I remember walking between Mom’s room and Carolyn’s listening to the sound of their breathing during those precious last weeks.

You know those moments as a mother when you tiptoe up to the corner of your baby’s bed just to make sure that the next breath comes…

I would see the rise and fall of Carolyn’s chest, listen to that sweet baby breath…


I would stand in the doorframe of my mother’s room doing the same thing and knowing that at some point in the near future the next breath wouldn’t come.

I split time between the newness of my baby girls’ life

And the expiration of my mother’s drawing ever closer.

If I stood in just the right spot I could hear them both breathing…  The fresh intake of breath into the new lungs of my babe.

The labored exhales of my mother fighting for each moment

Each in their own rhythm.

I held my breath to hear theirs.

The very air of that house utterly sacred.


The baby and I lay on her bed one night—the three of us snuggled close together, breath mingling.

She said, “Oh Val.  This is perfect.  Just perfect.  To have you both here next to me.”

Perfection indeed.  I don’t know that I have tasted sweeter perfection since.


I lay on her grave two nights ago thinking of all she’s missed in seven years.  The delight she would take in Lainey stump-stump stumping around with a look of happy innocence perpetually on her face.  The way she would giggle at her closing her eyes to shut out the world when she gets angry.

I wonder at the ways she’d have seen my children and taught me to see them.

I ache at the tally of milestones that she missed.

I consider the woman I have become in her absence and muse that I wouldn’t be who I am in her presence.

Seven years later life is what it is without her.  There are pieces of it that exist only because of her absence.

It is still sweet.  Still full of goodness.  Still so beautiful.

But it is markedly changed.


It is the job of all daughters to separate from their mothers.  To become other and distinct.

I cook her recipes.  I say the F-word enough to keep it comfortable on my tongue.  I watch her TV shows to keep her at the surface of me.

But I emerge still my own person.  An amalgam of who I was with her and who I have become without her.

I think of her when an evening breeze cools me in the evening.  When a good old-timey country song comes on the radio.  When I hear people ranting about politics or when someone tells me the answer to a problem is just to tell ‘em to fuck off.

I am like her and unlike her.  More confident and less confident.  Unsure of myself in the same ways and comfortable in who I am in different ones.

She made me but she is not all that made me.


Seven.  Such a long time to have passed for me to still feel that I have only just kissed her good night.


5 thoughts on “Breath

  1. This is so beautiful. Truly. I had chills while reading it. I have been writing about my mother in law who I never knew. I will be posting that tonight or tomorrow. I so loved reading about your experience. Well written.

  2. oh, val. this is just…perfect. i’ve been missing your words. you and i would have such conversations across tables late into the night. my heart knows yours, and loves it. this was just beautiful.

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss. I understand as my Mom passed away two years ago and I’m still grappling with grief—— At times it can be overwhelming. I will be praying for you.

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