in memory of mom: 1942-2009

My mom died three years ago tomorrow. In memory of her, I created two digital stories:


[Here’s the transcript from this story]
If you look closely, you’ll see some of the same footage that I used in the raw footage at the end my post on the first anniversary of my mom’s death.


note: this is a slightly modified version of a digital story I posted in August.

I like putting these videos beside each other. I’m struck by the contrast between the material connections that the first one (fragments) honors and the reverent and romanticized memory of Mom in the woods that the second one (MOM ON A HIKE) constructs. Taken together, they reflect my own efforts at negotiating grief/life. I could say more, but I’d rather let the stories speak for themselves.

losing home

Note: As I mentioned in this post and this post, at the end of the week I will celebrate having lived 8 years in my house in South Minneapolis. This momentous occasion (8 years is, by far, the longest that I’ve ever lived in one place) makes me want to reflect on the meaning of home. I hope to do that in a series of posts over the next couple of days.The following is my third post.

I’m excited to celebrate my 8th anniversary of living in South Minneapolis this Saturday, but it’s really got me thinking about how, just as we were moving into our South Minneapolis house in 2004, my sense of home was crumbling. A few months before we bought the house, my parents sat me down and told me that they were planning to sell the family farm. That farm had been in the Puotinen family for almost 100 years and it was, as I expressed repeatedly in the two farm films, the place that I considered to be my home. In the midst of frequent moves, both as a child and adult, the farm had remained a stable and enduring space for nurturing and connection. When they told me that they were selling it, I knew that some important tie (to family, to past generations, to a homespace) was being severed. A year after losing the farm, my mom was suddenly diagnosed with a death sentence: stage 4 pancreatic cancer. By then, we had been living in our South Minneapolis for a little more than a year. While she beat the odds and lived until 2009, the moment of her cancer diagnosis in October of 2005, shattered my world and further eroded my already fragile connection to home.

In the years since the loss of the farm (fall 2004) and my mom’s diagnosis (fall 2005) and death (fall 2009), I’ve managed to reconstruct a sense of home and feelings of belonging and connection in my South Minneapolis neighborhood. I love where I live and I feel at home here. But, it’s still not (and might never be) the same as the sense of home and belonging that I felt in the UP and with my mom. Usually, I try to forget what was lost; to move forward and celebrate what I have and where I am now. But every fall, in the months of September and October, when those losses first happened, I can’t help but remember what I no longer have.

Yesterday, as I was revisiting footage that I took at the family farm in 2002, I found some clips of me talking to the camera (which I inexpertly set up on a tripod in a field) about the farm as home and of my mom talking with me (holding the camera) about the farm, home and nurturing/being nurtured. These clips are a powerful reminder of just what I’ve lost and probably won’t ever rebuild. As I watched and re-watched them, listening to my mom passionately talk about having a place and people who celebrate and accept you and about the role of a parent it hit me again: losing your mom really sucks.

I’m resisting the urge to qualify that last statement with something like, “but I’m okay” or “it’s gotten easier with time.” Even though I am okay and it is easier than it was right after she died, it still sucks to have lost her. I need to always have space for expressing this undeniable fact, for never forgetting my troubled space of grief.

After watching the clips of me and my mom, I decided to do a (somewhat) rough edit of them and post it on Vimeo. I can’t decide if I want to do more with them, like adding in some of my own voice-over + past photos.  For now, here’s the video:

Twitter, Care and Mother’s Day

Ever since my mom died–well, actually, ever since she got really sick–mother’s day has been hard. And, surprisingly, I never expect it to be. I’ve spent a lot of time developing ways to live beside my grief for my mom. And, as I’ve suggested on this blog and in my latest digital video about this blog, I’ve shifted a lot of my recent focus away from grieving over her loss and towards celebrating (her) life. Yet, even though I feel like I’ve come to some sort of peace with her death, I still woke up yesterday with that unsettled, irritable feeling that made me just want to be alone. When I feel this way, I don’t always immediately read it as grief. Grief is supposed to be waves of sadness and feelings of loss, right? Maybe not; my grief rarely comes in those forms.

According to J Butler (whom I’ve written about a lot on this blog), grief is about coming undone:

I think one is hit by waves, and that one starts out the day with an aim, aproject, a plan, and one finds oneself foiled. …Something takes hold, but is this something coming from the self, from the outside, or from some region where the difference between the two is indeterminable? What is it that claims us at such moments, such that we are not the masters of ourselves? In what are we tied? And by what are we seized (Undoing Gender, 18)?

In my case, what took hold yesterday morning were waves of irritation, anger, intolerance and a strong sense of coming undone as a mother, especially a mother without a mother. Luckily the feeling didn’t last that long, and much of the rest of the day–a beautiful one at a baseball game–was good. But, it always helps me to remember that Mother’s Day, much like my mom’s birthday or the day that she died, will probably always be difficult. And in ways that I might never be able to anticipate.

