Category Archives: personal

I’ve Got Your Back

“I was normal once …”

I had the opportunity to be one of nine storytellers who crafted and shared our stories to a live and lively audience at a wonderful theater in Richmond the other night.

Here’s my story, and I’m sticking to it …

AUDIO: I’ve Got Your Back told by Tom Laughon.

My Vote’s for Topnotch and Mom

Mom’s a lifelong flag waver

Mom’s showing her true colors and at almost 93, still bleeds red, white and blue.

It is amazing when you think that she has voted in 17 general elections and her first vote was for Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve a third term. Her last vote was for Obama four years ago, and when I say last, I mean her last, because she will be sitting this one out.

Even so, I asked her who she would be voting for and she said, without really knowing the candidates’ names, “I am voting for topnotch, whoever that is.”

Mom’s a voter’s voter.

I pulled a postcard addressed to mom out of the mailbox a couple of days ago and proudly showed it to everyone I could. It compares mom’s voting record in the last five general elections with others in her neighborhood, and you can see she received the highest mark.

I wish the organization that sent the postcard would have gone back in the public records far enough to add the other 12 general elections mom voted in. She might have won a trip to Disney World!

So, today, I will be casting my vote in mom’s honor as well as to all of you who consistently exercise your right to vote. As long as you vote, and vote for topnotch, whoever that is, the red, white and blue will continue to fly above all others, it’s a gift of freedom to honor, cherish, protect and behold.

A Side Note: Mom’s home was built in 1796 which means it has been on this earth for every general election since our second president, John Adams! No telling how many votes have been cast from folks who lived in this home. I know mom, dad and my sister, Nel, sure did cast their fair share. 

Mom’s Second Thoughts About Marrying Me

Mom: You make me so happy. You always know exactly what you are doing and you do it right every time.

I really want to marry you … but, I don’t know whether that’s right or not?

Me to myself: (Wow! A moment of clarity! Finally mom’s brain is seeing reason.)

Mom: I am only six, so I’m not sure if my daddy will let me marry you.

Me to myself: (Listen to your daddy, mom. Listen to your daddy.)

Clockwise, going from the youngest, to oldest: My mom, Helen, at age six, Hunter, Berk and Fanny.

Post Script: This is not the first time mom has expressed her desire to marry me. I first wrote about this in my blog post, ‘Til Death Do Us Part, Just Not Quite the Way Mom Sees It.

And, it’s not the first time mom has said she is six: Girls Lie About Their Age

Mom’s mother died when mom was only six years old.  Mom was  the youngest of four and her mother’s sudden, unexpected death had a profound impact on her and how she has lived her life.

When her mother was carried down the steps of their home on a stretcher for the last time, she reached for my mom’s hand, held it tightly and whispered, “Be good and be strong. You are my little angel.”

And, that has been mom’s credo and mission her entire life. Be good. Be strong.

Her mother’s last words to her were, “I love you, sugar.”

Mom was raised by a brilliant, no-nonsense, God fearing, general practitioner who started his career as a horse and buggy country doctor in Richmond, Virginia. As the city grew westward, my grandfather’s practice and investments made him a wealthy man.

He loved his children, and ruled with an iron hand. He taught them values and was a pillar of strength. There was no misunderstanding my grandfather. You knew what was right and was was wrong. Good and strong were not options in this family … they were expected. 

Thanks to mom’s aunts (her mother’s sisters) she had plenty of loving, strong women who helped raise her to become both good and strong.

Her father made sure each of his children was provided for, had great educations, and knew where they were going in life. Her sister, Fanny, was a teacher before becoming a minister’ s wife. Her brother, Hunter, was a lawyer and her other brother, Berk, followed in his father’s footsteps and joined his practice before continuing his education and pursuing a career as an ophthalmologist.

Then there’s the little one, my little stick of dynamite of a mom, Helen.  She could have been a CEO for any organization in the world … she was an energy source, a  leader, a creative thinker, a visionary, my mentor and my role model. She, like her sister, married a minister, and her leadership complimented my father’s and they were an amazing team. When these two strong and good people joined forces, it was a powerful combination that made a difference in the lives and communities they served!

And, they both played leading roles in putting my younger sister, Nel, and me on this earth and guiding us to become leaders, and players on their team. Strong and good. It was embedded in our minds, hearts and souls. 

