Remembering Mom

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Mostly Musings

I lost my mom Sept. 7, two weeks after her 96th birthday. I keep reminding myself that she lived a very long, full life, with 95.5 of those years good quality time. That helps, to a point.

I have no doubt that she is, as they say, in a better place. But this is a bewildering time of transitions for me. I’m working to let go of the images of her final week on earth and to get back to memories of all the decades that she filled with family and friends, love and laughter.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I haven’t been posting as frequently the past couple of months. This is why. My thoughts and emotions are so scattered that I can’t harness them enough to write anything coherent.

So today, I would like to re-run a post that I wrote on Mother’s Day, 2014. I’m not updating it to reflect anything that has come later. I’ll save those thoughts for a later post.

Happy Mother’s Day

The question that he frames in all but words

Is what to make of a diminished thing.

–from The Oven Bird by Robert Frost

The majority of my friends no longer have a living mother to celebrate with today. I know that. I am grateful that Mom is alive at 93 and that she was able to spend a few hours with me this me


Mom was diagnosed with mild dementia about seven years ago. At the time, she was still able to live alone, with some support from me. She drove her car until she was 90. She had a social life centered around our church. Her Christmas card list was longer than mine.

But over the years, the dementia has stolen more of her memory and more of her quality of life. Then, in November, she had a stroke that caused little physical damage but left her memory and speech permanently diminished.

I am fortunate. She remembers me. She also remembers my brother and sister-in-law and a handful of friends that she sees most often. She is one of the highest functioning residents in the memory care unit where she lives.

As one of my friends pointed out today, I am now the one mothering my mother. I, who have no children, am trying to give back to Mom a fraction of what she has given me for 66 years. Sometimes I do fairly well. But not always.


Mom does remember Home Sweet Abbey. Nothing makes her happier than coming home with me for an afternoon. When she sees me arrive to pick her up, after punching in the code to open the door of the locked unit, she claps her hands in glee. We make the five minute drive, and I help her through the door from the garage into my kitchen. Immediately, her eyes begin scanning the room.

She is looking for my cats. For Angie and Shadow, though she doesn’t remember either of their names or which one used to be hers. As we approach them one at a time, I begin whispering Good Kitty, hoping the cat will be receptive to Mom’s persistent petting. Today the girls were fairly cooperative.

Mom found Shadow in one of her favorite napping places in my sunroom.


Then Angie shared the couch with Mom for a while, as we watched old episodes of The Lawrence Welk Show.



While we enjoyed our cookies and ice cream, the sky was darkening ominously. Mom noticed and said, “We’d better go back.” I agreed. It wouldn’t be easy getting her, her gifts, and her walker from the car to the nursing home in the rain and hail that were predicted.

Now, back home, the rain batters my windows and Robert Frost’s question lingers in my mind. What do I make of the diminished thing that was this Mother’s Day? How do I remember the beautiful, sweet, brilliant, loving person my mother was without mourning what she has lost? And what I have lost? And, isn’t it too soon to mourn, anyway? I still have her. Or do I?

Yes, surely, a diminished thing is preferable to nothing. And for that, I am grateful.

Yes, I am grateful.


If you would like to read the obituary I wrote for Mom, you will find that below:

Marjorie A. Dierksen, 96, Woodstock, died Sept. 7, 2016, at Hearthstone Manor in Woodstock.

She was born Aug. 25, 1920, to Bruno and Hilda (Hagen) Hahn, on the family farm in rural Davenport, Iowa. She married Carl Dierksen Aug. 14, 1940, in Marshalltown, Iowa.

Marge led a long life filled with adventure and love. She was a farm wife and full-time mother while her children were growing up. Then she worked as a secretary at the Rock Island Arsenal in Rock Island. After she and her husband moved to Colorado Springs in the early 1970’s, she worked as a secretary at the U.S. Air Force Academy. In 1989, they retired and moved to Woodstock.

Through the years, she traveled extensively in the U.S., took a trip to Germany to visit a castle where distant cousins live, and learned to fly a small airplane. She enjoyed sewing, quilting, scrapbooking, and going out to lunch with her many friends. Even in her 90s, her Christmas card list held more than 100 names because she kept every friend she ever made.

She was an active member of Grace Lutheran Church, Woodstock, where she was blessed to be a blessing. She served on the church council, as a deacon, as a home communion minister, and as leader of Grace Circle. She also participated in the sewing circle, Ladies Aid, and Senior Luncheons. She worked on Mistletoe Magic and the rummage sale for many years. She loved to tell the story of how she and Carl found the Lord.

She is survived by her children, Caryl Dierksen, Woodstock, and Craig (Rosie DeLullo) Dierksen, Kiowa, CO; two granddaughters, Tina (Scott)Takahaski and Jessica Mears (fiancé Mike Walker), both of Colorado; two great grandchildren, Drew and Morgan Mears; and the residents and staff of Traditions at Hearthstone, her final family.

She was preceded in death by her parents, her husband in 1996, and her beloved cat, Molly.

A Celebration of Life will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, at Grace Lutheran Church, 1300 Kishwaukee Valley Road. A visitation, beginning at 9 a.m., will precede the service.

Memorials in her name may be made to Grace Lutheran Church, 1300 Kishwaukee Valley Rd., Woodstock, IL 60098; JourneyCare Hospice, 405 Lake Zurich Rd., Barrington, IL 60010; or to a charity of one’s choice.


My Champagne Girlfriends

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Just for Fun / Social Life

It was late August, my first summer at The Maples, a hot, sunny afternoon at the pool. Two of my best friends, Marylee and Margie, were over for one of our monthly get-togethers. Because it was their first time at the pool, I wanted to make it a bit celebratory. What better way, I thought, than to share a bottle of champagne?

I got the girls situated at a table, cranked up the umbrella, and set out a few snacks. Glass is strictly forbidden in the pool area, so I went inside the clubhouse to open the bottle of bubbly and pour it into plastic flutes.

There, I found a couple sitting at a table while our sales consultant gathered information for them. We introduced ourselves. I explained about my girlfriends and the champagne. It was only polite to offer them some, I thought, wishing I had brought two bottles. Jan and Steve declined, probably thinking alcohol and contracts involving large sums of money are not a good combination. So I told them I would repeat the offer after they had finished their business with Carol.

I went back to the pool and found the girls already enjoying the water.

MM pool

A few minutes and a few of sips of champagne later, my intention of sharing with Jan and Steve had fled my memory.

Jump ahead a few months. Steve and Jan had bought their home and were living in a rental in the community while it was built. One day I passed Jan on the sidewalk. She asked how my champagne girlfriends were. It took a moment for me to remember what she was talking about. My girlfriends and I drinking champagne at the pool… me going inside to pour from the glass bottle…

Oh, no, I said. I forgot to give you and Steve the glass of champagne I promised you. I’m so sorry. I’ll make it up to you.

And I did, later, after they had moved into their home. My poor manners were forgotten, but the nickname champagne girlfriends stuck.


Margie, Marylee, and I met when we all were working at The Woodstock Independent. Those days are long gone, but they remain good friends, who are also good for me. They are more adventuresome, livelier, and yes, more bubbly than I am. Like champagne.

We get together monthly, taking turns hosting in our homes. The details change, but the general plan doesn’t. The hostess provides dessert and beverages, which often but not always include champagne. The other two bring appetizers that range from basic chips and dip to artistic creations. Here are a few of our better efforts.



When they come here, we always gather in my sun room, which they named the bistro because of its high table and stools.


I don’t have a photo of the three of us in my sun room bistro. But here is one Margie’s husband took at her home.


And here’s to many more adventures with the champagne girlfriends!

The School Bell Tolls

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Mostly Musings

Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee. —John Donne


Nope, sorry, John Donne. You’ve written a nice poem, but you’re wrong. The school bell does NOT toll for me. Not anymore. I am R-E-T-I-R-E-D. Mr. Donne, I am done.


