Oliver: One year down in the life as a newly motherless child

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

A year has passed since that fateful night when I got the call I had been dreading.

Actually, I almost missed it, barely able to stumble to the phone after having been roused from a deep sleep. Deep enough that I missed the buzzing of my cellphone vibrating near my head.

The landline, on the other side of the bed, required some gymnastics to answer.

When I did, it took a few seconds to realize that it was a nurse from the JourneyCare hospice facility in Woodstock with news about my mother.

A few more seconds were required to process that my mother had died. I felt my knees begin to give out as I very nearly fainted.

That was April 13, 2018.

By the time my husband and I drove through the darkness from McHenry, I found an odd peace had descended. My mother would no longer be in pain, no longer be haunted by her “invisible people,” no longer confused and angry and tired.

Her face in death was more serene that it had been a lot of the time in her last days among the living. She hadn’t felt any last spasm of pain; her face showed no sign her last breath had been a struggle.

I suppose I can be forgiven for feeling in those first few moments a measure of gratitude and relief. At least her end had been peaceful.

I had raged with unspeakable grief when five days earlier she had fallen and broken her thigh bone. I knew what that had meant. I knew what my decision to keep her in hospice would mean.

And yet the full import of that decision only hit me within the last few weeks. It really hadn’t been much of a decision. Her dementia would have made a surgery and rehabilitation next to impossible. Besides, my mother and I had discussed what I was to do once she wasn’t able to make her own decisions. Still, I think about it with a twinge of guilt and regret at the thought that somehow I had failed her.

Then again, those last few months before she died had been brutal. Her dementia had made her belligerent. She was having a harder time getting up in the morning and she talked about wanting to die at an alarming rate.

Still, I wasn’t ready for her to go. And the past year since her death has been anything but smooth.

First came the countless details of getting her affairs settled. As her power of attorney and the executor of her will, I found myself spending hours trying to deal with it all. It took until early this year to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Meanwhile, perhaps because I no longer was so focused on my mother, I found that my husband’s Alzheimer’s disease was progressing more noticeably. So much so that by September, he gave up driving.

All along the way were the inevitable moments where my grief, usually so well-behaved and politely tucked away, would jump up and grab me, demanding a few minutes of my time.  

Never was this more apparent than when a dear friend’s wife succumbed to a battle with cancer. My own grief, combined with an overwhelming grief for my friend, left me powerless.

Two weeks later, news came of another friend who had lost her years-long battle with breast cancer. Add to that recent medical complications of my own and, well, it’s probably understandable that I’m more numb than sad at the moment.

Yet, a few tears came from the most unlikely of sources. I broke down as Tiger Woods won his fifth Masters championship. Why? My mother loved Tiger.

She would have loved to have seen it. No doubt she would have cried, too.

• Joan Oliver is a former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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