Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Moving through grief January 31, 2022

My Grandma Josephine holding her baby daughter, my mom Arlene, in 1932.

AMAZING GRACE, how sweet the sound…

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.

Me with my mom during a January 2020 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling)

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.

A portion of a photo board I created of my mom and with her parents and siblings.

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.

Mom’s “The Good Shepherd” art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

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.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


18 Responses to “Moving through grief”

  1. beth Says:

    my heart goes out to you, and i’m happy you understood how precious those times together were. i still have my dad’s tam that i bought when i was visiting the uk, and it has his pin of our family crest on it. he was always so proud of his irish-scotch heritage. it sits in the corner of my house, atop an old knotty hickory cane that belonged to my irish great-grandfather from his home in ireland.

    • Thank you, Beth, for sharing about your dad’s tam now resting on an old knotty hickory cane. I can visualize that and how every much this means to you. What a lovely tribute you’ve shared this morning. I appreciate it.

  2. Thanks for sharing her life through the years as well as her celebration of life with your readers. There are some songs for me that require a box of kleenex. I was gifted my grandparents marriage certificate by my parents which they framed and have hanging by my side of the bed. It is pretty ornate and I treasure it. I need to add some other pieces from my Wedding and my parents Wedding to finish out the wall art piece. 2021 was rough in losing 4 amazing people in my life (two like fathers and two like sisters). Sending love and hugs – take care and be blessed my friend.

    • Renee, what a loving tribute to your grandparents to have their marriage certificate displayed beside your bed. I like your idea of building on this as a themed art piece. I am deeply sorry for the loss of four dear ones in 2021. That’s a lot to handle. May peace be yours. With love and hugs.

  3. Valerie Says:

    My father was a carpenter by trade, and he built a corner cupboard for my mother for their 25th anniversary. He died shortly after that. I now have that corner cupboard and love it!

    • I can only imagine how much you treasure that cupboard crafted by your father’s hands for your mother on their 25th wedding anniversary. What a loving gift. That his death came shortly after that anniversary is just like the death of my maternal grandmother. Within months of my grandparents celebrating that anniversary, Josephine died, two months after my birth. I know you will forever treasure that cupboard. Thank you for sharing about that much beloved piece.

  4. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    With losing Ricks’ parent in these last 2 years, I feel your pain to some degree only I still have my parents, for that I am thankful. I’m so sorry for your loss, the grief is not something that just goes away, so many things remind you of the ones that are now gone and then the grief returns! We were given a wind chime when Rick’s dad passed, it hangs on our gazebo outside, every time the wind blows we hear the chimes which reminds us of him. A photo that I took of their 50th wedding anniversary is in our dining room, so we are reminded often of them. I’m glad you have the photo of Jesus that belonged to your mom, that in itsself is “Peace”

    • What wonderful reminders of Rick’s parents in the melody of that wind chime and in the beauty of that photo. I’m thankful you have both, Jackie. I know you, too, are grieving and I’m sorry for the loss of two very dear people in your life.

  5. Jane Larson Says:

    Your mama was a pretty lady – as was your grandma Josie. What a gift for you and your family to have had these dear ones in your lives.

    You asked your readers to share stories of things that remind us of a lost one. When my father died from brain cancer at 72 in 1999, I didn’t grieve right away. He had been ill and in pain for so long; finally he was at peace. Weeks later, I thought I saw him drive by in a car. That was odd, I thought, but then it happened again many times over the next few years. I saw him in the distance walking away from me, passing me by going out of a store as I was going in, another time across a street walking in the opposite direction. I can’t explain why these images happened — I wasn’t particularly close to my father, although I knew he loved me and I him. Yet, because of his “presence,” I didn’t cry for him. In some weird way, it was almost like he hadn’t passed on. Then one day, these little happenings stopped. When I realized it, I had a long, hard cry. Grieving is different for everyone as is the timing of the impact of the loss.

    • Jane, thank you for sharing those post death incidences of your dad’s presence. It’s interesting how grief works. And you are right in that we all grieve differently and in our own time. The one commonality is that grief is universal and we can support one another through that grief. I definitely feel the love and support here.

