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
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Original narrative & well developed characters
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions