Motherhood & Words

Maybe you remember my grandpa. He’s 100 years old. Maybe you remember the post I wrote about him last January, before his birthday. Maybe you remember my post about the hectic nature of our weekly errand days, when I drive him and my girls out to West St. Paul to the grocery store, where, after we shop, we sit at the deli and eat hard rolls and butter and, as Grandpa says, “chicken drumsticks.” During these expeditions, Zoë is up and down in the shopping cart, chicken grease smeared on clothes; both girls are generally whiny; and there is always a harried rush back to the car—me trying to get the girls and the groceries in before my grandpa pushes his cart into my car or the car parked next to us.

Often Grandpa will push his own cart around the store, picking out items himself. Sometimes, he follows me around, so I can put the items in his cart for him. But on Monday, he decided to go straight to the deli and drink coffee while Stella and Zoë and I did his shopping for him. Other than that, he seemed fine.

As we drove him back to his apartment, which is in my mom’s finished basement, I asked him if he remembered the Flu of 1918. He would have been nine years old. He did remember, of course—the man remembers everything—and he described how he and his brothers would sit up on the hill overlooking Granite Falls, Minnesota, where they watched the funeral processions go by, day after day. “No one in my family got sick,” he said. “Funny. Almost every family lost someone.” He proceeded to name the doctors who had succumbed to the flu, and then added, “Your grandma’s mother was very ill, but she survived.” Apparently, my great-grandfather brought out a nurse from this Twin Cities to care for his wife, and she recovered. My grandparents didn’t know each other then—they began dating in high school—but he remembered how scared my grandma had been.

Yesterday afternoon, my mom told me she had taken Grandpa to the doctor. He hadn’t been feeling well the last few days—trouble sleeping, trouble catching his breath when he lay down, fluid in his abdomen. His doctor—a wonderful doctor, the kind of doctor I wish everyone could have—said he had a rapid heartbeat. He prescribed some medicine and said for Grandpa to check back in a week.

But this morning he was up at 5 am, trying to sleep in his chair, unable to. His symptoms point to congestive heart failure, and I know what it means, sort of. I know it could mean the beginning of the end. But this is the thing: I’m not ready for that. I am not ready for him to go. Please don’t tell me how lucky I’ve been to have him around so long. Please don’t tell me how lucky he’s been to be that healthy, to “make it” to 100 years old. I know all of this. I know. Still, I need a little more time.

This last year has been so stressful, and I’m tired; I’m worn down. It’s as if the constant stress has removed a barrier, rubbed away my skin, and now there is nothing left to protect me.

This is an odd post, not the kind I usually write, and my only excuse is that I needed to get these words down. So often I can write my way out of darkness. So often I can write my way into some kind of understanding. This is what I had hoped I could do today.

But writing and blogging are different things, aren’t they? I blog for specific reasons: to promote motherhood literature, to encourage dialogue about motherhood and art, about writing and life, about where all of these things overlap and intersect. But I’ve found that your words, your comments, also ground me, keep me tethered. I actually don’t know what I’m asking for today. That you think of my grandpa Spencer? That you know how much I love him? That if you pray, you’ll pray for a little more time for him, for me to be with him? I don’t know.

It’s obvious that I haven’t written myself into any kind of understanding today. Nothing seems clearer to me. But still, here I am at my computer, and somehow I feel a little less alone.

Posted in


I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Ines on November 5, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Dear Kate, I will think about your grandfather, Spencer (a beautiful name). And, I will also think about you. May you have more time together.

  2. Monica Crumley on November 5, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Great post. The love and respect you have for your grandfather is admirable! I think HE's the lucky one to have you and your family love and care for him. I'm sure you've both taught each other and your kids many great lessons in life about patience, respect, love, generosity with time, etc. I do pray that you have more time with him. 🙂

  3. kristenspina on November 5, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    I wish for you the time you crave; the days to ease yourself into readiness. I will keep you and your dear grandfather in my thoughts and prayers. Much love.

  4. Once A Mother on November 5, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    As someone who knows the platitudes that get dumped on the grieving all-too-well, I will spare you of them. They are just words and don't bring comfort and I know that. Just know that there are many people, myself included, people that you don't even know who are sending you prayers for strength during this difficult time. You, your family, and most especially your dear Grandpa Spencer are in my thoughts.

  5. Pia on November 5, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    I write very personal things on my blog. I don't write about everything private and important, but rather I write the things I wish to get out of my head and to send them out into the universe like some kind of prayer. And they go on my blog because there is a part of me that seeks to connect to others who feel the same way. I feel less alone, and maybe they do too.

    Maybe you feel a need to express your anxiety, sadness, and fear related to your grandpa to "get it out of you" in a safe way. Sometimes it is easier to talk to 'strangers'. Or maybe this is your way of preparing yourself for what may come in a safe place to express those fears and doubts.

