Lost Memories of Mama



Never Forgotten

My mother would have celebrated her 91st birthday on Saturday, October 17th.  Sadly, she celebrated her last birthday on October 17, 1967.  Two months later, following a lengthy illness, she passed away at the young age of forty-four.  Even though its been almost forty-eight years since her death, my mourning continues.

Onetha Burks

Lost Memories

In 1967, I walked away from my mother’s burial site and never returned.   The years passed, memories faded and I forgot the:

  • exact date of her death,
  • church where her funeral was held, and
  • cemetery where she was buried.

My memories of these things were deeply buried and forgotten.  Approximately thirty years after my mother’s death, one returned when I attended my maternal aunt’s funeral.  Sitting next to my husband, I remarked, “This is my first time in the new church.”  He reminded me that my mother’s funeral had been held there.

Searching for Lost Memories

On Monday, October 19, I began the search to recapture the lost memories of Mama’s death.

First, I went to the county’s online genealogy records where you can get access to records, by last name, of people who died in the county more than twenty years ago.  While I couldn’t find mama’s name, my father’s death was listed as June 30, 1978.  In the next week or so, I plan to followup with the county and found out why her name is not showing up in their genealogy records.

Having hit a brick wall, I telephoned the church and told my story to the woman who answered the phone:

“My mama died in 1967 and I was so traumatized by her death that I blocked everything from my memory.  I am now looking for closure and trying to find out the date of her death and where she was buried.”

She said the church didn’t start keeping records until the 1970s.  However, this kind woman gave me the name of three cemeteries that likely would have handled a burial from the church during the 1960s.

I telephoned the first cemetery and repeated my story to the woman who answered the phone.  She listened and, in an understanding and caring voice, said, “give me a few minutes to check.”  Within five minutes she came back on the line saying:

“Your mother was buried on December 23, 1967.  She is buried in Section K, Lot #4 and Grave #10.

When I asked if a headstone was on the grave, she didn’t know.  But, offered to have a groundskeeper check and said she would get back to me before the end of the day.

Late afternoon, she called and reported that there was no headstone.  I asked if she could recommend where one could be purchased.  She said, “right here at the cemetery and I can email you the information.”

The Search is Over

To honor and remember my mother, in death, I plan to:

  • get a copy of my her death certificate;
  • make sure her name is properly listed on the county’s death records;
  • buy a headstone and have it placed on her grave by year’s end;
  • visit her grave in July 2016 when I am in the Chicago area;
  • order flowers for mama’s grave on her birthday, Mother’s Day and Christmas.
  • send letters, expressing gratitude and thankfulness, to the two women who were so understanding and helpful in this search.

For the remaining days of my life, I choose to share memories of mama, through my voice and written words, so that my children, grandchildren and future generations know from “whence they came.” (James Baldwin)

I lost memories of my mama’s death, but I cherished and retained the memories of our life together.


13 thoughts on “Lost Memories of Mama

  1. I’m sorry to hear of the sad loss of your Mama. It is deeply touching that you are now restoring her memory to yourself . Your pilgrimage to set her records straight and place a headstone at her grave sounds like it is healing for you. From her picture I can see that she was a beautiful woman.<3


  2. I like what you are doingn It’s so loving of you. To be doing this after so many years is really nice. Everyone would love a daughter or son who does this. Your mother was so beautiful.You took after her.


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  4. My maternal grandmother, Eva Sowden died aged 36. She died from heart failure, which was brought on by a childhood illness and made worse by having given birth to four children. My mother was 10. Although my mother knew that her mother had died in Spring, shortly after her birthday, she had no idea of either date, but remembered buying her mother a scarf for her birthday and after her mother’s death she found the unopened present by her mother’s bedside. Several years of careful research led my sister and I up many blind alleys as we separated truth from misinformation. It turned out that my grandmother Eva, had been born on the 18 February 1906, Bradford and died on the 3 March 1941 in the hospital. Her birth certificate revealed that she had been born to a single mother, Emma Sowden, who when, Eva was 6 years old married William Charles Bindley. Eva’s sister, Doris was also born to a single mother, father unknown. Yet, Granddad Bill, as my mother knew him, brought the girls up has his own and my mother knew nothing about any of it and when told was saddened by the information. However on one summer’s day my mother, father and I walked the cemetery until we came to space where Eva, her husband, Alfred Tennant-Riley, their daughter, Margaret Rose (aged 2), Alfred’s father Alfred Tennant were laid to rest, there was no headstone, but cemetery records confirmed the names of all the people who were buried there. The grave was owned by Sarah Riley, the mother of Alfred Tennant-Riley and Alfred Tennant who were never married in this life because Alfred was already married to a Martha Elizabeth Speight.
    Once the truth is known about our ancestors everything becomes clear. I know now I am lucky to still have my mother, who recently turned 85 and is doing alright.
    I wish you well on your journey to find your family.


  5. This is so sweet the pain regardless. I love the way you have chosen to honor her and the two ladies. I love the memories you have to hold onto and the new ones you will create from the past and your mum was really beautiful. Of course, I should have known she would be, you are too!


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