I remember and I forget

This weekend is so lovely.

It’s my first Memorial Day weekend that I haven’t had to work in my adult life. I’ve got two great little kiddos who are begging me for the outside time we all love. The worst of the yard work is complete so afternoons and days aren’t completely lost on back-breaking work.

And that sun, that air.

I’ve felt it before.



20 years ago, my Memorial Day futures were tarnished.

I went to school on the last day before a long weekend at the end of fourth grade and my sick mom was especially weak. She couldn’t get out of bed that morning and spent such a long time with her goodbyes and handholding I thought for sure I was going to miss my bus. I was 10 and she was 46. I pulled myself away to join my friends in the school bus stop out front.

I wonder if she pulled herself out of bed to look out the window. I never looked up to see.

I don’t know if she cried or if she wore a brave face.

I don’t know when she called her sister.

I don’t know if she knew in that moment the truth about Memorial Day.

We try to remember, we sometimes forget.


I never saw my Mommy again.


I came home that afternoon and saw cars in the driveway that meant she was in the hospital.

I stopped at the second-from-the-top step with a sigh. I was so sad I’d spend another weekend visiting her while she lay in a hospital bed. I was so sad for my Dad and the way he looked at her picture on the dresser the mornings she wasn’t home to cook me breakfast.

I was mad, too. That moment was my first memory of rage. I stomped my foot on the sidewalk. I HATE THAT YOU’RE ALWAYS SICK, I wanted to scream.


I saw my first rainbow that weekend.

It was her goodbye perhaps.


By the end of the long weekend, I came home from a friend’s house to find my Dad sitting on my bed in our apartment, crying while holding stuffed animals. I had never seen him cry. We were supposed to see Mommy in just an hour.

I don’t remember how he told me she was gone.

I just remember feeling like I had to be a Mommy to him.

We held hands and took a walk down the road.


By the end of that long weekend, I stood in front of her open casket in a stuffy funeral home, torn between playing tag with some cousins and this nagging feeling that this was something so big. I couldn’t grasp it with my 10-year-old heart just yet.

On a warm, sunny, slightly windy day, they lowered the box into the ground.


I left school five days before with a sick mom at home.

And that first day back, on a bus for a field trip.

Charlie in my class chose that day to remember my mom was born on Leap Year. She’s only like 11!, he said!

I sunk down in my seat and hated Memorial Day weekend. And field trips. And boys named Charlie.


I’ve spent two-thirds of my life without her.

I relate better to being motherless than being mothered.

I’ve spent nearly four years being a mother myself.

And this quandary I find myself in is as complicated and confusing as it gets.


I look at old pictures of her and me and now my eyes just as easily land on the resemblance of my daughter to me as anything else.

There is hurt and peace and anger and love and they come and go in waves and go ’round and ’round in cycles I can never predict.

There are Memorial Days that cause my heart to ache and others that go by quickly and busily with little thought. But May 26th still makes me stop in my tracks. Can’t catch my breath. Can’t believe it all over again and again and again.


There are purple and yellow flowers scattered across our better-loved yard now. I hope she likes them.

I hope she watches her grandchildren. I hope she comforts them when I cannot.


I am 30. She would have been 66. A grandma of two. a mother-in-law to Scott.

Would she be on FaceBook? Still send out those long handwritten letters in the violet ink? Maybe a call once a week.


I look to the sky. For her rainbows and that sunny end-of-May warmth.

I run my hands in the earth of my gardens and sing to sleepy toddlers and feel her arms around me again.


I remember but I also forget.

And I miss her just as much 20 years later.


Nancy Carole Dowhan

Feb. 29, 1948 — May 26, 1994


Baby wendy with Mommy Little Wendy - with Mommy

3 thoughts on “I remember and I forget

  1. I’ve been following along since I saw your story on the local tv station regarding your son’s journey.
    When it comes to being motherless, your story is so parallel to mine. This year was also 20 years without mine (Jan ’94) I was 12. The range of emotions I’ve endured over the years is sometimes indescribable, but you seem to pen the right words to those same feelings. All those milestones as a young woman that weren’t shared with a mother, the births of my two young boys (4&2) and every little (and big) adventure along the way. Some days, life just seems a little extra unfair!
    Thanks for letting me follow along your journey!


