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FAIRFAX DISTRICT : Wall of Memories Honors Mother

July 14, 1994|CAROL CHASTANG

For many people, paying homage to a deceased parent means a trip to the cemetery to lay flowers at the grave or to gaze at the headstone.

Heidi Rosenau visits a mural on an alley wall outside the elementary school she attended 20 years ago.

"My mother is buried in Westwood, but I come here," said Rosenau of the mural next to Play Mountain Place, an alternative-style private school.

"This (mural) is more alive, and it reminds me of my mother," she said. "It's a great way to honor someone."

Rosenau, 27, who lives in Boston, was in town last weekend to help repaint the mural, which was done originally 20 years ago to honor her mother, Norah, an active volunteer at the school.

Norah Rosenau was killed in a traffic accident on Pacific Coast Highway on July 4, 1974. When she died, teachers decided to support the grieving family by having the children paint a mural in her honor.

After the original began to fade, a new generation of children painted a mural of their own in 1987. As the 20th anniversary of her mother's death approached, Rosenau called the school to ask if the wall could be painted yet again. The school welcomed her idea, and Rosenau flew to Los Angeles to oversee the project, which faces an alley near the intersection of Venice and La Cienega boulevards.

She told her story to the children at Play Mountain Place, saying that she was on her way back from a horseback riding expedition with her best friends when another car slammed into theirs as her mother was making a U-turn.

Rosenau received a cut on the right side of her head that required 60 stitches. The other children sustained minor injuries. Even though she was 7 years old, she said, she knew her mother would not survive. Norah Rosenau died a few hours later.

The trauma of the accident and the loss of her mother left her in shock, Heidi Rosenau said.

"I didn't even cry at the funeral. It took three years before I cried about it," she said.

Children have a different concept of death than adults do, said Gaile Price, director of Play Mountain Place, which was founded in 1949 and serves children from preschool through sixth grade.

"At ages 7 to 9, children feel a sense of loss, and understand that death is permanent," she said. "But their grief is different from adult grief. Adults have more information and can project into the future. Kids just know that something terrible has happened."

Standing in the alley watching the children paint, Rosenau pointed to the quilt-like work in progress on the plywood wall.

One child drew a tow truck pulling a badly dented car. A former teacher painted a frame with the yellow and blue footprints of her 6-month-old child.

Graduates of the school and grandchildren of retired teachers joined Rosenau's father to help paint the mural, which will also include the names of other deceased mothers from the school.

At Play Mountain Place, Price said, the death of a child's family member is shared by the school community because the child's unhappiness affects all the children.

"The school is based on humanism, and we try to address children's feeling issues as well as their intellectual issues in life," Price said. "We feel this is part of our job."

Although other walls nearby have been vandalized by taggers, the mural has not been touched by graffiti, Price said.

Rosenau works as an education consultant. She credits her experience at Play Mountain Place for pulling her through a tragic experience at an early age.

"I was lucky to have an education that supported me," she said.

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