Marcella Simmons wipes a tear from her face as she kneels in front of her daughter's grave at the Mount Caladonia Cemetery in Timpson, Texas. In addition to losing her daughter, Simmons has lost three other children in unrelated tragedies. (Greg Pearson/The Times) By Donecia Pea
There's nothing like the memory of the day a child is born. For women everywhere that day signals the rite of passage into the sacred realm of motherhood. It's a role that's sometimes overlooked or taken for granted, but their presence is visible in every facet of life.
In honor of Mother's Day, The Times looks at motherhood through the eyes of three local women whose lives exemplify the blessings and challenges of a mother's love.
From tragedy comes strength
While a child's birth typically brings joy to the life of a mom, nothing captures the pain of maternity like losing that child.
It's hard to tell through her warm, positive demeanor, but Marcella Simmons of Logansport knows that pain more than most. She's buried four of her children -- three of them within a five-year span.
She still can vividly recount each of their deaths, remembrances flowing as she drove along the winding East Texas country road in her green Kia Spectra. Her two daughters, Brandie Owens, 21, Theresa Owens, 19, and Theresa's 6-month-old son Nicolas Ryan sat quietly in the back seat.
Her words and phrases spilled out faster as each mile brought her closer to her intended destination, as if speaking the memories somehow made the burden a little easier to bear for the moment. Then she paused in silence.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I tried not to do this again," said Simmons as she pulled in front of the graveyard, tears welling in her eyes.
It had been a year since she last visited her children's gravesites. "I've just been trying to move on as best as I can," she said before her voice broke again.
Simmons and her two daughters, with grandchild in tow, solemnly pulled out pink flowers and angel figurines and dutifully placed them among the graves. But as Simmons silently placed the last set of flowers and angels on the last grave, she fell to her knees, overcome with emotion.
"You want to question God, but you can't because you know you're not supposed to. But sometimes you just wonder where it stops or when it stops," she said through her tears. ...
The nightmare began in 1975 when Simmons, a new wife and mom, had just had her first child. She and her then""husband named their baby daughter Marsha. "I still remember how she smelled," Simmons said. Two and a half days after her birth, Marsha's lungs collapsed and she died. Her parents were crushed.
"Being young parents, we weren't ready for death. It wasn't right, it didn't make any sense," she said.
But as the years passed Simmons and her then-husband coped and created a large family, including eight children. "We were happy and loved each other very much. My children are very close to me, even after the nasty divorce in 1991, we still clung to each other and attended church every Sunday and Wednesday night," she said.
But then tragedy struck in July 1999 when her son, David, 19, was struck and killed by a drunken driver while riding his bicycle home one Saturday evening.
Heartbreak came again in 2001 when her oldest son, James, 23, was killed in a logging accident at work. James, who'd been cutting logs since he was 15, was struck by a falling tree and died instantly.
The following year Simmons and her family were dealt with yet another blow when her two daughters, Brandie, then 17, and Melanie, 16, on their way to visit friends, were involved in a tragic car accident that resulted in both of them being airlifted to a hospital in Tyler, Texas. Neither daughter was expected to survive.
Six days later, Melanie died without ever regaining consciousness, while Brandie remained in a coma for 31/2 weeks and had to undergo major surgery, including the reconstruction of her facial bone structure, which was crushed in the accident.
Though it's been three years since Melanie's death, Simmons still bears the scars, just like the rest of her family. But just like a mother does, she's tried to be strong for her remaining five children and lead the path in moving on.
Simmons' faith has pulled her through. "I put it all in God's hands. I can't deal with it, so I pray every night for him to give me the strength to make it through another day," she said.
Writing also has given her an outlet. She recently released "Bittersweet Morsels," a book of poetry published in March by Ritz Publications, and has completed another book of poetry, "Winds of Time," and a fictional romance suspense novel, "Till Death Do Us Part," inspired by her daughters Brandie and Melanie.
The huge loss has brought Simmons' already close-knit family even closer together. "Days when I'm alone and this hurts me so bad, I can't go be with friends or anything. I have to go be with my kids. There's nothing like being with your children," she said.
The family, mainly grandchildren nowadays, still takes a summer vacation together at least once a year. This year, they're traveling to Galveston for Mother's Day weekend, Hot Springs in June and Colorado in July.
Simmons has since married her longtime friend and pastor, the Rev. Jackie Meeks, and has moved out of the home where she and her children lived. However, she still visits and stays overnight sometimes. Theresa still lives at the family home and Melanie's room remains intact. "When you lose someone you love, it's hard dismantling their things. The guilt of it all is hard to bear. ... Melanie's room might seem like a shrine of sorts, but when I am troubled, I can go there and find peace. I have spent several nights in her room since my marriage, not because of my husband, but because I needed to be near my daughter and this is the only place I can find her now that she's dead."