Menopause

Losing Mom: The Second Year Anniversary

March 20 is my birthday. Cliff and I are headed off on a small adventure that I hope will end in cake with buttercream icing.

March 20 is also the day, two years ago, that my mother died. You don’t grow up thinking your mother will die on your birthday, but mine did (and it’s okay!)

Each death is different. Each grief is different, but active grieving helped me so much in the weeks after Mom died. Washing her punch glasses, ironing her linens, setting the table like she would, let me honor her legacy of whimsy and taste.

It was a year though until I really told the story of what happened on my birthday in 2015: Losing Mom: Happy Birthday to Me.

I was so relieved when my mother died. So happy that she was no longer suffering. While my mind still drifts to some regrets, to words not said, questions not asked, all in all, I’ve been surprised by how gentle my grief has been. Shocked, really.I’d dreaded my mother’s death since I first learned as a little girl that people die.

In the weeks before Mom died, I felt the deepest, most excruciating sadness I’ve ever experienced. The pain the cancer caused my mother broke my heart and not knowing how long she would suffer terrified me. Yet in her death, my overwhelming emotion has been peace.

But at the birth of my first granddaughter this year a new touch of grief set in. Not a deep sadness but a longing for my mother. I want to pick up the phone: “The baby is smiling!” If only I could print out the pictures and mail them to Mom: “Who do you think she looks like?”

As I said goodbye to Emerson last month in Dallas, I saw in a flash the faces of my mother, and my father too. They would be bonkers, as I am, over this little girl. If only they could see her.

But maybe they can. Maybe they do.

I’ve wondered where my parents went. I even have days when I think, bizarre as it sounds, that I can bring them back. I wrote about this idea in Bringing Back Dad. I sometimes ask myself:  Where are my parents? Deader than dead? In the ashes we’ve yet to sprinkle? Or are they in the clouds? In the treasures they left behind? In the habits and speech patterns I inherited? In heaven? (My first choice, of course.)

For years I’d observe people I knew whose parents were dead. They seemed fine. They laughed and went to work and traveled and celebrated holidays. If those people were fine, maybe I would be too.

And I am. For those of you who haven’t lost your parents yet, know there comes a grace in the loss. A peace in knowing your parent is not suffering. A rich contentment in the good memories. A fading of the bad ones. But most of all, there come flashes of longing for your mom and dad that feel like love in its purest form.

Just like looking into the face of a tiny baby who is looking right back at you.

Top photo: Mom smiles as I hold my oldest daughter Katherine.

Bottom photo: Laura holding Emerson at five months. Gosh, can this baby smile!

Menopause

Losing Mom: First Christmas Gone

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My mom died in March, and so this is my first Christmas without her.

Every year, when December came around, I’ve wondered: What will it be like the first Christmas when I unpack Mom’s things, and she is gone? Our Christmas treasures include decorations she created over forty years in a variety of mediums.

So this is it. This is the year.

Above, you see Mary and the Baby, done in spools. Below, a Santa ornament of paper mache.

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Mom made this  angel from a tissue tube. The angel slips over a tree branch.

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Mom had the patience and skill to fold Moravian Stars.

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This angel is watercolor on brown paper.

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This felt angel on velveteen is one of six Christmas banners Mom made for our Lutheran church in Towson, Maryland. She’d visited the Vatican exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 and admired the banners there. Mom’s banners graced our church before banners even caught on as liturgical art in the U.S. She was cutting edge in the banner world!

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Mom and the ladies at church turned eggs into ornaments. They sold enough of these, at 75 cents each, to put a kitchen in our church.

Mom’s art projects were a hit with the Sunday school kids. Here’s a three-dimensional angel ornament she made with them. I recognize her style, so I imagine she painted this one as a sample. The paint has faded over the years.

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Toward the end of her life, Mom painted with acrylics. This is the Holy Spirit watching over Mary and the Baby. Mom liked to envision the Holy Spirit as a colorful bird, capable of influencing folks quite convincingly.

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My mother didn’t like a lot of mushy gush. She avoided sentimentality in words and on greeting cards. But since I had warning the cancer would soon overtake her, I was determined to say my piece, my happy piece before she died. So these were some of my last words to Mom: “Your creativity has inspired me since I was a little girl and made me the person I am.”

