Whenever my siblings and I get together, we usually mention something about our Mom. It’s usually about the food she cooked, or the clothes she washed, and hung outside to dry, no matter what the weather.
And the times she endured having only a pump in the kitchen to bring cold water from a well, into the house. And then having to heat all the water on a stove. Or how she could stretch the food budget to feed all of us, while all our growing was going on.
We all called her mom, and our children called her grandma, but her given name was Carolyn. Rarely did I ever hear anyone call her that.
Too bad, because it’s such a lovely name. She hardly ever left the house because of a severe hearing loss that happened when she was a child.
There is a framed picture of her, with our dad and her seven grown children, on the wall in my dining room. The picture was taken at their 50th wedding anniversary party in 1974.
He was 74 and she was 71 and it was one of the best days in their lives. Almost all their children, grandchildren and other family and friends were there for the party. Our dad had been ill for the previous 8 years and died just five months after that party.
As I look closer at the picture, I wonder what she might have been thinking as it was snapped. Since I see that she was holding daddy’s hand, she may have been hoping he could make it through the day. Reason is that he had had a stroke and lost most of his short term memory, so was living in the past.
He could have been wondering where his children were. We were all there, it’s just that now, we were all grown up. Mom may have been thinking about how fast the last 50 years had flown by.
She may have had a flashback of the times she had to change all our diapers, or sign all our grade cards, or fix all those meals with the food she had canned, or pick out our clothes from the Sears catalogue, hoping they would fit, or when she saw to it that everyone had something to open on all those Christmas mornings.
Mom lived 13 more years after our dad died. Once I remember her saying that she missed him every day. She got along fine until she broke her hip when she was 79 years old. Most times people say that they fell and broke their hip.
However, the doctor told us that it’s really that the hip breaks first, and that causes the person to fall. She was always thin and weighed about 120 pounds. When she could no longer be left alone, she had to be moved to a nursing home. She spent her childhood living in her parents’ big house until she got married. Then our dad moved us around to about 10 different houses.
But she liked that little town where she grew up, so much, that she tried to have a subscription to their weekly newspaper wherever she was living for the rest of her life. She didn’t seem to mind at all that she would be going to a nursing home since she got to go back to the place of her childhood home, which was in Johnstown, Ohio.
It was a cold rainy April day in 1987, when all her children were with her at St. Ann’s hospital on the day she died. We began arriving by 6 a.m. and spent the whole day with her, preparing for the inevitable. She had the same nurse from morning until she died that evening.
One of the things we asked the nurse was how they knew when to call the family in. We were told it’s when the blood pressure drops to a very low level. And then she added that our mother’s had just reached that low level. So we stayed close.
The last thing she did was to try to tell us something, but she spoke in such a whisper that we couldn’t understand. So, she lifted her hand and made a gesture like she was trying to tell us it didn’t matter.
And at that same moment, she was gone. Just as quietly and peacefully as anyone can ever imagine. The nurses asked us to leave for a few minutes while they took out her breathing tube. When we got to go back in to see her, they had a short ceremony. The chaplain said some comforting words and one of the nurses, very quietly, sang a beautiful song. I had not known of that kind of service being done before.
It took all of us to plan her funeral. She was buried next to our dad where the stone was already set. The rain was gone by then and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I remember something I had read once about grief being when something ends before we are ready for it to end.
How true those words are. Every Mother’s Day, for the past 30 years, since she died, I have thought a lot about my mom’s life with our dad and her having seven kids to raise. She was 21 when she married, then went from 41 years of raising her family, right into eight years of taking care of our dad, and then to 13 years of being a widow. I never heard her complain once.
I want to write a couple of thoughts I have been having while proofing this story. First, I want to say again that her given name was Carolyn, and that I had 50 Mother’s Days with her before she died at 83.
Kay E. Conklin is a retired Delaware County recorder who served four terms. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in sociology and anthropology.