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Almost 40 years ago, I received a gift of shoes from a grieving mother—shoes I never had the heart to wear. The thought that kept running through my head at the time was “I can’t fill Jenne’s shoes.” No, but I know now that her mom wanted me to honor her by walking in her shoes. Not to be her, but to show my love for her by wearing something she, too, had worn.

I’m much older now and have said goodbye to many significant people since then—but Jenne was one of my first goodbyes, and I didn’t yet understand much about grieving.

When my father died, I brought home his hiking boots—the ones he thought he needed for his new life in the mountains. But as he was rather the same person in the mountains as he had been on the plains, those boots didn’t get much use. From him that is. I, on the other hand, wore them out. By then, I realized that wearing someone’s shoes was a way to keep someone walking with me just a little longer. It was my goal to take my father to all sorts of summits and vistas and show him what you can’t really see from a car. I liked to think about him when I hiked in those boots that are long gone—though not so long gone as he is after these almost 20 years.

My mom’s feet were smaller than mine are, so I shared her shoes (including her hiking boots, which she did use on a few trails) with others. From her, I ended up with socks I bought for her to wear in her care center. If you’ve had a loved one living in such a place, you know the drill—you have to mark the name on all their clothes and shoes. So, after 11 years now, I’m down to a pair or two of dark socks with “Elda” painted on the bottoms (in Wite-Out) that still make me smile.

And, when I got a text last summer from my nephew’s wife asking whether I had shared a shoe size with my late sister-in-law, I remembered all those trips together to the outlet mall when we could never find size 9 ½ shoes—for either one of us. Yes—I shared her size.

Oh, did she have shoes—and I couldn’t even fit in all her shoes. These are good quality shoes, the kinds you can wear for working on your feet or walking while shopping. The first trip I took her on was up to Estes Park, CO, where we used to meet when my parents lived there. And just like back in those days, we ended up in the grocery store gathering picnic supplies so we could eat outside, and we walked around town shopping and shopping—just like she would have done. Then when day was almost done, I walked her beside the lakeshore where we left behind part of her and her son. What a hard walk that was.

But for much of this winter I have practically lived in her Bearpaw boots. It’s hard not to think of her as I go about my life—knowing that I get to walk while she is done with that journey.

It’s that thought that has inspired me to keep wearing my mask when so many are done with them. I consider my masks a way to honor her—by protecting others who might be vulnerable as she was. I don’t know when I will stop with the masks—even though the CDC today said I am pretty much free to do so. What I know is that I have so many shoes to walk in—because she didn’t get to do so. And not only did she die, but she did so in a protracted, horrible way. So, I hesitate to change my habits yet.

Here we are a year later—a year after that morning when my brother’s phone call came way too early to be good news. She’s still gone. Every time my brother sends me a card with only his name on the address label, my breath catches.

The world is emptier for her absence. It’s cliché to say, but she was one in a million—and one in 947,417 of those lost to Covid-19 in the U.S. (according to Johns Hopkins, as of today, February 25, 2022). I carry my memories of her in my heart—and right on down to my feet.

Walk on.


People who work in close contact with others in jobs that must continue with contact are considered essential workers in these times. They are also exposed more often to COVID-19.

You know what else they are? Essential to people in their lives away from what they do for work. People love them and want them to be around for a full life span.

When I wrote earlier this week* about the loss of 500,000 people, I was sad that those people I didn’t know had lost their lives and that they left huge holes in the lives of those in their circle who remained.

At the time, I was breathing a sigh of relief because my loved one appeared to be getting better. Oh, I was angry that she hadn’t been better protected—both by institutional procedures and mandates and from people who didn’t believe that this disease was a big deal—but I was trying to focus on praying for her recovery.

And then, three days ago, her heart stopped. I don’t even want to hear you all insisting that she didn’t die from COVID. Because she did—the strain this disease puts on other systems can cause them to fail when they wouldn’t otherwise do so. The willful and/or unintended misinterpretation of how causes of death are assigned on death certificates tries to tell us we don’t have the right to be angry at people who refuse to take responsibility for protecting others.

