The Grief and The Gratitude


Perhaps they are not stars in the sky but rather openings where the love of our lost ones shines down to let us know, they are happy. -Eskimo proverb

I’m up early again, the breeze is coming through the window, Barley has had his treat and everyone is still sleeping. It is a quiet time for me to write. Its been thirty days since my Mom has been gone. One full month. This is the longest period of time I haven’t seen her since my Dad died, almost eight years ago. The void of her has been hard.

Grief is a tricky thing. Just when I think that I am doing ok, I see or hear something that reminds me of a memory. It ebbs and flows through me and it seems to be almost constant right now.

Grief seems to be all around, with friends also experiencing this shadow of pain. I have friends with a new loss of their Dad and sister. I have a friend who lost their family home. I have friends in the hospital and client’s families trying to work through their own grief over their loved one. Grief really does not discriminate.

Yesterday, I was at an assisted living building completing a medication change. I wanted to get in quickly and leave but when I was entering the building, I stopped to watch a daughter trying to get her mother in the car. I watched for a while because I noticed she was having a hard time getting her in. I noticed the loving care she was providing and my own thoughts went to my Mom’s car ride, only six short weeks ago. I completed the medication change and was teary in my car. I miss the simple act of getting her in the car.

I think part of my grief ties in with gratitude. I have been simply overwhelmed with gratitude from my family, friends, neighbors, strangers through my blog and clients and their families. Who knew my 89-year-old mother touched so many lives. I wish my mom could have known the generosity of people in the past month.

Since her death, I could not begin to tell you how many people have helped. It was almost like a revolving door at our house with people bringing over food. Really, really good food. My eleven year old daughter, Sophia, told me, “So when people die, you bring people food? I hope this never ends!” Thank you for all the food you have brought so we didn’t have to cook.

I have received food baskets in the mail, along with chocolate dipped strawberries. I received a book in the mail from my friend Lisa, in California, that was called H is for Hawk, about death and hawks. (I cried like a baby when I got it). I have received beautiful wind chimes that play a soft melody in the breeze. My work gave me a beautiful stone that I can put in my garden, along with time off and loads of food. Also, a special thank you to my friend Joanie. We forgot our dresses for the funeral in our garage (yes, I know) and she drove to St. Cloud to deliver them the day of the wake. Bless her.

And the cards…I have finally read all of them, plus I am still getting them in the mail. I hope you realize, it will  take me one year to thank you all. I know Emme counted them as a project, as there are over 400 people to thank. Yes, 400.

She was a blessing.

There are times in the grief and gratitude that I feel her around me. I don’t want to sound crazy but I will tell you I really do feel her presence. For the first week she was gone, I kept waking up at 4:20 AM, the time she passed away. I’m not sure if it was conscience or not, but it started to be really annoying. Plus, those that know me know I’m not an early bird.

A couple of days afterwards, I had to run to Macy’s to grab Steve a new shirt for his suit. There was the sweetest woman helping me, I was in a hurry to get other things done. We found a shirt fairly quickly and we got to the register and there was a line. She let me in first, explaining to the line that she had been helping me and it would take a minute. In the line, there was an older woman. Hair perfectly done, Burberry rain jacket and a cloud of perfume. She was angry and stated, “Well, we really don’t have a choice, do we.” I was quiet for a while, now feeling bad that the Macy’s person helped me first. I softly said, “I’m sorry, my Mom just passed away and we are heading out-of-town.” Her response was, “Well, that’s too bad!” still in an angry voice. By this time, I’m upset. What I really wanted to say to her was almost out of my mouth. Really bad things that are not my normal. But for some reason, words popped in my head, along with the bad words. Take the high road. It was my mother telling me that its ok, not everyone is kind and understanding. I walked away, taking the high road. But if you know this woman, maybe remind her that she may be in the same situation some day.

I also feel her around me when I watch the birds at her bird feeder. We put the feeder in my garden, right outside our sunroom. I have been watching the birds joyfully feed and think of my Mom watching her own birds at the memory care unit. I think birds have become more meaningful for me, thinking about that one bird, knocking on Mom’s window waiting to fly with her. Hospice sent me a beautiful card this week, with all the staff signing it. Kind and special words spoken about my Mom and I. On the outside of the card was this…


There is that bird that came to the window.

