one year later…

gail s. hanson, beloved mother, daughter, wife, friend, cousin, niece, nurse, teacher…

june 16th, 2014.

i woke up early that monday morning. it felt like any other day. after hitting “brew” on the coffeemaker, letting out and feeding the dogs, and then emptying the dishwasher, i picked up my phone. four missed calls, one voicemail.

my heart started pounding.

the voicemail was from my father who had received a call from my sister. she was at the hospital with our mom. it didn’t look good.

my heart started pounding even louder in my ears.

i immediately called my sister who was in the hospital room with our mom. she was telling me that mom wasn’t going to make it through the night. she then had to quickly go because they started administering cpr again. i bolted up the stairs to wake up dave to help me get a flight back home. she won’t make it through the night? it’s around 5:45am, i have time to get there, i thought. less than a minute later my phone rang…”mom is gone”.

hearts stopped.

hers and mine.

actually, that was her cause of death – congenital heart failure. her heart failed due to interstitial lung disease, due to scleroderma, which is a very rare, terrible disease.

it was difficult to comprehend. ever since her husband, john, died in january 2012 and i learned first-hand how fast her disease was progressing, we had had conversations about what the end would look like. it was not an easy conversation for either of us. she was very detailed in her descriptions…she would eventually require hospice…a hospital bed would go in the room off the kitchen if it was the summer, the living room if it was the winter. she wanted foot rubs, the tv on at all times (“but only the today show, no good morning america! i mean it!”) and she wanted lots of visitors. and morphine…she didn’t want to feel any more pain.

the real ending was different.

she was still living independently, calling on neighbors, friends and family only when she needed help and my sister visited regularly to run errands. we all worried and spoke in hushed tones about how she needed more help, but she fought all of our efforts. sometimes she even used humor…

one of the last texts i received from my mom when i stated concern about her moving around her house alone.

our biggest fear was that she would be alone in the house when it happened.

by the grace of God, one of her best friends was staying at her house the week she died. they had a wonderful week visiting and even went out for a lunch or two.


late sunday night, she said she wasn’t feeling well, and it escalated quickly with mom asking her friend to call 911 around 11:30pm. she was taken immediately to st. francis hospital and at 4:52am central time, she was gone.

my heart still processes this.

it’s the natural progression of life, your parents will most likely die before you. knowing this certainly doesn’t make it any easier. this year has proven to be one of the MOST difficult of my life. although i thought i was prepared, i wasn’t. it’s been a year of incomplete thoughts and projects, partially written thank you notes, sleepless nights and then days when all i want to do is sleep. i know i haven’t been present in many ways for my own children and for my small caseload of students. i feel so much guilt. i am still trying to understand my grief and my relationship with my mom. i continue to find clues in her books, notebooks, random post-it notes and old letters about how she viewed herself in the world. it is helping.

my mom and i didn’t have the type of relationship that you see displayed all over hallmark cards. it was very, very complicated. there was a lot of resentment that grew over the years. even she admitted that she was a much better parent to adolescents and adults and if we were all born at 18 years of age, it would have been a completely different story. despite our disagreements and differences, she was there for me when i really needed her. she was there to pick me up from school when i was sick. she always took my call even if she was in the middle of an important meeting. she let me move back in when i was going through a difficult time. i never, ever doubted her love.

there are many lessons she shared throughout her life and since she died too.

the most important lesson she shared is that we are all connected. these connections help pull you out of the darkness and into the light. in many ways, she felt the same connection with her family and lifelong friends as she did with the psychotic patients she treated, the elderly, the lonely. we are all worthy of love and kindness. while she focused on those connections, she also had a very strong sense of self and encouraged that in others too. the night before her funeral when i was writing part of her eulogy, i was staring at the sofa where she basically spent the last two years of her life. i started sobbing. i didn’t know what to say, what to do. i never, ever felt so alone in my life. when i composed myself, i turned the page and found the following in the notepad i was using…


as a mother, she did the best she could.

and that’s enough for me.

my heart rebuilds.

it is growing even stronger now because of what i learned from her and her unending love.

from a coffee shop the day after she is everywhere, if you look for it.
my coffee the day after she died…love is everywhere, if you look for it. so grateful to my sweet, thoughtful friends, family, neighbors, coffee shop, etc. for helping me see this…especially this year. love and kindness matter…always. 

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