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Memories haunt many on Mother’s Day

This is for those mothers who, through misfortune, accident and unpredictable, always unimagined, circumstances, now confront Mother’s Day with reluctance and abiding sadness.

For, they have lost a child to death - a mature son or perhaps a daughter: a beauty and a mother, shepherding a carefree family, the kind that fills a home with laughter, incessant teasing, humor and infectious joy.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” declares the mother, who also may be a grandmother.

Understandably, she’s searching for some way - any way - to unload her confusion, her anger and numbing disappointment.

“Parents are never supposed to outlive their children,” she continues.

One of the saddest errands I’ve been called to shoulder was to drive my friend and mentor, veteran journalist and author W.C. Heinz, from his Connecticut home to Dorset, Vt., where he donated his late daughter’s books to a local library. Barbara Heinz, just 16, had died within a few days after an unspecified virus provoked a fulminating and fatal pneumonia.

In Dorset, the summer before, this bright, already accomplished teen had been in summer camp, a giddy experience which produced a boyfriend: Barbara’s first and, sadly, her last.

Recently, word reached here that a fellow columnist, a partner in caring about Aging USA, had lost a 38-year-old son to death. It was, of course a tragedy.

“My oldest son died alone all alone in a Las Vegas hotel room last week,” this mother wrote for her California newspaper.

“We think he took many pills. We think he was confused by the reaction of his different medications,” she continued. “We think he took a drink of vodka. And he died.”

Later, following a celebration of the son’s life, my friend told her readers, “They called him, ‘Hoss.’ This 6-foot-5 giant of a man whose heart was as soft as a kitten’s.”

Then, in a word-picture that is apt to haunt you, as it now troubles me, this grieving mother becomes attentive to a grandson of 10.

The boy needs an answer to his quandary: “Why did my Dad die?”

Instinctively, I thought back to when my youngest of three children, then just 8, went to school following the death too-soon of her mother. As Mother’s Day neared, Janet Ann was told she could make a card for her father - while classmates made their cards for mothers at home.

Jane Glenn Haas, in her column for the Orange County Register, tells her grandson that for now only “God knows” why his Dad came to die. Her final line reads, “It will take both of us much of our lifetimes to really understand that answer.”

Lastly, we aged parents, and grandparents, live out the winters of our lives with a conundrum. Even as we wish to add still more years to our earthly adventures, we hope and pray no harm befalls our children, or their children. Some of us, by nature’s inexorable laws, are destined to be disappointed.

Thereafter, certain mothers and fathers will hurt most on holidays, remembering when … and, equally unkind: what might have been.

Prime Notes

  • A quote for the week: “In the United States, grim poverty is a crime that great wealth makes a sin.” William Sloane Coffin writes this in “Credo.”
  • Fact: More than 2 million Americans got Botox injections and about 1.6 million got chemical peels or micro-dermabrasions in 2003, the most recent year for which figures are available. Source: Time magazine.
  • Health fact: For every $1 the states spend on tobacco prevention teaching kids not to smoke, the cigarette manufacturing companies spend $23. Source: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
  • Other quotes to admire: “Happiness is not simply the absence of despair. It is an affirmative state in which our lives have both meaning and pleasure.” Psychiatrist Gordon Livingston writes this in “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart.”
  • Fact: 70 percent of Social Security beneficiaries over age 85 are women. For one-third of all unmarried female seniors, Social Security is their only source of income. Source: The Nation.
  • Fact: Of the 100 members of the U.S. Senate, 22 are age 70 or older, and seven of them are or will be 80 before their terms expire. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., is the oldest, at 87.
  • Leave ‘em laughing: “I was the first woman to burn my bra. It took the fire department four days to put out the fire.” Entertainer Dolly Parton said it.
  • “Perhaps we can start talking about how we treat our elders in America instead of telling the world how to create new democracies.” Linda Wong, in a letter to The New York Times. The writer was responding to a column describing and lamenting the drab, unhappy lives of most nursing home residents.
  • Fact: Alzheimer’s disease already costs Medicare three times as much as any other disease. Half of all nursing home costs are related to dementia. Source: the Alzheimer’s Association.
  • Actor/director Clint Eastwood, 74, has seven children, ranging from 40 down to 8. The significant seven have four different mothers.