family, Uncategorized

The Working Title is…What’s My Noun?

Last night, I watched a television show where the characters were discussing their gender neutral, genderfluid, nonbinary self-identification and the pronouns with which they associate.

My head was swimming just watching the scene, and I was comforted by the fact that the lead actor’s lines were reflective of how I was feeling…attempting to be respectful but utterly confused.

When I turned off the tv, my thoughts went much the same way of that scene; totally focused on self. Except for my attempt at self-definition didn’t dig deep enough into the grammatical categories to even hit pronoun. I’m stuck on noun. And I’m reminded of that every year on the second Sunday of May.

When I entered the world, a doctor presumably announced my noun as girl to a woman, or maybe a teenager, who made the selfless decision to place me up for adoption. For the next six months, my noun was foster child until I was welcomed into my parents’ home and my noun became daughter and sister.

Two and a half decades later, my noun also became wife. And four months before I was to give my Mom the opportunity to claim the noun grandmother, she died. Suddenly and unexpectedly, so much of how I defined myself was gone as well.

As my girls grew up, I always noted that when they would ask about my childhood, they would refer to “Grandpa and your Mom” as my Mom never took on the proper noun of Grandma. And if there were anyone in this world who would have savored that proper noun and all that comes with it, it would have been Mary Anne Barthel.

The last picture I took with my Mom. I’m four months pregnant with Maddie. My mom died four weeks later.

In the years that followed my mom’s death, the second weekend in May was heartbreaking for me. I would stand in the Mother’s Day section of the Hallmark store holding back tears with varying degrees of success. I would mourn not only the loss of her words of wisdom, her contagious giggle or the safety of her warm, healing, empowering hugs, but also, and even perhaps more painful, I mourned all the joy on which she was missing out; what she would have done with that proper noun and the impact it would have had on my world.

I was daughter first. I was daughter for such a long time. It was so much of how I defined myself. And it took my husband to point out to me that my overwhelming grief, while real and understandable, was not fair to my children who, much like I did, savor their definition as daughters.

And, thus became the tradition of the Mother’s Day nap. It was my fifth Mother’s Day that Pat put me to bed after brunch and said, “It’s ok to be sad, but don’t let it take away from their joy of celebrating you.” So I would wallow for about an hour, and invariably, during that time, I would end up counting my blessings.

The blessing of having a great mom, albeit for far too short a time. The blessing of having a great dad who tried admirably to fill the gap and provide love enough for both of them. The blessing of a great husband who also happened to be my best friend. The blessing of his family who welcomed me as one of their own. And the blessing of two healthy, happy, exceptional daughters who have given my life joy and meaning through the most wonderful noun, mother.

On Sunday, I will pray for the women who also struggle with grief…the grief of losing a mother or the unimaginable grief of losing a child.

I will pray for the women who are desperate to accept the noun of mother yet life’s circumstances hold that at bay.

I will pray for the courageous, selfless women who know in their hearts that they are not equipped to accept the noun of mother, and so they show their love by embracing the noun birth mother and charting another path for the life they brought into this world.

I will pray for women estranged from their mother or daughter or sister or friend to find the courage to take the first step if repair to the relationship is possible.

And I will pray with tremendous thanksgiving for the mothers and daughters who, through their love and kindness, embrace all the nouns I identify as today.   I will focus on gratitude, counting my blessings and letting joy soothe my grief.

A few years after the nap tradition began, I was visiting Syracuse and went to the cemetery with my Dad and my daughters to plant flowers at my Mom’s gravesite. As my Dad walked away to fill up the watering can, I turned to see my older daughter, Maddie, with her head bowed and hands folded in prayer. I was moved to tears, and could only imagine what my Mom was thinking looking down from heaven on this blessed scene. Certainly, she was sharing in the great pride I was feeling over my obvious exceptional parenting skills.

And then I turned to see my youngest, Clare, probably five at the time, perched atop the headstone and tracing the letters carved into the stone. She looked up at me, her face somehow covered in potting soil and said, “Hey, what’s the dead girl’s name again?” I could hear heavenly peals of laughter as I lifted her down and said, “Ummm, you mean Grandma?”

What can a noun radiate?

Laughter. Wisdom. Patience. Kindness. Gratitude. Forgiveness. Encouragement. Love.

xoxo Happy Mother’s Day xoxo



15 thoughts on “The Working Title is…What’s My Noun?