In fact, when we had our last family loss (not from COVID) six months ago, I implored people to follow precautions as no one needs such grief in our lives.

Still, I see some of you complaining about overbearing restrictions and proclaiming that people should go out and live their best lives. What about our loved ones’ best lives? What about our best lives that would have included them still with us?

Every life is essential. How about we act like it?

* Post was written on 2/28/21–but I didn’t have the energy to share it in the midst of my fresh grief. But, somehow, here we are again, as infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are increasing. According to the CDC website today, the death toll in the U.S. has reached over 614,000. That’s over 614,000 people who were essential. Please don’t be the kind of person who doesn’t worry about COVID-19 unless and until it affects you and yours personally.



She was the closest I had to a sister. Our families kept the keys to the other family’s house, shot off fireworks, traded watching and/or driving kids as needed, shared Christmas Eve dinners, watched football games, and had nights filled with Nerf Wars (the kids) and card games (the adults). We lived just across the street from one another—our lives were so interwoven that we all knew we had a second set of parents looking out for us—even when we’d prefer we didn’t.

Our brothers were the same age so as soon as her family moved to town, the boys started shooting hoops together, playing backyard baseball, and, in general, terrorizing the kid-free neighbors with the perfect lawns who didn’t appreciate all the balls and Frisbees that flew across property lines.

She was younger than I was by four years but I never really minded playing with her. I remember our post-swim stops at Mahula’s, especially the time she got the cotton candy stuck in her still-wet hair. Wherever our brothers played sports—football, basketball, and baseball—we went along, especially looking forward to the post-game ice creams and other treats. Eventually we found our own sports—she, softball, and me, track—so we didn’t always have to trail around in their always moving footsteps.

When I left for college, the year after our brothers left, I lost track of the near-daily interactions but not of the long distance news and the get-togethers that still happened when I came home on breaks. She grew up, too, leaving for college the year I left home for good to find my way in the adult world. I always thought I would see her again.

I had hoped to make it back for the weekend before the usual Christmas Eve celebration since I would only need that one day off to go home for four days. My boss denied my request, saying I hadn’t been at the company long enough. Instead I watched my co-workers get drunk while they listened to Madonna. I wasn’t in Kansas—OK, Nebraska—any longer, was I?

My father’s phone call woke me the following Saturday. Jenne was dead, killed in a car accident while home from college on Christmas Break.

I didn’t ask to take New Year’s Eve off—I told work I had experienced a death in what was pretty much my family. I wasn’t going to sit at work, watching co-workers get drunk while a father and mother and brother buried our Jenne. I took off in my hardly road-worthy ’62 Rambler, daring the bitter cold to stop me—which it did not. While home, the voluminous trunk served as a stand-in freezer for the outpouring of food a grieving community kept delivering.

At all the gatherings at the home of the heartbroken family, I kept expecting her to walk in and say, “What are you all doing here? I’m not dead.”

But, of course, she was and still is these thirty years later. We’re left to wonder who she would have grown up to be and what kind of a middle-aged woman she would be right now. Over the years I think of her at strange times. When I’m typing—because she was good at typing and I am not. When I started having grownup friends who were born the same year she was. When I see—now rare, of course—a Mustang of the type she drove—the one with the wheel that was knocked away from the force. When a kid with wet hair is eating cotton candy.

After some time had passed, her mom wanted me to take some of her fairly unworn shoes. I did, but I couldn’t really bring myself to wear them after all. I finally realized: I couldn’t fill her shoes. No one could.

Dearest Jenne—sometimes I still can’t believe that’s all you got of life and all we got of you. So much has changed in this world since you left us, but I will never stop remembering what it meant to have you as my little sister from across the street.



Which is ridiculous because I had loving and active parents for many years of my life. They saw me graduate, get married, and have children. They loved their grandchildren and visited me often once I was a grown-up.

Yet some days I just can’t believe they are gone. That all we had together has come and passed long ago. My grandparents lived so long that I never expected the times with my parents would be over before my own kids were barely out of the home for college.

1962 (Don't worry--my dad was a happier person than in this picture, but A. He is a Lange and they look this way in pictures and B. I think my toddler brother is acting his age and frustrating my father!)