When I was putting away some of her things, I also noted some things that she had written on a piece of paper. For the last few years, she had a difficult time remembering my birthday. She would always ask and a few times, I could tell she was writing it down. While putting away some pictures, I found this…


I know she is around me. Gosh, I miss her love. I hope she knows that both Blue Dogs are very loved and that I made her rhubarb dessert this week. I hope she knows that Sophia got a special award at school this week and that Emme proudly made it to second grade. I hope she knows that I drive past Clare Bridge every week, because we have two clients near there and it hard to know she isn’t there any more and I drive right on by. The hardest day for me was cleaning out her room. All of her memories and stuff, hospital bed long gone. I took this last picture, were you can see the view she saw for almost three years. The birdfeeder visible, along with the bench we frequently sat on and talked about life.


The days, weeks and months will continue and I know that she is where she wants to be. Grief and gratitude will also continue but hopefully one of them slowly fades.


The Road Trip Home

It is a beautiful day today in Minneapolis. The brown grass is disappearing, the buds are blooming and the air has such a sweet smell. Winter is over (I hope) and Spring has arrived.

My Mom’s birthday is next weekend, April 26th, and I have been thinking of what I can do for her birthday. Eighty nine long years, though today she denied she was going to be that old. I have been thinking about taking her on a ride in my car. She has not been out since October and I can hardly imagine being cooped up somewhere for six months.

Not getting her out has been hard for me. I have wanted to but there have been many factors to consider. She hates being cold, her transfers are getting more difficult and she is not the same as she was six months ago. I want her to smell the fresh air, see the beauty she has been missing and see the places she has called home.

“I want to go home!”  “I want to go home!”  “I want to go home!” She continues to repeat.

For the past year, she has repeated that statement. I know that to her, home is where she wants to be. As I have stated before, I’m not sure where home is. The red house in Crystal? The brick house by our own home in Plymouth? Her home in Starbuck or her home in Howard Lake? Home is where she wants to be.

Thinking of what I can give her, I have decided to give her a road trip home. The many places in Minneapolis that I think is home to her. For obvious reasons, I could not bring her to Starbuck or Howard Lake or even the place they lived in, near downtown Minneapolis. I’m not 100% sure that home is still there and the neighborhood has changed, if you know what I mean.

I wasn’t sure if today would be a good day for her, but in all reality, everyday is tough for her. I met my Mom’s sister, her brother and my cousin Bart at Clare Bridge. It was nice to see them and she had to get to bed, though I asked her if she wanted to go for a drive with us and she said, “Ok, that sounds nice!” I didn’t let her change her mind.

So the following is our road trip today. I’d like to thank my co-pilot Sophia and Allan who helped me with the transfer getting her into the car, which was a little tricky.

wpid-2015-04-18-15.02.33.jpg.jpegMy daughter Sophia and our co-pilot in the car.

wpid-20150418_133635.jpgWe stopped at her sisters house. Pictured is her sister Gloria, brother Bud and cousin Bart.

wpid-20150418_134141.jpgThis house in Crystal used to be painted red, she talks about this house often.

wpid-20150418_135210.jpgThis is the house one block from our own house. The man who lived there was very gracious about letting us take a picture. The is the first house that Ross and I lived in when we were first adopted. They built the house in 1964. Soon after, the moved to Starbuck in 1970.

wpid-20150418_135612.jpgVisiting our own home, where she would stay with us. Many wonderful memories spent with her here. I felt so bad she could not go in.

wpid-20150418_131942.jpgShe slept a little but for the most part, was wide awake.

wpid-20150418_135817.jpgThe road trip crew…

Driving back to her home, I kept thinking that this maybe the last road trip we take. The staff have asked if I am ok with her returning to hospice care. She is not eating really well, sleeps much of the day now and is much quieter. I will call them this coming week and give my ok again. Round two with hospice.

I know she will not remember today but I will remember we talked about her past home and how she noted the color red of the Arby’s sign. She commented that there are a bunch of blue cars and that she noticed the wind against her face. If she can’t ever get in the car again, I’m just fine with that.

wpid-20150418_142423.jpgWe arrived safe and sound. Blue Dog did pretty well too.


The Rhubarb Queen


When I started this blog a year ago, I contemplated the names I would call it. There were many names that came to mind and The Rhubarb Queen was at the top of the list. I think both The Lemon Bar Queen and The Rhubarb Queen are accurate in describing my Mom. She is the best baker I know.

