Afraid of the unknown, my mother slipped into twilight

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Editor’s Note: This is the last column by author Stephen March

My mother worked 56 years in the newspaper business before she retired. Her life then took a series of sad turns.

Although she had dreamed of writing and painting in her retirement, even before she retired, her memory and mental clarity had already begun to fail. Her hands trembled and she had trouble finding words.

My mother always loved libraries, but a fall in a public library added to her misfortune. Her high heels caught in a rug and her head struck the floor. After that fall, she began having much difficulty remembering things, finding the right words to communicate her thoughts.

I was living on the Outer Banks at the time, and she would sometimes call me at night, to express her pain and confusion. “I feel like I’m losing my mind,” she said once. “I feel like my life is over.”

I tried my best to console her, but my words didn’t seem to help.

My brother, who lived in the same city she did, would check on her during the day, and he eventually found caretakers to stay with her. But my mother accused her caretakers of “stealing” from her, and she would send them away.

After my mother was discovered wandering the streets in her nightgown, my brother found an assisted living place for her to stay. However, my mother’s mental state was so troubled and her behavior so unpredictable, that she was asked to leave.

Eventually, my mother ended up in a nursing home, not far from the home where my brother and I had spent the earliest years of our lives, near the Little Kanawha River in Wood County, West Virginia.

I lived a long day’s drive from my mother, and although I had once been able to talk to her on the phone and exchange letters with her, she was no longer able to communicate with me in these ways. With a demanding job and two small boys to care for, I didn’t see her nearly as often as I should have.

When I made the trip up to West Virginia to see her, I would be stunned by the dramatic decline in her mental and physical abilities. She did, however, see my firstborn son and briefly hold him in her arms. I am thankful that she recognized him as being a part of her life.

The last time I saw my mother, she had slipped into a twilight world that was beyond the reach of language. I sensed that she knew I was someone close to her, someone who loved her, but she did not know my name.

My last memory of the strong and vibrant woman who had not only nourished me with her body and blood but who had also raised me to manhood—was of a frail and white-haired old woman, whose arms had been secured to her chair to keep her from wandering from her room and injuring herself.

“Don’t leave me,” she finally managed to say. “Please don’t leave me.”

Those words, the last I ever heard her speak, still haunt me today.