The ever present mother

A mother & young elephant on the bank of the Shire River in Malawi, Africa. Touching is an important form of communication.

My mother died on November 1, 1999 at the age of 72. Always, she is with me. I see her in ocean waves and yellow forsythia,  hear her when someone chews gum loudly or belts out  the hymn “Jesus Christ is risen today with a long drawn out Alleluia,” smell her in Coppertone sunscreen and violet water bottles, and I taste her in guacamole and rice pudding with raisins. And touch, well, touch is a little more complicated.

My mother wasn’t the touchy-feely kind. In fact I don’t have many childhood memories of hugs or “I love yous.” They did come later. My mother’s mother died when she was an infant. Her sea captain father remarried but was often away leaving  my mother’s Bible banging stepmother to raise her. Needless to say my mother’s childhood was void of touch and “I love yous.”

We both have had to grieve losses and learn how to love, touch and express love.

I’ll never forget the last time I was with my mom. It was an idyllic (except we knew she was dying) week at the seashore. One night, Mom was tired and weak so I assisted her bathing. When I rubbed apple scented body wash on her wrinkled arms, I expected them to feel rough. Instead, I found myself melting into my mother’s soft skin, baby bottom soft. Through tears Mom told me something she had never told anyone, “My father died of syphilis. At least your father never cheated on me.” Oh my! What a cleansing ritual.

My parents separated off and on during my adolescent years and divorced when I was in college. My dad later married a woman named Barb. After he died, my mom and Barb became friends. In fact Barb was with us that week. I never referred to Barb as my stepmother. She asked us to call her “frother,” a combination of friend and mother. And she was a frother.

The greatest gifts my mother ever gave me were with us that week, are still with me. My mother showed me how to suffer, heal and forgive, how to be there for others and how to let others be there for you, and how to enjoy life from eating lobster with a bib to weeping at sunset.

In Mom’s last Christmas letter which was read by her spiritual adviser at her funeral Mass, she wrote, “Now, I am entering into eternal life and I want you to realize my joy! I am now to meet the Author of Life, He who created me and He who redeemed me and He who sanctified me.”

Those words just made me cry more.  How could I feel joy? At the time, eternal life was there where Mom’s body was, not here with me. I could no longer touch her. She could no longer touch me.

I still wonder about the Author of Life.  Is it a He or a She? Or a He/She, more like a Oneness? And redemption and sanctification make me swallow hard.

But eternal life seems to have staying power. It seems my mother continues to touch my life. She is ever present.


  1. Jennifer Haupt
    May 11, 2013

    Lovely, lovely, lovely!

    • Julie
      May 12, 2013

      Jennifer, Thank you. My mother was a lovely woman.

      • Lianne Abare
        May 12, 2013

        Yes, mom was a wonderful woman. My last memories of mom were as she was laying in the hospital. I was there with my brother Mike. the nurse had just got done coming in and telling her to breath with her oxygen, not through her mouth. I told her listen to the nurse and to quit panting like Teddy my American Eskimo. She laughed. Within minutes, they called the crash cart and she was gone. I was ever blessed to be with her in her last minutes of her life. She was a wonderful woman. Yes we had our difficult times. Barb, as my sister spoke of, was also another wonderful woman, I was the responsible party for them meeting, when I married. They hit it off right away. Just wonderful memories of two great women in my life.

        • Julie
          May 12, 2013

          Thank you for sharing your memories Lianne. Nice to know Mom was laughing with you as she took some of her last breaths. I love that sharing my memories brought up some for you and that you took the time to share them. Love you sis.

  2. Joan Stallbaumer
    May 13, 2013

    Your mom was a very unique lady, creative, smart, funny, great cook, and we shared six wonderful grandchildren. Her strength came from her faith in God and acceptance of what she could not change. Love and prayers to you and, oh yes, we share a daughter and grandson. Life can really make one laugh.

    • Julie
      May 13, 2013

      Thank you for sharing the loving words about my mom. I love your laugh line ; )

  3. Sue Gustafson
    May 13, 2013

    Oh Julie, I remember your Mom’s funeral so well. I had a long lunch hour at work that day and realized I could come and it was such a joyous occasion. I remember that letter being read and the singing group singing wonderful songs. What was their name and was your mom a member? I also remember John playing his guitar and Kate and Elie singing “Gentle Woman” which is one of my favorite songs. This was before I had really known Kate, much less dreamed she would be my future daughter-in-law. I think they sang it at Jack’s funeral too. Poor little Paul Abare joined the communion procession, not really knowing what it was. Upon receiving the host he dropped it on the floor, to the horrified gasps of the Catholic witnesses. I have always wondered if it scarred him for life.
    I wish I could have stayed for the family gathering afterwards, I’m sure there were many more wonderful Marion memories.
    Thanks for sharing and Happy Mother’s Day to you 🙂

    • Julie
      May 13, 2013

      Sue, thank you for sharing your story and memories about my mom’s funeral. Yes, it was a joyous celebration of her life and faith. I remember we danced as we processioned out of the church. I’m sure I was a crying. laughing and dancing mess. I think the music group was Sounds of Joy. No, my mom did not sing with them or in any choir that I am aware of, but she sang all the time.

  4. Mary September
    May 29, 2013

    Oh my, you made me weep. We’re moving back to my childhood hometown in 3 weeks. Gotta catch up with my mom.

    • Julie
      May 30, 2013

      Thank you for sharing your tears. Wow! Hope living closer to your mom will add much to your life.

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