Mourning: a tale of two mournings

mourningWhen I was 19, I unexpectedly lost my father. He had gone into the hospital for ulcerative colitis earlier in the week. What I understood at the time, was that he needed to have a procedure, but was not well enough for it. They were keeping him in the hospital in order to build up his strength for the procedure, which they hope to perform the next week.

I was working two full-time jobs at the time. Hoeing weeds in the fields by day. Taking orders and slinging pizza by night.

It was Friday night (actually early Saturday morning) after a shift at each.

I’d sent a note to Dad earlier in the week that I was coming to see him the first day I had off, which would be Saturday.

My mom woke up each one of us kids and we gathered downstairs in the family room, where she told us Dad was gone.

The next days, weeks, months, were a blur. But aside from a few moments of peace and calm–one when the bishop prayed with us that the spirit would be with us as Comforter and I felt a palpable sense of peace and comfort in the room and two–when people from all over the county–and some from states beyond–as well as a few high school friends I didn’t expect would understand at such a young age that showing up for and standing with people in such an hour has a deep and lifelong impact–showed up to honor my dad. I had previously only been aware of his immediate influence on our family. To see such a visible effect of how wide an influence one can make just by being an honest and friendly guy who was kind and who helped people. Well, that stays with me still.

In any case, what I mostly felt, once I started moving past shock and disbelief, was anger.

I was a terror.

It took the patience of a true and honest friend who had the courage to sit me down privately one night in his car and tell me how selfish I was being to wake me up and bring me around. His message to me couldn’t have come from just anyone. And it couldn’t have come without true charity and a complete lack of judgment, either. I will forever be grateful for that one brave friend.

In any case, now, though I still miss my dad these 35 years later, when I look back at that time, all I feel is the love. Our friends and neighbors (and I’m sure our family – although they were oh so far away, and they were mourning too) surrounded us with love and service that lifted us and carried us through the worst of that time. Another lesson that stays with me still.

Three years ago December, I got a frantic phone call from my mom, who lived alone in a city about 10 miles south of me. She needed a ride to the Emergency Room here where I live. Immediately.

Her cancer was back.

Sometime I will write about when she and my mother-in-law, Barbara, had the same cancer at the very same time.

But today I write a little about when my mom’s cancer came back.

It was dark. It may have been raining. I was swearing and crying and praying all at the same time. I went to her house and held her as she cried and tried to joke about it at the very same time. But the prevailing feeling–along with disbelief–was fear. We were both so afraid.

I don’t recall which room, but I recall exactly where I was sitting–in the corner, just to the top left of the gurney on which she sat, the doctor stood at the foot of her bed as he explained the results of the full body scan she’d had in order to determine the cause of her unrelenting pain after someone had rear-ended her. The cancer was back. And it was everywhere.

I took her to see an oncologist the next day. It was so bad they started chemo that afternoon.

All my siblings gathered at Christmas. She was so weak. We didn’t think she would make it through Christmas.

But then she rallied.

An entire brave and courageous year of treatments, pain, suffering, gallows humor, hospice, so many things I cannot yet describe.

I remember during that time I heard a friend of mine speak of her experience caring for her mother towards the end of her life. Allison beautifully expressed what I was learning about the offering of imperfect but heartfelt service in in the midst of heartbreak. Looking back, I think she what was really talking about consecration and sanctification. Despite helping care for three of my four grandparents at the end of their mortal existence, caring for my mother was the first time I began to glimpse the meaning of consecration and sanctification.

On January 7 I was getting ready to go in to work for a conference call, when I got a call from my sister-in-law. She was crying. And so apologetic. It would have been one of my nights to stay with Mom, but my brother had needed to switch. My mother had been sleeping peacefully. We all were in the habit of peeking in and listening at her door. My brother had just left to take his kids to school. When D’Dee walked back by my mother’s door, it was too quiet. Despite all our efforts to be there for her, she had gone just the way she wanted–slipped away quietly, without any fuss.

Shane was in the middle of teaching third grade and needed to get someone to take his class. So Zack drove me out to the house. We waited for hospice to come–grateful that Mom’s favorite aide hadn’t yet left on vacation and was able to attend to her one last time. The hospice nurses did what they needed to do, then we closed Mom’s door and waited for the funeral home to arrive. During our wait, we passed around the Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars that truly sustained her spirits through her final months and raised them together in a final Cheer! to Mom.