      I never knew my Grandma Josie since I was only two months old when she died of a heart attack at age 49. But I am told she was a loving and caring woman, just like my mom, Arlene. My mom’s siblings are the same. I’ve had many conversations with Dorothy, Rachel and John in recent years, and especially in the time since their sister died. None of them attended the funeral due to distance, personal health and/or COVID concerns, so I’ve made an extra effort to connect with them as they, too, grieve.

  6. I’m glad your grief has finally released a bit through a good cry. I have a few things from my parents that keep them close to me: my dad’s cap from the 934th Tactical Airlift Group at Fort Snelling, my mom’s diamonds from her wedding band which have been reset into my own wedding band. For a while I had my dad’s Bianchi bicycle; I was so reluctant to let it go even though it didn’t really fit my body very well. When my daughter-in-law mentioned she wished she had a bike, we brought out my dad’s and it worked for her. I knew it was time to pass a piece of him on. Even though she doesn’t ride it now, my son Shawn has hung on to it. It is interesting to see what brings us closer, what calls up the best images of the people we miss.

    • Kathleen, thank you for sharing about your dad’s cap, your mom’s diamonds and then that bike, now gifted to your son and DIL. It’s ben so interesting to read the comments here about how we each connect to those we’ve lost.

      One other thing I hold especially dear are my mom’s journals. Decades of documentation, beginning in 1955. I will spend a lot of time this winter reading these. To see her handwriting, to read of her life as a new bride, then a mother and eventually a grandmother is such an incredible legacy, story. I’ve had these for awhile, but had only read snippets. Now seems the time to pull out the journals and savor her documentation of life in her daily entries.

  7. The grief comes in waves as you well know. I am working on a shadow box of memories for both my mom and dad. There are so many things I want to include and I just have to sit down and concentrate on what all I can include. I am so fortunate to have so many things that I can include but the memories—- those are always with me. Keeping you close in my prayers.

    • Thank you, Beth Ann. I love your idea of creating a shadow box. That will prove therapeutic and healing and bring back so many wonderful memories. I appreciate your prayers. You understand, just over a year removed from losing your dear mom.

  8. I’m so sorry! Those waves of grief sneak up on you really fast. I remember bursting into tears in Walmart while looking at honey. I found some straws with flavored honey that my Sister had loved as a child. Keeping you in my prayers!

    • Thank you for sharing that memory of your sister in a honey stick. That is so sweet (pun intended). Another blogger shared in an email how a bottle of molasses on a store shelf reminded her of her mom because she made molasses cookies (gingersnaps). I think these small moments when our grief unleashes are blessings. God created us as emotional beings and we need to embrace those emotions to heal. I’m sorry for the loss of your beloved sister, especially at such a young age. I know you miss her every day. Her love endures as do your memories of her.

  9. Sandra Says:

    Goodness, aren’t these lovely sentiments. Wish mother and I had had grieving support in ’57 with Dad, the daughters and I certainly had it in ’99 with Mom. The 6 Olp daughters were given a framed DaVinci print of The Lord’s Supper at their weddings. The folks hung over the SMH house buffet with the gorgeous china and depression glass that produced endless sit down dinners. The print is over my piano, the depression glass still beautiful in my buffet. I have a “thing” about glass that will haunt my daughters later since they have their own dishes. Dad’s naturalization and First Class Engineer’s license certificates are still displayed proudly. I drove his last car long after I should. On a side note, I learned ironing before steam irons, even before automatic washer/dryers. Mother ironed everything, including sheets and pillowcases. You probably don’t remember the sprinkler head cork that fit in bottles to sprinkle unevenly with. Shhhh, I still have Mother’s. Such memories. Experience grief. You’re entitled. It’s healthy. Prayers to your family….

    • Sandra, first, yes, I do remember the sprinkler head cork on a bottle (and no steam irons), which my mom used. I also remember our Maytag wringer washer, no dryer, no indoor bathroom, no phone, no TV…

      Thank you for sharing those items which are precious to you in connecting you with your parents. The DaVinci print, the depression glass…oh, so many memories. Yes, it’s healthy to grieve. I am. And I will. Thank you for your prayers and love.

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