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What I Read When I Miss My Mother

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Brandie DeRusha

Staff Writer

With her MA in English from Rutgers University-Camden, Brandie spends her days chasing around her toddlers and writing. She loves to pair wine with her reading; preferably a Brontë, or an Elliot, or a Woolf novel. Depending on the mood. She currently lives in Florida with her husband, two kids and furry beast.

I lost my mom on November 9th, 2016. I remember the date because when I Skyped with her to say goodbye, I told her to hold on just a little longer to see a woman become president. Things were looking good for Hillary at that point (Mid-afternoon on November 8). Then they weren’t, and we don’t have to go through the rest. My dad called me very early the next morning telling me she was gone. For the first time in a long time, I cried for her.

Reading, Reading Alone, Cozy Reading

The election was something we would have agreed on. She would have loved voting for Hilary Clinton as much as she would have loved telling everyone within a few miles of her voice why voting for anyone else was a disaster.

My mom had been battling with Huntington’s Disease for more than a decade. It’s a horrible genetic neurological disease that looks a lot like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease had a baby. She lived in a nursing home for at least eight years. I still feel guilty that I wasn’t equipped physically and mentally and emotionally to care for her. We were lucky to find a place for her that loved her and took great care for her. I feel guilty that I couldn’t be there for her in the end. We can go on and on about having a toddler and living three states away, but in the end, I know I could have tried harder and I know the darker answer was that I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want to see my loud boisterous mother in that place. 

I realize I wouldn’t win Best Daughter in the World by any stretch. Her disease made our relationship complicated on good days and volatile on the worst days. I’m still learning how to live outside of the emotional walls I’ve built for myself. However there are times when I yearn for that maternal figure in my life. I yearn for her, specifically. I yearn for her advice about life, for her smokers growl, and especially for the arguments we would get into. (My family is a special kind of weird.) 

There are books that I go to when I feel like I need a warm hug from my mother. here are some of them.

In Search of Our Mother's GardensIn Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker. I stumbled across this book back in college while browsing the stacks. The title struck me as just what I needed at the time. Walker discusses art, writing, black feminism, and motherhood in 36 essays. Her prose is warm and endearing. She teaches me to be more aware of African American Literature and to embrace it, how to me a mother and a writer, and that living is a political act. If you want to be a better human being and you’re interested in your writing making an impact on the world, this is a great book. It will humble you. 

When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest WilliamsWhen Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams is a memoir about her mother and her mother’s voice through her empty journals. It is about family, nature, art and the complex relationship between a daughter and her mother. When Women Were Birds is the book that I go to when I am feeling grief. There is something about Terry Tempest Williams’s prose and poetry that seems to say exactly what I am feeling. In a lot of ways, she is the mother that I would have chosen for myself if I had the chance.


Trace by Lauret Edith Savoy discusses the land that we live on. As an Earth Historian, Savoy uncovers our ancestry and our impact on the land in America. Her research extends from African American slavery to Indigenous holdings to European colonialism on the land that makes up the United States. Her story discusses the ecological heritage that we have with the land we live on. I read this one when I need to be reminded of the mountains. I’ve traveled far in my life, and sometimes reading about the land is the best way to go home. 

Knitting Without TearsKnitting Without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmerman is part instruction book, part warm blanket. Elizabeth Zimmerman is considered the mother of all knitters. We’ve looked to her for advice on knitting since before I can remember. Her writing is straight forward and simple, but encouraging and wildly insightful. There are chapters about garment sizing and swatching (which you must always do, knitters!). I choose this book if I am having problems with a knitting pattern, or if I just want someone to tell me it’s going to be okay, to “knit on with confidence through all crises.” She is the mother in my ear telling me that I can do it. That I can accomplish whatever task I set my brain to. 

I am thankful for these group of women on my bookshelf. They give me the tools to cope with the complexities of life without having a mother figure for myself. What are some of the books that you fall into if you need answers but have no one to turn to?