1962 (Don’t worry–my dad was a happier person than in this picture, but A. He is a Lange and they look this way in pictures and B. I think my toddler brother is acting his age and frustrating my father!)

Oh, given their illnesses, I would not have asked either of them to live another day. But healthy? Oh, yes, I’d have taken that. And to have extended my days of watching and worrying over their care to a time when I was not in the middle of raising my own kids. Everyone got shortchanged.

I try not to spend much time in regret or anger, especially knowing that others have had losses much earlier, but then there are the days when I just miss them and it still doesn’t feel right.

My dad has been gone for twelve years. How is that even possible? The good news is that when I recently saw pictures of him in his last months, ravaged by cancer, I realized I had almost forgotten how he looked then. My memories have reverted to the way he had looked the rest of the time I knew him—which is such a blessing.

I pray the day comes for me with my mother when I forget all that Alzheimer’s stole from her—and from everyone who loved and relied on her. So though she died just over three years ago, the mother I knew left for good over six years ago. My rational self knows that I am an adult woman of over half a century (!) but sometimes I feel exactly like a motherless child. I suppose that is a feeling many of us experience from time to time for the rest of our days—until we leave our own (adult) children feeling like motherless (or fatherless) children.

1964, Trina

1964, Trina

You don’t have to watch too many television shows or movies or read too many books to find the theme that because we love, we hurt—and conversely, because we have been loved, we also hurt. This is a universal part of the human experience—and if we have been truly blessed, we have been loved well from our very first days.

I am so grateful that some days I do feel like an orphan, not because I was abandoned at a young age, but because I was loved so well—and know exactly what I am missing.

Perhaps it’s Holy Week that brings these emotions to a surface, but, thanks be to Holy Week and its culmination in Easter I know that one day none of us need be orphans any longer.

Dick and Mae, Christmas 1981

Dick and Mae, Christmas 1981

(c) 2010

(c) 2010

God loves you, you know, even if the late Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist) said, “You’re not going to get nowhere (sic) with that slop that ‘God loves you.’ That’s a diabolical lie from hell without biblical warrant.”

No, the diabolical lie is that God propagates hate. Of course, there’s biblical warrant for saying God loves you. But like everyone else amongst us, Phelps was prone to pick the passages in the Bible he preferred over those he didn’t. I’m just as guilty as he is in that one, but I choose to fall on the side of the “slop” about love.

No matter how much hate Phelps spread in this world, God still loved him. Not for what he did, but for who he was—a child of God. Phelps did more to promote God’s love than he knew by bringing us together to denounce the Westboro message of hate. All sorts of people who couldn’t agree on faith issues could agree that Phelps and his group were going about the message all wrong. His idea of promoting what was “right” in God’s eyes meant any way to promote his insight into God’s message worked, including the collateral damage of harming innocents to shock us (as individuals, people, nations, the world) into accepting the truth as he saw it.

But most of us did not buy into his terroristic methods. People, often with nothing more in common than an aversion to hate, came together to hold hands and form a chain of love against the unchained hate of Westboro Baptist.

Unlike what Fred Phelps did, God doesn’t name call. He also doesn’t elevate one sin over another. Sin is simply anything that gets in the way of us and God.

And when it comes to that sort of sin, we’re all as guilty as Fred Phelps, whether or not we separate ourselves from God by knowingly turning from him, by not putting him at the center of our lives, or by arrogantly believing we know exactly how God believes and that he has called us to be his enforcers.

The truth is, not a one of us is good enough to be saved by God. But our God is a God of love. He longs for our hearts to be turned to him and longs to take our sins, any sins no matter how heinous.

That means anyone can be saved until his or her last breath. You and I should be glad that God is God. Fred Phelps, Ted Bundy, me, you, whomever—we all need his mercy and forgiveness.

For God so loved the world that he gave us his son so that we could be free to love others and let God worry about the final details. So get out there and never stop promoting that slop about God and his love.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

When I was a child, I often listened to my father and his parents talking. They spent a lot of time in the past. I used to think how great it would be to be able to say “ten years ago” or “twenty years ago” in my conversations.

