I posted the below on my social media accounts on April 26 but never posted it here in my blog.
At the pond behind my father’s house this morning the birds were trading calls, red-winged blackbirds and chickadees and Canadian geese and crows singing a song of John Hamilton McDonnell, whose spirit left this earth last night. Dad loved Lake Nymphaea, on the former Wisconsin farmland on which his wife Judy was raised. He taught me to love nature, among other lessons. He was a man deeply outraged about the inequities of American society and passionate about the role of education in bringing justice and peace. The Beloit College education professor’s bookshelves are full of works by Kozol, Baldwin, Skinner, Malcolm X, Galbraith, Steinbeck. His lineage includes the many students he trained to pass on lessons of civic engagement to their students, and so on.
Dad passed peacefully after eight years of the ravages of Alzheimer’s. I’m so grateful my brothers Brett and Paul and I were able to be here before he transitioned.
When my dad was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016, he was lucky to have this woman by his side. Judy took care of him as long as she could, until the professionals told her it was time to let them take over. She still came to see him, bringing his beloved poodle and ice cream to his nursing home, until the pandemic shut her out. When she finally got back in to see her husband of 30 years, she fed him like a baby. When he got upset, she would kiss him on his balding head and whisper in his ear, “Hi John it’s me, Judy, your wife.” Dad would calm down. In his last moments in this sphere, this woman was by his side.
In the first days after Dad’s death, Judy and I went out for fish fry and pie. Driving through Wisconsin farm land, we talked about Dad. The seven year anniversary of Mom’s death was approaching. I was now an orphan, a parentless child, I said. “You have me,” this woman said.
I have Judy. And I have Bettie, my husband’s mom. Happy Mother’s Day to Judy and Bettie, and to all the mothers out there, by birth and by choice.