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Remembering a Lost Mother on Mother’s Day

Mother's DayAs Mother’s Day in the United States approaches, I’ve been thinking about mothers.

The most poignant story from my family is about Carrie, the woman at the left.

Thirty years ago, my grandmother sat down to write the story of her life. She started on the first page of the top left corner of a yellow legal pad and wrote in pristine handwriting front and back all the way to the final page–without crossing out a word.

I transcribed her writing when I wrote her life story, The Rose of Mayfield.

Her daughter’s memory.

This is what she said about her mother, Carrie:

“When I was seventeen months old, my brother Arvon was born on May 5, 1906 . . .  Our mother was very ill after his birth, due to having a new, inexperienced doctor. Blood poisoning set in. My poor mother suffered terribly because of this . . .

My grandparents, Hans and Caroline Wickman . . . came over to be with my mother. It being early summer, the wild roses were in bloom alongside the creek by the house. They are a pastel pink blossom and very fragrant to smell. Grandfather Wickman picked some of them and brought them to my mother and twined some in her hair to show his love and concern for her. It was Mother’s Day.

She had blonde hair and blue eyes. After seven weeks of suffering, she died. This was a sad thing as she was so young, twenty-fours years of age.

“I was too young to remember her. I do not have the faintest recollection of her. My Aunt Hannah made a white dress for me with lace beading and ran black ribbon through this beading for the burial services.

The day of the services Aunt Hannah was holding me in her arms and when they closed my mother’s casket, I waved my hand and said, “bye-bye, Mama.”

Thus began my grandmother’s account of her life. The day I typed it into the computer, I stopped and put my head down on the keyboard to cry.

I feel like crying right now.

My grandmother lived 90 years of Mother’s Day without her beautiful mother.

I’m not sure any of us ever got over the story.

Haunting memory

Carrie’s suffering haunted me while I was in labor with my second child.

My first son was 28 months old, nearly a year older than my grandmother when her sibling was born. I couldn’t bear the thought he might never remember me if I didn’t return from the hospital alive. (Unlikely 77 years later, but laboring women are . . . not always thinking clearly).

I sat up late reading him story after story as his brother prepared to come into the world. I wanted to leave an indelible memory.

Thinking of Carrie’s childbirth death left me a crying wreck when I finally left for the hospital.

Fortunately, I survived.

He doesn’t remember . . .

I grew up with this photo hanging on the wall at my grandmother’s house, the only one we had, I thought. (Carrie was a teenager when it was taken in Emery Utah, circa 1900)

But when I wrote The Rose of Mayfield, the stack of photos included one I’d never seen before–Carrie holding her firstborn on her lap, her husband Conrad leaning over her shoulder.Mother's Days

I’ve stared at this photo hundreds of time, trying to make sense of such a pretty Danish woman dying such a gruesome death. (I don’t know who wrote on my grandmother’s bonnet in pen.)

I’ve often started letters of condolence to friends with these words: “You’re never old enough to lose your mother.”

Among the papers, I found an envelope with a letter written to Conrad after Carrie’s death by that young inexperienced doctor.

The attending doctor’s thoughts

Dr. C.E. West felt great anguish:

“My Dear Sir and Friend,

Believe me when I say, that the death of a dear wife and mother is the saddest, and greatest calamity a man is ever forced to meet. Such a misfortune is indeed a cruel, domestic and social wrong that can never be remedied.

Ordeals of this nature have caused many men to carelessly drift into the saloon and brothel, thereby blighting their lives and disgracing their precious children, whom their fond mother so dearly loved and also sacrificed her valued life to bring forth the darling tributes of her husband’s love.

Conrad, I hope you possess too much manhood and upright character to ever permit such unmanly means, in order to drown the sorrow of her loss. For in so doing you would darken the blessed memory; because she cherished too large amount of womanly purity to smile on debauchery in any form.

Let the beautiful vision of your courtship’s happy hours, mingled with the sweet dreams of a loving wife and mother ever rise before you, and serve the angelic purposes of directing you in the noble path of duty, a loving father and an honorable citizen.

Those sweet orphans demand your wise counsel, a dear father’s love and good exampled in citizenship, a credit to you and an honor to their angel mother.

Trusting you may receive these few words of sympathy and kind counsel in the kindly spirit with which it is given, I wish to remain your friend in deepest Sorrow.

Dr. C.E. West

 

My grandmother’s grandmother, and the young aunts still in the household doted on her. She grew up well-loved and passed that love on to her own family.

I certainly benefited from being loved by her.

Happy Mother’s Day. Make sure you hug your mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, or anyone else who’s ever mothered you.

 

Tweetables

Losing a mother as a toddler: one poignant tale. Click to Tweet

1906 condolences on a childbirth death. Click to Tweet

Haunted by a great-grandmother’s childbirth death while in labor Click to Tweet

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. What a beautiful story, Michelle. Even in her death, at so young an age, she left an incredible legacy.

    Reply
    • Michelle Ule

       /  May 15, 2014

      Thank you, Gabrielle. I wish both women had been able to read it . . . 🙁

      Reply
  2. The words that the Dr. Wrote to Conrad are so beautiful! So sympathetic and yet a call to duty. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • Michelle Ule

       /  May 8, 2017

      Thanks, Miranda. Poignant for sure. Curious how someone you never met left a hole in your own life, isn’t it?

      Reply
  3. I think some dust got in my eyes. I couldn’t be crying.

    Reply

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