My Mom Is My Sunshine

“Your father used to do that,” she says. All through our lives, my mother has been quick to point out whenever she sees my father’s mannerisms appear in my brother or me. I was born two and a half months after my father was killed on the one-hundredth floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11. Yet, despite the tragic way he died, I know that my story isn’t all that different from those of a lot of kids who’ve lost a parent along the way. And the way my mother rose to the challenge of raising two kids on her own isn’t all that different from the ways mothers all over the world rise to the same challenge. Still, It had to be devastating for my mother to wake up on September 12 with a toddler and another child on the way only to realize she would have to raise both of us on her own. But, despite her overwhelming loss, she made it look easy. While, it’s true that I never met my father, my mother made sure I knew him. Every August, both sides of our family and my father’s friends still gather at my grandparents’ house upstate where he used to spend his summers to honor my father’s life with our own holiday we call “Billy Dean Day.” When I was a little kid, I was terrified of the dark and there were so many nights when I would run crying to her room and crawl into her bed. She let me do it for a long time, but then one night, she put her foot down. She walked me back to my bed, sat on the edge of it, and while I sat there crying, softly sang “You Are My Sunshine” until I smiled and drifted off to sleep. “You Are My Sunshine” became a way for her to calm me down from then on. My father was her sunshine and I know she must have been his, too. She was very determined to raise us successfully and had to be very headstrong to do it. But she was still compassionate and willing to ask for help when she needed it. She filled the role of two parents by always being involved and supportive in all aspects of our lives. She has made us honor every commitment we have made and has allowed us to experience new ideas and cultures that have truly opened our eyes and helped us to see from new perspectives. She got us involved with Tuesday’s Children to make sure we met other families who shared the common bond with us of having lost a loved one that day. Those families became close, lifelong friends and we all support each other still today. We have never felt alone. She is very committed to her Catholic faith and taught us to heal through forgiveness. She made sure I learned to come to terms with the terror of my father’s death, with what he must have gone through. But I still always wonder what she must have gone through. She doesn’t talk about that day often. How was she able to process her own grief and raise two kids on her own at the same time? Did someone sing “You Are My Sunshine” to her? What does she go through even now? My brother is in college now, following in my dad’s footsteps. He and my mom talk all the time just like my father who used to call his mom every day. When I go to college I know I’ll do the same. I feel like there’s no way I’ll be able to thank her enough for being the mom she has been and the mom she is today. And my love for her grows more and more each day as she continues to help me develop into the best person I can be. She is my sunshine.

—Claire Dean  High school student residing in Floral Park


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