My mother's courage

Friday, May 8, 2015

I was born in September 1969, a little more than three months before my mother's 15th birthday. She wasn't married, was dirt-poor and from my understanding had little to no support from her own father.

When I think about that now, it's difficult to imagine what it must have been like. I obviously have no recollection of any of it, but I can guess that it must have been beyond frightening. She was little more than a baby herself.

My mom liked to say later that she wasn't raised; she was yanked up. And it must be true. Her own mother died before she was 9, and I suppose the kindest thing I can say about my grandfather is that he had a lot of responsibilities and it must have been tough for him, too. My mom and her sisters were essentially left to fend for themselves much of the time.

I don't know a great deal about the circumstances, but it has been hinted that my mom's father wanted her to have an abortion and she refused.

My earliest memories of my mother are from the time when I was around 3. Every morning, she and I would walk to a small store where she would buy Reese's peanut butter cups and a Coke. I don't know how it started or when it ended, but anytime I see a Reese's today, I always think of Mom.

Later, I remember Mom walking me to kindergarten each morning and walking me home each afternoon. Because of my September birthday, I started school just before I turned 5, which means Mom was 19.

My mother was as smart as anyone I've ever known. Given the right circumstances, I believe she could have been anything: a lawyer, a professor, a novelist. But what she wanted to be more than anything, and the role she chose to define herself, was a mother to my brothers and me. Her life revolved around us, in a way that was impossible for us to comprehend at the time.

As I grew up, I always felt very connected to Mom. No matter what happened, what mistake I made, I knew that Mom would be there for me. That never changed. Even in the year before her death, when she was on dialysis and mostly homebound, she was always the person I could tell my troubles to.

Mom had kidney disease and, we learned a few hours before she died, her liver was virtually destroyed by cancer. The surgeon said he couldn't determine whether the cancer had started in her liver or spread there from another part of her body. Mom had been a heavy smoker since her teens and also suffered from chronic breathing problems, so I believe that perhaps she had lung cancer.

Mom did her dialysis at home, and had been having some problems with it, so she went to her doctor. He put her in the hospital, I thought to monitor her dialysis and perhaps make some adjustments that would get her back on course. But her blood pressure started to drop, and she was moved to intensive care.

I wasn't at the hospital then; my parents were raising two of my brother's children and Mom had asked me to take care of them while she was away. When Dad called and said I needed to come to the hospital, I knew things were not going well. He said Mom was scheduled for surgery the next morning. I waited just long enough for my former sister-in-law to pick up my niece and nephew, then left for the hospital.

By the time I arrived. the doctors had decided to take Mom into surgery immediately. I got to the hospital just in time to see her wheeled out on a stretcher. Mom knew how much it hurt me to see her sick and in pain, and she said she was sorry.

I remember fighting back tears, saying. "It's all right, Momma."

Then she told me to take care of my own sons until she got home, and I told her I would. Then, for the last time, I said "I love you." She said that she loved me, too, and the orderlies told her it was time to go to surgery. I remember her joking with them about accidentally flashing them as they wheeled her away.

Mom died the next afternoon, less than three weeks after her 50th birthday. She left a hole that can never be filled, but she also left us with countless precious memories. As long as we have those, she will never be truly gone.

I made the comment once on my Facebook page that I exist, and my sons exist, and their children will exist because of my mother's courage. I'm sure no one who read that really understood exactly what I meant.

Fourteen years old, unmarried, pregnant and dirt-poor.

I exist, and my sons exist, and their children will exist because of my mother's courage.

* * *

Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com.