Category Archives: Mom

The New Normal

My mom died. I feel like I have it branded across my face. The enormous fact of it covers me like a cloud. The hole she leaves is somewhat bigger than I expected. Most 30-somethings who lose a parent do not act as primary caregiver, cook, chauffeur, and entertainment for the last months or years of the parent’s life. It is more like losing a child or a spouse, someone who shares your home and your routines and whose absence you feel in a million everyday things. Even when my dad died suddenly, I left my life in Alabama to deal with it and then returned home afterwards, where my routines continued as they always had. His everyday life was not entangled with mine.

Most days, I’m okay. We’re okay. It’s a new normal, but logistically much simpler than the old normal. In the evenings, after we put Hazel to bed, we have a whole hour (or two!) to ourselves. Previously, we’d put Hazel to bed and then start mom’s evening routine, which took all the available time until we went to bed.

Our dog, Boots, died three days before mom. I still cannot muster the bandwidth to properly grieve that loss, but our new normal does not include feeding, medicating, cleaning up after, and letting the dog out.

Basically, I feel like I have so much free time I could seriously address world poverty. And then I feel crushed with guilt for feeling that way. And then I make plans to use my time, and feel better about having some purpose to my life.

And then I pick up the phone to call mom, or start to walk to the guest house to see if she needs anything from the grocery store, or think of something I’d like to ask her. I suddenly have 39834598798456 questions for her.

Oddly, going to church is the hardest thing I have to do every week. Both my church and mom’s church in Jacksonville have been incredibly kind to my family, providing meals and hugs and cards and kind words. My mom loved church, and her faith put mine to shame. I feel her absence most acutely during worship. I can’t get through a hymn – even ones I don’t like – without crying. And then I get embarrassed, and then I get sweaty. It’s awesome.

I have met people since she died, who have no idea about the journey I have just completed. A new woman cut my hair two weeks ago, and I struggled to make small talk without screaming MY MOM JUST DIED AND EVERYTHING IS WEIRD. I went out to lunch with some ladies I only know casually from the gym, and it never came up. I don’t want sympathy, but the fact of her death, and the road we took to get there, are a huge part of my identity right now. I don’t quite know who I am without the role of caregiver.

I am sure this will feel less weird with time. I will fill my time with new activities, or resume activities I have neglected for the last year. But now, in the early days of the new normal, I’m still getting my balance.

 

 

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Eulogy

(Mom’s memorial service was held on Saturday in Jacksonville. She asked me, many years ago, to speak at her service. This is what I said.)

Thank you, all of you, for being here today. Mom is sorry she couldn’t make it, but God promised her a spot as the defensive coordinator in the highly-anticipated Angel Bowl, and that was an offer she could not refuse. She’ll be joined on the sidelines by my father, who is in charge of the tailgate spread, and Sugar the greyhound, who is the team mascot.

I have spent a lot of the last two and a half years cleaning out my parents’ home. I came across many treasures during that process, but none delighted me quite as much as a copy of a speech mom gave at an RPDS event many years ago. At the end, she included a survey taken of her graduating class, where each student shared what they wanted to be when they grew up. My uncle Louie, for example, wanted to build ships for the Navy, and Tom Borland wanted to be an underwater demolition expert.

My mom wanted to be the director of a summer camp for girls. Let’s all take a moment and envision the kind of summer camp my mom would run. I’m pretty sure it would be heavy on archery and horseback riding and waterskiing, and very light on arts and crafts. There would be no camp nurse, just a bottle of aspirin and a few band-aids in a paper bag behind the bar. And oh yes, there would be a bar.

Obviously, she did not fulfill the dream she had when she was 11,  but that bit of information helped me understand her so much better. She lived her whole life like it was summer camp – where you’re encouraged to be active, get dirty, and throw yourself into the world around you.

So instead of playing genteel country club tennis, she played extreme full-contact tennis.  Mom’s enthusiasm for the sport earned her several tennis-related trips to the emergency room. The most notable of these occurred after she laid out for an epic shot and broke her toe, bit through her bottom lip, and punctured her spleen with her thumb knuckle. Eventually, her doctors begged her to take up a less violent hobby.

Instead of breezing through a museum or zoo, she made sure to read every sign in front of every exhibit. I used to think she was just trying to get her money’s worth out of her admission ticket, but she really was interested in everything from the pygmy marmosets to the African elephants.

She had trouble understanding gift-giving, and never knew what to do with gifts she received. Instead, she gave out nicknames. I guess when your own nickname is “Winkie,” you can’t help it.

Raise your hand if you had a Winkie nickname. Me too. My brother and I had about five apiece. Growing up, I thought all my parents’ friends had unusual names like me. It took me way longer than it should have to realize that no one in their right mind would actually be named Mikeman. Or Dirt. Or Yo Ho.

My mother didn’t teach me how to curl my hair, or what colors looked best with my skin tone. She offered no advice on jewelry, clothes, or makeup. We never shared a bottle of wine or a pedicure. Those are not summer camp activities.