    • Kendra, thanks so much for following and for sharing.
      It is comforting to know there is someone out there who really understands… and boy do we have some similarities!
      I hope you’ll stay in touch. 🙂


  2. Dear Wendy, A very poignant and eloquently written reminiscence – certainly one of your best writing efforts to date. I really felt your anguish and can understand why it still affects you even today. I remember when we received the news about your mother’s passing, we were in San Francisco at the time and drove straight through for two and a half days in order to attend the funeral just in time for the final viewing. I remember sitting behind you at the funeral parlor and holding and squeezing your hand while your whole body shook with emotion, not yet fully able to comprehend your terrible loss. While your reminiscence begins at the end, my remembrance begins at the beginning. I don’t know how much a five-year-old really knows about pregnancy, but I do remember being excited about the expectation of our family having a new baby. When my mother went off to the hospital and I stayed with my grandparents (Korello), I knew something wonderful was going to happen. My father later returned with the news that I had a baby sister and that she and my mother would come home soon. I was incredibly excited and couldn’t wait to see and hold her. About a week later my mother came home (post-partum hospital stays were longer then they are now), but no baby sister. She needed to stay in the hospital longer, they said, as she was too weak to come home yet. I was happy to see my mother, of course, but disappointed not to be able to see my baby sister. (Years later I was to learn that she was a “blue baby” , though I’m not sure exactly what that was or meant. (http://blog.23andme.com/23andme-research/snpwatch/snpwatch-common-genetic-factors-associated-with-blue-babies/). I’m pretty sure that there wasn’t any surgical intervention such the classic Tetralogy of Fallot would warrant, but if she had any chest scars I never saw them – or would even want to – EEUWWW!. Does anyone – Alice – know? Weak lungs were all they said. So what does a 5-year-old know? At any rate, the day finally arrived when Nancy Carole came home. Could have been a few weeks or even a month since she had been born, but home she came all wrapped up in blankets and sleeping and I was absolutely beside myself with joy and excitement at the anticipation of holding her. Mom sat on the bed in their bedroom and pulled back the blanket for me to see her face for the first time – she was beautiful! I couldn’t wait to hold her and kiss her – finally – but that was not going to happen. She was still too sick and weak they said, and I was politely pushed aside as my mother breast-fed her while I stood in the corner, crying because I couldn’t hold her. After she finished, my father held her, beaming with joy, something he never did with me, or at least that I knew of, as he was off to the war while I was still very small and returned scarred mentally by the events of it all. She was placed in the crib next to their bed and it was a long time before I ever got to hold her. By that time the path had been set that would divide our family into a father-daughter/mother- son relationship. She was the weak one that needed special attention and I was….hell, I don’t know what I was. Thankfully my mother was such a loving and strong supporter of me throughout my life. Regrettably, Nancy and I never really developed a close relationship throughout our youth – nothing hostile, just not terribly close, though they say that having siblings spaced 5 years apart is almost like not having them in the same family. We were better friends later on in life, though. I truly wish we could have done something to intervene and veer her from her self-destructive pathway, but for whatever reason that didn’t happen. Thankfully, Alice, ever the care-giver in our family, was there to help in whatever ways she could, but there were limits to what anyone could do for her. Like you, Wendy, I don’t know whether to be more sad or more angry at her final outcome. She missed out on seeing how wonderful her daughter turned out to be and in enjoying her grandchildren. I just thought I’d share a few of my reminiscences with you, Wendy, and to realize how different ours were. Or maybe not. Maybe we both never knew the real Nancy Carole. Love, Uncle Joe

    Joseph J. Dowhan

    20 Meadow Wood Drive South Deerfield, MA 01373 USA

    Home Phone: 413/397-8907 Cell Phone: 413/522-4765 Email: jjdowhan@msn.com

    Date: Sun, 25 May 2014 15:11:03 +0000 To: jjdowhan@msn.com


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