Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Gone, But Not Forgotten

1951 ~ When I was the apple of my parent's eye(s)!

I had a mother who read to me.

Sandi, David, Pam (1957)

I walked in the front door and immediately felt the echoing emptiness.  Where was everyone?  My dad was on vacation, and had been working on the rock wall he was building in front of the house.  It wasn't so unusual for him to be gone, as he might have been at the quarry, getting more rocks.  I loved going with him to pick them out, and wished he had waited until I got home from school, if that's where he was. We, my dad and I, had made many trips to the rock quarry, loading the trunk of our 1956 Chevy. It was September 15, school had been in session for a few days.  I remember it was warm and sunny.  My parents were planning a short "second honeymoon" for later in the week.

But, wait, Where's Momma? David?  Pam? I'd never come home from school to an empty house before.  My mom was always there, and so was my little brother, David.  And while I should have been walking home with my little sister, Pam, even then, as a 4th grader, I felt put upon to "take care" of her, and I usually dawdled along with my friends and let her get home ahead of me. After all, I had been walking home alone since I was in kindergarten, and it was 1960.  Kids walked home alone all the time.

We lived in a dinky little house, and it didn't take me long to check the kitchen, garage, backyard, and three bedrooms.  Strange . . . where was everyone? I went into Pam's and my bedroom and looked around for clues.  (I was voraciously into Nancy Drew!)

After a few minutes, Pat, our neighbor across the street, came in the house and told me that she had my brother and sister. She didn't tell me where my dad and mom were, and I started feeling a sense of panic, but followed her back across the street.  Something was wrong, terribly, terribly wrong, and I heard the tightness in Pat's voice.

I don't remember what happened next.  I don't remember if my dad came home that night.  I don't remember where we slept, or what we ate, or who we were with.  I don't remember much of 4th grade, who my teacher was, or who was in my class.  I don't have a class picture of that year.  My dad probably forgot to pay for them.

What I do remember is the morning my dad finally told me that my mom had died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage.  It was a couple days later and I remember every detail of our conversation.  He asked me to go back in their bedroom, and while he talked to me, I stared at my mom's high school graduation picture that was on her dresser.  I willed myself not to cry.  After all, I could hear my dad telling me that he was counting on me to be brave and help him with my little sister and brother.  He needed me to be strong.  Even at nine, almost ten years old, I could tell that he was falling apart.  He didn't know what to do.  He really needed my help.

He told me that he was taking us kids over to Kay's house for the day.  Kay was our babysitter, and I couldn't figure out why we were going to Kay's house, because it was a school day, and she was in high school.  Dad said we would be staying with Kay's mom.

I'm not totally sure if I understood at the time that my mom's funeral was that day, or I learned about it later.  My dad and grandma (my mom's mom) had felt that because we were so young, it would be better for us to not be traumatized by going to the funeral.  Of course, after years of therapy and talking with my dad and grandma, we all know that wasn't the best choice, at least for me, and probably my sister.  Anyway, there was never any closure, and I don't really remember anyone talking about my mom after she died.

The day after the funeral, we packed up the car and drove out to see my parents best friends.  Their kids were our best friends too, but it was a sad day.  I remember swinging on the swings, and talking but I don't remember what we said.  Later, Daddy and we three kids all drove to the beach house in Seaview, where we had spent most of our family vacations.  Now I realize, it was supposed to be just my dad and mom, for their second honeymoon trip.  My heart still breaks for the loss my dad must have felt.

I have some memories of that year.  I remember going back to school, and no one mentioning that my mom had died.  I remember we had three different live in housekeepers.  I'm not sure why they didn't last, but I have a pretty good idea.  My dad worked long hours, and left the house around 4:30 am to drive to Portland, load his bread truck, then drive his route, which was a long one.  He didn't get home until about 5:30 each evening.  At least I think he came home.  I'm not really sure.  A few years ago he told me that he felt so awful about that year, because he couldn't stand to be home with us kids, because seeing us made him miss my mom so much.  To this day, my dad will tear up when we talk about her.  My mom and dad had been avid square dancers, and I think my dad still went dancing because their friends were his support.

What I remember most about that year is my dad waking me up every morning before he left for work, so I could comfort my little brother, who cried whenever my dad would leave.  He was almost four when our mom died, and poor little guy, he didn't know what to think.  When my dad started getting ready for work, David would wake up and sob for him not to go.  I would cuddle with him in my parents bed, and we'd both fall back asleep for awhile. (My brother's crib was moved into my dad's bedroom, because our series of "housekeepers" were given his bedroom.) My sister, Pam, and I had already shared a bedroom, so that didn't change.

It's funny how something so dramatic can leave so little in the form of images.  I have such a hard time recalling events of that year.  I don't remember my birthday, or Christmas.  I have vague memories of spending time with various relatives, in particular my aunt Annie Lee.  I think it was after Christmas, maybe during the vacation time, and while we were at her house she "found" a Barbie doll for each of us (Pam and I) in a dresser.  I associate Barbie with the year my mom died, even though I think the doll came out the year before.
This is the last photo I could find with my mom in it.
It appears to be my brother's 2nd birthday, which would make it September, 1958. 