Of all the people mentioned in this Post Script, only mom and I are left standing. It is a strange feeling. An indescribable  feeling of loneliness.

“Be good and be strong. You are my little angel.”

For me, these whispered words become a connection of the past, present and future, and they somehow blend into a bittersweet mix of mandate, melancholy and comfort.

We may not be “right” for marriage (Listen to your daddy, mom. Listen to your daddy.), but mom and I have a lifelong bond … a tie that binds us together forever.

It is a death-do-us-part-bond of unconditional love, mutual admiration and acceptance. We are here, now, for each other.   

Be good and be strong. Be good and  be strong. Be good and be strong.


Those Puffy Things Up There

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I was away from mom for two weeks and that’s the longest we have been apart since Melissa and I moved here to be with her two years ago.

I spent a lot of my away time high above the clouds flying from Richmond to Chicago to Des Moine to Minneapolis to  Orlando to Fort Lauderdale and back to Richmond. There are a lot of “to” words in that sentence which means a lot of chances for delays, crying babies, lost luggage or Alec Baldwin-like incidents.

Luckily, I had smooth flying the entire trip.

When I was 30,000 feet high in the sky, it gave me plenty of time to take a few deep breaths and reflect on the past two years.

It has been like a change tsunami for my entire family, Melissa’s and my relationship, our business and me.

The fact that so much of what has occurred has centered around mom is inescapable. And although I am fully aware of how this “change tsunami” has taken its toll, I also see the gifts of lessons learned, challenges met, opportunities unfolding and perhaps, as a result of it all, a greater understanding and appreciation for the wonder and glory of life.

I am seeing the value of giving back. I am feeling the purpose of caring for those of us who are caregivers as well. I am gaining a broader perspective of what meaning is all about. I believe it is all contributing to making me a better person.

Along with these thoughts came a flood of memories, both recent and past. And, I must admit,  if I had had a  parachute strapped on my back at this point, I would have busted an exit door, leaped from the plane and guided my chute back to home base and mom!

I really missed her. Yep … I missed my mom!

My biggest fear was that I would be gone so long, that she would forget who I was. After all, she has no recollection of my sister, who passed away a year ago, and if she does say Nel’s name, it is in her sleep. By day, it’s as if my sister never existed.

Mom acts like she knows everybody. Even strangers crossing her path in the grocery store swear she knows them and they must have known her way back when.

She’ll say something like, “Hey, sugar lump, you are absolutely the most beautiful person I have ever seen. If you ever need anything, you write me a letter and I will get it for you. I love you! I just love you. You keep doing the good things that you do!”

The response she gets nine times out of ten is, “Yes Maam.” And the look that accompanies that response is the “she-knows-me” look.

The fact is, her social graces are the perfect cover for what she doesn’t know. And, they work for her as well with strangers, as they do with those closest to her.

Mom is not fake or false. She is real and this is what she really believes. She believes she knows you, aka everyone. She is just mom living and loving the moment.

I have watched her interact with people for so long, that I know exactly what’s going to happen. I know that if anyone asks her who they are, she will say something like, “the nicest person on this earth, that’s who you are! Aren’t you the nicest person on this earth? Does your mama know how nice you are? I know she loves you from top to bottom, just like I do.”

She is the unintended master of deflection and deception. She is magic when it comes to making anyone feel good … like a long lost friend.

I am special, because I am not anyone. I am “her boy!” I am “Tom Laughon” … except for the days I am “Fred”, but that was my dad’s name, so that’s close enough.

She’ll hug me in the evening when I tuck her in bed and in the morning when I wake her up and she’ll say things like, “You are the sweetest boy in the world. I mean in the whole wide world. You are so gifted because of how you make people feel. You are good looking and you know how to make people think and laugh. And that’s special! Not many people are like that and I don’t know any of them except you!”

I mean, after hearing that description, I know that could not be anybody but me. Mom has me spot on (or has my number)!

I have been back home from my trip for four days now.  The first thing I did when I got back was beeline it straight for mom, hug her and wait to see her reaction.

First off, she wouldn’t let me go. She just kept holding me and saying, “It’s you! It’s really you! It’s my precious boy. I love this boy! I just love you so much!” Then she squeezed me and started to do a little dance.

She is almost pocket sized, and that’s just where I wanted to put her; in my pocket.

I am thinking, take a digital picture of us and let us live in it … picture perfect … forever.

