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Remembering my Mom
March 25th, 2007. It was the day that my mother died.
Oh, we knew it was coming, but it still hit hard when it happened. My mother, Barbara Yelton, was suffering from pancreatic cancer. She had been operated on for colon cancer in August of 2006, and unfortunately, it wasn't enough. Even after the removal of her rectum that would leave her needing a colostomy bag for the rest of her life, the bleeding still continued, and it turned out the cancer had spread to her pancreas. And she whittled down to around 80 pounds from the 130 she normally was. It was sad to see.
The Wednesday before that, she asked for her loved ones to gather around. And I left work early to rush to the hospice where she was, and she was jabbering away, my sister and her family laughing and talking, and when I came in, I immediately started crying. She comforted me and told me not to worry, that she was all right. And she just kept talking about what we were gonna do for Easter, and how she looked forward to camping, and all sorts of stuff. She even ate a piece of canteloupe! I left the place thinking she was gonna be all right. But in reality, that was her last stand, her way of saying good bye to all of us. But I didn't know, or want to know that that was what was going on. My sister knew, I think, but I was too blind to realize that's what it was, her good bye to us all. My mother was a religious woman, and she said when seeing her brother, my Uncle Ronnie, do the same thing years before that that was God's way of letting him get his last words in and tell everyone not to worry, that he was okay. Mom was doing the same thing for us.
For a long time, I would cry thinking of her being gone, leaving me all alone in the world. Yes, I lived with her, and you can make fun of me if you want, but we were a team. She did all the heavy lifting (i.e, bills and house payments), and I gave her money and companionship, although in all honesty, I was not a good son. I preferred being alone, and she gave me my space, but when we needed each other, we were there.
In the immediate time after her death, I wished that she was spared, and that I was taken instead. Everyone loved my mother, while I was somebody who the jury was still out on. And I didn't know how I could go on without her. I still don't sometimes.
But that was then, and this is now, five years later, and I don't want to wallow in her death. Let me tell you about her life.
My mom was born in 1941, the eldest of four children. She was raised in a loving, Christian home and was an obedient child. She had a restless spirit, though, and gravitated to spending time with her aunt, and my great aunt, Rose Adela Forwood aka Aunt Dell. They would travel around Baltimore to the shops and go to ball games together, and play chinese checkers, bake cookies, and just have fun.
I don't know how she met my father, but she and he got married in 1963, and there went my mom's freedom. My father was a hillbilly from North Carolina who believed women should be at home, and not working or catting around. Both he and my mom were restless to get out on their own, and that's probably what attracted them to each other.
Long story short, they had a tumultuous relationship. He believe he could stay out all night and leave her alone at the house and be a jerk. She was used to being autonomous, driving wherever she wanted to go, and chatting with her friends. He put a stop to that.
In March of 1964, I was born. And that gave J.B. (my father) the excuse to keep her isolated. She couldn't go anywhere because she had a kid to take care of. And meanwhile, he would work during the day, get a quick bite to eat, and then hang out at the general store in Gamber, or wherever. And she stayed home with her baby.
She ended up leaving him in a year or so, going back to her parents' home. They never did like him very much and I could see why. He kept their daughter in a matter they didn't agree with. Eventually, he apologized, and she went back with him, which she said she never regretted because after their reconciliation she became pregnant again, and my sister Sherry was born in 1966.
Me, my mom, and my sister Sherry in 1968.
My father eventually met a woman he fooled around with, and told her he was single. She believed him, as she was cheating on her husband, too. J.B. moved out to be with her, and she and he had a really toxic relationship together, and my mother was abandoned. He'd come home every day to pay bills, yell at us kids for not being perfect, and take off to his,.....girlfriend. She came to the house one day to meet my mom and they talked for awhile, and she admitted that J.B. was spending all his time with her. Mom wasn't surprised he was doing that, and eventually he moved out. And Mom was alone with her kids. But there were a lot of neighbors around, and they all hung out and had a good time talking, mostly about their kids. Most of them were good people, from North Carolina or Tennessee originally (we lived in Maryland). And they would give my mom rides to the local store or post office or whatever, and all us kids would play together. Of course, when my dad would hear this, he would hit the roof, and forbid us from going anywhere off our property. But he wasn't there all the time.