I wish I had more recent photos, but I guess my dad didn't take a lot of photos in those days.  Every year about this time, I remember that sad time when I went from beloved daughter to abandoned child.  Losing my mom has colored my life, and for a long, long time, I was a bitter, angry person.  

Sometimes I feel that my healing truly began one day while I held my baby daughter, Jessica, just a few days after she was born, and sobbed my grief out to the mom I didn't have.  I wanted to share this miracle baby with my mom.  I wanted a four generation picture with my grandma.  I wanted, wanted, wanted . . . that which I couldn't have.  

As I wept, I vowed to record my love for Jessica, so if (and when) I was gone, she would have something tangible to hang onto.  She would have my words, and know that she was loved and cherished.  

I have a shelf full of journals, kept from before Jess was born, and I've written before about when she read them last February.  (I'd link that post, but I don't have a clue how to do it!) 

I've been blessed with two daughters, more than I ever expected, and I've written my love for them both, in those journals on the shelf.  I've loved them and raised them from day one, with the knowledge that we never know when our last moment will be.  

I never had a fight with my mom, or got mad at her for butting into my teenage life, or yelled at her to leave me alone.  I never told her I hated her, and I'm not sure if I ever told her that I loved her.  But I did, and I still do. 


  1. Very moving post, Sandi. I can understand why you felt abandoned. And what a thing to have survived! I hope you will find some closure and healing through writing these things down. Blessings and hugs are sent your way.

  2. Your honesty in this posting is awe-inspiring, Sandi. This is holy ground you stand on and you invite us to gather here with you.

    You've shared with us the pain, the grief, the sadness, the anger, the whole range of emotions that a child feels when abandoned. And the intensified tragedy is that your mom couldn't return to you in person ever again. For myself, my parents came back after a year.

    For you there was no return and so your world crumbled around you.
    I teared up as I read your story. I hope you will explore those days again in your posting because, for myself, the doing so set free the emotions and left me with a feeling of peace.

    "And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceedingly well." I've said this prayer by Juliana of Norwich for several years. The belief that all shall be and is well helped me with my postings. I hope it will help you.


  3. What an amazing woman you are. What a reunion you will have in heaven when you get to meet the mother that loves you so dearly.
    I hope you are feeling some peace.

  4. Torn from parental love suddenly leaves a void that lasts forever. My dad left us suddenly on Sept. 10,1962. I share your longing for a connection that can never be. I get the anger too! If you read my posts 'Heidi from last Sept'10 you will get s sense my own sorrow. But I was six years older and can still recall every detail even smell and sounds. And each Sept. It is back. This year I was in Boston and I recalled it from afar.
    I wrote lots of journals too. My kids are still not that keen to read them. A day will come. At the moment I'm reading stuff my dad wrote and discovered similarities in our handwriting and thought patters. That was awesome.
    Will go to your Feb. and read. Hugs - Heidi

  5. My heart breaks for that little girl. In all the years I've known you, this is the first time I've been able to truly feel your loss. It's so amazing to me that you've managed to turn that pain into parenting that has resulted in two of the most amazing young adult women I know. Your mom would be so proud of you. She was beautiful, and so are you.

  6. I wonder if you have ever read Hope Edelman's books "Motherless Daughters" or "Motherless Mothers." She writes so eloquently and thoroughly about the void that is left when one grows up without a mother and I feel like it would offer you some validation and comfort.

    Thank you for sharing your memories of her.

  7. My Mother lost her Mother very suddenly to a ruptured appendix that was septic. My Mum, the second youngest of four sisters, was just 10 years old at the time. The eldest was 15 and the youngest, 15 months old. My devastated maternal Grandfather was unable to raise four daughters on his own. My Mum's eldest sister left school to run the home and bring up her baby sister. My Mum and her elder sister were taken care of by an aunt at first and then lived in a Children's Home while attending High School. My Mother never really spoke to us of the impact this had on her, other than to say she missed her Mother dreadfully, had thought she was extremely beautiful and such a gentle and loving person and that she loved her enormously. I know that she, too, used her own loss to become the very best of Mothers to my sister and I. She truly is the most selfless, loving and giving person I know. I am blessed to have her in my life, but sadly, she and my Dad emigrated over 15 years ago. To me, that felt similar to losing them simultaneously through death! At the time, my own children were still young and totally devoted to my parents. That was the hardest part for me, experiencing my children's pain and, at the time, their lack of understanding as to why their grandparents would leave us all to live in another country so far away. My sister and her husband had emigrated a few years before and that was one of the compounding reasons my parents left.

    Thank you for sharing your story, Sandi. It has helped me imagine the deeper implications that may well have impacted my Mother, too, although as I have said, she never alluded to these. She has always been quietly reserved about her innermost feelings, and this may very likely have been a direct result of losing her own Mother at such a vulnerable age and stage.


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