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Strength And Perserverance

How Orphan Train Helped Me Cope With Grief

By C. H. RichardPublished 6 months ago Updated 6 months ago 6 min read
Strength And Perserverance
Photo by Stas Ostrikov on Unsplash

I was forty-nine when my mother died. I say that because I know I was lucky to have had her as long as I did. She was the rock, the heart and soul of my family and my best friend.

I could and did talk to my mother pretty much about everything. My parents married very young and struggled financially but we never felt we went without. Throughout my childhood my mother always made sure her kids came first. She often worked two jobs, but she made sure we each a time to talk with her one to one each night.

As an adult we would talk throughout the day. In my work for a non-profit I do a great deal of long-distance driving. She would constantly check weather and traffic reports to tell me which roads or areas may be of concern. We would literally watch Law and Order, Dateline and other T.V. shows via telephone, calling each other during commercials. Always trying to solve crimes whether true or not. When some twist in story would happen, the phone would ring.

“Did you see that? I think it is the husband!”

“I know Ma but there is still twenty minutes left to go, there is more to the story!”

My mom knew I loved to read. She would pass along books with her own critique.

She was interested in what my opinion would be. We did not always agree about whether a book was captivating, but it was the discussion that I enjoyed.

A year before my mom was diagnosed with cancer, a friend told me about Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline as she knew I loved historical fiction. I nodded and stuffed the piece of paper with the title and author’s name on it into my wallet. I had so many books waiting at home to be read, I was not sure I would get to it. I did not want to hurt my friend's feelings though. At the time I was going to the library quite a bit, I decided to check out the book instead of buying in case I did not like it. There was a waiting list. A few weeks later they sent me an email to tell me it was in. I was given the stern warning the book needed to be returned on time as it was in “high demand”. I nodded and brought the book home.

I am not sure why, but I did not read it. I did skim through and was horrified of the dark history that the novel referred to. Where children mostly from the northeastern cities of New York and Boston, whom had already been traumatized by losing their parents were shipped out to midwestern states during the mid-1800’s until the 1930’s. Many were sold as free farm help or other forms of labor. This was an institutional program set up to manage the care of orphans and promoted as an ingenious way to solve a crisis. Another part of American history that has not received much attention. I returned the book without reading. I kept the scrap of paper with the title.

About six months later my mom was diagnosed with an aggressive form of kidney cancer.

Usually, kidney cancer is slow moving and if caught in time can be removed and patient’s prognosis is pretty good. This was not to be the case for my mom. Mitigated with other health problems her chances of surviving were not very good. She did however want additional opinions and wanted to complete some things on her bucket list. This meant many trips to Boston hospitals which were three hours away with traffic and long wait times in rooms filled with patients and families in same position. My mom was not a candidate for chemotherapy but she so wanted to make it until spring time to plant flowers and see her sisters at a family gathering. Spring was several months away. Her iron levels would bottom out and she needed weekly transfusions to keep up her energy. The transfusions would take 3-4 hours at a time. My mom would sleep during all these wait times, but I as her daughter and caregiver, needed something to read to take my mind off losing my best friend.

One day while searching for an appointment card the scrap of paper my friend had written for me fell out of my wallet. I decided to swing by the library and this time there was a copy available, and it would be okay if I needed to renew. When I took my mom to her appointments, I would sit beside her holding her hand until she fell asleep. I then would open my book to be transported to the story of Molly and Vivian. Molly, a Native American teenager who has been part of the foster care system and at seventeen is about to age out when she gets a job helping Vivian, a ninety-two-year-old woman clean out her home. Vivian was also in “the system” but at a time when children without parents would be sent via train to small towns in the Midwest. She experienced trauma upon trauma as she was basically sold to different families. She did survive and decides to engage Molly in her past.

