Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thinking of Mom on her birthday May 24, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
My mom celebrates her 82nd birthday at Parkview Home in Belview, Minnesota, in May 2014. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2014)

THE FIRSTS ALWAYS prove the hardest. And today marks a first. Today would have been my mom’s 90th birthday, had she not died in January.

I miss her. Sometimes believing she is truly gone feels impossible. A lot of that has to do with COVID—of seeing so little of her during the pandemic and then attending her funeral in the absolute height of omicron. Like so many other families with elders in long-term care, with loved ones who passed during COVID, the loss is compounded. Closure seems elusive in the absence of community comfort.

But I don’t want to dwell on that. I want to focus instead on my mom, a woman of deep faith, humble, kind…and such a gift to me.

I think back on her birthday in May 2014, shortly after she moved into the long-term care center which became her home for the remainder of her life. Randy and I drove the 2.5 hours to visit her, bringing with us a homemade chocolate cake and several jugs of lemonade. A few extended family members joined us to celebrate.

I took a photo of Mom as she gazed upon that rectangular cake, nine candles blazing, sprinkles scattered atop the homemade chocolate frosting. She looks content, pleased. That I could bring her joy on her 82nd birthday still makes me smile.

On Monday I smiled, too, as Mom’s sister Rachel and her husband, my Uncle Bob, stopped to see me en route back to their Missouri home after a visit to Minnesota. As Rachel and I stood in the driveway wrapping our arms around each other in the tightest hug, I felt a moment of fleeting sorrow mixed with comfort. None of my mom’s siblings attended her funeral due to COVID concerns, health issues and/or distance. I was thankful for their decision, although I knew it had to be difficult for them not to say goodbye to their sister. As my godmother and I hugged upon her arrival, I felt Mom’s presence. There was an undeniable moment of shared grief.

Later, after I served lunch, I grabbed a bag of gingersnap cookies from the kitchen counter to pass around. Mom’s favorite. I’d baked a batch awhile ago and froze some. When Mom lived at Parkview, I made gingersnaps for her every Christmas.

Today, May 24, I think of gingersnaps and birthday cakes and multiple memories that remind me of the mom I loved, still love. And miss. Oh, to sing “Happy birthday!” one more time.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Difficult Mother’s Day experiences & what I learned May 5, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
My friend Kathleen recently created an altered book honoring my mom, who died in January. She included a copy of this 2016 photo of my three adult children. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

TRAUMA WRITES INTO my Mother’s Day history. Two events. Two Mother’s Days. Two memories that, even with the passing of time, remain vivid.

The first occurred in May 1987. Randy and I had just gotten off the phone with our moms. We wished them Happy Mother’s Day and then told them we were expecting our second child, due in November. The grandmas were excited. We were delighted to share the news.

And then it happened. The bleeding. The panic when I realized what was happening. The call to the ER with instructions to lie down and see my doctor in the morning. I recall lying in bed, flat on my back, overwhelmed by fear. “I don’t want to lose my baby,” I sobbed and prayed.

How could this be happening? Moments earlier we’d shared such good news. And now the future of our baby seemed uncertain.

Miranda, five days old. Photo source: hospital photo

In the end, we didn’t lose that precious baby girl born to us six months later. Miranda. Beautiful in every way.

Fast forward to the morning of May 12, two days before Mother’s Day in 2006. Miranda was a senior in high school, her older sister just returned home from college. And their little brother, Caleb, 12, was on his way to the bus stop. Then the unthinkable happened. While crossing the street to his bus, Caleb was struck by a car. He bounced off the car, somersaulted, landed on the side of the road.

The moment when I heard the sirens, when I instinctively knew deep within me that something had happened to my son, terror unlike anything I’d ever felt gripped me. I can’t explain how or why I knew. I just did.

I have a file thick with information related to my son’s hit-and-run. The file includes newspaper clippings, e-mail correspondence with the police, medical and insurance papers and more. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

In the end, Caleb suffered only a broken bone in his hand, cracked ribs, bumps and bruises. While it was a terrifying experience—compounded by the driver who left the scene and to this day has not been found—we felt relief in the outcome.

Even though I endured those Mother’s Day traumas in 1987 and in 2006, I did not lose a child. But in those experiences I gained empathy—for those who have lost children through miscarriage, still birth, disease, illness, accident, violence, suicide… And if that’s you, I am deeply sorry for the pain, grief and loss you’ve felt and feel.

My daughter Miranda and me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2016.)

