual trip to Nebraska between April and May this year, but COVID kept me from going. Now it will be September at the earliest before I can attempt it (will have the fawns weaned by that time), but who knows what the pandemic situation will be by then?

    • Oh, Lori, I am so sorry you had to cancel your trip back home and miss your sister’s birthday. This is such a difficult time for too many families. I have a friend who just canceled her trip from Connecticut back to visit family in Minnesota due to COVID.

      We went ahead and drove to Madison, Wisconsin, over the Fourth to see our second daughter, her husband and our son. (We haven’t seen them since February.) It’s only about a 4-4 1/2 hour trip. I was most impressed today by all the people at an interstate rest stop near Mauston who were masked. So good to see. When I was in a Madison convenience store picking up a bottle of lemonade, however, I had to give a “look” to two young unmasked men who were edging too close. My look and then a glance at the social distancing markers on the floor prompted them to move. They knew exactly what I was communicating.

      Again, I’m sorry for your missed trip.

      • Littlesundog Says:

        Thank you, Audrey. I really don’t go back for any celebration, it’s more my spring trip up there and then another in the autumn months. My mom is getting older, so it’s good to visit her and try to help her out a bit, and then to see family for a bit – I usually spend a week, stopping in Wichita going and coming back (breaks up the drive at the halfway point, and I have a niece and nephew there). This is the first trip I’ve missed in years. It’s made me a bit sad. I miss my family more than I thought I would.

      • I understand. I understand the aging mom. I understand the missing family. And I am so sorry you can’t see your family right now.

  3. Almost Iowa Says:

    Glad you got to spend a little while with your mom. So many people don’t have that opportunity that it makes us thankful for those who can.

  4. Ahhhh – so glad you got to visit with your mom 🙂 Take Care and Be Safe

  5. BERNADETTE Thomasy Says:

    So happy that you were blessed with that visit with your mother. In spite of all the challenges, you made the connections that were meaningful to you and her – precious moments. Your drive photos, especially the first one of the gorgeous Minnesota summer sky, made my day.

  6. Susan Ready Says:

    Oh my what a heartbreak to have your planned visit go to B and only visit through glass barriers. Maybe its better since the urge to HUG would be so great when face to face, What distressing times we live in and far worse for elderly who don’t really understand this new changed world thrust upon us. A visit no matter plan A or B or C does fill one with gratitude and even a sense of peace too. Prayers with you and your family.

  7. So sad, Audrey. Such a terrible time we are in when it comes to our loved ones that we cannot touch. ❤

  8. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    Hello, Audrey – Glad you got to see your mom, even if the visit wasn’t quite what you had hoped for. I think of my own parents often during this pandemic – both are gone, and I think they would have had a very difficult time with all of this. Sounds like your mom is well-cared for. That’s really important. Hugs.

    • Mom is definitely well-cared for by the incredibly loving, caring and compassionate staff at Parkview. Many of my family members (including grandparents and others) have called Parkview their final home. It’s in a small town where everyone knows everyone and that really makes a difference, I think.

  9. valeriebollinger Says:

    Grateful for your visit with your mom.
    Such a beautiful drive to get there!

  10. Norma Says:

    Audrey, I’m so happy that you were able to visit your mom. I know that made her happy also. I understand your feelings about visiting through the window. We have that here also. Our facility does allow us to go out for doctor appointments, but after the huge increase in the virus in the past few days, I’m afraid the rules will get stricter again. I am so angered and disappointed by the attitude of those that refuse to wear masks, and practice social distancing.

    • It’s good to hear from you, Norma. I am thankful you can get out some, even if it’s for a medical appointment. I hear cases are on the rise in southern California, among many many states. I feel the same about those who won’t mask up. Angry, disappointed, frustrated. It’s such a simple act of care for others.

  11. Beth Ann Says:

    I am so glad you had one more visit with your sweet mom. I am sure it was exhausting for all of you but much needed by all of you as well. I love her interest in Curious George and how great you could find a couple books to take. I am almost positive it was a bittersweet visit but how wonderful to actually see her in real life. What a blessing. Hugs.

  12. Liz W Says:

    Audrey, I very well understand the pain of having a parent suffer with dementia, but I was always able to be with mine, so I cannot imagine the grief it causes to not give your mom a hug or hold her hand. You have my sympathy. I am so glad you were able to have some kind of a visit with her, no matter how challenging. Hopefully, not your last.

  13. Liz W Says:

    I just read what you wrote about visiting Madison. Glad to know that some Wisconsonites are wearing masks. I must admit I have been very disappointed in my recent needed visits to Faribault with how few folks were wearing masks, including staff in the business I visited today. What is your take on mask use in Faribault or is this a subject you would prefer not to address.
    We haven’t seen our children and grandchildren since Christmas, and in the current circumstances, are not sure when we will be able to. I am sad and frustrated to say the least that our country is not pulling together to get on top of Covid-19.

    • Liz, I am so sorry you haven’t seen your kids or grandkids since Christmas. That’s a long time. Do they live far away? We took a bit of a risk in visiting our Madison family contingent. But we all needed to see one another. And, except for walks, hung out at either our son’s apartment or our daughter’s/son-in-law’s house. I would say people in Madison are doing a really good job wearing masks.

      As for Faribault, I agree with your assessment. I continue to feel anger, disappointment and frustration over how few people are wearing masks. And, as you note, even staff at local businesses. These local businesses want our business, yet they fail to show any care for customers. I don’t understand that attitude and am mad enough to take my business out-of-town. Just this morning, I shopped at two different grocery stores in Faribault. Neither cashier who checked out my groceries was wearing a mask. Other staffers were. Sure, there was a plastic shield, but that’s not a bubble. Yesterday it was staffers in two Faribault hardware stores who were not masked. In one hardware store, a few employees were masked; in the other only one teenaged employee. Really? And social distancing, what’s that?

      I saw a city of Faribault street department employee pull up to a Faribault hardware store yesterday and go inside without a mask. Ditto for a police officer not wearing a face mask or social distancing when talking to us and an elderly neighbor about six weeks ago. Really?

      Liz, I’d encourage you to email Governor Tim Walz (see his website for an online form) and share your concerns about the lack of mask wearing and the need to mandate wearing of masks. I did so yesterday. I am hopeful…with pressure from the MN Dept of Health and from the Retailers Association, that Walz will do the right thing for public health and safety.

      I have written some about mask-wearing, but have not made it the sole topic of a post. Thank you for sharing your observations and insights. Be safe and stay healthy.

      • Liz W Says:

        Audrey, unfortunately our families all live a long drive or a plane ride away. Texas for one – yikes! They do not want to bring anything to us, and we are reluctant to make the drives (which we normally like to do).
        Thank you for the suggestion about contacting Gov. Walz. It does sound like he is leaning that direction already.
        Incidentally, I had to make another trip to Faribault today to return some items I had ordered online from Joann Fabrics. Pleasantly surprised to see most customers with masks, but the clerk was wearing hers under her chin!
        You stay well.

      • I’m sorry you are so far from your family. That has to be really hard. We just spent several days at a family lake cabin with our two grandchildren, their parents and our son. A first for all of us together; one daughter and her husband couldn’t get off work. Lots of time in the water and also lots of time watching eagles and loons. Only our daughter and her husband left for a quick trip over to Nisswa (they reported masks required and worn). Cross Lake, not so much. We never left the lake property. A wonderful escape and retreat from reality.

        It’s good to hear your report of masks being worn by most at the fabric and craft store in Faribault. On our drive home today, we stopped at the Kwik Trip in Princeton. Staff was wearing masks. But not many customers. It’s so disheartening…

  14. Thank you for this beautiful post. I found you on wordpress reader and have been following your posts for a couple of months because I love your photos of rural Minnesota. I didn’t know we had 88-year-old-moms-on-hospice-with-dementia in common. I live in LA and my mom is in Hopkins. I visited her 3 times in the fall when we thought she was about to die, talked to her daily up until about a month ago, and now it’s too hard for her to answer the phone. I’m going to visit her this next week, hopefully before any more states issue quarantine orders for Californians. I”ve been wondering how to connect with her and I think a children’s book is a great idea. Last fall I read Anne of Green Gables aloud to her, but this time Curious George might be more appealing.

    • Welcome to Minnesota Prairie Roots! I’m happy to have you here enjoying my work.

      I’m sorry you are going through the same difficult challenges with your aging mom. Our stories certainly do sound similar. I hope you manage to connect with your mom somehow and find your visit meaningful. Safe travels. And, please stay well.

  15. We know that heartache well, and I’m sorry it can’t be easier to visit your sweet mom. These times are so hard with our aging parents who are in care centers. I’m thankful you were able to see her and visit as best you could.

  16. Missy’s Crafty Mess/Missy’s Handarbeid Says:

    Such a bittersweet moment! I’m glad you got to see her even if it wasn’t the ideal visit

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