Tahlequah Daily Press


March 11, 2013

On the other side of life, her dignity is restored

TAHLEQUAH — On Monday, Feb. 11, the pope announced his resignation – the first Roman Catholic pontiff to step down in 600 years. Around 4 a.m. that same day in La Habra, Calif., my mother-in-law quietly departed this earth. Her passing didn’t make headlines, but it did etch a permanent mark on the hearts of those who loved her.

We were stunned and numb. Though Mom had been sick, we didn’t expect it this soon. We’d just been to their home over the Christmas holidays, and our first and simultaneous thought acknowledged how glad we were that she had seen us, and her grandson, one last time.

Pop called me at work with the news, so I talked to him before my husband did. Pop didn’t want us to take off work; he assured me he was fine, and he was busy. He was having Mom cremated, and when he joined her in the afterlife, only then would there be a funeral Mass for both of them. I tried to get him to fly to Oklahoma to stay with us, but he repeated he had a lot to do. I told him I loved him; he said he loved me, too.

Mom was 78; Pop is 83. Though he’s had hip replacement surgery, he’s no different from when I first met him 30 years ago: a thoughtful, discerning and hard-working Italian man from New Jersey who graduated from the school of hard knocks, stoic but with a wry sense of humor and a penchant for teasing his loved ones.

Mom had changed: She suffered from dementia, which she inherited from her mother.

Many local folks remember her parents, Lonzo and Halley Grant, who had retired here. Shortly after Grandpa Lonzo died in 1981, Grandma Halley moved to California to live with Mom and Pop, but they eventually put her in a nursing home because both of whom still worked at that time, and they found it impossible to care for her.

Mom was candid about her own mother’s condition, and she often expressed the fear that she, too, would have dementia. A few years ago when we were visiting, she took Chris and me with her to the grocery store. While Chris was in another aisle, Mom confided how much she dreaded the inevitable: “Sometimes I go to the store, and I forget why I’m here, or for a second, I forget where I am. And it scares me to death.”

She wasn’t exaggerating. She was a registered nurse, so she knew better than anyone what she was up against. The latter part of her career she worked as a diabetes educator and saleswoman for Johnson & Johnson. Mom was smart, educated, fun-loving and gregarious, and engaged in her community and the world around her, so her symptoms couldn’t be hidden for long. The awareness of the looming loss of her dignity must have been agonizing, but the paradox of dementia is that once a victim has fallen into its clutches, she no longer realizes how acute her condition has become.

The last time Mom and Pop came to Oklahoma was in May 2007 for my son’s high school graduation, but up to that point, they had visited for two weeks every year. They showed up after my son’s birth – a godsend for a new mother who had a demanding career. Mom took care of everything – cleaning the house, cooking, and offering counsel on caring for a newborn.

Mom had advice to give on just about every topic. Some might see that a mark of a stereotypical mother-in-law, except Mom didn’t see herself that way. As far as she was concerned, I was her daughter just as surely as Chris was her son; the fact that she hadn’t given birth to me didn’t enter into the equation. The same was true for Andy, the husband of Chris’ sister, Cathy.

It’s because of Mom and Pop that I converted to Catholicism and became a “practicing” adult Christian, though I’m a poor specimen indeed. I was raised from infancy in a staunch Southern Baptist home, and got “saved” and baptized at 8. But over time, like many others of my generation, I found I could no longer square church tenets with the reality of my own life.

On the surface, Pop was the more devout of the two; he attended Mass daily, and Mom once joked he was “on his knees in church, or on his *ss in front of the TV.” But both were imbued with the “social justice” gospel the Catholic Church brought to the fore with Vatican II, and eschewed the hypocrisy I had seen in so many self-proclaimed Christians who pay lip service to the gospels, but rarely translate them into action.

I spent a lot of quality time with Mom during their treks to Oklahoma. In the evenings, Pop, Chris and Cole would watch TV – always those idyllic old series reruns, because Pop scorned “all that swearing and nudity.” Mom would sit in the kitchen with me while I cooked dinner, and we’d talk about every subject imaginable, but often we’d focus on religious tenets.

Mom understood the challenges of faith in the modern world, and she had nuanced and pragmatic views on topics like abortion, women’s rights, gay issues, the death penalty, euthanasia and ecumenicism. She understood the role “conscience” plays in Catholic doctrine. Once when we were at a reception after Mass at St. Brigid in Tahlequah, several people were discussing “limbo,” the Catholic church’s one-time teaching that an infant who dies before being baptized can’t be “saved.” When asked where she believed an unbaptized baby would end up, Mom pointedly said, “I think heaven gets another little angel.” Her tone suggested no one should argue with her, and no one did.

Mom might level gentle censure at her family members, but she wouldn’t tolerate it from others. To outsiders, she staunchly defended what we did and thought, and she would brook no criticism of her two grandchildren. She did want my son to get in shape. When Cole talked to his grandfather the other day, Pop said, “Your grandmother will haunt you until you lose weight.” I’m pretty sure Pop believes that, too, but he was speaking of the woman she once was.