The hours would pass while reading and I would put the book down if mom was cold or needed ice water. I would return to reading as it connected to the emotion of loss, I was feeling even though I was forty-nine and the characters were children when they lost their parents. I would cry all the time, but not in front of mom. I cried in the shower. I cried on the way to pick up mom for her next appointment. I cried as I read the book while she slept. I knew the end would be coming. I would take breaks from the book but then return to it for comfort. Clarity about loss for all of us rang true to me. Grief is the one emotion we will all experience. I connected to a child back in 1912 who lost her parents and was on a train to nowhere. I felt at forty-nine I would still be lost without my mom.

One time my mom did ask me what I was reading and if I liked it. I started to tell her a bit about the story and even referred to Molly’s admiration for her pet turtle as being about strength and perseverance as it carried its home on its back. Mom smiled, I continued talking only to look over and see the woman I knew for strength and perseverance, the mom who even while dying was still taking a moment to ask me what I was reading, gently fall back to sleep.

The last chapter of Orphan Train I waited to read until after my mom passed. When she went onto hospice, I just wanted to spend my time holding her hand and remembering her. I would come back to finish the book later. I felt that finishing would give me another loss as all good books do. When they are done you are left alone again. Orphan Train, however, has never left me. It has stayed close to my heart.


About the Creator

C. H. Richard

My passion is and has always been writing. I am particularly drawn to writing fiction that has relatable storylines which hopefully keep readers engaged

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (13)

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  • Angie the Archivist 📚🪶3 months ago

    Thanks for sharing such precious memories of your dear Mum. I was a similar age when my Mum died suddenly. We too shared books & for ages afterwards, I would think, "Mum would really like this book."

  • Naveed 5 months ago

    C. H. Richard Reading your story, I'm reminded of the power of love and shared interests. The connection between you and your mother, as well as the solace you found in books, is truly heartwarming. 📚❤️

  • Veronica Coldiron6 months ago

    This was such a blessing to read, bittersweet and heartfelt. I recently lost my mother and I know how hard that is. I'm so sorry for your loss, and grateful for this article.

  • Dana Stewart6 months ago

    I am so sorry for your loss. Losing a parent puts you in a club that nobody ever wants to be a member. This is so poignant, beautifully written. I haven’t read Orphan Train, but it’s on my list now.

  • This truly was a story of strength and perseverance. Sorry for the loss of your mom. This story was not only well written but powerful and poignant thank you for sharing it with us. And I never knew about that part of American History it reminded me of photos from the Great Depression showing parents offering their children for sale

  • Leslie Writes6 months ago

    I am sorry for your loss. I did not know about the orphan train. I am glad this book provided comfort for you and connection. It seems like certain books have the ability to show up when you need them. Excellent piece <3

  • Rachel Deeming6 months ago

    Firstly, sorry for your loss. That must have been so hard. But books do definitely bring comfort as they can provide an avenue through which to navigate our emotions. Great piece of writing for its honesty and trueness.

  • I think regardless of age, we would all feel lost when we lose a parent. I'm so sorry for your loss Cindy 🥺 I love how you and her call each other during commercials while watching a show. Sending you lots of love and hugs ❤️

  • Lilly Cooper6 months ago

    Losing a parent is never easy. You did an amazing job being there for her through everything. We all have to find a way to carry our grief and I think your linking to a book so profound was a helpful way to do it. Your story is beautiful.

  • The National Orphan Train Museum is just thirty minutes from us in Concordia, Kansas. There are horror stories & stories that turned out so well, often in the same towns. To many people at that time, that's what kids were for--free labor--even those born to them naturally. As I have always understood it, that's the reason for a long summer break from school in this country--so kids are available to help on the farm during that busy time of year.

  • Babs Iverson6 months ago

    Cindy, sending (hugs)!!! Wonderful and emotional read!!!

  • Lana V Lynx6 months ago

    This made me tear up.

  • Tiffany Gordon 6 months ago

    So sorry 4 your loss my friend... I've noticed that certain books come into our lives at just the right time to aid us. Glad 2 hear that the book helped 2 aid you during a difficult time..

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