Story from the Lawrence
Eagle-Tribune on Sunday, May 9, 2010
Former columnist on Mother's Day and
losing her only child
By Penny Richards
Special to The Eagle-Tribune
Editor's note: Penny Richards is a former columnist for The
Eagle-Tribune who often wrote about her daughter Penney "PJ"
Richards. PJ and her friend Michael D'Amore were killed in a
motorcycle accident in Reading on Nov. 19, 2009. Officials say the
accident is still under investigation.
When your only child dies, do you still get to call yourself a
My husband and I got "that call" on a bright, beautiful, sun-kissed
Thursday. "Get here as fast as you can," they said, "She is in very,
very critical condition."
Very, very critical condition ... what does that mean? Brain damage?
Life support? Shattered bones? Months in rehab?
What it meant was "Your beautiful 25-year-old daughter died
instantly in an accident two hours ago, but we aren't going to say
that over the phone. We'd rather tell you when you are sitting here
in front of us, in case we have to catch you when you fall over." We
did not fall over.
And so it was. She is gone. She doesn't get to continue to be
herself, or a daughter, cat owner, niece, cousin, grandchild,
friend, relative, neighbor, girlfriend, or a certified medical
assistant. She won't get to be a wife, in-law, mother, aunt,
grandmother, radiation therapist, someone's supervisor, or an old
She doesn't get to laugh, eat lobster, swim in the ocean, entertain
her friends at our family vacation home in Maine, go to Dave
Matthews concerts, feel the sun on her face or brush her teeth.
Expect to unpack a veggie wrap for lunch and find that I made ham
and Swiss instead, and feel disappointed. She doesn't get to worry
about whether she's got enough gas in her tank to get home or hope
there's enough gas in the tank to grill salmon steaks for her
She can't continue to be an extraordinary and unique member of a
team of caring health care professionals who make it their mission
to heal the injured, cure the sick, tend the pain, listen and
counsel those who struggle to understand their individual
situations, and help develop plans to let the hurt and hurting find
their way and get back to the business of living.
I don't get to ask her advice about which earrings to wear. I don't
get to buy her flannel pants to wear around the house just because I
know how much she loved flannel pants, or a car air freshener just
because I know how much she loved a particular scent.
I don't know whether it will be possible to ever see a day begin and
believe it will be wonderful. I can't imagine my life without my PJ
in it. I have to find my direction and see where she sends me,
because I can't believe she would step away like this without
wanting me to do something that she couldn't get to do herself.
I don't know whether, in the eyes of the world, I can still call
myself a parent or a mother. But it doesn't matter how other people
define that word. I know I will always be a mother — her mother —
whether she's here to accept my mothering or away and out of reach.
I am her mother.