Black Holes and Ice Cream Cones

I loved 3rd grade. Miss Sadowsky was funny and full of creative ways to inspire our spongy little minds. Thanks to her we had pen pals from Iceland, learned to sing “Silent Night” in German and made paper mache puppets that we used to tell original stories that we wrote and performed for the school. She was everything a great teacher could be. Unfortunately, the memory of 3rd grade will always feel sad because by the end of May my mother started having headaches and by the end of the first week of June she had died, forever changing my life and removing the word “normal” from my vocabulary.

It used to be that one school year ended and another began on the other side of non-stop summer fun. But I don’t remember that summer as fun. It was a time when everyone around us put on frozen smiles and tried to make everything “okay.” But swimming pools and Friendly’s ice cream cones were just reminders that she wasn’t there to ask for extra jimmies (sprinkles) or towel me dry after a really great cannonball off the diving board.

Our yearly trip to Cape Cod never happened. No plans had been made for camp. My whole family just stood frozen in the pain and let the summer wash over us without leaving any tan lines as proof that we had dared spend lazy time on a beach or played outside all day on our dead end street.

Summer lasts forever to a kid. July melts into August and going back to school isn’t even on the radar.  But that summer was a black hole. I lost a part of me that cut so deep I wasn’t sure how to be me anymore. The only solid memories I can drag up from that summer between 3rd and 4th grade is the image of me on the living room couch getting lost reading Treasure Island as part of my new school’s summer reading list. Yes, not only did my 3rd grade year end in the pit of sadness and loss but my father had decided to enroll all 3 kids in the same school to make life easier, which meant I was starting a new school in the fall – the first fall without “her.”

The loss of my mom will always be a defining moment in my life, but that first summer was the most difficult. Gone was the carefree feeling of a summer filled with nothing but cookouts and fireflies. In its place, a quiet, sad, worrying me was born; a me that would, from that summer on, be older than I ever needed to be because something so important had disappeared from my life.

It took years for me to stop feeling a great sadness when a school year ended because I always felt my mom’s absence from the excitement of shouting, “Summer Vacation!” But I am older and have had many summers to learn to swim in the deep end of my loss.

Summer is no longer an emotional black hole, but no matter how many years have gone by a part of me will always be the little boy stuck between two school years, like a boat lost at sea between two ports called Mom.

Alan Silberberg is an author, whose new book, MILO: STICKY NOTES & BRAIN FREEZE tells the story of parental loss with humor, cartoons and a heart-warming story.

27 Comments:

  1. Kristen said on July 30, 2010 at 2:31 pm ... #

    Very well put! I can relate to that feeling of summer feeling like a black hole, though I am much older than you were when you lost your mom.
    I am 31 and just lost my Dad (52 yrs old) on May 1st. He was fell from a cliff while hiking so his untimely death has been such a shock and has left SUCH a void in my life. I wonder if I will ever enjoy summers again…

  2. Michelle said on July 30, 2010 at 3:17 pm ... #

    Thank you for writing this. I am in that summer this year only it was my son who passed. I am still trying to do summer activities but it often feels like there is no real reason anymore to feel the warmth of summer. I know in time that warm will come but forever this year will feel like a black hole too.

  3. Karen Brady said on July 30, 2010 at 8:20 pm ... #

    So beautifully written. If we are Lucky enough to have wonderful parents , of course their loss will forever leave a black hole or space in our hearts forever. In an instant a memory of “extra jimmies” or a song can transend time and we are with them once more , Thank you for sharing.

  4. lesley jackson said on July 31, 2010 at 7:19 am ... #

    Thank you. Through the tears that this piece brought, I painfully recall the end of my high school year just after the death of my mum, two weeks before I was 16. Defining moments indeed. It is all the more poignant for me to read this now, as a mum to a six year old son. This really moved me, I will read the book, thanks again x

  5. Anonymous said on July 31, 2010 at 2:51 pm ... #

    Thanks Alan. When your mom passed away we were all kids “the group” so we could not have known what exactly you were feeling at the time. Death was not a concrete word or feeling for us. What I do remember is my mom crying a lot and feeling very sad for her, too. The two things that I always missed the most about your mom were eating fluffernutters she made for us during school lunch hour and the red lipstick on her cigarettes. It was years later that I realized that there was no such thing as a red cigarette but the mark came from her lipstick!! I miss her, too. Thanks for that wonderful article. Much love, Andi

  6. Andi Ross Kaufman said on July 31, 2010 at 2:52 pm ... #

    Sorry, but I forgot to post my email and name in the above article. Andi

  7. Alan Silberberg said on July 31, 2010 at 10:40 pm ... #

    Thank you Kristen, Michelle, Karen and Lesley for your kind feedback. I’m glad my experience had some resonance for you. And Andi, I so appreciate your memories of my mom and how her death reached past our family and into the neighborhood. The image of her cigarettes and red lipstick stains made me smile. Fluffernutters too! Thank you for sharing that with me.

