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LeAnn Bjerken: A Christmas Goodbye

Erica Johnson, Lyla Cin and LeAnn Bjerken in the summer of 2010.

CHENEY, Wash. – As writers, we often find ourselves caught up in events and experiences. We can look up from a good book or an hour of writing and wonder where the time has gone. As students adventuring far across the country, Christmas break is a special time when we can relax and be welcomed back into the familiar warmth of home and family. Once again this year, my Christmas didn’t quite go as expected, but I wanted to share it with you anyway.

This year my husband Steve and I had planned for a drive through the snow and wind all the way back home to Minnesota. We spent Christmas Eve driving east through four states, talking, listening to books on tape, and singing carols. Surprisingly, we only ended up in the ditch one time.

Upon arriving in Minnesota, we stopped to see Steve’s family for a day, and early the morning of Dec. 26 set out to see mine just north of Alberta. My dad greeted us at the door, and was the first to tell us that his mother was in the hospital. She’d injured her knee in a fall a day at home, and then suffered a heart attack while hospitalized.

I had last seen Grandma Cin in August, when I’d flown home to visit. At age ninety four, she was still living out on the family farm, and was cared for by my uncle Robert. During my visit, we’d talked for a long time about my work in the MFA program, and some of her experiences writing poetry. Although she had joked about not making it through to another Christmas, she’d seemed so lively that I had dismissed it as gloomy thinking.

But the afternoon of Dec. 26, our family settled in, exchanged gifts, and were about to have lunch, when we received word that she’d passed. Over the next few days, friends, and family, (some of whom I hadn’t seen in years) gathered together to plan how best to say goodbye to Grandma. Some details were easier, as she’d discussed her death many times. I think the most difficult thing to deal with was the feeling of shared sadness at Christmas. This was a time when we were all so used to feeling joy. A glittering snow fell outside during funeral services, and the church itself was still filled with lighted trees, candles, and poinsettias. It was one of those rare sad moments that are very beautiful at the same time.

Grandma had given me some of her poems, and would often mention how she felt my writing talents came partly from her. On this occasion, I was gifted with a final note and a binder of poems she’d left, many of which were familiar to me. During a family sharing of memories, I was asked to read aloud a poem she wrote at age 15, that was published in the Duluth Herald.

I hadn’t expected to read, but in true poet fashion, my nervousness died away as soon as I began to speak. I was proud to be able to share her work and remember her in such a special way. As much as I know I will miss her, the gift of her words is something I will always be able to treasure. In this New Year I want to encourage students to visit home often, and cherish the time spent with friends and family. Share your talent with them, and know that even words written long ago have a special power and meaning. I wish you all the best of luck in the New Year, and invite you to enjoy my grandmother’s prize winning poem, “The Old Stone Walk.”

“The Old Stone Walk”

Lyla B. (Trost) Cin

Bewildered, tattered and torn,

is the face which now looks forlorn.

Upon this face each stone betraying,

a place where children were often playing.

Mingled with wrinkles of stride,

the old stone walk looks with pride.

Have you the patience to talk,

to abide awhile with the old stone walk?

Dwell for a moment or two

upon the work this walk had to do.

Supporting tired, lagging feet,

In cold, in rain, in sleet.

- The Duluth Herald, Saturday, May 25, 1935

LeAnn Bjerken graduated from Chokio-Alberta High School in 2005. She earned her Associate of Arts degree from Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Fergus Falls in 2007. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and mass communications from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2009. LeAnn currently attends graduate school at Eastern Washington University, and will complete her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing this June.