Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Remembering Mom on my first Mother’s Day without her May 6, 2022

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One of the last photos I took of my mom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

IN RECENT YEARS, as my mom’s health declined, I considered how I would feel when she was gone, when Mother’s Day would come and go without her. Now, four months after her death, I understand. I feel a deep sense of loss, but also thankfulness for the mother I loved and who loved me.

I love this sweet photo of Mom at age seven. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Who was my mom? She was the oldest of five. (Her sister Deloris died in infancy.) She was valedictorian of her high school graduating class. She completed a short business college course thereafter and worked in an employment office before marrying my dad. Within a year of their marriage, the first of six children was born. I came next. And within two months of my birth, Mom’s mother died. Mom was 24, her mother only 48.

The Bode siblings, left to right: John, Rachel, Dorothy and Arlene. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

When I consider Grandma Josephine’s premature death, I wonder how Mom handled that. To lose her mother at such a young age is a profound loss. If only I had asked.

A portrait of Mom. I’m unsure of her age here, but probably around 20. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

Mom left behind a collection of notebooks in which she wrote daily entries. Journals begun in high school and continuing into her senior years. The short entries are documentations of her life from student to full-time mother/southwestern Minnesota farm wife and, finally, a grandmother.

The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my brother Doug. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I wish her writing held personal thoughts and observations. But that is mostly missing, along with journals from around the years she met Dad. Not a surprise given that generation’s aversion to expressing emotions. I don’t recall either of my parents ever telling me they loved me, or hugging me, during my growing up years. It just wasn’t done. Yet, I inherently knew they loved me. Only in later years, long after I’d left home, did love-filled words and hugs come.

Entries from one of Mom’s earliest journals. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Since my mom’s death, I’ve dipped into some of her journals as has my eldest daughter. Mom’s one-paragraph daily entries about the weather, everyday farm life and the occasional trips into town and social outings reveal a hardworking woman. I never doubted just how hard Mom worked to keep our family fed, the house clean and six kids in line. I read of gardening, harvesting, preserving. I read of doing laundry (in a Maytag wringer washer), ironing, folding clothes. I read of endless baking, including occasionally making her favorite Sour Cream Raisin Pie. To this day I have never developed an appreciation for that pie. But I loved when she baked homemade bread, shaping tiny buns just for us kids to eat hot from the oven.

This page in an altered book created by my friend Kathleen focuses on the animal-shaped birthday cakes Mom made for me and my five siblings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I also appreciated that Mom made birthdays special by creating animal-shaped birthday cakes from homemade chocolate cake and seven-minute frosting. Those cakes, selected from a cake design booklet, defined our childhood birthdays. Because my parents couldn’t afford gifts, Mom’s cake was our gift. Oh, the memories.

This shows family photos on a board I created for Mom’s funeral. The card at the bottom is a Mother’s Day card. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

That I never realized our family was poor is a credit to my mom. There was no emphasis on material possessions, but rather on self-sufficiency and contentment with what we had—each other and land, our land, all around us. Sure, I occasionally longed for rollerskates (like my friends Jane and Robin had), for shopping clothing racks other than the sales rack, for getting whatever toy I wanted from the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog. But, in the end, I didn’t care all that much. I had enough. I still do. And I still don’t get gifts on my birthday.

My mom saved everything, including this Mother’s Day card I made for her in elementary school. I cut a flower from a seed catalog to create the front of this card. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Mom’s gifts to me stretch well beyond anything tangible. She exuded a spirit of kindness. Soft-spoken, except when we kids occasionally overwhelmed her, Mom always encouraged us to speak well of others, to serve with humility. She did. At church, in the community. I’ve been told she was much like her sweet and loving mother, my Grandma Josie.

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

This Mother’s Day I hold onto the memories. The photos. The stack of journals. The lessons and qualities passed along to me that speak to a legacy of faith and kindness and love. Mom’s love. A love that endures in how I choose to live my life. A love that rises above grief to remind me how blessed I was to have my mother as my mother.

I printed this message inside a handmade Mother’s Day card for my mom back in elementary school. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

In my last visit with Mom before her January 13 death, I said my goodbyes, told her it was OK to go. She was mostly unresponsive then, heavily-medicated. But when I spoke the words, “I love you,” for the final time, her lips curved into a smile so slight I wondered if I imagined it. I didn’t. That was her final gift to me—an expression of love I will forever remember and cherish, especially today, my first Mother’s Day without Mom.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Grieving in Minnesota, three tragedies April 23, 2022

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Third grader Henry Johnson of Nerstrand Charter School created this vivid work of art for a Student Art Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. Published with this post for illustration purposes only. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I CONTEMPLATED WHETHER I should write about the tragic deaths of four Minnesota children recently. But it’s important for me, in some small way, to pause and share that which imprints sadness upon my heart. To lose a child is perhaps life’s deepest sorrow.

The first tragedy happened on April 15 in rural Wabasso—I graduated from Wabasso High School—in southwestern Minnesota. Braxton Welch, 20 months, died after being struck by a vehicle driven by his dad. I cannot even begin to fathom the grief this family is experiencing. This is personal to me because I know the Welch family back a few generations. I knew Braxton’s deceased great grandfather Gary, who lived in my hometown of Vesta and worked as a mechanic at my Uncle Harold’s service station. And I babysat Braxton’s grandfather (Gary’s son), Troy, and siblings a few times as a teen. Now Troy has lost his grandson, a sweet little boy with the brightest blue eyes. Braxton loved dancing and giggling and his big brother. And I expect so much more.

To the west, in rural Lynd, a 9-year-old girl (not yet identified) has died after being shot in the head on April 18. Authorities are classifying the shooting as “accidental.” Again, an unfathomable tragedy. UPDATE, April 26, 2022: The Lyon County Sheriff’s Department has identified Caitlin Renee Demuth as the young girl who died as a result of this tragic shooting. A public visitation will be held from 5 – 7 pm Friday, April 29, at the Hamilton Funeral Home in Marshall.

And then way up north, in the port city of Duluth, the Barry family was found shot to death in their beds on April 20. The victims include mom, Riana, 44; dad, Sean, 47; and their daughters, Shiway, 12, and Sadie, 9. The identified shooter, their 29-year-old nephew/cousin, also died, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police continue their investigation into the motive while publicly stating the shooter struggled with mental health issues. This murder-suicide, resulting in the deaths of two children and three adults in a single family circle, is undeniably tragic. It is almost too much to bear and my heart absolutely breaks for everyone touched by this tragedy, especially family and friends but also the greater Duluth community and responding law enforcement.

Friends have set up a GoFundMe account to help extended family pay for the Barrys’ funerals and for travel and other expenses. I encourage you to visit that site, donate if you can and pause to read the comments written by those connected to the Barry family. You will read of a kind, loving and generous family who welcomed newcomers, of two little girls who sold Girl Scout cookies, of guinea pigs and bike riding and all those ordinary life events that, in death, take on new meaning.

Tears flow. I feel emotionally drained. My heart hurts. Yet, I recognize that what I feel is nothing compared to the friends and families of Braxton; the little girl from Lynd; and the Barry family. To experience their loss and grief seems incomprehensible. Tragic beyond words.

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FYI: A public vigil for the Barry family will be held on Sunday evening, April 24, outside the family’s home at 715 E. 12th Street in Duluth. A short program begins at 8 pm with the lighting of holiday lights on the home. Christmas was one of the family’s favorite holidays. Attendees can also share stories at the event. The public is also invited to bring new children’s books to be donated in the family’s honor. The Barrys had a Little Free Library outside their home to share their love of reading and of books.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Elusive grief April 13, 2022

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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.

