Tag Archives: dementia

Shortest and Sweetest

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Mom Praying

I once wrote a song that I titled “The Shortest Song”. It went like this:

This is the shortest song,

It won’t take long.

Hold your applause, because, compliments of Mom, I would like to present “The Shortest Sermon”.

But, before I do, a little background might help set the scene.

Mom was a Baptist preacher’s wife… one of the best there ever was.  And one of her greatest achievements was making sure dad wrapped his sermon in time for his large congregation to leave the church at exactly noon in order to “Beat the Presbyterians to cafeteria”.

As a member of the choir, Mom strategically located herself in the choir loft so she would be right behind dad who was right behind his pulpit.

Five minutes or so before noon, those of us in the know would hear mom tap, tap, tap her foot on the back of the choir loft. And, even though dad was hard of hearing, the vibrations penetrated his whole being signaling, “Beat the Presbyterians, Fred … we have to beat the Presbyterians to the cafeteria.”

No matter where dad was in his sermon, he mastered creating a fast close following the tap, tap, tap signal.

Yesterday, on our drive to Circle Center Adult Day Care, Mom was pointing out all of the seasonal changes that were going on.

Mom: “Look at that … those trees are green all over. Look at those flowers … aren’t they beautiful. What do you call this?”

Me: “I call it springtime in Virginia, Mom. It’s springtime in Virginia!”

Mom: “Who made it?”

Me: “God, Mom. God made it.”

Mom: “Oh my goodness … that Man and his Boy up there are working for us all the time!”

That’s it … that last sentence of Mom’s was “The Shortest Sermon” … the shortest and sweetest.

It was so short, we still had time to pass the offering plate.

And, I could have slipped in “The Shortest Song” while parking our “Church on Wheels” smack dab in front of the cafeteria. Yep, even after all these years, we would beat those Presbyterians once again.

I don’t know about you, but this blog is making me hungry. So, let’s end it with “The Shortest Prayer”.

(tap, tap, tap) Amen!

When the Rolls are Called Up Yonder …

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Mom in her Chariot

Me: (Driving mom to Circle Center Adult Daycare) That damn car almost hit us, mom!

Mom: That damn car!

Me: Did you say damn?

Mom: Yes I did.

Me: I am shocked … my mom says damn!

Mom: I say it sometimes. (Pause) A lot of times. I like to say damn.

Me: What else do you like to say?

Mom: Hell. I say hell all the time. Like, oh hell. Or, Helen Bolin.

Me: Helen Bolin?!

Mom: Helen Bolin. She was a good cook. I loved her. My daddy said she was the best cook in the United States of America.

Me: You remember Helen Bolin? She’s been in the land of angels for a long, long time. But, damnit to hell … I remember her, too!

"Henen's" Heavenly Rolls

“Henen’s” Heavenly Rolls

Note: Helen Bolin was the “house maid and cook” for my grandfather from when mom was in her early teens to when I was seven or eight.

I called her “Henen” as a little guy, and I can remember the warmth of her hugs to this day. Oh, and her homemade rolls … they were the best damn rolls in the United States of America.

It’s funny how memory works. I have not heard mom, or anyone for that matter, mention Helen Bolin in ages. But, the second she did, my first thought was, pass the rolls!

I could see them being served in a baking pan, right out of the oven.

I could feel the heat as I grabbed for the biggest roll with both of my hands.

The only way I could describe the smell would be heavenly, and the taste … hot, buttery, golden perfection!

I could hear my voice as a kid say, “Pass me another one of “Henen’s” rolls, please … please … please.”

My brain was filled with thoughts of Helen Bolin … long gone, but at this moment in time, not forgotten.

Hopefully Helen is looking down from on high and accepting my long overdue compliments.

“Henen,” just know that when the rolls are called up yonder, I’ll be there.

That is if swearing within earshot of your ninety-four year old mom doesn’t keep you from entering the pearly gates.

Time will tell.


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Spring 2014

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!– Sitting Bull

Early last week it was nothing but chilly and cold … it chilled my body and my soul. I had had it with winter.

But, two days ago, things changed … almost over night … without advanced notice … a sunrise surprise … spring had sprung and was painting splashes of bright colors all over the dark, drab ones with giant brush strokes here there and everwhere.

My hands shot up toward the heavens and I shouted, “Hallelujah, you made it!”

Purple Martin MajestyI was not only cheering for spring’s arrival, but the purple martins had also picked this day to come back home … at least to their home in America.

Purple martins and I stand united in our lack of tolerance for winter. In late fall, they escape in mass to South America, and spend the winter months in the warmth of their second home. Then they fly all the way back here, where they were born, bringing spring with them.

Yep … these little North American citizens fly over 5000 miles each way, each and every year, like clock work. And, here they are, back where they were born, to find a match, and to hatch and raise the next generation.

