Daughter Off Duty: Finding Mama

“Do you ever just miss her so much?” my sister asked earlier this week. Surprisingly I do.

Then I come across a photo of her slumped in her chair, and I don’t.

Then I find the photo of her leaning over the deck railing, the sun shining on the halo of her white hair inside the circle of her visor, to watch me working in the garden below, and I do.

Then I think of her complaining about the food and not being able to poop or pooping too much, and I don’t.

Then I think of something I need to ask her, and I do.

Then I remember the sadness of her not remembering, and I don’t.

We decide we want her back like we wished she had been and maybe never was. That ideal of a mother we hold in our heads. Perhaps that is the gift of death to those who remain, the freedom to aggrandize the lost one into all their inherent goodness without the bits that drove us to near madness.

She is with me in everything though. After spending six years trying to escape from her when I was in my garden or out hiking or driving off on some adventure, now I’m looking for her. And she finds me. On each of my hikes I make an inukshuk, or cairn, to show her the way to the beautiful place I’ve found. I find her in a moth that lands on my bear whistle and stays there, a western tanager that sits on the deck rail observing me as I eat my lunch, the mama and child enjoying an evening snack.


Last week I made a quick trip up the driveway to the garden for tomatoes and strawberries. As I bend down to pull a few weeds from the pathway bricks, the shadow of a large bird crosses the grass. Looking up, I spot a golden eagle circling the meadow. As I stare at the rare (as in never) event, it swoops down over me then flies off over the neighbor’s orchard.

I sink into one of the turquoise plastic Adirondack chairs, willing it to come back. Several minutes later it comes from behind my head and circles above the garden enclosure, around and around, over and over. “Hi, Mama,” I say. “You found me.”


8 thoughts on “Daughter Off Duty: Finding Mama

  1. Yes, we do miss our mother, and the children who left before the mother, which should never happen, and the friend who left me and cannot be summoned back. I miss them all…


  2. Wow, Gretchen! Beautiful honesty here. Since I am with Mom in Minnesota at the moment, this sits strongly in my heart. I am enjoying my precious time with her very much. So many decisions to make about care, about schedules, . . . and I find the most important thing is to simply be together doing what she can do. Just came back from writing in our journals by the banks of the St. Croix River on an 82 Degree F. end of summer day. Big love to you, Ann >


    1. I’m glad you are there with her, Ann. I found it so hard to just be with my mom when those caregiving tasks overwhelmed every moment. It was a bit easier after she moved, but there was still so much that got in the way. I’m sad about that, but I guess it was what it had to be. And look at you! You left a comment on the post! Big love back to you. G


  3. This is just beautiful in its honesty. As I navigate the shifting landscape in the lives of elders in my own life, I think often of how you are continuing to create this beautiful map of feeling and experience. I love that you feel that connection to her. There is something profoundly moving about that. Thank you for your generosity in sharing. I think you’ve answered your own question about whether or not it’s ever really over … ♡


    1. I love it too. Thank you. Nope, never over. Perhaps it is the gift of having been here. I don’t feel this way about my father, from whom I was both physically and emotionally distant when he died. Or maybe it’s just passage of time. Anyway, I welcome the connection.


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