Mourning Mom was not as intense as mourning day. But it’s lingered longer. I’ve thought a lot about why this mourning was so very different. I wonder how losing someone you love too soon and at an early age might shape you. It certainly had strengthened my faith. Both parents were ill and had suffered, so there was still relief for them at their passing. Relief that they suffered no more. But I had been distanced from my father’s suffering, as I was away at school for most of the year and was not charged with his care.

My mother’s suffering had been personal to me. And my relief at her release was deeper.

Also, we all felt–and still feel–great peace at knowing that after so many years alone, Mom is with Dad again.

A couple of months after Mom died, I spoke with my friend about the grief of losing a mother. We talked about the stages of grief and how, while the sense of loss is runs deep, it seems unusual to have skipped the anger stage.

I’m not sure which one of us said it out loud, but we both had come to realize that when you are angry, you miss seeing beauty and joy.

It seems counterintuitive. Impossible, even. But we both had identified beauty and joy in our very personal journeys with our mothers. The same sense of beauty and joy carries us through our mourning as well.

[Day 31 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Road Trip


fallsEarlier this year Luke and Emily were planning a trip to Portland, to attend one of Emily’s friend’s wedding. They were planning on staying with one of my brothers in Idaho, and another in Portland. That sounded to me like a good excuse to see some of my siblings (especially as I have two in the Boise area now), and they were in need of a reliable car anyway, so I decided to take some time off and drive them in mine.

Shortly before our trip, Zack graduated from BYU, and didn’t seem to have immediate plans, so Luke spontaneously invited him to join us.

And that’s when I discovered the joy of traveling with adult kids!

I feel like I’ve already gone on and on about how much I love the drive to Idaho. Big skies. Rolling hills. Green and yellow checkerboard farms. The reassuring tsk tsk tsk of sprinkler lines. I drove it a few times with my mom in the last years she felt comfortable traveling, but not so much driving. And I’ve made the trip myself a couple of times. But it was enjoyable with a carful of family as well.

One of the most beautiful aspects of this trip was we didn’t really have an itinerary. We spontaneously stopped along the way to Boise to look down a deep river ravine on route to our planned detour to see Shoshone Falls. On the next leg we made a quick stop to see Multnomah Falls on the way there, and then drove through an isolated snowstorm to glimpse just the very top of Mt. Hood against a clear blue sky on the way back.

And instead of stopping at Wendy’s at every leg, we whipped out our yelp apps to discover new places along the way. Aside from one of my kids who would willingly eat at Panda Express in every town (the one kid who actually reads my blog, so please know I write this with love ;), there were no strong preferences to negotiate around. Just a lovely, chill “we’re game”-ness about everything.

It went so well that even though we had just arrived the evening before, everyone was willing and excited to pile back in the car and drive to Canon Beach the next morning. If you are thisclose to an ocean, you make the effort to go just a little further and dip your toes in the waves.

We enjoyed good music and good conversation. The baby traveled so beautifully. It truly was perfect.

I hope someday to see more of our country this way. Casually and without a set itinerary. Good people. Good music. Good conversation. And good food.

[Day 30 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

[post edit: lest my two youngest feel left out, I did fly them with to D.C. last year, but it was not a road trip, so is a story for another day.]

Birth order

My name is Dalene because I was first born and intended to be named after my father. Being female made that a little trickier, but I’d say they managed just fine.

Oldest of six. One of two daughters. My little sister followed me after just 14 months. And then there were boys. My mother used to dress my sister and I as one might dress twins. My sister in pink or red. I was in blue. Which suits me, so I have no complaint. Our names were said so frequently together, “Dalene and Jayne Anne,” it wasn’t until I was quite a bit older I realized we were not two halves of one whole, but rather two distinct, separate beings.

I am still blessed or plagued–depending on how you choose to look at it–by the effects of birth order. I call it a “responsibility complex.” It was ingrained in me that I needed to behave in order to set a good example for my younger siblings. I wasn’t perfect, but this most likely kept me out of some trouble I might have otherwise gotten into had I not taken this charge rather seriously. Now it only serves to make me feel responsible for things that are not my doing and which are beyond my ability to fix.

