A Grief Observed – Missing Mother

We’re having lunch at Mother’s house today: home-grown tomato sandwiches, Silver Queen corn on the cob, and fresh tossed salad with a wrapped-up cucumber found left in her refrigerator. There is also a boiled egg she cooked recently, but Mom is not here. She is gone, left this life on July 28 just five days after her 96th birthday.

We (my sisters, brother and I) were together in June and had a high old time with Mother, eating out, making butter, playing Uno. In her boxy, blue l989 Dodge Spirit she drove herself to the July Christian Women meeting at The Gathering Place in Mt. Joy, went to the drive-through at her bank and wrote out checks to pay her bills. She attended the Metzler Reunion at Lititz Springs Park shortly before her birthday. A church bulletin in her Bible is dated July 20, 2014. Mom was even up to having lunch on July 23 with Nan Garber from church, who shares the same birthday week. But after that, she began feeling un-well, attributing her sickness to possible food poisoning. However, a pernicious bacteria was taking over her body, which no medical treatment could touch. Her death has stunned us all. We are in shock.


Yet we are grateful that after a long life of good health and sound mind, her suffering was brief though her influence eternal.

Indeed, the quality of her life was A+ up until the very end. Some snippets from her 3-day hospital stay:

Optimism: “We are having a sunny day today.”

Acceptance: “Whatever the good Lord wants for me . . . .  I am ready to go.”

Wit: As she is moved from her hospital room to ICU she quips: “I want my glasses on, so I can see whether I’m going in the right direction.”

Gratitude: “It’s nice to have a loving family.” And finally . . .

Love: “I love you too!”

Among the songs sung at her funeral a cappella in 4-part harmony at Bossler Mennonite Church was “The Love of God,” a song she requested as she planned her memorial service years ago.

For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

                                    Romans 8: 38, 39


* * *

Psychologists tell us grief involves several stages. According to the Kübler-Ross model, they include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance–eventually. These stages are not always experienced in linear fashion, and they are usually recursive, cycling through body, mind and spirit in relentless waves, unpredictable and strong.

But the death of a father or mother hits its own particular nerve in one’s psyche and heart as I observed traveling to see Mother for the very last time in this life:

Sad poem

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything,” notes C. S. Lewis in A Grief Observed.

Jane Howard, in A Different Woman probes the pain inherent in one’s separation from a beloved friend, partner, father or mother:

The death of my mother made me feel like a deck of cards being shuffled by giant, unseen hands.  Parents, however old they and we may grow to be, serve among other things to shield us from a sense of our doom.  As long as they are around, we can avoid the facts of our mortality; we can still be innocent children.  Something, some day will replace that innocence, maybe something more useful, but we cannot know what, or how soon, and while we wait, it hurts.


How about you?

Have you experienced loss, gradual or sudden? How have you adjusted to it?



62 thoughts on “A Grief Observed – Missing Mother

    1. Our family was touched by your presence at her celebration of life. Thank you for the card as well. Yes, our cousin time next year at Oregon Dairy will be different without her presence. It means so much to see your comment here today, Dorcas. Thank you!


  1. Your mother sounds like a wonderful woman. It sounds like her passing was quick and that she was able to enjoy life fully up to almost the very end. I’m so sorry for you loss, but I’m glad you have happy memories. I think it took a year for me to get over my father’s death. Not that the grief was intense the entire time, but I do think there is a reason why many religions and cultures designate a year of mourning. I wish you and your family all the best during this difficult time. My thoughts are with you.


    1. I remember feeling a heart-ache in the physical sense for about six months when my father died after just a two-month illness. Mother’s passing was abrupt. I don’t really think the reality of it all has begun to sink in yet. Thank you, Merril, for your perspective today.


  2. This is such a wonderful tribute so beautifully written.
    I can’t believe my dad has been gone over 25 years; I count our blessings that Mom still is with us. We’re planning a trip soon. When dad died Mom said, “I think you are taking this the hardest of all.” No, I did not sob uncontrollably, etc., but I did take care of details months afterwards, and of course, I always remember him. The tears came in waves for none to witness. They would rush up and then I would find a quiet place for them to pass.
    I remember seeing in the halls where we taught a co-worker who lost her mother around the same time. When we would see each other we would just give each other a big hug in passing. It helps if friends know what you’re going through. Hugs.


