Column: Mom, hugs and a way-too-late thank you


My mom died last month.

Nancy Ann (Bowman) Kent died April 9 at Signature HealthCARE in Galion. She had been a resident there for more than two years, battling the horrifying effects of dementia.

Richard Kent, my dad, loved and cared for his wife more than he ever let on. Of course they argued, after being married 66 years, arguments were like meals. They happened and were then forgotten.

Before mom went to Signature, she showed signs of dementia. But dad was great at covering for her.

She started cooking dinner a few times, and then went to take a nap, with the burners still on and the pork chops getting darker and darker. After the house filled with smoke, dad simply opened the windows, did the dishes, wiped off the stove and counters and went on his way. He likely threw away a few pots and pans — and a lot of pork chips — but to him, that was just another day in the life.

Mom also liked her walk-in Jacuzzi. But on several occasions, she ran water, then went on to something else. And the Jacuzzi overflowed.

But life went on.

I knew mom was well-liked, but like many things in life — and death — you learn lots after the fact. The stories shared during calling hours and before and after the funeral from people from mom’s childhood, who worked with her or were cared for by her during 40 years as a nurse, who knew her during her decades as a volunteer with the American Red Cross, were so very special.

I inherited a couple things from mom … OK, maybe three things.

Mom loved to cook. I am happier when I am cooking than at any other time.

Mom had a wicked sense of humor. So do I. Mine is a little more dry, a little darker. But I know it came from her.

In later years — it may have been the dementia, or maybe not — mom developed quite a potty month. Even before that, she had a fondness for flipping people the bird. Thankfully, most of those on the other end of that bird were family.

I also find the ‘the bird’ to be quite therapeutic. And my language can be quite salty at times. People tell me I should quit flipping the bird at intersections or in the carryout line at McDonald’s when someone takes more than three minutes to order something. For crying out loud, it’s McDonald’s, not a Japanese steak house.

OK, I’m better now.

I’ve tried to tone down my swearing at times, and my use of the middle finger. I know there are good reasons to do both. But now, when someone gives me grief, I just tell them I’m paying tribute to my mom.

I think mom would like that.

Sunday is Mother’s Day. We always got mom flowers on Mother’s Day. But this year, things are different.

I bought flowers, but not for mom.

They are for a group of people who came to mean more to mom and her family that I could ever imagine. They went to the staff and administrators at Signature HealthCARE. For 30 months, they put up with mom’s antics — and our family antics — as they cared for her and grew to love her.

I’m not good at names, but I rarely forget a face. And the faces at Signature and the Hospice volunteers who also came to know my mom, dad, and family will forever be etched in my mind.

They do an impossible job. They see more illness and death in a matter of months than many do in a lifetime.

And they do it with a smile and a pat on the hand or back, and sometimes a hug.

I didn’t visit mom as often as my dad, my sisters Cindy or Jenny, or my nephews Nick and Nate. But not once in 30 months did I enter that building or mom’s ward without being greeted with a “hello” or a “how are you doing?”

Those greetings always came with a smile, despite the noise and chaos of the Alzheimer’s ward.

In the last couple weeks, as mom grew weaker, those greetings sometimes came with a hug. My sisters and my dad were always on the receiving end of hugs.

I’ve never been much of a hugger, but I admit, I started to grow a little jealous.

The day mom died, Dawn, one of mom’s nurses, the one I talked with the most, came over to me and gave me a big hug. I doubt she realizes how much that hug meant. It was a really great, comforting hug.

In the days before and after mom’s death and her funeral, I received a lot of hugs.

I had forgotten how therapeutic hugs can be. There is nothing like a hug from someone who cares.

And I know the Signature staff really cared … for all of us.

They cared deeply for mom, despite her mood swings and her confusion. I know they loved her. That was evident each time they walked into her room to check her vitals, to try to get her to eat, to make her more comfortable, to wet her lips and mouth, to hold her hand and talk to her, to re-position her oxygen.

And mom loved them, too. Although mom smiled a lot those last few days, sometimes our family had no luck getting a responser. But when we could not, a visit from Hospice or her of the Signature staff always seemed to draw out a smile.

I am amazed at the love and tenderness they exhibit in an atmosphere that most could not deal with, let alone thrive in.

Since mom died, we’ve not been to Signature since.

I feel guilty about that. Our family grieved with one another.

But the staff at Signature, who grew to love us, who were always there for us, well, the past few weeks … we were not there to grieve with them.

For that I’m sorry. You all meant the world to mom and to our entire family.

So thank you. You are loved and cherished and will not be forgotten.

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Russ Kent is editor of the Galion Inquirer. Email him at rkent@aimmediamidwest.com.