Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Elusive grief April 13, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Me with my mom during a January 2020 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling)

JANUARY 13, 2022. Three months have passed since my mom died. Sometimes that feels like forever. And sometimes like yesterday.

In all that time, I have yet to grieve like I feel I should. That is a heart-wrenching, full-out crying session of shoulders heaving, tears gushing, emotions overtaking me.

And I keep asking myself, “Why can’t I cry?” I loved my mom and I miss her and losing her is one of life’s greatest losses.

The answer to my self-imposed question seems multi-layered. Losing my mom was a gradual process. One of declining health paired with an inability to connect with her during these awful years of a global pandemic. Long before her death, she lost the ability to talk on a telephone. So my weekly Sunday evening phone calls to her ceased. My last long-distance conversations with her were via speaker phone, me talking “at” her rather than “to” her.

One of my last portraits of Mom. We had a particularly good visit that day. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2021)

As Mom’s memory and overall health faded, even our rare in-person visits at her care center proved difficult. I reminded myself that I was there for her, not for me. And that helped. If she connected with a flicker of recognition or a smile or a few words, then I felt grateful. It was always about her. Not me. Always.

Today I feel an emptiness. A void. An absence.

Her public funeral (not something I wanted/supported) did not provide an outlet for my grief. It was not a funeral as usual for me at the height of omicron. I did not stand in a receiving line accepting hugs and hand shakes. That was way beyond my comfort level among the unmasked in a crowded fellowship hall and sanctuary in rural southwestern Minnesota. I felt disrespected as a grieving daughter and nearly did not attend the funeral due to the health risk (to myself and others). But I mustered through, feeling like a masked outsider at my own mother’s funeral. Grief and comfort eluded me on Mom’s burial day because of choices made. And not necessarily just my choices.

Randy and Mom dye Easter eggs in her home in 2014. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2014)

And so here I am today, three months later. Recently I stood before a rack of Easter-themed greeting cards at Dollar Tree. My eyes scanned the labels—for daughter, son, granddaughter, grandson…then focused on “Mom.” And in that moment I felt the pain of losing Mom and I remembered the Easter of 2014 when Randy and I traveled 120 miles to my hometown of Vesta to spend the holiday weekend with her. I recall how she delighted in dyeing eggs, giddy like a child. Oh, to bring her such joy. But that April visit also proved a pivotal point for Mom. We observed her debilitating chronic pain, her inability to get around. Shortly thereafter, she moved into assisted living. Eventually, she would land in the nursing home wing of Parkview, her home for nearly eight years.

One of the many inspirational pieces Mom clipped and saved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

As I reflect on Mom’s journey, I feel thankful that she lived to age 89, nearing 90. Too many times during her life, we did not think she would survive major health crises. A viral infection in her heart nearly killed her in the early 1980s. Open heart valve replacement surgery followed. She nearly bled to death another time. Pneumonia almost claimed her life years later. A broken neck resulting from a fall placed her in a metro area ICU trauma unit. Countless times we gathered at her bedside to say our goodbyes. But each time Mom pulled through and relief washed over me. Once more.

Did all of those near-death experiences factor into how I feel today about Mom dying? Perhaps. I’d mentally prepared myself and said “goodbye” so many times in the past. Now when I need to grieve, grief feels elusive.

Her name remains in black marker on my whiteboard prayer list. I thank God for bringing her to faith, for blessing me with her as my mother, for the long life she lived.

Her name remains inked, too, in my address book. I can’t bring myself to X it out, for doing so means finality.

I expect prior to Mother’s Day, when I’m standing before the card rack at Dollar Tree searching for a card for my daughter, my eyes will scan the labels then land on “For Mom.” And when that happens, grief will rise. Not in tears, but in the way grief sneaks up on you in the most ordinary of ways and clenches your heart with pain.


JUST A NOTE: I recognize that grief is a process, one that takes time and differs for everyone. I recognize that many of you are also grieving and that you, too, may have experienced a loss of public comfort and grief during the pandemic. I’m sorry. I understand. I empathize. You are not alone. I care. Others care.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


31 Responses to “Elusive grief”

  1. beth Says:

    I believe we each grieve in our own time and way. and it is rarely a one-time event. it happens over time and presents itself in many different ways. from the simplest trigger of seeing that reminds you, from the wanting to tell that person something, to feeling an undefined void in a part of your life that you used to share with that person, and on and on. it is truly a lifelong journey for those who are left behind, as we learn to feel it, to accept it, and finally learn to live with it as a part of our lives as we continue ahead.

  2. What a moving tribute to your mother and to your grieving. Courage to share it with your readers!
    We all grieve so differently and sometimes differently with the relationship the person had with us. It has caught me at odd moments when I thought I was completely over grieving and then bam, there it was slapping me in the head, tears flowing and rolling down my face in public. The kindest thing anyone has done in those moments was just hand me a tissue and say “we all have been there.” So true. May peace, and love fill your heart Audrey.

  3. My grief ebbs and flows. I will see something and think “I need to remember to tell Mother” and then I remember. You are correct— everyone grieves differently. Since my Daddy passed away so long ago I think I relied on her to be my touch point. With her gone it was so real and emotional. But I am so glad I could be with her as much as I did when she was in good health. Those are memories I will cherish. Grieve as you need, how you can, when you can. You are loved.

    • Thank you, dear friend. I know you understand, having so recently lost your dear mom. Yesterday I was packing away photos and paperwork of Mom’s and came across a notebook with a few stories/entries she wrote. One was about a dear sister-in-law, whom Mom loved dearly. I photocopied that page and am dropping it in the mail to my aunt. I know Mom’s loving words will comfort and uplift her.

