Posted by: Bill Tracy | June 9, 2015

Motherless Child, Sometimes

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever.


Sitting in a chair at my Mom’s dining room table I’m frozen in place. She’s been gone almost three weeks now, and my brothers and sisters are clearing out the house so it can be sold. I hear someone in a distant room yell, “Does anybody want blankets?” Someone else asks about tape cassettes. The fine details of a life, and tender mercies. Whatever Mom’s children don’t want goes to charity, or a dumpster. The work goes on all around me, and I can’t move. I can’t bring myself to participate in the dismantling of the world I was born into and lived in and relied upon for so many years.

Like a motherless child...

Like a motherless child…

It’s all necessary work. The estate must be settled. Most of my brothers and sisters find their comfort in the distraction of the work. They don’t really have much interest in the material things our parents accumulated. They are loving people who cherish more our shared memories. Keeping busy keeps the painful reality out of mind for the moment. “You think too much,” my Mom told me a thousand times — from childhood until just a few weeks ago. I’ve always needed to think things through, find meaning. Mom was simply more practical. I guess she needed to be.

What I think now is that an entire world created by my parents has vanished with my Mom’s death. Dad died eight years ago, but Mom was still with us. She was still in the house. Dad’s clothes were still in the closets. All the family photographs were there. My sister and I cooked a dinner there a few weeks ago, the last home cooked meal Mom ever had. We used the same pots and dishes that we knew as children. This was a world that formed a foundation to my life for 68 years. And now I sit and watch as it dissolves like a watercolor picture in the rain. And many tears contribute to that rain.

Even in her last days, Mom didn't want her picture taken in robe and pajamas -- so the killer look!

Even in her last days, Mom didn’t want her picture taken in robe and pajamas — so the killer look!

I didn’t think I’d have a hard time after Mom died. Her health had been going downhill for several years. We all watched, knowing there was little we could do except be supportive in our own ways. But we all knew it was a final lap. Perhaps if dementia had set in or something else that took away her mind, it might have been easier. Even in the last lap, she was still feisty Mom, her old whip smart self full of love for her children, grandchildren, etc. The day before she died I took a picture of her in robe and pajamas — you can see in the picture her killer look that says, “Don’t try that again.” The day before that she was having a hard time because of medications; I was feeding her pieces of a meatball. It was taking a while so at one point, Mom gave me this disapproving look and said, “This is COLD,” in a way only Mom could. I had long ago nicknamed her “asbestos throat” for her ability to eat things at temperatures no mere mortal could even imagine — so I hied to the microwave and got some heat back into that remaining meatball.

The Kubler-Ross model for grief has five classic stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Maybe if you have someone die unexpectedly or too young, those things would apply. For me, at this point, it’s only a profound sadness. “All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare wrote, “and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts….” What I most feel is that our play is done, a final curtain has fallen. And I’m entering a strange world with no moorings, nothing familiar. Two nice young people came together in love, created a world through that love, and I’m sad that world is no more. Yes, one generation passes, and another comes.

Mom's house, the stage going dark.

Mom’s house, the stage going dark.

I was born onto a stage where my Mom and Dad were the lead players. It was the only stage I ever knew, the only play I ever knew. Two sisters and three brothers made their entrances after I did. We had many, many bit players in an extended family — aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. Even a few nuns and priests got into the act. But the play always went on. The stars were always in character and always there, no matter what. Around 1973 I had been living on my own for a few years, but then I decided to go back to school. So I showed up one day and started living in the basement of their house. I never discussed it with anyone, an arrogant move in appearance, I suppose, but I never had any doubt that I would be welcome. At the same time my sister and her husband and two kids came back from a stint in the military, and they moved in too. A brother and sister also came back so we were all there in a four-bedroom suburban house at one time. And my grandmother was living with us at the time also — a dozen of us and a testy little dog. It was trying, but it was just one more scene in the play of our lives. The stage simply got a bit more crowded for a while, no problem.

