It’s been four years and I’m finally able to write about losing my sister

It has been 4 years since I lost my sister Linda and I haven’t written about her until now. In all fairness I wasn’t writing on a regular basis when she died and I was weary from all the grief I endured over a five-year period, first losing Mom, then Dad, then Linda.

She taught me to keep a child-like view of the world and its wonders. And I miss that so much.

It is an appropriate season to break my writing silence about her since she loved the holidays. At Thanksgiving, we shared our day with a traditional family meal, but the highlight of the weekend was Black Friday when Linda led us to the mall to have our photo taken with Santa. Shopping was secondary to this non-negotiable ritual and we had an abundance of laughs squeezing into Santa’s booth, knocking down small children to be first in line.

santa-photo-2004-editedLinda didn’t have an easy life.

She was a teenage mother and she and her childhood sweetheart raised four rambunctious children. Finances were tight and there were crises throughout the years, the worst being the loss of her 16-year-old son Danny from cancer. She could have justified an attitude tainted with bitterness, anger, and depression but instead she continued to bless us with a beautiful smile accented with the sound of her laughter.

During the last years of her life, her family included a beloved dog named Lady Bug, a Peek-A-Poo with an attitude. Linda always said she could not bear the thought of losing her and Lady Bug outlived her in the end, sparing my sister from enduring this sorrow.

Close calls.

She had inoperable uterine cancer in the mid-1980’s, postponing a trip to the doctor until she had insurance to cover the treatment costs. We thought we were going to lose her and I did the typical bargaining with God, asking for more time in exchange for never taking her for granted again. My prayer was answered and life went on with me taking her for granted.

In the 1990’s a new cancer embedded in her colon and the surgeon prepared us for the worst predicting stage IV. I’ll never forget the night before her surgery when she and I dashed into the grocery store for something and ran into a family friend.

Linda told her she was going to have surgery the next day and Mavis looked concerned and asked, “What for?” Linda grinned and chirped, “Colon cancer!” like she had just won Publisher’s Clearing House. She and I immediately doubled over laughing until we cried and peed our pants. That is the way it was with Linda. You never got together with her without someone needing a change of underwear.

Once again I met God at the bargaining table negotiating for more time with my precious sister. I promised I would appreciate every single day with her if only we could have her for a few more years. Miraculously her cancer was stage I, cured with surgery. She adjusted to life with a permanent colostomy and we adjusted to having her alive, forgetting that our time with her was borrowed.

The final diagnosis.

The final diagnosis was lung cancer and this time there was no cure. She wasn’t a surgical candidate but embraced radiation and chemo with a spirit of “I’m going to beat this!” When the tumor didn’t shrink she made the brave decision to stop treatment and entered the hospice program.

Thus began six months of renewal when she gained weight, restored some of her strength, and sprouted hair with uncharacteristic natural curl. We spent heaps of time together talking, crying, laughing, and changing our underwear. There was no forgetting that each day was a gift and she helped us prepare for the pending loss reflecting her faith in a loving God who would carry us through it.

Photo courtesy depositphotos: used with permission

Photo courtesy depositphotos: used with permission

The aftermath.

And now we live on; a family forever changed without Linda’s spirit of love, life, and laughter.

And none of us has been able to bear the thought of having a photo taken with Santa on Black Friday.

Do you have adult siblings? How do you make sure you don’t take them for granted? If you have lost a sibling how are you doing? 



©2016, Stevens. All rights reserved.


Who was Erma Bombeck and why does she still matter?

When I started writing my blog, I found it particularly difficult to compose my bio. I wanted to say that my writings were the love child of Erma Bombeck and Jerry Seinfeld. But I felt too presumptuous putting anything I wrote in the same league as Erma Bombeck.

Following the example of my blogging friend Roxanne Jones who writes “Boomer Haiku,” I decided to submit an essay to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. I doubted it would be accepted, but three days later I received notice that my piece was up on the website.

And I cried.

Why was this so emotional for me?

My mother was an avid Erma Bombeck fan, so when I saw my photo beside Erma’s, I longed for Mum. I wanted to call her and share the news. I wanted to see her smile when she saw two of her favorite people displayed on the same web page.

text of me on EBWW

I sent my sister a text because I knew she would understand the significance, and she did.

Mum was a housewife at seventeen, and had her first child when she was eighteen, the year Erma turned eleven years old. Who could have known that a woman from Dayton Ohio would become a voice for a mother of four in northern Maine?