    Whatever comes of this new journey, I hope you find peace. My thoughts are with you and your grandpa!

  6. Violeta on November 5, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Thinking of you and of your grandfather and sending big hugs!

  7. Sara on November 5, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    I hope you get the time you need, though I imagine it will never be all the time you want. Probably the main reason I blog is not to feel so alone, so I get that. Thinking of you and grandpa Spencer.

  8. gillian on November 5, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    I'm here, too, Kate and will be praying for your grandfather.

  9. Mary on November 6, 2009 at 12:18 am

    Kate — I'm so glad you shared this beautiful post, and that blogging helped you feel less alone. I'll definitely be thinking about you and your grandpa Spencer, hoping that he starts to feel better, and that you get a lot more time together.

  10. Lisa on November 6, 2009 at 12:53 am

    That's the beauty of blogging – that feeling of being connected to others, of not feeling alone. I'll pray for more time.

  11. kate hopper on November 6, 2009 at 7:33 am

    Thank you all so much. I'm sitting here, with darkness outside the window, and I'm just so grateful for your words, that you take the time to read this blog, and that you've taken the time to buoy me with your support. Thank you.

  12. Andrea on November 6, 2009 at 9:12 am

    Kate–I hope you have more time with your Grandpa; he sounds like an amazing person.

  13. BLOOM - Parenting Kids With Disabilities on November 6, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Hi Kate — what an incredible Grandpa you have — and for him to have his memory at that age — WOW! Very moving description of him watching the 1918 flu-related funeral processions go by. I haven't read your other posts about him, but have you ever thought of video-taping or writing down his childhood memories? There is incredible history there.

    My Dad died at age 88 in March. He was born in 1920, just outside London, in a time of horse-drawn carriages, top hats and gloves. I interviewed him about 8 years ago about his childhood and life and I'm so grateful I have those videos. In addition, I gave him a journal that he wrote down some of his memories in, and he gave it back to me for my birthday one month before he died. Her was a marvellous storyteller and I never would have remembered the kind of detail I could get from him directly. I treasure those stories.

    The one thing I regret is never talking frankly to my Dad about death. He died quite suddenly — he had a blood clot in his leg and was hospitalized and the next afternoon we learned he had advanced, inoperable lung cancer. He died the next morning.

    I wish I'd listened and waited when he said things like "I'm frightened" or "I feel guilty" during the night he died — instead of shutting down the conversation because I wanted to make everything better: "Everything will be okay. You have nothing to feel guilty about!"

    Hope this is helpful and look forward to hearing more about your Grandpa

  14. Melinda Hews on November 6, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Dear Kate,

    A year of transitions and change for you and for many. No words of wisdom, but know you are not alone.

    Love and prayers for all of you.


  15. Sunny on November 6, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing. Your grandfather sounds like a wonderful man! I will keep him and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

    My husband's grandma is in a similar situation. She has congestive heart failure and gall stones. They do not know if she's strong enough to withstand the operation to remove the gall stones so they are medicating her for the pain. She is 83 years old. It is hard for both my husband and me because she has always been such a big part of our lives. She's currently in a nursing home. I have always had a strong connection w/ her b/c she is such a "with it" grandma. I connect more w/ her than my mother-in-law.

    I feel your sadness. May you find the peace you need while on this journey. I wish you well. Thanks again for sharing this with us.

    Take care,

  16. meredithwinn on November 7, 2009 at 12:23 am

    oh kate, i hear you. i really do. it's ok to be 'not ready'

    i am thinking of you.
    and that makes us both not alone.
    take care and say 'i love you' with every breath.

  17. Mummy mania on November 7, 2009 at 4:50 am

    hi kate, i'm sorry for your sadness… and don't feel guilty about any feelings you have. no-one is ready to say goodbye to those they love.. and everyone needs to speak out (or write out) their thoughts in order to make sense of them. that's why we're hear, and that's why we write.
    i'll be thinking about you over the coming days….

  18. Leightongirl on November 7, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Sending love.

  19. cath c on November 7, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    kate, this is part of your life, too. a big part. it belongs, because you are always so honest about what matters most to you in your life in this blog.

    be well. spend what time you can with your granpa. he sounds like a remarkable man.

  20. Andria on November 7, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    I will definitely be thinking of you and your grandfather. I remember sitting next to him at a Thunder game so many years ago, and I could not believe he was 93. He seems so incredible and I know you love him so much. I'll pray for more time for the two of you to be together.

  21. Story Wood on November 13, 2009 at 12:32 pm


    Thinking of you and your family. And do know that you and your blog make ME feel less alone. Motherhood is one lonely endeavor and it is so refreshing to use my brain, if only to enter your blog-mind for a few minutes and really think. Thank you.

    Love from Michigan,

    Michelle (and Seth too)