Through those experiences I realized how deep my motherly love, how my children hold my heart in a way that the very thought of losing them caused me such angst. I would do anything to protect them from harm. Anything. Even today.

My son and I in 2016, when he graduated from Tuft’s University, Boston skyline in the background. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo by Randy Helbling)

Through those experiences I grew stronger. And I recognized that, no matter what, we are not alone. When Caleb was hit by the car, our family received overwhelming support from family, friends, his school and the greater community. There were prayers, encouraging cards and phone calls, a stuffed animal and even a gift certificate to Dairy Queen. What love, compassion and care.

To my dear readers who are mothers, you are cherished, valued, loved. And the children you raised/are raising are equally as cherished, valued and, above all, loved.

TELL ME: If you have a story or thoughts you would like to share about being a mom or about what your mom meant/means to you, please comment. I’d love to hear from you.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Elusive grief April 13, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , ,
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

 

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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.

#

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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

 

With gratitude as I grieve January 26, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,
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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , ,
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.

#

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

 

Grief & peace in the Christmas season December 17, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 1:47 PM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
The dove, a symbol of peace, carved onto an aged tombstone at the Cannon City Cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2020)

Sleep in heavenly peace… The refrain of “Silent Night, Holy Night” unleashed tears as I washed dishes Friday morning. My shoulders heaved, my hands swirling in the soapy water. I gave in to my emotions, overwhelmed by words that simultaneously comforted and grieved me.

Earthly peace sometimes feels elusive. Even in this season of Christmas.

I want to acknowledge that and to acknowledge also the grief many of you are experiencing. There’s been so much loss in the past two years. Too much.

I’m thinking especially of those of you who have lost loved ones. I recognize how your hearts hurt, how you ache at the missing of your dear ones. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. We each differ in how we process loss, how we manage grief. But we all must grieve.

Music often stirs my emotions. Sometimes uplifting, other times opening my spirit to that which lies heavy on my heart. I listen regularly to Christian music on 98.5 KTIS in the Twin Cities. Several songs before “Silent Night,” I cranked the volume to “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” an incredibly uplifting song.

Minutes later, I cried into the water-filled sink at sleep in heavenly peace.

As we move closer to Christmas, expectations exist to feel joyful. I hope you find joy. But please know that it’s OK to feel otherwise. It’s OK to listen to “Silent Night” and cry as you think of a dear one asleep in heavenly peace.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Briana, more than a statistic April 28, 2021

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration only.

SHE DIED ON FRIDAY due to complications from COVID-19. And she was 30. Only 30.

I didn’t know Briana, who graduated from Faribault High School in 2009. But that matters not. Here’s a young life lost to a deadly virus, Briana’s name now on the ever-lengthening list of 7,091 (as of Tuesday) Minnesotans who have died from COVID or complications thereof.

Briana’s obituary, published April 27, 2021 in The Faribault Daily News.

My heart hurts for Briana’s family and friends. Her obituary and the comments therein, describe a vibrant and artsy young woman who enjoyed photography, crafts, sewing and music. She was also tagged as a passionate activist.

Briana’s friend Corrina writes: Briana was the most fieriest, artistic, and admirable person I knew. She inspired me to protest and we walked together through the streets fighting for justice. She made the world a better place.

She made the world a better place. I think we would all like to be remembered in that way.

It’s so important to remember that behind every COVID-19 death statistic is a person. An individual who loved and was loved. Who perhaps, like Briana, marched with fiery passion. Or quietly helped others via kindness, generosity and compassion. Or still had their whole life ahead of them. Like the first grader from Park Side Elementary School in Marshall who died on Sunday due to complications from COVID-19. A child with no underlying health conditions. My heart breaks. My cousin’s daughter teaches at Park Side. Marshall sits in Lyon County, in the southwestern corner of the state, in a region with one of Minnesota’s highest COVID infection rates.

As I watch and read media coverage of the COVID situation in India, my heart also breaks at the overwhelming number of new cases—some 350,000 in a single day—and the resulting deaths. It’s difficult to see film of people suffering, of bodies wrapped in blankets and lying in the streets, of oxygen masks clamped onto faces and hear the pleas for oxygen, medicine, PPE. Pleas, too, for vaccines.

