Penney Richards
November, 2009

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 parent?

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 woman.

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 Daddy-o.

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.


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