Living the Sweet Life: 40Years

By Alisa Murray
Nationally recognized
portrait artist and award-
winning columnist.

It’s really amazing how time flies. It seeps away with days passing into months, and months passing into years. Forty years to be exact. Yes, as I look at myself in the mirror each morning and see a fading version of my mother and a transformation of myself, even I have difficulty believing that it could have already been that long. But, indeed it has. For the first 31 years of my life, I have seen what my mother would have looked like each day by merely taking a look in a mirror. Now, at 48, I represent what she might have become.

On March 28th,  1978 at 3:35 pm, a train came barreling into my hometown and without warning or whistles or bars to stop it, that destructive thing killed my mother. I was eight-years-old, and it was a few weeks before Easter. She was buried in her Easter dress wearing her wig. What’s ironic is how much that one second in time has defined my own life, and over the years my identity as a woman, a mother and a wife has been influenced by someone I only knew for eight years and barely have any recollection of at all.

Lona Alisa with mother Lona Ann at her first Easter.

My grandparents grieved in many ways. One way in which they grieved was through talking about her and keeping her memory alive. As I have grown older, I realize that their stories are the only memories I have of her. Luckily her parents saved everything, from her clothes to her report cards, and even a collection of love letters between my mother and my father. I remember finding those letters in her dresser one night while visiting my grandparents from college, where I slept in her room as untouched as if she were to be walking in to sleep there herself! Some things don’t need to change. It was magnificent finding those letters. It gave me power against the abuse of my step monster who barreled into our home months after my  mother was killed and hated me for what I represented – someone she could never ever hope to ever be. Daddy revealed, in those love letters, that there was a deep love between them – as Brian and I have had for thirty years –  a love I could have only begun to understand having lived and loved myself like that. A love that is that deep and never dies.

As I grew, I developed a “look” that mimicked my mother. I am, as they say the “spitting image” of her, and that just really caused unnecessary drama with that wicked woman, too. I remember the comfort I felt once I found my own wig, and how despite any interest I might have had to change, that was and has been always fleeting thought. I am safe there, and safe I shall stay. Some things just don’t need to be changed. My accomplishments mimic my mother’s as well with community service, an excellent work ethic and our awards and honor societies. I find it very interesting how much subconsciously I have in common with someone who I barely knew.

Alisa’s parents, Lona Ann and Dave, with Alisa crouching and Elizabeth in their mother’s arms.

Many people over the years have recalled to me their fond memories of her and how devastated they were to learn of her death. Even now as I walk down the streets of my home town, where I have not lived for almost two decades, perfect strangers still stop me and ask me if I am her daughter. It’s hard not to become defined by that. They say that we should not let trauma define us, but I don’t believe that at all. Everything about that day has most certainly defined me, and I know she is very proud of the mother, daughter and wife that I have become.

And so, it’s Easter again, and this one should mark a milestone. After all, it has been now 40 Easters without her, but strangely, it feels no different. I have reached her age, and passed it, and now I am a reflection of not only who I am but who she might have become. We have switched roles, as it were, in this thing called life. I feel like a warrior – a winner – and not at all alone. The older I get, the more I feel she is right here with me. I wonder if that’s what they meant when they said on that fateful day that someday time would heals all wounds?

Take care of you and Happy Easter!

Have you had a life changing experience that you know you  would not be who you are had it not happened? I’d love to hear about it! Email