Sharing Our Stories: When The World Stands Still (Part 1 of 4)

contributed by Stacy Sollin

first published 12/1/14 on her blog Present In This Moment

My world came to a screeching halt on September 6th. The brakes had been on for several weeks...Mom not feeling well, not feeling right, really rundown, blood work abnormal, CT Scan, masses, biopsy...

The phone call from Mom made everything come to a complete standstill.

"It's Stage 4 cancer."

Seriously? How is this even possible? This is not how my life is supposed to go. This is not how things should be. She's supposed to be here. This isn't fair. This is wrong. Why is this happening?

My heart is broken. Absolutely fucking broken. I'm out of breath, yet still breathing. There's a constant lump in my throat. I feel only brief and infrequent moments of weightlessness until I remember. Until I realize that one of my greatest fears in life is currently my reality. That nothing will ever be the same. That my Mother will soon leave this Earth. The woman that I have loved, adored and admired all 29 years of my life. The woman that gave me love, comfort, laughs, smiles, and so much more since before the day I was born.

Why didn't the fucking chemo do anything? Why couldn't she have experienced any relief AT ALL? Why has she had to go through so much pain and discomfort? Why did this all happen so fast? Diagnosed in September and hospice in November...really?

I try to see the silver lining, to have faith that this is part of God's plan, to believe that the best is yet to come for her, that her eternity is better and greater for her than her life here, than my selfishness to want her here so damn badly. But my heart hurts, my frustration and anger rage, and I cannot come to peace with this. I'm not sure that I ever will.

And I absolutely cannot handle the fact that the world still spins. I'm so angry that everyone can just go about their lives, that this doesn't affect them, too. How unfair is that? Talking about how great things are, how awesome everything is. About how they had such great time doing this or doing that. Maybe I'm most upset with those that I thought would be more sympathetic, the people that I thought would be checking in, offering support, just plain old asking. They aren't. Are they pulling away? Unaffected? Unable to handle their own feelings with this?

Even so, I can't shake the feeling, the realization that I am stuck. Stuck in this damn nightmare. There is false (or perhaps very little real) joy in celebration of anything. I will always have a scar on my heart, my soul even. Life events are now marked with "before Mom got sick or after Mom got sick" and will be marked with "before Mom passed or after Mom passed".

What will it be like when she's gone? What will the pain be like then? Surely it cannot be less than it is now. Will it be then that my world actually stops? And I will feel shattered instead of just 'broken'? I can barely stand this pain now, how can I possibly manage anything greater?

Sharing Our Stories: Loss. Then and Now.

contributed by Clara Brunner Doerr Johnson


My name is Clara Brunner Doerr Johnson and I am a Motherless Daughter. My Mother was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 1990 when I was only three years old. Over the next 14 years her cancer returned in many forms. In the end, it had spread to her liver. I was 17 years old when my Mother died. That was 13 years ago.

There are two entries below. One journal entry was written by me at age 17, the day after my Mother died. I've added a few details to clarify that entry for those who don’t know me well, but have kept the wording, grammar and structure the same for authenticity. The other is a reflection I wrote 13 years later, this year. My hope with this piece is to provide a reflection on life after losing your mother, specifically to those who have lost their mothers more recently. To share my journey so far, and what I’ve learned since it all happened. To remind you, you aren't alone, and that above all, you can get through this.