    1. The experience of grief coming in waves is a metaphor I have read about often and now am feeling as the days unfold. Like you, my sisters and brother and I are taking care of details together and riding the waves so to speak. Usually, our tears don’t come all at the same time.

      Your observation is poignant and true: It helps if friends know what you’re going through. Thank you for being such a friend, Georgette.


  3. It was good to see all 3 sisters again at your mother’s memorial service. It all came so quickly but she had very little suffering which was a blessing. I remember your Mother calling me one time to come and visit because Jean was coming. It was to be a surprise for Jean and it was. Well, it was sooo good you got to spend quality time with your Mother very recently.


    1. Mother was a good party organizer – small and large. A few months ago, Mother called up her niece Anna Mae (Metzler) Martin to reserve a time for the cousins to get together at Oregon Dairy. Since Anna Mae is a hostess there it is easy for her to set up. In retrospect, I wonder if Mother had a premonition.

      Yes, we were fortunate to have that special time in June with Mother. Thank you for telling me about the surprise visit she arranged for you and Jean. Precious memories . . . how they linger!


    1. Bless you, Joan, for reading and commenting during this busy time as you put the finishing touches on your own memoir, Me, Myself, and Mom. Thank you for your good wishes. They are consoling.


  4. Dear Marian, I am so sorry for your loss but happy for you that you have so many, many good memories of your mother and got to spend quality time with her this summer. Your memorial to her sounds as though she was a wonderful woman who has peace.


    1. It seems not so long ago that we were both teaching at the College and now are pursuing our writing goals whole-heartedly. Thank you, Dixie, for your kind observation and condolences.


  5. The empty bed says it all. The first time I went back to my parents apartment after Dad died (2006) his empty chair in the living room was hard to take, harder still to sit in. I’m so glad you could enjoy the butter party with your mother and spent so much quality time recently with her. I think she passed away like many of us would choose to: quickly, with good use of our bodies and minds right up to the end. But the enormous hole is hard, I’m sure.
    Last summer, a 100 year grand lady from our church celebrated her birthday on Sunday, read all her cards on Monday and enjoyed grilled steak, wine and the fixings on Monday night. Then she took ill and died by the end of Tuesday. I’m glad to have gotten to know you through your blog etc. and am feeling a tug for sure by reading this moving post, and your brief poem. So nicely put.


    1. When we went back to the house for the first time after Mother’s passing, there was a nephew and family on the porch waiting for our key to get inside. Then for two weeks thereafter a flow of friends and family from far and near bringing food, comfort, or both. The house has gotten more empty, and there will be a time when we have to deal with not only the empty bed, the empty chair, but the clothing just recently worn, and the shoes. Shoes are so hard to look at and touch. Very hard!

      I appreciate your empathetic words and love the story of the 100-year-old grand lady. One can’t hope for more. Happy in mind, body, and spirit until the very end.


  6. “…though her influence eternal.”

    Marion — your mother had an incredible ripple effect. Far reaching in scope, it was positive, uplifting, constructive, and healing. And continues as we remember her in these pages.


    1. Truthfully, we all expected Mother to live to be at least 100. To us, she had enough fire to live that long, so we thought.

      I am so happy I was able to introduce you and my other readers to her in these pages – over a year of memories, now made more poignant with her passing. So grateful for your comment today, Laurie.


  7. Marian … this was a beautiful tribute. And I think the metaphor of the waves is so appropriate. My mother and I weren’t close, and her death was expected. Even so, there so many unexpected moments over the next six months when I could hardly breath for the sadness.


    1. The yoga experts say our breath connects our body to our mind and emotions, perhaps explaining the dis-connect during periods of deep distress like yours with your mother. Everyone experiences grief differently. RIght now the grief in my heart is palpable, the heart-ache more than metaphorical. Thank you, Mary.


  8. So nice to see your post missed reading it. Grief is a strange thing. It’s almost a year that our Linda is gone yet it’s so hard to grasp the thought. It hits when least expected. God is good with all his comfort. Now that mom is gone its hard to know I don’t have her a phone call away to hear her voice and her encouragement. Yet I praise God she didn’t suffer and lived a wonderful life. Left so many great memories to me and all if my family here in Chicago. There aren’t enough words to express her love her life and much more her giggle — I loved her giggle. Thank you for the CD of the memorial service. So nice to be with all of you. We have to find time to get together again.


