Losing Mom: A Life in the Details

Nancy Kiehne Miniature Books

In recent years, I’ve wondered: Is life about the big picture or is life in the details?

The big picture is good. It keeps us from wasting time on things that don’t matter. It enables us to step back and analyze problems, trends, and accomplishments. The big picture lets us rise above pettiness.

But details are good too. Your fingers trace the geometric design on a throw pillow. Your eyes catch the wink of a favorite cousin. You hear the clack of the roller coaster the second your feet hit the boardwalk. Details help us mark our days with appreciation and whimsy.

My mother died on Friday after a short bout with cancer. I prayed she would go once the pain became intense.

And so the job, or perhaps I should say the honor, of mourning her begins.

Do I grieve the big things? The loss of a mother. The ending of an era. The last parent.

Or do I grieve the small things, the details? I unpack Easter rabbits she painted and recall how Mom loved holidays. My grandson flies his first kite, and I can’t phone her with the news. I take out a recipe card, and there’s my mother’s handwriting.

Mom was a collector. In the photo above, you see some of her miniatures: books, animal figurines, tiny houses, a doll, and doll house furniture.

And she was an artist. Here are those Easter rabbits.

For collectors and artists, it’s all about the details. And although this grief is new, I’m thinking that’s how it will go for me. Photo by photo, memento by memento, flashback by flashback, I’ll miss my mother. I’ll miss her in the details.

But I’m not complaining! For as the big picture tells me, who would want it any other way?

What about you? Have you lost your mom? Any words of wisdom for those of us fresh to the loss?

Photo Below: My mom, Nancy Kiehne, on her 90th birthday in December


61 thoughts on “Losing Mom: A Life in the Details”

  1. Barbara, please accept my condolences on your difficult loss. My mother passed on almost six years ago. While I have gotten past the grabbing the phone to call and tell her something, her voice frequently rings in my head – usually telling me I should be wearing gloves while working in the garden.

    I also enjoy having bit and pieces of things she collected around my house, so maybe Mies van der Rohe was right “God is in the details”

    Hang in there, time really does heal. I will admit to tearing up when I read your post.



      1. What can I say, I live with a retired architect!

        With me it is usually gardening gloves and pork roast (garlic quantity advice – more slivers) advice from the great beyond.


  2. All the things.
    You grieve all the things.
    The big, and the small.
    And then, you know, you celebrate them, too.
    Time will bring you to that point: where the remembering becomes less about grieving, and more of a celebration.
    Might not be imaginable now, but, given time, that’s what happened for me.
    It’s been 27 years now, my Mom has been gone. What a good, loving woman I lost, right when I was ready to make her my friend. I still mourn that.
    Beautiful post. Very honoring to your Mom.


  3. My Mom has been gone for 2 years and I still hear her voice, want to call her and miss her terribly. It will take time, different for all of us, to get over the bad part of grief. But the memories will go on and on…so sorry for you loss..your family is in my prayers…


  4. Mom at 87 is vibrant both physically and mentally. I often recall the toll of her losing of her own mother. It was fall, we were canning plums together, almost a year after Grandma passed away. Mom opened the pressure canner, syrupy goo leaked out of the jars and down the sides. The plums all floated to the top of the jar in an unsightly brown glob. Mom sat down at the kitchen table, held her head in her hands and cried. “It’s okay,” I said, focusing on the clean-up. “I can’t call Mom,” she offered. “She would know how to fix this.”

    That was 40 years ago. It stuck in my memory like a photograph.


  5. What an inspiring and talented mother…like you! My mother lost her own mother
    when she was 6, so i took some
    omfort in having her until i was 50. There is
    joy in the remembered details.


  6. I wish I had words of wisdom but for now I can just commiserate and empathize. Your mom sounds wonderful. I lost my mother in law (to whom I was VERY close) in 11/13, and this post resonated with me. Especially the rabbits — she LOVED her Easter rabbit collection — although she was blind she had a HUGE appreciation for the visual and it was important to her to commemorate holidays accordingly. Sending prayers for peace and for a lasting sense of your mom with you. 🙂


  7. My mother died 4 days before my first grandson was born (almost 6 years ago now). In fact I reveived the news of Jacob’s birth 3 hours before my mom’s memorial service. The poignancy of life and death existing side by side was rich in so many ways. My mother was attending Jacob’s birth even though her earthly presence for us was gone. Do I miss her? Of course; every day! Do I experience her still – absolutely! When I see her in my daughter’s sweet laugh. I hear her voice of praise and encouragement when I endeavor to try something new. I see her in our family celebrations around our dinner table. She is there; giggling playfully with delight. Barbara, my prayer for you is that you will encounter your mother’s spirit in new and surprising ways. She is whimsical after all!