My sister and I were often left in charge of our younger brothers. We both had very different approaches to this task. Fiercely independent myself, I’m also inclined to grant others the same privilege, and tended to be more hands off. “If you’re not broken or bleeding, you’re ok.” That same refrain worked seemed to work just fine for my children as well.

I wonder to what degree being oldest contributed to said fierce independence. It, too, is both a blessing and a curse. It provides me strength and confidence to do what I must, but also a reluctance to ask for or accept help when I truly need it.

Now both of my parents are gone, I also feel a responsibility to stay connected with my siblings and help us stay in touch. I need to do better at this. I mean well, but here it is again nearly 11pm and I’ve put off reaching out to them one more day. I will do better tomorrow.

[Day 29 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


While I do enjoy getting lost in a good book, I also like to indulge in a good crime drama or two. Growing up, we got up early and worked hard during the day and would gather around and unwind together with a few television shows we enjoyed. In particular I remember watching CHIPS, Quincy M.E., and the Rockford Files.

As an adult, for the longest time I didn’t watch TV, aside from Star Trek. Once I had kids, the TV was usually on–generally on PBS–but we didn’t so much gather round.

Aside from a time when we were a trial home for Provo’s high speed Internet fiber and got it for free, we have never subscribed to cable. Which meant when we went on vacation a rare time or too, the hotel room TV was a magnet.

Marathons are the worst. The first hotel cable TV marathon I recall was a weekend of Mythbusters. I don’t remember where we were or why we were staying in a hotel (until last year’s work travel, hotels have always been a novelty).

I do remember one time during a family reunion in Lake Tahoe, it was a NCIS marathon. And we did all gather round for that when we were back at the condo. I was hooked.

Eventually I got all mostly caught up and I still watch NCIS. Now there are three!

And yes, Netflix. Netflix comes in handy when you are sick in bed or otherwise laid up, and over the summer when your regularly scheduled programming is on hiatus. I still recall the summer I was so unexpectedly taken with The West Wing.

Well written and executed TV and movies are, in my mind, just a more visual form of fiction. What I love most about fiction I learned in reading Reading Lolita in Tehran. It can teach empathy beyond what is possible within the bounds of our own reality. “What we search for in fiction is not so much reality but the epiphany of truth.”

It’s different now, watching on the laptop instead of gathered around the TV as a family. Those of us who do watch TV all watch different things. But it’s a nice distraction from my own worries once in awhile. And sometimes can be quite cathartic. One Word (that sounds like two): Broadchurch

[Day 28 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

[Post edit – Two side notes: 1. One of my favorite characters in NCIS is Abby Scuito. I’m more than a little thrilled that a couple of coworkers from both my prior and current jobs tell me I’m the company “Abby.” 2. Because I am a fangirl, my friend and colleague drove me past the Naval Academy in Annapolis during one of the four weeks we worked together in D.C. last year. It was awesome! Also, a former NCIS agent was just hired as faculty in the forensics department of our college (the College of Aviation and Public Services) at UVU. I got to meet her and have talked with her a couple of times. It was awesome!]


My maternal and paternal grandmothers are very different from one another, but they are both very dear to me. And I miss them quite a bit.

Growing up I was most familiar with Grandma Rex, as we would see her at least once a year during branding season, and often more than that. As I child I remember being gathered around her tiny kitchen table with my siblings when Grandma Rex was making large quantities of wheat bread. She would always hand each of us a small wad of warm, spongy dough and let us do what we wanted with it.

As I grew up I became more familiar with her formidable will. When she grew older we used to say the reason she lived so long was because God wasn’t ready quite yet for her to be up there telling him how to run things.

Grandma Rex had a wonderful generous heart along with her strong opinions. She was tiny, but she was powerful and brave. She raised 11 children in some of the most unforgiving climate in the country (Randolph routinely is the coldest place in the nation during winter) back when times were physically hard, caring for and feeding the family and ranch hands without running water or any modern convenience.

