In Honor of My Mother

May 13th, 2013 · 12 Comments · Beyond Gotham

Like so many, I woke up on Mother’s Day thinking about my mom. Maybe it’s because of various changes in my life this past year and because of reading so many poignant posts from a Motherless Daughters Facebook group this week, I felt Mother’s Day even more than usual. Our mom, Susie DeMark, was a beautiful soul, the very meaning of the word gentle.

She gave us so much, especially after my dad died and she had four daughters under the age of 15 to raise. As years go on, I am blown away that she was able to raise us as beautifully and bravely as she did. I love both the big and the little things I remember, like how she knew and enjoyed how to keep score in a baseball scorebook or how she trusted us to be clerks in our sporting goods store when I was 12 years old. The sporting goods store, in a narrow storefront in our town of Wampum, Pa., was a part-time business that my father, Charley, and Uncle Luke, brothers and both millworkers, owned. My mom took over DeMark Bros. Sporting Goods when my dad died of cancer, at age 45, and I felt so responsible working there.

What mattered came across more in actions than words. My mother was the first to buy history books for me. She encouraged my sisters and me to learn and explore, something best captured in the trips she planned to Canada, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. She knew beauty, in the flowers she raised, the wonderful meals she prepared, the music she loved.

She knew struggle, but she didn’t dwell on it (except perhaps financially, yet she continually bettered our circumstances and saved and bought a newer, sweet ranch-style house). When my father died in 1959, she first got a job in a mattress factory and then earned a nursing degree, as a licensed practical nurse. One of the proudest days was attending her graduation ceremonies when she became an LPN. Mom lived the idea that education mattered so much, especially to a woman who had initially not had an opportunity to pursue a college degree – despite being valedictorian of her high school class.

I love those poems about feeling and seeing one’s mother in the signs around us, because I always do see her. I see my mom in roses and hyacinths, in home-baked bread, or the delicious comfort food that has become the rage (nothing was better than coming home from college to my mom’s beef stew or lasagna). I see her in the ways I appreciate country rides and road trips because she first took us on them – even if we ended up two hours north of where we were supposed to be, a metaphor for life’s journeys. I see her in the sky and the beautiful clouds.

Today I am more tearful, and I know I am also more filled with gratitude. This comes from seeing dear family members and friends who appreciate their own mothers so much as time goes on; who have lost their moms or are going through so much in taking care of them in their elder years; or who have been coming to terms with difficult memories with their mothers. For me, to cry more is to know life more tenderly, and to appreciate the gift of my mom’s love ever more each year…in the gifts she gave her children, the people she put in my life, and the love that lives on within me, my sisters, my nephew, and our family.

My Mom And Sister
Susie DeMark, holding her first daughter

I feel so blessed that this beautiful young woman in the photo, at 26 years old – holding her first child, Charlene, the first of four daughters — was my mom. Though we lost her way too soon to cancer, at the age of 55 in 1974, I wouldn’t give up the gift that I had in our mom for anything. And I’m grateful for the many moms I’ve had throughout my life, especially my godmother Aunt Jean and my Aunt Emelene, and the rest of my aunts. What a blessing! In the area where we lived in Western Pennsylvania, we were surrounded by aunts and uncles who nurtured us, were so kind, and gave a strong sense of roots to my sisters, cousins, and me.

I sensed how my relationship with our mother progressed as I got older. As I matured, I got into fewer scrapes and more into making her proud of me. In my sophomore year of college, I began to see myself as a scholar and writer, the seeds coming to fruition that she had planted with books many years before. On the trips between home and college, we began to have adult-to-adult conversations, about people, life, and death. I so loved those moments. Her death after my college graduation cut short those conversations, as it did so many things. It has taken me a long time to fully acknowledge the depth of the hole created in my sisters’ and my lives when my mom died, though the pain was visible in my family immediately.

Today, I consider what it would have been like for my mother and father to have been here during all these years, to see my family’s accomplishments and continue sharing our lives, to experience the birth of a grandson and watch him grow to adulthood. I miss making my mother laugh and smile. She and my dad would have taken so much joy out of all of our endeavors and from witnessing the beautiful, wise women that my sisters have become. Yet, 1974 wasn’t the end of the story – she is here, and I feel some immediacy that our mom is present in ways that earthly existence doesn’t grasp.