March 13th, 2004

Dear Journal,

The worst possible thing happened last night, my dear sweet mother, the person I love more than life itself, died last night, Friday, March 12th, 2004, age 47, at about 8 PM. I haven't written for a while and that is because everything started going downhill on Tuesday. I came home from school and knew she wouldn't be there because Tuesday is the day she goes in for a check up and usually for treatment. When Mike (my step dad) called me and told me mom was going to have to stay the night at the hospital, I knew right then that it was going to happen soon. I hate that I was thinking that, but I was trying to prepare myself. So anyway, she spent Tuesday and Wednesday night there and then Thursday morning we knew that she would be happiest if she were at home. So we brought her home (we had Hospice there to help) and she made it through the night, but that morning we knew it was getting close because her hands had grown cold. So a little before 8 o'clock, Dylan (my brother), Mike, Laura (mom's best friend) and I were sitting around her, holding her hands, watching the home video of Stella's (our family dog) puppies birth and I remember us all laughing for some reason and then Mike, Dylan and Laura were all about to get up and do something when I looked at her and realized she had stopped breathing. We all hovered around her and cried for about an hour. I saw her face change in about two seconds. I saw the moment her spirit left her body, because when it did her face grew tighter, her hands turned whiter, and she was gone. After she stopped breathing I was holding her hand and she moved it onto her lap, it was the most movement she had made in about a day and a half, it was her last grasp for life. Everything was perfect. She was at home. She got to talk to her mom one last time before she could no longer talk, everyone who loved her was either able to come and sit with her or at least send her vibes or love and strength. People were coming and going those last few days. Sitting with her, holding her hand, telling her how wonderful she was, what a great job she had done in this world, and how much they loved her. We even got a hold of her family in Switzerland. They told us to tell her they were sending their love through the wind. She got to spend her last night at home surrounded by love and that last day we could hardly leave her side. There were so many flowers brought and we had her orchids out with her too (my mother was an avid orchid collector). It looked like Spring. The last words she said to Dylan and I before she couldn't talk anymore were, "I love you guys." She also had told us the day before, when she was fully aware and able to talk freely, that she would always be with us, watching over us and that she would try and send any signs to us to let us know she was still with us. She said she would be our guardian angel.

I'm debating whether to give every detail and I actually think it's best to leave it like this. She fought what seemed almost every year of MY life and she had a great battle. It was just time for her to let go. Where she has gone is a much happier place where she's probably sitting on a beach in the form and way she liked most throughout her lifetime, and she is surrounded by all those she had to say goodbye to. She's with her dad, with my dad, with my dad's dad (Grandpa), with Dan Fox (Laura's husband), with Pepper, with Wally (Grandpa's brother), with Dennis (Rita's husband), she's with Dudley and Willie (family pets) and everyone she's ever loved who she lost, and although she is no longer with us with her body, she will always be with us in spirit. She left a part of her self in each and every one of us. She will live on forever and that is in our hearts. I'm so grateful to have had her as my mother. I don't think anyone could've taught me as much as she had. No one could ever have done a better job. It's going to be so hard to go on without her presence, but I can't be selfish because she's in a much better place now, free of pain. I love her more than anything in this world and always will. The hardest thing for me will be that she won't be at home every day when I come home. She won't be in the kitchen cooking breakfast, smiling because it's another beautiful day. I won't be able to cry in my mommy's arms when I'm scared, but I will always remember the times that I did get all of those things and all of those moments will forever be in my memory. I am so lucky to have had Carol Anita Brunner as my mom. She represents so much good in this world and I'll never forget anything she ever taught me. She'll be with me everywhere I go and that is what will keep me going on. I love you mom.

August 29th, 2017

A Reflection

While of course I have many beautiful and happy memories of my mother growing up, I also have the looming memories that my Mom was always sick. After reading this entry from thirteen years ago, I was a bit shocked and taken aback at first by the acceptance in my words as a 17-year-old regarding the death of a parent. However, thinking back on my lifetime with her, it is a clear indication through this journal entry, I really had accepted my mother was going to die. I was ready to stop hoping for a miracle, ready to stop holding onto her when I knew I needed to let go of her eventually. This was a constant fear I had while growing up for as long as I can remember. The weight of fourteen years of worry and fear had finally lifted. This acceptance saddens me, but it also makes sense to me. Until I read this again, I hadn't remembered how long this whole process took. In my memory it took fourteen years, and in a way it did, but factually, it was only a Tuesday through Friday--only four days I knew with certainty that I was going to lose my Mother. Only four days to really accept the reality of my life and the changes that would take place. Four days of watching my Mother change from one form to another. I still grapple with the feeling that I was lucky to have had time to prepare for this event, yet completely unlucky to have gone through this at all, for so long, and at such a young age.

