I am sure she was my defender more often than she cared to be. I provided her with a good amount of trouble to guide me through. She was my biggest fan, and sometimes pretty close to my only fan. She modeled for me what it meant to be a wife and mother.
My wife and I decided to spend Christmas day with her. It was on a Sunday. I needed to be back to work on Monday, and she lives a little over two hours away. I kind of wanted to wait and see her another time, but Donya was having none of it. She insisted we go. She also insisted that she would make another Christmas dinner in addition to the one she had made for Christmas eve, which was spent with our kids, grandkids, and her parents. Mom had been in a nursing home for a couple of years, and in the past six months or so, she had not been out of her room much. Her health was deteriorating, she was in constant pain, and her mobility was nil. I was not looking forward to seeing her like this.
A recent trip I made along with my brother went surprisingly well. She was awake and conversant much of the time but would nod off mid-conversation. Multiple strokes made it hard to understand her when she spoke but she understood us fine, and it was fun to make her laugh. Don could always make Mom laugh and sometimes I could, too. Making Mom laugh was always a joy. Her laughter was a contagion in the best way.
I feared Mom would not be so well on Christmas, but I hoped she would. As it turned out, my fears were warranted. She acknowledged our presence a few times and tried to engage in conversation with us. She had moments of lucidity. For the most part, however, she slept. She could not help it. The meds insisted that she sleep.
She acknowledged the wonderful meal Donya had made. We enjoyed the food with my sisters and their bunch but Mom just didn’t really eat anymore. She said she would eat “in a minute or two.” She never did. I did make her laugh once or twice, and that was food for my soul.
Our conversation on the drive back home that evening was somber. We both recognized that Mom was not likely to rebound, to return to herself. We remembered together what it was like when she finally settled in at the nursing home. Mom was not an attention-seeker. She was a rock. She was a leader for the weak, the lost, and the downcast. She was the champion of the underdog. She possessed great faith and empathy. Consequently, a group of residents gathered around her to soak up some of that spirit and lean on her strength. She organized games of 42, a Texas domino game, which meant she had to teach a few of them how to play. If I brought her a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day or some of Donya’s brownies on her birthday, she shared them with her friends. I personally witnessed her comfort a distraught woman, as if she were the woman’s mother, despite them being peers. I saw her get a pouting man over his distress and engaged in a game with his friends.
If I couldn’t have my Mom back the way she was all those years I leaned on her and ran to her for comfort, guidance, and encouragement, I at least wanted that Mom back, the one I called the President of Greenhill Villas.
But she wasn’t coming back. She had begun a journey that would take her to the banks of the River Jordan and then across.
Last Saturday, January 14, I was scheduled to go to Las Vegas for a convention, one of the biggest annual conventions for our industry, one that was important to the adjuster school over which I preside. My sleep was interrupted early Saturday morning by a phone call from my sister D’Anna (and I have not slept much since, to be honest). She said hospice had called. Mom took a turn for the worse and if we wanted to see her, we would want to get there as soon as possible. I scuttled my business trip plans and packed my bags. By mid-morning, we were at Greenhill Villas, and I was by her side, kissing her forehead, stroking her face, and telling her how much I loved her and what a great Mom she was.
At 5:20 PM, she died.
I am glad I sucked it up and went to Mt. Pleasant, Texas on Christmas day. It may not have been the best day I ever spent with my Mom but it was the last one.
My advice is this: if you have the urge to call your mother, call her. If you have the opportunity to go see her, go. Make time for your mom, your dad, your spouse, your kids, the people you love, who love you… Express that love, share that moment, enjoy that laughter. Make memories that even a thief named death cannot steal.
My name is Gene Strother, and this is Wednesday Noon.
NOTE: Here is the obituary for Mom. It lists the time and place of her memorial service. If you want to come and celebrate her life with us, we will be honored to have you there.