Barbara Donsky was three-years-old when she thought her mother just disappeared. No one had told her she had actually died.
She was left confused as a child, with only one memory of asking her mother to go to the park one afternoon. Her mom, Veronica, couldn’t get out of bed, and that’s the last time she saw her.
“I’m three years old, living in the Bronx, and my father and the family make a decision to not tell me my mother has died,” Barbara explains to Personal Space. “All I know is that she’s not there. I tend to think she’s missing or lost. That’s all I can understand.”
When the family moves into her maternal grandmother’s house a few miles away, the secret still isn’t revealed. Barbara, in her 70’s now, became a big sister to her baby brother Eddie, who was born weighing just three pounds.
“It was the 1940’s, very rare he’d survive,” she says. “Eddie was in the hospital for months, and my grandmother brings him home and is taking care of him. All this time my mom hasn’t turned up. I worry she wouldn’t know where to look for us.”
Barbara says her father tries to erase all memories of her mom, never ever mentioning her name and taking all the photographs of her down. When she turns eight, her father remarries, to a woman Barbara and Eddie call Miss Marge.
“We move to Yonkers, and my dad says I have to call her mom,” Barbara, who wrote a memoir on her story called Veronica’s Grave, says. “I was conflicted, thinking what if my real mother heard me saying that? I felt it was up to me to remember her.”
She begins calling Marge “mom,” then one day her many cousins come to visit the new house.
“I still remember jumping rope in front of the garage, and I happened to fall and skinned my knee. I said ‘I’m going to tell mom,’” she says. “My older cousin said ‘stop saying that, your mom is dead.’ She said my aunt had told her. In that moment, I knew it was the truth. You take it all in and bury it.”
After that day, Barbara says she felt no anger and instead was terribly hurt and “shattered.” When she asked her father, she discovered her mother had died during childbirth with Eddie.
“I don’t know that I could have been angry he’s my only parent,” she says. “I think he was doing it then to protect us as a family.”
Her father also told her to never mention it to Eddie, and no one ever told him until he was 19.
“When you look back at it, for him it worked very well. He was a happy go lucky kid and he’s still happy go lucky,” Barbara says. “Maybe he wouldn’t have been able to handle it, and he was spared that.”
Their father died years ago when he was 69 years old, and never ever mentioned Veronica’s name after confirming she had died.
“You wonder why,” she says.
She reveals in the book the adventure she goes on to remember her mother. Veronica’s Grave began during a writing class five years ago, and was released on May 9.
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