    1. I understand, Gloria. Now that I’m back in Jacksonville temporarily I realize that I can’t pick up the phone tomorrow morning, our usual time for talking, and hear her voice. I’m so thankful for the video we made in June. How precious is our time with loved ones, and how transient is life. Those words mean more than ever today to all of us who knew her.

      Yes, I agree. We have to find time to get together again.


  9. Dear Marian,
    I’m so sad about your news. The wonderful photo of you and your mom reminds me how precious those mother-daughter bonds are. I went back and watched her shaking that butter jar and smiled. Your poem is a true reflection of those hard days following a loss of of special loved one.
    You have shared so much of yourself and your family here, that I feel like I know you as a friend. I wish there were magic words to ease your pain.
    Grief is whatever you need it to be, however long you need it to be, so do, say and feel what you need to. Be gentle with yourself. I’m thinking of you and sending warm hugs from Alaska.
    Love & Hugs,


    1. Warm hugs from Alaska are just the thing I need since returning from PA (cool) to hot, sticky Florida. I’m glad you enjoyed the butter-shake post again. I brought back that same jar with me as a keepsake. Your advice is wise, loving, and true because you have been there and understand loss so well.

      I’m thankful for our online friendship too. We have shared so much back and forth over the past year via our blogs. (((Hugs))) back to you, Patti.


  10. Aunt Marian, that was a nice tribute. You and your sisters did a great job planning the arrangements for her service. I feel your pain. I miss my grandma terribly. She was an amazing lady who touched a lot of lives.


    1. Heidi, I am so excited to see my niece’s comment in this column. Wow! You did so much for Grandma, especially this past year which we had no idea would be her last. She loved your cards, visits, and general over-all exuberance for life which you probably inherited from her. Thanks for visiting and commenting today.


  11. You were truly blessed with a wonderful mother who lived her life to the fullest up to the end. One cannot wish for more. I’m sure you will miss her a lot but also smile at the all the wonderful memories. Thanks for sharing this heartfelt tribute.I hope I can be as strong when my time comes.
    Sending hugs your way.


    1. Darlene, our faith, our folks, and our friends (online and otherwise) comfort us, as you have done by reading and commenting. Though there is pain, we are not alone and that brings tremendous consolation. Thank you for commenting.


  12. Marian. I love the opening about the tomato sandwiches, cucumbers and Silver Queen corn-on-the cob. It reminds me of the beauty of Pennsylvania and foods my mother – who was of German ancestry, loved. My mother also died in August. As I wrote in my memoir, I am the sole survivor of my family of origin – both my parents and my brother are dead. My husband has been gone for two decades. Death creates a vast void that can never be filled. Such is life. One of the ways I’ve come to terms with grief, as you know, is to write about it. I’m so sorry for your loss.


    1. You are so right, death creates a vast void that can never be filled. Writing this post, though it may seem premature to some, has helped me begin the long journey toward healing as it preserves the memories.

      You mention that you are the sole survivor of your birth family, but you are a survivor! Thank you for adding your heart-felt thoughts to the conversation. So appreciated.


  13. This is a beautiful tribute to your dear mother. I’m so sorry for your loss, Marian. My mom died suddenly thirty years ago at age fifty-five, eighteen months after my dad died suddenly. My experience with grief is that it eventually becomes like a wave but those initial first months were filled with just deep pain I needed to endure to come through it. We don’t “get over” the loss of a loved one. We come to terms with it, we accept it, but we never stop missing them. Moments of grief can surface unexpectedly for the rest of our lives as the absence of them from our lives overwhelms. That you grieve over her passing is a testimony to the loving ways she impacted you. May you find comfort in precious memories of your mother, be uplifted by sharing your sorrow with your family, and be encouraged by your faith–a faith that was, I expect, a gift imparted to you in part by your dear mother.


    1. I like your summary, Linda. Indeed I am finding comfort in those precious memories, am uplifted by sharing with family and friends, and resting on the Solid Rock. My husband Cliff’s mother died at age fifty-five too and his family has never been the same. I know I am so fortunate to have had Mother for 96 years. Still it’s never long enough. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Thank you, Angela. I have photos to share of course and I brought back the “original” butter churning jar and some mementos for our children. Tonight we’ll share a PA Dutch meal in her memory. Great cook that you are, you know food always helps.


