the return

Dear Mom,

You’ve been gone six months and we did it, the final step in the formal mourning process. We brought your ashes back to Minnesota.  Everytime I return there, something inside of me cracks open. The plane touches down and I feel a ball of emotion I can only experience in Minnesota.  Peace, gratitude, longing. Years can fly by, but its still my home, your home.  The lush trees wave “hi” with huge, loaded branches that shimmy in the wind. The lakes sparkle in the sunshine. Its so very, very beautiful.

We had a service at First Universalist.  Our old church in South Minneapolis.  The stained glass windows from the years as a synagogue are gone, and the century-old building has been adapted to be more ADA friendly.  Still, there is no question, its the same place that you passed out fliers to congregants, and sipped black coffee with your friends, and cooked for fundraisers, and listened to my harp recitals in the basement.

People shared beautiful words about you.  They not only loved you, they really knew you.  Your life was full, yet you were so very present for everyone you encountered.  Perhaps the finest achievement in your life were the relationships you tended. They blossomed perpetually and the roots ran deep.

You wanted to return to LaSalle,  where your father was born and is buried.  The day after your memorial in Minneapolis, we drove through hours of cornfields to this lovely little town on the prairie. From the cemetery, you can see the grain elevators, a beautiful tree, and the big, big sky. Reflecting these sensible Scandinavians, this cemetery is also where people plan ahead.  It seems like every other headstone belongs to the living, with their death date remaining blank. For now.

Your family gathered in the cemetery. Many of them I don’t know, a casualty of your father’s early death. Still, we stood together under the prairie sky, united in the experience of loss. Your uncles had moved headstones so there would be enough room for you next to your dad. We put your ashes deep in the rich, black soil.  The wind was powerful; it whipped up skirts and blew the tears right off my face.  We retreated to the church basement in a small white chapel where your family has married and buried their dead for generations.    Your cousins served bread and sweets and coffee. I visited the home of your aunt and uncle, and rubbed my hands along the bedpost of a bedroom set that your father refinished before I was born, before lymphoma took him away far too young, like you.

Not all of your ashes went into the ground.  I took some away with me.  I thought about keeping them, but the pale, grainy powder seemed to have nothing to do with you.  The ash isn’t your smile, your light, the way you moved or laughed or sighed.  This is what we are reduced to, in the end, but a life is so much more than this. I can understand how religions around the world developed the concept of spirit.  We are more than the carbon leftovers of our physical body.

So, I put your ashes in Lake Harriet, on the 6 month anniversary of your death.  I know this isn’t what you asked for, but it felt right to me, to bring you back to the lake you pushed me around in my stroller as an infant, and where we walked side by side as adults. This is where it began for us.  I released you as kids fished nearby.  Your ashes clung together in the water for a while, like a cloud, then slowly disappeared as small waves lapped against the wooden dock.

I feel some relief after burying you in Minnesota.  But I also know that its not over for me. I won’t be eating sweets in church basements with strangers that loved you anymore, but the road without you stretches out before me, and its long.  If you were here, you probably would grab my hand and murmur “Oh, Lamb.” Because there isn’t much to say.  No cure for this, no expiration stamped on the bottom of my grief.  But if I can walk this road ahead with half of the loving grace that you did, well, I’d be living this life well.


at the lake with Mom

13 thoughts on “the return

  1. Bruce Korth

    Thank you so much Katy for this wonderful tribute to your Mother. We all miss her and her spirit lives in us forever.

  2. infertilityawakening

    What beautiful words, beautiful sentiments, and a beautiful life in memory. May you find gentle time to lull the pain of such deep loss with tender care. And may you feel your mom still close by whispering lullaby’s to soothe you.

  3. Chatter Master

    What a beautiful photo. And a beautiful life your mom must have lived, and shared with you, for you to be so powerful with your words about your love. I hope you find a little more comfort every day in the memories she created and left with you.

  4. Lisa O'Brien

    Your writing is heart-wrenching, and more than a glimpse into your beautiful heart. Your mother sounded so…every word seems inadequate. She is your mom and lives in you.

    “We’re all just walking each other home.” — Ram Dass

    “Healing does not mean going back to the way things were before, but rather allowing what is now to move us closer to God.” — Ram Dass

    With appreciation,


  5. barbara snow

    It was such a beautiful, yet bittersweet day. I loved seeing you and yet I was also very conscious of the fact that we may not see each other again for a long time. Just know that you are loved up here by scores of people. Don’t forget about us. Come and visit once in a while.
    Love, darling.

  6. butimcanadian

    I understand. I just went through the same memorial part II, church basement and ashes to rest ritual this past May for my grandmother and have yet to find the words to write it all down. It helped to read yours.

  7. Martha Goudey

    Sometimes I feel guilt that I miss my mother because I had her so much longer than most, and much much longer than many. Mom had lymphoma at 96–recovered and lived to 101. I’m grateful she recovered and had more years, but I am sad when I hear about a much younger woman succumbing to cancer, leaving a daughter behind too soon to mourn her passing. I’m so very sorry for your loss.

    It’s been a year and four months. We buried her ashes in April this year next to my dad in Glendale, CA. But I kept aside a baggie of ashes which I carried to the Oregon Coast where she used to live. I scattered them from a promontory jutting into the Pacific.

    Keep writing. You are a lovely writer and it will help!!

    1. bornbyariver Post author

      Thanks for your words. There is simply never enough time with our mothers. I’m not sure I would have felt any better if she had passed away at 101- except maybe I would have beaten her to the rainbow bridge!

  8. Pingback: her headstone « born by a river

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