The Dead Mothers Club

by Sarah Coglianese
Originally Published: 

UPDATE: Scary Mommy contributor Sarah Coglianese, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012, passed away recently. You can find details about donations in her memory at

I was in the grocery store last week when the latest issue of The Atlantic caught my eye. The cover promised a story called “Why are all the Cartoon Mothers Dead?” This is something I’ve often wondered about, but the article wasn’t quite what I was expecting — the thesis being that the reason moms die in movies is so that dads can step up and play the role of both parents, showing that moms aren’t really necessary anyway.

The author made an interesting case, but it was in the comments section where I found something that rang more true to me. Moms die in movies, people were saying, because that’s the best catalyst for a good story. There’s no adventure, no real danger, when your mom is around to protect you. So that’s why moms, and sometimes both parents, have to be disposed of first. I don’t know why more of them couldn’t just go on vacation (Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead) or stay normal sized while their children turn into Cheerios (Honey I Shrunk the Kids.) I’m just glad I was able to work in some of the movies from my own formative years here.

I maintain a mostly optimistic mind frame, and I definitely don’t spend a lot of time thinking about death. You just can’t. No one knows what’s going to happen or when, so it’s quite literally a waste of time. Still, it does feel like in children’s movies and stories, death is everywhere. And, of course, early parental demise is a plot device that interests me more than ever these days, as I occasionally consider what it will be like for my daughter to grow up without a mom, and wonder when exactly this might happen to her.

Because, odds are, she will be a part of what is apparently known as The Dead Mothers Club. The phrase was coined by Rosie O’Donnell, who was 10 when her mom died, and only those who lose their mothers before age 20 are allowed to gain entrance (or so I’ve read.) This actually has the effect of making me feel a little better about our situation. Scarlett will not be alone in this experience. There’s a whole club! They have a documentary that was released on HBO earlier this year. She’ll find people to bond with over their shared misfortune, just the way we all do. Just the way I have, through my relationships with the other faces of ALS I’ve met on this very bizarre journey.

I’m sorry if this sounds harsh or morbid to anyone. I’ve had a lot of time now to think about life and death and to decide without question that I want to enjoy the time I have left rather than dwelling on the negative. When I do get upset, it’s almost always about how all of this will affect my daughter. So believe me when I say this is not me trying to have a pity party. It’s really just me looking to Disney, Pixar and the other storytellers, hoping for something promising in the place where a kid faces adversity and rises from it, stronger than she would have been otherwise.

I know my daughter is not a cartoon fish or a cartoon deer or a cartoon mermaid…the list goes on. Real kids shouldn’t lose their moms. Or their dads. But if they must, why can’t they all have incredible adventures, gain independence, realize their vast potential, and be sublimely happy in the end?

I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Related post: What I Know About Heaven And Hell

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