My mom, dad and sister hoisted five purple martin bird houses up on tall poles in their backyard when they moved back to Richmond, forty plus years ago. That was the same time they planted the daffodils. The one mom is holding sprang up from the roots of those original plants.

As a result of my family’s efforts, Melissa and I will have plenty of daffodils and plenty of purple martins. My guess is, counting the adults and their babies, we’ll have well over a hundred purple martins hanging out and performing their aerial acrobatics for us in mom’s backyard (conveniently located next door to where we live).

My mom’s maiden name is Martin, which we have always said makes the purple Martins and us kin. Birds of a feather stick together!

This will be mom’s 94th spring … and spring has always been her favorite season.

Spring is a time of renewal, restoration, resurrection … it is a time for rejoicing.

Hallelujah, you made it!


Naked Trees, Pet Zebra, Cannibals & More

Driving mom to Circle Center Adult Day Care is the best way I know to kick-start a day.

Talk about a great attitude, no matter if it’s scorching hot, rain, sleet or snow, mom never complains or never says she doesn’t want to go … she just goes.

She is my poster child for a great attitude … and she is funny.

When we ride down the road together there is no way to predict what’s going to happen, other than something will happen. I call her my Happy Day Maker.

On this particular day, it was anything but happy outside. It was ice cold and damp, so I warmed up the car, and somehow that warmed up mom’s motor-mouth as well.

She was pointing out “naked trees”, telling traffic lights to quit changing all the time, asking … Where are all the cars going? Where was I born? Where did I buy our car? Who is my mom? … all this while clapping her hands and singing her old University of Richmond alma mater. She was one happy 94 year old out for a wild ride. She had no idea where she was going, but was having a great time going there.

When mom is on a roll like this (which is pretty much every day), I’ll ask her a question or two just to stir the pot even more.

All I have to do is pose a question like, “Mom, have you ever had God over for supper?” Her answer without hesitation starts with, “Yes, many times …”

“Mom, have you ever had a pet zebra?”

Not only has she, she taught it English, her zebra graduated with her from University of Richmond (insert mom singing her school’s alma mater at the top of her lungs here).

So, today’s question was just another crazy Tom question.

Me: “Mom, have you ever known a cannibal?”

Mom: “A what?”

Me: “A cannibal. You do know what cannibals are, don’t you?”

Mom: “Yes, everybody knows what cannibals are.”

Me: What are they?

Mom: They are people.

Me: “Well, do you know what these people do?”

Mom: “Yes, I know what they do. Everybody knows what they do.”

Me: “What?”

Mom: “They talk to each other.”

Me: “Yes, that’s right, but what else do they do?”

Mom: “They go to school.”

Me: “Yep. What else?”

Mom: “I don’t know what else they do. What do they do?”

Me: “Cannibals eat people, mom. That’s what they do. They eat people.”

Mom was dead silent for four solid blocks. And, that gave me plenty of time to think about how absurd, yet brilliant, my question was. I mean, this was the very first time one of my crazy questions didn’t conjure up an instant reply. It was the very first time I had left my mom speechless.

So, here we were, riding in our car, with nothing but the sound of tires on pavement to keep me company.

Then, out of nowhere it happened. Three words … that was all it took. Three adamantly stated words … “I — EAT — CHICKEN.”

I laughed so hard tears were running down my face. And, just like that, mom resumed her normal, non-stop, happy day making chatter. I’ll never know if mom knew just how perfect her comedic timing was or if she just knew that there was no way she wanted to be mistaken for a cannibal.  One thing is for sure … I have no idea why I asked mom about cannibals but I will remember and recount this morning drive with mom for a long, long time … especially when I — EAT — CHICKEN.

Love with all my Heart

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Livi, mom’s great granddaughter, is ten years old, lives four-and-a-half hours down the road in Wilmington, North Carolina, and loves to write mom letters.

My role is to read the letters to mom and video her reactions for Livi to savor … forever.

So here goes Livi’s latest letter … just know you are in for a treat!

If you do the math, Livi is 84 years younger than mom, but the connection between the two of them bridges both space and time.

I call this bridge, L-O-V-E.

And, I call my role as messenger, the greatest role one could ever dream of playing.

Want more? Click Here!

The Day Hell Froze Over

Cold as Hell!

When a preacher’s wife, who has been on this planet in all kinds of weather for 94 years says, “It’s cold as hell,” it must be as cold as hell.

All of the weather forecasters in Richmond were unanimously proclaiming we had a record low wind chill of minus 10. Not only that, but they were teaching us a new buzz phrase for the day … the polar vortex (play scary music behind this phrase and you get the drift).

Getting past all the highfalutin weather speak and scary background music, I figured out it meant weather of biblical proportions was blowing frigid air from either the North or South Poles or both our way and it was going to freeze the holy crap out of all of us.

I even heard the forecasters throw in the word cyclone for good measure. Does Apocalypse Now come to mind? I don’t know … my mind was too frozen to think.

All I could see while on the verge of hypothermia was a sign from God and it didn’t look promising.

