When She Writes Press recently announced the publication of Mother Lode, I was delighted that author Gretchen Staebler had done the rigorous, often draining work that I believe helps achieve deep healing. And, happily, I would learn the rest of her compelling story, for I had been a fascinated follower of Staebler’s online blog, “Daughter on Duty,” in its final years and then lost touch.
Staebler had already moved cross-country from Raleigh, North Carolina–where she’d been well established and happy for many years–back to her childhood home. As she drove closer to home, the reality of her relationship with her mother became more immediate. “She’d always been able to push my buttons,” the author noted with mixed panic and joy. Then there they were, waiting: her sister Rebecca, who had cared for their mother, Stellajoe, for ten years, and Stellajoe herself, approaching her 97th birthday, needing more care as her vision loss and cognitive decline increased.
Widowed for several years by then, Stellajoe had remained in the aging 3200-square-foot house she and her husband built decades earlier in the Pacific Northwest town of Centralia, Washington. Mt. Saint Helens gave a gorgeous backdrop to the landscape. Staebler planned to stay with her mother for a year, anticipating she would facilitate a residential transition for Stellajoe during that time. But the transition didn’t happen and the year commitment fell by the wayside.
As I read, my thoughts slid back twenty years. I’d moved back home to care for my 80-year-old mother after she broke her back. Frequent strain had been part of our nine-month journey, yet small miracle moments had opened growth and love for us. The final one came after her death.
Staebler stayed with her mother more than five years beyond her planned one year. She was often a reluctant caregiver when her teen-age relationship collided with her mother’s firm attempt to remain independent. Time, nevertheless, gifted them with ever-deepening layers of insight. In their miracle moments, I felt the slow, positive growth of their love for each other.
I appreciated the wisdom in Mother Lode as I journeyed through the months, seasons, and years with Staebler’s family. By writing her story, the author gifted herself; and by sharing it with the world, gifted each of us.
This is a book for mothers and daughters, in particular, as well as past, present, and future care providers. Staebler brings a tragic fact to our attention: caretakers in our world are so invisible and taken for granted. We, as individuals, have little-to-no insight into the challenges of either the cared-for person or the care-giving person. My hope is that Mother Lode will bring impetus to help and strengthen this huge need in our country.
This book is an excellent read for professionals, and for anyone else open to walking with a strong, brave, humorous daughter who stayed until the end. The story radiates the funny, sad, kind, compassionate, frustrating, intelligent, strong, stubborn aspects of good people with hard challenges.
Lastly, I found priceless jewels in this story. My first favorite is the photo of the author and her mother before opening to Chapter One. Second is the diamond that waits at the end. I hope you will love this beautiful, carefully crafted story by an exceptional writer as much as I did.