The lyrics brought me to tears. Sobbing. A week after I followed family into the St. John’s Lutheran Church sanctuary, behind Mom’s casket, and settled onto a pew only feet from her coffin.
On that January 22 morning, with “Amazing Grace” as the funeral processional, tears did not fall. Nor did they in the immediate days thereafter. But a week later, while watching the movie, I Can Only Imagine, grief bubbled over. I cried as I listened to “Amazing Grace” in a funeral scene. Actor J. Michael Finley, playing Christian musician/vocalist Bart Millard of MercyMe, sat in a pew at his father’s funeral. When the camera shifted from Finley to his father’s casket, my own new grief erupted.
It is a process, this grieving. For me, the process began years ago as Mom’s health declined. Every time I saw her, which was not often in the past two years due to COVID-19, I felt like it would be my last. And so I savored each visit—the moments of connection, the glimpses of recognition, the slightest of smiles. I hoped my presence comforted her, brought her a bit of joy, reassured her of my love. This was about her, not me.
And so here I am, approaching three weeks since her death, only now feeling the depth of my mother’s forever absence on this earth. On Sunday I removed pictures from photo boards I crafted. Storyboards which highlighted her life. Photo collages intentionally focused on her. Not me or others. But on her and the story of her life.
On my dining room wall hangs a framed print, “The Good Shepherd,” a wedding gift to my parents in 1954. It always hung in their bedroom and then on my mom’s care center wall until the end. Now I have this cherished art, this visual reminder of Mom’s faith. For 67 years, that image of Jesus, “The Good Shepherd,” reassured and comforted her, just as it does me today. In my grief, especially in my grief.
TELL ME: Dear readers, do you have a special piece of art, a song, something that reminds you of a dear loved one now departed? I’d like to hear what touches your spirit/comforts/uplifts you when you think of a loved one (s) now gone.
DEAR GOOD PEOPLE of Faribault and surrounding area, free N95 face masks from the national stockpile are now available locally.
Thursday evening Randy and I popped into Faribault’s Hy-Vee for our N95 masks, which offer the best masking protection from COVID-19. When properly fit, they filter out 95 percent of particles, according to info I’ve read. That means you’re protecting yourself and those around you (should you unknowingly have COVID). Of course, vaccines with boosters are the top way to protect ourselves and each other.
When I asked for my masks (with Randy standing next to me), the pharmacy clerk said, “It’s only three per household.” Wrong. I corrected her as did her supervisor. It’s three per person. I also suggested that perhaps Hy-Vee grocery store employees could wear N95 face masks. Set an example. Protect themselves and their customers. After all, the business is giving away masks…so why aren’t employees masking? I like their smiling faces, but I’d prefer they wore masks during this pandemic. It’s the right thing to do.
I appreciate the federal government’s efforts to get 400 million N95 masks to the public. Finding those masks anywhere has proven difficult. And I could have used about 150 of them last weekend to give away.
Right now I don’t see any other places locally for the general public to get the free N95 masks. Walgreens does not list any Minnesota locations for free distribution. But this can change. So, if you can’t get to Faribault Hy-Vee or they’re out, places like Walmart, CVS, etc. may have the masks soon.
TELL ME: If you have tips on where to find free N95 masks, please share, whether you live in Faribault or beyond.
If you’re anti-mask or anti-vax, don’t bother to comment. I moderate comments and won’t publish such viewson this my personal blog.
IN THE RAWNESS OF GRIEF at my mother’s death on January 13, I feel such gratitude for the love and support I have received and continue to receive from people in my life. That includes you, my dear readers and friends. Thank you.
Thank you for your tender comments here. Thank you for the cards and notes. Thank you for the texts and emails and phone conversations. Thank you for the prayers, the care, the concern, the encouragement.
I feel uplifted, deeply loved by the blogging community and by those with whom I am otherwise connected. In grief, I need to lean into your words. Into your expressions of care. To not feel alone.
Some of you noted that you feel like you knew my mother via the stories and photos I’ve shared on Minnesota Prairie Roots. I appreciate that you feel connected to her because of those posts. She was the essence of kindness, compassion and care. A woman of faith living her faith.
Thank you for understanding the depth of my loss and how especially difficult these past two-plus years of only limited visits with Mom due to COVID-19 restrictions in her long-term care center. This pandemic creates challenges that add unnecessary stress to the grief process, too. It’s been hard, really hard.
A post will be forthcoming about my dear sweet mom. But I need time yet to process my loss, to reflect, to cry. Thank you for being here for me. Yesterday. Always. I am grateful.
WORDS MATTER. Which we use, how we use them and when. They can hurt. They can uplift. They can communicate a message. They can unite. They can divide. Words are, undeniably, powerful. And sometimes we’re better off not speaking or writing them.
When words are used in anger, in a knee-jerk reaction to something, then the consequences are often negative. “Think before you speak” seems particularly sage advice. Yet, we all forget and fail to filter our thoughts before they slip off our tongues or fingers.
Likewise, I find myself also pondering the depth of words, particularly when asked, “How are you?” More often than not, at least here in Minnesota, that’s a trite question. The expectation is that you will answer, “Fine.” Even if you’re anything but fine. People don’t necessarily want to hear about your problems/struggles/challenges.
But I challenge you the next time you ask, “How are you?”, to ask like you care. And by that I mean pausing, focusing, looking the other person in the eye and picking up on cues that indicate maybe, just maybe, everything isn’t all right. Listen. Take the time to show genuine care without interjecting your story. Empathy is good, but not at the expense of turning the conversation on you.
TELL ME: What thoughts do you have on words, whether written or spoken? What about listening? Is it a lost art?
A CHANCE ENCOUNTER while hiking at Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center in late November led me down the rabbit hole of internet surfing on a cold January afternoon. How did I get there and what did I discover? Here’s the backstory and then the story. Sit back and enjoy.
The story begins with me and my camera. I carry my Canon EOS 20-D with me nearly everywhere, especially to natural spaces like River Bend. Another photographer—a young man—happened to notice and inquired about my camera. We talked equipment for a bit before I continued down the woods-edged trail and he returned to senior portrait photography.
Later, while walking across the parking lot, I spotted a colorful car covered in messages. I put two and two together and determined this vehicle belonged to the young photographer I’d met earlier. I liked the car, a work of art really, enough to snap a few frames.
The video title intrigued me, mostly because I wondered where Curtis would go with the topic. I quickly found out. He went to Walmart. And then to Hy-Vee Grocery Store. There he randomly asked shoppers and staff for tips on getting a girlfriend.
Many of them, much to my surprise, responded to the teen thrusting an over-sized microphone toward them. Only one seemed concerned about what Curtis would do with the recording…before giving a lengthy, thoughtful answer.
And what did the fine folks shopping for food and other goods or working advise this teenager about getting a girlfriend?
Be kind. Be nice. Be gentle. Be honest. Be real. Be confident. Be a “good person.” Be yourself. Be the best version of yourself.
Have a sense of humor. Tell a few jokes.
And then there’s this one: Hang out in the right spots (although “right spots” were not defined).
Curtis ends the video by interviewing a girl who wants to be just a friend, not a girlfriend. I sensed her uncomfortableness in the questioning.
I found the video entertaining, interesting and insightful. Interviewees offered great tips, many sharing the same advice. Curtis handled himself well. He seems real, confident, nice, kind and possessing a sense of humor. I’d say he’s got it covered in the qualities he needs to find a girlfriend. Whether he’s connected with a young woman beyond friendship in the year since crafting this video, I don’t know. He’s young, there’s plenty of time for relationships…
TELL ME: What tips would you give Curtis about getting a girlfriend? Or about life in general?
NOTE:In watching this video shot a year ago, I noticed something I rarely see in Faribault now: people wearing face masks to stop the spread of COVID. At the time, a state-wide mask mandate was in place.
SHE DIED ON THURSDAY EVENING. My mom, 89, the woman who birthed me and cared for me and set an example of kindness, faithfulness, love and compassion that I strive to emulate.
I feel simultaneously sad and thankful. Sad because I’ve lost my mom. Grateful because she is no longer struggling to breathe, to manage pain, to endure all the challenges of a body in failing health. She is at peace now. In heaven. Reunited with loved ones. With her Lord. That comforts me.
Because I have yet to see Mom in death, my grief seems stifled. Not yet unleashed. I have not experienced a crying-my-eyes-out moment over her death. Over other matters, yes. But the uncontrollable tears of mourning will come. Soon.
In these first days of decisions and stressors and sleepless nights and exhaustion so extensive I wonder how I can function, I press on. Soon things will settle and reality will arrive like an unwelcome visitor. And when that happens, I will be ready. Sort of. I recognize that losing one’s mother is unlike any other loss in its profoundness.
