Tag Archives: My 91 Year Old Mom

The unfolding story of mom & me at a particular age and stage in both of our lives.

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:

Tom,

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.

Dying?

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

Livi’s Great Note to Her Great Grandma

Livi is ten and one of mom’s six great grandchildren. She wrote mom a great note and sent it to Richmond, VA from her home in Wilmington, NC.

I thought it would be fun to video mom while I read Livi’s great note to her.

Little did I know it would be a one take wonder to behold.

It’s amazing just how much joy Livi’s simple act of kindness created.

Here’s video proof of what a note, call or a visit might mean to someone you know.

You don’t need a season or reason for doing it.

Why not create a little joy for someone right now.

Make a note of it!

Great Granddaughter, Livi

Perfection

Perfection!

Me: Mom, when I was baby, was I big or little?

Mom: You were just the right size.

You were perfection.

You did everything right.

You still do.

You don’t spit.

You know dirty words, but you don’t say them very much.

Me: [I am bent double, laughing my (sort of a dirty word) off.]

I love you, mom!

Mom: I want to thank you for your strongness [sic].

I love you everywhere I turn.

Me: [I am still in the bent double position, but mom has magically turned my laughter into joyful tears. Talk about perfection … I didn’t even see it coming. She has crafted the perfect tribute with a perfect concoction of words.]

Mom, I want to thank you for your strongness.

I love you everywhere I turn.

Mom: You’re welcome.

Strongness: Even though Google helped me find a definition for strongness, it is not considered a real Scrabble word! – Tom Laughon

Voluntary Leave of Absence

“You can count on grief, but you must always remember grief doesn’t know how to count. There’s no rhyme or reason. There are no clear steps or timelines. It comes and goes and there is no telling when, where or why. Grief is like a riptide. It can happen at any moment, without a moments notice … even on what seems like the sunniest, calmest and safest of days.” Tom Laughon

Followers, Friends, Visitors and Digital Passers-by:

As you may or may not have noticed, I literally abandoned my posts on My 91 Year Old Mom’s blog.

Yep, after two years and two months of reasonably disciplined writing, I have been creating nothing but white space for four months solid. And, trust me, I needed the white space. I took a self prescribed leave of absence. Or, more to the point, I just didn’t have it in me to keep on blogging, blogging, blogging.

It wasn’t writers block. It was just the opposite.

I constantly had/have millions of molecules of ideas, thoughts, memories and insights … words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs and blogs whirling around in the high speed blender deep inside my brain. Even sleep can’t stop this unrelenting tsunami that has engulfed my entire being. That’s the problem. It had been 24/7/790 before I quit cold turkey.

I was a disaster in the making. I was way too immersed in caring for my mom, while mourning the loss of who she was; coming to grips with the  tragic death of my younger sister, Nel, from Alzheimer’s; and dealing with the emptiness of not having my dad and best buddy by my side even though he passed away in 2002 … I was literally caught in a riptide of emotions, swimming against cruel currents of grief … drowning in my own memories and sorrow.

Notice none of the above includes the rest of my life … you know, like Melissa’s and my marriage, our families, our friends, our business, our community, our world, our hopes and our dreams.

It felt like I was playing a life or death game of Whack the Mole. The faster I tried to whack out the exponentially growing invasion of the moles, the faster and mightier they grew. And, then, just when I felt like I might be gaining ground, the game would flip and I was the whacked versus being the whacker. No matter where or when I appeared or disappeared, I was getting whacked by moles for not being in the right place at the right time.

For most of my life, I had been rowing gently down the stream. You know … a merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream kind of stream. In that world I had everything, including me, under control. Happy family. Happy kids. Happy grand-kids. Happy wife. Happy career. Happy past. Happy present. And, happy dreams of a happy future.

I was a Life is Good T-Shirt.

However … when members of my core family began to disappear off of this planet, my dreams took a beating. Too much. Too overwhelmed. Too scared. Too uncertain about what was next. Too disoriented to know where or what next was. I hoped it was all a fleeting dream … a bad dream. I pinched myself to determine if I was awake. The pain verified that I most certainly was … and then, just as certainly, that I was not.

The dreams were just rewinding, getting ready to terrify and torment me all over again.

My blogs have given me great relief … but not a cure. Your support has been powerful, but it hasn’t filled the void … the emptiness down deep within my soul. About the time I would memorialize and find acceptance with one memory, zillions more competed for my attention. Pick me. Pick me. Pick me. Unrelenting. Unforgiving. Unbearable.

In my dreams I was caught in a riptide. I was being tossed and turned like flotsam and jetsam. I had to come up for air or I knew I would perish. I didn’t need a another story-line. I needed a lifeline.

As the riptide I was swimming against was taking me under, I could hear my wife, Melissa, “Swim with the riptide, Tom. For God’s sake, swim with it!”

When I didn’t respond, she dove in to save me. Her steady voice echoed in my head, “… Tom, swim with it.”

My dad was standing behind his pulpit. His robe was blowing in the wind. “The lesson, son, is to swim with the riptides life throws you or they will rip your heart and soul out and wash you away. We need you. We all need you, son. The land of the living needs you.” As I watched and listened, my dad faded into the heavens. I tried to grab his robe, but it was beyond my reach.

I heard Melissa scream, “Amen, the land of the living needs you, Tom.”

My sister, Nel, and Mom were part of a circle of robed figures, singing in a choir of angels:

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home

The entire congregation of moles joined in and became one harmonious voice with Nel, Mom and the angels:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Thank the good Lord, it was a wake-up call and my eyes were wide open.

Though I was lying on the shore now, out of harms way, lessons were still storming through my head.

Don’t deny grief. But, don’t let its darkness take you down. Heed the warning signs. Don’t go it alone. Search for, seek and find the light. Look for the more in life. We need you. We all need you. Melissa’s voice still pounded like crashing waves inside my brain, “Swim with the riptide, Tom, for God’s sake, swim with it!”

So, now, by some mighty amazing grace, I am back and feeling up to blogging on occasion … maybe. And, I am learning how to swim with riptides. I am learning how to live life, not as it was, but as it is, again.

“Most people, though, manage to make their way through the painful stages of grief and eventually regain their emotional balance. What they need desperately are caring friends and relatives who allow them to grieve in their own way, at their own pace and who, above all, will not insist that they act like their “old selves.” For no one who has suffered a terrible loss will ever be their old self again. They may be a different self or even a better self, but they will never regain the identity that was untouched by grief.” – Susan Jacoby

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