Posted by: Deanna | May 8, 2008

May 8, 1978

This was originally written July 20, 1981.

My brothers and I probably have much different memories of this day.

These are mine.             

  Young girls’ birthdays are generally happy ones. Parties are planned to celebrate the event of turning “sweet sixteen”. My 16th was supposed to be along the traditional lines, too. Mom wanted what most mothers wanted; to give their daughters what they missed out on. Promises were made; dates were set. Arrangements were discussed months in advance. All, it turned out, to be done for nothing.

               May 9th, my sixteenth birthday, I sat alone remembering the events of the day before.

I had woken to the sound of my father helping my mom to the bathroom. That wasn’t unusual. She had just returned from a week in the hospital and rather extensive surgery. We all thought she was making wonderful progress. The night before, the 7th, also my dad’s birthday, I had prepared a special dinner for dad and mom’s home-coming. We were all elated that mom finally had somewhat of an appetite again. She even joined us in a piece of birthday cake, unusual for mom even in her most healthy moments.

Lying in bed, I listened to dad assure mom that she wouldn’t fall, for he was right at her side.

I drifted off into sleep again; dad was watching over mom. Then, not sure if it was part of my dream or vivid reality, I raced from my room to the frantic screams of my father. He was on the phone trying to reach the paramedics. I dashed to mom’s side and started calling, “Mom, what’s the matter?” Dad returned, not reaching anyone, with an ammonia capsule, handed it to me, too flustered to even think of how to use it himself. I had never seen him more concerned before. I broke the capsule and waved it beneath mom’s nose, repeatedly crying to her. Dad was holding her hand in one of his and with the other trying to rub some circulation into her obviously cold limb.

Dad went to try again to get an ambulance, but could not find the phone number. He kept yelling at me, “What’s the number! Where is it?” I told him of the sticker right on the phone with all the numbers on it, but he was too upset, he couldn’t seem to understand. I ran to the phone and told him to go back to mom. I got through to the fire department and told them our address and to get here as fast as possible.

Through all this I sat on the footstool not hearing what was going on around me. I saw dad return to the phone to see why no one was there yet and saw John move across the room to sit on the couch.

I sat with mom’s cold hand in mine, not thinking, not feeling anything, and especially not wanting to believe what was happening. I stared into her face. Her eyes were closed, the pain gone from her face. Again, not knowing if I was dreaming, I saw her eyes open and look right at me. She did not say a word and it was only for a split second that she looked at me before they were closed again.

I dropped her hand as Dorothy, my dad and two brothers lifted her from the chair and laid her on the floor. John began beating on her chest, Dorothy began mouth to mouth resuscitation and dad was still pleading with her to wake up.

Phil had gone out of the house.

At last the sound of sirens seeped into my ears and I ran outside. Looking down the street I saw an ambulance and a fire truck turning the wrong way on Dubesor. I remember thinking angrily that it was typical for them. I had never run so hard and so fast in my life as I raced to the end of the street in time to flag down a police car to tell them they were headed in the wrong direction.

I sat on the step of the fire truck, watching Phil pace up and down the street, tears rolling off his face as I never saw before, screaming at the people gawking at the things that were happening. I didn’t blame him. I did some pretty loud yelling at those same people when he disappeared into the back yard. Time seemed to stand still as I sat on that step. Several firemen were outside, but I didn’t notice them until I heard them bringing mom outside on the stretcher.

She was covered up to her neck, except her arm, which dangled from the side as they brought her down the steps, through the yard and into the back of the ambulance. Dad and John had stayed inside throughout the whole thing; how, I could never imagine. Phil got in his car, ready to follow them to the hospital. I went to him and told him to be careful. He nodded in silence. Dad went in the ambulance.

John was standing next to the pine tree watching. The ambulance siren wailed and the police car escorted it down the street. When it vanished around the corner John took my arm and led me inside. He said we had a lot of work to do.

He started putting the living room back into some state of order. I went into the kitchen and began cleaning. My whole body seemed numb; I didn’t think. John came in and told me I should try to eat something before we left for the hospital, but I couldn’t. Dorothy came back over after getting dressed to tell us to go ahead and see about mom. She would stay at the house and call our grandparents and family.

We got in John’s van and drove to the hospital. It was only a few blocks away and it took only a couple minutes to arrive at the emergency room doors. Before we even made it from the parking lot to the entrance Phillip came out and for the first time all morning said something to us. He was crying and it was hard for him to bring himself to say it.

“Mom’s gone.”

John went into the hospital to be with dad and I left with Phil. I couldn’t go in. We got back to the house and I started cleaning again. I knew the routine when someone died. Everyone comes to the house to try to help. No one could help any longer. I scrubbed and scrubbed until my hands bled. Through the whole day I didn’t say a word. Everyone thought I was taking it all very well. If they had been able to read my thoughts they would have known that I was crumbling inside. Every part of me hurt and I didn’t know how to handle it. So I scrubbed; everything.

The next morning I lay in bed staring at the ceiling. Dad came in quietly, knowing I would be awake, leaned down, and gave me a kiss and an envelope.

“I know it’s not happy,” he said, “but it is your birthday. We didn’t get a chance to get you anything.” He didn’t know what to say. I told him it wasn’t necessary. He left the room just as quietly as he had come in. Soon after, I heard the front door close and his truck start.

I spent the day alone. I walked around the house endlessly, not knowing what to do with myself. Phil went to the mountains and John escaped somewhere, too. The phone rang constantly, but I couldn’t bring myself to answer it.

When night came I was still wandering around the house and then outside. I knew people were watching behind their doors at the girl walking up and down the street at four in the morning, but I didn’t know what else to do with myself.

I had counted on a surprise for my birthday back in March, but not this one.

Happy Birthday.



  1. Oh Sis,

    I know this story so well by now. But it still breaks my heart. To read your words. Wish I was there to celebrate this one with you.

    Enjoy today with your girls!

    Love. Hugs & Happy Birthday!


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