caring for a grandchild, Caring for a parent, Death & Dying, Love letters from World War II


I don’t like to wait. I get restless and can’t do anything productive while waiting for someone to show up—late. And I don’t like to be late.

My mother doesn’t like to be late either. And so she waits. If I’m taking her somewhere I used to find her standing at the front door waiting for me—coat on, cane in hand, her Bag of Essential Things at her feet—15 minutes before time to leave. And the agreed upon time was generally 15 minutes before we really needed to leave. Now she waits, patiently, in the uncomfortable kitchen chair. She doesn’t like making me wait. We take care of each other that way.

My grandbabe is due date plus seven in Seattle. My daughter is ready to tear it from her body with her own hands. My overnight bag has been packed—ready for a quick get-away—for twelve days, pajamas added each morning, removed each evening, spare clothes changed with the yo-yoing weather forecast. The weather has mostly been gorgeous, and I want to go on a ramble, or camping, but I don’t want to get too far from home or out of cell phone range. I want to stand witness to our Elliot meeting his sibling.

(Photo credit: Wynne York-Jones)

Then there is end-of-life waiting. While we aren’t in “watchful waiting” mode, the 100th birthday is a month from today. How much longer can it be? (Well, it could be a lot longer.) My friend Elizabeth who waited out her father’s long death, is standing with her mother in her progress toward life’s end. She writes in her blog:

“It gets easier to mother my mother the closer she is to dying. In some ways her physical needs are more demanding, but her emotional needs are simplifying. She just wants my presence, my touch, my voice. She likes it when I say something easy to understand like, ‘You look beautiful today,’ rather than something complicated like, ‘I’m sorry I’m late, but the line at the grocery store was so long and then there was a lot of traffic because Elton John is in town tonight. Plus it’s raining like crazy.’”

This is so not my mother. Maybe that’s how I know she’s not going anywhere. My mother wants far more information about all things than I am able to give her. She is on a cleaning out rampage though, typically an end-times indicator. I think it’s just because of party guests coming next month, and she doesn’t compute that no one will see the shelf in her beside table. She’s enlisted M, she knows better than to do it with me. I wouldn’t stand for throwing out just a Tinnitus bulletin and a recipe saved from the Sunday Seattle Times in 1987.

I try not to feel like I’m waiting for my life to start again. And that is getting easier nearly four years into my one-year commitment. (We all tell ourselves lies; that this would be a one-year gig was one of mine.) And really, I don’t know what I think will be different. I’m taking care of business here. But like the past several days, waiting to be called to Seattle—and trying in vain to settle on what to do that might (happily) be interrupted—I haven’t settled completely into these days and years while waiting for things to change for my mom.


I continue to transcribe my father’s letters from the war. Five hundred and sixty letters in, it’s October 1945. Victory in Europe Day was five months ago. He’s waiting to go home and it’s not his turn; he doesn’t have enough points. He hopes he’ll be home by their second wedding anniversary in November. Then by Christmas. Then that he would at least be on the way by Christmas. His roommate left Germany and has been waiting in England for a month for one of the Queens to take him home.

“The days are so long, even if there isn’t much to do, that it wears me out. I surely do wish I were on my way home – even more than that, I wish I were home. Home with you, my darling. The very thought of it makes me alternately happy and then depressed that I’m not there and won’t be for some time. Everything seems so futile. I relive all the things we’ve ever done together. I dream of all the things we will do. And then I wake up to the fact that we’re 4000 miles apart. Well, the time will come and then all these months will seem only like hours.”

“The time will come.” He doesn’t know yet that it will be another six months before he packs his bags for home. In the meantime, he is making improvements in the weather station where he is a forecaster. He wants to leave it efficient and pleasant for those who will continue to be there after he is gone. Unless they close the air field.

It reminds me that I planted annuals at my house in Raleigh for the new owners to enjoy. It’s what we do while we wait: plant seeds for the future. My mom is cleaning out, even though she can no longer see to either appreciate nor disdain what is there; even though it takes her a lot of time and will take me no time at all when she is gone. Maybe she just wants to leave it nice.

