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The Last Violet: Mourning My Mother
Book Review

By Vivian R. Bergel
Posted Sunday, March 9, 2003

The Last Violet: Mourning My Mother, by Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad (2002). Mulberry Hill Press, 160 pp.

Initially, I tried not to like this book. I thought that I had the corner on the emotional rollercoaster of loving and losing to cancer a mother as an adolescent and only last Fall, a beloved mother-in-law. However, Hjelmstad's sensitive description of her troubled relationship with her mother added a deeper, unexpected dimension to the experience of grief and loss. The reader, especially a clinician, upon being permitted to hear the author's disappointment with her mother's coldness, criticism and perfectionism, could extract a more meaningful understanding of the emotional conflict surrounding unfulfilled expectations.

The author details her own conflict with her mother's persistent denial of the gravity of her diagnosis and prognosis in both prose and poem. The prose is most often written in a diary entry format, which is almost as cold as the author's mother. The poems, though, are, at times, visceral; speaking to the ultimate meaning of losing a mother who never seems to realize that her oldest child has an aching need to have her mother suddenly be different—open, loving, non-critical. These are traits she can demonstrate to her grandchildren, but not to her children.

The unresolved raw emotion of this book is disturbing. As the author's mother becomes weaker, the author seems to become more frantic in trying to make her understand her needs. While her mother verbalizes that she loves her, it never seems to be enough. Poems become more numerous. After her mother dies and as time passes, Hjelmstad reexamines her mother-daughter relationship and her relationship with her siblings and father and, in the end, seems to find peace and resolution.

Reviewed by Vivian R. Bergel, Ph.D., L.S.W., Chair, Department of Social Work, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA.