A Mother’s Legacy Shines in the Smiles of Children.

An Easter Essay

This Essay was published in The Free Lance Star March 29, 1991.


This is a revised copy of this essay with additional information, and then an update.  And these two pictures appeared at the top of  the essay.

It was the day after Easter, in 1946. All was happy and right with the world, as my mother and father glanced down on their sleeping child. War time had passed and my four uncle had all come home uninjured in World War II. It was now a time for my parents to celebrate. Their 8-week old child had been christened the week before, Palm Sunday, and they were still talking a week later about how blessed they were to be parents.

At 11:00 PM on Easter Sunday, as they looked down on my crib, my mother turned to my father and said, “Today when Marilyn smiled at me she repaid me for everything a mother goes through.” Then she turned to my father and said, “I don’t feel well, and my dad told her to lie down and rest. Within five minutes, my mother was dead.

The story was told to me over and over as I grew up, whenever I asked about my mother. The family always followed the story simply saying that my mom died of a heart attack, and they determined after she died that she probably had a heart weakened from having rheumatic fever as a child.

Those details were enough for me until 30 years later when I was pregnant with my first child. I had many questions and queries concerning my mother’s death so I wrote to the obstetrician who delivered me. What I found out astonished my whole family.

Dr. Morgan remembered my mother as if it were yesterday. He said that she had a weakened heart from rheumatic fever, and he followed her closely throughout her pregnancy and sent her to a cardiologist. He also said my mother made him promise to keep this a secret from my dad because she did not want to worry him. Dr. Morgan went on to say that he felt the worst had passed when she survived the most dangerous time for her heart at seven months of pregnancy and delivery. The doctor finished by telling me that at my mother’s six week check up she looked great and showed no signs of problems, but obviously her heart simply had strained to its capacity. With not enough strength to beat one more time it stopped and she died.

Since finding this out, I have not been the same. I realized that my mother sacrificed herself so I could be born. She knew the risks and took them anyway to leave a part of her in the world after she was gone. Unknowingly I gave her the only payment she wanted, a smile.

As I was about to become a parent, that was not enough. I think I owed my mother more. I felt that to in respect to my mother and her sacrifice, I need to pass on her love that she so willingly gave me. I needed to live my life responsibly and I needed to build my life through faith as she did. As I contemplate these things especially at Easter time, I have come to realize that God expects the same from all of us. He expects all of us to “love one another.” to “do good, judge not, have faith as a grain of mustard seed.”

At Easter time, I thank God for his sacrifice, but I also thank my mother for hers. I spend time during the Easter season contemplating my life and my responsibilities. I also renew my pledge to my mother that her sacrifice has not been in vain. At Easter, I also find myself simply gazing on my mother’s legacy, her grandson and granddaughter as they sleep, and telling her how proud she would be of them. They both have the most beautiful smiles.


The above is the original essay. There were immediate benefits for my family after I wrote Dr. Morgan in 1976.   My father was still alive when I was researching my mother’s death. He always thought he could have done something; that he could have saved her in some way. But from the medical point of view, there was nothing that could be done in 1946.

What my mother died of was not a heart attack, but probably sudden congestive heart failure where your heart cannot beat another time, and the pumping mechanism stops. The symptom that she had at death always puzzled me because my father  said she foamed at the mouth.  That symptom started my inquiry because that does not happen in a heart attack.

She could have also died of a blown mitral valve with the same result. Someone with a heart as damaged as my mother’s could have survived only with a valve replacement or heart replacement, and that didn’t exist until many years later.

The medical take home message for parents is there were not antibiotics when my mother was a child. If any parent suspects a strep infection in their child or themselves, they now go to a doctor immediately and have a throat culture.  (If someone has a quick strep test and continues with a sore throat and symptoms insist on a throat culture).  My own children had many strep throats and even became strep carriers which made me a nervous wreck while they were growing up. A carrier is someone who is treated for strep three times and still cultures it. They both outgrew it somehow.

My father only lived about 6 weeks after my son, William was born which is another story. But he died knowing he had done everything he could for my mother.

I love my 5 grandchildren and my 8 step grandchildren. Stacy even has 2 great-grand children now. They all call me Oma. The little ones as I call them, Will and Holly’s children are so special to my quality of life on a daily basis.  And I adore all of them. With current times and facetime and videos on phones, I can see them a lot more even though they live in a different city. They are the greatest little kids, but I want to mention that the only girl in the bunch is the daughter of Will and his wife Kara. And somehow I think both my mother and father in heaven have a special twinkle in their eye because I am sure their grand-daughter and great-granddaughter remind them of me.

So here are pictures of four generations of little girls.

To my Mother I must add, On today of all days, Easter Sunday 66 years after you put me down to sleep mother, I still thank you for your sacrifice everyday. And yes, A Mother’s Legacy Shines in the Smiles of Children. Two grand children plus five great-grandchildren, and they all have the most beautiful smiles.