Later, after losing my uncle in the war, grandmother took her power and persuasion beyond local and state politics and was involved with the national MIA-POW campaigns. She was a force to be reckoned with her entire life.

I still recall a quiet Sunday a few weeks before Grandma Rex died. We were taking turns spelling my aunts who’d been caring for her and Grandma and I were watching professional golf. Phil Mikkelsen won the Masters. All this time I’d known my grandmother and I never knew she enjoyed golf!

A favorite story about Pearl is one told at her funeral. Apparently one day she had been slaving over a hot stove preparing dinner for the masses and my grandfather (and the ranch hands at his command) was late. And grandmother was not happy. When he finally arrived she proceeded to give him a piece of her mind and he swept her up off her feet, twirled her around, and planted a great big kiss on her lips. That was an effective way to get some peace and quiet, apparently.

Grandma Jacobs was also a tiny woman, but she was quiet. The whole time I knew her she quietly looked after my grandfather, standing back from the limelight, quietly running the seamlessly tight ship in which my grandfather thrived.

While she did visit us in Oregon a couple of times, I best remember driving down to see her in San Diego every few years. I still remember being awed at her patience as six kids tracked sand in to her immaculate home after a day at the beach. We used to joke that Grandma Jacobs would have your water cup washed and put away almost before you were finished drinking out of it.

This was the grandmother who would send me a dime for every book I read over summer break. And also the grandmother with whom I credit for giving me a testimony of the law of tithing. When I was in college Grandma Jacobs had a gift for sending me $10 seemingly randomly but uncannily every time I was looking at a week with no money for food because I had paid my tithing first.

When Grandpa Jacobs retired, they sold their San Diego home and moved to Orem, where, as they grew older it was the privilege and blessing of my family to help serve and care for them. Eventually they moved into a senior living center, where we also spent a good deal of time visiting them.

One of my favorite things about Grandma Jacobs was that she loved me for me, as is, and without judgment. I remember she used to come to my messy house and tell me how wonderful I was for spending time holding my babies–even when they slept. She recalled with sadness how when she was a young mother doctors warned mothers against spoiling their babies by holding them. The thought broke both our hearts.

We were all so worried about Grandma Jacobs after Grandpa died. What would she do without the person who had been the focus of her attention her entire life?

She blossomed! At 80-something years old she bloomed into herself, making new friends, and we were all so delighted! Though opposites, she and my husband’s Uncle Hilton became and remained good friends until he passed away.

A few months before she died, I remember being curled up next to her on her bed, where she had been mostly unconscious throughout the day. I truly thought it was her last day. I was thinking about a particular child of mine who had been struggling. I silently thought to myself as if to her, “Grandma, be sure and come back and give “Jane” a kick in the pants now and then after you go.”

Grandma’s eyes opened wide for the first time that day and she asked, “How’s Jane?!”

[Day 27 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Tasks Chores


When I was a kid all six of us were assigned to do dishes numerous times a week and to make a dinner lunch or breakfast at least twice. There were outdoor chores as well–mostly mowing and weeding and picking. (In what is, perhaps, the most fortuitous situation of assigned gender roles, my sister and I were exempt from milking the cows.)

But the dishes. It would take me hours to load the dishwasher, mostly because I would put off emptying and putting the clean dishes away for so long first. It seemed like So. Much. Work.

I recall, most likely in my early teens, discovering the power of attitude. If I chose to have a good attitude and jump right in, the same chore was much less tedious and seemed to be completed much more quickly as well.

Unfortunately, lesson though learned, the choosing continues to be the rub. I am not the well-oiled chore-master my mother was. (And that’s ok, I have other faults, but also other strengths.) So I am generally overwhelmed with being outnumbered in terms of how many people are making messes vs. how many people are cleaning them up.

Dishes and Laundry.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Dishes and Laundry. I don’t dust. I don’t iron. I rarely do windows. And I’m ok with that.

I used to be a good gardener. Gardening and managing the space outdoors was preferable to me for several reasons. One, growing things provides pleasure. Two, sunshine. Three, even with the plague of the earth morning glory, the odds, somehow, seemed less against me. Finally, the work I did didn’t get undone in 5 minutes.

To be honest, I maybe was a good gardener at least through June, and then could barely hold my own at least during periods when my internal alarm clock woke me up before the sun and I could get out there before it got too hot.

