• author
    • Kelvin Wade

    • May 12, 2013 in Columnists

    Mom is still alive seven years after her death

    It was August 19, 2006 when I met my brothers, Orvis and Tony, for lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Fairfield, California. Our younger brother Scott would be with us from Canada within days. The evening before, Tony had called to tell me that our mother had passed away at the age of 69. She’d been sick and in the hospital, and her death wasn’t unexpected.

    There are few things rougher than having a parent incapacitated in the hospital hovering between life and death. Our ordeal was complicated by the fact that we had to make a decision about whether to remove her feeding tube and let her die or not. It was an agonizing decision because the thought of pulling the tube and waiting for her to slowly starve to death didn’t seem dignified to me. We’d put off the decision for a few days. Her death took the decision out of our hands.

    As we ate, I didn’t want to think of the unconscious woman we’d been visiting in the hospital the past few weeks. I wanted to think of the woman who accompanied me to a parent-teacher conference in the 8th grade. My art teacher claimed that I’d said, “F— you!” to him and he demanded a meeting with my mother before he’d allow me back in the class. My mother attacked him like a mistreated pitbull.

    “My son wouldn’t use language like that! He might’ve said, ‘Forget you’ but he didn’t cuss!” she charged while I sat behind her smugly smiling at Mr. Cote, who was red in the face.

    Years later, as an adult, I confessed to my mom that I had indeed used the profanity but I was so proud she stood up for me that day. She just shook her head and said, “Boy, y’all were some bad kids!”

    My brothers and I reminisced about how our mother never lost an argument. You could be arguing tooth and nail with her and somehow, in mind-blowing fashion, she would suddenly be arguing your point. You’d stammer, “But… but… that’s what I was saying!” and she’d deny she’d changed her position. It was a killer technique.

    She had a nutty sense of humor. Since my birthday came six days after hers, she would often give me the birthday card that I’d given her with “Mom” crossed out and my name scrawled in its place. And since she knew that I would search her room for my birthday gifts in the days before my birthday, she was smart enough to hide my presents in the back of my own bedroom closet. She knew I wasn’t going to go looking in that messy closet. Ingenious.

    My mother was a master of motivation. Household chores left undone? I’d stumble into my bedroom at night, tired, and find sacks of garbage sitting on my bed. If I left my shoes in the living room, I’d often find them on my pillow.

    In most ways, our mother was traditional, making sprawling delicious Sunday dinners, baking cupcakes to take to school for our birthdays or hosting birthday parties at the house.

    And when we wanted to ask for permission to do something we always sought out mom to ask because she was the far more likely “yes” compared to our dad’s inevitable “no.”

    One of the coolest things was spending time playing chess, Scrabble and Spades with my mom as an adult. She’d tell me things that she would’ve never told me when I was a child. I got to see her as a more complete person through the things she shared with me. She confided in me and I’m not even sure if my brothers know some of the things she shared.

    I admired the quietness and strength of her faith. While she was a religious woman, she never felt the need to beat anyone over the head with her Christianity. You could see her spirituality in how selflessly she dealt with people. I couldn’t imagine anyone having something harsh to say about her. In fact, I interviewed a woman for a column a few weeks ago and out of the blue she told me that she’d worked with my mother at NorthBay Hospital, and went on and on about what a nice person she was.

    This isn’t to say the woman was a saint. She was stubborn as could be and she passed that right along to her sons. We’re pretty pigheaded but I’m glad to say that we all have a healthy dollop of our mom’s compassion.

    She was valedictorian of her class at San Augustine Colored Highs School in the deep East Texas town of San Augustine. Perhaps she could’ve gone on to school and chose a different path for her life instead of marrying her navy man boyfriend. Perhaps she had hopes and dreams that moved in a different direction than she chose. But I like to think that her family of five boys was her life’s work. She wanted to raise good, decent men who would make her proud and I hope we’re doing that.

    As my brothers and I ate a lunch of fried rice, egg rolls and kung pao chicken that day after our mother went on to glory, one of the greatest emotions we expressed was relief at our mother’s passing. We were reluctant to acknowledge it, not knowing how each other felt. But it turned out we’d all breathed easier knowing our mother was no longer in distress or pain, that the horror of her final weeks were now just a memory.

    Caring for a disabled parent is extremely difficult. It’s something that I did for years before moving on and my brother Tony assumed that role. It’s thankless. It’s trying. All those fond memories of going to the movies or out to dinner with mom or all the wonderful things she did for me start to fade when your daily routine is dealing with an increasingly dependent, stubborn older person resentful that their independence is slipping from their grasp.

    Now, my brothers and I can remember the good times we had with our mother. And every day in our lives we can see the impact she had on us. I hear her voice in my head and sometimes I’m shocked to hear her words come out of my mouth when dealing with my grandkids. Mom may have left the physical seven years ago but she lives on in her four sons. She lives on in me.

      • Randy graham

      • May 12, 2013 at 9:23 am
      • Reply

      Wonderful article. Thank you for sharing.

    • Beautifully said.

      • Kelvin

      • May 12, 2013 at 2:50 pm
      • Reply

      Thank you. It felt good to do something positive about my mother rather than focus on my brother’s death, which usually dominates my thinking on this day.

      • Maya North

      • May 12, 2013 at 6:05 pm
      • Reply

      She lives in your heart where you can visit her at will. She sounds absolutely wonderful…

      • Kelvin

      • May 12, 2013 at 9:07 pm
      • Reply

      Thank you. She certainly was. I miss being able to pick up the phone and call her. I’d visit her in the nursing home and smuggle her a cheeseburger and we’d talk and talk.

    • What a tribute! I feel as if I just met your mother–clearly she is as alive for me as if she were here right now. As a former teacher, I really loved what she said to you later when you fessed up about cursing the art teacher. I can also see you smiling smugly behind her righteous defense! Thanks for sharing her with us.

      • Kelvin

      • July 4, 2013 at 3:17 pm
      • Reply

      Thank you. I had the same teacher in 10th grade and we got along very well. perhaps he didnt recall my smug performance in jr. high. 🙂 My mother was a standup person and I hope some of that rubbed off on me. She tried her best. I’m glad you enjoyed the column.

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