Follow Your Heart: Spend Time with Those You Love
Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013. I took this photo of my mama Friday afternoon at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. It was her last photo. She is holding a rose I brought her from my wife Diane’s garden.
Mama said, “Oh, it smells so good!”
Mama passed away this morning around 7:30 a.m., and the day has been completely filled making arrangements. Only now have I been able to sit down and think through some of the events that occurred over the past few days. There’s one thing that happened WEDNESDAY NIGHT that I want to tell you about. It is something which may be of some benefit to you. I will come back to it in a moment.
On Thursday, I woke up at 7 a.m. and went to check on my mom in her little apartment in our house. She was in a distressed condition and had been vomiting bile. I tried to get her to the bathroom to clean her up but she was too weak to get out of bed, even with my help. Something was terribly wrong. So I called 911. They got her to OLOL and found that she had had a serious heart attack. They warned me that further heart events could happen over the next 48 hours. Nevertheless, she rested well in the hospital over the next three days. She was comfortable and had no pain. I visited her several times, and she was her normal self, happy and talkative. But her doctors were very concerned because her heart capacity had been reduced from 53 percent to 29 percent as a result of the first heart attack.
On Saturday night, my daughter Margaret got to visit her grandmother in the hospital, and Margaret was very pleased with her progress. “I was amazed with how well she felt!” Margaret said. “She was so lucid, nothing like what I expected after a major heart attack.” The two of them, who are soulmates, had a wonderful visit.
But this morning, I received an anxious call from the nurse at 4:56 a.m., telling me to rush to the hospital, that my mama had had a serious setback. When I got there, I couldn’t believe the scene. Mama had obviously had another heart attack or perhaps a stroke. She was breathing but her face was frozen, and she was unresponsive. Her eyes were open but she didn’t blink. She was struggling to breathe. She didn’t respond in any way to my voice. She couldn’t speak or squeeze my hand. She seemed completely paralyzed. We moistened her lips and tried to make her comfortable. I was holding her hand and talking to her the entire time. Over the next hour and an half, she quietly passed away. It was so difficult to watch her. Yet, I am so glad I could be there with her, so she did not have to face it alone.
Now, I reflect back on WEDNESDAY NIGHT, and I realize that was our last time together at home.
Here’s what happened: I went to my mama’s room in our house to check on her, and she was doing fine. As usual, she was talkative and happy. She needed to go to the bathroom. We chatted briefly, I helped her to the bathroom and put her back in her bed. “Well, mama, I’ve got to go somewhere! I’ll check on you later. I love you!” I was walking out the door. But she said, “Wait, can’t you stay awhile and visit?” I said, “No, mom, I’ve got to run but we can visit tomorrow for sure!”
This was the critical moment!
I stopped and turned. My heart told me, “Where are you going that’s so important?” “What if there is no tomorrow with your mama?” So I told her, “Yes, mama, I think I will stay awhile!”
I slipped into bed next to her. We lay on our backs, holding hands, laughing and telling stories. She told me about the time my uncle Sherwood (who was at least as handsome as Clark Gable) brought his new wife and my grandmother Dora Jenkins from Folsom, LA, to Houston to meet mama’s parents, Fred and Beatrice Rowlett. The year was 1944, the war was going on, and Uncle Sherwood was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. The Rowlett house on Edgewood Street in Houston was filled with Jenkins family from Louisiana — their first-ever meeting. It was a meeting that I never knew had happened!
Then we talked about the only Jenkins family reunion ever held while I was growing up — an all-day event at our house in Rougon in 1953 when I was six. Everyone from the Jenkins family was there — my grandma Dora Jenkins, her three sons Ory, Bailey, and Sherwood, and her daughter Alma, plus all the wives and children.
Everyone had a wonderful time, but there was one quite remarkable thing that happened during that reunion! My grandma Jenkins walked in the front door and saw the piano my dad had bought me for piano lessons. She walked right up to the piano, sat down, and began playing beautifully. She played any song we could think of. Everyone was clapping and laughing hysterically. It seems none of her children knew she could play the piano! She had never played in front of them. Furthermore, she could not read music. She was totally self-taught and played by ear. Everyone was totally astounded!
I marveled at the story. Mama and I talked awhile longer and then dozed off, still holding hands. We woke up awhile later and talked some more. I kept thinking, “What questions would I want to ask mama if she weren’t around anymore?” And those are the questions I asked. It was a wonderful time that I wouldn’t trade for a $1 million!
What if I had decided to go to that meeting, instead of lingering with my mama? It’s funny, I cannot for the life of me remember what was so important I had to do that night! So my advice is FOLLOW YOUR HEART!
When your heart says spend time with the people you love, do it! There may never be another chance!