Instead, she taught me to be helpful and loyal and brave. She encouraged me to try new things and seek adventure, but always pay cash. She taught me to be a fierce competitor but a good sport.

And she never, ever, ever counseled moderation. When my son Tyler was in elementary school, he spent a whole week in the summer with Mom, just the two of them. She discovered he liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – and proceeded to make them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all between-meal snacks. Tyler came home oozing peanut butter from his pores.

I would not have made it through the last two and a half years without the support of my husband, Jason, who handled our household during my frequent trips to Jacksonville, and who did not hesitate when we decided to move her in with us. Mom adored Jason – she told me once that if anything happened between us, she was keeping him. For his birthday one year, she bought him a seersucker suit. Well, let’s be honest – she told him to buy a suit, preferably on sale, and turn in a receipt for reimbursement. Anyway. He wore the suit to Riverside one Sunday, and she proudly introduced him to all her friends. “This is Jason Taylor,” she would say, “and this is his birthday suit!”

I had planned to have tiny gin & tonics passed out in the communion trays so that we could all toast my mother together – but I have been informed that is frowned upon, even in the Presbyterian Church. Oh, well. Let us raise an invisible glass to my mother, who lived every day like it was summer camp – and may we find ways to bring that energy and enthusiasm into our own everyday lives.

Thank you.

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Obituary

Winifred Wootton Booher, 70, passed from this life on September 24. Winkie, along with her twin brother Lucius III, was born in Jacksonville to Winifred Sessoms Wootton and Lucius Bayne Wootton, Jr. on June 5, 1947.

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She attended Riverside Presbyterian Day School, Bartram School for Girls, and Agnes Scott College. After obtaining a degree in psychology and playing countless hours of field hockey, she spent two years working in Atlanta before returning to Jacksonville.

She met David Booher on a blind date in 1972, and said she’d never laughed so much in her life. They were married six months later, on April 14, 1973. They had two children, Winifred (Windy) Booher Taylor and David Henry Booher IV.

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Winkie’s life was devoted to service. She was an active member of Riverside Presbyterian Church, where she taught the confirmation class, served as an Elder, gave her time to various committees, and sang in the choir.

She was involved in the Junior League of Jacksonville, most notably as the editor of the Jacksonville & Company cookbook in 1982. She participated in the Leadership Jacksonville class of 1985, and served as treasurer for the Women’s Board of Wolfson Children’s Hospital until 2015.

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While handling all these leadership and service roles, Winkie worked full time managing David’s law office, and continued to work after his death until she retired in 2013. She also played tennis at the Florida Yacht Club, where she was known as a fierce competitor. She traveled extensively, read voraciously, and cheered enthusiastically for the Gators and the Jaguars.

 Winkie leaves behind her two children, Windy Taylor (Jason) and David Booher, her grandchildren, Hollyn, Tyler, Jensen, and Hazel, and her brother Louie Wootton (Kari-June). She was preceded in death by her parents, Winkie and Lucius Wootton, her husband David Booher III, and her beloved greyhound Sugar.

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A memorial service will be held at Riverside Presbyterian Church on October 7 at 11:00 a.m. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to Big Bend Hospice of Tallahassee, or Greyhounds as Pets of Northeast Florida.

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I got your letter.

Last weekend I opened a letter, 37 years after it was mailed to me. I found it in a box of my mom’s special treasures – her diplomas, her athletic awards, and this:

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January 22, 1980

Dear Winifred:

You will probably read this letter a long time after I’ve written and mailed it to you. I wanted you to know that your mother and father, your grandparents and your aunts shared with you and with the congregation of Riverside Presbyterian Church in the sacrament of baptism.

It was a very special time for all of us and we were very happy to be together with you as we thanked God for the gift of your life and for your presence with us. You were beautiful and your eyes opened as your father handed you to me. I will always remember seeing your two bright eyes open so wide.

As you will know by the time you read this, your name means “friend of peace.” I pray that God will always help us to know you as a true friend of peace and I pray that peace in Christ will always be yours.

Thank you for giving to me the privilege of sharing in your baptism, and God bless you.

This is an astonishingly beautiful gift to receive during this season of my life. It is almost certain that by the end of the year, all my parents and grandparents will be gone. This fills me with a panicky dread. I don’t think there’s a word for an adult orphan, yet I am gripped by the fears of an orphan – that my side of the holiday dinner table will be empty, all the men and women who shaped me, gone.

But this letter describes a moment when my parents and my grandparents and hundreds of members of  my home church celebrated my tiny new life and promised to be my family. This letter assures me that I belong somewhere, that my tribe extends beyond the walls of my childhood home, that there are men and women who have walked quietly with me my whole life.

I am never alone.

Roland Perdue, thank you so much for taking the time to write me that note all those years ago. Your letter is a treasure.

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Momcat.

When I was a kid, my mom’s favorite coffee mug featured a cat with a kitten in its pouch.

In retrospect, it was kind of weird.

But it was her mug, she used it all the time, and I remember how upset we all were the day it broke. My mom might have briefly considered shedding a single tear – which is as close to crying as my mom gets.