My father came home. The baby will come. The end of my mother’s life will come. The years will seem but weeks, the days but minutes. But oh, the waiting. To be in the moment is a gift, and I’ve got the ribbon off. I’m still picking at the wrapping paper.

“I’ve lapsed completely into the activity of just waiting to go home. It’s not good and I know it, but it seems that I can’t combat it any more. At times it seems that I can’t wait even another hour. At times it seems that the waiting would be absolutely impossible if I didn’t have you at the other end of my wait. I can just feel you in my arms.”

(photo credit: Rebecca Staebler)


12 thoughts on “Waiting”

  1. Hi Gretchen…I’m pretty sure you are the Gretchen I remember from log ago (circa 1960). This morning my 9 year old and I were reading one of your mother’s letters (from our family archive) written to my mom in 2004…our son is studying cursive writing in his 3rd grade class and your mom’s letter is an excellent “real life” example, albeit a bit hard for him to follow vs the script in his study material. As he struggled into page three of your mom’s letter, we both smiled in realization that she had documented the reason why her cursive was hard to read. Here are her words” My dear, G___, I hope you can read this – I had a tedious eye implant surgery this am and I cannot read what I have written! But I just want you to know I am thinking about you every day.”

    Wonderful memories 🙂


    1. Thom! OMG! I have looked for you. Seriously, I have. Most recently to send you (are your parents both gone?) an invitation to my mother’s 100th birthday party. I’m dying here! I can’t believe you wrote. I’m sending you an email.


  2. Hello Gretchen, Just started reading your lovely-poignant-bittersweet blog. Think it came to me via Karen Maezen Miller a few weeks back. And then there’s a mutual “friend” in Amazing Gracie and her persons! You are clearing the way for me as I anticipate, if and how to walk with my aging parents. Later this week, flying back to the home “nest” to celebrate my father’s 85th, and to see my husband’s ailing 91 year old father. Our mothers are well. And it can all turn on a dime. Blessings as you, we sitting in the waiting.


    1. What?! You know KMM AND Gracie, Christina, and Ann? That’s crazy. Ah, Circle Way, I see on your website. I’m so glad to have you along on my blog. Yes, it can turn on a dime. Or not. What will happen with our elders is one big mystery. My father died of a heart attack at 78, his brother will be 106 this summer. Like my mother, except for vision and hearing and age-appropriate cognitive dysfunction, there’s nothing really wrong with him. Thank you again for reading my blog. I encourage you to follow, and to share your story in the comments. The connections are my favorite part of blogging. Blessings. Gretchen


  3. I keep reading your posts and it is like reading a good book that I can’t put down. I especially love the love story between your parents kept apart for too long and too often during those war years. I wish I had all the letters and post cards and cards my dad sent to my mother during the war. She died young and my step mothers who followed after that, “lost”a lot of my mother’s and my father’s things along the way. But it is what it is.


    1. Oh, Brenda, thank you. I feel very lucky to have these letters. I wish I had known about them while my father was still alive. And, greedily, I wish he had kept my mother’s. There are 99 of them, eight months. I have no idea why those and no others. I think he must have sent them home in a foot locker when they moved from England to France, and then he had to discard the rest at some point. Maybe the letters will shed light on that when I get to the end. I’m sorry for your mother-loss. Wow. That is a lot. Thank you for writing, and for reading so faithfully.


  4. Oh my goodness. That is the most wonderful photo of them I’ve ever seen! Thank you for finding and choosing it.


  5. So lovely as you weave together connecting generational threads. I loved this richly evocative post: powerful, gentle, poignant, rich layers of words and photos. A beautiful gift for my day. Thank you for sharing this today! And may you find beautiful gifts in your today.


      1. One day, when you’re able, Gretchen, come to the Austin SCN conference and I’ll bet you’ll meet several there. Our next conference is April, 2018. I’m collecting Magic Moments stories from our attendees now for a story in the June Journal. It will give you a flavor of what transpires there. My last thought here, and you may know this already: it’s the most incredible moment to meet women you’ve interacted with online. They’re like old friends because you know what’s in their hearts before you meet them. Extraordinary! Sigh!


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