Hell Frozen Over

What kept me going was the fact that I had to go to work and that I had to take mom to Circle Center Adult Daycare Heaven. When I told mom we had to go, she acted like a champ.

She asked if the car was warm and I said, check.

She asked me not to take too long to walk her to the car because she didn’t want to turn into a Popsicle. I thought that was more than reasonable, so I said, check.

Then mom asked me if we could get a Slurp (mom’s word for Slurpee) on the way to Circle Center. That was the last straw. I said, no way … not while hell is freezing over, mom … not on the day hell is freezing over!

With that, we marched double time, arm in arm, to the car … thankful we weren’t turning into ice on a stick.

Note: Arrest Me!

I just noticed the picture I took of mom and I forgot to put her gloves on. Whoops! Now NSA surveillance has me on their radar.

I am doomed.

Mom’s 94th Christmas and Counting

Birthday Girl

“Christmas is the day that holds all time together.”– Alexander Smith

Mom’s 94th Christmas and Counting:

Counting the Christmas Day mom was born on.

Counting the number of Santa’s knees mom must have sat on.

Counting the number of Santa’s knees she took my sister and me to sit on.

Counting the number of Santa’s knees she took my two daughters to sit on.

Counting the gifts of loving, caring, sharing and giving she has brought to our family and to so many others that there are just too many to count.

Counting the memories and the smiles she magically creates for us all.

For a meaningful, wonderful, joyful Christmas, you can always count on my mom.

My mom, Helen Douglas Martin Laughon, was born on Christmas Day, 1919. I believe the old Timex watch slogan was really made for her … she “takes a licking and keeps on ticking”.

Mom & Santa

Next to the North Pole and home sweet home in Richmond, Virginia, Circle Center Adult Day Care Services is mom’s favorite place on earth.

And, on this magic day, Santa came all the way from the North Pole to Circle Center just to visit mom.

When he asked her if she had been naughty or nice, Mom’s answer was YES.

She also whispered to Santa that her birthday was on Christmas Day.

He asked her how old she was and she said six.

On the Other Side of Fear

On the Other Side of Fear

Following is a message from a friend of mine:


I read your blog, Voluntary Leave of Absence, this morning and again now. I figured you had a lot on your plate which is why you had not written publicly for a while.  Life is not a series of merry-merry but a series of merry-merry, ah shit, maybes, commissions and omissions. Grief is always there, not just about losing folks we love but also about mistakes we’ve made, people we’re hurt, failures we’ve had. We can’t deny it, we just ride with it until something positive comes along to help relieve our pain.

It took me a long time to realize I was not omnipotent. I cannot do it alone.  I have strong faith that powers greater than me will help me through rough spots.  A lot of times I relinquish control to them and ask for help to guide me when I cannot guide myself.  Things do get better.  Bad things (and good things) pass. And we change with each passing.  It is up to us, however, to manage our attitudes and responses.

I think grief and trouble make me stronger.  If I weren’t human, I wouldn’t make mistakes. If I didn’t love, I wouldn’t grieve.  I choose to love. And cherish the memories now, not waiting until later. And accept the pain. It hurts a lot. I am so glad I’m not omnipotent. And I’m glad I’m not the same person I was.

A quote I follow all the time is “Everything you always wanted is on the other side of fear.” It is amazing how much that helps me.

Glad you’re back, although in my mind you were never gone.

Best Wishes,

Molly MacBean

Note: Molly MacBean is the Community Liaison for Circle Center Adult Day Services, otherwise know as mom’s favorite hangout in the United States of America (which to mom is bigger than the world). But, Molly is more than a title and a role to me. She has taken a genuine interest in getting to know mom … as mom is and as mom was. She has asked, listened and learned about our family. As you can see from her message above, she has been a caring, kind human, and right there with mom, our family and me on our journey over the past three years.

What Molly is, is my friend.

Speaking of friends, I want to thank all of you who follow my blog, share your thoughts and share my blog with others. I apologize for not thanking each of you personally, but know how much you mean to me. You, too, are a friend of mine.

Friends are who help each other get to the other side of fear. – Tom


Death and Cookies

The Cookie Crumbles

“If you are no longer helpful.

If you don’t do anything well.

If all you do is just sit with a cookie, then it’s time. 

And, that’s when you die.”– Mom

Me: Mom, what is dying anyway?

Mom: What is dying?

I don’t know.

I don’t know anybody who knows.

You just die.

That’s all there is to it.

The first thing you do after you die is to go find your mother.

It doesn’t matter if she is big or little.

You just go find her.

And, if you look long enough, you will.

And, that’s it.


You don’t need to know what it is.

You just do it.

Note: Mom’s mom, Neville Watkins (1882-1927), died from complications with pneumonia at 45 when my mom, the youngest of four, was only six. My grandmother’s last words to my mom were, “You take care of yourself. I love you, sugar.” And she waved goodbye. 

Mom's Mom

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