Thirteen years ago I didn't know the stages and forms grief would take hold of me throughout my life and how it can affect each person so differently. After my mother passed, each new exciting or sad experience has caused conflicting feelings and thoughts about how and where my life could have gone had she still been alive. In particular, I didn't know that one day shy of the eleven-year anniversary of my mother's death, my daughter would be born and when I myself became a mother, I would experience grief in an unimaginable way. There was a sadness and mourning for my mother which felt almost worse than the day it happened. A sadness that, at the time, I didn't think I could get through, but I did. At the end of these darker and sometimes unbearable forms of grief, I have learned more about myself and about life. Grief has taught me that I am strong, that I am capable, and it has taught me that this precious life is worth fighting for.

In rereading this entry from thirteen years ago, my current self feels guilty and sad, but also grateful. Guilty for welcoming this event so willingly, at the time, yet sadness for the pain of loss which all humans will go through, and grateful. While I never could have imagined feeling grateful as a result of this unimaginable event, I have found it through this loss and the journey my life has taken because of this experience. Looking at this entry and reflecting on the path my life has lead me on, I can see the roller coaster of grief that I've ridden. I can't know when the next dip will come or when it will ride smooth again. What I do know is that my grief has lead me to be the person I am today. It brought me a closeness with family and friends that had never existed before. Ironically, it also brought me love. I met my first boyfriend through a mutual connection of losing a parent. It also brought me the love of my life, my husband. We met at a wedding that I was involved in because the bride and groom gifted a donation towards an organization I was working with, in honor of my mother. It has also influenced my approach as to how I live my life and how I care for my daughter and my family. It has taught me to love harder and to cherish more the family and friends that surround me.

I would bring my mother back in an instant if I could, but I can't. So, I will take the strength I have gained from this experience and move forward and continue to appreciate the wonderful life that my mother gave me and the lessons my mother is still teaching me, even today.

To my 17-year-old-self... “She will always be with you, she is still teaching you, you will get through this. One day at a time.”

Sharing Our Stories: My Mom Was My World

contributed by Kate Gant

My mom was my world. She is my best friend, my Lorelie Gilmore, my shopping companion, my voice of reason, my hug when I had a bad day even if only over the phone. She was my teacher when I didn’t understand my homework, the chauffer to sports games, my cheerleader, the doctor to all my cuts and bruises, the nurse to all those who ever needed some form of care, my zumba and yoga buddy, my roommate, the lady who chased all the monsters and bad dreams away, my shoulder to cry on, and the laugh to all my jokes. These were the words I spoke at my mom’s funeral.

I still vividly remember the memory, the one that replays over and over in my mind. It was a December evening when my mom told me, “I have cancer.” Cancer. I couldn’t believe it, we had already lost my uncle to melanoma at age 37 and now my mom, age 43, was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer (Primary Peritoneal Carcinoma). A tumor the size of a grapefruit sat where her ovaries once were. The next four years were filled with a rollercoaster of treatments and hope. She went through chemo treatment after chemo treatment ending with a surgery removing the tumor where we were told she was cancer free! But the joy was fleeting, a few months later we were told the cancer was back and had spread to her liver. Those tiny spots that had been there the entire time had morphed into four larger tumors. These were ruled inoperable but they tried to shrink them using radiation beads and more chemo. An option of a trial was brought to our attention. She was so full of hope and excitement. She would finally have her hair again. The trial was rough. She would get high fevers, shake uncontrollably, lost her appetite, lost weight, and eventually lost her ability to walk because of the neuropathy the treatment caused.

Fast forward to January 2, 2016, after spending New Years Eve with her friends, she was too weak to get out of bed. Entering the house that day, something was really off. “There’s nothing more we can do, it has spread to her colon.” My 47-year-old mom was now in hospice and was given two weeks to live. Those next two weeks were a blur and filled with so much emotion, watching my best friend disappear and eventually pass away on January 16, 2016.

All those words I spoke about my mom were true. The past two years without her have been rough. Becoming a mother myself in December, I wish I could just talk to her, ask her questions, and have her be my voice of reason. Although, my grief continues and is something I struggle with daily, I will never lose my memories of her. My mom had grace, beauty, strength, and this ability to make everyone she interacted with feel like they were the most amazing person. I strive to exhibit those qualities every day and hope that I can continue her legacy.

