A Cycle of Grief and Joy

I’m starting this article on January 15th, 2018. It’s been many months since my last post, and I finally feel ready to take a stab at writing again.

On July 15th, 2017, exactly six months ago, my mother, Catherine, died. Those of you who read my blog regularly may have noticed her thoughtful comments on many articles. Any words I think of to describe the grief her loss has caused seem weak or trite. It was shattering.

Two days after she died, our second son was born. It wouldn’t surprise me if his birth was brought on by the physical and emotional stress I was going through. Chico, our Bug and I had jumped into the car the day she died, and rushed from our home in Germany to Switzerland. We were only two hours away from her when she died, and just remembering the moment my father called brings back all the pain of that first realization.

When I’ve thought about writing this article, I’ve experienced something of a block. My blog articles are usually quite tidy: here’s a situation, here are some tips, thoughts or facts, and here’s a tidy conclusion.

There is no tidy conclusion here.

And though I am experiencing deep loss and grief, it’s not really about me, either. It’s about my mother.

So I’d like to try and write about my mother.

Catherine was salty.

That’s how John Beach, long-time rector at Emmanuel Church in Geneva and officiant at my mom’s memorial service, described her. By “salty,” he meant she was, as Jesus says in his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:13), “the salt of the earth.”

As salt is essential for flavor and life, my mom brought flavor and life to the lives of the people she touched.

She found people deeply interesting, and loved getting to truly know people. When Catherine made friends, they were friends for life.

She also knew how to find the good in everyone. As her favorite bible passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). She looked for truth, nobility, right, purity, loveliness, admirability, excellence and praiseworthiness in everyone she met.

Catherine was a reader.

Mom thought and read deeply and widely on a number of topics: literature, politics, family, religion. In a tribute to her memory, a close friend from university said she was always in awe of Catherine’s life of the mind.

She had a great love for literature, but she also kept herself well-informed about the news and politics. She not only practiced her faith by participating in her church community, but she also read about faith, challenging and pushing herself to live her Christianity.

She was never intellectually lazy.

Catherine was a planner.

Mom always said, “I’m good at logistics,” and it was true. She organized events, travels, get-togethers–even the simplest meals–with grace and ease.

A dinner at my parents’ house, with Mom in charge of the planning, was always a success. Not just because of the food (she was an excellent cook), but also because she thought of everything to maximize everyone’s enjoyment.

She used her skills for her community, taking charge of organizing monthly meals for a local women’s shelter in Geneva for ten years. She was active in her church, in our schools as kids, and at her local women’s club.

Catherine listened.

Most everyone can hear, but very few people really listen. Catherine was one of those listeners.

She not only listened, but she remembered. She heard sadness, joy, anxiety, grief. She knew when to be quiet, and when to offer words of comfort, advice or encouragement.

People confided in my mother, because they knew their confidence would be respected, and that she would, either by words or just by listening, offer help.

Catherine filled our cups with her love.

Mom made all three of her children feel loved and respected. Her deep respect for individuals showed in the way she treated us as kids, and then as adults, and in the way she treated her grandchildren.

A friend in middle school once told me she liked coming over to visit our house, because my mom listened to her and spoke with her like an adult, like someone worth listening to and speaking with.

Her respect and love for us taught us to respect and love ourselves, and to behave that way towards others. She gave us that gift, and set us that example.

Catherine is missed.

For all these reasons, and so many more, Catherine is missed. Her absence is like a gaping hole in my life; a vast darkness where such a strong life light once shone.

But as my dad reminds me: there’s nothing we need to know that my mother didn’t show or teach us. She is ever-present. She appears in my dreams, and I hear her voice guiding me through my days.

Time and life cruelly march on, when it doesn’t seem possible that they should without her. But even in my grief, the life and light of my boys, my nieces and my nephews, bring joy and hope.

Her light lives on in us, and in them.

God bless Catherine.

God bless her. God be praised and thanked for her life, and her memory, and for the example she was, and continues to be


The Brain In Jane works mainly in the rain. It's always raining somewhere. Find me on Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.

4 thoughts to “A Cycle of Grief and Joy”

  1. Jane, thank you for sharing your beautiful and poignant thoughts and feelings. Your mama was truly one of a kind. Sending you and your dear family so much love from across the pond <3

    1. Thanks, dear Meg. It has helped to write about her. Bottling things up is not healthy. I hope life is good in New York/New Jersey. Let me know if you’re going to be back in Germany!

  2. Bonjour Jane, Quel texte magnifique ! J’apprends avec tristesse le décès de ta mère. J’ai eu le privilège de la rencontrer quelles heures au Stitch n’ Bitch. Je me souviens avoir été ravie de me trouver près d’elle et d’avoir pu échanger avec elle, malgré mon anglais pas extraordinaire. Elle a eu l’élégance de me parler, le plus possible, en français. Je me souviens d’une présence douce et joyeuse à la fois. Une force tranquille. Tu as été incroyablement chanceuse de l’avoir connue ; plus, beaucoup plus, de l’avoir eu comme mère. J’aurais aimé pouvoir écrire un tel texte en mémoire de ma mère, partie il y a 3 ans et demi maintenant. Les parcours de ta mère et de la mienne ont été très différents. La relation avec ta mère différente de la mienne. Mais, au fonds, il nous reste maintenant le même vide: celui que l’on ressent quand on perd sa mère. Ce vide ne se remplit pas, ne se referme pas avec le temps. Il reste et, j’en suis maintenant convaincue, restera toujours. Mais ce vide est aussi une présence, légère, immatérielle mais perceptible. C’est aussi une force. Je me souviens de ce sentiment étrange, les premiers temps: j’avais l’impression qu’elle était beaucoup plus avec moi, qu’auparavant. Maintenant, je sens sa présence à chaque heure de ma vie. Une présence de laquelle je retire une force, un courage, un espoir qui me porte. Je suis sûre que tu ressens la même chose.
    Chère Jane, je te souhaite de vivre dans la Paix et la Joie que ta mère veut pour toi, auprès de tes enfants, ses petits-enfants. Je suis certaine que tu sauras être heureuse, pour toi, ton mari, tes enfants et tes proches. J’espère que tu reviendras un jour à Montréal et que tu me feras signe. Je t’embrasse très affectueusement. Générosa

    1. Générosa, ton bel message a provoqué les larmes aux yeux. Merci beaucoup pour tes mots pleins de tendresse. Je suis désolée d’apprendre le décès de ta maman, et j’espère que ta fille se rappelle d’elle, et que vous parlez d’elle souvent. Mon fils aîné se rappelle un peu d’elle, et on essaie de lui parler d’elle souvent, pour garder ce souvenir. Elle lui lisait beaucoup, et on parle d’elle quand on lit des livres qu’ils lisaient ensemble. J’espère revenir à Montréal pour rendre visite un jour, et je te ferai certainement signe. Je t’embrasse et t’envoie tous mes voeux de bonheur pour 2018.

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