Moving Mama Introduction

Moving Mama Introduction offers you a peek at the book’s Introduction. Moving Mama is a practical resource about Alzheimer’s and its impact  on families. It shares our story: how my brothers and I worked together to manage mother’s care.

The focus is on how we moved through this important, often difficult life stage:  what we learned, what we wish we’d known then, what we now value and want to pass on to others.

This introduces you to my mother, a real piece of work, Southern style. Enjoy!

Introducing my Mother

I was raised by a mother who was brilliant, cultured, and a bit crazy.  She started college at age 16, during the middle of the Great Depression. She majored in English and timely thank you notes. She played cello and piano as a teenager and college student, and taught piano for much of her adult life. There are probably hundreds of people from Winston-Salem who remember their piano lessons with Lorene – either fondly or with relief, knowing that rite of passage and part of their young lives is behind them. 

Mother and Dad lived in Montgomery, Alabama in 1950, where I was born. In the mid-1950s, we moved to Europe, which holds wonderful memories for me. Grandmother came to live with us for part of that time in our old chateau, sharing our experiences with frozen pipes and holes in the roof from WW II bombs. She would take me to Paris on the train, and after mother died I found Gram’s journal of those trips to Paris. We walked all over the place, and she took me to the Louvre to introduce me to art. Once, she made me stand in front of the Winged Victory of Samothrace for what seemed like hours to a five year old, saying “I want you to remember this always. Someday you’ll thank me.”  I did. Gram and mama introduced me to so much I love about Paris and Europe.

By the late 1950s, we were back in Montgomery, and lived there in the land of cotton until 1963. The Civil War Centenniel in 1960 was filled with interesting “southernisms,” like dressing up once a week in Antebellum costumes. Of course, it was mostly the whites who celebrated and dressed up, since there wasn’t much for blacks to celebrate about the “old south.”   But underneath the faux crinolines and long coats of those re-enacting revisionist history festered boils of fear-driven racism. Those years of civil unrest were forever captured in news stories and photographs for the world, and captured for me in mental photographs. They represented the end of the old plantation-based southern culture, and the very difficult dawning of a long overdue new day. 

During those years, many people (black and white) were scared to death, and the mood was ugly. My father worked quietly in the background to get a new Red Cross assignment away from the deep south. He moved us to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1963 – about as far from Montgomery as we could get.

For these Alabama refugees, San Juan represented a new freedom. Puerto Rico beckoned with a heady mix of life, and we responded. Our years there provided us with undreamed of new experiences, and a cultural diversity as rich as our arroz con pollo dinners and aguinaldos sung at Christmas.

Mama’s Roots 

Roots were and still are important in the south. To many of the old school, there is one question more important than what you do. It is who you come from. Raised in one of the deeper parts the deep south, mother was part of a line of southern families whose arc had already peaked, but not precipitously.  The Whortons were quite proud of the 13 generations that went back to Philip, Lord Whorton who was knighted by King Henry VIII.  One of his portraits shows Philip with a pose and hair a lot like Byonce’s, only he had more hair. Another part of Philip’s story is hardly ever told, but the historian in our family reports that Philip squandered the family resources, got into debt, contracted syphillis and died in a monastery in Spain.

Mama’s other side descended from the Hays families of Scotland, or “the Hay Clan” according to my cousin Margaret. The Hays family evidently had significant holdings in Scotland, or so the descendants like to think. After mother died, we found some of our great grandfather’s things in a trunk: a Civil War Union Army cap, buttons and old GAR Encampment ribbons from the 1880s and 1890s. We were so excited to discover a big family secret: our great grandfather, Asa B. Hays, had fought in the Civil War – – on the Union side! We were thrilled and so relieved, thinking we might be able to unload some of the psychic weight we carried. Later, we learned the rest of the story.  Even though his enlistment in the Union Army may have been high minded and driven by values, the fact of the matter was that Asa had gotten a young girl pregnant. He followed his friend, Jack Curtis, to join the Union ranks. Soon after joining, Asa’s regiment moved out, and he was able to enjoy unimpeded soldiering without fear of a shotgun wedding. After that, we were a bit more sanguine about Asa’s motives and the reasons for his being given a judgeship in the 1870s.

