Replacement Child

A family comes to terms with its haunting past.

An Old Friend Brings a New Perspective

Healing words come from surprising sources

I just got a call from Donna’s second grade teacher—my sister’s last teacher before she died when the plane crashed into my family’s home. The teacher, also named Florence like my mom, was only 22 years old when the accident happened. Young and impressionable, she never forgot my sister, who she said was the “sweetest girl.” She remembered my mom too, as "quite a wonderful lady."

After the accident, when my mother was still in the hospital along with my surviving sister Linda, this teacher went to visit. My mother had requested that she come, wanting to know more about what Donna was like in the classroom. I can understand how my mother would have wanted to have just one more parent teacher meeting, hanging on to Donna through her teacher's more objective sense of her. They chatted for while, and then teacher Florence went to visit Linda. She says she will “never forget the smell in that room” of burnt flesh.

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They kept in touch. My mother confided to her that, as she took a walk along the river, she thought about how easy it would be to end her own suffering, but knew that she couldn’t do it because her remaining daughter needed her.

“Not long after, your mother was pregnant with you,” Florence told me. “I went to see you when you came home and brought you a small gift. But, I have to say, reading your book, Replacement Child, I think the title should really be Healing Child, because that’s what you did for your family. Linda would have grown up so alone without you. You were just what they all needed.”

I thanked her, as best I could, through unexpected tears.

 

 

 

 

Judy Mandel is a writer based in Connecticut. She is the author of the memoir Replacement Child.

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