We remember Mother
Hospice event helps women cope with loss of their moms BY SUZANNE CASSIDY, Staff writer
When Joell Fruchtl looks at her hands, she sees her mother's hands.
The Landisville woman wears her mother's wedding ring. She is told by family members that she looks a lot like her late mother.
"I find that the greatest compliment in the world," she says.
Her sister, DeAnn Eaby, of Mount Joy, has their mother's personality: She looks for the good in people; she is given to mothering those around her.
Their mother, Julia May Foxhoven, succumbed to colon cancer nine years ago today. And while they know she lives on in them, these sisters miss her terribly.
So this year, as they've done for the past eight years, they will attend a Remembering Our Mothers breakfast -- a gathering of women whose mothers have died -- the Saturday before Mother's Day.
The May 11 event is organized by Hospice & Community Care's Pathways Center for Grief & Loss.
The breakfast, Fruchtl says, is attended by "a roomful of women who have lost their mothers, some of them ... many, many, many years ago, and some recently. Mother's Day is very difficult when you've lost your mother. To be in that room with women in the same boat, it is so comforting."
Eaby agrees, noting that she loves setting apart this day to celebrate her beloved mother in the company of women who, no matter their ages, still yearn for their mothers. "The comfort, the compassion the women have -- we cry together, laugh together and share our stories."
Fruchtl says she loves that the event is a breakfast buffet -- a brunch, basically, which is the quintessential Mother's Day meal. "It's nice to celebrate your mother in a way that seems familiar," she says.
The Remembering Our Mothers breakfast was the idea of Patti Anewalt, director of the Pathways Center for Grief & Loss. Or, rather, it was an idea she borrowed from a colleague at a Kentucky hospice program, which held a Motherless Daughters luncheon.
Anewalt preferred the more positive "Remembering Our Mothers" designation.
It was a success from the beginning, attracting nearly 140 attendees and a waiting list of would-be attendees in 2005. "So clearly it showed us there was a need," Anewalt says.
As a society, we don't have many ways, beyond the funeral, to commemorate the people we've loved and lost to death, Anewalt says. "We need more rituals in our culture to say, 'I'm still remembering.' "
Anewalt will be the keynote speaker at this year's breakfast. The title of her talk is "Remembering Our Mothers, Finding Ourselves."
She was 33 when her own mother died of respiratory disease. Her talk will explore "the role my mother played in my life, and with her gone, how that legacy continues."
She says she's sensitive to the fact that "we don't all have rose-colored glasses when it comes to our mothers. Sometimes we hear their critical voices even after their deaths."
And sometimes, women come to the event unsure of how they're going to get through the following day, Mother's Day. "As a grief counselor, I urge people to be intentional about how they handle a special day. ... So at this event, the women can talk about how they want to approach Mother's Day."
She says that people who are grieving often expect the December holidays to be difficult. But May and June also can be thorny months because they tend to be crowded with weddings, graduations and other special occasions, in addition to Mother's Day and Father's Day.
These months can trigger a woman's grief and make her feel as if she's not progressing in dealing with it. "Grieving is not linear," Anewalt says, reassuringly. "You grieve as much as you love."
At the Remembering Our Mothers breakfast, women are free to feel whatever emotions they're feeling -- though often, Anewalt says, "people end up laughing more than they're tearful."
Each woman is encouraged to bring a photograph of her mother for the "memory table." The women light candles for their mothers.
Vicky Trough, of Maytown, is a Pathways volunteer who co-facilitates a support group, sings to nursing home residents and helps with the Remembering Our Mothers event. She lost her mother, Rose Collins, to a brain tumor in 1988.
Of grief, she says, "The only way around it is through it. ... You have to surround yourself with people who will allow you to be who you are and where you are."
Trough sees the May 11 breakfast as an opportunity to do just that. It's a chance to "honor these women whom we love so dearly," these women who have "left their marks on our hearts."
It can take a very long time to recover from the death of one's mother, she says. "It's not just the loss of your mother, but what she represented.
"My mother was the glue in our family."
Trough's mother came from the former Czechoslovakia and would make the traditional foods of her homeland -- a stuffed-cabbage dish called halupki, and braided Paska bread -- for holiday meals. Trough says her mother relished having her beloved family members around her.
When her mother died, Trough says, "I really mourned that sense of family, that sense of going home" that her mother embodied. "I became the matriarch of my family then, but I didn't volunteer for the job."
It's a role, however, that she's come to relish. Because of her mother, she says, "I am the woman I am today ... I would like to think that I'm a really good mother."
DeAnn Eaby describes her mother as "a very genuine person" who was loved by everyone in the tiny Nebraska town where she and her sister grew up. "She was everybody's mom. I was very fortunate to have that person be my mom. ... Her kids came first. ... She just made you feel so important as a child.
"She was very compassionate and very caring and very into what you had to say. ... She was my hero from the day I could walk."
Her mother was a bartender in a local bar; her customers, many of them farmers, adored and respected her. She was a truly good person who didn't judge others, Eaby says, noting that in these respects and others, she seeks to be her mother's daughter.
Her sister, Joell Fruchtl, remembers their mother as being "very comforting and very sweet and gentle."
But she also was strong, she says. "She fought cancer for two-and-a-half years, and only in the last few days did she let you know she was sick."
Both Fruchtl and Eaby say they wish their mother had gotten to know all of her grandchildren. Fruchtl was pregnant with her second child when her mother died. The youngest of Eaby's three children was just a year old at the time.
But the sisters and their brother speak so often of their mother that even their youngest children talk as if they had met the grandmother they call Yeah-Yeah. Fruchtl and Eaby's father keeps fresh flowers by the urn containing his wife's ashes.
And on the Saturday of Mother's Day weekend, Eaby and Fruchtl will once again be at the Remembering Our Mothers breakfast, celebrating not only their mom, but their own motherhood.
"We are extremely close," Fruchtl says. "Losing our mother was devastating. This is something we do together to get through it together."
Eaby usually creates some kind of jewelry for her and her sister to wear to the event. One year, she refashioned her mom's old watches into bracelets bearing a photo of the two sisters with their mother. Another year, she made pins adorned with the birthstones of their mother and her grandchildren. This year, Eaby is making necklaces with clay pendants in the shape of a mother and daughter on a heart.
The Remembering Our Mothers event makes Mother's Day easier, Fruchtl says. "You still miss your mother, but I leave there feeling just this world of gratefulness."
"It helps our hearts heal," Eaby says. "It doesn't make the pain go away, but it helps us to heal."
The Remembering Our Mothers breakfast buffet will be held from 9:30 a.m. to noon May 11 at Enck's Banquet and Conference Center, 1461 Lancaster Road, Manheim. The cost is $18 per person. Register online, by May 7, at pathwaysthroughgrief.org, or call 391-2413.