It sounds strange to talk of my mother by using the term "mommy." It's a child's term, and I'm 38 years old. But that's how I remember her. I was only 8 when my mother, Mary Ellen Hirsch, died. My sister and I knew she was sick, but we never thought she'd die. For several years she was in and out of hospitals having one back operation after the next to fix the pain from a slipped disk. On the evening of May 12, 1966, we had a small party for my mommy. It was her 34th birthday. I remember finding a little hand mirror in the basement. I wrapped it up and gave it to her as a present.
She acted so thrilled. The big present from my sister and me was a pin cushion in the shape of an elephant. She smiled and put it on her dresser where she could see it clearly from the bed. The next day, Friday the 13th, we came home from school, and she just wasn't there. They said my mommy died in her sleep.
I remember running to my room and crying on the bed. I remember a man coming in to talk to me. He said a person works like a clock, and if one part stops working, the whole clock stops. Even though what he said made sense, I still didn't understand why my mommy had to die. It wasn't fair. Who was going to take care of us? Who would love us?
At the funeral I remember looking down into her open casket. Her face was so white and cold looking. She didn't move. It didn't seem real. I cried and cried as they lowered her into the ground. All the grownups seemed to watch me, feeling sorry. They patted my head or said a kind word about my mommy. A week later I had my ninth birthday. My dad gave me the guitar that he said mommy picked out.
My memories of her are fleeting. I see her through a child's eyes. She had such a kind face, so understanding. Her big brown eyes looked into mine and loved me like no one has ever loved me since.
My own 34th birthday felt like a haunting reminder that I was now the same age as my mother when she died. My 35th birthday brought feelings of guilt and uncertainty. What would it be like to outlive my own mother? Would I die too?
Through the years I have searched for ways to honor her life. I've been the perfect son for a mother who would never know. I always strive to be just a little better. Eagle scout, national honor society, private pilot, professional musician, business owner. Did I do it all for her? I'm not sure.
I know this - losing her made me a stronger person, and in some ways, a better person than I might otherwise have been. I've spent the last 30 years standing on my own, and fighting my own battles without her help. I wish my mother was here now, and I hope she would be proud of the man I've become. I miss you mommy, and I'll always remember.
You can send email to Bernie Hirsch at [email protected]