On the way to adult daycare, I tested her once more by turning on the radio, cranking it up to 10 and honing in on our favorite country music station. Tim Mcgraw was belting out, “I ain’t as good as I’m gonna get,  but I’m better than I used to be.”

I had two hands on the wheel, one foot on the pedal, one eye on the road and one eye on mom.

She was clapping her hands to the beat, rocking back and forth and nodding approvingly at the lyrics. Every now and then you could hear her feet tapping the floorboard. My one unoccupied foot began tapping, too.

Mom was hopping and a bopping and not missing a trick. When it was over she asked me to play it again.

Thank goodness we were rolling up to the entrance of her adult daycare and her eyes went straight to the automatic sliding glass doors. “There’s that hole you take me through every time you bring me here. I don’t know how you do it, but you do it. I just love you for it. It just opens up when you want it to. You are the smartest man I have ever known.”

Yep, that’s me! That’s her boy!

I have to get over that description of me pretty fast, because mom is in the lobby talking to the lady behind at the reception counter. “Good morning, sugar lump! You are the smartest person I have ever known. I am going to take a picture of you and hang it in my room so everybody in the United States of America can see how smart you are. If you need anything just ask for Helen Douglas Martin (mom’s maiden name) and I’ll come running.”

When I picked mom up at the end of the day she was waiting for me. The staff said she had asked about me all day.

“I didn’t think you were coming back to get me, but you did it! You are the best boy in the world and when I grow up, I want to be just like you and marry you!”

Luckily, most of the folks near mom were just happy that they would get to go to a wedding … any wedding. No explanations or apologies needed.

My first day back was going great, but the drive home was the best.

Mom looked up in the sky and lowered her head like it was falling.

“Look at those things, Tom! Have you ever seen so many? What are they doing up there?”

I looked up and saw an incredible blue sky chock full of cumulus clouds.

“Wow! What are they, mom?”

“They are those puffy things up there. Have you ever seen so many. I don’t know what they are doing up there, but they are sure everywhere. Look, there are even more over there.”

“Yep, they are everywhere all right. What do you think they are doing?”

“I don’t know, but there is food hidden in them, that’s for sure. Lots of food hiding in those puffy things.”

“Why is there food up there, mom?”

“For all the people! There are lots of people, so there has to be lots of food!”

“How did the people get up there?”

“I don’t know, but it sure wasn’t in cars. They probably just jumped.”

“How do you know there are no cars?”

“Because there are no roads, that’s why.”

She never called those puffy things clouds. She did see and point out a dog with wings, and he was sneezing.

She also saw a cat above the dog and it was sneezing, too.

I got so carried away with what she was seeing, I started playing rhythm on the steering wheel and singing the chorus to the Rolling Stones classic, “Hey You, Get Off of My Cloud.”

Mom started swinging and a swaying and clapping her hands. She raised them way up above her head until she was touching those puffy things.

Then she started singing, “I am so happy, happy am I, I am so happy, happy am I, and you’ll be happy, too.” Then she turned to me and said,  “I just love you. I love you so much. It’s a beautiful day. I had a good time, today, son. Thanks for always helping me.”

Then she looked toward the sky. “Look at those puffy things up there. Aren’t they something?! What do you think they are?”

Good Parts, Bad Parts, Happy Parts, Sad Parts

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As stories go, there are good parts, there are bad parts, happy parts and sad, but I wouldn’t miss being a part of mom’s life now for anything in this world.

Even as a kid, I made sure our family got to the movie theater and in our seats before the feature started rolling. I would pass on popcorn if I thought we might miss even the tiniest bit of the film. And, if we did, I would beg my folks to stay and see the part we didn’t see.

By that, I meant to literally wait until the movie started to see the part we missed, even though we had already seen most of the beginning, the middle and the end.

This would mean mom, dad, my sister and I had to sit through the coming attractions, cartoons and everything else, just to see what would have been only minutes of the beginning of the movie, again. It didn’t make me the most popular member of the family, but it was like an obsession with me. I had to see the part I didn’t see.

To this day, I am the same way with not only movies, but everything. Life to me is like a movie. I will leave every place I go or thing I do, not only cataloging what I did see and do, but what I didn’t.

I also make a concentrated effort to plan when and how I will see the part or parts I missed .

So, here I am back in Richmond, Virginia, after a 17 year stint in Tallahassee, Florida. And, like in a movie, I am playing the leading roll as primary caregiver for my 92 year old mom, as well as a supporting roll in making a living, while living life to the fullest, with my spouse, family and friends.