  14. Marian, such a lovely tribute to a mother who had lived a beautiful life up to the last. I loved the quote about her glasses. It reminded me of a note my mother left with her instructions for her funeral service: “Don’t put my glasses on me. I won’t need them where I’m going.”

    Yes, I have experienced sudden loss when a nephew in his mid 40s was gunned down by a stalker. A vicious and hateful crime, Joe’s life taken suddenly stunned us all. Although my nephew, there was only six years difference in our ages so it was more like losing a brother. I’m still startled when I see a photograph of Joe and realize he’s really gone. It’s been over 20 years now, and I still miss him.

    I’m thinking of you and praying for you each day. Trusting in the Lord to move you along in this process as He sees fit.


    1. Your note about your mother and her glasses made me chuckle – good for the soul these days.

      I am sorry about the tragic loss of your nephew Joe. You say he felt like a brother to you; I imagine you have many pleasant memories of your time together.

      And you are right – I am trusting the Lord to guide me as I move through this un-familiar process. I know I am not alone. Thank you for the reminder, Sherrey.


  15. Marian,

    When I call my mother tomorrow, I’ll do so with appreciation made richer by the knowledge that death could snatch her — and all of us! — at any time. Your tribute to the physical details of your family’s life has always made the spiritual depth of your heritage apparent. Let me add my words of appreciation for your mother and for you, who has helped her live abundantly and longer on this side of heaven through your carefully crafted sentences in her honor and in the description of “a grief observed.” We come back to the great books, don’t we, in our own times of pain?

    I just wrote a post for Not Quite Amish about our recent bike-ride visit to graves in Old-Order Mennonite territory. I think that your mother’s recent death might have subtly influenced that choice of topic. Whenever we lose people who have touched us, even if we never met them, (your mother, Robin Williams, Michael Brown) their absence ripples far and wide.

    Thank God for them, for friends, for faith.


    1. Today has been particularly difficult for me, the first Saturday I’m back in Jacksonville and have to face the fact that no Mother will be on the other end to take my call at 8:30. Away from the pressure of appointments and the ministrations of close friends and relatives in PA, I face the “sorrow which like sea billows [are rolling].”

      Your words are a balm to my soul and I am happy that I could introduce you and all my others readers to Mother before it was too late. If this post influenced your choice of topic for your writing, however subtly, I am pleased. I look forward to reading it on the unique Not Quite Amish website.

      Life is transient and therefore precious. I cherish is all. Thank you, Shirley, for this reminder.


  16. For some reason as I sat at my computer today I typed into my browser “plainandfancygirl” (I no longer get email notice about a new blog post) and was stunned to read about your loss. Your wonderful blog evoked memories for me of my own parents’ death, both a number of years ago. I still remember the phone number I dialed so often to call my mother.
    Though the death of a parent when at the age of your mother is not a complete surprise, still the loss is real and painful.
    Thanks for sharing the tribute to your mother,


    1. I would say your typing in the words to my website was providential, not accidental. You mention the phone number you dialed so often to call your mother. Now I wonder whether you had a push-button phone back then or a rotary dial. In her bedroom, my mother still has the rotary-style phone. She was old-fashioned, much like your parents probably were.

      Though there is pain and sorrow at our separation from our parents, their influence is etched in our memories. Thanks for reading and commenting today. I hope your will visit here again soon, Verna.


  17. She was a Saint who by the grace of God could comfort others, provide delicious PA fare, and often used her gift of sharing with others.

    I smile as I remember her love of food. In her letters to Marian she would always mention a meal she was cooking or looking forward to eating out with some of her friends.. She held a slight edge over me when it came to her fondness of food. “A little butter makes it taste better,” she would say as she gave a shy smile looking up like a little girl, a spoon hovering over the remainders of a meal.

    And now she will eat at the Master’s Table in heaven where she can taste more recipes of angelic food.

    Love you Mother.

    Son-in-law Cliff


    1. You speak from first-hand experience – lovely tribute and very much appreciated.

      Mother equated food with love. And so, in her honor, we are having dinner with family this evening. We begin with ham-loaf and end with Hershey Kisses and Hugs.