An article published in the April 27 edition of The Faribault Daily News highlights how the virus continues to spread in my region of Minnesota. I see more and more people in public without face masks or half-masking. Tuesday stats from the Minnesota Department of Health list 12 new deaths, including one from my county of Rice. That individual was between the ages of 55-59. That makes 104 COVID-19 deaths now in my county

I feel thankful that the US and other countries are offering help to the people of India in this overwhelming health crisis. Yet, I can’t help but think how people in the US are turning down vaccines, not wearing face masks, living like there’s no pandemic…

Monday evening I watched “The Virus That Shook the World,” a two-part FRONTLINE public television documentary featuring people from around the world in the first year of COVID-19. A doctor. Filmmakers. Dancers. It was heart-wrenching to listen, to watch. But necessary to document. Important to view. I felt my grief building as the film progressed. And then, when a daughter in Iceland shared the story of her mother’s death from COVID, all the grief and pain I’ve felt during the past year-plus erupted. I couldn’t stop crying as I observed this family’s loss and pain. I felt like I was crying the grief of the world. Crying for Briana and her family. Crying for the family of that first grader and the entire community of Marshall. Crying for those in my circle who have lost loved ones (seven thus far) to COVID.

In all this grief and suffering and pain and death, I hold onto hope. Hope that we can overcome. Hope that we can heal. Hope that we can set aside politics and misinformation and me-attitudes to do what is right. To care about others and to act like we care. To understand the importance of health and science in defeating this virus. To cry tears of joy rather than tears of unending grief.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Erica Staab’s latest book focuses on loss December 15, 2020

AS WE NEAR CHRISTMAS, perhaps you aren’t feeling all that merry. These past 10 months of dealing with COVID-19 proved challenging, resulting in feelings of depression, anxiety, isolation and uncertainty. Even anger.

In many ways, we’re all grieving. We’ve lost our sense of normalcy, of life as we once lived it. Some of us have lost jobs. We’re separated from family and friends. And, for too many, that separation came via death from COVID-19 and the inability to mourn in traditional ways.

The year 2020 redefined the meaning of the words “loss” and “grief” in the context of a global pandemic. Yet, the core meanings remain, as universal, yet as individual as each person experiencing them.

WRITING ROOTED IN PERSONAL LOSS

My friend Erica Staab, director of HOPE Center in Faribault, addresses loss in her latest book, The First Christmas—Finding Your Way After Loss. In this slim 32-page volume, Erica writes from the heart, as a sister who experienced the tragic death of her brother, Mitchell, in 2007. The 27-year-old died of injuries sustained in a fall after stopping to assist a motorist involved in a single-vehicle accident. Any death can be difficult, but especially when the loved one is so young, the death unexpected.

It comes as no surprise to me that Erica takes her personal loss and her life’s work of helping survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault (and their families) to craft this insightful and encouraging book. She is one of those individuals who gives selflessly and with a heart full of compassion. Her words ring with authenticity rooted in experience.

GRIEF: “A WILD MESS OF THINGS”

She calls grief “a wild mess of things that can’t be anticipated.” That seems such a spot-on assessment as we all grieve in different and unexpected ways. Erica advises us to be gentle with ourselves, to allow grief in, to listen to what our hearts need.

I found this statement particularly profound: When grief is invited in…it is then that it loses its power over you, it is then that grief offers itself to share its gifts. It is then that there is space made for joy.

I appreciate that Erica embraces and acknowledges grief in all its pain and darkness. Yet, she writes with the light of hope, of joy-filled moments returning, of strength gained. When I emailed Erica to tell her that her writing touched me and caused me to cry as I thought of losses in my life, she responded, “…that was my prayer…that people would feel heard, understood, and not alone in their grief journey or their choices.”

PERMISSION TO EXPERIENCE LOSS IN YOUR UNIQUE WAY

Her book applies to many losses, not just loss through death. Loss of a relationship. Loss of a job. Loss of financial security. Loss of health and/or safety. And therein lies its even broader appeal, especially in 2020, a year of much loss. Erica wants her readers to realize they are not alone, that no one should try to erase their pain, that they need to experience it fully and in their own way and time.

And if that means you don’t feel like putting up a Christmas tree this year or mailing holiday cards, then don’t. That was me last year. Writes Erica: You have permission to simply make it through.

Her book also offers specific ways to ease loss, culled from her experiences and those of others. That’s helpful, too.

If you’re dealing with any type of loss, I suggest you buy The First Christmas—Finding Your Way After Loss. Purchase copies, too, for family and friends. Every funeral home and church should have copies to give away. The $10 book may be purchased at The Upper East Side, 213 Central Avenue North, Faribault, or online by clicking here. You can also reach out to Erica directly. I am so appreciative of Erica, her writing, her encouragement and her unique way of addressing difficult topics.

© Copyright 2020 by Audrey Kletscher Helbling