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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

 

Marcy’s memorable obituary from southwestern Minnesota March 14, 2022

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IN RECENT YEARS, I’VE TAKEN to reading obituaries printed in my local newspaper, the Faribault Daily News, and also online. That includes checking the obit listing on KLGR radio in Redwood Falls, the county seat of my hometown county. Extended family and many other people to whom I’m connected live in southwestern Minnesota.

I am of that age when the generation just ahead of me is passing at a rapid rate. That includes my mom, who died in January, and my father-in-law a year earlier. But young people also die, usually unexpectedly. That includes my cousin Randy, who died suddenly at the age of 50 just two days after my mom. And then a cousin’s 48-year-old stepson shortly thereafter.

It’s a lot, this death. And while death is difficult, it’s part of life and we will all some day face our earthly mortality. That’s reality.

Obituaries not only publicly inform us of deaths and funeral/burial details, but they also reveal information about the deceased. Most are written in a straightforward manner of factual life basics. Birth, marriage, education, occupation, interests, family. That sort of stuff.

Martha Schewe. (Photo source: Stephens Funeral Service)

But once in awhile I find a stand-out obit unlike any other. That would be the obituary of Martha Ann Schewe, 74, of Danube, who died March 4. “Marcy/Tractor Mimi/Pizza Grandma/Murphy” was, according to the record of her life, welcomed into heaven with a flyswatter and a hot plate of pierogi. And, yes, I had to Google pierogi, which is a Polish staple dumpling—dough wrapped around a savory or sweet filling and cooked in boiling water. That flyswatter and pierogi hook hooked me into reading the story of Marcy’s life.

And what a life it was. Pennsylvania-born, she eventually landed on a Minnesota farm with her native-born husband. Marcy met Jim at a dance in DC and they corresponded daily for 16 months while he was stationed overseas during the Vietnam War. He even mailed an engagement ring to her. That arrived on Friday the 13th. She waited a day to open the package.

I encourage you to click here and read Marcy’s obit in its entirety. It’s worth your time to read about this woman who was determined to leave rural life behind after a childhood of following “a heavily wooded, bear infested road to the bus stop, delivering milk from her parents’ dairy farm to the neighbors along the way.”

Love and life had a way with Marcy, who would grow to embrace farm life in southwestern Minnesota.

Details reveal a woman who loved family and life. But she disliked squirrels, even grumbled about them. There’s a whole lot more packed into her obituary. Please read it. Yes, I’m repeating that because you really need to read Marcy’s story (and the comments in her guestbook).

Marcy’s obit ends with this loving, humorous conclusion: Her fierce and vibrant spirit is carried on by her soulmate, her 5 children, 9 grandchildren, 5 great grandchildren, 7 siblings, a handful of hated squirrels, a menagerie of farm animals, and a whole wide world full of longtime friends, some of whom she hadn’t gotten around to meeting yet.

What a way to be remembered.

TELL ME: How would you like to be remembered? 

Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A one-of-a-kind loving keepsake honoring my mom February 17, 2022

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The book cover features a loving quote and my mom’s favorite flower, the iris. To the left, along the spine, is an empty locket for me to place pictures inside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

THOSE WE LOVE stay forever in our hearts.

The first page features a photocopied photo of my mom holding newborn me. I have only a few photos from my early childhood, this one my most treasured. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

What beautiful, meaningful and heartfelt words. That message titles a 10-page mini altered book crafted by my dear friend Kathleen upon the recent death of my mom. The book arrived unexpectedly from Kathleen’s secluded cabin studio in Idaho on a February morning, when I most needed it.

Kathleen includes this photocopied picture of my mom on her last Mother’s Day in 2021 and posted on the Parkview Nursing Home Facebook page. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I settled into a comfy chair, paging through the book as tears fell. Soon I was sobbing.

Me with my mom in a photo taken several years ago. The words are in my printing, from a Mother’s Day card I made for Mom as a young child. The blue flower tucked into the lavender pocket graced the front of that card. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Kathleen, using carefully selected photos pulled from my blog, inspirational quotes and poems, recycled materials and more, created a book reflecting my mom. From Mom’s faith to her love of irises to our mother-daughter bond to her rural background and more, this book lovingly honors my mother.

