Donald Leroy Wilson January 16, 1927 ~ March 13, 1998
Virginia Laura Davis Wilson June 22, 1928 ~ March 14, 1998
There is so much to tell about this story. So much of it sad toward the end. And when I can make the time, I want to tell it all. I know there are many people out there who’ve had similar experiences with loved ones not getting the care they deserved. But I want to tell the good times as well as the not so good. Life is a mixture of both.
Mom had had a slew of health problems, including diabetes, heart trouble, and cancer, and finally a couple of strokes. For a while, family members tried to care for her at home, with the help of home health aides. However, some of us lived out of state, and I have three young sons who needed my care as well. On most weekends, I took them with me, and went to spell my niece. Sometimes my younger sisters would be able to join me, and we’d share the care that weekend. Should I admit it? My favorite times were the “potty parties” we had. :-}
With the strokes, Mom lost the use of her left side. She needed help for everything, except eating. She could feed herself. Well, maneuvering that wheelchair through rooms never intended for it was a real challenge, and getting her into the bathroom was the biggest one! One person could do it, but it was definitely much easier with two or three!
Well, I know this’ll sound wacky, but while we waited for her, we three hovered near to be sure she didn’t fall off and get hurt, we had a quite a few mother – daughter conversations such as we never had before. While Mom was never open about discussing intimate matters when we were teens, she certainly was after we grew up. We yakked about life, sex and men in general. Her sense of humor–and ours–became more pronounced in that cramped little space, and we cracked jokes and one liners like a sitcom family, Mom even poking fun at herself. It made a difficult situation bearable for all of us.
Braving the rigors of a long trip, those of getting Mom through dinky doorways with that wheelchair, not to mention the nightmare of finding a public restroom wheelchair accessible, we women of the family, and a friend of mine, took Mom to NH in my van to my youngest sister’s house. Ladies Weekend, we called it. And we made plans to continue the tradition each July. We ate out, and visited my nieces and their families, took Mom line dancing, and went SHOPPING!!
Mom got sick the first night, and she had some problems on the way home that made traveling with a disabled person interesting, but all that aside, we had a great time. Which proved that it was possible for her to get out and about if we just worked together at it.
Sadly, though, her condition worsened, and despite all our efforts to keep her home, we finally had to face the reality of choosing a nursing home. I’m not going to go into all the dismal details now, but it went steadily downhill from there . . . After the amputation of her right leg at the knee, I began to see a change in her. Knew it probably wouldn’t be too long. I reminded her of her 50th wedding anniversary coming up in a few months, said we were all looking forward to celebrating with her and Dad at our favorite restaurant–as we had the year before. Her whole attitude seemed to brighten at that, so I like to think it gave her the incentive to fight a little longer.
Only by March, more complications cropped up–things that we feel never had to have happened–so she wasn’t in any condition to celebrate much of anything. On one of our last weekend trips down, I had the gut feeling it’d be the last time I saw her. Until her illnesses, Mom had never looked her age, which was nearly 70. Now she looked much older, and exactly like my grandmother. I cried all the way out to the van, and part of the way back to our home in Upper NYS–where Andy and I, and our three sons, Tristen, then 13, Brett-Nathanael, 11, and Quenton, 9, lived, at the time—three hours away. Okay, it’ wasn’t three days away, but, still, not close enough by to be able to pop in every day.
Just two days later, I got a call from my niece, Virginia. “Gramma’s got three days left. She and Dad are here at our house. Get here soon’s you can.”
Well, you might know, the van had quit running the day before, so I didn’t know quite how I’d get there. As we passed a few options back and forth, Mom demanded the phone from Virginia, and properly motivated me. “Why aren’t you down here?” Of course, I’d only two minutes ago learned I needed to be down there . . . but, anyway . . .
Fortunately, Andy worked second shift and could take care of the boys with help from friends. I hunted up willing friends who brought me halfway to Connecticut, where my youngest niece, Rachel, met us at a Stewart’s Shop, and brought me the rest of the way, And so I got to be there for Mom.
Dad, who used to write his “Sweetheart” tons of love notes when they were teens, always ending them with, “Can’t wait til we’re together! You’re cute, and I love you!” apparently couldn’t handle the thought of living without her for even a moment. Just 30 hours before she breathed her last, Dad died of a heart attack in his sleep. Not a one of us was prepared for this. We were only prepared for Mom’s going, viewing it as a blessing for she’d suffered so much for so long. It’d been decided best to not say anything to Mom about it. What would be the benefit, after all? But in her questioning, almost pleading look, I knew she was very much aware something had gone wrong.
Her beloved Don had always been there for her, every day, for 50 years–especially in these last difficult months . . . and unfailingly at her side these past few days. But his chair was empty in those final hours. I can only guess how much she missed him then.
Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” was going strong at the time of their deaths. Sure, it got played as though it was the only song in the universe. Sure, I saw the movie . . . but I don’t see the Titanic . . . I don’t see Rose or Jack. I see only my mom and my dad, who in spite of their funny quirks, had a strong bond for each other. I can’t hear that song without being reminded of them. I can’t hear it without tears. Without remembering those last few days together. Yet, as long as I hold the memories, and share them with family and friends, they do go on–in my heart and memory . . .
Even now, memories come rushing back at odd moments. . . . . . . to the times Dad helped set the table– spinning the plates in the air, playing around till Mom had a fit. He’d laugh at her. “I won’t drop ’em! I’m good at this!” . . . . . the time he missed the plate . . . .! (:-O
The funny way he’d call Mom Tootsie . . . The weekend nights we got to stay up and we all sat around the TV to watch Rawhide, or Carol Burnett, or Ed Sullivan. Laughing ourselves silly at Dad, laughing himself silly over the crazy antics of Carol, Harvey, and Tim . . . The picnics at our favorite spots–Nystrom’s Pond, People’s Forest, and the hikes on the Mohawk Trail . . . Always wanted to ride our horses on that trail–never had the chance. But he’d taught us to ride, and that’s still with us.
There were his half jesting, half serious claims to Perfection . . . in all things, but especially driving. In that almost impossible to maneuver in driveway, he claimed to be the only one of us to never hit the garage backing out. However, Cyndy insists she made sure she never hit that dilapidated old building. (Really, you could’ve hooked a small dog to it, yelled “Mush!” and that’ve been the end of it . . .!)
One afternoon, after listening to him boast of his superiority, I called a local radio station and dedicated Mack Davis’ song on the subject to him. “Oh, Lord, It’s Hard to be Humble”. When my mirthful voice came over the radio, enumerating all the reasons this song belonged to My Dad, his expression instantly changed to the one that promised “I’m gonna kick your . . . .!” Teeheehee.
Mom’s impish grin mocked him. “Well, it is your anthem! One day, your country’s going to fall!” He didn’t take her prophecy seriously. “HA!” he retorted with arrogance.
Yes, ma’am, sir, he taught us everything he knew about horses. Expected perfection the first day he showed us anything. Sometimes we’d ride bareback, and he’d toss us upon our steed so heartily that we’d fly right over, land with a thud on the hard merciless ground—-no breath in our bodies. “What are you doing down there? Can’t y’even get on this animal?” He’d shake his head, and look bewildered. “Taught y’ everything I know, and you’re still stupid!” . . . the unholy twinkle in his eye . . .
One time, after a drenching rainy period, we tromped out through wet, boot sucking, MUDDY fields to catch the horses we wanted to ride. Just had halters and leads with us. We’d ride ’em bareback to the stable. Some suitable rocks poked up out of the mud so we could hop astride. No problem for little ol’ me to leap upon Mercury, my Welsh gelding, but Prince Henry wasn’t exhibiting princely behavior that day. Finally, Dad gave a mighty bound . . .and overshot Prince Henry’s broad back . . . landing in the deepest yuckiest ooze . . . :-() Prince gazed down at him as if Dad were an absolute idiot–“What are you doing down there?”
AFOMPIWLSH- (READ Almost Fell Off My Pony I Was Laughing So Hard!) 8-D Oh, me, that was worth the three year wait for that piece of perfection!
The way he hated to have his picture taken . . . . . . . . . . .
The way we had meals together, every day, at the table . . . The way Mom would sometimes wake us with a song, pulling the shades up to let the morning sun in . . . The way she took us to the library every week, and let us take all the books the library would allow out. The way she read us to sleep . . . The long walks she took with us in Northfield. Sometimes she’d poke my youngest sister in a stroller, take my brother’s hand and come meet Laurie and me at the school and walk us home. The way she finally was recognizing my writing talent, and becoming my best sounding board and critic . . . . Those blissful days before Andy, the boys—-just tots—-and I moved back to New York that she and I would go shopping and out for lunch. And yakked like best friends . . . Yeah, wasn’t keen on making the move then, I can tell you!
One of our favorite things to do when we were small was hop in the car and go get lost. Mom would pack some PBJ sandwiches, some fruit and Kool-Aid, and off we’d go. Puttering down roads we’d never been down before, see where they came out. Sometimes we’d end up at a friend’s house way over in Otis, Mass. “Hey, how’d we get here? We weren’t really lost, were we? Were we?” Kind of sorry that we hadn’t been, yet relieved to know Dad could find his way out if we had been.
The way my brother said, “Well, now we really are on our own!” as we sorrowfully left the funeral home after making the same arrangements for Dad as we’d made with him for Mom the day before.
Remembering the last hugs and the last smiles . . . and feeling, for that moment, really lost . . . .
We miss you Mom and Dad. We love you. Always . . .