The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

September 16, 2023

Learning How to Grieve and Mourn

I am fresh into a new grief that started three weeks ago and I’m still living in the wake of one that began many years ago. Everyone faces grief at some point; it’s part of being human. I’ve learned a few things about grief and mourning that I hope may help you.

Did you know there’s a difference between grieving and mourning? Grief is the feeling of great sorrow, the profound sadness. Mourning is the expression of that feeling. It’s the lament. Grief is inward and personal. Mourning is outward and can be done in community.

My grief is due to the loss of two parents to dementia: the cruel disease which starts out making you–closest observer and caregiver–question whether you’re imagining things. Friends and family far away often do think you’re exaggerating. Dementia moves slowly and leaves a long path of destruction in its wake.

We all have to grieve on our own. Grief causes me to move in slow motion. I don’t have the energy I used to, but it is returning–slowly. I cry easily, seemingly for no reason. My arms and legs feel heavy when I move.

I’m not just dealing with the loss of my mom, but with the stress from repeated traumas over years of caregiving. The last several years caring for both parents left me with a bit of PTSD. I don’t know when I’ll recover. How does my mind tell my body it no longer has to hold on to the stress?

The last 18 months, nurses called our landline frequently, always in the middle of the night, to let us know Mom fell again. To inform us whether she had to go to the ER. Now when our landline rings, I clench up. When I go to bed, my muscles tense up. I’ve been conditioned, just like Pavlov’s dog. I can’t seem to turn off the adrenaline. I needed it then; I don’t need it now.

But I have to let myself feel this. All of it. If I don’t grieve now, it’ll rear it’s ugly head later. As I let myself feel sad, I relive it all. All the years of delusions and wandering and agitation and confusion and inconsolable tears and paranoia and fear.

I’m grieving for both parents all at once. I’m reliving Dad’s death along with Mom’s.

Loss has both a cumulative and a triggering effect. I can’t face the loss of my mother without remembering the loss of my father just 18 months earlier.  That takes a lot out of me; there’s not much left over. I may look like I’m myself, but I’m not. Many people don’t understand and expect me to be able to do more. I still need time. I’m trying not to let their disappointment–their opinion of me–affect what I do.

I want to wear a neon sign on my forehead. “My mother just died.” When Dad died, I wanted a sign that said, “My father just died.” Every day these three weeks, this is the steady refrain that hangs over everything. I want people to know why I’m not back to normal yet. Will I ever be?

When I moved back to the States after living abroad, I wanted a sign to warn people why I looked and acted and seemed out-of-place. I expected to acclimate after a while and become a normal American. I did acclimate somewhat, but I’m not who I used to be. Eastern Europe changed me. I am not the same person I was before I moved there. And I’m glad for that.

I don’t think I’ll ever be the same person I was before the caregiving and the loss. And I’m not sure I want to be. 

Caregiving was the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it was one of the biggest honors of my life. I am so grateful I had the chance to walk through these last few years with Mom and Dad. I think I softened the journey home for them.

As I feel the grief, I’m allowing myself to lament. Mourning is expressed best in rituals, in things we do. Visiting the cemetery. Crying, alone or with others. A public service to celebrate a life lost. The Jewish tradition of sitting shiva after a death is a wonderful way to heal. Mourners gather in the home of the grieving person and sit silently with them for seven days.

My personal mourning includes writing in my journal, taking walks in nature, reading Psalms, listening to a playlist I made for Mom of her favorite music, looking at her photo albums, remembering, staring into space, retelling stories (even if it’s only to myself). Writing this blog is therapeutic to me. I’m a writer; it’s how I process and heal. And I hope my words may help someone else process and heal.

The week after Mom died, I went on a personal two-day retreat.  I did all the rituals of mourning listed above. The beautiful setting in nature and the time away was very therapeutic to me.  After months of feeling numb spiritually, my overall sense during that time away was that God still loves me.

I hope you feel that, too. God still loves you. He loves you in your sorrow.


August 24, 2023

Yesterday My Mother Died

Yesterday my mother, Patricia Adele Patton Richardson, died. Did you notice the world grow dim about 3:42 pm? I did. That’s when Mom opened her long-closed eyes, looked toward the light streaming in through the window, took one calm quiet breath after days of painful labored ones, and then no more breaths on earth. Her next breath was a gulp of the sweet, pure air of heaven.

How can I summarize her ninety years? One thing that has stood out to me lately is how many people comment on her beautiful smile, a smile that lights up a room and lifts up the spirits of anyone lucky enough to be nearby.

She started out as Patty and later changed the spelling to Patti. Her family always called her this and that’s the name she brought to North Carolina, her final home, but she was known as Pat to high school friends and Del-Mar-Va friends.

She was born in a convalescent hospital in Chatanooga on the day FDR was inaugurated for his first term: March 4, 1933. There were no cribs so they put her in a dresser drawer. Her parents were Wade and Adele.

From there, the family soon moved to Richmond, Virginia where they lived in five homes during her first twelve years, usually living with the whole extended Patton family: her grandparents and several aunts. Mom was the oldest grandchild by more than six years. Since alcoholism galloped through the Pattons, she assumed a lot of responsibility that normally wouldn’t fall on a child so young. She was the dependable one, the strong one. She helped raise her two younger siblings, Wenda and Wade. That strength is what kept her living through the four nights hospice nurses would say, “I’d be surprised if she made it through the night.”

Mom loved to say she was Pat Patton from Prospect Park, Pennsylvania. She lived there all through junior high and high school. And loved it. She was smart, popular, pretty, voted “Friendliest” and “Best Personality.” She lived across the street from a boy named Wesley Richardson, who she married two years out of high school. I called him Dad.