This is what I know about the death of a parent, especially written for those of you yet to experience this sad time:

 You never lose the person’s legacy to you. You never lose their spirit.

Your mom or dad won’t go away. Not all the way away.

 

 

Menopause

Losing Mom: Vintage Linens

Iron

My mother was a collector’s collector. She went nuts over vintage linens, buying them for herself and for yours truly.

Soon after Mom died in March, my friend Nancy and I hosted a bridal shower at my house.The younger me would never have believed I could spend hours with Mom’s things within days of her death. I would have expected tears to hit the eyelet napkins like raindrops.

Nope!

Ironing those napkins and slipping them into Mom’s silver napkin rings put me in happy spirits after a gut-wrenching five weeks. (Mom went fast with cancer.)

Napkin Rings

Getting ready for the bridal shower helped me mightily

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and introduced me to the concept of active, and yes, even festive grief.

In this article on grief, the writer states that “healthy grieving results in an ability to remember the importance of our loss—but with a new found sense of peace, rather than searing pain.” Active grieving, be it ironing beautiful linens or hiking a beloved trail or starting a scholarship fund, helps us move to that new sense of peace.

My brother found drawers filled with linens as he cleared Mom’s apartment. He shipped them to me a few weeks ago.

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I’ve been having a grand time sharing them–more active grieving as my friends admire and select the hand towels, napkins, tablecloths, or bureau scarves they like best.

If I experience a more searing loss, I have no clue if the concept of active grief will help me. But in the case of my mother, who accepted her death and told us she had lived a good life, using and sharing her collections has been restorative and rewarding.

What about you? Thoughts? Impressions? Suggestions? Experiences?

Photo Below: Mom starting out on her linen journey, her wedding day in April of 1946.

WeddingBook Giveaway Winners! Congrats to Pam, who won Barbara Crooker Selected Poemsto Carol and Karen, who won Judy Holland’s Moody Bitches; and to Lisa, who won June Cotner and Nancy Tupper Ling’s Toasts.

Menopause

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

 

Losing a Parent, Menopause

Losing My Mom: A Peeps Poem (and a Book Giveaway)

Barbara's Mom

A post by poet Barbara Crooker:

When my mother decided she needed Assisted Living, we moved her down here to be closer to us, and I became her caregiver, although she lived in a senior residence (and then a nursing home at the end).

I went over daily, and always brought Peeps.

She’d loved them before, but I live in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, and Peeps are made in Bethlehem, so we have more varieties than you see in other parts of the country.

We have things like Peeps cooking contests (chefs from area restaurants competing for “best dessert made with Peeps”), Peeps Easter Hat decorating contests, Peeps Diorama contests, and–the biggie–on New Year’s Eve, a giant Peeps comes down at midnight!

Peeps

Peeps, though, are seasonal creatures (why no red, white and blue Peeps for Memorial Day and 4th of July, I ask?), and so when they disappeared after Easter, I mail-ordered a case, so that she’d always have them.

After she passed, I mailed packets of Peeps to family and friends who weren’t able to be with us at the end.

Packages of Bunnies

You’ll notice I’d mentioned hospice; initially, our plans were to take Mom’s ashes back to her home church in upstate NY for a memorial. But by the time she died, at ninety, not only were all of her friends gone, but the minister was gone as well. So we held her services in my garden, which she loved, with the hospice chaplain. I can’t say enough good words about hospice. . . .

PEEPS

In those last few months my mother didn’t want to eat, this woman

who made everything from scratch, and who said of her appetite,

I eat like a bricklayer.  Now she listlessly stirred the food

around her plate, sometimes picking up a piece of chicken,

then looking at it as if to say, What is this?  Wouldn’t put

it in her mouth.  But Peeps!  Marshmallow Peeps!  Spun sugar

and air, molded in clever forms:  a row of ghosts, a line

of pumpkins, a bevy of bunnies, a flock of tiny chicks,

sometimes in improbable colors like purple and blue. . . .

One day, she turned over her tray, closed her mouth, looked up

at me like a defiant child, and said, I’m not eating this stuff. 

Where’s my Peeps?

***************************************************

When it was over, the hospice chaplain said some words

in my back yard, under the wisteria arch.  The air was full

of twinkling white butterflies, in love with the wild oregano.