It is a treasure, an absolute treasure, now cherished.

This is a special memory of my mom. On our birthdays, she baked a homemade chocolate cake and then crafted it into an animal shape following instructions in the “Animal Cut-Up Cake” booklet. We chose which animal we wanted. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

My long-time friend, once the children’s librarian in Faribault, never met Mom. But you’d never realize that by seeing this visual memoir. That’s a tribute to Kathleen, a kind, caring and compassionate soul who truly listens, whose empathy runs deep, whose heart overflows with goodness and love.

A cross hugging a corner of the last page represents Mom’s strong faith. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Kathleen has read my blog posts about Mom through the years. She’s viewed the photos I’ve posted (and some I sent to her), from past until recently. She understood the essence of my mother—her strong faith, her farm background, her love of family, her compassion for others, and more.

The book includes a copy of a photo I took of Mom’s “The Good Shepherd” framed print, a 1954 wedding gift to my parents from Dad’s Uncle Walter Arndt. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

No detail went unnoticed by my friend in creating this work of art. In a mini-bottle attached to the book, “Amazing Grace” labels a music scroll. That was among three hymns sung at Mom’s funeral. Polka dotted ribbon and paper frame two family photos, matching the polka dotted blanket covering my Mom’s lap and the polka dots decorating her great grandson’s birthday cake in two images. A swatch of gold lace mimics the frame of my mom’s “The Good Shepherd” print which now hangs on my dining room wall. Kathleen incorporated selected “good shepherd” verses from John 10 (read at the funeral) into the book along with a photo of that cherished print.

Two pages are devoted to the grandmother-grandchild relationship, featured in this copied photo of my three children taken in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Words cannot fully convey my gratitude to Kathleen for crafting this keepsake. It is, for me, a love-filled book to be shared with my children and grandchildren. Sweet memories of my mom, their grandmother and great grandmother. My three now-grown children are connected to Kathleen also, my daughters once working as library pages and attending teen events under her supervision and my son as a young boy asking her to find space-themed and other books for him.

Kathleen left Faribault years ago with her dear husband, Justin. But we remain deeply connected. Connected via our shared love of words and writing and reading and poetry and libraries. Connected via our shared values and genuine compassion for others. Connected via her connection to my children as they were growing, developing. And now that has extended to the next generation. Geographically, we are distanced from one another. But our friendship remains rooted, strong, enduring. Miles matter not.

And when Those we love stay forever in our hearts arrived from 1,400 miles away, I felt as if Kathleen had stopped by to give me a hug. Such are my loving thoughts upon embracing this comforting keepsake crafted by my dear dear friend.

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NOTE: Several years back, Kathleen created an altered (much larger) book all about me. It tells my life story. As with the book about my mom, Kathleen tapped into my blog for images and information. My friend, even without that resource, knows me well. That book, too, is a treasure, deeply cherished.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A blizzard of loss & grief February 11, 2022

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A winter storm creates near white-out conditions along Minnesota State Highway 19 north of my hometown of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota in January 2013. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2013)

LOSS STORMS INTO THIS WINTER of 2022 like an old-fashioned Minnesota blizzard. The snow just keeps falling. The wind keeps whipping. Powdery snow blows into rock hard drifts that edge roadways, fill ditches, encircle homes. Visibility is limited. Travel conditions poor. Bitter cold settles in and I feel as if this storm will never end.

Wind chimes from my friend Beth Ann in North Carolina honor my mom. Beth Ann lost her mom just over a year ago and has been a great support to me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Such has been the beginning of the new year, when deaths within my circle defined recent weeks. First, my mom died on January 13. Two days later, my cousin Randy, 50, died unexpectedly. Last week my cousin Kevin’s stepson, Dan, 43, also died unexpectedly. And then, on Tuesday, my friend Patty died.

Just like a winter storm, we must all deal with loss and grief. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of Randy snowblowing our driveway)

It’s a lot at once—this loss, this grief.

