In Which I Reflect On Life After Mom.

The Fankhauser Family poses for the Eddie Bauer catalog.

The Fankhauser Family poses for the Eddie Bauer catalog.

Today marks the ninth anniversary of the day my mother passed away. It’s strange to think that it’s been that long; so many things have changed since then. We moved and became homeowners, had a second child, I lost my job and am now back in school full-time. So many things that she was not a part of, and that’s just in my life. My sisters and brother, cousins, aunts, uncles and friends — we’ve all had to go on without her.

Someone — I don’t remember who or when — told me after Mom died that the grief doesn’t lessen with time, it’s just that the moments of grief get farther apart. Whoever said that was right. In those first few months after she passed away, those grief moments came barreling at me from all sides, often surprising me with how they made their way in. The obvious moments, of course, like tucking in Chester at night with the quilt that she made, finding cards or letters or pictures from years before — all of those moments brought what seemed would be unending waves of sadness and anger and frustration.

But there were also the moments that didn’t make sense, like a commercial or an offhand remark overheard at work that had nothing to do with anything.

The French writer Colette described it this way:

It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.

I had one such moment earlier this week. I was listening to an old episode of This American Life on my way home from school. Annie Lamott was reading a story, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” from her book Traveling Mercies. She spoke of a moment she witnessed at her church — “a miracle” — where, while singing “His Eye is On the Sparrow” a woman who had been too proper, too proud to interact with him previously, went and lifted a man who was dying of AIDS–too weak to stand–and held him,

lifted up this white rag doll, this scarecrow. She held him next to her, draped over and against her like a child while they sang. And it pierced me. I can’t imagine anything but music that could have brought about this alchemy. Maybe it’s because music is about as physical as it gets: your essential rhythm is your heartbeat, your essential sound, the breath. We’re walking temples of noise, and when you add tender hearts to this mix, it somehow lets us meet in places we couldn’t get to any other way.

That’s such a true statement for me, and it started me thinking about how music is such an essential part of my core because of my parents. Music was everywhere in our lives growing up. My earliest and strongest memories involve music:

  • Mom holding me on her lap and singing,

Shoo shoo shoo,
Sha la la,
Put your little cares away.

Shoo shoo shoo,
Sha la la,
Tomorrow is another day.

Shoo shoo shoo,
Sha la la,
Close your little eyes of blue.

Shoo shoo shoo,
Sha la la,
Pretty dreams will come to you.

  • laying in bed at night trying to go to sleep and listening to Dad’s barbershop quartet practice in the living room, beautiful songs interrupted quite frequently by Uncle Roger’s yuk-yuk-yuk laughter.
  • music everywhere. In the car, singing — my sister and I learned how to sing harmony in the car, probably to “You Are My Sunshine.”
  • In church, singing.
  • Family gatherings, holidays, reunions? Singing, interrupted on occasion by stories, which inevitably led to more singing.

At this point, I was snatched back from Memory Lane, because at the conclusion of Lamott’s story, a woman began singing:

Whyyyyy should I feeeeel discouraaaaaged?

and that dump truck of grief came roaring at me sideways. I thought I could hold it back . . .

Whyyyyy should the shaaaaadows come?

Music, mom, laughter, love . . . and I broke. Sobbing, deep chest-heaving convulsions, tears blurring the road ahead.

Why should my heart be lonely?

In that instant, I am transported back to Mom’s memorial service, Herb Jones singing this song in his deep baritone voice. When he gets to the first line of the chorus,

I sing becaaause,

he sings, he bounces up on his heels,

I’m HAP-py.

And why should my heart be lonely? Though she’s been gone for nine years now, I still hear her all the time.

I hear her in Peanut’s laugh. He’s got her blue eyes, and he’s got the most infectious laugh, a chuckle that takes him over completely and he laughs with his whole body. It’s her laugh, and I can only imagine how they would laugh together, often, and for long periods of time.

I hear her in the echoes of Chester’s tender heart. He’s got her love for people and I can only imagine the long talks they would have had in response to his deep questions about God, faith, people and life in general. They would have connected at such a deep level, and I’m thankful for the year and a half that she did get to know him.

I hear her in my sister’s voice, in her laugh, in the stories she tells about life and raising two boys of her own. She’s got mom’s inflections and her knack for storytelling, and her gift for making best friends out of strangers.

I hear her in my wife, in the wisdom she dispenses to our boys. The Wise One had a good start in life with two great parents of her own, but I see in her mothering many of the characteristics I loved and appreciated about my own mother, minus the let’s-skip-school-and-go-to-big-tom’s-for-lunch.

