The Shine Journal - The Light Left Behind

Journeys Through Grief and Beyond


Mom has traveled to another place and taken all her secrets with her


The Lies We Tell Ourselves


Jane Hertenstein



Lately we’ve been watching past seasons of Mad Men on DVD, so I’m still in the 1960s: the avocado-green wall phone and that plaid jumper Sally wore. I think I wasBobby’s age, about five or six, when the President was assassinated. Don and Betty Draper would be in their late 80s today.

As I was cleaning out my parent’s house last month I made all kinds of discoveries. Like most kids (I’m referring to myself here) I never once thought of my parents as people. They were Mom and Dad. What they did before me really never entered my mind. Their life consisted of station wagons, split two-level houses in subdivisions named Spanish Trace, North Village, or Highmill Estates. They were first of all parents, then perhaps golfers or members of the country club, or the ad men on Madison Ave.

The notion that they had sex, addictions or a secret past was the stuff of TV dramas, and not particularly anything to do with our family.

Yet in packing and unpacking the house after Dad died we discovered Mom had changed her name. I came across her birth certificate. What’s this? I asked. Was your real name Lorraine? Mom told us that in her early 20s she decided to change her name to Rita. Even later after that she preferred to go by her middle name Ann.

I imagined Bobby and Sally middle aged and post-menopausal packing up their dad’s belongings and coming across his box of secrets, finally realizing their dad was Dick Whitman and not Don Draper.

Also in Mom’s stuff, in a photo album, were some pics of Mom with another man, a man who shared her last name. I turned the photo over and on the back was written: Joe, my half brother.

By now Mom had downward spiraled into dementia. It didn’t take long after Dad died. It was just like she, let, go. But before Mom completely went away I was able to ask her about Joe and she confirmed that, yes, her father had been previously married and had one son from that relationship. Of course as I held that photo of Mom and Joe I realized none of it mattered. Most likely Joe was dead. My grandfather and grandmother are long gone. And, now, my mother was disappearing.

Lorraine, Rita, Ann has traveled to another place and taken all her secrets with her. I’ll never know the full extent of who she was.

All I can do is imagine. Watch shows like Mad Men where the characters are alive, undead, dancing, and drinking, and lying, unable to face themselves, hoping to some day forget who they are.

Mom is already there.




Jane Hertenstein’s current obsession is flash. She is the author of over 30 published stories, a combination of fiction, creative non-fiction, and blurred genre both micro and macro. In addition she has published a YA novel, Beyond Paradise and a non-fiction project, Orphan Girl: The Memoir of a Chicago Bag Lady, which garnered national reviews. Jane is the recipient of a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Hunger Mountain, Rosebud, Word Riot, Flashquake, Fiction Fix, Frostwriting, Tonopah Review, and several themed anthologies.





Contact Editor: Pamela Tyree Griffin

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