This Blank Space …

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Hush little baby, don’t you cry,
Y
ou know your mama was born to die,
All my trials, Lord, will soon be over
-Lyrics from All My Trials

I started my blog about mom and me in April of 2011.

Confession.

My last blog was posted on March 30th, 2016.

Confession.

I have attempted to write a blog almost every day since then. And, as you can see, I have nothing to show for it other than almost a year of blank pages and a folder full of thought starters and unfinished drafts.

Back in the day, I was known as a creative guy in marketing and advertising. One of my biggest fears was to open a newspaper or magazine, or turn on the TV and see the following words: This blank space is brought to you by TOM LAUGHON.

It was a fear that never let me miss a deadline … never until now!

And, boy, have I made up for lost time … these blank spaces are brought to you by TOM LAUGHON.

My core family is down to two of the original four after the passing of my dad in 2002, and my younger sister, Nel in 2011.

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That leaves mom and me … half of what was once a mighty powerful force. We were a fearless band of leaders … each leading in our own unique ways.

Together, we were unbeatable … invincible.

But, that was then.

My wife, Melissa, and I moved to Richmond, Virginia from Tallahassee, Florida in 2010 to be with my mom and sister.  Mom was showing signs of dementia. Nel, who lived with mom, was also showing disturbing signs of something we couldn’t put a finger on at a distance. But, not long after our move, she was diagnosed as having early onset Alzheimer’s.

Nel passed away after an agonizing battle with this horrifying disease eight months after we arrived in Richmond.

Mom was 90 at the time, and mom and Nel had been inseparable since the day Nel was born … literally. Nel never lived away from home, no matter where home was, her entire life. Mom’s name is Helen so we called them Nelen. They would both answer! They were indeed one.

Confession.

I just remembered there was one time Nel didn’t live at home.

Home was in Gainesville, Florida. Nel was starting her senior year at the University of Florida (she started college after me and graduated before me, but that’s another story). She was elected president of her sorority, Chi Omega.

After her election, she came home crying.

“Mom, I was chosen to be the president of my sorority and I don’t want to do it (tears running down her face).” Mom quickly uncovered the reason. Nel didn’t want to be president because the president had to live in the sorority house for two semesters. Mom convinced Nel that this was an amazing honor … an opportunity she just couldn’t pass up. And, since this was about to be the very first time Nel had ever lived away from home, mom assured her the sorority was only a few miles from home. I remember mom had to get a map of Gainesville to prove her point. Nel wanted to know the exact mileage. And, even with the proximity, Nel snuck back home anytime she got the chance!

So, back to my blog, back to why I am drawing a blank and trying for the millionth time to fill in the blank spaces.

In 2010, Melissa and I committed to moving to Richmond to take care of mom. We literally moved our leadership development company, Catch Your Limit, with us and basically started over from scratch after 10 years in business in Florida.

My personal commitment was to keep mom in her home, Cheswick.  She, dad and my sister bought and restored Cheswick when they moved to Richmond in the early seventies. Speaking of early seventies, Cheswick was built in 1779 … that’s not a typo … that’s really the early, early, early seventies!

And, as you know from reading my blog, with the help of the earth angels at Circle Center Adult Daycare, an amazing team of caregivers, and the fact that Melissa and I have the opportunity to live right next door, WE did it! Through rain, sleet, snow, hot and cold … we kept mom in her own home, safe and sound.

For seven years, we caregivers did a lot of caregiving!

Having been front row and center, I had followed mom slipping further and further away from this world. But, she was still a joyful human, eating like there was no tomorrow, singing and swaying her head to the beat of any song you sang or played, smiling and answering pretty much anything you asked with an upbeat sentence of two. And, always throwing in an “I love you so much” or “I love you, boy,” every time I whispered “I love you, mom” in her ear.

And her touch … she would hold my hand in both of hers, bringing it to her lips and kissing it over and over and over again. She wouldn’t stop … she wouldn’t let go.