    1. Thank you so much. What encouraging words! I have experienced long moments of great joy in the last week. Not what I would have expected at all. I think part of it is relief that Mom is no longer suffering but part of it is joy for who she was and my years with her.


  8. The details are what you will hang onto and remember–especially at holidays, birthdays etc. But you never lose the desire to pick up the phone and tell your Mom something that is going on in your life. Or to ask for help with something you know she would know. But it does get easier over time once the main grieving has eased. Your Mom lived 90 years that were healthy, happy and fun. Truly a blessing for her and all of you.


  9. So sorry to hear of your Mom’s passing, Barbara. What a beautiful soul she seemed to be. Love her miniature collection!

    April 9th will mark one year since my mother died. I miss her in the details — her voice on the phone, those little bits of advice, her big laugh, her love for gardening, her good cooking! The big picture — the loss of a parent, the end of an era — hasn’t totally sunk in for me. It’s harder to fully grasp what that really means, losing someone you’ve known your entire life, the person who gave you life.

    But here is the good part: I don’t remember her as frail and sickly as she was towards the end. I remember her in her prime, full of life, her true self. The essence of who she was, of what she meant to me, is strong and unyielding.


  10. I am so sorry for your loss, Barbara – I enjoyed your mother’s artwork.

    When my grandmother died in 2012 we divided up the trinkets and furniture in her home – some valuable, some sentimental – so that each of us would have part of her with us. Every day I get to see or touch something that she loved. It means the world to me.


  11. My sincere sympathy in the loss of your mother. Losing my mother was the most difficult loss I have ever experienced. We lost her many times over. She had Alzhemer’s/Dementa so for three years I would lose her and some days get her back. The final loss was anticlimactic, but deeply painful. I cried daily for six months. Every memory, recipe card, and knick knack still brings it back after ten years. It is less painful than it was at first, but I think it will never go away entirely.
    Bless you.


  12. I’m so sorry for the loss of your mother, Barbara. She seems like she was a wonderful and beautiful person! It hurts and the just plain MISSING them is really, really hard. Time does ease it, although little things can trigger a fresh onslaught of tears at unexpected moments. That happened to me recently over my dad who died a very long time ago when I was 14. Somebody at church was sharing a story about their father and it just GOT to me about everything that I’d missed losing my dad so young. Even though I’ve been fully aware of everything I’ve missed and what he missed, too; meeting my husband and children, for example.

    Cherish the beautiful memories and know that you will see her again one day. xoxo


  13. So sorry for your loss. Your Mother must have been a wonderful person, you & your daughters were so lucky with the example she gave on how to enjoy life!! I read Kath’s blog & all the wonderful picture’s she shared of your mom & the words about her life. My Mom is still alive at 97, the last of 10 siblings! She can still play a mean game of gin rummy! But often wonders why she is still here and I reply that God isn’t ready for you yet.


  14. Your Mom looked fabulous at 90.They say you realize that you are an adult when you lose your parents. You are right, Itis the small things that you remember. The recipe in Mom’s handwriing, the things that only Dad could.fix. Sorry to learn of your loss of such a dynamic parent. Still enjoy the card with the aligator. Our heartfelt sympathies


  15. Our mothers live in us forever. My mother is still alive but my father has passed away. I relish in the details of remembering him. Life takes on a new perspective when we loose a parent. Your mom was very special. You have so many ways now to keep her alive in your heart.


  16. Barbara, your mom will still be with you in spirit. My mom died the night before her 61st birthday. We had so many plans for her that weekend, but she called and asked us to scale down the celebration to be at her house instead of the park. She wanted us all together in a more personal location, no one really knew why she did not want all of the hoop-la. She called me the night before and simply said, “I love you.”

    The worst times for me was when I wanted to pick up the phone and call her for advice or to plan one of our girl trips. There are so many things that I keep to myself now. She was the last unconditional person in my life. Dad died first, three years earlier.

    Mom is always on my mind when I am cooking and traveling.


  17. I’m so sorry for your loss Barbara. I lost my mom at 89 in December 2013. My Dad had passed away 2 weeks before at 90. It was a very tough time for our family. I’m thankful they lived long lives and we still haven’t sorted out the details because all the kids are so spread out across the country. My husband passed away in 2001 leaving me with two kids 11 and 13. I always felt guilty that I had my parents and they had already lost their dad. But, I guess that’s life.


    1. To imagine you lost your parents within two weeks of one another. I’m so sorry for the loss of your husband. Your kids are at nice ages, and although the teenage years can be challenging, mine were lots of fun and good companions in those years too.


  18. My heart goes out to you, Barbara. Your mother was beautiful and a talented artist. I can see her gifts in you. I still have my Mother, but she is 92 and ready to go… and each day I prepare myself for the moment when she is gone, a little bit more. Be soft with yourself, that is my only recommendation. Losing a mother changes everything. She obviously loved you very much…


  19. Save something very special.

    Perhaps the Easter rabbits, or some other rememberance that is special and captures the very things that you had cherished the most about your Mom.