  18. It was lovely reading this poignant and poetic post Marian, thank you. The photographs are also lovely as are her snippets. Your poem too and the biblical and Lewis’ quotes. You shared her with us over these last months and it was always so special to read about her. Her time had come it seemed and how blessed to have you at her side. Love and loss are so intertwined aren’t they. Let sadness take its time … it’s on it own schedule.


    1. You expressed it so very well: love and loss are so intwined. I appreciate the wisdom to let sadness take its time. Healing will take a long, long time for me, but it will come eventually.. Thank you for the sentiments.


  19. Marian, this post moved me. From the beautiful picture of the peaceful bedroom, to the poignant way in which you describe the ways in which your mom cradled life. . .no mystery as to why her passing was so graceful and grace-filled. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful soul with all of us. May your memories of her keep your heart full forever.


    1. Thank you for your eloquent reply, Alison. Yes, Mother was graceful and grace-filled. I am so fortunate to be able to share her stories on my blog. Yes, I do cherish the memories, all of them.


  20. Marian, this is a touching and beautiful tribute to your mother’s life well lived, and the glow that will continue to light your way now that she’s gone. The snippets of her words in the hospital already had me wiping my eyes, and then I came to the picture of you two together, and the tears really began. Beautiful mother, beautiful daughter…and a continuing love.
    Bless you, Marian.


    1. I’m glad you appreciated the post, Marylin. You still have your mother with you. Rejoice! Though part of her is gone, her essence it still there.

      When we were acting up as kids, our mother would sing “You’ll never miss your mother till she’s gone” as a way to shame us into behaving. Well, I really, really miss her now, especially Saturdays when I typically call her – she with her coffee and me with my tea for a 30-minute conversation!


  21. Dear Marian,
    This post gave me goosebumps. I can only imagine emptying the refrigerator for lunch and experiencing that peaceful but empty bedroom. How odd it must have felt.
    I imagine it’s a shock when death comes so unexpectedly to someone who seems healthy. From the outside, I’m grateful she didn’t have to linger in the long period of infirmity so common to older people. My mom was in an Alzheimer’s stupor for over 10 years and curled into a fetal position for 2-3 years. It was a relief to say goodbye. I can now miss the best parts of her rather than worrying about her suffering and mine.
    I’m sorry it took so long for me to get here to read this, but that’s the reality of my life now. I’m glad I had a few moments to visit and catch up.
    Wishing you and your family well,


    1. Elaine, no need to apologize. You are organizing for a book launch, so I feel honored that you had even a few minutes to click on my blog posts today.

      My Aunt Ruthie suffers from dementia, and so I understand your descriptions, but she is in many ways still in tune with the world, At Mother’s funeral she said, “I’ll be on the next cloud up.” Yes, I’m taking note of all of this – even a few of her journal entries which are now sporadic with hobbled handwriting.

      However, during moments of clarity she mourns the loss of her once keen memory, which you understand so well. You say it well: “I can now miss the best parts of her rather than worrying about her suffering and mine.”


  22. I’m so sorry for your loss, Marian, but I’m glad that she did not suffer. I love her bits of wisdom, love and humor.

    My Mom passed in 2001. She indicated that she did not think she would survive an upcoming operation. Mom was correct. At our last get together, she told my brother and me how proud she was of each of us. That was comforting to reflect on. I know that you will have many similar reflections that will make you smile as well.


    1. It’s interesting how both our mothers had a premonition at some point they may not live much longer. Though my mother appeared so healthy in June when we filmed the butter churning episode, she seemed more liberal with cash. Among other things, she paid for my plane ticket back to Jacksonville, something unusual for her.

      I believe both of us cherish these memories and like Wordsworth, see them heightened in retrospection.


  23. Ahhh Marian, I am so sorry for your loss. I waited to read your link before I commented this morning since I was on my way to work. I am glad that I waited. I feel the hole too. Thank you for sharing this with me. It is hard to press LIKE but I LIKE the way you write and the words that have written such a sweet tribute to your mom. Not the story that takes her away. But it sounds like you had no regrets. That you loved your mom and she knew it. You are right my post today does relate.
    Big (((())))) Hugs!


    1. I feel the empathy in your words today, Diane. Though we have never met face to face, still we can share experiences that resonate. Thank you for reading and commenting today. It means so much to me!


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