And, I hoped she never would. I wished she would hold on to me forever.

But, for mom, everyday brought new challenges, and less connection with her world and her universe.

Almost a year ago (yes … that is when the blogs stopped), Circle Center called me in to tell me that no matter how much they loved and adored mom, they were unable to give her the care she needed anymore.

I can’t say I didn’t know this day would come … I felt the same way that they did (although I couldn’t admit it at the time) … but it still hit me like a bolt out of the blue!

And, the caregiving team at home was facing their own set of challenges caring for mom … the job was getting more and more physically intensive every day.  That same month, Carolyn, who was Mom’s lead caregiver and roommate needed to resign so that she could care for her mother in her last days.

It was a perfect storm that shattered my world.

I was faced with building a new plan for mom.  I did the math and the cost to keep mom in her home was astronomical. However, the admission that mom needed a different level of care was the deciding factor.

My whole plan, my promise, my commitment to keeping mom at home was nil, null and void in an instant.

With the help of Circle Center’s earth angels, we found a home for mom at Sunrise Senior Care less than 2 miles from Cheswick.

Mom is closer to her Cheswick than Nel’s sorority house was from our home when we lived in Gainesville, Florida. But even so, I now realize how Nel and mom both must have felt those semesters Nel was just across town from her real home.

It is an unbearable feeling of aloneness. I felt like a failure for not being able to uphold my solemn promise to keep mom in her home … even though I know deep down, it was the right thing to do.

I get these feelings every time I walk around an empty Cheswick next door … I feel empty, too.

This blank space is brought to you by TOM LAUGHON.

This blank space is brought to you by TOM LAUGHON.

This blank space is brought to you by TOM LAUGHON.

Mom has been at Sunrise for 8 months now, but this is just a temporary layover.

She is preparing for her journey to a new home.

Her eyes are closed … she cannot really see anymore.

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When I hug her or hold her hand and whisper, “Hey mom, it’s Tom, … I love you, mom … how are you doing?” I get fewer and fewer responses. So, I ask, “Mom, do you want to sing Jesus Loves Me?”

The answer use to be a quick yes … but now, it is more often the sound of silence.

I rub her hair with one hand, holding her hand with the other and softly sing “Jesus loves me this I know …” Some days she sings with me keeping the tune, but mixing up the words. Other days she just nods her head to the beat. And, more and more days … she is far, far away … somewhere out there.

I never can quite get through more than a verse and a chorus or two before I start crying. It is selfish of me … but I want my mom.

Just last week, Melissa and I walked to Sunrise to visit mom, and I hesitated briefly before holding mom and saying, “Hey, mom, it’s your boy!”

Silence.

“Mom, it’s Tom … Tom Laughon … your precious son!”

Long pause.

And then, with her eyes closed, mom whispered, “I know you … I have loved you since the day you were born.”

And, as if it couldn’t get any better, she topped it off by singing Jesus Loves Me while nodding her head side to side with Melissa and me.

Mom is on her journey to her new home, home to reunite with Dad and Nel. What a reunion that will be. Talk about singing … their three part harmony will blow their fellow angels away.

Confession.

I am crying now, but I am also filling in some much neglected blank spaces with my thouhts like there’s no tomorrow.

I love you, mom … I am with you all the way.

I wish you Godspeed.

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see
Coming for to carry me home
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home
– Lyrics from Swing Low Sweet Chariot

 

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!

