The Three Things We Cry About In Life

There are three things we cry about in life, things that are lost, things that are found, and things that are magnificent.  Doug Coupland

My day starts when I wake mom up around 8am. It begins quietly, but always ends with a bang!

I tip toe in and whisper, “Good morning, sweet mama.”

And, as if she has been awake all night waiting for me, she answers, “Is that my beautiful boy? I love that boy so much.”

When I lean over to hug her, she will hardly let me go. And, to be honest, I want to be held in her warmth and her love forever.

“It is a beautiful day, isn’t it?” It’s not really a question as much as a statement and Mom will say it whether it’s rain or shine, no matter the season.

Then she sits up in her four poster bed and I say, “Let’s rock and roll, mama, mama.”

And, let me tell you what, it’s like a curtain opens and James Brown is appearing live, doing his James Brown thing.

By the time I put mom’s shoes on she’s ready to jump out of bed and when those shoes hit the floor, it’s show time! She is hopping, bopping and strutting her stuff as she shuffles her way to the bathroom.

I mean she’s got all the James Brown moves going at once and I just imagine her singing, “I feel good, like I knew that I would. I feel good, so good, cause I got you!”

She is shouting,”It’s a happy day!” She is singing, “I’m happy, you’re happy, we are all hap, hap, happy,” and all you can do is … be happy!

It’s like mom is the new “hardest working act in show business,” especially this early in the morning. Somehow, I don’t think James Brown ever woke up this early or this happy.

She gets through breakfast the same way. She makes a joyful noise after every spoonful of cereal or sip of juice. She compliments me on how delicious the breakfast I prepared is. She talks about the birds she hears outside, the cars that pass by the window, the clouds in the sky and what animals or people they look like.

She asks if it’s cold or hot today, how long have I lived in Richmond, if I like it here, do I have a wife, children, where do they live, where did I live before coming here and always adds, do you have a mother?

She does know that answer. It’s like her one trick question. And my answer always brings an “I got you” smile to her face.

After all my answers, she exclaims, “Isn’t that wonderful,” or “Don’t you just love it,” or “That is the ‘bestest’ thing in the world!”

And, you know what, even though I am asked the same questions over and over every morning, it is wonderful, I do love it and it is, like she says, the ‘bestest’ thing in the world.

My mom just kick-starts both of our days and it is like that all day, every day in every way.

Her energy is endless. She’s the Energizer Bunny. Her love of life is unmistakable and contagious. She never complains about her lot in life, getting older, aches, pains (frankly, I don’t think she has any), eyesight, or any of the multitude of things you might expect from someone who is 91.

The only exception is for “Do Nothings”. That’s mom’s self explanatory phrase for people who are just that.

She usually follows “Do Nothings” with “They are the dumbest things in the world.”

Not too long ago I asked mom how one of the home caregivers was doing.

She looked at me, slapped the table with both hands and said, “I told her to go home, because she was just a “Do Nothing.” And, when she came back the next day, she did something because she learned she couldn’t make it doing nothing.

I call mom the “Eight Ball of Inspiration” and her comments fit all ages, shapes and sizes and are designed to make anybody feel great. Here are a few examples:

  • Don’t you look beautiful, today, sugar love.
  • You are an outstanding person. There is nothing that you set your mind to do, that you can’t do. Nothing!
  • You are the nicest person that ever lived. You just know how to treat people and  make them feel good about themselves.
  • I love you so much. You are the ‘bestest’ person in the whole world!
  • When I hear your voice I know God is in this house (My personal favorite and saved just for me).
  • Even the sun is sitting up there just to see you! (Another favorite and only directed at me)

I have been on the receiving end of every one of the above, so I know firsthand how they make you feel. And, so do plenty of other people … many are strangers on the street that are convinced they must know mom from somewhere, because she surely does know them.

And, if those statements don’t take you higher, singing with mom will. We sing together every chance we get. Morning, noon and night.

She starts a song. I start song. It doesn’t matter who starts them, it’s like spontaneous combustion. Because whoever starts one knows the other will join in without missing a beat. And, it has been that way our entire lives. The only difference is that our alto, my sister, Nel and our tenor, my dad Fred, are no longer harmonizing with us, but we make it up in volume!

Short playlist of songs mom and I still sing together:

  • She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain
  • You Are My Sunshine
  • Do Lord
  • This Little Light of Mine
  • Amen
  • Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dina
  • Dixie
  • Tis a Gift to be Simple
  • Any song from the Sound of Music
  • And almost any hymn in the old Southern Baptist hymnals

I love to sing rock and roll songs with or for mom and if she doesn’t know the words, she makes up for it by clapping her hands, tapping her feet or shaking her tail feathers.

She loves good old rock’n’roll. This is one of my favorites to sing and watch her do her thing:

Just let me hear some of that rock’n’roll music

Any old way you choose it

It’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it

Any old time you use it

Its gotta be rock’n’roll music

If you want to dance with me

If you want to dance with me

Just writing the lyrics down makes me smile because I can see her hands and arms shooting up in the air, her head bopping from side to side and her little fanny keeping the beat like nobody’s business!

I don’t know who taught preacher’s wives how to dance, but it wasn’t Fred Astaire. It was more like Elvis the Pelvis, or like I said earlier, James Brown.

If truth be told, I consider it both an honor and a delight to be to be able to be with mom in this chapter of her amazing life. Compared to what it could be like, I have it easy. In fact, I often think she is taking care of me more than I am her. Her happiness and energy are contagious. And, I can’t get enough of it!