I don’t do heat.

But now I work full time. Our dog has commandeered the entire backyard. As previously explained, I struggle with the mornings I used to embrace. And even the handful of plants I manage to pot on my front porch suffer from neglect.

Any victories? Everyone does their own laundry. On a good day I sacrifice being exactly on time to work (which is fine, because we have some flexibility) to empty the dishwasher before I leave, even though I know I will still come home to dishes in the sink. And I’m better about generally making myself last long enough to load the dinner dishes (as long as there is only one batch) before dragging my tired bones to bed.

My biggest battle is with stuff. Too many years with too many people’s accumulation of stuff. Compounded with several boxes of my mom’s stuff I’ve yet to tackle, stacked up along my bedroom wall. It, too, is overwhelming.

I chip away at it from time to time, but I think a good part of the reason I so enjoy the occasional work travel these past couple of years is the blessed absence of stuff for a few days.

I know there will come a time where the kids are all gone–their stuff with them. The clean will go longer before being undone. And maybe I’ll make a dent in the stuff.

I expect I’ll find the house too quiet then.

[Day 26 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


1024px-ghost_town_frisco_in_utahphoto credit Michael Gäbler

We lived outside unfettered and primarily unsupervised back in the good old days when we didn’t know any better than to fearlessly roam the planet oblivious to all sorts of dangers that terrify parents today. (Stranger Things? Totally nailed it as far as parents’ presence in our lives seemed.)

A few memories in particular I recall.

People think of rain as gloomy and spirit-dampening, but I remember none of that from my childhood. I recall running through weeds and tall grass in what seemed like endless summer behind our back fence, which happened to run parallel to the freeway. I also recall endless hours grinding what I considered stackable pencil plants (Scouring Rush or Horsetail) into warm cement to scrawl out my name, words, sentences, rudimentary poetry in wet dark green. Only to have it fade to pale as the day wore on.

I also recall what felt like entire summers in the pasture at my grandparents’ house in Randolph, Utah, and then, once we moved out to the country, in our own side pasture. Baseball was the game of choice. And I consider deprived any child who grew up not relying on cow pies for bases in always undermanned (and under-womanned) baseball games with siblings and cousins. IF we were lucky, the cow pies were sufficiently aged before use. If not, the green scuffs of manure weren’t that distinguishable from the green scuffs of grass on a well tanned leg or arm.

My grandparents also had a rusted old swing set out in that pasture. At least that’s what they thought it was. To us it was most generally a rocket ship. Long before the days of thrusters and warp speed, that ship could go anywhere. Days seemed both timeless and endless as we traveled distances and survived adventures limited only by our imaginations.

If you ventured out back and up the hill a little bit you would cross the old weathered bridge that spanned the creek (or crick, as it were). Beyond that stood worn and no longer used farm structures that, to us, made up an entire western town–more likely a ghost town. But we were smaller then, and the world seemed a much bigger place. I imagine if I visited today, I’d be somewhat saddened by its diminished size and expanse. In any case, we held animal-less rodeos, and lived out fictitious lives in the those dilapidated ruins.

All this in the matter of a dozen or so branding seasons spent with extended family. Up until our lives became real and complicated.

[Day 25 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


I wrote a great post for this. It was raw and real and beautiful. I know I hit publish, but even if I didn’t, I could have sworn–in fact I know because even now I see the “Draft saved at 8:54:28pm at the bottom of this page that drafts autosaved.. But my photos wouldn’t load. So I quit my browser and went out of the post. And when I came back in an empty text box was staring me in the face.

It’s gone.

I lack the energy to try again.

What was intended to be Day 24 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


My friend Melody used to organize and host writing retreats for women who felt compelled, or even just a little bit desirous, to tell their stories. Finally one year I let go of all my excuses (work, family, a messy house, caring for my mother) and went.

I got off work and drove up Provo canyon with my sun roof all the way back, embracing the warmth of the sun, the occasional shadow of the mountains, and, by the time I headed up the south fork, the breezy rustle of the leaves.

