It is appropriate that I began writing this post on December 30th, and I will complete it on December 31st (or just after). Those two dates mark the lifespan of my Mom.
My Mom was born Billie Sue Newell on December 31st, 1940. She was born in Letcher County, Kentucky, the second born daughter of my grandparents.
My grandparents and my Mom and her older sister Anna Mae lived in Kentucky for a few more years, long enough for one more sister to be added to the Newell clan. According to my mother’s cousin, Bobbie, Anna Mae would have died about two weeks before this aunt was born.
Whether it was the promise of a better life, a chance for a better job, or possibly to get away from the memories, my grandparents left Kentucky and moved to Michigan sometime between the death of Anna Mae (and birth of her sister), to the birth of another sister in the late 40′s. In the early 1950′s, the only boy of the family was born.
My Mom went to school at Northgate Elementary. It was the very same Northgate Elementary that both my brother and I attended as children. I do not have a copy of it (I hope my brother does), but there is a picture of my mother standing on the steps of the school with her classmates. I can remember my mother showing me that picture, and I can recall not really believing it was her at first. The girl in the picture had blonde hair; my mother was a brunette. However, there was no mistaking the features, so I knew it had to be her.
Mom attended Mount Morris High School. She graduated in 1960. A year later, she was married and was starting her own family.
As far as I know, the births of my brother and I went smoothly. The birth of my brother Michael though, was anything but. Michael had problems right from the start. My father told me that he had several procedures done within hours of being born. Meanwhile, my mother was fighting a battle of her own. What complications there were, I do not know, but my mother was able to survive the ordeal. My little brother though, was not strong enough, and he died when he was only a few days old.
My parents did try to have a child again, and I’m told that she had a daughter that was stillborn. I was also told at one point she had a miscarriage. My brother and I never had another sister or brother that we grew up with. We have each other though, and trust me, one brother is enough!
Though Mom had held jobs prior to marriage, once she started having kids, she was a stay-at-home mom. A few years after both of us started school though, a program started in our district that allowed Mom to stay at home and work.
It was called “Cottage Nursery” and it was a cross between in-home daycare and preschool. I remember having two little tables in our dining room where the kids did their activities. I can also remember a few times being home sick and straying out of my bedroom and into the hallway so I could peek into the living room and dining room to see what the little kids were doing.
The Cottage Nursery program only existed for a couple of years, but my mother found that the work was very fulfilling. She started working as a teacher’s aide in the district, and later worked for the Head Start program. By the time she retired, she was teaching a few grandkids of people that she had taught as a teacher’s aide.
Mom might have retired, but she never stopped being active. She took up golf, and was on a few regular leagues. She had a regular Bunco group that she had played with since I was in my teens. She got involved with the Red Hat Society.
Mom had a lot of spirit and perseverance. She started working on an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education when I was in my teens. She had a lot of delays due to many things, including a divorce from my Dad, financial issues, and even a medical issue or two along the way. She made it through though, and they even did a write-up about it in our local paper.
Mom was a fighter. She was a five plus year breast cancer survivor. Some people think that it was the cancer that brought her life to an early close, but it was something much more unexpected.
On Christmas Day, 2008, my mother was having family over for dinner. When my brother and his family came over, Mom had mentioned falling from her step-ladder as she was trying to get something from over the refrigerator. She seemed fine at first, however, after dinner she started complaining of not feeling well. She wound up vomiting, and was having complaints of her head bothering her. They took her to ER, where her condition worsened. She was having more and more difficulty, and becoming less coherent.
The diagnosis was a neural hematoma. While there was no exterior signs of trauma, it was likely that the fall had shaken something loose, and my mother was bleeding in her brain. They wanted to operate…but they couldn’t. You see, my mother was on a blood thinner (Coumadin) for blood clots in her legs, and they could not safely operate until she was weaned off the medicine. By that time, she was in a coma, and the prognosis was not good for recovery. After discussing it with all the family, the decision was made to take Mom off life support.
The last time I talked to my Mom on the phone, it was a few days before Christmas. As usual, we talked of little things. We talked of food we were going to cook, and the family we were going to see. As was usual, we signed off saying “I love you.” At that point, I didn’t know I would return from Christmas with my husband’s family to an urgent message from my brother to call.
I think one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life was to fly from California back to Michigan to say good-bye to my Mom. My brother said he would not take Mom off life support until I had a chance to say my good-byes. I remember going in the room and seeing Mom laying there, hooked up to the machines that were keeping her breathing. My Grandma was there, my Mom’s mom. This woman had already lost her oldest child in the 1940′s, and then in the 90′s she had lost her youngest, her only son, to cancer. She was clinging to the hope that my mother would wake. Each small movement brought such hope to her.
The family left for a short time so I could have some time to myself with Mom, to be able to talk to her. I hoped as I told her I loved her, and whispered to her to let her know I was OK with her leaving this world, that she could hear me, and that she was ready to cross over from this life to the next. When my family returned, I could tell that Grandma knew of their decision. The hope was gone, and she wept, knowing that another of her babies was leaving her for a time.
I try not to dwell on the tragedy surrounding Mom’s death. Instead, I try to focus on the wonderful life my Mom lived, and the legacy she left to us, her family.
One side note: I know my Mom well enough that I think I can say she would have been amused by the fact that the obituary had to put her age at 67 and not 68 because she was a day short of her birthday. Talk about shaving points, Mom….