A carefully tended pot of ivy sits in the meditation room in DeYanna Ostroushko's Prior Lake home. Planted on her birthday 42 years ago, it's one of very few possessions touched by her mother, Debbie.

DeYanna also has her mother's high school letter jacket, her watch, her class ring, her rosary. She also has "so many questions" about her mother. "Debbie's legacy," she said, "was not kept alive for me."

Debbie Nash Sedaghat was 24 when she died, just two weeks after DeYanna's first birthday. In their last photograph together, the young mother smiles from her wheelchair, a chubby baby on her lap, with cake, presents and balloons nearby.

"I've been told she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the time she found out she was pregnant and decided to forgo treatment during the pregnancy," said DeYanna. "There were so many blanks that were never filled in."

Two years ago, DeYanna heard about a Facebook page for past and current residents of Wykoff, Minn., population 418. Her mother was born, raised and is now buried in the tiny Fillmore County town.

DeYanna posted on the page, writing: "I am looking for information, history, pictures, stories about my mom Debbie."

She had hoped she might get a reply or two. Instead, she got an avalanche of responses, Through dozens of posts, DeYanna was able to piece together bits that helped her build a mosaic of her mom.

"So many people in Wykoff had also wondered whatever happened to me," DeYanna said. "I was a ghost that reappeared."

Losing the connection

In 1975, Debbie Nash met Vahid Sedaghat at Rochester Community College. She was studying nursing, he was a foreign student newly arrived from Iran.

"I understand they kept their relationship secret," DeYanna said. "They got married by a justice of the peace and she didn't tell her parents. Times were different. My dad was a loving, caring man, but he was not like them."

The newlyweds moved to a St. Paul apartment, but when Debbie became ill and needed care, she returned to southeastern Minnesota and sought treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

"I know her family took over when she was sick and there was tension and hardships with my dad," DeYanna said. "He wasn't even at her funeral."

After Debbie died in 1980, DeYanna's father took her with him and returned to Iran. But after a year in his homeland, they returned to St. Paul, where he met and married a woman from Duluth.

DeYanna has no memories of life without her stepmother, with whom she formed a close and tender bond, "like I was her own."

"I love her dearly," DeYanna said. "I focused on the mom I had, not the one I lost. That would have felt disloyal. No one spoke about Debbie. Dad brushed it under the rug. He was moving forward with his new life and his new wife."

As a girl, DeYanna remembers boarding a Greyhound bus to Wykoff to spend time with her grandparents and other relatives. She relished staying at the family farm during summer vacations, but recalls a childhood visit to her mother's grave as being disorienting because "I had a mother figure" in the Twin Cities, she said.

"I got some information from my aunts, but I don't know how much is hearsay. They have their own trauma and hurt feelings with the loss and I was always trying to tread lightly," she said.

When her father died unexpectedly at 57 in 2013, she suddenly lost a crucial witness to her mother's final years.

"I never quizzed my dad about her and he never volunteered information. I had so many questions. How much of a say did he have in her decision to not seek treatment? What did he think about being on his own with a 1-year-old?" she said. "By the time I was ready to ask, he was gone."

Help for the motherless

An estimated 5% of the population suffers the early loss of a parent. Recent research of pediatric grief has found that it can have a profound, lifelong impact, leading psychologists to stress the importance of counseling and other intervention for children whose parent dies.

But formally acknowledging a child's bereavement is a fairly recent notion.

"My own mother died in 1981. In that era, the idea was, 'Soldier on, don't dwell,'" said Hope Edelman, author of "Motherless Daughters," a bestseller that has remained in print since it was first published in 1994.

"Sometimes it was an altruistic impulse to protect a child and sometimes it was too painful for adults to bring up. Silence descended and it was not uncommon for a girl to be cut off from extended families, if the father did not have a close relationship with a mother's family."

Edelman, who was 17 when her mother died, was driven by her sorrow to become a grief and loss educator. The author of eight nonfiction books, she holds retreats and weekly calls for adult "motherless daughters" to guide them through what she calls "the long arc of grief."

She often aids women on missions like DeYanna's, giving them advice on genealogy and public record searches and how to use social media to find people who were part of their mothers' lives.

"Daughters crave specific details. They want to know the woman who lived, not just the mother who died," she said. "Without that, a woman is denied access to a piece of herself because women so closely identify with their mothers."

Today there are online communities, grief groups and camps geared toward the specific needs of bereaved children at every developmental stage, as well as therapists skilled in navigating parental loss.

In the Twin Cities, the nonprofit She Climbs Mountains was launched in 2017 to offer support for women grieving their mothers. It was founded by Christine Friberg, who was 15 when her mom died of ovarian cancer.

"I looked like I was fine, but I was lonely and isolated," she said. "There was a lack of understanding of how I was processing my loss. Being with other women who suffered in the same way has been so healing."

Through a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities, Friberg's organization pairs women who experienced the deaths of their mothers with Minnesota girls ages 8 to 18 who have recently lost their mothers.

"Research and our own experiences show us that having a mentor who had that essential loss can improve long-term outcomes for these girls," Friberg said. "Our goal is to support grieving girls and to grow awareness of this childhood loss as trauma."

Becoming Debbie's daughter

On the Wykoff Facebook page, DeYanna's poignant query mined a motherlode of information.

Debbie was described as "upbeat and cheerful," "poised and ladylike," "sweet," "shy" and "kind."

DeYanna heard from a neighbor who knew Debbie as his baby-sitter, from her math teacher and her band director and from fellow school musicians. On woman sent DeYanna a letter she had received from Debbie — the first time DeYanna had seen her mother's handwriting.

Friends, neighbors and school bus seatmates posted glimpses of a young Debbie — her penchant for running barefoot, her participation in 4-H, her skill on the flute, including her flawless piccolo solo in "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

"We were in marching band together. I remember going to a contest in the summer in our wool uniforms; they were brutal," said classmate Aleta Capelle, 65, of Spring Valley.

After connecting on Facebook, Capelle mailed DeYanna a 1974 Wykoff high school yearbook. In its pages are multiple photos of Debbie that DeYanna had never seen — a smiling brunette posing with the madrigal singers, in her volleyball uniform and perched on a tree branch with the Ecology Club.

Of all the black-and-white photos published in the yearbook, DeYanna is most taken with the one of her mother in her graduation cap and gown.

"I see joy in a young woman who had no idea what was ahead of her," she said.

Debbie's cousin Virginia Nash also posted on the site and has since spent time with DeYanna to offer memories of Debbie.

"Our dads were brothers and our farms were near each other. Growing up, farm kids had to work and Debbie worked hard," said Nash, 63, of Spring Valley.

Nash recalled seeing Debbie in the hospital several times, including when she was near the end of her life.

"It was tough. She was glad to have a visitor and more willing to talk than at other times. I think Debbie knew she was going to die. It made me so sad," Nash said. "At that time people in my life who had died were old. This was shocking."

Since connecting with Debbie's hometown circle online, DeYanna has talked by phone and made face-to-face visits with a few of them, probing their recollections and mourning the mother she can't remember with those who haven't forgotten.

The search, said DeYanna, has changed her future by giving her more of her past.

Now, when she looks at herself or her 16-year-old daughter, DeYanna is able to see Debbie reflected in both of them.

"That group opened so many doors and gave me some of the puzzle pieces of a beautiful soul. All my life I was numb to my loss, but my heart has broken open. I see what she did for me," she said. "I feel my spiritual connection to her.

"I am Debbie's daughter."