Her death robbed us of so many more moments, and changed me in many ways. I am now much more cynical, and struggle with my belief in the power and purpose of prayer. I still miss her terribly, and in the last year there have been so many days when I could really have used her encouragement.

But because of her death, I also appreciate life more and try to take advantage of opportunities to look at life from the long lens of the future, rather than just the to-do list in front of me. I try to record the moments that make me laugh — I share a lot of that on Facebook, and in many ways, my status updates are little notes to her, the kinds of things I would have stopped to pick up the phone and tell her.


I pulled into our carport as the song ended, my eyes still red and my cheeks damp. I took a moment to compose myself, then went up the stairs and inside. The Wise One and Chester were sitting on the couch, and when they looked at me, my wife asked, “What’s wrong?”

I couldn’t tell the whole story, but I tried just explaining the last part — the song on the radio, the same song from Mom’s funeral, and how I was missing her.

Chester stood, walked around the couch, wrapped his ten-year-old arms around me and began sobbing himself. His heart, her heart, hurting because I hurt. His arms, her arms, holding me tight. She’s gone, but she’s still here.

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free;
His eye is on the sparrow,
and I know He watches me.



Filed under boys, faith, family, music

14 responses to “In Which I Reflect On Life After Mom.

  1. Beautifully expressed. I’m sorry for your loss and the grief it has brought you for almost a decade. Your mother must have been a wonderful person, and you reflect that in your life.

  2. Jan

    Such a beautiful, thoughtful remembrance of your Mom, Paul and so lovingly expressed. Thank you for sharing some of your innermost feelings – it touched me to the depth of my soul and there are tears in my eyes right now … God bless you as you remember how deeply you loved and continue to love your Mom.

  3. Barbara Bryant

    Her uncanny ability to make EVERYONE feel so incredibly good about themselves. Never, in my entire life, have I known someone who needed two funerals to accomodate all whose lives she touched.
    Whenever I hear Carolyn or Kathy say, “Oh geez”, I hear Dianne.
    I told Pastor Matthew that the first question I will ask God when I get to heaven is, “Why Dianne?” He said, “It won’t matter because you will be surrounded by her presence then.” I wouldn’t mind being surrounded by her presence here, but I trust His wisdom in spite of my pain. I have to. I would have had limited time here but I will have an eternity with her there. I love you, Paul.

  4. Diane Eide

    Hey Paul! Thanks for sharing. Diane was a precious gift. I still miss my mom as well after 28 years. Today I read from a friend of mine on Facebook, “Every day is filled with gifts, the key is to recognize them.” The greatest joy your mom would desire is to see her faith & love passed on. Christ Jesus, the HOPE of glory! She pointed us to HIM. If we love Him too, then we will see Him Face to face, Diane, my mom & dad & others who knew & loved Jesus. My greatest prayer & desire is that all our families will know Him & be with Him. Eternal life is a gift. Diane extended the GIFT of His love to us all. May we do likewise! He is the the One who comforts us in all our sorrows. He has given you gifts of your family too to express His love to you. Love, hugs, & prayers 4-YOU! diane eide

  5. Barbara Christensen

    Wow, Paul, it is hard for me to see right now with the tears welling up and spilling over my cheeks. Actually, this is the second time today. This morning I was telling a new friend about your mom. The memories and the fun came flooding back like it was yesterday. Understanding prayer and God’s eternity took on a new meaning for me when Dianne did not recover and has affected me in a strange way. It has not deminished my faith at all but has challenged my immature view of how God works. I still wrestle with it much of the time.

    Dianne was a delight in my life as well as to so many others. I know she and Barb Bryant had a special relationship too. Dianne made us laugh, look at life a little lighter and is a constant encouagement to me with her quip about “either way I win”. I have shared that many times always giving Dianne credit for saying it.

    Blessings on you and your family, Paul, as you greet each day with the joy of having known your whacky, wonderful, funny and faithful mom. I often think about my dad and miss him too….it has been 5 years and almost 2 months. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and honesty. Life would be boring if it were simple and “anticipatible”. That definitely was not your mom!

    Some of the things that are little reminders to me of her are pop corn in a big bowl, “say, could you just swing by and get….”, “I know its late, but we’ve got the cards out and we will make popcorn so get over here!”, freshly made peach pie sliding down the dining room wall (whoops!), her deep desire (& your dad’s) for her kids to go to Anderson or Warner, dogs that look like Brutus, her laugh, singing with her sisters, literal “sponge” cake, tan station wagons, giggiling, gift shops like Sisters, the memory of Garry Mounts mowing your foks’ lawn while she was in the hospital and so much more.