Tomorrow is the first day of the new school year in Woodstock. It will mark the 15th time that school has started without me. How does that make me feel? Happy, mostly. Free and unencumbered, definitely. But just a little at loose ends, possibly.

I don’t miss the mountains of papers to grade, the never-ending lesson plans and meetings. Most of all, I don’t miss the feeling that I am responsible to so many for so much that I end up crushed under self-inflicted pressure to be perfect.

And yet… I do miss starting anew each fall, catching up with my colleagues, working with students who ask questions that challenge me, teaching in a sparking clean classroom. Having one more chance to get everything right—or at least better.

On the other hand, with retirement comes the great gift of time. If I feel like it, I have time to look up the entire poem that Donne’s quote comes from. Here it is:

For Whom The Bell Tolls by John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Then, if I want, I can dig deeper and find the poem as Donne actually wrote it in 1624. It’s slower reading but satisfying to know I’m seeing his real words.

original poem

I can ponder the phrases and sentences. I can linger on key lines like: Each man’s death diminishes me/For I am involved in mankind.

And I can realize how timely the line is in light of the Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter slogans of our summer.


But when I reread this post, I notice something else. The book in my photo is by Ernest Hemingway, yet my quote is from John Donne. And I have no curious teenager here to shoot a hand in the air and ask why that is.

And, yeah, I guess I might miss teaching more than I thought.

Household Lions

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Animals / Just for Fun / Pictures

World Lion Day

According to Twitter, today is World Lion Day. If there’s any animal deserving of its own day, surely it would be king of the beasts. Aren’t they gorgeous?

I would have loved to visit these guys today, but my schedule didn’t allow for a trip to Brookfield Zoo. And it really wasn’t necessary to drive a couple of hours anyway. I have two of their smaller cousins, household-size lions, living with me.

So I called Angie and Shadow to come join me. Do something regal or cunning or cute, I commanded. They, of course, closed their eyes and ignored me.

Until I got out the treats. Shadow gobbled one and went back to grooming her lovely gray fur. But Angie, after having her treat, thought she could spare a few minutes to narrate some of my favorite photos of the two.

Angie: This other cat has lived here over two years now, and I still don’t like her much. She spends entirely too much time with my human. Even when we are hanging out in the same place, I don’t let her get too close to me. Like in this picture, I allowed her on the couch, but she had to stay on her own cushion. I’m the more beautiful one, on the right. Stripes are what it’s all about.


The most annoying thing is, she copies me. If I decide to help the human on the computer, she does too.


If I get in the mood to play, she does too.


I pride myself on finding unusual sleeping positions in the sun. So does she.


Shadow: I’m practically pedigreed. I am a Russian Blue. It’s true. You can look it up.


Angie: Commie.

The Beauty of Maturing Landscaping

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When I moved into my Abbey in October 2010, I didn’t really have expectations for how its landscaping would change over time. I guess I was concentrating on the home’s interior and just assumed that bushes would grow larger and I would plant flowers in the spring.

That, of course, is exactly what happened. But this summer I’ve opened my eyes to the changes and the beauty that now surrounds me. Before I offer some before and after photos, I want to say that I take no credit for the transformation. I am not a gardener; in fact, I have a black thumb. I love to look at lush, colorful landscaping, but I don’t have the talent or the work ethic to produce it. I enjoy visiting neighbors who do and admiring their outdoor spaces.

So consider these photos to show the minimum that can happen in six years of mostly benign neglect.

Here is what has happened with the hydrangeas that came with my home:






I planted the shasta daisies below.


Three years ago


Three weeks ago


Now this final comparison isn’t quite fair because I didn’t have equivalent pictures. The “before” photo was taken during early spring, while the “after” is from midsummer.


spring 2012


summer 2016

I love my yard—which technically is the common area nearest my home—just the way it is. But I’m also excited to see how it matures given another six years of growth.