Ruth, a friend from Pittsburgh, knit this beautiful prayer/comfort shawl from the softest acrylic yarn fittingly labeled CELESTIAL STRIPES. These are in hues my mom would have liked. Each time I wrap this shawl around my shoulders, I feel Ruth’s love in the warmth and texture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Anyone who’s experienced a Minnesota blizzard understands the analogy. Yet, blizzards always end. We shovel and snow-blow our way out of snow-clogged driveways. We clear the walks and steps. And we get on with life, despite the storm. Yet, we remember.

My friend Mandy colored this beautiful faith-based art for me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I am digging myself out of a blizzard now, working through the drifts of grief. But I’ve never felt alone in this storm. First, as a woman of faith, I’ve felt God’s presence, his strong hand upon the snow shovel. I’ve heard his encouraging voice in the comforting words of pastors shared at these recent funerals (my mom’s attended in-person, the others virtually).

I’ve appreciated the nearly 60 sympathy cards which have landed in my mailbox. I’ve read and reread the encouraging words and notes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I’ve experienced, too, the support of family and friends who’ve reached out with cards, personal notes, calls, emails, texts, memorials and other thoughtful gifts. My friend Ruth emailed a particularly touching poem, “We Remember Them” by Sylvan and Rabbi Jack Riemer. Each visually impactful line ends with “We remember them.” I’ve printed the poem and posted it on my fridge.

Assorted shovels used in clearing snow from our property. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2021)

I feel incredibly loved, as if an entire neighborhood has showed up with shovels and snowblowers to unclog the driveway, to clear the walk and steps. To help me dig out from this blizzard of loss.

My friend Kathleen from Idaho crafted this beautiful mini altered book honoring my mom and her life. I will share more soon about this book, a comfort to me as I remember my mother. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

There will be days when I feel like hunkering down inside, watching the wind-driven snow pile up, sheltering within my grief. Just like during a blizzard, when going outdoors proves risky.

Inspirational garden art from my sister-in-law Cheryl and family uplifts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

But winter storms are not forever. Rock hard drifts melt, replaced by the greening earth, new life. The wind calms, stirring peace in summertime breezes. Visibility clears to the window of memories. Roads take us back to places once shared with those we’ve lost. And the bitter cold of death lessens as time passes, as love endures.

© Copyright 2022 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.

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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

 

With gratitude as I grieve January 26, 2022

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Just a sampling of the many cards I’ve received since my mom died. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

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.

A thoughtful gift, a journal from my friend Kathleen, whom I “met” through this blogging community. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

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.

The beautiful lead crystal cross included in a lovely floral arrangement from my son-in-law Marc’s parents, Eric and Lynn. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

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.

A lovely floral bouquet from my daughter Miranda featuring her grandma’s favorite flower, irises. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

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.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mourning January 19, 2022

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Mom in the room at her care center, where she was in hospice. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

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.

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For now, my posting may be irregular. I promise a future post in which I share more about my dear sweet mother.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In loving memory of Buck Burkhartzmeyer January 8, 2022

Donald “Buck” Burkhartzmeyer. (Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home)

HE WAS AMONG the most caring individuals I’ve ever met. He being Donald Burkhartzmeyer, “Buck” to those of us who considered him a friend.

Buck died unexpectedly on Thursday, January 6, at the Faribault hospital. He was 97.

A life-long Faribault resident, he made a major impact on this community. Not in a splashy, attention-calling way, but rather in the simplicity of a kind and generous soul who lived his Christian faith. He was soft-spoken, gentle, giving. Always smiling. I expect many stories will emerge in the coming days about Buck’s acts of love. I have my own to share. But first a little background.

Early in the pandemic, inspirational Scripture was posted in the windows of Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2020)

A MAN OF FAITH & FAMILY

Buck was first and foremost a man of great faith. He faithfully attended my church, Trinity Lutheran, where he welcomed me to Faribault nearly 40 years ago. Buck was an unofficial community ambassador, showing newcomers around town. He made me feel comfortable as a new bride living in a new place. His example of devotion to God and service to others proved inspirational. He was involved in church and in many community organizations.

