A few years ago, my mom recognized that she was losing her ability to care for herself and she voluntarily (sort of) moved to an assisted living facility which she chose. My brother and I supported and even encouraged her decision. Sadly, as we knew it would, assisted living eventually turned into memory care and ultimately ended in a nursing home, where she passed away in 2020 at the age of 85.
Was Mom a victim of COVID? Yes and no. She contracted the virus, but she was asymptomatic and she recovered quickly. But for the last seven months of her life, she was unable to touch or hug anyone, only seeing family and friends through virtual visits, socially-distanced outdoor visits, window visits, or visits where she sat on one side of a plexiglass screen and her visitor sat on the other. Prison visitation comes to mind.
I could blame the political pandemic for shortening Mom’s life, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. The real villain here is mental illness. Mom’s problem wasn’t Alzheimer’s, but rather an unnamed form of dementia that was marked by panic attacks, fearfulness, short-term memory loss, and an inability to remember or believe how much she was loved. In short, the last couple of years of Mom’s life were miserable–for her, and for those who loved and cared for her.
There were many, many days during that time where I honestly did not like my mother. I would have to remind myself that Mom was somewhere inside of the tearful, bitter, and even angry woman that looked like her. That first Mother’s Day without her was tough to celebrate because, frankly, I was still mad–at Mom, for putting us through the insanity of the last couple of years (yes, I know how selfish that sounds), and at God for allowing dementia to take away, not just my mom, but also my dad in 2007.
And now, Mother’s Day rolls around again. But this time it’s different. I’m more able to look past the sad times, and I remember Mom for the good stuff (in no particular order):
- Mom was the eldest of seven children. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother was hospitalized for what used to be called a nervous breakdown. I’m pretty sure that seven children and an alcoholic husband contributed to her breakdown. Mom, along with neighboring grandparents and aunts and uncles, helped raise the youngest boys.
- She was the first in her family to earn a college degree.
- Mom was a faithful and loving wife to my dad for nearly 50 years. They were a team, and my brother and I never doubted that we were loved.
- She loved her daughter-in-law and her sons-in-law–at times, even more than her own son and daughter!
- At age 50, she earned her certification as a Registered Nurse, and she went to work at a state-run mental health hospital, working solely with non-ambulatory, mentally retarded adults. Yes, I realize that the word “retarded” is now frowned upon, but that’s what they were called back then. Get over it.
- She spoiled her grandchildren rotten. Mom broke her first bone while she was roller-skating with her granddaughter. She taught her grandsons how to use the bed as a trampoline.
- She made us laugh. A few years ago around Halloween, she deliberately purchased the ugliest pumpkin she could find (because she felt sorry for it), displaying it at the entrance to her condo building. When a self-righteous do-gooder put the pumpkin in the trash, Mom rescued it and put it right back at the entrance, along with a sign that said, “How would you feel if someone threw you in a dumpster because you’re ugly?”
- When my dad was in a nursing home, Mom visited almost every day and fed him lunch.
- In the late ’80’s, when I took a group of six students–all girls–to Mexico, Mom went as a chaperone. She out-walked, out-paced, and out-climbed all of us in the Mayan jungle.
- When she was 80, she went on a church mission trip to Red Bird Mission in Kentucky, taking her great-grandson with her. She out-hiked the other members of the team.
- Mom attended church every Sunday until her health issues made it impossible. If it looked like the sermon was running long, Mom would hold up her hand, wave at the preacher, and point to her watch.
- Mom (and Dad) paid for piano lessons for their granddaughters. In the spring of 2021, Mom’s church held a dedication service for the piano that had been donated to the church in honor of both her and Dad. Their granddaughter rocked the congregation with a piano solo–“I’ll Fly Away.”
- Mom was an avid reader–trips to the library were a regular occurrence as long as she was able to drive. After she passed away, when I went to the nursing home to collect her belongings, there was only one book in her suitcase–The Holy Bible.
I miss you, Mom–Happy Mother’s Day, and thank you.
“Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” Proverbs 31:31
“Her children rise up and call her blessed….” Proverbs 31:28
the author and her mother, c. 1961
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