Tag Archives: Nancy Kiehne

Losing Mom: Happy Birthday to Me



When you’re little, your mom and your birthday go hand in hand. She tells you about the wonderful day you were born (or adopted). She bakes your cake. She wraps your presents. She organizes your party. She might even paint a tile with your hand print and birth date on it (which sadly cracked  years later).

When you’re older, she still talks about that wonderful day, and she still gives you presents. Your mom and your birthday go together forever. Happy birthday, the day of my birth, to both of us!

But never, ever do you think you mom will die on your birthday.

Mine did. Last year. On March 20. The first day of Spring.

I was back in Hillsborough. Mom’s cancer pain had ramped up. She had begun to experience some moments of agony, yelling in pain. Trying her best to stay off full-time morphine, she didn’t understand she now needed constant medication. Her beloved New Yorker sat by her bed. Mom wanted to read and think and converse as long as she could.

The night before my birthday, her good friend Kathy helped her phone me. “Happy birthday,” Mom said, her voice strong. “You were a darling baby.”

When I woke up that morning, I thought my heart had shattered. I’ve never experienced such horrific sadness. Not so much that Mom was dying but that she was in pain. (That morning my brother convinced her that it was time to stay on morphine, but I didn’t know this until nighttime).

I spent my birthday crying and getting ready for a dinner for our church group. I had tickets back to Baltimore three days later. I considered skipping the party (Cliff said he could manage) and getting a flight up that day. I didn’t though.

My friends arrived, with a card and a birthday cake for me. My mood lightened as people filled the space.


About fifteen minutes later, Kathy called. I stepped into the spare bedroom. Mom’s breathing had changed. Her eyes were closed, even though she’d been quite alert at noon. Kathy didn’t think Mom would live the night.

As I walked back to my guests, a great calm and a sort of joy came over me. This was good, good news. Soon my mother’s suffering would end.

I ate dinner, joined in the book discussion, and then everyone serenaded me with “Happy Birthday.” I cut the delicious cake Carolyn baked. When I watched the phone video Cliff took of me listening to the singing and then blowing out my candles, I am smiling. My mother is dying, and I am smiling.

Next, we sang hymns in our living room, including a favorite: On Eagle’s Wings. Alice suggested we lift Mom’s name up in another hymn, and we did. I don’t have eloquent words to describe how those moments felt. I’ve been postponing writing this post for a year because I know this writer can’t do justice to the mystical nature of that night.

Shortly after everyone left our house, my brother phoned. Mom was gone.”Happy birthday,” he said at the end of the call. That may sound odd or even cruel, but Chris was expressing kindness. I was his sister, and after all, it was indeed my birthday.

But what a happy birthday it turned out to be. Mom was at peace. So was I.

Life tosses us surprises. Joy abounds in the most shocking ways.


My mom, Nancy Kiehne, was an artist. This is her rendering of St. Cecilia, the Patron Saint of Musicians.


Losing Mom: First Christmas Gone



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.


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


Mom had the patience and skill to fold Moravian Stars.


This angel is watercolor on brown paper.


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!


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.


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.



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


Fling Wide the Portals!



I stood in church two weeks ago singing from our new Presbyterian hymnal, which is PURPLE! 

“We don’t wear purple,” was one of my great-aunt’s credos. Now every week, I hold a purple hymnal. The Frozen Chosen, as the Presbyterians were fondly (?) called years ago, are letting loose.

As we sang “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates,” a line from that purple hymnal landed in my own head and stuck:


“Fling wide the portals of your heart.”


What a line!  What a challenge!

And that’s my holiday wish for you and for me. Fling wide those portals.

To the new, the daunting, the creative, the unusual, the refreshing, the funny, and the irresistible.

Like the Christmas angel above, stand with outstretched arms.

Happy holidays and here’s to the promise of 2015!


Angel Arms


My mom, Nancy Kiehne painted the angel. You can see more of her work at http://nancykiehne.tumblr.com/