She would have been 85 today!

Uncle Dave kneeling at the grave of his sister during a trip to Washington, D.C. with his wife, Aunt Jeanne

The tragedy of losing your mother can never be explained. The hurt and loss at a young age of a child can remain for years. And understanding why it happened is still another alien emotion that any youngster can suffer.

Such a tragedy happened in December 1963 to an Army husband and four young children when their mother passed from this world.

After returning to the United States from Asmara in October 1962, our family settled in to live on North Deering Street in Alexandria, Virginia. As a first grader, I attended the Minnie Howard Elementary School located up the street.

Our house in 1963 did not have as much tree cover, as I remember it. And it was renumbered to 4911 while we lived there.

Early in 1963 my parents bought a house at 3726 Poplar Drive and we moved into a three bedroom tri-level house. This house provide the necessary comfort that we needed. Because I was attending second grade at Bush Hill Elementary School, I did not know about the accident my mother experienced. Our house had cabinets above the kitchen counters that limited how my mother could put the dishes away without standing on the counters. It sounds sort-of funny right now because everyone can imagine what happened next, but it was not funny at the time. My mother closed the door to bend down to get a stack of dishes. But instead of making sure it was securely closed, she just pushed it to close the door. As she bent down, the door swung open and the corner of the door impacted the side of her head as she stood up.

Wedding picture of John D and Joanne Clark Hannigan from 1955

I have been told she was attended to by the doctors of various hospitals and no one could explain the headaches and dizziness she was experiencing. Throughout the remainder of the year her condition continued to get worse and by December, she was sliding downhill very fast.

I remember staying home from school one day to take care of my sisters and brother and my mother was upstairs. My dad was at work and about mid-morning he called to check in. He was unaware I was not at school until I answered the phone. I think this was about December 6th when I found her unconscious on my sister’s bed and she was taken to the hospital at Fort Belvoir. The doctors attended to her and her condition was not improving. A week later she passed away and my dad had to explain to his four children their mother had died.

What was a child to do when getting such news, but cry. And cry I did. Many family members arrived for a funeral that was conducted on a cold, blustery morning at the Old Post Chapel on Fort Myer  and my mother was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in the section across from the Memorial Amphitheater.

The picture at the top was taken while my uncle and aunt were on a bus tour of Washington, D.C. I felt it was a terrific picture to honor the birth of my mother. Several family members have stopped by the grave site over the years, including my children and grandchildren. But with every trip that I make to return to the location of her grave, it is still an emotional experience.

However, on this day in 1935, my mother was born on a farm near rural Brashear, Missouri.

John and his children looking for my mother’s grave site at Arlington National Cemetery