Category Archives: mothers and daughters

Another Mother’s Day

I lost my mother in 2007.  The anniversary of her birthday came and went in April. I usually write about her then but did not. Am I not a loving, dutiful daughter?

For one thing, I am getting “real” about my mother having passed. And, although she is not physically present anymore, I sometimes feel her presence, her spirit, if you will. The wind chimes I got her for her deck came back to me after her death. I hear them often; they are comforting as well as beautiful. My two sisters and I text, remembering our mother, as we try to be there for one another.

So this morning as I sat before my fireplace on this chilly Sunday, the theme for my reflection is evident. I sigh yet it is a sigh of acceptance. Perhaps her first-born has finally grown. For acceptance is the final stage of Kubler-Ross’s phases for grieving. One can accept reluctantly but not kicking and screaming in denial (for that would not be acceptance).

I lit incense to the goddess mothers in my living room. If I pause to look and listen, there really are mothers all around me.


My mother would have been 85 today

April 9th is a date that stands out for me: it is the date of my mother’s birth.

Today she would have been 85. Always easy to remember because she was twenty when I was born and twenty is an easy number for me to add to my own birthday. Happy Birthday, Mom (wherever ‘you’ are)!

I want to share the poem I wrote about my last day on Earth with her in March 2007. All five of her children plus two spouses were there, crowded in that hospice room at Ft. Hamilton Hospital. We Beisers, at least, seem to be a stubborn bunch! I’ve been told by several nurse friends that their experience is that people often die when you leave the room. But my siblings and I were not budging.

To honor and memorialize my mother (Irene “Shirley” Hornsby), I read my poem at my Thursday class at Women Writing for (a) Change this morning. We were having a readaround where we take turns sharing a piece we wrote. So, by popular demand, (at least from family and friends on Facebook), below is the poem:


It was her death, after all;
I was only an observer.
Lung cancer or not,
it all comes down to the breath.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Towards the end, a final gasp.
My little sister, a nurse’s aide,
watched for signs:
See that blue, the
mottled colors on her feet–
the oxygen is lessening.
It all comes down to the breath.
Breathe in, breathe out.

Later I called Jeri the conductor,
the family guide to mom’s passing.
When I, the last, reached the room
my little sister informed our mother
that all five of her children were there.
She had fought hard and now
it was okay to let go.
Earlier that day–
eyes seeing something we could not—
our mother exclaimed
“amazing” with no explanation.
We like to remember the joy
in that moment; meanwhile,
it all comes down to the breath.
Breathe in, breathe out.

When it was time she opened her eyes.
The look did not include us.
There in that room
with all her children watching,
she died with her mouth open.
The nurse checked her heartbeat
then told us she was gone.
She took the oxygen tube out
of our mother’s nostrils.
She asked me to turn the tanks off.

First one, then the other.
Suddenly so silent.
No more humming,
that nagging but necessary
noise of artificial breath
that had haunted her
those final few months.
No more need for these
tanks and tubes.

2:25 on a Sunday morning
and all we could do was
breathe in, breathe out.
It all comes down to the breath.

7 year anniversary since my mother died

Photo of Mom I hadn't seen

When I awoke this morning, something seemed off. Then I realized: it was an anniversary, a sad one–the 7th year since I lost my mother to lung cancer.

We were all with her, all her children and a few partners. I’ve written a few poems about it, and since then, I often blog on her birthday. Today, though, called for a release, at least through what I am starting to call my “public fastwrites.”

It seems so long ago. A lot can happen in seven years. I believe I’m happier, in general (what does THAT mean?!). I wish we could go on walks these beautiful spring days. I wish she could join me on a lounge chair on my deck and just listen to the sound of the creek as the water runs over the rocks.

But wishing is futile. She’s gone–at least in bodily form. I do feel there’s still a connection though don’t ask me to explain in theological or metaphysical terms. That may be a cop-out and it also may be my journey for the remainder of my life.

Things I knew about Grandma Katie

I am taking a poetry class this fall to (re) learn the basics. This class is just what I need at the perfect time; I love when this happens (thank you, Universe)!

This draft of a poem about my grandma Katie grew from an assignment. It will change–or grow–I’m sure, but here it is for now. I’m glad I traveled back in memory to retrieve this [note:  both my grandmother and mother are deceased so I have no fear of sharing anything about my childhood].