  1. Tracy Ryan says:

    LOVE when I get a message that you have a new post. Can’t wait to be inspired, laugh and learn something new. You were such a babe when your mom passed so suddenly. I can’t imagine. Beautifully written as always. Enjoy your nap on Sunday – i hour only!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Ms. Cooper! As one of the souls you’ve nurtured, one of the minds you’ve challenged and one of the spirits you’ve lifted over the years, please know you have the heartfelt gratitude of so many “kids” lucky enough to benefit from your selfless dedication. xoxo


  2. Bridget Reaume says:

    I too lost my mom too early and shortly after the birth of my son Bobby. Your post today brought me to tears thinking about her and all she is missing out on but watching from above. But then had a BIG chuckle at Clare’s comment while sitting atop your mom’s tombstone.
    Happy Mother’s Day ❤️
    Bridget Reaume

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Karin Hull says:

    Your mom would be so proud that you’ve followed her example in being a wonderful mother yourself! Happy mother’s day Katie! You never fail to make me laugh and cry with each post and always remind me to be thankful and count my blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Karin, I can’t tell you how much your kind words mean to me! Happy Mother’s Day to you too… Enjoy your time with Gerri! Can’t wait to see you guys this summer!xoxo


  4. Trilby McDaniel/Dawn McDaniel-Smith says:

    Katie Mothers Day was a hard day for me as a young adult. It seemed like everyone was having a baby and I couldnt. At church the children would come in during the service and bring their moms a flower. I wished I could have one of those flowers too. For many years I avoided going to church on Mothers Day. Then TJ came into our lives as our first Foster child. I fell in love with him easily. When his moms rights were severed we began the adoption process. I finally felt like I could have a Mother’s Day too. Then TJ grew up and got married. When they told us they were pregnant. I was so excited. I begin buying a layette set and other items. Then one day I came home from work and my mom started to talk to me and instead she started crying. My daughter in law had lost her baby and almost lost her life too. When I spoke to her she cried and said I’m sorry Mum. I knew you wanted to become a grandmother so badly. They tried again and lost that baby too. She was so sad and was afraid to try again. I reassured her that I was fine. I felt so bad for them. It brought back all my painful memories from trying back when I was young. Trilby and I loved spoiling our mom. Mothers Day was a fun day to spoil her. Now Trilby and I try to do for each other. I’ve realized that we need to broaden what this special day is all about. It is a day to celebrate all the women in our lives. We don’t need to have a child or still have our mother to celebrate how special it is to be a woman and care for and be kind to others. Dawn McDaniel-Smith

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Dawn, thank you for sharing this very special message. You are so right about the day being about all women who nurture, support others and bring positive change to our world. I am sorry for your painful journey and that of TJ and his wife as well. You are lucky to have each other—no matter what physical distance might separate you—it doesn’t affect the closeness of your hearts. And I know how much you and Trilby loved your mom… and how much she loved you both! There was a fierce spirit inside her tiny little body… and you and Trilby have been blessed with her same kind soul. Our family is grateful for your family‘s friendship and we wish you the very best today… and every day. xoxo


  5. Mary Schelske says:

    Katie, This is just beautiful! I remember when my Claire asked to go see my mom and dad’s grave to trace their names- some teacher at holy name took them to the cemetery up the street and they must have discussed it in class when she was in kindergarten or first grade. It was an unforgettable time going to the cemetery with the family many years ago. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful stories with all of us! God has given you amazing talent of writing and speaking. Just beautiful! Happy Mother’s Day! xoxo Mary

    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Janie says:

    Well spoken as always. I wanted to share with you our common bond other than a great friendship. I too was adopted at 5 mos. My Mother at 94 is currently in the hospital on her last journey. The doctor asked my brother what was he expecting them to do? … this is her body shutting down. As gut wrenching as it sounds, my heart is full. Wondering every Mother’s Day who, what, where and why regarding my Birth Mom. Thankful to have been chosen… but thinking of how she made the decisions to part with me. Cannot imagine .
    Enjoy the Day with your darling girls and know how blessed you all are to have each other.
    When it comes to clearing the table…. it’s Mothers Day everyday!


  7. Jennifer Parks says:

    Love your writing, Katie! Very poignant for me, this year. Please keep up your posts! Going to send this to the other Katie Parks (Villaire), English major, as were so many in our family, and a wonderful mother and grandmother, and helped me when I was alone and pregnant!


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