The world changes all the time.
As someone who has spent the past quarter century telling other people’s stories and chronicling the triumphs and tragedies of small town life that lesson is pounded home in my conscious time and time again.
The world hangs on a spiderweb of interconnected strings. As one is severed the pattern is irretrievably altered and the world swings widely for a while. Eventually balance is reached, new connections are made and life goes on — at least until the next time something happens.
I was sitting in the meeting room at the third floor of the courthouse on Friday morning reporting on the discussion county forestry committee members were having over the fate of three county dams. Only one of the three dams had qualified for state grant funds and the question was what to do with the remaining two dams.
With hundreds of thousands of dollars in play and decisions that could dramatically impact the recreational opportunities of people in the county, it was shaping up to be a long meeting.
About 45 minutes into the meeting, and with no sign of it stopping anytime soon, the committee chairman Chuck Zenner called for a bathroom break. As I was sitting waiting for the meeting to come back into session, my phone began to buzz. It was my brother Tom calling.
He was calling to tell me that our mom had died moments before, passing peacefully in her sleep and that she was no longer in pain. She had been in the hospital for the past few weeks and had recently been diagnosed with metastatic cancer. With the COVID-19 restrictions in place in New Jersey no one was able to be at the hospital with her. My older sister Janet, had taken on the role of point person browbeating the doctors and medical staff for updates and advocating for our mom’s health needs.
Confusion from infections and reaction to medication, along with cruddy cellphone reception made communicating with mom a challenge. She would complain that my dad was just sitting in the chair by her bedside and not helping to hand her the phone or plug the cord into the charger.
My father died 13 months ago.
My mom came home from the hospital on Wednesday. My brothers and sisters gathered at her house to welcome her home. They ended up ordering my dad’s favorite skillet from the local IHOP restaurant where my parents had been regular patrons. I had work Wednesday night and ended up not getting home until nearly 11 p.m. By then it was too late for me to call. My wife and kids had called Mom earlier to wish her well.
We had planned to drive out in July to visit. That trip got pushed up as we learned of the cancer diagnosis. No one seemed to have the answer of how long she might have left.
On Thursday, I got a call from Janet saying mom wasn’t doing well and the visiting nurse was recommending talking with hospice.
My mother could never be described as being a patient person. When she wanted one of us children to do something, we had better have anticipated it and had it half done by the time she asked for it. She pounded home the lesson that we shouldn’t ever wait to be asked or told to do something, but that if we saw something that needed to be done we should take care of it and that we should do it with the best of our abilities.
This lack of patience with slackers has become a family trait among my siblings.
My mom also pounded home the lesson that we all have a responsibility to look out for other people, especially those who are challenged by barriers of handicaps or disability. We would jokingly talk about Mom “making friends again” when she would go to battle with school boards and officials while advocating for educational opportunities and inclusion in an era when special needs kids were being warehoused rather than educated.
In many ways my mother lives on in the columns and editorials I write and the volunteer work I do in the community.
I owe it to her legacy to remember those lessons and not wait to be asked to get a job done.
Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.