But she was that voice for my mother and her generation of housewives. Erma understood the demanding life of preparing endless meals, cleaning, gardening, shopping, sewing, and mothering. Erma brought honor and hilarity into Mum’s undervalued role.

Mom and me 1

I adored Mum the moment I laid eyes on her

But Mum is gone and so is Erma.

How wonderful that Erma’s legacy is being kept alive with The University of Dayton Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop. This is a soft place for kindred writers to land, gleaning humor in both common and crucial situations.

I can’t believe I have descended on that revered page. And in so many ways it memorializes both Erma, and my late mother. Mum’s long hours working on the farm, caring for four children and a husband, precluded full exploration of her creativity. But we have intricate quilts, dainty crocheted doilies, hand-sewn clothes, and knit sox to remind us of her talents.

She was a prolific reader, and did some of her own writing, often humorous. I wish she had written more. Here is a sample of something she wrote for her 50th anniversary. She dusted it off and reused it for her 70th anniversary, which she celebrated less than 6 months before she died.

I always will remember, dear;
A day in April bright and clear.
In the year 19 & 37;
I really thought I was in heaven.

That was 70 years ago;
We tied the knot and made a bow.
We had three daughters and a son;
They really kept us on the run.

Now we’re back to just us two;
First there’s me, and then there’s you.
I loved you then and do today;
But now here’s what I have to say.

People ask me how I do it;
And I respond, there’s nothing to it.
I just stand there looking wise;
And always, always compromise.*
*Spoiler alert: she did not always compromise!

In going through my mother’s mementos, I found scads of my childhood writings. Crudely printed words evolved into cursive: fiction, non-fiction, poetry….proof that I was a writer at a young age.

Why did she save them? Because she believed in me, and was for me the voice that Erma heard when Father Tom Price said, “You can write.”

One of Erma’s most inspiring quotes is: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”

Who has encouraged you to discover your talents? It isn’t too late. What is holding you back from unleashing your inner artist?

Note: Since drafting this post, I have had two more essays published on the Erma website, and I am registered to attend the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop in Dayton Ohio 3/31- 4/2/16. Erma and Mum’s legacies live on!



©2016, Stevens. All rights reserved.

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37 thoughts on “Who was Erma Bombeck and why does she still matter?”

  1. This moved me to tears. Erma definitely was the voice for a generation of women. A voice that told the truth gently and with hilarity. After reading your Mom’s poem I would say that a very special edition of Erma was writing her words and living her life in Maine. Thanks for sharing your Mom with us today.

    • Thank you Bernadette. That was a moving piece for me to write and I’m glad the emotion came through to you as you read it. Mom was a big fan of Erma and taught me to see the humor in the mundane to the tragic. She passed this on to all of us kids and we tend to view life through Groucho Marx glasses as much as possible. I even have a mustache now that I’ve grown older. LOL.

    • Thank you Stacey. I loved Erma’s work and it is such a privilege to have my posts on her site. I also entered the contest they hold every two years and made it to the final round with a humor essay. I still can’t believe that happened but I’m determined to win it in 2018!

  2. I’ve never heard of Erma Bombeck, but reading this post has made me want to go read her writings! Also, I’m sure your mother would have been very proud of you for getting a piece published on that website, I’m sure she is looking down on you from heaven and smiling 🙂

    • Erma’s writings are timeless, Jessica. There are a few outdated references to current events, but her overall message is as relevant today as it ever was. She wrote terrific humor about every day life, and some real tear jerkers when she wrote human interest pieces. She was a blogger before we had blogs as her essays are short. I think you’d love her and I hope you give her a try.

    • I hope you do. I think you’d enjoy her timeless essays about parenting and homemaking. She is still hilarious today. I have read most of her work and reread it this past year.

  3. Beautiful. I love her quote about using all the talent we are given. A great reminder, especially for me, as I am fresh off the heels of a “traditional” corporate job and taking the leap to instead pursue my passions. Love this.

    • That is one of her most famous quotes and I love it too, Faye. It was interesting that my daughter-in-law used that quote and did not know it was from Erma until she read my post. She is too young to know Erma, but her writing is timeless.

    • I know, Carol. The University of Dayton has done a wonderful job keeping her legacy alive. She really paved the way to make humor writing more respected. Even today humor writers are looked down upon in the literary world. For me, it is in my blood to write humor and Erma has been my prime inspiration leading me down this path.