    Thanks for reminding me/us of the special significance of today.

    Love, Barbara (I apologize for being so long winded today, but you gave me the opportunity.)

  6. Nancy Bryant

    Boy, do I miss her still, Paul!! She was one awesome woman. I think of her every day and someday we’ll know why. I have a tiny glimpse of “why” when I read how she influenced so many others and maybe the “missing of her” will cause others to seek and find the answer to true happiness and freedom in Christ and the knowledge that we can have more of her in our eternal lives. What a great reunion we’ll have then! The best ever!!! Love you.

  7. Sister

    Thanks for that, butt-head. Didn’t even know what day it was and was having a great time with a house full of chaos when I read this and wham-o. Out of nowhere…Now I’m a blubbering baby. Well, I suppose I’ve done that to you too a time or two. Thanks for sharing and for being honest. I think we get our writing gifts from mom. We wouldn’t know though because she started about 50 journals and had 1 sentence in each one. At least with our blogs maybe our kids will see we can write. They might not care WHAT we write, but they’ll see we could do it. And that’s gotta count for something. Anyway, I love you and I’m SO glad I have you.

  8. Hi, Paul,
    This is a very moving piece, beautifully written and powerful. Thank you for sharing what is in your heart.
    Nine years seems like a long time at some level, but when it’s the loss of your mom, it’s like nine days. Grief is a peculiar process–which is neither linear or predictable. The fact that you are still missing her is a testament to your love for her–and undoubtedly, hers for you.
    Your mother would be so proud of you.

  9. Danille

    Wow Paul I am crying.
    when you told me earlier that you worked hard and put a lot of effort into this blog I figured it would be good but never did I image that it would capture my heart and emotions they way it has.
    as I reflect back over a few of the convos we have had I can see the emotions your describe here very clearly, but more eye opening is when I think back to the boys birthday and everyone being there cousins, aunts, uncles, and your sisters I can picture so clearly a woman who I never even met. You are a very lucky man to have had such a great woman to show life to you!

  10. Dad

    Thanks for that wonderful remembrance. Can’t believe it has been 9 years. You captured the essence of your mom and it obviously came from the bottom of your heart. She was a wonderful person in many, many ways. The greatest thing about her is that she shared everything she had with everyone…most importantly, Jesus. You kids have many of gifts, talents, etc. that came from her. That’s what makes you so awesome.

    Not sure about all getting together in heaven….might be a little wierd having married her sister. However, part of Kathy’s testimony is that Dianne prayed for her to have a good husband. The wonderful thing about marrying Kathy is that memories of Dianne will never fade but will last as long as we do.

    I often visualize Herb Jones bouncing up and down as he sings “I sing because I’m happy……and I know He watches me!”

  11. Carol

    Paul – that was beautiful. It is strange living here in Iowa because there are not people in my everyday life that knew your mom, knows your family – although I am certain there are people here whose lives were touched by your mom’s! There are many little things that remind me of your mom and as Barb said everytime she hears ‘oh geez’ she hears your mom – for me it is every time I say thank-you, thank-you, – I have to say it 2 more times and make the sign of the cross! Then when I start seeing the signs popping up at local farms that Ladyfinger Popcorn is ready. Your mom, your dad, you and Darbi – a family that has made a difference beyond incredible measure to lives in every walk of life.

  12. Connie Bergener

    Sweet Pauliwog . . . I just love you to bits and you, Darbette, and the family are such a reflection of your mom. I still expect to walk in to church and hear her laughing or playing a joke, or just sharing Jesus! So many wonderful memories! Love, Love, Love YOU!!!!


  13. Doris Winslow

    Paul, thank you for that beautiful reminder.
    I can’t believe it has been nine years already.
    We have so many wonderful memories of your mom that still lie deep in our hearts and always will. She is in every smile, prayer and tear. She would be so proud of you and your darling little family as you are a perfect reflection of her.
    Thank you, Love, Doris

  14. Randy

    Hi Paul.

    My mom passed away over a year ago. i so appreciate your sentiments. i went online typing in the words, “life after mom” , trying to find something to encourage me. i really like the thought you shared that as time passes, the grief doesn’t lessen, but that the time between those grief periods lengthens. Exactly how i feel. Also, the challenge to hang on to faith, prayer, and God. That’s really what gets me through even though it really makes me question what this life is all about. And all we’re left with sometimes is the hope of heaven and seeing our moms again. May God continue to watch over you, lengthen and deepnen your moments of joy, and help you to see and find unexpected significance as time continues to pass without mom and others we love.

    Randy in California

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