    Alan

  8. Pamela Faith Lerman said on August 1, 2010 at 10:40 am ... #

    thank you Alan. I don’t know if you know, but I lost my mom just 5 years ago to pancreatic cancer. I think it took over two years for me to begin to be able to come out of the deep black hole. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to lose your mom when you were so young.

  9. Corinne said on August 1, 2010 at 11:17 pm ... #

    Such a great article. I lost my mom to ovarian cancer when I was 5 (I’m 18 now) and I can really relate to what you wrote about the carefree child being replaced with someone “older than I ever needed to be because something so important had disappeared from my life”. Thanks for writing the article! 🙂

  10. Beth Wolcott said on August 3, 2010 at 1:29 pm ... #

    Wow this article really hit home with me as I lost my father when I was 8 and also now with my grandchildren who just lost their father on labor day 2009. It has been a really hard year for them
    and have directed my daughter to this website for help with coping for the kids. I hope she can find some solice in the articles which in turn can help the kids. I heard of this website on the today show when they were talking to kids about a loss in their family and the camps that help kids.

    thank you for this article
    Beth

  11. Denize Marques said on August 3, 2010 at 11:00 pm ... #

    I found today about this website in Today Show, one thing I can tell you is that the pain will go away, I’m 48yrs old lost my mom at age 11 and I thank God for the support He gave me till today. I hope you and others find the same support. My worst fear is to leave my daughter 5 years old in the same situation.
    You’re a wonderful writer your mom will be very proud of you. Be strong and it’s ok to cry at any time, trust me.
    May God bless you and your family.

    Denize

  12. Sherry Y. Riley said on August 4, 2010 at 8:13 am ... #

    Dear Alan, Im so sorry , you had to endure the loss of your Mother at such a young age. I lost my DAUGHTER 2 YEARS AGO, NOV.26 07.She had only one child. My grandson,Danny. He has not had counsling, his father took him after she passed away to live with him. He really will benefit from this website. thanks to the TODAY show. Comfort Zone Camp!!! A GODSEND. like you he was 8 years old. hope your doing well. take care and ‘GOD BLESS YOU’. XX

  13. Jarrod said on August 16, 2010 at 11:08 pm ... #

    I’m so sorry you had to endure that. I’m having the same trouble and my mother just passed away recently. I’m 13. She passed away July 31st, 2010. Almost every night I have to cry myself to sleep. It’s very hard but we will all get through this, together.

  14. Alan Silberberg said on August 17, 2010 at 11:50 am ... #

    Jarrod – I feel how sad this time is for you. Your loss is so real and with you right now. I hope you are able to talk with those who love you and share your feelings. You don’t need to tell everyone you are “okay”. Just your action of checking out this website is a wonderful step forward.

    Alan

  15. Jarrod said on August 18, 2010 at 11:11 pm ... #

    Alan – Thank you so much. I appreciate the kind words and esepecially that last sentence. As school urges closer I got more sad. She used to take me to school every day and pick me up every afternoon.

  16. Matt said on August 22, 2010 at 6:56 pm ... #

    Your story relates a lot to me. My mom died when I was in fourth grade, except not in the summer, during witer break. All of my teachers were at the funeral. I just got back from my third reunion camp at czc and it really helped me cope with the fact she is never coming back. Some days I feel as if she will just knock on te door one day and be like “I’m back!” but that will never happen. now as i enter the seventh grade, I take the fact my mom is dead a lot easier now and it is becoming easier and easier each time I tell my story to tell my story.

  17. Alan Silberberg said on August 23, 2010 at 11:23 am ... #

    Jarrod, I totally share that feeling of loss when yet another “ritual” disappears from your life. It’s always those little things, like being met after school that somehow just shines the light on the fact she isn’t there anymore. And Matt, thanks for sharing your story with me. I’m so glad that CZC has made a difference for you. It doesn’t make the sadness go away but somehow sharing your story with others does make telling your story easier. Good luck with the new school year!

