How the death of my mom taught me lessons of a lifetime

December 21, 2019


My parents. This should have been the happiest day of my mother’s life and maybe it was. But maybe it wasn’t. Dad was a pretty complicated guy and as with most people, things weren’t as one might have assumed. I know this for sure: she did not have the life she dreamed of.

Who knows why things turn out the way they do. Our decisions play a big role. Our culture. The mores of the time. Mom was a 1950s housewife and mother. She didn’t see her options; few women at that time did.

Nonetheless, it was a long marriage: 50 years.


Her mothering skills were equally complicated, although this would probably come as a surprise to people who thought they knew her. I never could figure out exactly why, although some of the reasons seemed evident. Not all, though.

Despite the complicated, dysfunctional way we were raised. I loved my mother. At some level I recognized the challenges she faced and at least some of the reasons. I did have a chance to address some of my own issues with her a few years before she died.So I felt we were “complete” with each other.

Love is simple and it’s strong. It can break through dysfunction of all kinds.

I loved my mother. Her death 20 years ago was the catalyst for a spiritual journey I didn’t know I was on until years later. A vivid dream I had about her years after death–more a visitation, really, in which she gave me a serious, life-changing message–kicked that into high gear.

And so it was during her final illness, an entire year mostly in the hospital, much of it on a ventilator, that I came to see the real meaning of love. And also then that I wrote Before Winter, the piece that I placed a few years later in a literary magazine for a medical school.

Essayists know that weird thing where a piece starts writing itself in your head as you are experiencing it, and that’s the way it was with this essay. I can still see myself walking through every bit of it, the piece taking shape as I did. Every single hospital corridor, room, everything that happened, the priest coming, the nurse practitioner in charge–it’s all still as vivid as the day it happened.

So today, on the 20th anniversary of her death, I’m sharing Before Winter with you.


4 comments on “How the death of my mom taught me lessons of a lifetime
  1. Jason Roland Uttley says:

    Maybe, Looking at those I love, having pushed them all away, I now take aim at fixing what I had no power to fix back then. I think we feel the same, and in this, “Thank You”
    No period, no end.

  2. I can so identify with your experience, Carol. I had a complicated relationship with my Mom and I do feel she didn’t have the life of her dreams either. Off to read ‘Before Winter’.
    Thank you for sharing!

  3. What a poignant story! Caregiving and watching someone decline is always so hard.

  4. Laurie Stone says:

    Got shivers when you mentioned the visitation. I believe in those events. You were smart to pay attention, which is what your mom wanted, I’m sure.

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