The Last Violet: Mourning My Mother
"It can be difficult to deal with our mothers when they are alive," says Lois Hjelmstad. "But what happens when they die and we can no longer talk with them, confront them, or repair a less than perfect relationship?"
Hjelmstad continues, "Ambivalence is manageable as long as we own and acknowledge it. It is only then that we can decide how best to deal with it. Resolution is something we can strive for before death disrupts the relationship. However, if that hasn't happened, one can still reflect, and over time, find closure."
A perceptive and poignant story, The Last Violet: Mourning My Mother, chronicles Hjelmstad's passage from reproach to inner peace, but it also helps others begin their inner contemplation and journey. It may allow you to feel safe in going back and reflecting on your own life and relationships.
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Sunday Morning, Long Ago
The stained glass window
caught the rays of sun
flashing glints of red, yellow, blue
The form of Jesus
praying by a rock
dominated the picture
His face looked sad—
I nestled close to my mother,
sorrow played across her face, too
She looked neither left nor right
except to frown slightly
when I moved or made a rustle
I felt a chill and slid closer—
burrowing my face into her furry collar,
searching for warmth, safety, love
The gentle fragrance of her body
reached out to comfort me
The sadness of her smile
left me searching
On My Childhood
I think about that Sunday morning so long ago. Why did her face look sad? What chilled my four-year-old heart? Why do my childhood recollections of my mother overwhelm me with a sense of sadness and disapproval, a feeling of my not quite measuring up to the standard she set for me, her firstborn? Our relationship always hovered between connection and conflict.
One thing I remember clearly about my childhood is a pervading sense of shame—-"Shame on you" for playing when I was supposed to be napping, for spilling my milk, for scuffing my black patent leather shoes, for hollering out the front door, asking an entire neighborhood what f—u—c—k meant. (I always have liked words.)
One day, when I was seven or eight, I was walking to school with my father, playing with words, making rhymes. For some reason, I was rhyming words that ended in "it"—"bit, fit, hit, kit, lit, pit, shit—." I stopped cold. Daddy said, with a small smile, "You didn't mean for that to slip out, did you?" Thank God for the small smile.
That slip would have horrified Mother, much as the inquiry regarding the letters "f—u—c—k" did. "Where did you learn such language? Surely you know better. Why are you yelling out the door, anyway?"
My brother, my sister, and I were taught early on how we were expected to behave, and we learned to dread the "shame on you" when we didn't remember . . .
We also learned that we must be careful with Mother. She was easily upset. Often it seemed as if we were walking on eggshells . . .
I will never know why Mother seemed so vulnerable to me, but one of my sons commented when we talked of her, "Children have a deep sensibility about emotional fragility, although it is on an inexpressible and inaccessible level."
And perhaps my daughter summed it up well, "I think the whole family sensed at some level that your mother was fragile-she required special care and feeding—just like her violets."
December 29—Les and I pick up Mom and Dad at 5:15 a.m. and take them to the hospital. We sit and wait until noon for her biopsy. We won't know the results until tomorrow, but the doctors seem somewhat encouraged.
December 30—Mom's diagnosis is metastatic adenocarcinoma. The doctors don't know where it originated. While Jan, Nick, and I debate how, when, and if to tell Mother that she has cancer, her doctor calls to tell her the tumor is malignant. Les and I stop by to see Mom and Dad. He is devastated. She is uncharacteristically cheerful. I'm numb.
Is she in denial, or doesn't she care if she dies?
December 31—Dad says he isn't going to say anything to anyone yet, because "although it is assumed to be cancer, we don't really know much." Mother has a CT scan. The doctor tells Nick [who is also a physician] that the primary site is her lung and it could well be terminal in less than two years.
How can I hate her—
frail, delicate woman
beautiful of face and spirit
giver of my life
giving to others
facing painful death
How can I love her—
frightening me with her dying
turning my life upside down
seeming not to know or care
how much she is hurting me
I'll Hold Your Hand Until You Sleep
I'll hold your hand until you sleep
you who have often held mine
I'll sit by your bed
until your last breath is drawn
holding my breath each time
as I wait for you
to breathe once more
frantically wishing for it to be over
fervently wishing to keep you forever
I'll hold your hand
until you sleep
and soothe your brow
until it turns to stone…
until it turns to stone
The Sadness of Her Smile
How Can I Love Her?
I Go into the Kitchen and Weep
A Loaf of Bread, A Cup of Wine
As If We Could Forget
I'll Hold Your Hand Until You Sleep
Someone, Please Call Security
Where Can I Find Her?
The Needs of the Dying Patient
On Choosing Hospice
Hospice and Cancer Organizations
One of the most eloquent books on grief and mourning I have ever read.
Walter S. Friesen, Ed.D., Hospice Chaplain, KS
By sharing her journey of grief, Lois Hjelmstad helps us to mourn our own losses, and to recognize that there is much to learn from even the most heart-breaking episodes of our lives.
Alan J. Canner, Executive Director, Colorado Hospice Organization
Lois is a gifted storyteller and we all benefit once again from her remarkable insight and wise, loving words.
Fred Silverman, Producer, NY
What an inspired and inspirational book! Thank you for touching my heart.
Madelyn Case, Ph.D., Psychologist, CO
I love the way you describe the relationship between mother and daughter. I am going to give the book to both my mother and my mother-in-law for Mother's Day.
Jeanelle Rogers, CPA, CO
I smiled; I cried; I felt warmed by the story and the depth of feeling conveyed. I really loved the book.
Karen Martin, Church Administrator, CO
I couldn't put it down without finishing it.
Carol Swartzendruber, Hospice Chaplain, CO
It portrays so accurately the dichotomy of a relationship between mother and daughter in such an articulate and touching manner. I cried myself half way through it last night.
Dorothy Cutrell, Book Reviewer, FL
The author is very perceptive.
June Nelson, Retired Librarian, FL
WOW! I couldn't put The Last Violet down, but found I needed to since it often was my story. Profound! I would certainly recommend purchase.
Miriam Roth, CO
Thank you for such a personal, honest, and intimate walk with you and your mom. I so appreciate your truthfulness, the good, the bad and the ugly. It is the texture of life.
Hilda Bonadio, PA
What an honest, lovely, and loving tribute of your mother. She becomes a real person in your poetry and prose. It is so refreshing to read this because you make no pretense that everything and everyone was always perfect, but it reflects lives that were real and meaningful. Your love for your mother shines through your deep desire to have a more open and mutual relationship.
Ann Showalter, pastor, KS
I have found your writing and expression of feelings exquisite.
Chris Roerden, Editor, NC
I want to tell you how much I enjoyed and appreciated your book. It was perfect. It opened my heart gently to childhood memories and grown-up awareness of grieving, and it let my heart close again filled with gratitude for relationships with friends and family, for the goodness of life and love. Just as I knew it would be, the book is beautifully written from the heart, with insight and honesty.
Elise Spain, Executive Director, Day of Caring CO