Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Missing mom… January 13, 2023

The cover of an altered book my friend Kathleen created for me following the death of my mom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

THE CALL CAME SHORTLY after 6 pm on a Thursday evening one year ago. In that moment, when my youngest brother’s name flashed on my cellphone screen, I knew. Mom died. Not passed. Not was gone. She was dead.

The news was not unexpected. Yet it was. As much as we think we are prepared for a parent’s death in the light of long-time failing health, we are not. I was not.

One of my treasured last photos of my mom and me, taken on January 11, 2020. Because of COVID restrictions, I was unable to see Mom much during the final years of her life. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling)

A year after that January 13 call, I still have not fully-grieved. Part of that I attribute to the timing of Mom’s death during the height of omicron. For me, there was nothing normal about Mom’s big public funeral (which I did not support) during COVID. No standing in a receiving line beside my siblings. No hand shaking. No hugging. No crying beneath my N95 mask. Just tears locked inside. Feelings held inside. Emotions of feeling disappointed and disrespected in a church packed with unmasked mourners checked.

It is a struggle to let go of such hurt, such pain. But I’m trying. Mom would want me to focus not on her death, funeral and burial, but rather on her earthly life and now her glorious new life in heaven. She taught me well, leaving a strong legacy of faith.

A portion of a family-themed photo board I created for my mom’s January 22, 2022 funeral. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

That legacy is not one simply of beliefs and words, but also one of attitudes and action. My mom was one of the kindest, humblest, gentlest souls I’ve ever known. My five siblings and I would occasionally test her spirit, her patience, her fortitude. But seldom did she express her exasperation. Sometimes I think Mom just had too much to do in the day-to-day running of a household and mothering of six kids to get upset. Wash clothes with the Maytag wringer washer. Can a crate of peaches. Weed the garden. Bake bread. Make supper. Scrub the floor. Iron clothes. On and on and on the list of endless chores went inside and outside our rural southwestern Minnesota farmhouse. She never complained, simply pressed on in her own quiet, mothering way.

Another page of the altered book features a photo of my mom holding me. I love the quote. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Even with all that family-centered work, Mom found time for outside activities. She was active in St. John’s Lutheran Church, the Legion Auxiliary, Extension Club, Craft Club, Senior Citizens and helped at Red Cross blood drives. Some of this came many years into motherhood, when her responsibilities lessened. I was already gone from home. I once asked Mom if she missed me when I left for college in the fall of 1974. No, she replied. She was, she said, too busy with the other four kids still at home. While I didn’t necessarily appreciate her answer, I understood, and I knew she loved me. Mom was undeniably honest, a trait I hold dear also.

I am forever grateful for the loving sympathy cards, memorials and other gifts I received. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

Honesty. Integrity. Service to others. All were part of Mom’s life story. She lived her faith. These words from the hymn “Beautiful Savior,” sung at her funeral service, fit Arlene Anna Alma Kletscher: Truly I’d love thee, Truly I’d serve thee, Light of my soul, my joy, my crown. The hymn has always been my favorite for its message and its beautiful, poetic imagery.

On the Sunday before the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death, “Beautiful Savior” and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” were sung during the worship service at my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, some 120 miles from St. John’s in Vesta. The congregation also sang “Precious Lord” at Mom’s funeral. Because of illness, I missed Trinity’s worship service last Sunday. But I listened on the radio, thankful in many ways that I was not in the church pews. Trying to sing the hymns from Mom’s funeral may have proven a breaking point for me, unleashing a year’s worth of grief. Oh, how I miss my mom.

I miss her smile. I miss hugging her. I miss talking to her and remembering with her. I miss calling her every Sunday evening at the same time. I miss sharing photos of my grown children and her great grandchildren. I. Miss. Her. In the hard moments of life—and I’ve had plenty in recent years—I’ve turned to Randy and said, “I just want to be the kid again, to have my mom take care of me.” It is an impossible wish, a longing, a yearning, yet a verbal acknowledgment of my mother’s love.

I printed this message inside a handmade Mother’s Day card back in elementary school. Mom saved the card and I am grateful. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Now, in my year-old grief, I still feel Mom’s love. I see her love, too, in the memory of her lips curving into a slight smile when I saw her for the last time, when I said goodbye and I love you and exited her room at Parkview. That smile proved her final, loving gift to me, her oldest daughter. I’ve locked that moment in my heart to unlock when grief sneaks in, when the pain of missing my mom rises within my spirit.

I unlock, too, the comforting lyrics of “Beautiful Savior”: He makes our sorr’wing spirit sing.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In praise of old, familiar Christmas hymns December 25, 2011

The doll representing the Christ Child during the Trinity Lutheran Sunday School program on December 17.

FOR THE FIRST TIME in as long as I can remember, I missed Christmas Eve worship services. We were traveling home from a family gathering in southwestern Minnesota.