For now, my posting may be irregular. I promise a future post in which I share more about my dear sweet mother.
I should haven known all of this. And the reality that I didn’t weighs on me as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day today.
Eight years to the date after Emmett died, 250,000 people gathered in DC for the March on Washington for jobs and freedom. During this event, King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
I expect young Emmett, who lived in Chicago with his mother, but was visiting family in Mississippi when he died, had dreams. He had his entire life ahead of him. His mother warned him, before he headed south on the train, that attitudes toward African Americans differed from those in the north. She advised him to be careful. Cautious around white people. He was reportedly killed after flirting with a married white woman in a shop.
His death is tragic beyond words. His grieving mother determined to carry on, to reveal the truth, to raise awareness. Mamie Till Mobley spent the rest of her life speaking about racial injustice. And that began with her decision to have an open casket. She wanted the world to see her son—how he had been beaten, shot, his eyes gouged out before his body was tossed into the river.
As I watched this real-life story unfold in the television drama, I sobbed. At the unfathomable cruelty. At the senselessness. At the grief of a mother who endured the unthinkable.
Just months after Emmett’s death, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama. Soon thereafter, a 26-year-old pastor, Martin Luther King Jr., called for a city-wide bus boycott.
And here we are today, decades later, with racial injustice issues still existing. Certainly, progress has been made. But in recent years, it feels like we’ve regressed. Discrimination. Efforts to squelch voting rights. Murder. Hatred flaring.
I admire Mamie Till Mobley for her courage and tenacity. Her strength. Now it’s up to each of us to honor her son by doing our part. Love. Respect. Speak up. Care. Do what we can to assure that no other mother—although there have been many since—loses a child to hatred.
“THERE’S NOTHING ANY of us can do about it,” she said. I disagree.
“What a mess,” she texted. I fully agree.
Those assessments came in recent communications with two family members about the current state of COVID. While a certain resignation themes both comments, they differ.
I believe we hold the power to “do something” about COVID. We’ve always had the ability to end this pandemic. If only we would listen. And act. But now we’re in so deep to this not listening to health and science, but rather to the voices of misinformation and untruths and politics, that I wonder when we will ever get to the other side. (Note that I’m thankful for those of you who do listen to health and science and act.)
PROTECTING & PREVENTING
So what can we do? First and foremost, get vaccinated and that includes getting boosted. (Thank you to those who have done so.) I am aware of far too many individuals who went unvaccinated, got COVID and then died. Perhaps they didn’t believe the science, distrusted the vaccines, listened to a loved one/friend/politician/social media/doctor (yes, even a doctor) advising them not to get the shot, believed they were not at risk for serious illness or death. Reasons vary, but the end result was the same. Needless deaths. That breaks my heart.
None of us knows how COVID will affect our bodies. Until we get it. There’s no guarantee on outcome. But being vaccinated, and following CDC guidelines, assures us that we have done all we can to protect ourselves (and others) from severe disease and/or death. Data backs that.
THE FAITH COMPONENT
As a woman of faith, I’m particularly bothered by the attitude that we don’t need the vaccine because God will protect us through natural immunity or otherwise. He also gave us scientists, researchers and others who develop life-saving vaccines. I consider those individuals, those vaccines, a blessing. Just like I consider other advances in medicine through the years an absolute blessing. Without advances in medicine, and an acceptance of them, we’d be living in the 1800s and early to mid-1900s with women dying in childbirth, children dying of disease, too many people dying of heart attacks… Our life expectancy would be low.
I believe in the power of prayer and I trust in God. Yet, I wouldn’t stand on a railroad track, praying and trusting that God will stop a locomotive barreling toward me. That doesn’t mean my faith is lacking. Not at all. But recognizing the danger and then getting off the track would certainly be a wise decision if I wanted to live.
MASK UP, PEOPLE, JUST DO IT
We have plenty of tools to “do something” about COVID. That includes masking (N95, KN95 or tight-fitting multi-layer cloth over surgical, if you don’t have 95s), staying home if we’re sick, testing (yes, I recognize securing a test right now can be difficult), avoiding crowds, social distancing… Yet, I don’t see this necessarily happening. At least not in Faribault or in rural areas (especially) of Minnesota. Shopping at the grocery store recently found me attempting to slip past two unmasked men conversing and blocking an aisle. That’s not uncommon. Most people in Faribault do not wear face masks in public.