But some things started to happen. First, one of my school friends' families invited us to church, and we went every Sunday, and sometimes on Wednesday nights, too. My mom, who was a Christian anyway, got involved in church in a big way, restoring her commitment to God and to living her life in the way of the church. She also enjoyed helping out with Bible School, and any charitable causes the church would take on. We didn't have a car, so everyone picked us up to go to these functions, and my mom would light up, being so happy to have company.
Then, my mom decided since J.B. wasn't around much, she was going back to work. She wound up being a nurses' aide at a convalescent home, and that wound up being her career. She loved her elderly patients, and talked about them like they were her kids, laughing about what funny stuff they said, worrying about them when they were sick, and praying for them when they were near death's door. The compassion she showed for her patients rubbed off on the staff, and the loved ones of those she took care of. My mother was a beacon of light for a lot of old folks that were depressed or weak, and she would make them feel better about themselves. That was my mother. She was so selfless, and cared about everyone and everything.
You wouldn't think it to look at her, all 5 foot 2 or 3 of her, but she was a tough lady, with lots of gumption. She basically told my father that she wasn't gonna sit around and do nothing for the rest of her life. She got out and went to church, worked, and did whatever the hell she wanted. And he was preoccupied with his girlfriend's family, her six kids, plus the one he had with her, that we were just low on the totem pole. He stopped coming to the house every day. He'd show up once a week to pay bills, and that was it.
We moved, and Mom found a car, and she started going places. We didn't have to catch rides to the store anymore. And we could come and go as we pleased. We'd go to Pennsylvania almost every weekend to be with our cousins, and we'd have a good time. My mom worked very hard, and I know it was exhausting work. And it didn't pay much. Sometimes we didn't have a phone because we couldn't afford it, but we always had food. Maybe not what we wanted to eat, but we never went hungry. We never had the latest clothes, getting hand-me-downs from friends or buying stuff from Goodwill or flea markets, but our clothes were clean, and that's all that mattered.
My mom never even considered food stamps. We eventually got them when she took ill with pneumonia in '82, but we only kept them for two months, and Mom hated being on them. She was ashamed to have the state take care of her. Unlike people today, who have four generations living off the government.
We had our ups and downs, sharing an apartment with a bunch of goofballs, moving in with my grandparents, getting out on our own thanks to HUD, but we always stuck together, me, my sister, and my Mom. We were a team. We got on each other's nerves, but we always were there for each other.
Mom was very appreciative of the smallest things. For Christmas of 1983, my sister decided that Mom needed a new coat. The old one was ratty and had holes. So she and I bought her a new blue coat with a multicolored lining. She was so happy about that that she knocked on the neighbor's door across the hall wearing it to show off. "Look what my kids bought me!", she exclaimed. It's one of my favorite memories of her.
In 1986, we almost lost her. She and her friend were going to work when a 16-year-old girl decided to plow right into them despite my mom having the right of way. Mom broke all of the ribs on one side, and had a skull fracture. Her coworker was also injured. The girl didn't have a scratch. Mom was taken to the local hospital, then flown to Shock Trauma, where she spent five days. She survived, and came home with her face so swollen and black and blue that I had a hard time looking at her. But as always, she thought of others. She kept calling work, thinking they'd fire her for this, when that was further from the truth. She worried about all of us, and how we would get along without her. That was her nature. And she recovered, going back to work about three months later. The accident did take a toll on her. She lost her singing voice.
My mom could sing like a songbird. She had a beautiful operatic soprano voice. She sang often in choirs and had an incredible voice, a gift from God, one might say. Her whole family sang or played a musical instrument, so she was just doing what came naturally. But after the accident, she couldn't hit those high notes any more. She still sang very well, but it was nothing like she was before.
Mom would also stand up for herself. She'd quit jobs if they didn't treat her or her patients right, and she had no hesitation of telling people how she felt about her coworkers or supervisors if they didn't serve their patients correctly. That got her in some trouble, but she went to bat for her patients or some of her coworkers, and the people in charge mostly listened because of her experience and her track record. My mom never complained unless it was really necessary.
