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Tom West: Moms can be honored with memories

My mother died several years ago of Parkinson's disease. It was a slow, steady progression to the end. She never got the shakes like most people do, but everything else matched up, so the doctors figured it must be Parkinson's.

My mother died several years ago of Parkinson's disease. It was a slow, steady progression to the end. She never got the shakes like most people do, but everything else matched up, so the doctors figured it must be Parkinson's.
She was diagnosed at Mayo a couple of days after my son graduated from high school. My father had driven her from their home in Colorado Springs to Chicago where another grandson also graduated that year, and then they had swung up to Minnesota for our celebration and her diagnosis.
She took the diagnosis hard. She was a smart woman, and she knew she had just been handed a death sentence. When they arrived at our home a few hours later, she didn't want to get out of the car. She wanted my dad only to keep on driving to oblivion.
You could have made it to oblivion and back a couple of times, however, before she died.
After the diagnosis, she did what she always did -- she immersed herself in books. A reference librarian by trade, she read everything she could find about her disease. By the time she was through, she knew as much about the disease as any of the people who were treating her. But nothing helped. Knowing everything about the disease that will kill you does not prevent it from killing you.
Over the next four years, she went from a walker to a wheelchair. Eventually, she could not get out of bed unless my dad pulled her out.
In the same way, her speech slowly departed. First, it became halting, and then she could no longer carry on a conversation. Each time I called, my dad would put the phone up to her ear, and then go into the other room and pick up the second phone. He and I would chat. For a while, she would be able to get out a sentence or two, but eventually that ended. I learned how difficult it is to talk to someone when you fail to get even a wink or a nod or a grunt in response.
Worst of all, she could no longer read her beloved books. All she could do was sit and think, her mind trapped inside her failing body. The last time I visited her, a couple of months before she died, I told her I loved her and gave her a kiss goodbye. All I got in return was a blank stare.
Over those four years, she put my dad through hell. She made him take her on a cruise up the rivers of Belize, even though she was so frail she could not even get off the ship at any of the stops. A year before she died, her oldest granddaughter got married in Chicago, and he practically had to enlist half of United Airlines' employees to get her there.
They lived in a retirement complex with all levels of care from their own apartment down to the nursing home. When her health reached the point where my father almost died from lack of sleep because of having to pull her in and out of bed all night long, my sister-in-law was given the dirty deed of telling her she could come back to the apartment in the daytime, but at night she had to sleep in the nursing home part of the building. My mother carried on something fierce. She knew what that meant.
Six months later, she died in that nursing home bed one day while my dad was at lunch.
Occasionally, I wonder what she thought about while her mind was still whirring but the rest of her was not.
She had been a talented musician as a teen, winning an all-city award in Des Moines, Iowa, for playing the flute.
I remember her teaching me the words to her high school fight song. She went to Des Moines North, and the last line of the song, she claimed, was, "Rah for the pink and green."
She went to college at Iowa State during the Depression, where she met my dad. Then she raised three children.
Her favorite memory of me was when I was in kindergarten. In its infinite wisdom the school district decided I should be in morning kindergarten while my best friend across the street should be in afternoon kindergarten.
My mother remembered forever taking me for walks on those early fall afternoons, me kicking through the fallen leaves in a park while she soaked up the year's last rays of sun. Sadly, I have no memory of those walks.
What I remember is how before baseball cards had checklists, she would write down the name, team and position of each player whose card I had, leaving blanks for those cards I had not yet obtained.
I remember how she loved our beagle named Casey. Casey was never kept on a leash, but when he tried to wander away, she would throw stones at him. She had a rag arm. The entire neighborhood was in more danger than Casey.
Then one day she hit him, he yelped, and she ran over and gathered him in her arms. Another lesson well taught, I chided her.
And I remember coming in for supper, and while we waited for my dad to come home she would play the piano. In my mind, she played as well as Liberace. She tried to get me to play, but I fought it every step of the way, going through three piano teachers in two years. I could never play as well as her.
She earned her master's degree in library science in her early 50s, and then worked in libraries, cataloging books and working the reference desk until she was 70. In retirement, just for fun she cataloged all the books in the library at her retirement complex.
Mother's Day is coming up Sunday, and I am among the third of the population who no longer have their mothers around to call or send flowers. But that's not all bad. It helps us concentrate on the best part, which are the memories.
Tom West is the editor and publisher of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at tom.west@duluth.com .

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