  4. Congratulations, Molly!!
    How honored you must feel. I am sure your mum knows what’s going on. Hey, maybe they’re chatting it up together in Heaven saying, “I knew this was coming – Molly’s talent will not go unnoticed!” 🙂
    I am so happy for you.
    What a sweet poem written by your mum. Very creative, even within months of her passing.
    I can imagine you miss her more than ever. This may make you feel closer to her.

    For me, I grew up in a musical family. My mother and grandmother play(ed) the piano very well. I took lessons as a child, but I didn’t retain a whole lot. I think because I didn’t take it seriously as a kiddo. Now, I bought myself a “teach yourself” piano book. Just started teaching myself this past weekend! My mum has agreed to fill in any “blanks” — if I’m having trouble. 🙂

    Miss you lots, Molly!!
    Amanda Dugre

  5. I DO call myself the secret love child of Erma Bombeck, but with Dave Barry. I know it’s presumptuous, but it’s totally meant as homage as, like you, she is my favorite. How great that you’ve had work published at her site!

    I’ve heard about the U of Dayton workshop and have been really intrigued by the idea. Please report back on whether or not you think it’s worthwhile.

    • I think you have every right to claim your status as Erma and Dave’s secret love child, Peg, and I love your writing. I’ve been reading Erma’s books and enjoying every word, laughing out loud. I’m excited and nervous about the trip to U of Dayton and will fill you in on how it goes. I’ve been told it is ‘life changing.’

  6. Absolutely beautiful and you deserve (more than deserve) to be published on the Erma site. She would be proud of as would you mom, because all of us are so proud! What a lovely essay.

    I wish my budget allowed for my going to the Erma event – I am sad but hopeful that sometime in the future I’ll be able to go.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Cathy. They warm my heart. I wish you were coming to the Erma workshop, too. In the meantime you will continue to inspire us with an ’empowered spirit!’

  7. Molly, I have just now had the time to read this beautiful tribute to two remarkable women written by a remarkable woman. I awoke this morning with the picture of you and your Mom on my mind; I had commented on the adoring look of love on your mother’s face but I had failed to comment on that bright, energetic baby who grew up and continues to bring light and brightness and humor into the world. Congratulations, I.am so proud of you!

    • Thanks so much my dearest friend. Your words warm my heart and give me encouragement to keep on writing. You have quite a knack with words, too, I might add. No one writes a more beautiful handwritten letter than you, my dear.

    • Thank you Terri. Erma’s writings are timeless and still so relatable. I have been reading her books, and laugh out loud frequently, and occasionally shed a tear when I come upon an especially tender piece. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  8. You have definitely inherited your mother’s talent and you are a great legacy. She would be so proud of you Molly, as we all are. Thank you so much for sharing this on #blogsharelearn.

    • I’ve been away from my blog all day. What a wonderful comment to come home to. I feel like you have reached out and given me a big hug on behalf of my mother, Elena. I treasure your words and your friendship. And I love #blogsharelearn!

  9. I remember reading Erma Bombeck with my mother while I was growing up. And it was my mother (and father) who continued to encourage me to write. Thanks for the fond memories.

    • Glad you took a trip down a pleasant memory lane, Jennifer. I have been reading Erma’s books and feeling so close to my mother and Erma. Except for the occasional reference to dated current events, her message is timeless and oh so funny. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  10. Can’t wait to meet you, Molly. This a beautiful piece and I think both Erma and Jerry would be comfortable sharing a cup of coffee and a few laughs with you. Sometimes I refer to myself as a wannabe cross between Amy Schumer and Grandma Moses. I don’t think Mrs. Moses would know what to do with me, but I’d like to think that Amy would find me amusing at times. 🙂

  11. Molly, this is so beautiful. What a wonderful legacy your mum left and how proud she must have been of you–and would still be. You are a jewel in her crow in heaven!

    • I have no doubt that my mother has jewels in her crown, Lee, and I believe she would think I was one of them. She did always like costume jewelry. Thank you as always for reading and leaving a heartfelt comment. Can’t wait to meet you in person very soon!




When you care enough, you’ll thank a nurse

You know what is hard about choosing to become a registered nurse? Society assumes you chose the occupation to help people. But then stereotypes your noble profession as a contradiction between a sex symbol and a deranged killer.

In real life, there are as many reasons to go into the nursing profession, as there are nurses. When you are shallow like me, career choices are simple, practical and self-serving.


The only time I wore my nursing cap was at my pinning ceremony

I chose nursing because I knew I could always get a job.