Joe died in 2005, and that was a serious loss; he was the youngest child. In many ways, he was a Falstaff type character — much loved, but a true “character.” My Dad couldn’t really deal with the tragedy of that so he died two years later. We’ve always believed he simply died of a broken heart. Now we had lost a major player and one of the principals. But, Mom was still there, and she was still in the house, front and center on our stage, so the show went on. But now, Mom has taken her final bow, the theater is going dark, and we can’t see how the show still goes on. It feels like the show is closing and a no new one can take its place — those grandchildren and great grandchildren have made their entrances on different stages, not so much on ours. And as we clear out the house, the stage props disappear, and eventually we’re evicted. A theater goes dark.

A colorful and bright world on the inside, the street outside is cold and bleak by comparison.

A colorful and bright world on the inside, the street outside is cold and bleak by comparison.

The past couple of weeks have not been all bleak. Lots of friends and family have offered kind words, memories and much love. Many who know me understand that I have a gift for seeing spirits. I don’t recognize living people so much by their appearance as by their spiritual presence. It’s helpful, but sometimes troublesome. The skeptics find it hard to believe I talked with Ava Gardner in a Target store last year, I know. I had a visit from Mom one recent Friday morning, her spirit at least. I was in a rural NJ town and dropped into the local “Arts Center,” just to see what there was to see. I sat and talked to an older woman, a photographer. We talked far more about our lives than about pictures. She has seen a lot of adversity in her life, but she soldiers on, and seems fearless. I told her I admired her for that fearlessness as it is something most people don’t possess. She told me she has spent many years doing addiction counseling, visiting prisons, etc. “Everybody calls me ‘Mom,'” she said. That’s when I knew who I was visiting with: I recognized that spirit. When I got up to leave I felt compelled to hug this woman; when I did she began to cry. So, the message she gave me is that Mom has no fear, and we need have none either.

My siblings all have families of their own. They’ve migrated to different stages, stages where they are principal players. Being unmarried and childless myself, I feel like the old Negro spiritual, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. But it’s only sometimes, only sometimes. Life does go on, even out on the street after the show has closed. And I never know when Mom may drop in for a visit.



  1. Bill,

    I do know how you feel. It is amazing that the world still goes on, the news is on the TV every day, the rain still happens, the sun still shines…how dare they? Don’t they know the world stopped? Cannot the entire universe notice that the brightest star was extinguished?

    You will find yourself picking up the phone to call her, or starting to leave your house to see her…it will take years before that stops happening.

    I have now lost mother, father, brother and sister…and still I find myself wanting to talk with them about something.

    You are more in disbelief than sorrow right now, I think, and I know that feeling very well. Know that I am thinking about you and hoping something comes along to lighten the load for you.

    Your friend,


  2. Bill I “shared” this on FB and now I’m wondering if I should have. I hope that was ok. I could delete it if you want?

  3. Thanks, Terri. That’s fine. It’s public. I hope it will benefit anyone who sees it.

  4. Whew. I don’t even know how I got it, because I can’t find it in my timeline now. But when I read it I knew that MANY people would benefit from it, as I have.

  5. wow that was awesome! It has been way to many years since I have seen my “Tracy” cousins. My love to all of you and most sincere condolences on the loss of my Aunt Jane.
    She, uncle Bill, uncle Basil, Aunt Edwynna, Aunt Marge and uncle Earl, grandmom and gran pop all my cousins give me my fondest memories of my childhood. Not meaning exclude aunt Ellenor and uncle Denver and aunt Jule and uncle Jim they too and my cousins. We had a wonderful childhood thanks to all of them. Most gone now but still bring me great memories. Though I do not stay in touch with all as my wonderful sister, Terri, I love them all no less and cherish all they gave to us. I do regret not having taking the time to have let each of them know while they were still here how much they meant to me all of my life and they made parties and family gatherings the most fun times my childhood and early adulthood.
    Now in my later years, I would love to be able to reconnect with any and all of my cousins. If anyone can come to Anchorage, my home now, I would love to have you!!!
    Bill, what a gift you have for writing. I believe it was the 2nd story I have had the pleasure of reading. Several years ago there was another, though I do not recall what about but it was beautiful.
    Thoughts with all of you at this time, do not look forward to the same.
    Love to all. Come visit Alaska sometime… is known as a healing land.

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