Oh, I’m up to “forty years ago” and plus these days, but saying that isn’t as fun as I imagined. Not that a lot of great things haven’t happened in those years, but too much time in yesterday takes away from today and the tomorrows we might possibly have.

Good (bad!) grief, if we’re not careful with how we spend our days, we can end up as jaded and disillusioned as Macbeth:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Macbeth chose to hasten death for others and, ultimately, for himself. However, we have the power to choose to be life-affirming, both for ourselves and for others.

Yesterday has the power to steal from whatever else remains if we let it do so. Sometimes, how we have let our yesterdays change us is a choice. When we have earned our scars, do we start to assume that’s all the future brings? Do we react toward new challenges as if they are the same as the old ones or as if we learned nothing the first time around?

That’s the tension I feel these days with yesterday. If I’m not careful, I forget the hope I had before 2008 or even that it’s possible to find it again. Not every day do I forget, but enough so that I know that my connection to yesterdays reduces my sense of possibility.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to fake living until dusty death overtakes me. Not really.

So I have to keep fighting my perception of yesterday as well as keep reminding myself to remember what I can and cannot control about now. I am not in charge of others’ hope, other than providing them encouragement and help along their way. But ultimately, like Macbeth, we all have to choose for ourselves whether or not to let our yesterdays define the tomorrows of our days.

It’s up to each of us to make sure that our life stories are neither told by an idiot, nor full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. This is all we get in this life and I don’t want to waste my choices as Macbeth did. No, for me, I must remember to keep that flame burning and not fret the wax melting down the sides of the candle until someone greater than I says my wick has burned to its end.

Today’s yoga class reminded me again why I really go. The teacher usually starts class by asking what people need to address so she can choose poses and the style best suited to the current day. Today one woman asked for help with stress, which meant many poses we did were designed to help us release our emotions, thoughts, and/or bodies.

Periodically, the teacher explains to us that the purpose of doing yoga is to feel joy. One of the biggest ways to feel joy is to let go of what has hurt us in the past—and sometimes our emotions are so deeply embedded in us that only by releasing our muscles can we begin to let go of our yesterdays. Letting be and letting go frees us to pursue the joy in our remaining todays and tomorrows.

Let it be so with my heart, mind, body, and spirit.

Elda Mae (Ritter) Lange

Dear Mom,

What a year it has been since I last sat by your bed, listening for the subtle changes as your breath weakened, holding your hand when you struggled and all the while knowing you were on your way back to yourself. In that room where our time together both slowed and sped up, I prayed that your final labors would soon lead you to fall asleep to pain and loss and wake to joy, renewal, and reunion.

Somehow I thought that because you were ready and we were ready—and because we had lost you so many years before—that our healing afterwards would go smoothly.

Not so true because it has been such a fight to forget those last years. Try as I can to remember you, round-faced and full-bodied with that smile that lit so many days in my life, I see you angular and receding, all but for your brown eyes that continued to speak when you could not.

That we all decline is no secret, but the extreme changes you and so many others—human and canine—experienced in these last few years—Marge, Uncle Carrell, Dick, and our pups Fordham and Abel—make me want to rage against time.

Yet, perhaps it is just that grief/anger that brought about my own physical decline—my body could not escape the pain in my heart that I would have liked to deny. If I would not sit into my grief, then my grief would sit me down.

And, so I sat.

It is only in these last few weeks in the midst of deepest winter that indeed I can stand again easily and begin, step by step, to run and dance once more. Perhaps, the timing is no coincidence.

Yesterday I saw a black hearse leading a long line of cars on an unseasonably balmy day—someone was going home with all the ceremony that helps us to understand our loss. Yet, we did not say “goodbye” to you in that time-honored way.

I insisted we wait—until the weather might allow a more joyful home-going. After all, so much of you had left so long before your final day—those black hearses had been taking parts of you home for too long. The long goodbye of Alzheimer’s meant I needed to remember you more than remember your physical presence. So I’m glad we had all the brightly-colored clothes, the music, and the orange balloons on a windy, prairie day full of the hope of spring.

