My beautiful mother-in-love Joyce is an integral part of my family. She lives about three miles away and we see her on a daily basis. She is essentially my co-parent in many ways, especially during the spring and fall when my farmer husband is working inordinately long hours. She babysits regularly, so I can do regular adult type things like go to doctor’s appointments, get a hair cut, or attend book club. She daily takes my daughter to her orchestra class at the junior high. She drives my son and daughter to their piano lessons. During the weeks we have our Classical Conversations Community Day, she babysits my younger two and then makes dinner for all of us too. I can’t even begin to describe the many ways she cares for us and how important she is to her family.

In early May, she was Life Flighted to The University of Iowa Hospitals with a ruptured abdominal aneurysm, close to death. She underwent two surgeries. She was in ICU, in a medically induced coma for part of that time, for a week, and the hospital for another week. At the time I wrote this, she was home safe, healing and completely recovering.

For many days, it felt like my world caved in.

What do you do when the world stops?

Accept help.

I am grateful for the meals people brought, so I didn’t have to think about dinner when I’d been in Iowa City all day. I am grateful for the friends who babysat so I could go stay with her. I am grateful for our friends who drove my kids to their classes and lessons. I am grateful for my sister-in-law being able to be in Iowa City some of the days. I am grateful for our family and friends who could go to the hospital to visit and hold her hand when I couldn’t. I am grateful.


I fully believe this was a miracle. I know that God healed her. I am thankful for all the people who prayed for her and for our family.


Know that you can’t do it all. Know that you can’t possibly be there for all the parts of your family, at all times. I had to make my peace with NOT being at Joyce’s bedside, and maintaining our daily rhythm with my kids.

Be emotional.

I had to grieve, and process the possibility of losing her, and what that would mean for my young ones who would never know first hand how wonderful their grandma is. I had to cry and be scared and be worried and sob gut wrenching wordless sobs. I had to sit there with my emotions, and hold them and be okay with feeling them. I had to let them be overwhelming and giant and be unsure if I could handle them, and then, let them pass.


I felt guilty at first about laughing at my two year old’s antics or my four year old’s quips, when my Joyce was fighting for her very life. Then I realized she wouldn’t want me to miss those moments, and she certainly wouldn’t want me to feel guilty about it! Laughing feels so good, and it’s so healing! Laughter is one of my favorite things!


Part of me wanted to climb in bed and sleep for days. I honestly would have, if I didn’t have other people depending on me. I think it is better that I kept on going and kept on doing. The days when I just sat and waited for the doctors to call were much harder than the days I was busy continuing with life.

When the world stops, it feels next to impossible, but it was good when I could continue.

A Grandmother’s Hands
by Jessica Holst

Buckling your little shoe
Making toast and jam for you

Caressing your chubby face
Folded neatly, saying grace

Lifting you onto her lap
Tucking you in for an afternoon nap

Helping you plant a tiny seed
Bandaging a scraped up knee

Gently brushing wispy hair
Serenely snuggling in the rocking chair

Wrinkled, sun spotted, capable,
   Carriers from above
Calloused, experienced, soothing
   Reminders of His unending love
A grandmother’s hands
   Working hard, creating fun
A grandmother’s hands
   A life well done.
Dedicated to my children’s Grandma Joyce

Eight days after coming home from the hospital, and four days after writing this post, Joyce suffered a massive stroke. She underwent another Life Flight to Iowa City, and another extensive surgery, and we were told there was nothing more they could do. We brought her home to care for her in her last remaining days. As the sun was beginning a new day, her life ended and she passed peacefully into the next world on May 28. You can read more about her incredible, ordinary life here.

I thought I would need to edit this post, since it no longer had a happy ending. But I decided I wouldn’t change a thing. We are grateful for the last, although difficult, month we had with her, that first scare and brush with death making us appreciate her even more. We are grateful to our friends and family and community at large doing all they could to ease the heartbreak of her death. We are grateful to Joyce for showing us a servant’s heart and for touching lives in everything she did. Most of all, we are grateful we could call Joyce “ours”.


  1. Oh Jessica, I’m so sorry. My mom died about 10 years ago (before I had kids) and it was/is awful. however, I’ve been extremely blessed with an amazing mother in law and grandma for my kids. Sometimes when I think about Linda dying I literally can’t breathe. My heart aches for your family. I’m so glad you had such a wonderful woman in your life. Thanks for sharing.


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