    I am so very sorry for your loss. You had said that your mom was a “collector.” And, it seems from so many of your blog posts, that you have been, too!

    So, cherish all that you loved the most; “collect” when it seems appropriate, and possible. But, even when one can’t collect physical objects, luckily we can collect memories.


  20. So sorry for you loss and you are blessed to have had her so long in good health and then a short illness. You said it so well, big picture, small details. I think it’s all overwhelming and I know there’s no way to prepare. As you know, I’m lucky to have my parents still and try to see them when I can, knowing any day could be change.


  21. Hi Barbara, I met you over at Kath’s this past fall. I just wanted to pass along my condolences. Your mother seemed a very colorful character who had a wonderful life.
    And for the record, I think life is in the details.


  22. One more thing I feel I need to say, Barbara — I actually really believe that your Mom (even now) knows and revels in the knowledge, for example, that your grandson just flew his first kite – she’s not here to tell you directly, so you might look for the “signs” that she knows! She does know! – I believe that!

    And, life does go on, and as jfrances said our mothers do “live in us forever.” Sometimes this is symbolic, and we retain it in many ways (not even from our original “Mom”); and sometimes we are lucky enough to have had a “real” mom who has ushered in this sense of peace, esteem, and security. It seems that you may have had the latter. This is precious.

    Sad thing, I didn’t have this connection with my own Mom. So glad that you did, Barbara. This will always be a part of you and can never be taken away from you.


  23. How lucky you are to have had such a wonderful Mom. Your tribute to her is lovely. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. It’s definitely the details that get me, and usually at the most unexpected times. But so many of those details are joyful & you will have them with you always 🙂


  24. I’m sorry about your mom.

    I lost my mom when I was 31, and it was the single most heartbreaking event of my life thus far. It was a surreal time. I was on autopilot for a while, functioning quite normally from the outside while falling to pieces very quietly inside. Detached, numb. I just seemed to be “stuck” in a place of disbelief. The world around me seemed so DIFFERENT all of a sudden. I either saw or spoke to my mom every day for my entire life until she passed, and then she just wasn’t there anymore. It was jarring, reality-shifting, life altering. I cried, outwardly or inwardly, every day – missing her, weeping for my child who wouldn’t know her or remember her, raging at the unfairness of her being gone.

    Everyone told me it would get better. They aren’t wrong. It’s never the same again, though. Just different. You move on, life seems to start again somehow. You find the good days start to outnumber the bad. You realize you’ve spent a day not thinking about her. One day, you realize that you can laugh at those silly memories that used to make you cry, and you smile. The ache, the loss, the odd disbelief, the sadness, it will all always be there……but the pain of these feelings diminishes in time.

    It still rises up at times – I expect, at this point, it always will. I’m in my 40’s now, and still have moments where I just “want my mommy!!” My breath will catch when I find an old letter, or photograph I’d forgotten. Holidays are hard. With time, you learn to cope with the wave of grief that washes over you then – as fresh and painful as those first alien days – and move quickly instead to a joyful remembrance. You are able to recognize those letters, photos, memories – or whatever – for the beautiful gifts they are.

    The best advice I can give? However you grieve is fine. There is no right or wrong way, no timetable for recovery. Do what works for you, and take care of yourself. And know….you’ll be OK.


    1. Thirty-one is so young. I would have been devastated to lose my mom then. I don’t know at 31 that I would have had the insights to understand that I would survive. Sounds look you have done well despite your sadness. Thanks for writing.


  25. Barbara, I just saw this on Facebook. My deep condolences; it’s a huge hole in your life. . . .


    1. Barbara, Thanks so much. Mom left a huge vintage linen collection and I’ve been sharing it with many friends. It’s been a sweet way to honor her.

      On Fri, Jun 5, 2015 at 8:13 AM, Friend For The Ride wrote:



  26. Heartfelt condolences – we buried my dad last February and I dread the day we say “goodbye” to mom. But, contrary to what folks say, we don’t “lose” those we love. We only ‘lose sight’ of them until the Lord calls us Home to Heaven to be reunited with our loved ones ❤


    1. My mom saw my dad and her mom as she was dying!

      Enjoy your mom. Fun times in many ways. The later years with my mom were some of our best.

      On Thu, Sep 24, 2015 at 8:22 AM, Friend For The Ride wrote:



  27. Gentle hugs to you as you mourn the loss of your dear mother. What a beautiful woman. I love that photo of her with the flowers, taken on her 90th birthday. She’s radiant! I wish I could thumb through those miniature books. That’s a lovely display of some of her possessions. All my best to you as you tend to your memories of her and move her legacy forward through your own family.


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