Somehow my mother’s touch is still very much in our lives, and I marvel more than ever at motherhood.

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12 Comments so far ↓

  • Rachel

    What a beautiful tribute to your mom, Susan.

    • Susan DeMark

      Thanks, Rachel. She would have enjoyed my friendship with you and Corinne very much, and of course, loved the softball! I appreciate your note so much.


  • Esther Pla


    What a lovely tribute to your mom and your entire family. We grew up in a wonderful place and time. I so loved having my aunts as extensions of my mom. It was more like it takes a village….

    Thank you for writing this. It is so appreciated.

    Love to you, my dear friend – from so many years ago.

    • Susan DeMark


      That time and place stay in my mind and heart with so many memories and beautiful images, despite some difficult times. You are right — it was the version of “It takes a village” with our aunts and families.

      It has been amazing reconnecting with people from those years and has provided the gift of knowing you and others as parents and grandparents…a whole different, incredible dimension. I’m so happy this struck a chord with you, my gentle friend.

      Love to you and your wonderful family!

  • Bruce Solomon

    What a wonderful story about your mom. She was quite an amazing lady. Mother’s Day is also a very difficult time for me as well with regard to my mother’s early passing. So many unfulfilled dreams. Susan, your mother was truly a blessing!


    • Susan DeMark


      Thank you so much. I understand your feelings about Mother’s Day. I have had good and lovely Mother’s Days, but at times it can be very bittersweet. Reading the notes of various women in the Motherless Daughters group helped me to understand even more what so many go through each year.

      Your observation of “unfulfilled dreams” is insightful and to the point. I’m so sorry that you lost your mother early also. It is a grievous loss. I hope these years and memories have comforted you, Bruce!


  • Marianne


    Beautifully written – what a great mom/aunt! My hero! A life too short-lived, however a job well-done! She sure would be proud of you all!

    • Susan DeMark


      Just to read your word “Bravo!” makes my day. You put this so well about our mom’s (and your aunt’s) life. I always feel blessed for your mom’s presence and love in our lives for so long, though still not long enough.

      I can’t tell you how many times as I wrote this that I thought about you and what an incredible mom you are. A hero, too! It gave me a sense of the interconnectedness of the generations, and how this carries on with the grandchildren. Truly miraculous!


  • Ginny Williams

    This is such a poignant, moving essay, Susan.

    I’m so sorry you lost your Mom at such a young age. She must have known you would all turn out to be such wonderful women….how could you not, with such an attentive and loving upbringing?

    And now you continue to share her nurturing spirit with everyone who is lucky enough to call you friend. I can’t imagine a more touching legacy.

    • Susan DeMark


      Thank you for your sweet, caring, and insightful comments…very moving. You are so attuned to others’ feelings and losses, to a very high degree.

      I know my mom was proud of each of us, though of course she had plenty of moments of worry about me and how I would turn out. :-) And she was very sensitive.

      If that nurturing spirit exists strongly in me, it would be due largely to my mom and dad, and to all of our family. Some of it is the spirit of a big, Italian-American family, too.

      In any case, I am very grateful for your own incredible nurturing of friendship and talent. It’s amazing how our presence creates ripples out in the world — the legacy of which you speak — from the generations before us.

      Thank you from my heart, my dear friend!


  • Chris

    This is beautiful, Susan. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and reminding us that even though some of us have lost our Moms here on earth, that their touch is all around us, if we take the time to notice. And when we take that time, we fill their spirits while renewing our own spirits with love and gratitude. Thank you, friend…

    • Susan DeMark


      If this essay could resonate in helping you to feel your mom’s presence and touch around you, that means a great deal. You are so attuned to beauty, spirituality, nature, and love that I would sense that there are ways in each of those that your mom’s touch is there.

      I feel so grateful to have known your mom — such a beautiful, wise, and caring soul…one-of-a-kind! My prayer for you is to always feel her with you — even as yes, we grieve the earthly loss of our moms — so that you can sense her abiding love, guidance, and presence in your life.

      Thank you!


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