Sunday, May 8, 2011

Reflections On Losing My Mother

I don't remember my mother. I don't remember my early childhood, and I have almost no memories prior to 4th grade.  On November 30, 1962, shortly after my 7th birthday, a multi-car collision was triggered by a jackknifed army truck on the road between the Officer's Club at Patrick Air Force Base and our home in Satellite Beach, FL.  My parents had gone out for the evening and were driving home with my sister and I asleep in the back seat.  The course of our lives was changed forever that night, though it is impossible now to know if that change was for good or ill.

My sister, who was 3, tells me she remembers waking up just before the impact.  She said that my mother was leaning over the back of the car seat to attend to ME's fussing when the crash occurred.  I know my mother went through the windshield of the car and suffered acute facial trauma. She was DOA at the hospital that night. My sister received a slight head injury, my father had a broken nose; I had no injuries at all.  What I remember from that night is:

  1. Sitting on the roadside crying for my mother; I can still feel the scratchy grass on the backs of my legs
  2. The wail of the ambulance sirens and the light flashing over my mother's broken face as she and I were transported to the hospital
  3. Sitting in an exam room when my father came in to tell me that my mother had died, and that she would not be coming home again
After my mother died, my father reacted to the trauma in ways that were unhealthy for all of us.  He married someone within one month and divorced her within 6. His drinking, already  a problem, escalated and he was  reported for flights while under the influence.  As a result, he agreed to a voluntary resignation after 9 1/2 years of service and lost his career as a pilot.  In less than a year, my father had lost his beloved wife and career, and he never fully recovered from these losses. 

After he left the service, we returned to live with his parents near Pittsburgh, PA.  This was perhaps the wisest move that my father made after my mother's death. The love and support we received from our grandparents created a foundation from which we could begin the process of healing.  My grandmother was a strong and compassionate woman, and I am forever grateful that she was able to step into the role of mothering us after we lost our mother. As a result, my sister and I have both managed to build fulfilling and productive lives, despite early obstacles.

It may have been better that I remember nothing during this period; since I didn't remember her, I could not miss her.  On the other hand, I have carried a sense of emptiness throughout my life that may be a direct outcome of that loss.  Even now, I find it difficult to delve into that interior void, to articulate the pain and sadness that have been an underlying thread throughout my life.  With this post, I hope to begin the process, but I find that writing even this short post is creating tension.  My fingers draw back from the keys as my mind tries to avoid bringing forth this long-avoided and personally traumatic story.

If your mother is still alive, may you find comfort and joy in honoring her today.  If she is not, may you find solace and peace in remembering her. I take solace in remembering my grandmother's love and strength, and in knowing that, though the memories are lost, my mother loved us dearly.  Happy Mother's Day to everyone!

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