Mom moved to a few more states (nine total!) while Dad finished his time in the Air Force. My brother Kurt was born in Philadelphia during those years. They moved to Oxford, Maryland shortly before I came along. When I was four, we moved to a chicken farm in Harmony, the place I consider my hometown and where we lived during the years we went to school.

This week, my brother and I read through a memory book Mom wrote for me several years ago. She said being our mom brought her the most joy of anything she ever did and those years raising us in Maryland were her favorite ones.

Mom grew up going to Sunday School and raised us that way too. She had a reverence for God and knew a lot about him, but she would tell you that it wasn’t until our later high school years, after Kurt and I had given our lives to Christ, that her head knowledge became faith. She was about forty at this time. Her new relationship with Christ transformed her life and gave meaning and joy to her final fifty years. She loved butterflies and the imagery of a new creation: a cocoon transforming into something beautiful.

My mom was creative, bright, a faithful friend, and a good communicator. She imparted to me her artistic eye, her ability to tell a good story, and her love of writing. She invented games for us and made every event a celebration. Our birthday parties were epic. I’d put my mom against anyone in a trivia contest. She was interested in everything we did and came to all our events. She even came to visit me in Romania and then in Hungary, and those trips became two of her favorite highlights of her life.

Mom’s favorite photo of her kids. I love it too!

After Kurt and I were in college, our parents moved to Seaford, Delaware. Mom loved her job there at the Seaford Leader newspaper, and loved writing a bi-weekly column. That was her favorite job ever. During these years she became a pen pal with Chuck Colson’s newly formed Prison Fellowship. That was the ministry in which she believed she had the biggest impact. (But I think it was her ministry of friendliness.) She also gained a beloved daughter-in-law, Susie, during that time.

Then my parents moved to Arizona to be near their three grandchildren as they grew up. Alex, Mark, and Lisa brought so much joy into Mom’s life. Her favorite son-in-law, Steve, entered her life during this time. The grandkids eventually grew up and we moved Mom and Dad for the final move to North Carolina so Steve and I could be a safety net for them as they aged. Dad had already had a small stroke and he had his big one eight months later.

Mom cared for him for eleven years. It took a toll on her. During that time, my role as safety net grew considerably until it became obvious that both parents needed help I couldn’t give. We put Dad in a memory care facility. His dementia was obvious and he died six months later. They’d been married 68 years. Mom was also diagnosed with dementia, but she was skilled at masking it. Most people, the ones who didn’t know the real family stories, would never have believed me.

But thanks to Mom recounting those stories over and over to me, her labor of love and joy expressed in her many photo albums with the history written in captions, and the family trees she made for all the relatives, those stories will live on.

Before my dad died, Mom had declined enough that we had to put her in an assisted living facility. As her dementia worsened, Mom was afraid she’d forget her children’s names, so she’d lie in bed at night and repeat, “Kurt and Taryn, Kurt and Taryn.” She never forgot us.

She so wanted to turn ninety, and she made it! We had a big party for her with her granddaughter present. Each of the three grandchildren, complete with spouses and significant others and babies, came to see her this spring/summer. She often forgot some names but with photos all around her, I could help her remember. She loved seeing photos of herself with the babies, her great-granddaughters, and loved knowing a great-grandson was coming soon (born this morning!).

Because Mom loved people so much–her friends and family especially–and because she was at heart a communicator–a storyteller, writer, and talker–the hardest loss for her with dementia was the ability to communicate. At the end, her words were mostly gibberish. But sometimes I could understand. One day she said she so wished she could pick up the phone and call Elaine, or Judy, or Minnie. And she couldn’t.

Miss Patti was loved at The Berkeley. Really, truly loved. I hope she knew how many people there (nurses, activities director, housekeepers, residents) paraded in to kiss her and cry and tell her they loved her in those final days. They’d talk about how hard it’ll be to no longer see Mom’s smile. Some of them noticed that I have her smile. (I actually have a lot of my mom in me, and I’m so thankful for that.) I promised them I’ll do my best to carry on Mom’s ministry of smiling.

This next photo was taken exactly one week before she died, the day the hospice nurses called “the beginning of the end.” It’s the last photo of me and my mom. She was in a lot of pain then,  what they called terminal agitation. Yet, she’s still smiling.

After we took this photo and got her into bed, Mom said to me, “You’ll always be my baby. Nobody can ever take that away from us.” Her words were clear as she spoke.

Now her words are even clearer. She is seeing the beauty that I think she caught glimpses of those last few days when she’d raise her eyebrows above eyes that remained closed. Her faith has been made sight. Her journey is finished. She is home.

Mother’s Day 2022. Mom’s holding an old card I’d made as a child. I found this when I sorted through her stuff. Beside it is a new card.


July 5, 2023

Going Backward

Every week, babies change. They grow. They develop. It’s exciting. Parents, grandparents, everyone marvels the first time the baby does anything. Smiles. Rolls over. Laughs. Recognizes their hand. Crawls. Stands. Each new word is reason to cheer. Each accomplishment, no matter how tiny, is met with enthusiasm. Videos are made and shared. Every week, if they are healthy, babies accumulate new skills in their repertoire.

At the other end of life, people with dementia also change each week. But instead of adding skills, they lose them. They go backward in their development.


June 13, 2023

The Book in the Middle

Announcing the long-awaited arrival of Two Lights of Hope, the middle book in A Cold War Trilogy! Like any parent with a middle child, I feared this middle one might be overlooked. Sequels often are. The newness of the firstborn has worn off, replaced by sheer exhaustion.

But it’s here. It’s a good story. And I want to celebrate its arrival!


April 27, 2023

The Story Continues

I’m thrilled to announce the upcoming birth of my second novel, Two Lights of Hope, Book Two in A Cold War Trilogy! It will be released sometime this summer, so stay tuned to find out exactly when as that becomes clearer.

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