60 years ago my mother became a mother. (Karin Kristina Orwald 1936 – 2008)

Decades are significant.

60 years ago my mother became a mother.


My older brother born Summer 1958


50 years ago we moved to Canada from Sweden.

Leaving Grums, Sweden, October 31, 1968

50 years ago, my mother started to write letters home to Sweden.



30 years ago, my mother’s second grandchild was born.

My son born January 1988

10 years ago, I had my ear to my mother’s chest and listened as her heart slowed down and then stop.  My brother held her face and guided her through.  Surrounded by family. Her final exhale liberated her soul and I felt right then she flew straight down to San Francisco to be with my daughter who flew home ta few days later.

10 years.

On this day, I am lucky enough to work from home and simply be in my space in peace and joy.  I did what I learned so well from mamma- I cleaned the bathroom, did the dishes, mopped the floors (making sure to go behind the furniture).

I ate food so iconically mamma- pannkaka and cookies and egg.

Drank coffee.  And bit into an apple.

The apple is significant.

Mamma’s full name is Karin Kristina Orwald (Thorsen).

The Emigrant Saga Series by Wilhelm Moberg has so many parallels to mamma’s journey.  And the main character, Kristina, is wrapped in the metaphor her beloved apple tree at home in Sweden and on her death bed holds a ripe apple from her tree in Minnesota.

Screen Shot 2018-11-08 at 1.55.04 PM

The Apple Tree, by Roar Thorsen, 2010

I remember that final year, when I mopped mom’s floors and she lay on her bed and we laughed and shared stories and talked about Pinesol.

Karin Summer 2008

I love you, Mamma.

This post is dedicated to my cousin, Dan Orwald, who passed away suddenly last week.

My aunt Siv with my Cousin Annika, Dan in the middle and Mamma holding my older brother, Christmas 1958.

Slithering pancreatic serpent. #griefprocess

In November 2007, Dr. Ebrahim sat knee to knee with my mother.  I was on the other side of the little examination room.  I recall it was a sunny day.  I think it was.  Grouse Mountain shone in the background.  I think it did.  The room seemed turquoise.  Friendly.  

We found a mass in your pancreas.  

My immediate thought went to Michael Landon.  For some reason when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died shortly after in 1991, it stuck with me.  I knew pancreatic was the worst word to hear when associated with cancer.

“The pancreas represents your ability to digest the ‘sweetness of life’. It reflects your feelings and behaviour in relation to responsibility, particularly how you feel about taking responsibility for your own happiness and that of others. Therefore, the state of the pancreas reveals how well you flourish in life, how successful you feel and how joyful you are in your life experience.” source

We found a mass in your pancreas.

I took notes, we scheduled an ultrasound… but I don’t recall having a heart to heart with mom about the possibilities.  I just recall starting a binder.  Creating an action plan.

There is so much to write about mom, but for now it suffices to say that we entered what would be our final year together, renewed, wide-eyed, love in our hearts.

It was a year of appointments, insulin shots, chemo, spending precious time with family, laughing in waiting rooms, shopping, cooking even though she couldn’t eat… her final thanksgiving, just a few weeks before she passed- she put on makeup, did her hair, celebrated- a very frail little bird.  Fiercely alive.


The Pancreas is the main organic structure that processes the emotion of fear because its function is to maintain the stability of the organism and any threat at the emotional or physical level can cause a structural imbalance entire system. Because the Pancreas is intimately connected with the physiology of the Soul through the fields of emotion and primary feelings, and indirectly to the nervous system, any violent emotion or attack received by the organism will immediately paralyze the digestion, consequently affecting the production of insulin and the liver. It is at the Pancreas level that occurs an evaluation and separation of what elements, emotions, and circumstances are proper for the being, and how the changes may have to be made for the continual survival of the organism. – source

Last night I could not sleep.  Processing so much change of late.  Positive change, sad change, epic change, all kinds of change.

The clock ticked— midnight, 1 AM, 2 AM, 3 AM, 3:30 AM. 3:40 AM— I got up and peed, drank water, drank orange juice.   Wandered.  Wrestled with blankets.  In some weird stupor of processing.  My heart didn’t feel heavy or anxious- just weird, unsettled- thoughts swirling about my mother, about pancreatic cancer, about what I should have done, could have done, should have said.

I must have been in a twilight state as I kept envisioning an eel-like serpent swirling around my heart…

To see a sea serpent in your dream represents an emotional transformation. – source

Placenta series, 1995

Sleep eluded me, so I finally turned on my reading light and pulled out a book from my current reading pile:

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (a gift from Patti Henderson).


The bookmark lay at p. 100— I began to read where I left off.  Strangely there it was again, pancreatic…

All day today that image of the serpent swirling has stayed with me.

That slithering pancreatic serpent.

Placenta series, 1995

Historically, serpents and snakes represent fertility or a creative life force. As snakes shed their skin through sloughing, they are symbols of rebirth, transformation, immortality, and healing.source


The five-year pancreatic cancer survival rate has increased to 9 percent, according to a report released today by the American Cancer Society:


The Sketchbook Project page 2


Theme: And Then There Was None

Page 2 Transcript

Friday October 8, 2010

Westfield San Francisco Centre

Karin • Kristina • Mamma

It’s almost been 2 years since mom passed away.  I have never really written about those last moments.  For they were not “last.”  But all of a sudden– Mom’s powerful presence in our life changed.  I felt her breathe out.  Her heart slowed and stopped.  I was there with my head on her chest.  And we surrounded her with love and support and her spirit infused us.  It is actually impossible to grasp.  How does life continue after that?  And is it OK to actually feel free and perhaps free-er?  Heart

I miss just talking to Mom.  Just about the kids and laundry and food and life.  I miss the chatter and the camaraderie and the “I get it” and the simple stuff.  We could talk about kids.

I miss my own childhood.  The safety + fun or being the kid.

Collection for more pages:

See page 1 at The Sketchbook Project page 1

See page 2 at The Sketchbook Project page 2

See page 3 at The Sketchbook Project page 3

See page 4 at The Sketchbook Project page 4

See page 5 at The Sketchbook Project page 5

See page 6 at The Sketchbook Project page 6

See page 7 at The Sketchbook Project page 7

See page 8 at The Sketchbook Project page 8