Farewell to a Mother and an Aunt

by Susan Ashby

sinesOn the morning of November 19, 1978, Barbara Sines was in the hospital in Southern California. She woke up weeping, and no one, including Barbara herself, knew why. Later she would tell me that she heard her children Ronnie and Nancy crying to her, “Momma, Momma, we didn’t want to do it.”

Then word arrived about what had happened in Jonestown. The event changed the lives of Barbara and her husband Paul forever, destroying the happiness they once had. In the years to come, Barbara often lamented that not only did she lose her children, but she lost the chance of ever having grandchildren.

From the day the news arrived until the day he died in 1997, Paul refused to discuss anything about the kids. He never forgave Ronnie for getting Nancy involved in Peoples Temple. He left all the paperwork to Barbara, and she worked hard for two years to resolve everything surrounding the deaths of her children. As a result of her contact with US Embassy official Richard Dwyer, she was able to recover some of her children’s possessions from Jonestown. He did what he could to help; he also advised her not to visit the place where her children had died.

Paul could retreat into his work but Barbara had to fend for herself, sometimes without much success. She was depressed and stopped doing some of the things she loved, like oil painting and playing the organ.

Paul had to retire due to lung disease, and they moved from California to Las Vegas, where they were pretty much housebound. I visited often, and it was sad to see these talented people in so much misery. Paul had a great deal of anger built up inside, and he took it out verbally on Barbara.

After Paul’s death in 1997, Barbara was able to get out and about. She made new friends and slowly became more alive. She started playing the organ, painting and making jewelry out of silver. Then she started quilting, polymar clay work, bead work and much more. Her greatest love was doll making. She was so very talented and loved learning new things. Still, she didn’t openly talk about the kids.

Barbara had been an early supporter of a Jonestown memorial at Evergreen Cemetery and donated thousands of dollars to the effort. As the years passed, she became very concerned that it didn’t seem to be making any progress, despite assurances to the contrary. She was afraid she would die before the wall was completed. All she wanted was to know Ronnie and Nancy would not be forgotten.

In late 2010, a second independent effort to establish a Jonestown memorial was launched, and six months later – in May 2011 – the memorial was dedicated. Despite her ill health, Barbara was able to attend the dedication service. It brought her closure. She enjoyed meeting Ronnie and Nancy’s friends and their sharing stories. She cried a lot that day. But it was good.

In December 2013, as Barbara was dying, she would be alert and talking for short periods of time. We often talked about Ronnie and Nancy, and she once told me something that Nancy had said to her in a phone call. “Mom, one day I’m going to walk up the driveway with my arms stretched out for you.”

“Ronnie and Nancy are in heaven now with arms stretched out waiting for you!” I replied.

“You think so?” she said.

“Absolutely.”

(Susan Ashby is a regular contributor to this website. Her complete collection of articles may be found here. Barbara Sines’ writings are here.)

Originally posted on October 10th, 2014.

Last modified on October 14th, 2014.
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