In later years, she would buy her own house, and I shared it with her. She could've kicked me out many times, but as long as I had a job, I was welcome. I found out I had inherited my mother's work ethic and passion about getting it right, and I am grateful for that.
She loved the little things at her house. She was delighted to see a bunny rabbit on her front lawn one day. She said, "Look, Jeffrey. I love him!" And one day she went out and talked to the bunny rabbit on the front porch. My neighbor across the street (and fellow co-worker) Lois about died laughing at her. But that was Mom, always showing compassion for God's creatures.
One day, she came in the house crying. She said our cat Button had attacked a sparrow, and one of the sparrow's wings was broken. Button just sat on the porch holding court. There were two giant tooth marks in the sparrow's back. So Mom called the local pet hospital, put the bird in a box, and delivered it to them to take to a bird sanctuary when it got better. She didn't punish Button, because she said it's in a cat's nature to do these things. This was one of the stories told at her funeral, and it got a good laugh from everybody.
Unfortunately, not long after that, Mom was diagnosed with colon cancer. She was such a workaholic that she wouldn't take the time to see the doctor for every little twinge. She only went when she had a bad fever or was throwing up. She had stomach problems for most of the last 10-15 years of her life, but no one knew that it would wind up being cancer.
It wasn't the first time she had cancer. When I was little, she had serious cancer, of what I don't know, but the treatment in the 1960's was cobalt and radium. She would get really sick of the treatment, and at that time, my dad lived at home, and would watch after us while she slept. One day, she went for treatment but had an x-ray first, and a shocking thing happened. There was no cancer. None. It had disappeared. And the doctors were at a loss to explain it. My mother attributed it to God, and she praised him for this miracle.
But it was this treatment all those years ago that caused the new cancer in 2005 or so. The cobalt and radium had lain dormant in her body for years until it reappeared and caused the colon cancer that would lead to her death. Had she gotten a colonoscopy a few years earlier, it might've been early enough that it could've dealt with. But, by the time she got it, it was too late.
Mom was optimistic going into the surgery, saying she was prepared for wearing a colostomy bag, and expected that she'd be all right in six months. But the four-hour surgery was not good. The cancer was worse than they thought, and her rectum was removed. She would never be the same.
She didn't come home for good until October, and she immediately started cooking, cleaning, and doing Mom stuff when she got back. Her church loved her, and she went every Sunday. By November, she was complaining that she was bored, so she went to some senior events, lunches and things, and it was all right, but it wasn't work. And that's what she missed.
She had plenty of time for her grandchildren, though. She loved Brittney and Curtis, and was always on the phone with family talking about their latest antics. And she loved her animals, although she couldn't allow her cat Button to lay on her anymore because his sharp claws could rip apart her colostomy bag.
December was good, and January had some hiccups, but by February, the bleeding she was having was getting worse, and she couldn't go down stairs anymore. By March, she was anchored to her bed. My sister eventually put her in the hospital. She never came home.
At Mom's funeral, both sides of the family, including my father and his new wife, who is also my aunt (don't ask), and folks I hadn't seen in years. Friends of mine who were friends of hers showed up to support me in my time of grief. The funeral was wonderful, the minister sharing his thoughts of his interactions with her, and stories that my sister and I had told him. And all of us wept in sadness, but were also happy that she didn't have to suffer anymore. I felt cheated that she didn't get a normal life span. But my mother would probably counter with, "I was supposed to die of cancer in 1968. I got almost 40 years I wasn't supposed to get." That's my mom.
What do I miss the most about her? Her cooking, her smile, her laugh, her toughness, her compassion, her love for her family, and her tolerance for all sorts of people. She was probably owed thousands of dollars by people over the years, but if she had to do it all over again, she'd probably do it the same way. She had a good life, a hard one to be sure, but a good one.
It is said that if you leave this earth better than you found it, you have done well. My mother left this earth a thousand times better than she left it because of all the lives she touched, and all the lessons she taught us. And on this fifth anniversary of her death, I want to say this,.....thank you Mom, for everything,....