Because it’s that hope of spring that gets me through missing you and reminds me that my mother will never again have to be less than she was created to be.

Forever loving you, I return to the dance of life.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

Warning: this is not a happy little holiday post; in fact, it’s not even a happy little everyday post. No, it’s the post that should I get it out of my head might yet lead me to be able to sleep tonight.

However, this is not about sleeping tonight. No, I keep thinking that if I can just get the dining room table cleared during the daylight hours tomorrow, somehow I’ll find a way to salvage what’s left of 2011 and get myself ready to shed this year for the possibility of 2012. If you’re like me and have ADD and you’ve been through a lot of recent loss, you might understand how something as mundane as a bunch of random items on a table or any similar space can grow to appear as a physical manifestation of the condition of your heart and mind.

Yes, a year ago today began my mother’s last month on this earth. I can’t even tell you that was a bad thing because of the Alzheimer’s that had ravaged her mind as well as her body. But it was a very hard thing to watch her go in that way, to know that her brain kept everything—from her thoughts to her vocal cords to her feet—from working as they were used to doing. And to know that as inadequate as I felt, it was my job to hold her hand on that final journey.

I understood that the start of the new year would bring the end for my mother, which was really a kindness to both her and anyone who knew her previously. That part I accepted, as much as anyone really can. One day, after three years of daily concern for her—whether or not other capable hands cared for her—she was gone.

The thing is the losses kept mounting. My uncle died six weeks later and a few days later we lost our dog whose cancer had appeared as my mother was leaving. Sherman and I have been to too many funerals for friends’ parents over the last sixteen months, none more agonizing for me than those for people who were destroyed in the same way my mother had been. Even though our other dog’s life ended at a somewhat expected time, the timing in the midst of this year was hard to accept.

Of all the things I did to soothe my soul, exercise and maintaining my body’s strength brought me the most moments of calm and peacefulness. I had no idea that the other great joy—welcoming a puppy (and another dog) into our home—would negate much of what exercise could do for me. If I had known that that fateful long road trip to bring home our pup would take away so much of my strength for so long, I would have found another way to get him here.

That I am regaining some of my former energy does not make up for the months without it. I am so discovering that I crave using my energy for more exciting activities than the “have-to’s” of this past year, including the huge task of going through the mess left behind by my parents’ lifelong possessions—especially since I did not have enough of me to go around just to get through my regular daily commitments.

In fact, just seeing the table as it is tells me how ready I am to skip catching up. If there is any way to forgo another month of mourning, sign me up. I want to be a person who can converse without feeling compelled to talk about anything negative happening in my life, including in this blog. Oh, to regain the sparkle in my eyes and the spring in my step. Next time I have a hard time falling asleep, I hope it is not because my hips hurt or because my heart aches, but because I have too much I want to do.

There’s no catching up only starting anew. I can pat myself on the back for all I have cleared off that table, but in the end I am so over all the crap that has been so much a part of this year. I’m tired of it tripping me up and reminding me of what is past—I just want it gone. On the days when it doesn’t irritate me enough, I know I have become too complacent in this boring yet painful state. If I can’t bring back to wholeness what has been lost, then it’s time to rage, rage against the dark night that is this year of loss.

This is the next-to-longest night of 2011—just one more night until light once more begins its cycle of growth.

So now that these words have eased from me enough to let me rest for the remainder of this dark night, mark my words: today’s light shall shine yet on a freshly cleaned tabletop, open with possibility for what comes next.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

How does anyone know we are mourning in these days when we no longer dress ourselves in black nor drape black crepe over our doorways nor cover our mirrors?

Well, if you visited my house, you’d probably guess that I was either lazy or depressed—or you might realize that I am still in mourning. My house, it seems, is draped in my parents’ possessions—and dust.

First of all, I sorely underestimated how grief might affect my ability to slog through every day chores. Though I was never that good doing those chores in the first place, I’ve amazed myself by how much worse I am at carrying through with my household duties in the aftermath of loss. Turns out I’m not at all the kind who acts out her grief through maintaining a frenetic work level.

Add in the responsibility for sorting through my parents’ lifelong possessions during this low energy period and you get a house that looks like mine does now.