As I was reading through my twitter feed right before bed last night, I came across lots of RTs (retweets) by Xeni Jardin from people who were grieving because of cancer on mother’s day (kids who had lost their moms to cancer, or moms who had lost their kids to cancer, or moms who were living with cancer, etc). Jardin started the series with this tweet:

You can check out many of the tweets on this storify by Josh Sterns. What a powerful series of tweets! As I read through them, I was reminded of how I’m not alone and that plenty of people were having the same trouble I was with mother’s day.

Earlier in the year, I wrote a blog post about Xeni Jardin and her use of twitter to practice an ethics of care. Since that post, Jardin’s use of twitter in relation to (her) cancer has continued to involve multiple caring practices. Her tweets on mother’s day are just one more example.

Is grief a disorder?

I ran across the following article in the New York Times this morning: Grief Could Join List of Disorders. In my quick glance at the article (and the link it provides to a study by Jerome C. Wakefield and Michael B. First), the controversy seems to be over whether or not to remove the bereavement exclusion (BE) in the fifth revision of the DSMV. If removed, grief could be treated as a disorder. In his co-authored study with First, Wakefield argues that the BE should be left in. I like what Wakefield writes (as cited in the NY Times article):

“An estimated 8 to 10 million people lose a loved one every year, and something like a third to a half of them suffer depressive symptoms for up to month afterward,” said Dr. Wakefield, author of “The Loss of Sadness.” “This would pathologize them for behavior previously thought to be normal.”

I must admit, I haven’t done much reading or research on Psychology/psychiatry and the DSMV or on (social) scientific studies of grief. Since I’m curious, maybe I should. I wonder, how do the studies discuss the experiences of grief that linger or reoccur even years after a loss? What are the dangers (such as pathologization) of understanding this to be a disorder? What are the benefits of treating it as disorder?

Here’s what I want to put BESIDE/S this study/article/issue:
1. Judith Butler and her theorizations of grief and critiques of the DSMV in Undoing Gender (particularly, ch 1: Beside Oneself and ch 4: Undiagnosing Gender)
2. My posts tagged with “grief” on this blog

Fragments of Grief, part 5

Here is the fifth and final fragment that I place beside the others in my experimental essay of living and grieving beside Judith. In the manuscript, I titled this final fragment: There is no conclusion, only another fragment to place beside the others.

There is a more general conception of the human at work here, one in which we are, from the start, given over to the other, one in which we are, from the start, even prior to individuation itself, and by virtue of our embodiment, given over to an other: this makes us vulnerable to violence, but also to another range of touch, a range that includes the eradication of our being at the one end, and the physical support for our lives, at the other (Butler, Undoing Gender 23).

Butler devotes her attention in Precarious Life, Undoing Gender and Frames of War to how the recognition of our vulnerability in the midst of others often results in very violent, yet always failed attempts to deny or conceal it. But, albeit briefly, she offers the possibility of another way of thinking about and responding to our vulnerability as caring for and being in loving proximity to one another.

The night before her big surgery, the one that would determine whether she lived (for how long?) or died (on the operating table?), my mom was scared. She really hated doctors and hospitals. And she didn’t want to die. My oldest sister asked her if she would like to cuddle with her three daughters on the bed. She agreed, and together we–the three daughters and Rosie J, still in my womb—laid beside Mom. We held her as we waited, not knowing what would happen next.

My living and grieving beside my mom Judith and my daughter Rosemary Judith has enabled me, through joy and sadness and life and loss, to bear witness to the potential of this second non-violent meaning of vulnerability and to imagine the ethical potential of grief to be found not so much in what we have lost—a loved one–but in what we have gained—the recognition that we have the potential to love and be loved, to care and be cared for.

My thoughts: Originally I had planned to end this essay with a (somewhat dry and straightforward) conclusion about what I had done in the essay and how I had used Butler. Somehow that just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the essay. It was too abstract and removed and I didn’t think I had the energy for or the interest in making sense (abstractly or meta-theoretically) of the fragments and their expressions of my living and grieving. I thought of the Butler passage (the one that I use above) and suddenly the story about the bed came to me. The idea of touch and physically being connected seems central to thinking about care (care-giving, care-receiving, caring about, keeping vigil) in relation to living and grieving beside those who are dying (and those who are living in the midst of death and dying). I know I have much more to write about these connections and what they mean for me, both in my struggles to make sense of how I cared/failed to care for my mom and/or my daughter and in my critical efforts to reflect on what care is and could/should be. For now, I will take a break from this project. I will place it beside me as I work through (and on) other ideas about troublemaking, care, blogging, curiosity and feminist virtue ethics.

To be continued…