Present Tense


One year ago today, I embarked on a journey that affected me so profoundly that I haven’t even processed it fully.

I packed a bag and left my house to drive 4 hours south to sit at my 96 year-old mother’s bedside as she died.

I wrote quite extensively about the process and the journey of being with my mom as she wound down toward death. I had been preparing for this for some time.

As I sat with her and listened to her breathing, I realized that I had been preparing for my entire life.

I was her last born, the last child that she shared her heartbeats and her breath with.  I was the one to be there and hold her hand as she left this incarnation.  The circle was closed.

My mom and I had a very close relationship when I was a child. All of my older siblings were out of the house by the time I was 5 or 6. My dad worked long hours. So, just mom and me.

As I grew up, our relationship, like many mothers and daughters was complicated and at times, difficult. I distanced myself from family; physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Whether it’s accurate or not, I felt abandoned by them. It was during my mom’s final years that I realized that the death of her father when she was 12, left her feeling exactly the same way.

He chose alcohol over his young family and he died right int the middle of the Great Depression, leaving my grandmother to raise and provide for 3 children.

My mother NEVER spoke of this until the last couple of years of her life, when her dementia lifted some of her inhibitions and she spoke much more freely about her childhood and the challenges of losing her dad.  And the challenges of losing my dad a few years earlier.

So, I was with her in those final few years and months, as was my brother who lived close by. My older sisters , who visited as often as they could, were with their families, kids and grandkids, last Christmas. As they should have been. My sense is that they were where they were supposed to be, just as I was.

As she lay sedated and dying, I felt so strongly that her ancestors were in the room with us. Comforting her, gladly leading her into spirit. My dad, my grandma, her beloved sister, grandparents and who knows who else. All of them were there.

I was told during meditation to stay out of the way; that she was in good hands and I was there to witness not a death, but the birth of a spirit.

This was all very profound and comforting at the time and has greatly altered my view of death, both my own and others.

However, over the past year, I’ve realized that I was ready for her death, but not for her absence in my life. Even though the last few years with her were challenging and scary and exhausting, I miss her.

I miss how happy she was when I walked through the door. I miss her loopy conversations and questions as her memory slipped further into the ether. I miss helping her and caring for her and yes, waiting on her:)

I felt weird and sad when my parents’ estate was settled; they left a nice little nest egg for us, which was great, but the trade off was being parentless.

2017 has been a wrestling match with my grief. Over losing my mom and the earlier shocking death of my dog, Ember. 2016 was a blur of activity, much of it difficult, but with a few magic moments sprinkled in.

2017 was the year to allow that previous year to settle over me and I admit that I haven’t handled it as well as I would have liked. I fell into some of my default escape and coping strategies a few times.  But, I feel much stronger now.  Shit happens, you know?

As all of you know, grief hits so suddenly and randomly. And it’s hit me pretty much daily this past year. Could I have done more?  Could I have handled things differently?  Could I have saved Ember?  The answer to all is: no.  Life unfolds as it does and as it must.  Regrets and second guessing only cause more pain.  Time to accept.

On December 28th, I’ll mark a year since her last breath. I’m not upset about losing her around the holidays. So many choose to leave in December, in the darkness and holiness of winter. Seems like a perfect time, doesn’t it?

Anyway…I’ve always loved Christmas Eve for it’s solemnity and quiet before the storm of frantic activity that often marks Christmas Day.

I will sit and watch or listen to Christmas Eve services at the Vatican, as I did with my sleeping mother last year and as I have done for many years. The consistency and beauty of that service nourishes me.

For those of you also remembering and grieving, I send much love and comfort. I get it. It is bittersweet as we carry on with our lives and legacy, knowing that we too, have limited time here.

Merry Christmas. The light is returning.

December 24, 2017 - Posted by | Musings | , , , , , ,


  1. HI Jane – as always thank you for sharing. I too am grieving over the loss of my father in October and my yellow lab one year ago. Your words are very comforting and give reason to the emptiness I am feeling. Have a lovely Christmas Eve.

    Comment by Elizabeth Gardner | December 24, 2017 | Reply

  2. Thank you for sharing your story of loss and heartbreak. I to lost my beloved mother the day after Three Kings Day 4 years ago. I’m Latina so we celebrate this holiday equally to Christmas. I sat next to my mom as the holiday came and went that year. I was blessed to experience her saying good bye to me. At the moment it was such a difficult experience. However, Today I realize the gift she gave me. As we all get closer to that day of departure, we must honor our loved ones as you did.

    Merry Christmas. Enjoy your Christmas Eve ritual and may 2018 provide you with the time and opportunity to create new memories.

    Comment by elizabethsuarez | December 24, 2017 | Reply

  3. Love you! I love reading these! Merry Christmas !

    Comment by Meghan walters | December 24, 2017 | Reply

  4. Hi Jane, I too lost my beloved Mother on Dec 30th last year, but I had left ND after 3 weeks to come back to Denver to regroup a bit with my partner, friends, and pets. I was to fly back on Christmas Day, but due to a blizzard in ND, I didn’t make it out. I had said my good-byes, but the guilt and grief has made this a very difficult year. Your article gives me promise and hope of moving forward, with her forever close to my heart. Thank you so much for sharing, and I hope your Christmas Eve tradition carries you through with great strength and resolve.

    Comment by Linette | December 24, 2017 | Reply

  5. Beautiful post. Merry Christmas.

    Comment by Diane Taylor | December 24, 2017 | Reply

  6. Thank you for this. I was baking last night and thinking of my most beloved Grandma Sadie, my Aunt Romie and my little buddy Odie. Two were the most excellent bakers and cooks in the family the other my late night companion as I prepared for Christmas Day. Grandma and Aunt pass some time ago and Odie right after the new year. I still miss them and willintil my last breath. Reading you email helped today. It’s nice to think their spirits were joined by other spirits waiting.
    Happy Christmas.

    Comment by Sadie | December 24, 2017 | Reply

  7. Thank you, Jane – thank you, thank you! This meant more than you could ever know… A blessed Christmas to you!

    Comment by patricia lindsly | December 25, 2017 | Reply

  8. Beautiful Jane. Thank you !

    Comment by jillbromo | December 25, 2017 | Reply

  9. Thank you for sharing your heart. My heart aches at this time of year, also. You are a comfort as always.

    Comment by Kathy Graybill | December 25, 2017 | Reply

  10. Jane you write so eloquently and I always relate to your writings. My parents have been gone 13 years now and I do still miss them so. May you be blessed with only the goodness this earth has to offer. Happy New Years and please keep writing when you feel the urge. Terrie

    Comment by Terrie | December 26, 2017 | Reply

  11. Jane, as someone who’s parents are no longer walking this earth, as someone who’s dog passed too soon, as someone who lost too many friends and family in recent years – I appreciate your ability to put into words what many of us feel. Regrets are real, but don’t help us move on. Memories make us happy and at times a bit melancholy. The time for healing is here – sometimes in giant leaps, more often in small baby steps. Thank you for the reminder that we are not alone…

    Comment by Julie | December 26, 2017 | Reply

  12. ‘I’ve realized that I was ready for her death, but not for her absence in my life.” I too was ready when my dad passed in June after battling Alzheimer’s, but nowhere near prepared for the big hole he left behind with his absence. I miss the sound of his voice, his laughter, his larger than life personality. It’s too quiet, but if I listen closely some days, I can still hear him.

    Comment by LWinter | December 26, 2017 | Reply

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