Caring for a parent, Death & Dying, mother daughter relationship

The Amen

What is left to say, really? So much. And nothing. I’m coming to the end of this blog adventure, but there are a few more things crowding my heart as I process this end and move into beginning.

There were the synchronicities that still astound me.

That my mother died as spring busted out. It’s her favorite season, though she could no longer see it. The dogwood tree my father planted for my southern mother has more blooms this year than I think it ever has. There was also an abundance of trillium in the woods this year—her most beloved woodland flower. There are some in a pot in the garden her neighbor gave her years ago. The day after she died, I noticed there are two in the ground this year, having escaped the confines of the plastic pot. Metaphor.



That Rebecca had rare shop coverage for several days last week because she thought she was going out of town, but had all but decided not to.

That Jo Ann came thinking it was possibly to say goodbye, but it turned out to be for much needed help to take care of the business of a parent who has died.

That the two medical technicians from the Manor Mama especially liked, but had left service a couple of weeks ago to finish school were eating in the restaurant where had lunch so we were able to thank them for their good care.

That when I let my old childhood friend know my mother had died (neighbors in the 1960s with whom I reconnected and commiserated around elder care), I learned her mother had died two hours ahead of mine.

That my mother died six days short of 30 years after her mother did.

There was sweetness. When the moms told Elliot that “Nana-great died and Gigi is excited to hug him,” he said,  “Can I hug Nana-great too?” They had a conversation about that and and he said he had a dream about her the night before. “What were you doing?” Emma asked. Elliot said, “Let me think about it…I was dreaming I was giving her HUGS!” Then he counted to 102 in her honor as they drove down to see me. (Did I mention he is four?)

The next weekend, when they returned for a scheduled visit that wasn’t supposed to be helping clean out Emma’s grandmother’s room at the Manor, Elliot ran into the room, stopped short, and asked, “Where’s Nana-great?” Helping a four-year-old understand death is an ongoing process. One of his grandmothers died in early spring two years ago. I did not know family death until I was an adult.

One more game at the Manor.


Regrets, or not. As regrets keep trying to creep in, I am coming to understand my mother’s regrets that she didn’t do enough for her mother. She had no witnesses to all she did do; except I suppose, my father and I suspect he was not very compassionate about it. After my grandmother died, she had no one to tell her she did so much, like Rebecca and I have each other and friends and blog readers. A lifetime of feeling that she wasn’t enough left her with no tools to let go of her regrets around mother care; and so, 30 years later, she was still clinging to them.

I remind myself now of what I told myself when she would tell me she didn’t want me to have regrets like she does: I was doing the best I could and nothing I would know later would change what I was able to do in the moment. Maybe her own deep and ongoing flagellation of herself did help me become cognizant of the pit that keeps opening in front of me now. Each time my heart says, “I wish…” “I should have…” “Why couldn’t I have…” my head stops me from tumbling into the abyss. “You did the best you could, it was good enough. Go easy on yourself.”

Memoirs. I’ve read many memoirs about caregiving a parent, and have not found myself in them. “I was so lucky to have the opportunity to care for my dear mother at the end of life,” made me want to throw things. I did not feel lucky. But now I get it: apparently regardless of how frustrating, maddening, exhausting a mother is in life, in death they become “my dear mother.” Every time I saw that on the pages of someone’s memoir, it didn’t mean I’m a terrible daughter because I wasn’t experiencing my mother in any way dear, it just meant the writer’s mother and their life together was gone and over and I was in the middle of mine.

I’ve been writing a memoir for the past five years. I’m told you shouldn’t write a memoir while you are living it, but I’m glad I have been. I already have a different perspective. To begin it now, or a year from now, would have been a different story.

I read her poetry at the end. My mother loved poetry. I am not a fan, except for Mary Oliver, and rarely offered to read to her. I read often the two weeks before she died, though, when I didn’t know she was going to go but maybe I did. We both liked this one, read more than once. It comforts me now

Just Lying on the Grass at Blackwater

I think sometimes of the possible glamour of death –
that it might be wonderful to be
lost and happy inside the green grass –
or to be the green grass! –
or, maybe the pink rose, or the blue iris,
or the affable daisy, or the twirled vine
looping its way skyward – that I might be perfectly peaceful
to be the shining lake, or the hurrying, athletic river,
or the dark shoulders of the trees
where the thrush each evening weeps himself into an ecstasy.

I lie down in the fields of goldenrod, and everlasting.
Who could find me?
My thoughts simplify. I have not done a thousand things
or a hundred things but, perhaps, a few.
As for wondering about answers that are not available except
in books, though all my childhood I was sent there
to find them, I have learned
to leave all that behind

as in summer I take off my shoes and my socks,
my jacket, my hat, and go on
happier, through the fields. The little sparrow
with the pink beak
calls out, over and over, so simply – not to me
but to the whole world. All afternoon
I grow wiser, listening to him,
soft, small, nameless fellow at the top of some weed,
enjoying his life. If you can sing, do it. If not,

even silence can feel, to the world, like happiness,
like praise,
from the pool of shade you have found beneath the everlasting.

—Mary Oliver


8 thoughts on “The Amen”

  1. This week I’ve been reading a beautiful book by a local woman. In one passage her main character is describing how difficult it is “trying to coordinate so many different things at the same time “. She was talking about spinning roving into yarn, but I thought of you. That’s what you’ve been doing with this blog : keeping a delicate balance and all the while spinning something frangible into something beautiful and strong. When it slips into archive I will miss it so much, both for the story of how advancing age changed your mother and how the mercy of your choice to care for her, changed you. I have loved both stories and I have to believe that your crowded heart will continue to expand to carry all that it is meant to hold. Thank you.


  2. I’m so glad you didn’t wait to write this memoir! Your honesty about your struggles and about the ways you’ve found some peace along the way are immensely helpful to me as i enter this caregiving time. I hope you’ll keep this blog open and continue to share whatever comes up for you as time goes on. It’s so helpful to see whole honest picture of what we experience. I’m no wordsmith so I hope this makes sense. Ivebern really touched by all you’ve written over these years!


    1. Thank you for this. I am pondering. I know it won’t be a weekly post, I have other things to write…like finishing that memoir then starting on a project involving my father’s letters from the war and those of his siblings. If you don’t follow me on my website (I could look, I suppose), you might want to hop over there for other things I write, that will probably include reflections on my mother and father as I continue to live on their property.
      ❤ Gretchen


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