Mourning My Saints, Remembering My Roots

A Story About Family Identity From the Ground Up

This week we lost our family dog to cancer, and while the dog was truly the sweetest pup ever, I find myself grieving my mother who gave us the dog and has herself been dead for more than three years.

It feels like with every little loss like this one, I lose a hint more of what remained of her in this world – the lingering wisps of her sliding away, carried right out of my life on the back of a passing wind. And I’m an observer – round eyes, hands bound.


I have been in this world without my mother for 1,095 days. I have waited 1,576,800 minutes to speak to her again. Some part of me lives only in this palpable weighty silence, heavy with the anticipation of our next conversation. Sometimes it is excruciating.

Sometimes I just have questions only she can answer.


My God knew what he was doing when he drew my husband and me together. My sweet husband also experienced the untimely loss of a parent. Today is actually a sad anniversary for him, marking the beginning of many years without his own father.

Some days, we hold each other up. {Tweet}

Standing back a bit from the pain of loss, looking at these saints’ lives in their whole, I am overwhelmed by how they shaped us in their living and their dying.

The Roots Who Grew Me

The view from here also makes me wonder about the daisy chain of lives and losses of my ancestors – how my parents were shaped by their parents, how my grandparents were shaped by their own parents, and how my many ancestors before them shaped the loops and twists and whorls of generations that followed – including me.

(Do you wonder how much the lives of your great-greats grew you into the you you are? Share in the comments below.)

When I was young, my mother was fascinated by her own roots. We adventured across the country in our early ’90’s, white Ford Taurus station wagon taking pictures of time-weathered gravestones, scouting out hometowns in forgotten places, and cranking through microfilm newspapers in small, bright libraries.

I read about my ancestors’ jobs and saw the houses where they lived – I even stood beside the grassy places they themselves rest today. Through my mother and our adventures, I rediscovered forgotten names like Zelotes and counted back many generations of Charles Edward’s.

I saw pages of grainy photographs of men and women and children sometimes smiling. I read dozens of photocopied letters penned a hundred or more years ago. I wondered…

How do we forget where we come from? {Tweet}

Though I think of these childhood adventures fondly, today in the chain of my family without the link that was my mother, all that history is only knowledge.

In the end, my roots are just roots.

Somehow I’m unlinked now, peeking back over my shoulder, awed by the mystery, and looking forward into a great but hopeful, familial abyss where shy bursts of life are already beginning to bloom.

It turns out, I am a root, too.

Carrying the Warmth Forward

I don’t know why I feel unlinked by the loss of my mother, and I don’t know how we forget our ancestors’ lives. But I do know what goes missing more and more with the fading wisps of my mom, and perhaps there are answers in that knowing.

2010 Mom's Photos_0003

It’s tangibility.

And it’s loss is unpreventable.

But it’s warmth remains.

And now, as I see it, the carrying that warmth forward is a responsibility.

Because though my link to my roots seems to be dissipating, as my family grows into itself, I find my hands warming with the transferred heat of my family’s history.

Now, I am carrying the warmth needed to shape those down the daisy chain from me – shaping that will be done with my own living and dying.

My roots reach forward. And I carry my mother with me.

Happy All Saint’s Day.

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