Sharing Our Stories: For My Mom

contributed by a Twin Cities motherless daughter


A Letter to Mom

Preface: Dear Friends, I know this sounds strange, to say, but I had the privilege of knowing my mom's days were numbered. As a part of coming to grips with this understanding, I decided to compose this letter and read it to her. It was one of the most vulnerable and bravest things I've ever done in my life. However, despite all the ups and downs we and complexities that made up our relationship, I loved her and wanted her to know that. When I finished reading it to her, she told me it was beautiful. And then I knew I would be ok and we had made our peace. 

Dear Mom,  

I have spent the past 15 years of my life hating your addiction.  It’s taken away the mother I had and left me longing for a mother I can never have. I’ve pushed you away to protect myself.

I’ve tried not caring about you; I’ve tried putting walls up, and blocking you out of my life because it hurts so much- it breaks my heart. Because you are my mom. You are the only mom I get. Loving you hasn’t always been easy; its hurt and its been hard. We have had our rough times and I’m sorry for the pain and hurt I have caused you.

I don’t know much about your childhood and early life experiences. I know times were difficult and hard. I don’t know what all happened to you in Montana. But I know that those events brought you here. You had the courage to leave. You had the bravery to start a new life with a hope for something different for you and someday, your children.

As I have had time to reflect on my experience and life and have had time to heal; I have come to peace with the person I am today and the story of my life; the whole story: the highs, lows, pains, sorrow and bliss.

I’ve come to understand you have given me everything you could.  You did the best you could with what you were given. Through that, you had hoped for the best and provided me with something that was different than what you were given.  

I have seen you at your best and your worst. I have seen you on grand adventures- munching on sunflower seeds with “raccoon eyes” and a book in hand. The joy your eyes light up with delight for your children. I have seen your reality twisted from addiction and your body riddled with cancer.  I’ve heard harsh words that can’t be unspoken.

You will always be my mom. You raised me with the hope of offering me something you never had. And I believe you gave me every thing you could (maybe things you never had?) - You gave me love and pain, happiness and fear, freedom, life. This is what I believe is the human experience.

As I write this letter and now as you read this letter, the hardest day of our lives is approaching- saying goodbye. I want you to know I love you. I thank you for giving me everything you could.   

Yours truly,

Your Daughter



It’s been a long hard road. Grieving the loss of my mom continues be full of complex emotions. My heart aches for the mother I will never have. I’m sad for the loss of for what it means to loose the person who gave me life.  There has always been a piece of my heart that is hurting.

I saw her at her best and her worst; on grand adventures- munching on sunflower, a book in hand, and delighted by children. I experienced her reality twisted from addiction and watched as her body became riddled with cancer.  I’ve heard harsh words that can’t be unspoken.  She gave me everything she could and everything she knew how to- love and pain, a support and loneliness.

This experience has left me broken hearted and yet with a deep sense of peace. I will continue down this road of grief, but with a new sense of hope. I can trust that through this journey it will bring me healing. I am grateful for those who stand by me and hold me while I go through this. 

Easter 2016

Grace and Forgiveness

I’m conflicted about what I believe. How do I find meaning in what Easter is? What about communion…the grace and forgiveness of sins and salvation, yet the ramifications of sin still ripple through time and have impacts on others even when a person is gone.

In thinking through this I have permission to wrestle with the sacred and my faith. I can ask God, How did you let this happen on your watch? How can you be okay with my mom being an alcoholic? A passive father watching TV in the bedroom letting mom raise children this way.”

Me. I’m walking away with flesh wounds when my sisters experiences so much more trauma.

I’m a survivor. That doesn’t mean I’m better than them. It just means I was in a different place when the explosions went off.

This is so hard to grasp- because so much of what I feel as the oldest daughter is survivors guilt.

So how am I feeling about grace and forgiveness? I guess we are wrestling too. As someone who repeatedly gave grace to Mom and still in the end, extended forgiveness to her.

Would God offer something like this to everyone, even people who do awful things? Isn’t he setting himself up to be hurt over and over again, too. A life a disappointments and heartbreak?

Maybe in the end for me in me reading her the letter and acknowledging our relationship, and in her receiving communion she did truly experience grace and forgiveness. Finally the grip of addiction had no more power. She was forgiven and given grace to pass of from this world.