The hardest thing for me to deal with when it comes to mom’s dementia is not what you would expect. It’s not that she asks the same questions over and over, or doesn’t know what day, time of day or year it is, or changing her Depends, or having to be by her side every step of the way or that sometimes, out of the blue, she gets agitated and you don’t know why.

None of that affects me one way or the other. I get too much in return for what little I contribute. She is a pleasure and a treasure. She makes me smile. She makes me laugh. She continues to bring so much joy and meaning into my life.

She makes me happy.

What does really get to me is that mom doesn’t cry anymore. I guess she has forgotten how, or that part of her brain has retired or gone on extended vacation.

And, she doesn’t grieve. Sad things don’t make her eyes water. And really happy moments don’t make her tear up, either.

On one hand you could call it a blessing. Who wouldn’t swap a crybaby, whiner or “Do Nothing” for my mom?

But on the other hand, I remember how mom cried along with you, shared your sorrows as if they were hers, comforted you, and never discounted your tears even as she would gently wipe them away.

She has never cried or grieved over the loss of my sister, her ‘bestest’ friend in the world.

We were counseled as a family to not bring up Nel’s passing unless mom did. If her dementia wouldn’t allow  her to remember that Nel had died, she would grieve over and over again, at the mention of it. We were told it would be like mom hearing that Nel died for the first time … every time.

Intellectually I understand that. Our whole family does and has respected that advice in all of our interactions with mom.

Mom asks, “Where’s that person (or girl, or boy)?” when she sees Nel’s empty chair.

She states, as she walks past Nel’s bedroom, “That person is gone.” And that’s the extent of it. No memories. No emotions. No tears.

But, I know she would have cried. She loved Nel so. They had such an incredible bond that we called them both Nelen. Mom would have mourned the death of her daughter just like we all have.

Mom has been around death and dying her whole life. As a minister’s wife, she consoled her flock, just as my father did.

Mom’s mother passed away when mom was only six, and for as long as I can remember, she would tear up when her mother’s name was mentioned. That is, until now.

So … I cry in mom’s stead. I represent her tears as her stand in. I have watched her as an understudy forever. I know how to accurately portray her tears of sorrow. Her tears of compassion. Her tears of laughter. Her tears of joy. Her tears …

I am writing this with both of our tears in my eyes. I am writing this because after leaving mom at her adult day care … the Magic Kingdom for adults … it hit me like a lightning bolt just what has been bothering me for some time, but that I couldn’t articulate.

It’s that mom has forgotten how to cry and to feel what it takes to bring tears to your eyes. She only knows happy. A whole piece of the spectrum of emotion is missing.

Her last words to me this morning were to have a great day, that she couldn’t wait ‘til I came back for her, how appreciative she was that I drove her all the way there and would come all the way back just to pick her up.

And, as I was walking away, I saw her touch a man who was sitting in a wheelchair right on the top of his bald head and say, “Don’t you look beautiful today.”

I saw her smile as I walked away.

I had only driven a few blocks when tears came out of nowhere and clouded my eyes. By the time I pulled the car over and stopped the engine, I was bawling.

I found myself not crying for me, but I was crying on behalf of my mom … a tsunami of tears fell from my eyes for the things that are lost, the things that are found and the things that are magnificent.

I represented her well, because I have seen her tears, felt her tears, for all of the above for all of my life.

Especially her tears of joy.

I miss my mom’s tears … that whole spectrum of emotion, feeling, expression. They are lost and neither she nor I know where.

Mom’s tears and the chance to share my tears with hers … that’s what I think I miss most of all.

About Tom Laughon

Tom Laughon (Pronounced Lawn) is President of Catch Your Limit, an organization whose sole purpose is to guide and grow leaders. His journey from lead singer in a rock-n-roll band, to a successful career in marketing & advertising to consultant, strategist, keynote speaker, facilitator, professor and writer is a fascinating one. Headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, Tom and his team guide organizations, from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies to national associations, to "catch their limit" in areas such as leadership development, creativity, innovation, teaming and transformational change. His commitment to "practice what he preaches" has made Catch Your Limit a petri dish for round-the-clock discovery and learning. The firm's brand reflects Tom's personal brand: Fun, Inspirational, Strategic & Hot!

4 responses »

  1. Your site was recommended to me by EmJayandthem
    Thank you for your thoughts and writings about your beautiful Mom
    I pray I will spend my last years with such a great zest for life
    Prayers for your day

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  2. and I join you in shedding tears as I read this beautiful passage of times with your Mom.

    Not to diminish anything here, I suppose if I could only have joy or sorrows, I’d want my Mom to have the joy.

    So personal, so moving, so … everything.
    MJ

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  3. this is the best thing you’ve ever written and I’ve read most of what you’ve written. I’m afraid my computer is now going to short circuit because it’s soaking wet. i love you tom.

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  4. Wow! Quite a piece of writing, Tom! I wish I had had the benefit of your insight and ability to communicate it back when my mother was heading into her Alzheimer’s. Of course, I don’t actually know that we would have done anything any better for and with her, but my hunch is that we would have. She was well cared for as it was. I just think we might have done even better.

    When you wrote about your mom’s exclamations, “Don’t you just love it? ! Isn’t that wonderful?! and That is the bestest thing in the world!” I could almost hear her and Nel both saying them, even after all these 30-odd years since I last saw them. Those two were quite a pair, and many a time they said or did things to make someone else’s day a lot brighter!

    Thanks for having the courage to write about the tears. I think I understand much of what you described, and I shed some tears over Mama, too. By the time her body gave out and she passed over to the other shore, I did not think I would have any grief or tears left, but I was wrong. Even though the Mama I knew and loved seemed to have already left long ago, a little at a time, it still hurt when she breathed no more.

    Keep up the good work. I look forward to reading each installment.

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