Mama’s mother, Hattie Hays Whorton, was a strong woman who was the matriarch and spiritual center of the family.  Grounded in the Unity School of Christianity, she had an unshakeable faith, an artist’s gifts, a huge heart, and a practical outlook on life. She brought her family through the Great Depression, sending her children to college, relying on income from her artwork and music lessons.

Gram was also very clear about her views, as I discovered as a child. She had been a member of the Womens Christian Temperance Union, or the WCTU. Her joining may have been influenced by my grandfather’s behavior. He was both a famous local Birmingham doctor, and an alcoholic who was unable to get sober, even after repeated attempts at treatment. After frequent failures and increasingly erratic behavior, Gram invited him to live somewhere else. But she stayed in touch and took care of him during his final days in the hospital. Gram believed in doing the right thing. She valued hard work, responsibility and fairness. She loved the arts, was well educated and well traveled. She was also very much a product of the Victorian Age into which she was born, and the Edwardian period of her youth. These all influenced my mother.

Protecting Her Mama 

Our mother took such good care of her mama during Gram’s last years, and this was a model for the three of us in caring for her. Grandmother, at three months shy of 100, had been taken to the hospital with complications from pneumonia. In earlier times, pneumonia was often called “the old person’s friend ” because it often hastened and softened death.  It could shorten one’s suffering during the final days of life before one was called home.

Even though managed care was far from well developed in 1982, doctors and hospitals were already moving in that direction, coding diagnostic related groups to manage care and expand services to the insured. By the early 1980s, technology allowed a new detail in service analysis and coding, more options for insured patients, stronger risk-management to avoid lawsuits, and new opportunities to expand services and billings.

Whatever the cause for his concerns, a young doctor was practicing his newfound doctoring demeanor with mother, who was exhausted from caregiving, grieving the loss, and exasperated with his intrusion. He wanted to intubate Gram and put her on a respirator. Mother, the daughter of a doctor, had her own ideas. The doctor had a white coat, but mother was older, and smarter and tougher.

She would not stand by to have her mother’s last days or hours unkindly stretched out, extending the period she might live as a shell of herself. Her father and mother had instilled in her (and in us) a respect for the natural cycle of life without the imposition of inappropriate extraordinary measures.

Nevertheless, the doctor continued to try to chip away at mother’s resolve. Finally, mother had had enough. Poor kid didn’t stand a chance, as she lambasted the unwitting  with unexpected fury. “Now you listen here, young man,” mother said to him. “My father was a doctor, with a great deal more experience than you have at your tender age. We value life, but we don’t believe in these unnecessary tactics to prolong life, especially at her age.” 

Few people discussed living wills and medical directives then, so the doctor was aghast.  He unwisely pressed his point. Mother continued. “Young man, if this were your grandmother, would you suggest that course of treatment? Knowing she’s at the end of her life?”  She looked down her nose at the young M.D.

He was backing down, and literally backing off. Standing and shaking her finger at the young upstart, she gave him her answer in no uncertain terms. “I will not allow it. My mind is made up, and you will not change it. That is that. Now leave us alone.”

The doctor left, but probably with a serious wound to his ego. That may be why, upon leaving, he gave her a hastily written referral slip for a psychiatrist. There were many, many times we three children felt that sort of referral would have been appropriate and helpful. But not then. Thank goodness mother had the intellect, skill and strength of her 65 years to prevail against the turkey in the white coat.

Game, set and match to mother. When she was good, she was very, very good.


Anne Hays Egan, New Ventures Consulting, EzineArticles Expert Author

Moving Mama Introduction

Copyright, New Ventures Consulting, 2012. All rights reserved.  Do not duplicate without written permission.

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