Sharing Our Stories: My Girls

contributed by Courtney Carter

My mother and I had the same thumbs. Identical. We could put our hands next to each other, fingers bent, so our thumbs lined up and touched, and they looked like they belonged to the same person, instead of one belonging to the mother and the other to the daughter.

My mother and I had the same smile. Wide, generous, open.

My mother had two daughters, and I have two daughters. We birthed all four babies before 37 weeks. For both of us, on our first labors, our waters broke spontaneously, hours after having a baby shower.

My mother died when I was 21 weeks pregnant with my first daughter. She died from alcoholism. It was, perhaps, a long time coming, but we did not expect it. I was in the middle of moving to a new apartment. It was September first.

We had found out we were having a girl ten days before my mom died. We had a gender-reveal party, but when I called to check on her, I could tell she had been drinking, and so I disinvited her. Even still, later that evening, I called to tell her she would be having a granddaughter. “A girl!” she exclaimed. She had wanted girls herself. And she had wanted me to have a girl. Really, just a healthy baby, she said, but I knew we were both excited about a daughter.

The next morning, I called my mom on the phone on the way to brunch with friends. We talked about our mutual excitement. I told her I would come by later that weekend with some of the cake with the pink icing on the inside. But I didn’t make it over to her house that weekend. That phone call, cut short by being in the car, was the last time we talked. She left me a voicemail later that morning. Into the phone, she cooed, “My girls…”

Three and a half months later, on a Sunday night, my water broke. My due date wasn’t for another three and a half weeks. But because this was the same way my own birth had started, and the same way my sister’s birth had started, I wasn’t scared by those facts. My mom’s retelling of her birth stories over the years normalized these things for me. I had wanted a drug-free birth like my mom had done for both of her deliveries. But after 31 hours stuck at 1.5 centimeters, the midwives discovered my baby had turned breech sometime during labor. I had a cesarean. My mom loomed during those 31 hours. But I was so anxious and unsure about being in labor, about how to face her during that time. I just avoided it. The loss was still so new. My grief was so new, it didn’t even feel like grief yet. And then, my labor ended up being entirely out of my hands, and I felt disappointed. Like I had let her down. I had wanted to honor her with my labor, and I ended up totally helpless.

But when I finally got to see my daughter, I was immediately in love. She cried, and I cried. She had a head full of dark hair. She looked like me. I imagined my mom felt the same way when I was born. She had pushed for two hours with me. I had a cone-head. I was jaundiced. “I had never seen anything more beautiful,” she would tell me. “You were perfect.”

Never one to shy from a challenge, when I was pregnant with my second daughter almost three years later, I was planning a drug-free VBAC. My labor was again moving slowly, contractions coming and then disappearing before any rhythm developed. I was discouraged. Our doula, who had been at our first daughter’s birth, came over to give me some encouragement. We tried some things, and she jump-started my labor. Things started moving along. But I started to feel this anxiety again. There was something I needed to say. I feared that, if I didn’t say it, I would be emotionally blocked up and unable to birth my daughter. But I was scared to even let the words out. Again, my mom loomed, but it was so hard to acknowledge it out loud. I reached deep down inside myself to find some courage. “I miss my mom,” I said. And then I cried. My daughter was born less than two hours later. The midwife passed her to me, and I held her to my chest, and I felt pride, and relief, and love. She, too, was perfect to me.

My daughters’ middle names are my mom’s first and middle names. I see my mom in each of them, and in me. My girls, my girls, my girls.

Introducing the She Climbs Mountains Blog

I am not an avid blog reader, but I do on occasion come across a blog post that really resonates. Often it has to do with parenting or marriage, and I usually end up feeling thankful for the writer's honest view, especially when there is a personal connection made. A long time ago I started a blog for motherless daughters (I am sure it still exists somewhere on the interwebs, though I have no idea what it was named and I think I wrote only one post), but I had absolutely no direction and I certainly had no audience. This time, the focus is clear: the She Climbs Mountains blog is a path for our community to share our stories with one another. Each post you read here is written by one of us and is shared with the intention of bringing connection. I am hopeful you will find it. ~Christine

Please share your story on the blog! You are always welcome and encouraged to submit your writing to Thank you!