Our city, public school and county require masking inside their facilities. But when I stopped at the library a few days ago, I saw unmasked patrons. A notice on the front door states that masks are required. Masks are even available on a table. I can cite many other examples, but I think you’ve all seen the lack of masking or the ineffective half-masking/”chin diapers”/gaiters/clear plastic face shields.
I wish that employees at grocery stores and other local businesses would wear face masks. That would set an example and show me that the business cares about the health and safety of its customers and of the community in general. The same goes for houses of worship, a place where I would expect mask-wearing as a way to show love and care. These places need to require, not just recommend, face masks. Some Minnesota schools (Owatonna and Worthington, for example, but others also) are only now just requiring face masks. I’m not sure why it took so long, but I expect community resistance factored in.
LISTEN TO THE PLEAS & WARNINGS
What a mess. The mess we’ve gotten ourselves into reaches into every facet of our lives, particularly into healthcare and schools. Staffing shortages in hospitals threaten all of us. In Minnesota, hospitals are overwhelmed. Full. Once again, surgeries are being delayed. Quality of care is being affected as our healthcare providers are stretched thin. That’s according to media reports. I feel for doctors, nurses and other medical personnel who are overwhelmed, frustrated and stressed by caring for COVID patients in this ongoing pandemic. I hear their pleas to the public. Their warnings. Minnesota government officials announced a plan Wednesday to hire temporary nurses, although I’m uncertain where they will find them. It’s a good, and necessary, move.
And in our schools, rising numbers of COVID cases are creating staff shortages and pushing some schools back to distance learning. Faribault Middle School went to distance learning today. And the high school goes to online classes on January 19. The plan now is to return to in-person learning on January 24.
More and more families are delaying funerals. That’s emotionally difficult, yet wise in days such as these. The family of Edward Kohman of Faribault writes in his obituary that a celebration of life for the 84-year-old will be held later “when it’s warmer and perhaps safer to gather.” He died as a result of COVID. The family goes on to write: Dad was vaccinated, but if you want to do something to honor his life, please make sure you are too. I appreciate when a family, even in their grief, considers the health and safety of others, and encourages vaccination. What a loving way to honor the man they loved.
It seems inevitable that all of us will get COVID given the highly-contagious omicron variant. But this is no time to give up. Vaccines, masking and other preventative/protective measures remain especially important. Now, more than ever, we need (like the Kohman family) to think beyond ourselves to the greater good, if we want to get ourselves out of this mess.
NOTE: I moderate all comments and will not publish anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-science, anti-health and/or misinformation on this, my personal blog.
AT RIVER BEND NATURE CENTER in Faribault, you’ll find an abundance of inspirational memorial messages. On benches. On pavers. Even under a tree near the interpretative center.
Recently, I paused to read this quote: Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
The message seems especially fitting right now, as many of us seek beauty in nature while living in a pandemic world. My appreciation for the outdoors/for nature and the peace and escape it provides has deepened in the past two years. A walk in the woods, along a river, across the prairie, anywhere outdoors, renews my spirit. Strengthens me.
I wondered about the source of the quote I photographed. It comes from Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, published in 1962. The American writer, marine biologist and conservationist is credited with launching the environmental movement with her book. She was deeply concerned about the future of our planet. Her writing prompted changes in laws that protect our world, our environment.
I feel gratitude for writers and environmentalists like Carson. But I also feel grateful for Ruth and Harry, “Strong People Who Loved Nature.” Strength and love go a long way in this world.
WHEN SOUTHERN MINN SCENE, a regional arts and entertainment magazine in southern Minnesota resumed publication late last year, I reclaimed my column. I’m delighted to be back crafting “Through a SoMinn Lens,” an essay of images and words, but mostly images.
A look back at 2021 themed the recently-published January issue. I titled my piece “Reflections and hope during a pandemic year.” I wrote a reflective essay and then searched my photo files for supporting images.
I encourage you to view my column, which features 26 photos, by clicking here. I aim to tell the story of 2021 in southern Minnesota from an everyday perspective. Through my camera lens as I’m out and about. I focus on words, people, events, nature, art, small town Main Street… This is my world. Perhaps your world, too. Or maybe a place not at all familiar.
Yet, wherever we live, whatever we do, we share the commonality of humanity. We need to remember that as we begin 2022, as we continue pushing through this pandemic with hope.