7 responses »

  1. Such beautiful words. I miss Dr. Laughon, Helen and Nel and the joy they brought to my life. I remember when Nel had to move in the sorority house. I will say she snuck out a lot and went home. We had a beautiful room with special canopy beds made by Fred and of course bedspread and curtains by Helen. Our room was even featured in the Gainesville Sun. I still miss the phone calls and all the times we had together. They were all a very important part of my life and a big influence on who I am today. They will always be in my heart. Tom your mother has always loved you so much and always said your were a special boy. Of course Helen was right– you are that wonderful son! Love you, Chris

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  2. My heart is so touched by this, Tom, and my tears for the past…your past with Helen…won’t seem to stop. Her life has been a wonderful one full of love and devotion and she is tired now. Just know that you have done everything to keep things right for her and she is just ready to have that reunion with Fred and Nel. I know you are hurting right now and I surely wish I could do something to help you. Helen, at her very best, is so alive in my memory and that I will remember always. We love you!

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  3. Oh, Tom, I have been in your shoes and I know how you feel. If that helps, knowing that you are not alone in this sad journey. Others have taken it and others WILL take it. But rest in the thought that you have done/are doing absolutely EVERYTHING you can. Yes, you’ll always have doubts that maybe you could have done more…..maybe?…..maybe?….but I already know you could not have. I did not know your Mom but had a lovely letter from Nel once and I bought my first Laughon doll from your dad himself when he was in Kansas years ago. He was so upbeat and funny and I enjoyed that so much. I have a nice collection of their lovely dolls and they will remain among my very favorites. Billie

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  4. Tom, Every small child , when faced with troubles or fears . . . when filled with joys and triumphs . . . wants his mother to comfort and share with him. I have discovered that tie never changes, no matter how long you have traveled through life. Whenever some important event occurs in my life, I still think of my mother. My journey with her was much the same as yours, though much shorter. When my father died, my husband and I moved into their house to care for Neville ( yes, Helen’s cousin, Neville Wood Feil!). After six months, we moved her to assisted living with lovely caregivers. She, too loved music, mostly the old hymns, so we sang together every day. Toward the end of her life, two years later, she hummed along with her eyes closed, but still loved to hear the music. Your picture of Helen could have been mine of Neville, as she looked exactly the same. I still miss her eight years after her death.
    Love and strength to you.

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  5. Deveron Timberlake

    Dear Tom,
    Your devotion to your exuberant, hilarious, wise and loving mother is unshakable. Melissa’s too. It is impossible to be in this stage of caregiving and to not have doubts and questions but please be kind to yourselves. You are leading by example, just as your family has, and showing what love looks like through good times and hard. Heaven will be rejoicing when her time is revealed. Until then, trust that you are doing exactly right not just for her but for all of us who love you, by sharing your heart with such bittersweet, beautiful eloquence. With hopes for peace, d

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  6. Hi Tom, How blessed your mother is to have Melissa & you in her life…… and you to have her. Your story is so touching. So much love & goodness all around. And, so much happiness & sadness too. You also understand how our lives here are such brief passages. It’s so much more obvious near the end. I have no complaints but no doubts my life would have been a little richer if we had stayed in touch over the years. Proud to know you. All the best!

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  7. Liz Taylor Bagley

    Oh, Tom, my heart hurts for you. My mom, Helen’s cousin Michaux, looked and acted so much like your mom that I loved reading your many posts. Many times I smiled remembering so many similar times and experiences. Those fun cousins were very special. Whenever mom and I spoke of your mom, her eyes would just light up as she would tell me of the exciting and fun times they all had together. I am always thankful, and give God the thanks, for letting me be a part of this family. There is no doubt that my mom will also be there to welcome sweet Helen to her next home in Heaven. Your mom and Nel once surprised me with a visit to the private school where I worked, just before my marriage. They brought me a lovely netted “sack” of Hershey’s “Hugs and Kisses”. They were so thoughtful and dear. I have such lovely memories of them. Tom, I am crying with you. This is such a sad time in your life, but it is wonderful to know that she is at peace. “Jesus Loves Me” will always have a special place in my heart, and I will always think of Helen when hearing or singing it. Her love for everyone, especially her family, was apparent to us all. My love and prayers are with you at this sad time. You have done the very best for her and she has known that.
    Liz Taylor Bagley

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