Some of the women were old friends. Fae and I slipped upstairs to catch up briefly a few minutes before it started. Others would become new friends. Bound by a sisterhood that formed during just a few hours of raw and real honesty and vulnerability.

Laughter. Sorrow. Joy. Tears.

Two of my favorite memories were this:

1. We were asked to bring something we’d written to share. It was to be a moment of acceptance and complete non-judgment. Such moments–perhaps especially among women–are rare and precious. I made a promise not to discuss beyond the retreat. But I will say this: the sharing of our truest stories–particularly in a loving, safe place–is powerful, heady, stuff.

2. We gathered in a circle and held hands as we prayed over one of our meals. I don’t even recall which one–it doesn’t matter which one. I was next to my friend Dovie and two of her sisters–one of them Logann, (whom I will write about later). What I remember, standing there in a wood cabin deep in the heart of the mountains with my eyes closed, is love, light, and energy. Along with my first experience in the Conference Center for the General Relief Society meeting, it is one of two times in my life when I’ve received palpable witness that the power of good, loving women gathered together is far beyond what we even imagine.

I will never forget it.

[Day 24 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]


momphoto credit Zack Rowley

Prompt: “Write about a time when you knew you were going to go through pain, you knew you’d suffer, but you went ahead anyway.”

I’ve been avoiding this one. Although I have been in pain, when I think of suffering I most often thinking of it in terms of the pain I feel over the suffering of others. In particular, I think of my mother.

When her breast cancer spread throughout her body, one of the most awful ways it afflicted her was when her lungs would fill with fluid (pleural effusion). She regularly had to go have the fluid drained (thoracentesis) , at great risk to herself. Having once suffered from double pneumonia, I still recall the heaviness on my lungs and the desperate fight for breath.

Ultimately her doctor recommended a painful procedure (thoracoscopic (VATS) talc pleurodesis) in which they would essentially collapse the space where the fluid kept building by draining her lung fully, then filling the space with some sort of irritant (again, I don’t recall what) that made me think of cornstarch and which I honestly didn’t think had any reason being in the human body, especially not the lungs.

The doctor made it sound simple, but it was not. The recovery was extremely painful, with not one, but two drains out of her chest.

I have blocked most of the details from memory and don’t feel inclined to dredge them up right now. But I know my mom suffered. She suffered like I had rarely seen before (someday I will tell you about Adrienne). And it’s not like I would have or could have chosen any differently, but I chose to stay by her side. This is not valiant and does not in any way diminish her actual deep and unbearable suffering, but I suffered more than I can remember, simply by being witness to her suffering.

The worst part of it all, was being painfully aware throughout her ordeal that the human body has two lungs.

We were only halfway there.

After a long and arduous recovery from the first procedure, my mother courageously chose to go in for the second lung.

And she suffered again, this time knowing exactly how bad it was going to be going in.

It is the first time I recall praying for the end of someone’s suffering.

When you are in the thick of something harder than you’ve ever known, the heaviness of it is with you night and day and it feels like it will never end.

The beautiful part of this story is that my mom’s courage in taking this on not once, but twice, led her–with the blessed help of hospice–to enjoy a few good months before she died. During that time she enjoyed numerous visits from family and friends. One of her favorite joys was to take her guests to see the latest progress on Payson Temple construction, something which also brought her a good deal of peace. Followed by fun a visit Rowley’s (if related, it’s a quite distant relation) Red Barn for apples, jam, and hard-scooped ice cream. And, finally, wrapping up with a visit to some family restaurant in Santquin where they serve scones bigger than your head.

Just yesterday I drove past the completed Payson Temple on my way to our niece’s new home in Sanatquin and, on the way back, I noticed the lights at Rowley’s Red Barn. I remember how I worked so hard balancing everything during that time to support my mom, missing all these outings with family because I was saving up vacation and sick time “for the end.” One fine fall day I realized that “the end” might be too late. So I took a half day off of work and accompanied my Mom on her tour. It was a perfect autumn day. The smell and sense of fall harvest was in the air. And I was grateful my mom had seen it through in order to see such a beautiful day and to share it with me.

[Day 23 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Post has been edited to include the name of her condition and the procedures. The substance is worse than cornstarch. It is talc powder. Again, something that seems to have no business being inside of anyone’s lung.