And, as stories go, there are good parts, bad parts, happy parts and sad, and I not only want to be a part of all of those, because they are real, but I also want to be a part of the parts I didn’t see.

You think that sounds crazy to you? Well it sounds crazy to everybody around me … including me!

Here’s a sneak preview of what I mean … just a trailer, a teaser, so you’ll hopefully stick around for the entire main feature.

Good Parts.

Every night, when I take mom to bed, she’ll say, “This is my room!”

And, I’ll say, “Yep, this is your room, mom. It’s been your room for over forty years. Can you believe it?!”

“Forty years?! It has not been that long.”

“Yep, forty years.”

Then she’ll look around the room and say, “That’s my bed.”

“Yep, that’s your bed alright. I call it your ‘Fred  Bed’, because your husband, and my dad, Fred, made that bed for the two of you sixty-four years ago, mom.”

“I know Fred Laughon. He made this bed for me. He is a good man.”

Her description is right, but the tense is wrong. Dad passed away in 2002.

Mom refers to her parents, brothers, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins all in the present tense, although most, if not all of them, passed away long ago.

She still attends college at University of Richmond, sings her Alma Mater and runs on the track team. When you ask her who is the smartest in the family, you know the answer. Same with who is the fastest on the track team, best singer in the choir, smartest, etc. Lack of self esteem or confidence has never been mom’s challenge.

I tuck her into her mahogany, four poster, ‘Fred Bed’, kiss her, listen to her tell me how much she loves me, softly rub her forehead,  pull her hair back and covers up, whisper, I love you, and wish her a good night.

She’ll say, “Always is. I never have a bad night. I just close my eyes and go to sleep, that’s it.”

As I tiptoe out of her room and close the door behind me, a flood of memories start to bounce around my brain. It is a nice way to tie a bow on the day and it happens everyday.

More Good Parts.

In the mornings, I go to mom’s room around eight and she is laying in her bed, wide awake, just waiting for me to appear. She always starts with, “Who is that boy? I love that boy. You are the bestest boy in the whole wide world.”

And, the mantra begins. “It’s your boy, mom, Mr. Wonderful, and your boy says good morning to you, beautiful lady!”

She’ll say, “You are perfect, I am perfect, we are both perfect.”

We tell each other how much we love each other. We look out the window and talk about how much traffic there is on the street in front of mom’s home; what color the cars and trucks are and whether they are coming or going. Then we talk about the weather … wet, dry, hot, cold, cloudy, sunny … no matter what kind of weather, we agree it’s a beautiful day and for me a beautiful time of the beautiful day with a beautiful lady.

It is a predictable, soft, wonderful way to kick start the day, everyday.

Bad Parts.

Then, as I walk mom to the bathroom, we pass my sister, Nel’s, room and mom will say, “That girl (person, lady, man) is gone.” She never mentions Nel’s name, except when she shouts, Nel, Nel … Neville, in an occasional early morning dream.

When we are beside the open door to Nel’s room, I ask when and where that person went, and mom will say she doesn’t know, she just went.

My sister passed away just over a year ago after a long, losing battle with early onset Alzheimer’s. Mom has never realized or recognized this. No grief, no memories, no anything.

I leave Nel’s bedroom door open every night so I can peek in and check on mom. As we pass by the door, mom grabs the knob and pushes the door shut with a bang.  As the door slams shut, mom will say, “I am not going in that room, that room is where you get sick. That room is where that person who lost everything lived.”

Her voice sounds like it is warning herself and me, that whatever is in there is highly contagious. I honestly believe she would fight you before going in that room.

It shakes me everytime, even though I know exactly what mom is going to say and do. I  usually just continue walking past Nel’s room to the bathroom without saying word.

Every now and then I will ask mom who she is talking about or why did that person go? Her answer is always, “I don’t know, but that person is gone because she just couldn’t handle all of the things that were happening to her.”

It is delivered in a matter of fact way, that sounds like part gospel and part exasperation or annoyance. There is no point in questioning her or talking to her about Nel. As mom would say, “and that’s it.”

Sad Parts.

The incredible thing is, they were joined at the hip their entire lives. They were so close, we would combine mom’s name with Nel’s and refer to the two of them as one … Nelen!