  18. Jarrod said on August 24, 2010 at 10:59 pm ... #

    thank you so much, Matt and Alan school started on the 23rd and was upset. I cried on the way to school. I know I will cry this week when they ask to write what happened over the summer. I talk to my mother still but she responds. It’s the same voice. But I’d rather have her here. Even if she survived the doctor said she would never be the same… I honestly say, I think she’s still here. Not with me though. Thank you so much! I still haven’t accepeted the fact that she’s gone yet. But she was the main person in my life. and my dad always works so we don’t have much time to spend together but the weekends.. I miss her…

  19. Anonymous said on September 1, 2010 at 5:03 pm ... #

    Alan,thanks for the article.I can relate to your experience. I lost my mother 50 years ago when I was 3. I’m not at all over it. I need to talk to others who experienced a loss like this. It seems it could be so healing. I get depressed. I have a feeling of defeat and no zest for life. Growing up with such a devestating loss was hard. It’s amazing that it still affects me so deeply!

  20. joyce said on September 2, 2010 at 1:23 am ... #

    So beautifully put,my grandaughter,kate,lost her mom my daughter 2 years ago..she was 7…but I knew she was different..i knew she was grieving..in the way a child might…she didnt pick up a toy for months.She is wise beyond her years..her mom was a drug addict..and i know she saw to much..but she always goes back to the summer before Megan died..how she and her mom went to the pool everyday..no child should have to go through this..but it happens and we are doing our best to help fill a piece of the void.I will never be”mom”..but Kate shares with me all of time about “Mom”-both good and bad-I feel privlaged to have earned her trust..i guess our commonbond is Megan.

  21. Tim said on September 9, 2010 at 9:02 am ... #

    Thank you for your article. Like many of the postings expressed here. Your story really hit home . I was also 8yrs old and in the 3rd grade when my Mother passed away suddenly. I’m 45 now and there are days it feels like she left a life time ago, and there are days it feels like she was just here yesterday. I think that’s because she never really leaves you, she’s there helping us in our journey of life, even though we may not always know it. She will never be forgotten and I will always miss her. God bless all our Mom’s..

  22. amy said on September 14, 2010 at 12:30 am ... #

    Thank you for sharing. My husband passed away at Christmas last year and I often worry about our kids. I do at least have them in counselling but I hate the thought that Christmas for them is never going to be all exciting like it should be. Gpd bless all the parents and children in these horrible situations!

  23. Carol Scibelli said on September 14, 2010 at 9:46 am ... #

    Beautifully written. My husband passed away four and a half years ago, but our kids were grown. I am always grateful for that. I still remember Eric from 5th grade who lost his mom that year.
    He seemed so lost himself…and it may sound awful, but I’ve always felt it is sadder for a child to lose his/her mother than father.
    Good to know you have written a book with humor and that humor has probably helped you throughout the years. I write about losing my husband with humor, too. Poor Widow Me.com

  24. John said on September 14, 2010 at 1:15 pm ... #

    While I grieve the loss of my young wife who was killed by a truck in April when crossing the street on her way to work (yes, in the crosswalk), a large part of my sadness if for my two boys, 8 and 5, who are growing up without a mom. My 8 year old has a lot of anger just below the surface. His “Treasure Island” is the wii. Thanks for sharing your story.

  25. Rebecca said on September 19, 2010 at 4:07 pm ... #

    im so sorry about your loss.im ten years old and you were just like me.i lost my mom in third grade and when my teacher (the best ever,Mrs. Jensen)found out she nearly started crying.she said she would have,to, if class hadnt just started.i have three brothers,7,8,and 13,the younger ones with birthdays coming up, and fifth grade is really hard without her.sometimes i feel like Matt like someday ill be shopping for my prom dress and she’ll be like “are you sure it wont be too frilly?”but whenever im in a room by myself i have to convince myself it will never happen.

  26. Nicole said on April 29, 2014 at 12:49 pm ... #

    I found this website today…
    I’m 31 and lost my mother 20 years ago in May. The spring brings anniversaries-my parents’ wedding, her birthday, and her death. There’s been an underlying “funk” each year, and this round affected life, making me really want to navigate the grief. I don’t want the funk to come back next year! I’ve started attending Grief Share. I’ve sent a letter out to several people, asking for stories. Journaling is an option. I can’t afford a counselor right now.
    This is scary stuff. What if it doesn’t work?

  27. admin said on May 2, 2014 at 10:10 am ... #

    Hi Nicole, be sure to check out the resources page on this site. You can also create a profile and connect with others at say.hellogrief.org who have had similar experiences.

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