4:38 p.m.


They tell me there was snow on our mountains for about five minutes this morning. I never saw it, but I believe it was there.

I know in my head that my mother has been gone for exactly one year today, but my heart does not yet fully comprehend this truth.. It seems I am able to believe in the snow without ever seeing it, but unable to wrap my head around tangible things right in front of my face, like a clock or a calendar. 

Even though it is the way of things, even though death comes to every one of us at some point along the journey, even though my mother’s death was, in many ways, the very best way for death to happen, this losing a much-loved mother is hard and it is painful. At times, it still feels strange, unnatural and weirdly disorienting. Tears spring at the oddest times. Some small piece of decor or clothing will catch  my eye and I realize I am smiling sadly, even nodding slightly, as if offering a brief moment of homage to the force of nature who was my mom.

One year today.

We walked her last journey together, she and I, and it was not an easy one. I remember lovely sunlit moments along the way — sitting by the pool at her residential facility, each of us in a large sunhat, drinking in the ocean air, bird sound, and bright blooming vines that surrounded us. I remember laughter, her wonderful, rich laughter. I remember a smile as big as whatever room she was in, welcoming one and all. I remember how beautiful she was, even as age and disease slowly ravaged her.

I also remember deep confusion, the devastation when she no longer knew I was her daughter, her tears of frustration and of fear when she tried to make sense of something that was no longer within the sphere of her cognitive ability. I remember trips to the emergency room, her terror and embarrassment when strapped to a gurney she did not want or need. I remember deep bruises from falls, and the firm conviction that, ‘this is not my room, I’ve never been here before in my life.’ I remember a growing disconnection from things like seasons, days, time itself. 

I also remember her leading my Brownie meetings, teaching my 11th grade Sunday School class, bending over her beautiful stitcheries, and I remember with glee her bawdy sense of humor. I was deeply aware of how thirsty she was to learn, to read, to discuss, to ponder and wonder and observe. I remember how feisty she could be — and how volatile!

I remember how much she worried over me. Oh, my, how she could worry!

Now, at this late stage of my own life, I know all of that was because of her deep love and concern for me, but then? Then, it felt suffocating, limiting, inhibiting. She worried over my height, my weight, the way I walked, the fact that I might be “too smart to ever catch a good man.” She dragged me to multiple dermatology clinics because of my dry and sensitive skin,  she always wanted me to be ‘more social,’ and regularly encouraged me to invite classmates over to hang out. She also wanted me to enjoy athletics, something she was good at and I most definitely was not.

We found our way together, yes, we did. I was her first child — longed for and loved and cherished. As does every first-born, I bore the brunt of her inexperience and the leftover wounds of her own, sometimes chaotic, upbringing. But she was smart, my mom. And she was good. She learned from her mistakes, she apologized easily, she loved deeply and well. We found our way to one another during my adolescence by reading books together and writing each other notes about them. And we laughed. A lot. 

We also shared a deep love of beauty, in all its permutations. Today, on this anniversary, and as my computer clock tells me it is now exactly 4:38 — the moment of her death, one year ago — I want to remember and reflect on that most of all. She was the embodiment of beauty in so many ways — in her face, surely. But even more so, in her spirit. Yes, she could be ugly, too. Aren’t we all? But the beauty of her is what I cling to now.

Gasping at a glorious sunset, tenderly arranging flowers for the dinner table, creating a cake or a sketch, looking for and finding the beauty of others, even eventually encouraging me to reach out past the boundaries she herself had always drawn around me, as a female child. She didn’t fully understand my call to ministry at midlife, but she supported it. She wept when I told her — through my own tears — that I never could have considered going to seminary if my husband didn’t make enough money for its cost to have no impact on any other person in our family. She wept because she knew that wacky belief came directly from her own fears and prejudices, her own false picture of what it means to be female in this world. 

My mother learned. And she kept on learning, right up until dementia moved in to stay. And while she learned, she continued to love us all so very well. I thank God for her every day of my life. And I thank you, my dearest Mom. I miss you more than words can say.

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  1. Sandy Hay says

    The beauty in your words, the beauty of your Mother, the beauty of God…and the mystery of it all 💜

  2. My heart aches with yours. I would have loved to have known your mom. I’m glad I can through you.

  3. Diane saaybe says

    I’m sorry for your pain and grateful for your openness. My mother is pulling in on 90,
    And I see The acceleration in her cognitive decline I followed your writings as you walked with your mom and found comfort and strength through your words. Odd how we lose them a little at a time and then we lose them ( from earth at least) finally. ❤️💔🙏.

    • I’m glad that my words all along this journey were helpful to you and I pray that as you continue down this hard road, you will find spaces of refreshment and encouragement along the way. Thanks for your kind words here.

  4. jaccit@gmail.com says

    Beautiful Diana! You have made it through a year of firsts. So hard. Love you. Jacci

  5. Tears, hugs, smiles and prayers from Zambia

  6. It’s so important to mark such days with remembrance and feel the grief again. We did that this week, a year after my granddaughter’s other grandmother stepped behind the veil at 58. I try to help them keep her alive in their hearts which is, I think, the place where all those we love always live. As you know, I have appreciated so much that you have and are willing to share this story with your Mom– your complex and beautiful Mom. This week in my poetry journal one of my prompts was the poem, What I Learned from my Mother by Julie Kasdorf. You might enjoy it. Blessings and comfort, my friend.

    • Wow, 58 feels WAY too young. And I love Julia’s work – she was a presenter at a long-ago writer’s retreat at Laity Lodge. Thanks for your kind words and gentle spirit, dear Dea.

  7. Margie Bicknell says

    A year….as I travel on this road of dementia with my mom, I have so coveted reading your journey. This journey has been so stressful for me and my sisters, the way dementia takes the present away in 30 seconds or less, and yet the past, with its hurts and demands become long conversations of hurt feelings, repeated complaints of all manner of things. Yet, one day, Mom won’t be here, and that keeps me going back to see her and connect with the Mom I want to remember.
    A year…..an eternity….because we never have enough time with those we love, here on this side of eternity.
    Thank you, Diana….thank you.

    • Oh, Margie! Thank YOU — this encouragement means so much to me! Four years ago, I was invited to try and write a book about this journey. I submitted a book proposal just days before some knarly foot surgery, got good critique back and then sank into recovery and the emotion-draining task of walking through the end of mom’s life with her. I sort of gave up that idea. But now, I’m wondering. . . would a book of weekly reflections — on this difficult yet sometimes beautiful journey — be a good gift to offer others on this road? Something like a combo of memoir and devotional guide? I don’t have a clue, but that’s what I’m wrestling with right now. Your words make that possibility more interesting somehow. So thanks for that!

      • Carol Longenecker Hiestand says

        Diana, Your words here and your memories remind me of my Dad and my relationship with him. It is almost 4 years ago. Like your mom, he learned his whole life.

        and your idea of reflections/memoir, make so much sense. I have struggled with my own writing for my children and have come to the conclusion, I will write a series of essays on the things I want them to remember and know. that seems more doable to me and I have actually made some progress, in that I am “showing up to write” a couple times a week, which was better than not showing up ever.

        I know you have something to tell the world. I do hope you are able to record it for those of us who walked with you, yes – and also for your children and their children and their children. In Psalm 78, we are told to tell it even to those yet unborn. yes, write for all of us and especially your children and the children to come.

        • Thank you, Carol, for that encouragement and affirmation. I’m watching you as you wrestle through these ideas with your own writing!!