I have said it a million times, theirs was an amazing, one-of-a-kind, symbiotic relationship.

The concern among all who knew them was how could or would either of them exist without the other. No one could have predicted or written this script.

Alzheimer’s prevented my sister from ever knowing or understanding mom’s dementia and mom’s dementia never allowed her to know or understand Nel’s Alzheimer’s or her death for that matter.

To me, this is not only an irony, but a blessing and a curse.

The love, caring, understanding and support they had for each other throughout their life was completely missing during the time they needed each other the most. They had lost all connections with themselves, and as a result, with each other. They never had a chance, or were even capable of, saying their goodbyes to each other.

I think to myself, it is a blessing that mom doesn’t remember any more than she does about dad or Nel, and yet it’s a curse, too, because I don’t have anyone to swap memories of my family with like I could have with my mom. So many questions I have for her will never be answered, the celebrations and gratitude I have for her will never be fully appreciated, and the untold stories we would both share will go untold.

These are the parts I didn’t and never will see.

So, in just the few steps and moments it takes to get from mom’s bed, past Nel’s room, to the bathroom, the beautiful brightness of  each and every day turns a dark shade of melancholy.

Happy Parts.

This morning, on the way to adult daycare, for whatever reason, I turned down the volume on a country music song mom was clapping her hands to and asked her if she knew a man named Fred?

She quickly replied, “Fred Laughon. He is a nice man. He only knows nice. That’s why he is so good.”

I found a place to pull the car over. Mom was right, dad was a nice man. She was right, he only knew nice. And she was right, again, that’s why he was so good.”

What a great thing to have engraved on one’s headstone or in mom’s head for that matter. It is a tall order tribute, and one dad truly deserved.

Sad Parts.

But, I wanted more, needed more, longed for more. I wanted that to be the start of  never ending conversations between mom and me about our family, our memories and our lives together.

I wanted to let my mom know the influence that dad, Nel and she had on me and my take on life.  I wanted to share my journey with her, every step of the way.  And in return, I wanted her to share hers … over and over again.

I wanted to credit her for teaching me leadership, nurturing my creativity and inspiring me to never stop learning, searching and giving. I wanted to thank her for giving me the courage to always reach for the sky and then some.

In the distance, I thought I heard mom asking if we were lost.

I was staring out the window of the car at nothing for no telling how long. The engine was idling, it was raining, and mom was right, I had been totally lost in my thoughts that were now being washed away by the rain accompanied by the rhythm of raindrops.

Mom was louder now, “Are you OK? I want you to be OK. I love you so much! You are the bestest boy in the United States of America which includes the whole wide world. ”

“I’m OK, mom.  I’m OK,” I heard myself say as I put the car in gear and eased back on the road.

Mom says, “You always know where you are going. How do you do it?”

“I don’t know, I just do it.”

“You do it. You are always helping me see and learn what’s going on in this world.”

As I drove, I knew just around the bend there would be good parts, bad parts, happy parts and sad in no particular order … as well as the missing parts … the parts I didn’t see and never will.

No matter where our journey takes us, I know we are in for one heck of a ride.

And, I wouldn’t miss being a part of mom’s life now for anything in this world..

So Many Children!

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There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.

Conversation in the car, on the way to Mom’s adult day care.

Mom: Is that lady in the backseat (Referring to her caregiver on weekends)?

Me: Nope, she’s at home. She won’t be here until Friday.

Mom: What does she do when she’s at home?

Me: She takes care of her babies (First thing that popped into my head … she has no babies).

Mom: How many babies does she have?

Me: Forty-two (First thing that popped into my head).

Mom: Forty-two! Forty-two?

Me: Yep! Forty-two! What do you say to that?

Mom: I am not saying anything. If I did it would not be ladylike.

Me: Well, if you were going to say something, what would you say?

Mom: Horrors!

(Hold this blog post up to your ear and you will hear me laughing uncontrollably! I just can’t help myself.)

One-of-a Kind Livi’s One-of-a-Kind Letter

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Mom’s Great Granddaughter, Livi Heffron

My one-of-a-kind granddaughter and her one-of-a-kind letter need no introduction or explanation.

One postage stamp and 268 miles later, here’s the result of Livi’s one-of-a-kind letter. Mom just keeps reading and rereading it over and over again. It is a joy to watch.

I hope Livi sticks with her promise to “wright” every week.

That will guarantee I’ll have at least one blog post weekly!

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