The Public and the Personal: An Interlude and a Goodbye

A Young Girl and Her Family, Mobile, Alabama, 1947

I’ve tried over the course of the last two-and-one-half years, as I’ve written this blog, to keep the focus on the city and not myself. I never intended to write a confessional blog, but it’s sometimes tricky: I do include my family because often they are with me. Additionally, I can only write about what I experience and I can’t cut myself out of the picture. Hopefully I’ve struck a pretty good balance most days.

One difficulty in attempting to post so often is that real life happens on a personal level even as I document it on a public level. Sometimes I’m sick, sometimes I travel and sometimes I’m very busy with work or family. At times difficult events in my personal life make writing a public blog a struggle. This has never been more true than the last year.

This story follows the young girl pictured in the photograph above. Born in 1939 to a middle class family in Mobile, Alabama, her grandfather was a carpenter and her father built homes. Her mother never finished school, but educated herself and worked hard her entire life. The girl was the first member of the family to be born in a hospital.

Age Sixteen: The First Photograph she gave her husband-to-be

While in high school, her father moved her and the family “up the country,” back to the farms and woods where he was raised. In 1956, before she finished high school, she met and married a “rough neck” from the oil fields. Fresh from the navy, the groom didn’t seem to his new mother-in-law to hold much promise for her teen-aged daughter. Her daughter became a teen-aged mother in 1958.

In the sixties she had another son and a daughter. The daughter died soon after birth and that loss would haunt her the rest of her life. Her husband worked at the local paper mill and in 1968 he suggested she apply for nursing school as they had begun to accept married women. She became an RN, and after posting perfect grades through the program, she began to teach nursing to others. Later she earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree in counseling at age forty-three while working as a crisis-intervention nurse for Mobile County Public Schools.

Years went by and grandchildren entered the family. She dutifully documented each grandchild in detailed photograph albums they would treasure. She and her husband worked hard in their church, served other people and enjoyed their life. They traveled around the world seeing places and people about whom she could only have imagined as a child growing up in a modest family.

My Mother’s First Book

Upon the death of her mother in 1990, she realized only she knew the stories of that special woman’s life and she began to write. As the stories accumulated, she sought a publisher and 1999 in her first book, Mama’s Homemade Love, became a reality.  In 2001 she published Homemade Hospitality, a book about opening your home to people in need. In 2002, she published Golden Wisdom for Today’s Woman. Now in her early sixties she seemed to have discovered a gift of telling stories and an entirely new career.

But her family noticed strange behaviors. She forgot conversations. She altered family traditions without acknowledgment. When the family gathered she sometimes looked vaguely into the distance. She didn’t follow the flow of the conversations and her quick mind seemed to struggle in an effort to cover a lack of understanding. In early 2007 the doctor confirmed what the family had long suspected: She had early-stage Alzheimer’s.

These last five years I’ve watched my mother disappear one small piece at a time, eventually leaving very little of the woman we loved and admired. Her husband of fifty-six years, my father, suffered tremendously providing her care in the home until this past May when he became unable to continue that care due to his own diagnosis with a brain tumor. Taking my mother to a nursing home against her wishes will remain one of the worst memories of my life.

Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary, 2006

Her decline continued and worsened. Medication never seemed to meet her needs. A different nursing home followed the first. Doctors came and went, plans made were just as quickly abandoned as she entered the final stage of her disease. Yesterday, after a long struggle, she simply stopped breathing, attaining the first peace she’d felt in years. Finally, all the fears, paranoia, delusions and hallucinations ended. Our family feels all the sadness you might expect, but we also feel relief for a tortured soul whom we all loved.

So, today I had to be personal. I’ve blogged during all the trips to Mobile, Alabama while watching her demise. I wrote and published the week I took her to the nursing home and the week I learned of my father’s brain tumor. I’ve blogged when I didn’t feel like blogging because it’s something to which I’m very committed. But, with this final goodbye to my mother must come an interlude to Stuck Inside of Knoxville. My family needs me just now and I don’t really have the heart to write a blog.

I’ll be back soon, so keep checking. I assure you the blog will return to its previous balance and my personal life will not be the central topic. For now, however, the personal must supersede the public, and I need to spend time with my family, care for my father, myself and the people I love.

To learn more about this disease or to make a worthwhile donation, please consider the Alzheimer’s Association.