So this morning, back in Faribault, my husband, eldest daughter, son and I attended Christmas Day services at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault.

While a morning worship service doesn’t hold quite the mood-setting anticipation of worshiping on Christmas Eve with candles glowing soft and white holiday lights sparkling bright in the fading daylight and kids restless with excitement, I appreciated the contentment of singing old, familiar hymns on Christmas morning.

From the opening “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful” to the recessional “Joy to the World,” and many songs in between, I was reminded of all those childhood Christmas Eve worship services at St. John’s Lutheran in Vesta.

Dad hurried to finish the milking early so we could get to church, to participate in the Sunday School program and sing the same old, familiar hymns we sang today: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

Although we didn’t sing “Silent Night, Holy Night” this morning, we listened to a teenage girl coo a sweet, lovely rendition. And we heard another teen strum “What Child Is This?” on his guitar.

It was a lovely service of praise, voices uplifted in the joyful comfort of aged hymns to celebrate Christ’s birth.

From my family to yours, we wish you a most blessed Christmas.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Seeking a book about Lutheran hymn writer Paul Gerhardt October 16, 2010

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SEVERAL WEEKS AGO I met a nice woman from Washington. Well, I didn’t actually meet, meet her. Rather she e-mailed regarding an article I wrote about homelessness in Faribault. That piece published in the September issue of The Lutheran Witness, the national magazine of The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

Anyway, aside from the fact that Donna and I each attend LCMS churches, we also share a love of books.

“I am a book worm! I love books!” this West Concord, Minnesota, native wrote in one of many e-mails we exchanged. “I love to get books into people’s hands!”

Notice all those exclamation marks at the end of Donna’s sentences. That’s absolute proof to me that this retired library aide enjoys books.

Donna had a purpose for mentioning books to me. She wanted to buy an ad on Minnesota Prairie Roots seeking a specific book, Paul Gerhardt—His Life and His Hymns by William Dallman. Concordia Publishing House published the now out-of-print volume in 1921.

The problem: I haven’t yet reached the point of selling advertising on this blog. Believe me, I’d like to earn some money considering all of the time and effort I invest in blogging, but…for now it remains a passion of mine with no financial return.

But back to that book and Donna’s request. Although I’ve been a Lutheran all of my life, I’m not a musically-educated Lutheran. I cannot read a note nor do I know much about the Lutheran musical heritage. However, I can sing, from memory, all of the words to my favorite hymn, “Beautiful Savior.”

This, of course, does not help Donna. I offered to publish this post with the hope that someone out there—and you don’t even need to be Lutheran—has a copy of Paul Gerhardt—His Life and His Hymns. This musically-knowledgeable Lutheran wants to give the book to her pastor during October, Pastor Appreciation Month. If you can’t make that deadline, Donna’s fine with that. She has other ideas and can wait until next October.

Donna has already tracked down a few copies of the elusive 80-page rather plain brown book, so copies are out there. She found one for her church library and, after advertising elsewhere, located one in Great Britain. But the price is higher than she’s willing to pay. A retired pastor in Oregon also has the book, but it’s written in German. She wants English.

So, if you have an English copy of Paul Gerhardt—His Life and His Hymns e-mail your contact information in a comment (which I will not publish) and I’ll forward it to Donna in Washington.

I’m sure if you ask, Donna will tell you that Paul Gerhardt, born in 1607, was trained to be a Lutheran pastor at Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther studied a century earlier. Gerhardt wrote more than 130 hymns including “Come Your Hearts and Voices Raising,” “Upon the Cross Extended,” “Awake My Heart With Gladness,” “Evening and Morning,” “I Will Sing My Maker’s Praises” and “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow.”

Right off hand, I can’t say those hymns sound familiar to me. Remember, though, I’m no musician, simply a Sunday morning singing Lutheran.

Donna’s pastor, however, based his March 2010 Lenten sermons on Gerhardt’s life and hymns, using those as a window into the life of Christian devotion. That explains why Donna wants this certain book for her clergyman’s private collection.

So if you have a copy of Paul Gerhardt—His Life and His Hymns by William Dallman, in English, not German, e-mail me now.

Danke Schöen.


HERE’S ANOTHER INTERESTING story from my new Washington friend. Donna volunteers at her church library and her daughter, also a bookworm, gave her a book, Hymns of the Evangelical Lutheran Church for the Use of English Lutheran Missions, published in 1896 by Concordia Publishing House.

Said daughter bought the book for $1 at an American Association of University Women book sale.

But here’s the really odd, coincidental connection to me. Inside the book is the name Martha Schultz, Faribault, Minnesota, and the date, January 10, 1903.  So…, if anyone in Faribault, where I’ve lived since 1982, knows anything about Martha, Martha’s ownership of this book and how it ended up in Washington, Donna and I would very much like to know. Send me a comment.  Thank you.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling