A long day’s journey into night…

When we were growing up, my mom used to recite for us, by memory, the tale of the “Little Small Red Hen” which tells the harrowing story of the hen’s encounter with a villainous wolf, and ends with:

But the Hen lived happily, just as before,
In her dear little house by the wood,
Walking picketty-pecketty,
Working as hard as she could,
"I've had a great many troubles,
I hope they won't happen again.
Anything for a quiet life,"
said the Little Small Red Hen.

My dear little small mom has indeed had a great many troubles, starting with a terrible 1982 car accident that nearly took her life and left her hobbled up. During her recovery she developed a bi-polar disorder, which has caused difficult circumstances in the years since.  My dad died in 2002 and shortly thereafter–living alone–Mom took a terrible head-first tumble down the basement steps in the middle of the night and had another long, hard recovery from that. She remarried in 2007 and had five blissful and loving months with her second husband, Rev. Peoples, but then one morning he had a heart attack and died, leaving her alone again. Her world got smaller, she stopped cooking, her driving worsened, and the four of us worried about her living alone, but she steadfastly refused to leave her dear little house and garden in New Wilmington.  Then in 2017 she became gravely ill and had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. She has never been quite the same since. She moved into a senior-care facility and settled as best she could into a little assisted-living apartment. Sally, Billy, and Chris work so diligently to take care of her from 35 minutes away and Mindy is so sweet and thoughtful with lots of cards and gifts and visits.

Mom’s health and memory have declined precipitously this summer and, by last week, she was back in the hospital. I’ve been sitting here with her for six days now: we listen to Gaither homecoming songs on my laptop (yesterday she sang along with Sandi Patty!) and I try to get her talking to keep her with us.  When I asked her to name her beloved grandchildren, she couldn’t reel in a single name from the fog that has settled over her. I tried to coax her into saying her siblings’ names and she eventually got Kay, and then Bruce. Thankfully she still remembers the names of her four kids, and when the doctor came in yesterday she motioned to me and said: “See that guy over there? He’s mine.” 

Raising Mindy, Sally, Billy, and me was the great joy of her life, and she did it beautifully.  I don’t remember her sitting by my crib; feeding me in my high chair; holding my sippy cup; and trying to make sense out of my gibberish, but I know that she did so lovingly. Now, sixty years later, I find myself doing all of those for her. I can barely get her to eat anything these days.  Yesterday there were sweet potatoes for lunch, which she used to love, and which I’ve always hated. She turned up her nose and wouldn’t take a bite. “You made ME try sweet potatoes, so you darn well are going to taste these!” I declared, and we both laughed and she took a tiny nibble.

She fretted all day about wanting to go home, and finding Aunt Mae (who died decades ago,) and grew increasingly frustrated by her inability to find the words she needs. Now I watch her sleeping peacefully, bathed in the afternoon sun, and I feel as if she is slipping away from us both physically and mentally, but then, she has scared us before and somehow bounced back. There’s no easy way to say goodbye to a parent, I know only that I hope her great many troubles are nearly over. I love you, Mom.

Published by timnichols

First and foremost, I’m a dad. After that, by day I am a professor of Education at Alfred University, by night I'm a dog lover, a cancer survivor, and a daydreamer. Here are some thoughts and lessons learned from my journey…

18 thoughts on “A long day’s journey into night…

  1. Oh Tim I know how difficult it is to see a parent slip away by bits and pieces. Even changes in where they live is difficult for us children. My mom recently relocated to Independent Living from her home by her own choice. We just visited her and it was tough for me even knowing it saved me and my siblings from talking her into it.
    Your sweet little mom is so rich for having you and her other children to love her so well. Her investment in your lives has surely yielded bountiful rewards. I pray your time with her is full of memories that will bring you both comfort and joy.


  2. Tim! That was just beautiful! I’m sorry to hear that mom is slipping away! I have always thought soo much of your mom! She is the true meaning of a Christian Woman!! I can still remember going to Bible School where she was my teacher!! My best to her!! Losing a parent is always hard!! ❤️


  3. My dad just moved in with me, a month ago. He is 89 and limited both physically and mentally. He likes to tell war stories from his days in Korea and stories about when he was young, but he gets lost in my house looking for his bedroom. This is a new challenge for me as well and I have been looking for literature that will help me understand better how to care for him. I appreciate your article, if for no other reason than I am not alone. Thank you for sharing this tender moment with your mom.


  4. What a beautiful tribute. Sorry you are going through a tough time. I can’t think of a more beautiful statement of love and being loved then having children choose to be there even when lucidity is declining. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tim, you have captured a lot of the anguish of actually losing a parent before they die. When the memory loss sets in and your parents become unable to recall where they are, who they are with, or who still lives – when the tables turn and you are the parent to a parent-child – those are the cruelest moments/hours/days/weeks/months. It’s important to hang on to the reality of who your mom was, what she did, words she read or spoke to you, the way she held and touched you, the values she instilled in you. You and your sibs carry her with you in your lives every single day.
    Every day I wear one earring that belonged to my mom. I take the time to beam her into my life for the day. She was mercifully lucid until she died – but she died early. I also wear always a figa from Brazil given by my mother-in-law. She didn’t go quickly or easily or with any clarity – we lost her “selfness” long before we lost her body. But the figa reminds me of the adventurous and brave soul she was before dementia stole her. You already have treasures that will pull you through. They are all the gifts that your mother’s love bequeathed. Love to you. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my…..my dear friend! What beautiful words and comforting thoughts. I sure appreciate your taking the time to read my blog and to reply with such heartfelt thoughts. You are so special to me!


  6. Oh dear Tim, and Mindy,
    Sally and Billy, my heart is with you all. Your post is deeply moving, Tim. My siblings and I recently walked a very similar road with our mom, who passed away last November. Her dementia kicked in after a fall that shattered her elbow about two years ago. You are in my thoughts. Your mom is a beautiful soul who clearly has been very brave and strong. Look what she produced – four beautiful children who know what it means to love deeply and well. God keep her and God keep all of you. ❤️


    1. Oh, dear Betsy, thank you for your kind words and I’m so sorry that your family had to go through this as well. You are right, we have a great heritage. Blessings, my friend.


  7. Thoughts are with your Mom and your family. I worked and shared rides to work with Gail at East Lawrence Elementary School back in the mid to late 70’s. She and Shirley Biddle make a trip to Vermont to visit me when I relocated. She was a great teacher, mother and friend. Prayers to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Denise! I appreciate hearing that so much. Was your maiden name Denise Steve? I was kind of thinking that was who Mom carpooled with to East Lawrence.


    2. Oh wow! I thought that might be you – we were in band together–well, that is to say, I was a nerdy little 9th grade saxophone player when you were a glamorous and hilarious senior and member of the color guard. I’ve never forgotten how funny you were on the band bus trips! Great to hear from you again after all these years, Denise!


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