Blue-green fronds of Russian sage waved in front of the Star

Gazer lilies, and a single finch lit on a pink coneflower, and stayed.

When there were no more words or tears, I ripped open

the last packet of Peeps, tore their little marshmallow bodies,

their sugary blood on my hands, and gave a piece to each

of us.  It melted, grainy fluff on our tongues, and it was good.

Pumpin Peeps

Giveaway!  Barbara’s latest book is  Gold, a collection of poems about losing her mother. For a chance to win a copy, simply leave a comment on this post saying that you’d like to be the winner. Comments must be posted by April 15.

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Barbara Crooker’s poems  have appeared in magazines such as The Green Mountains ReviewPoet Lore, The Hollins CriticThe Christian Science MonitorNimrod and anthologies such as The Bedford Introduction to Literature.  Her awards include the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, fifteen residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a residency at the Moulin à Nef, Auvillar, France; and a residency at The Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland.

Her books are Radiance, which won the 2005 Word Press First Book competition and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize; Line Dance (Word Press 2008), which won the 2009 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence; More (C&R Press 2010), and Gold (Cascade Books, 2013). Her poetry has been read on the BBC, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Company), and by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac, and she’s read in the Poetry at Noon series at the Library of Congress.

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To learn more about Barbara and her work, visit her website at http://www.barbaracrooker.com/

And to learn more about Peeps, visit the Just Born website. There are even career opportunities. Job switch, anyone?

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Life

Guest Post: To My Mom, Who Taught Me Not to Wait (and a Novel Giveaway)

A guest post by writer Janet Fox:

I want to write this post about my mom.

She died young. Correction – she died at an age that I now consider too young to die, since she was only fifteen years older than I am now when she died. And frankly, fifteen years is going to go by like – click – that.

She didn’t have the chance to be the grandmother I longed for her to be for my son. She didn’t have the chance to see my first (or second…) novel published. She died suddenly and without warning, and as in all things in my life, she taught me something very important.

She taught me not to wait.

Among her papers as I was sorting them – because my father couldn’t – I found a pile of unpublished children’s stories. They were sweet, old-fashioned, lyrical. I read them and thought, huh. These are wonderful. What if I could do that. What if I could write something like that. What if…

I’ve always been a cautious person. Wait and see. Take it one step at a time. Consider the plan. But when Mom died she gave me the courage to open up my creative heart and let it all pour out. There’s no question that my first novel was written for and about her (a girl loses her mother, tries to find her, and instead finds herself).

In fact, all my writing now is about reaching out to my mother, finding the girl to woman connection, letting myself grow into the woman that she would admire.

I’m burning with stories now, stories that I must get down on paper, stories that are bursting to be told, characters that are reaching for the light, and this is all because she taught me to let them out, taught me not to wait.

What if we didn’t wait? What if we never waited for the right moment, the settled-downness, the quiet? What if we didn’t wait for the nudge of death to drive us to action? What if, as women, we shifted into the fullness of our lives right from the start?

If you are a cautious person, the time is now. Don’t wait. Take my mom’s lesson to heart. Find your stories and let them pour out like honey. Give them to the page, to your daughters, to the world.

Give them to yourself.

And, to my mom, I give my sweetest thanks.

Janet Fox is the author of award-winning books for children and young adults. FAITHFUL (Speak/Penguin Young Readers 2010), set in Yellowstone National Park in 1904, is a YALSA Best Fiction for YA nominee and an Amelia Bloomer List pick, 2011. FORGIVEN (Speak 2011), set in 1906 San Francisco during the great earthquake, is a Junior Library Guild selection 2011, and a 2012 WILLA Literary Awards Finalist.

Her most recent novel, SIRENS (Speak 2012), is set in 1925 New York and is told from alternating points of view of two girls who must confront a gangster and uncover dark secrets.

Janet is a former high school English teacher and received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults in 2010 (Vermont College of Fine Arts). Janet lives in Bozeman, Montana but you can also find her at www.janetsfox.com and   http://about.me/janetfox.  She blogs at: www.kidswriterjfox.blogspot.com.

Giveaway:  For a chance to win a copy of Sirens, simply enter a comment by December 5 saying you’d like to win.  I’m giving away two copies!