In recent years, my husband often insisted, “That’s not my mom.” I’ve heard others say the same about their parents. People with dementia forget what they once knew, and people they once loved. Their religious and political beliefs become rigid and fundamentalist, and they get judgmental and paranoid. They think their spouses are having affairs, or their kids are after their money, even if they have little money to take. They talk about people from their past their offspring have never met, repeat themselves, invent incredible scenarios, boast incessantly, and often say hurtful things their loved ones must strive mightily to forgive.

Before the dementia began to take hold of Mom, Chris and I used to suggest that she and Pop retire to Oklahoma, like her parents before her. But she wanted to be within a stone’s throw of the best medical care in the world, which she considered to be in Southern California. That may be true, but it wasn’t good enough to help Mom. Her doctors could not stop the slow decline of her mind, the theft of a woman who was generous, nurturing, wise, confident, and assertive. Medical technology may replace our hips, give us new kidneys, restore failing eyesight and even cure cancer. But it cannot restore the essence of who we are in the depths of our souls. And for people like Mom – and me, too – that’s the worst fate of all.

We’ll miss Mom, but we take comfort knowing she’s whole now. I’m sure she’s taking notes on advice to give me when we meet again.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.

Text Only
  • Wild West pits U.S. government against “We the people”

    Unless one has been living under a rock over the past week, one couldn’t have missed the recent standoff in Nevada between a rancher and the U.S. government. It’s only one incident in many that has the government of the people pitted against the people.

    April 16, 2014

  • Bodily functions don’t belong in job interviews

    For all you soon-to-be college grads who will be trying to join the rest of us suckers in the workforce, I have a word of advice: Don’t pass gas during the interview.

    April 14, 2014

  • As Moore tornado anniversary nears, documentaries ask, ‘Where was God?’

    But one question put to readers in a publication that crossed my desk was a bit confusing to me. It asks its readers: “Where was God?”

    April 9, 2014

  • A pound of bacon is better than a pig in love

    Whatever happened to the cavemen in the Geiko insurance commercials? Those were some of the least-offensive TV blurbs I’ve ever seen, and they were original. But like any other good idea, this one fell victim to the kind of corporate tampering that always insists on fixing what ain’t broken.

    April 7, 2014

  • Escape from Auschwitz: To the 21st century

    One would have to question whether our world has gone mad in this, the 21st century, or if we are doomed to repeat the historical past.

    March 30, 2014

  • Volunteers needed to ‘Clean up Tahlequah’

    There’s a movement afoot that tugs at the pride of the folks calling Tahlequah and the rest of Cherokee County home. It’s an appeal for everyone – from the youngest to the oldest – to clean up the turf around them. Call it a campaign or a program, but what it really boils down to is a shoutout to all of us to resist contributing to the roadside trash we see, now that the snows of winter are behind us.

    March 24, 2014

  • U.S. debt threatens dollar as world currency

    March 16, 2014

    March 17, 2014

  • A sense of entitlement

    March 16, 2014

    March 17, 2014

  • It’s the publisher who sets the tone – and courage is key

    Daily Press readers should be gratified to know they have a publisher who brings courage and experience to our newspaper; who will stand as a bulwark against outside forces that might try to suppress information; and who believes in the tenet of “fair comment and criticism.” Anyone who knows me can attest I’ve always felt the same way – but the editor doesn’t get to set the tone, unless the publisher allows it.

    March 10, 2014

  • Putin switches attention from Olympics to taking over Ukraine

    Russia’s President Vladamir Putin, former head of the KGB before the Soviet Union splintered under the weight of the arms race, has taken up his old habits now that the international community has vacated Sochi and the Olympic torch has been extinguished.
    It seems as though Putin wants the old Soviet Empire to rise again.

    March 6, 2014


What to you think of a state Legislature proposal to forbid cities from raising the minimum wage? Choose the closest to your opinion.

The federal government should set the minimum wage across the board.
States should be allowed to raise their minimum wages, but not cities.
Both states and cities should be allowed to raise their minimum wages.
Cities should be allowed to raise their mimum wages, but not states.
There should be no minimum wage at all.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
Raw: Royal Couple Visits Australia Mountains Raw: Pro-Russian Militants Killed on Base Captain of Sunken South Korean Ferry Apologizes Boston Bombing Survivors One Year Later Sister of Slain MIT Officer Reflects on Bombing Raw: Blast at Tennessee Ammunition Plant Kills 1 Hoax Bomb Raises Anxiety in Boston Egypt Clamps Down on Mosques to Control Message After Fukushima, Japan Eyes Solar Power New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Ex-California City Leader Gets 12 Year Sentence Disbanding Muslim Surveillance Draws Praise Hundreds Missing After South Korean Ferry Sinks Passengers Abuzz After Plane Hits Swarm of Bees Town, Victims Remember Texas Blast At Boston Marathon, a Chance to Finally Finish Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?