Rhubarb has been a part of our household for as long as I can remember. Growing up on our farm, we had ten huge rhubarb plants that my Mom used every spring. She taught me how to cut the stalks, reminding me not to take the small ones or to leave the giant, woody ones. She also used the leaves as compost in our garden. I remember my Dad putting coffee grounds on the base of the plant and the lush green plants grew enormous. It seems like yesterday that she would put on her old yellow shorts (that she sewed herself), her top with the sleeves cut off and a scarf pulling her hair back. Her legs always with a farmers tan.

Just the smell of rhubarb brings me back to the day in our kitchen, something always brewing in the black kettle. She loved to cut up rhubarb for jam, muffins, torte, bread, sauce and our favorite, pie. It was always a treat to have vanilla ice cream with warm rhubarb sauce steaming over the top. My love affair with this strange plant started young.

When my parents moved from the farm and bought a house in town, along came the rhubarb. They transplanted five plants on the side of the house and the canning and baking continued. I remember in college, getting an emergency call from my Mom that someone had dug up one of their beloved rhubarb plants. They woke up to work in our garden and someone dug up the very middle plant, leaving a huge whole. I think my parents were devastated and horrified. I remember my Dad stating that all the person needed to do was ask and he would have gladly given that person some rhubarb. When I drove up in their driveway, sure enough, there was the missing plant. The plant was never replaced and became somewhat of a joke. Who took the Lundell rhubarb plant?

Fast forward twenty five years and to my Mom…

I’ve shared that she isn’t eating that much since returning from the hospital. Just eating enough to keep a bird alive. I have tried to get her to eat more. Snicker’s, cheeseburger with fried onions, cashews, Snickers Blizzard and cookies. She would only take bites and even refused her beloved coffee. I am frustrated and so is she. She doesn’t understand why it is so important that she eats. Her favorite phrase is repeated over and over…”I want to die!”

I decided to buy some rhubarb at Cub last week and I skim her well worn cookbook, The Fron Cookbook. There is a page dog-eared and I turn it to page 198 and note Rhubarb Dessert by Mrs. Russell Lundell, AKA, my Mom. So I decide to make her dessert. The whole house fills with the lush smell of cooking rhubarb and I am so excited to bring her a piece. On a side note, my ten year old is limited to how much she eats because last year she ate so much that she vomited in the middle of the night. Even as a nurse, that was some awful stuff, trust me.

Last week, I brought over her dessert. She is sitting in their parlor area and she smiled and waves at me. I have brought her a very special gift hoping that this will work. I told her I would get her some coffee and we could share a piece. I see a small glimmer in her eye and she asks for a fork. This is a good sign. She grabs the fork and takes a small bite and a sip of coffee. She looks up at me and I can tell she likes it. Bite after bite she finishes the whole piece. She even drinks a cup of coffee. I am beyond thrilled and feeling slightly victorious. I even bribed her to get her hair done with another piece of dessert. For some reason, she has been annoyed with getting her hair done, a new behavior that I am unsure of. I even shared some with the staff , who loved Mom’s recipe.

So for the past week, I have been researching rhubarb recipes. My friend Dawn made the best scones called Naughty Rhubarb Scones so Sophia and I made them over this weekend. I brought them to Mom’s yesterday and she thought they were strange but ate the whole thing. Success, yet again.

Today, I was up early at five am, thanks to our dog Barley. Not being able to get back to sleep, I made Mom’s dessert today and brought some to school for the staff. I am reminded that I most likely did the same thing as Mom did, all those long years ago. She would get up early to bake. I am sure it was her time that we were sleeping, she was alone and enjoying what she loved to do the most, bake. And could she ever bake. My next project will be rhubarb crisp with some vanilla ice cream. I am hoping she will respond as she has done with my last experiment.

Rhubarb…who knew that this magical plant would help my Mom at this stage in her life. As a disclaimer, I will never be the cook that my mother was. It was her pride and joy and I can think of a hundred things I would rather do. But for her, I can attempt this one time a week and Sophia has enjoyed it also, just like I did as a child. For those of you that want her recipe:

Rhubarb Dessert

1 Cup of Flour

2 T Sugar

1/2 C Butter

1/4 Nuts (I don’t use them, but you can)

Mix and press in 8″x8″ pan. Bake 15-20 minutes at 325 degrees.

2 1/2 Cups of Rhubarb-Cut up

3 Egg Yolks

1 Cup Sugar

1/3 Cup Cream or evaporated Milk

2 T Flour

Pour over crust and bake 40 minutes at 325 degrees. Beat 3 egg whites-add 6 T Sugar. Pour over baked rhubarb mixture and bake until brown.

Mrs. Russell Lundell

Enjoy!  Jodi