  4. I’d say that in a way you had already grieved your loss before she passed away as you were watching her health decline. Grief will likely sneak up on you again when you least expect it. Memories are tricky like that. Grief isn’t a one size fits all thing.

    I still have my Sister in my contacts and it’s been almost 9 years.

    • You’re right. I’ve grieved for a long time while watching Mom’s health decline. And the inability to see her much during the pandemic affected all of this, too.

      You have suffered some unimaginable losses. I can’t believe it’s been nine years already since you lost your dear sister. I’m so sorry.

  5. Ann Says:

    Dearest Audrey
    Thinking of you and hoping the promise of Easter brings you hope and comfort.

  6. Grief has a way of sneaking up on you. For me it is usually in good memories form. We just had a friend pass this weekend and we were sharing memories of him on Sunday with each other (I do not think it has truly set in that he is gone). Love getting to know your mom through your blog and it sounds like the two of you had an awesome bond/relationship (that you have with your children too). Life is precious and such a gift. Have to treasure and savor every moment of it. Love and hugs (((((((()))))))) my friend. Take Care

    • Renee, I am deeply sorry for the loss of your friend over the weekend. I’m thankful that you are sharing memories. May peace be yours as you grieve.

      Thank you for recognizing the wonderful bond I shared with my mom and now share with my children. Mom was such a loving, kind, compassionate and giving person and I strive to emulate her. I am told that her mom, my grandma (who died when I was only two months old) was the same. What a legacy of love and generosity of spirit these women left.

    • Your mom reminds me of my grandma. Open door, welcoming, sit for a spell, share stories over baked goods, etc. The best memories are from around the dining table. When I moved out on my own I wanted a dining table for everyone to gather around and to create the best moments and memories.

  7. Oh Audrey… I know just how you feel. I keep running across messages from my mom on social media, as she knew most of my friends. One popped up in my memories on Facebook. It is so hard. I find myself constantly wanting to call her and hear her voice. I’ve had three friends pass as well since my mom in January. My brother-in-law’s brother passed two weeks ago. I guess this becomes somewhat of a norm as we age.

    • Oh, Keith, that’s a lot of death, a lot of grief, for you in a short time period. I’m sorry. I know you had a close relationship with your mom as did your son. It’s hard, just plain hard. Praying for your comfort and peace as you continue to grieve.

      I thought of you yesterday with the subway shooting in NY. So frightening…

  8. Jane Larson Says:

    My mom passed away April 11, 2015. It seems like yesterday and I’m awed when I think it’s already been 7 years. Even so, this many years later, like others who have posted here, I think about calling my mother to tell her something that happened to me or her grandkids. And while it’s no longer possible to call and speak with her, those moments bring her close to me and I’m happy to recall that I once had a wonderful mother who loved me unconditionally. Grief tells us this is true.

  9. Ruth Says:

    Keeping you in my ❤️

  10. Valerie Says:

    Losing a mom is so very difficult…they always give unconditional love. Blessings to you Audrey, as you continue on your grief journey.

  11. Sandra Says:

    From age 13 to 61 I lost two grandparents, two parents, three godparents, numerous extended close relatives, on just Mother’s side! In Germany I didn’t know. When adopted and only child, that’s a lot. Always amazed me when my daughters in the 80s would get calls from friends freaking out at having to experience a funeral and the funeral home process, for the first time! I knew the carnation smell well. How awful not to have the “process”. Scott Boldt is my daughters age. His father got Mother and I through Dad’s in ’57. How awful not to have had all that grief (says the 79 yr old). But getting to this point, guess I’m richer for it. I’m convinced it’s all about the “faith”. Without the “promise”, hurts just too much. You’re keeping busy, always best. Didn’t know your Mom, but I miss her. Happy Easter….

    • Thank you for “missing” my mom, even though you didn’t know her. I’m sorry for all the grief you experienced. But, as you write, it’s about the faith and the promise of heaven. A happy and blessed Easter to you also, Sandra! It’s good to hear from you.

  12. Hugs from me to you, Audrey. I hope that you let go of feeling that there’s a “should” in your grief process (from your second paragraph); grief doesn’t always look like we expect. That’s part of its sneakiness and its depth – the reminder that we feel what we feel in the moment, its power directly connected to our love for another person and that person’s love for us. Maybe you have cried enough over the years. Maybe dye some eggs today, remember that joy is waiting for you to welcome her back. That would probably make your mom very happy.

    • Thank you, Kathleen, for the insights you offer into my grief. You’re right. I have cried many times through the years. Every single time I walked out of Parkview, I cried. And, yes, I do need to reach a place where I don’t hold expectations about the way I should grieve. That is taking time as my usual reaction to loss is lots of crying. And, yes, I will be dyeing eggs this weekend with the grandchildren. In honor of Mom.

  13. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    Thank you for your heartfelt post…I read every word about your dear mom that you so loved, it’s all there in your story. I’m sorry for your loss, still so recent. I am blessed to still have both my mom and dad but….. I FEEL the gradual process, especially with my dad. You are so sweet and wear your heart on your sleeve. Know that others care for you and your grief, blessing to you, and prayers for your grieving heart.

    • Thank you, dear Jackie, for your kind, sweet, generous and loving words. I appreciate them. And you.

      I know you are grieving the loss of Rick’s parents and are beginning the process with your dad. May peace be yours.

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