He was, too, a family man—husband of Delilah (she preceded him in death), father of four, a grandfather. Friend to many.

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes anchors a corner in downtown Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

BURKHARTZMEYER SHOES

After WW II, he joined his brothers, Alvin (Al) and Walter (Putts) in operating Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. He is the last surviving brother. Their parents, Ferdie and Martha, started the business with a shoe repair and harness shop opened in the late 1930s. The Burkhartzmeyers grew the family shoe business, now with third-generation owners, Brian (Buck’s son) and Bruce (Al’s son). And, yes, the store still includes a repair shop.

Buck specialized in fitting and modifying shoes as a certified pedorthist. Now Brian continues that tradition of offering corrective footwear to meet the needs of customers. Their services are well-known, and not just locally. Inside the shoe repair shop hangs a framed thank you letter from Twins baseball great and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. Buck, who enjoyed Minnesota sports and played basketball while in the Navy, assisted many an athlete with their shoe needs. Helping the everyday person, though, meant just as much to Buck.

Through the decades, our family purchased footwear from Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. Work boots. Snow boots. Tennis shoes. Dress and casual shoes. Kids shoes. This is the type of shoe store where owners and/or employees measure your feet, slip your feet into shoes/boots, watch you walk, push on toe ends to check fit, adjust sizes as needed. Every effort is made to get a good and comfortable fit. Buck remembered people’s shoe sizes. Burkhartzmeyer Shoes excels in customer service.

I purchased these snow boots at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

GENEROSITY, FROM CANDY TO SHOES

Buck excelled in goodness and kindness, too. In 2004, the year my eldest daughter graduated from high school, he told her to come down to the store before she left for college. He wanted to give Amber a complimentary pair of tennis shoes. Why? Amber had applied for a scholarship from the Faribault High School Class of 1942, but was not awarded the monies. Buck, who served on the scholarship committee, felt so bad that he decided to give her a new pair of shoes. I’ll always remember the moment we walked into Burkhartzmeyer Shoes to find Buck waiting. He fit Amber with a new pair of shoes and wished her well at Winona State University. That was Buck. Generous. I expect many others in this community can share stories of shoes given to them.

He gave away more than shoes. Buck also handed out red licorice sticks to children after Sunday morning church services. He pulled the candy from his suit coat pocket and slipped it into little hands.

HIS MINISTRY

But perhaps the selfless and loving spirit of Buck is best shown in his many visits with those living in nursing homes. Daily he visited his mother, Martha, at St. Lucas Care Center. She died in 2005 at the age of 107. What a loving son. And husband. Later, when his wife, Delilah, moved into St. Lucas, he visited her daily also. And many others. Endless elders whom he remembered and uplifted with his visits. Employees at Faribault’s east side Kwik Trip, where Buck often stopped after those visits, knew him well.

MORE MEMORIES

A number of years back, Randy and I, as part of our bible study’s Christmas outreach ministry, stopped at Buck’s house to deliver a basket of fresh fruit. I remember sitting in his sprawling living room engaged in conversation. I don’t recall what we discussed. But to be in Buck’s presence was to feel uplifted. And joyful.

There’s one more thing Buck did—and I expect he did this for others, too. Whenever an article about me published in the Faribault Daily News, he laminated a copy and stuck it in my church mailbox. That tells you something. He recognized my accomplishments as a writer and wanted me to understand how much he valued me and my God-given gifts.

Today I mourn the loss of this incredibly kind and generous man who showed such love to me and my family. I expect many in this community can say the same. We are all the better for having known Buck. He touched many lives with his gentleness of spirit and will be forever cherished.

TELL ME: If you have a memory or story about Buck, please feel free to share. Click here to read comments about Buck posted on the Burkhartzmeyer Shoes Facebook page.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home website