When I started college, I enrolled in liberal arts, thinking I’d major in English, since I was obsessed with books, words, and ideas. My interests veered, and I decided to become a health educator. When I envisioned poor job prospects, my pragmatic father, James, advised, ‘Why don’t you become a nurse? There are always nursing jobs.”

When my future daughter-in-law, Kelley, was a senior in high school, she and my son, James, were filling out college forms. She was stumped when she came to the check box for ‘major.’ James offered, “Since you are a lot like my Mom, why don’t you major in nursing?” She did, and I can testify that she is like me, at least in her vulnerability to suggestions from career counselors named James.

Kelley getting PhD revised

My daughter-in-law, Dr. Kelley Strout, PhD, MSN, BSN with her mentor Dr. Elizabeth P. Howard, PhD, MSN, BSN. Kelley is a nursing professor, shaping the future of nursing.

Deeper reasons for entering the profession

Through the years I’ve heard stories of people who had deeper reasons for entering the profession. Like my friend Debbie, whose inspiration emerged from childhood heroism.

Debbie was the eldest of four children in a household that scraped by through resourcefulness and hard work. She was the keeper of a young gang of turkeys destined to adorn the family dinner platter. One day the smallest of the posse was smothered while the more aggressive chicks foraged for lunch.

Debbie recovered his lifeless body from the bottom of the heap, and instinctively vaulted into action. A few seconds of mouth to beak resuscitation and his tiny breast demonstrated the up and down motion of unmistakable respirations.

With life still hanging by a kitchen string, she wrapped him in a dishcloth and popped him into a warm oven until he revived. ‘Second Chance’ as they named him, lived to be a full-grown turkey. We won’t dwell on what happened after that.

More than job security 

Even though the promise of job security influenced my career choice, I’ve learned after a few decades to bristle when people say, “You are a nurse. You can always get a job.” Being steadily employed in a dynamic, fascinating, honorable profession has provided much more than a paycheck, and I’m proud to be a nurse.

I’ve endured jokes about slinging bedpans. I’ve endured insults from the hosts of the talk show ‘The View.‘ I’ve endured lightning speed changes and things that never change.

I’ve endured.

Congratulate a nurse 

I hope you will congratulate the nurses you know for a job well done not only on May 6, National Nurses Day, but every day of the year.

If you are a nurse, twist your arm around and give yourself a generous pat on the back. And while you are at it, make sure you have the back of your nurse colleagues. In a world with so much misunderstanding about our profession, we need to stick together.

To my readers who are nurses, why did you choose to become a nurse? To those who know a nurse, how will you show your appreciation?

Photo credit: depositphotos: Copyright:pressmaste
©2016, Stevens. All rights reserved.

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22 thoughts on “When you care enough, you’ll thank a nurse”

  1. If you have ever been hospitalized or visited in a long term care facility, you would quickly realize that nurses are angels walking the earth. Their care for you will make all the difference in your recovery – and I am married to a Doctor who heartily agrees with this comment.

    • You have a winner on your hands, Bernadette, since doctors who recognize the value of nurses are the best doctors in the business. Thank you for your kind words regarding my beloved profession. I tried to retire and even set a date but couldn’t do it! So I’m going to keep working but will cut down on my hours to only 2 days/week starting last week of September. XO

  2. I don’t think it matters much WHY you chose to become a nurse. If you’ve stayed with it for any length of time, then you’ve likely helped hosts of people in times that were frightening and uncomfortable, and for that you deserve a bit of praise. I spent a decade in the healthcare field, so I know what it means to do the daunting, physically and emotionally draining job — on the third shift, too! Kudos to you and all who “heal” for a living.

    • I agree, Rica. How we come to the profession doesn’t matter as much as why we stay in it. I kind of wish I had put that in my blog. Next year I’ll add it. BTW, the third shift is the worst!

  3. Hi Molly! I’m not a nurse but I am so very grateful for the nurses I’ve had in my life! I have witnessed how difficult and challenging your profession is and I want to thank every single one of you for the work you do to help and support the rest of us when we need you. While doctors sometimes get the glory, it is the nurses that make our journey to healing so much better. Thank you again and please know that you are appreciated! ~Kathy

  4. Thank you, Molly, for singing deserved praises for nurses everywhere. I would like to thank
    the intensive care nurse who helped me ‘breathe’ and gave support and comfort until rescuers arrived after a car crash in 2007. She just happened to live across the street from the accident site and was the first person to arrive on the scene!! Happy Nurses Day to all our dedicated, caring nurses. You are appreciated.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Sharon. I am certainly grateful there was a nurse nearby to care for you at the scene of that crash in 2007. I have never wanted to work in emergency medicine and am so happy there are those who do. God was looking out for you, wasn’t he?