I thought it was a one-off, irreplaceable. But fast-forward 30 or so years, and thanks to the magic of the internet, I learned that the cat with the pouch was a Thing.

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And thanks to the magic of eBay, I learned I could replace my mom’s favorite mug. Shazam!

I ordered it right before Easter, and on that Saturday a mug-sized package arrived at my doorstep.

I opened the box, sat down on my steps, and cried. The package did not contain my Momcat mug. It was instead from hospice, and it contained medications we need to have on hand to keep my mom comfortable.

Some time between her MRI on December 20 and her MRI on April 3, mom’s glioblastoma returned with a vengeance, in multiple locations throughout her brain. She was offered chemotherapy as a palliative care measure, but the risks outweighed the benefits. We decided to begin hospice services.

So that’s what I’ve been up to for the last month and a half. And what I’ll be up to for the next few months. I joke that my life has been canceled until further notice, but the truth is that my life has constricted, focused around one goal – to give my mother as many good days as possible as her life comes to a close.

It is hard.

It is a privilege.

We’ve stocked up on Chocolate Trinity Ice Cream from Publix (her favorite), a friend let me borrow all five seasons of Designing Women, and Jason is watching the NBA playoffs with her. Her neighbors from Jacksonville brought over her bird feeder, which she monitors closely. She does not report any pain.

The mug did arrive eventually, and she adores it.

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May Day

Then:

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Now:

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There is more – much more – to say, but I wanted to mark the occasion on a happy note.

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Sisyphus

The plan was simple. I was to take my mother to Jacksonville on Saturday for the wedding of her godson, the son of her oldest friend, and then spend the night on the same property where the wedding was being held. I felt clever enough to transport her from Point A to Point B and back in a 24-hour period. I even brought a couple of books, on the theory that I would execute my duties so competently I would have time left over to read while gazing at the ocean.

Instead, like the clever Sisyphus, I spent the weekend pushing my mother up the hill of my own hubris.

We left Tallahassee at noon. The wedding was scheduled for 5:00 at Amelia Island, a three-hour drive away. We stopped for lunch at 1:00. Mom preferred to eat at the restaurant, and I thought that with my help we could be in and out in a reasonable amount of time.

Nope.

Most people can cope with the level of stimulus generated by a busy fast-food restaurant on a Saturday afternoon. Not my mother. She was completely overwhelmed by the noises, the lights, the colors.

I pushed.

I ordered for her, helped her sit down, brought her food, filled her drink, and begged her to eat. She sat, staring in the direction of the TV without really seeing it. I had to coach her through every bite. It took over an hour.

I pushed.

Back in the car, I realized that we were now in danger of being late. We pulled up to the hotel at 4:00. Of course, check-in was in the main hotel, and our room was in a distant building.

And here’s where I made my biggest mistake. I had assumed that a normal hotel setup would be fine for mom. She walks slowly and with difficulty, but she does not use a walker or wheelchair. However, there are some very real differences between a truly accessible space and a “normal” space. At 4:20, when I pulled up to the building where our room was located, I almost cried. All I could see were stairs. There were stairs to get to the elevator, which was also located at the back of the building. There were more stairs from the elevator to our room.

I pushed.

I got her out of the car and into the room. I got both of us changed and back downstairs to catch the shuttle to the ceremony site. We arrived at 5:05, just ahead of a golf cart full of bridesmaids. The shuttle dropped us 50 yards from the seating area. The distance stretched before me like a dolly zoom shot from a Hitchcock film.

I pushed.

The ceremony was lovely, and offered me exactly 20 minutes to breathe before tackling the next challenge – another 50-yard walk over unpaved ground to the reception site. We put mom on a golf cart, a process that took three adults and 10 minutes of coaching. Once at the reception, we deposited her in a chair. She did not get up for the rest of the evening. After dinner, we wrangled her back onto the shuttle and I somehow got her up to our room, undressed, and in bed.

Sunday morning, I woke up pushing.

I got her out of bed. I packed all our things, dressed her, and loaded the car. I asked if she was ready to go.

“I’m ready to go back to bed,” she pouted.

I made her use the restroom before we left. The toilet was low, and configured such that I could not stand in front of her to help her up. The awkward angle, combined with her inability to assist, caused me to wrench my back trying to keep her from falling to the floor. I spent the drive home with increasing stiffness and soreness in my mid-back.

Yet I pushed.

I arrived home just after noon and I was a wreck. I had spent every waking moment of the last 24 hours pushing my mother, pushing her to move, pushing her to focus, pushing her to cooperate. Even when we’re at home, I have to push her to drink water, push her to use the bathroom, push her to eat, push her to bathe.

I’m glad we went. It was the right thing to do. The wedding was lovely. But the amount of work required to execute a relatively simple plan was staggering. I consider myself to be pretty smart, but I was humbled by the number of factors I failed to adequately consider. And while I would love to say, “Next time will be better!” I honestly don’t think there will be a next time.

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