Things I knew about Grandma Katie

I was your favorite and knew it. Firstborn and wanting

to be a teacher like you, I was to follow in your footsteps

unlike your daughter, adopted in 3rd grade, to this

childless couple. I remember the smell of your old-fashioned

soap when you bathed me at the sink, how loved

I felt. Like a second mother with my real mother busy with

four others. She had to quit college. Back in the ‘50s if you got

pregnant, you had to stop everything and have the kid. That child

was me. And I adored you yet a dark curtain separated me from you

that time my mother told me how, after she was adopted, if she was

bad, you and Grandpa would threaten to “take her back

to the children’s home.” That was beyond mean and, even though

I knew you were stern Germanic, a little girl would be terribly

hurt by that. I was, even once removed.

happy birthday to my mother (six years after her passing)

Today my mother would have turned 83. She was 20 when she birthed me so it’s always been easy to keep track. Just add 20; easy math. She’d be proud of me. After all, she would probably remember trying to help me with my geometry homework. I swear my poetic brain just could not conceptualize the spatial figuring of a triangle. Geometry often brought me to tears.

To be truthful, I didn’t remember today was my mother’s birthday until late in the afternoon. Oh, it was on the calendar. April 9th – Aries’ time – is indelibly engrained in my memory.

I think of her on a fairly regular basis. This time of year – now that it is actually acting like spring – I hear those wind chimes I’d bought her one year for her birthday. After she died, I got them back. The chimes have a beautiful sound as the breeze blows through them. These chimes are deeper than most and I love the profundity it calls forth somewhere deep within me.

What a wonderful gift for me on her birthday!

although she’s gone, it’s still my mother’s birthday

All day I’ve remembered:  April 9th is–or was–my mother’s birthday. She passed away in 2007. Lung cancer, a tough way to go. She had time to say goodbye and was surrounded by all her children (plus a few spouses) that early morning on March 18th when she gasped her last breath.

What new thing can I say? Just that I will never be a mother…..this lifetime. Only furry children in this household. I’m relieved, though:  I get anxious enough with the dogs and cats. I swear I was “Olde Mother Hubbard who lived in a shoe/had so many children/she didn’t know what to do” in a previous life, swearing I wouldn’t couldn’t please don’t make me do that again, God! So I haven’t.

Funny–I don’t remember celebrating Mom’s birthday when all five of us kids lived there in that house at 406 Millville Avenue. Doesn’t this seem strange? Part of this is my memory, I’m sure, yet–wouldn’t one stand out? Perhaps she grew tired of so many birthdays–five kids, after all, a dad (later step dad), and grandmothers, too, to keep track of. All in the busy–no, hectic–schedule of a mother.

I can send no card. I could sing a song. Instead I will write this piece on my blog, then post it on Facebook and Twitter to share. We’ve all had a mother and many of us have lots of mixed and complex feelings about it.

Like kitchen ones:   she rarely allowed me to wash the dishes after a meal. I offered. Believe me, I was the oldest and knew I had a role to play. Yet she said no. I believe she liked being alone for those rare moments when she washed, dish by dish, cup by cup, then placed each item carefully in the drainer to dry overnight. She would allow me to help her make cookies. But when she’d use the store bought ones, prefabricated, in slices in a tin, this would occur:   she’d catch me licking a piece of the chocolate chip dough and accuse, “You’ll get worms from eating that raw dough!” Year later, I asked about this of some friend who knew a lot about cooking and was told this information was erroneous. My mother lied?

But then I recall the night Grandpa died. She consciously took me aside, specially, and sat me down for a serious adult conversation. I think I was seven. Mom told me he had died and that I would never see him again. She felt it’d be better if I didn’t go to the funeral. It was very factual and I don’t think I cried (I was closer to Grandma, anyway; it was perhaps my first experience with this thing called dying).

Which brings me back to this evening’s reflection:  someone has a birthday but is dead. Passed into another dimension. Gone. How does one celebrate when that being isn’t “here” to participate?

Well, consider this a toast to Irene Shirley Hornsby. And who am I to say, with any certainty, whether or not other beings can sense when their name is sung?

Sometimes when I look in the mirror I see my mother

[This is a pantoum. If it seems like lines keep repeating themselves, they’re supposed to in a pantoum!]

Sometimes when I look in the mirror I see my mother.
She is gone now, passed into another dimension.
I heard her voice once when I was gardening.
Her wind chimes send messages when I least expect them.

She is gone now, passed into another dimension.
I inherited her cheekbones and stubborn disposition.
Her wind chimes send messages when I least expect them.
I hear, “relax – don’t worry – all will be well.”

I inherited her cheekbones and stubborn disposition.
She was fiery and often showed it.
I hear, “relax – don’t worry – all will be well.”
I am grateful for all she taught me.

She was fiery and often showed it.
I like those reminders when a breeze is blowing.
I am grateful for all she taught me.
Our lives so different; I learned from her.