  5. I’m not a nurse but am married to one, a terrific nurse! You nurses can not only always get a job, it can be anywhere in the world! And it pays well too, don’t forget that. If you have a heart attack and end up in Cardiac Care or you have a premature child who winds up in the NICU, you not only want your nurse very proficient but you definitely want her well paid!

  6. I grew up on a dairy/potato farm in Aroostook County and in the 60’s a young lady was a rare creature to want to go to college. My choices could have been to become a farmer’s wife , a secretary, work at Woolworth’s or maybe go to college and become a teacher or nurse. Nursing was my choice after a childhood of caring for animals, and watching grandparents grow old and endure many medical issues that were devastating to a young girl. I went far away to Bangor to nursing school and began a career that spanned 45 years at that same hospital. I found so much more than just caring for people (which was always the reason anyone would want to become a nurse) back then. I gained so many life’s lessons-living with a tribe of women who were not BAPTIST, who smoked, drank alcohol, dated men from Husson College and had many different upbringings. I admit I tried many of these things and lived to tell about it.. Many of those same women are my closest friends and we meet every year. I learned about compassion, empathy, the power of prayer and being with those who were waiting to die. Such a gift from those people!. I was afforded an incredible career that took me places I could have never imagined would happen when I left the “County”. I worked 25 years in Intensive Care which then led to helping to establish transport medicine and my becoming a Flight Nurse for nearly 12 years. Then I picked up another stint in Emergency Nursing for 5 years before retiring. I have done Hospice Nursing and currently School Nursing. So many opportunities -not just because I wanted to help people, but because opportunities were there that gave me so many wonderful experiences to experience what it is like to be a nurse. I have a son in law and a daughter in law who are nurses who make me proud every day for the work they do for their patients. I was so blessed to have chosen this profession, and felt very loved every time someone thanked me for being a nurse and said “Happy Nurses’ Day.

    • Oh, Carol, thank you for sharing your pathway to nursing. I love the idea of a young country girl from Aroostook landing in the big city with all its vices and temptations. What an exceptional nurse and human being you are, and I am privileged to know you. What a career you have had. And thank you for reminding me of Woolworth’s. I loved that store, but I’m glad I didn’t end up working there, aren’t you? Happy Nurses Day back at you.xoxo

  7. Thank-you, Molly. Not only for calling attention to National Nurses Day/Week, but most importantly thank-you for all the souls you have comforted with your care and expertise. You are a credit to your profession, your family, and your community.

  8. I became a nurse for several reasons. As I think back 35 years or so, which is about when I was making my choice for college, I was inclined to become a teacher. At that time, teachers had difficulty finding jobs. So the older members of my family suggested that I become a nurse. (In my family, the women were teachers or nurses.)

    I imagined myself as a nurse taking care of families in the backwoods, possibly even reaching them by horseback. My heroines were Mary Breckinridge and Lillian Wald. Since I enjoyed science classes more than general business classes, and I felt called to help people in some way, I enrolled in nursing school.

    The reality was far different from my imagination. Although at times I wondered what there was to like about nursing, it never occurred to me to change my plan. I was ecstatic when the final two quarters of nursing school came along because it turned out that I really enjoyed obstetrics and pediatrics – working with families.

    When I returned to university a few years later to earn my bachelor’s degree, I learned about public health, and I fell in love again. I found one of the best jobs ever, as a public health nurse working in a generally rural county, with a subspecialty of working with mothers and children. Hmmm. Sounds a lot like my teenager imagination – minus the horseback riding.

    Now I teach public health clinical to university students – combining the best of nursing with my original desire of teaching. I am also a freelance writer, fulfilling another childhood desire of pecking out stories (on a computer instead of a manual typewriter). With a husband who is also in public health and three daughters, I have a very full and blessed life.

    • You have just illustrated how diverse nursing is, Crystal, and how many options there can be for someone to follow their passion in this field. I’m so happy you found the niche that fired you up, and fulfilled a form of your childhood dreams. It was great connecting with you at Erma’s workshop, and we know it was meant to be. 🙂 Isn’t it great to meet another nurse writer?