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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
MAY, MORE THAN any month, reminds me of my mom. And not just because of Mother’s Day.
Mom’s birthday falls in late May. She would have turned 90 this year.
May also means Kentucky Derby time, an annual event Mom looked forward to with unbridled enthusiasm. It wasn’t only the horses which drew her interest. It was the fashion. Mom loved the big hats, the showiness of this social gathering.
I remember phone conversations when Mom talked about the upcoming Derby. I regret that she never attended the Kentucky race. But she saw several horse races at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. I have no doubt she would have loved the Kentucky Derby events set there for Saturday, including the Derby Fashion Show followed by live screening of the actual race.
This year’s race holds special interest for Minnesota as two of the horses are owned by Minnesotans. I expect Mom would have chosen Zandon or Zozos to win. Jeff Drown of Clearwater owns Zandon, #2 in the leaderboard rank. And Barry and Joni Butzow of Eden Prairie own Zozos, ranked #17. Both Drown and the Butzows have a long history in racehorse ownership.
And my mom had a long history of loving horse racing. And of loving the fancy, wide-brimmed Derby hats adorned with flowers, feathers, bows, ribbons… Fashion focus didn’t fit Mom at all. She was a no-frills kind of woman. Basic wardrobe of nothing flashy or fancy. But when it came to the Kentucky Derby, she was fully-engaged in appreciating fashion.
This year, especially (four months after her death), I remember Mom’s unbridled joy in the Kentucky Derby—both the fashion and the race. I wish I could sit by her side, both of us sporting fancy Derby hats, sipping mint juleps, watching the race live on the screen.
Yet, I can honor her via memories and via the horse art which I pull out each May. A paint-by-number horse scene purchased at a second-hand store. A painting of horses by my father-in-law. And two Derby drinking glasses gifted to me by a friend.
There is comfort in memories, in remembering how very much my mom loved the Kentucky Derby. This Saturday, when I settle in to watch the horse race, I’ll think of Mom and how she delighted in “Southern Belle” inspired fashion while watching the Derby on TV from her Minnesota home.
NOTE: This is the first in three mother-themed blog posts leading up to Mother’s Day on Sunday, the day after the Kentucky Derby.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I settled into a comfy chair, paging through the book as tears fell. Soon I was sobbing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On my dining room wall hangs a framed print, “The Good Shepherd,” a wedding gift to my parents in 1954. It always hung in their bedroom and then on my mom’s care center wall until the end. Now I have this cherished art, this visual reminder of Mom’s faith. For 67 years, that image of Jesus, “The Good Shepherd,” reassured and comforted her, just as it does me today. In my grief, especially in my grief.
TELL ME: Dear readers, do you have a special piece of art, a song, something that reminds you of a dear loved one now departed? I’d like to hear what touches your spirit/comforts/uplifts you when you think of a loved one (s) now gone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SIX COUNTED CROSS-STITCH CARDS depicting the birth of Christ grace an aged chest of drawers anchoring a corner of my living room. I’ve leaned the cards against the backdrop mirror reflecting my Christmas tree.
These works of art visually tell the Christmas story minus a few important characters—Joseph and the Three Wisemen, who would later come bearing gifts. Perhaps those cards were lost. Or maybe my cousin Traci, who stitched the art, didn’t complete the series. She gifted my mom with these cards. One each Christmas.
A few years back, after Mom moved into assisted living and eventually long-term care, my extended family divided the Nativity sets our mother collected. And, among those I chose were these cards. My mom was also an avid counted cross stitch artist.
I cherish the stitched collection. Not only for its artistic value but also for the emotional connection to a mother celebrating her final Christmas on this earth. That is reality and I’ve reached a sense of peace in that certainty.
This Christmas, I hope you, too, experience peace. I hope you find a connection to those loved ones no longer on this earth via treasured memories or objects. I hope you feel connected also to those still here. To those who can still hear the words, “I love you.”