Sometimes when I see the dust on my furniture, I am afraid I will also find Miss Havisham—or at least a somewhat fictional version of a middle-aged woman who has lost her mother and two dogs—staring out from my mirror. I swear I’m not really stuck in the dates of my losses—it’s just that I am respecting the weight of my grief.

In fact, over the past several months I have contributed to an exciting work project, welcomed a puppy and a rescue dog into my home, continued with my social groups and exercise routines, as well as begun new activities. I am moving forward—just not as quickly as I had hoped. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather just skip the mourning and get on with the good stuff.

However, whether or not society dictates rituals for mourning, the mourning still must happen, more or less on schedule. Just because I’m creating new connections and routines doesn’t mean I am over missing the old ones yet.

Sometimes in the midst of something as simple as training our new dogs to deal with Trick-or-Treaters, I remember last Halloween when the little old “shark” (dachshund) and the bombastic springer spaniel were still at my side. I sing a spiritual in church and realize how much my mother would have liked to listen from the pews. I open up a box and find a full decanter of Jim Beam my father never drank because he was a scotch man.

One box at a time—sometimes more on a good day—I work on reclaiming my space. Every month a truck picks up some items I have determined someone else can use. I look for good homes for more specific items—last week it was fabric and music boxes. This week it may be pharmaceutical memorabilia or a Celtic drum.

Dust has been the new black around here, but I’m spending the next few weeks moving through what no longer needs to be here with gratitude for what was—and for what will yet be.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

There are many good reasons the Church and the ancients before them picked late October/early November for remembering the departed. As days shorten and nights lengthen at the same time the sun’s rays grow weaker, many of us turn inward. Just a few short thoughts can lead to thinking of those we have lost, as well as our own mortality.

Our family used to own a medical supply business and we always noticed that deaths began to increase around Halloween and continued at a higher level through sometime in the spring, even among clients who appeared relatively stable and healthy. Despite living in relatively comfortable times, it’s just harder to live in the colder months. Maybe the light matters more than we know and not just to those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

This year on All Saints’ Sunday, I listened as my mother’s name was read and a bell tolled in honor of her joining the saints eternal. In my brightest moments I see her conducting one of the heavenly choirs or playing along from the piano or with some percussion instrument. I was glad our choir was singing a spiritual, “Keep Your Lamps,” accompanied by nothing other than a drum’s beat—my mother would have loved the music selected for the year her life was honored.

And yet, she was not sitting in our pews to hear us sing.

I’ll tell you over and again that I didn’t just lose my mother this past January—no, Alzheimer’s took her from us years before she closed her weary eyes. So, in a way, I’ve already grieved who she was, but that doesn’t mean certain milestones don’t remind me of her final walk in her last year. In fact, sometimes I’m shocked to realize I am missing some of the simple things we could do together even when she was no longer “my” mother.

November’s arrival reminds me of the real beginning of the end for her: she started receiving hospice care a week before Thanksgiving. What’s true is that I am still grieving many pieces of that journey—or I wouldn’t still be so angry about how her hospice care did not provide the kind of support for her, us, and her care facility staff that is such a godsend to so many others.

I do my best to turn my memories to the little things that did work and how we learned as we went. After an unsettling Thanksgiving celebration within her larger community, we pulled back for a private celebration during the community’s Christmas dinner and experienced much greater peace and joy for her and for us. Sherman and I learned to enjoy feeding her, hungry as she was to partake of sustenance long after her own hands could not keep up with her appetite. When Intern Jess and I sang to her in German the carols of her childhood, we all had tears in our eyes.

The other images—the uncomfortable and/or painful ones—I try not to dwell on, but their presence tells me that part of letting her go must involve letting go of what happened, good and bad.

I was not the only one whose eyes teared up on All Saints’ Sunday—for some it is missing someone, pure and simple, and for others, there are the added losses that come with witnessing or walking someone towards a hard death.

As much as many of us would prefer to keep our mourning private and maybe even unstirred, it is good to have a day to remember corporally those whom we have loved—and to know that there are others who walk in similar shoes. Together we can walk in light—and through the dark.

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