I like those reminders when a breeze is blowing.
I heard her voice once when I was gardening.
Our lives so different; I learned from her.
Sometimes when I look in the mirror I see my mother.


written in December in the poetry class led by Mary Pierce Brosmer at Women Writing for (a) Change

today would have been my mother’s birthday

Irene Shirley died March 18, 2007. Today would be her birthday — indeed, it is her birthday still, at least to her three daughters. We have already texted one another, remembering. I lit a candle and some incense.

I found myself going through scrapbooks of photos. Granted, most of them were me as a child or young adult but, hey, just who took most of the photos, saved them, then gave them to me? Mom. Since I was the first born, I have tons of pictures, even a baby book!

I found the pictures Mom gave me after our trip to the San Francisco Bay area after her husband (my step father) died. So glad we did that! We traveled as two adults. She had never flown before so our roles changed slightly; she had to accept me as an adult as I booked our flights, made reservations, and served as self-appointed tour guide.

Was she happy? I mean, throughout her life? Some of the time, I’m sure. Will this be the year I learn, truly learn, that I am not her confidant, I am responsible only for my own happiness? I believe Mom was sad much of her life. My opinion is that she chose poorly regarding husbands. Three of them (one much later, when I was an adult). But that’s not my business now. My biological father and mother’s divorce when I was three became a shadow theme of my life. Thank god/dess for Landmark Education! This organizations’s seminars helped me see some patterns that had remained hidden for decades. I had taken her side. I believed relationships didn’t last, in fact, they were painful and not worth it. I might have been to blame; after, all, I was the oldest — shouldn’t I have known better, whatever was wrong in our family? I knew her story about dreaming of going to art school in Chicago but instead attending Miami University to become an elementary school teacher like her adopted mother Katie. She became pregnant with me at 20 and the rest is 1950’s “Leave it to Beaver” facade, the dysfunction lying just below the surface.

I’ve been working on a memoir. Surely mom will be in the acknowledgments. I loved her. I still do, maybe more than ever. There’ve been a few times when I’m in the yard among flowers that I almost hear her voice, feel her contentment. Lately the wind chimes I gave her (which came back to me after her passing) have been especially noisy out on the deck.

today would have been my mother’s 80th birthday

April 9th. That date has stuck with me all my life for it was my mother’s birthday.

An Aries, she was assertive and friendly but knew who and what she liked or did not. She loved flowers and nature and breakfast at Frisch’s. Once, after my stepfather died, she joined me on a trip to the San Francisco Bay area. I still have the photo of us riding the boat to Alcatraz. I have many fond memories of that trip. But that’s another posting.

This morning I thought, what could I do to honor her birthday? I have kept an altar to her in my meditation room with some photos, candles, and flowers. I decided an arati (waving of a tray with flowers and candle in devoted honor to someone, usually a guru) would be appropriate. I thought, what tune, what chant or hymn? What spontaneously issued from my mouth was “Happy Birthday to You . . .” I had to smile; it was appropriate, after all, for it would always be her birthday even if her physical self and body were no longer here. Then I remembered a tune described as a zen Buddhist hidden message and sang “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream.” I appreciate these reminders from time to time so as to not take my self so seriously and get on with the important things in my life.

One special gift the Universe has brought into my life lately is an accordion. Actually, I’ve had it since shortly after mom’s death. My sister Linda let me have it, after I expressed interest. Before I, her first born entered this world, Irene Shirley Drees played accordion with a group of young women (I have a picture to prove it!). Although this accordion is not that original one — I believe it to be one she picked up at a yard sale much later — still, there will always be this association of accordions with my mother. So it’s been sitting in my meditation room closet (ironically) and just a week or so ago, I remembered it and brought it out. I expected to hear wheezy sounds and dust and a dilapadated condition but, lo and behold, the accordion seemed pretty intact. She looked lovely, too, silvery blue with white (ivory?) keys. What a complicated instrument, truly.

Now I don’t know how to read music, really, but I seem to have had a past life talent musically that has manifested these past two years. At the meditation group I go to, Scott discovered I had a nice voice, then he invited me to learn harmonium. The live chants of kirtan I have participated in have added tremendously to my spiritual practice. I am bhakti through and through.

So how does the accordion fit into all this? Well, I took a chant I played on harmonium and messed around with the accordion keyboard. It’s a quite complicated instrument with bellows and another side of little black buttons for bass but oh so cool. Positively gypsy! And I discovered some free instructional videos on YouTube. This guy explains the parts of an accordion in plain English. I intend to have fun with this new challenge!

So, Mom, if you’re watching from somewhere — and listening — I’m sure I’ll make you smile as you hear your daughter’s trials and tribulations with the musical instrument of your choice. Happy Birthday, Mom!

there’s nothing weirder: poem 60

there’s nothing weirder than seeing a picture of your mom
float onto your computer screen, that final photo
taken on her bed before she left the ravages of cancer

Mom's last picture