September 9, 2018

Patricia Clark

A Tribute to my Mother, PATRICIA JOAN CLARK, “Pat,” passed away peacefully July 10, 2018, at the home of her daughter, Cathleen Vance of Greensboro, N.C., after an agonizing battle with Dementia. As my heart breaks for the loss of my mother, I am compelled to tell her story. I want everyone to know what she meant to me. She was a most unusual woman, and I loved her dearly. My mother’s story began on February 17, 1932. She was born in Huntington, West Virginia, to Russell W. Riggs and Velma Patronas Riggs of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, both deceased. She married my father, Charles H. Clark Jr., in 1950, deceased, and had two surviving children, Cathleen Vance and David M Clark. My sister, Sandra, did not survive her birth. Mother had two brothers and one sister, all deceased, Everett Riggs of Alexandria, Va., Arlen Riggs of Indianapolis, Indiana, and Marietta Riggs Corron of Houston, Texas. It is difficult to try and convey my mother’s personal unique sense of being. Anyone that knew her was well aware that she danced to the tune of a very different drummer. She didn’t always make the best choices in her life, but I loved her unconditionally and without judgment. “To thine own self be true,” she would tell me, and she practiced that philosophy. As I write her obituary, I am flooded with so many memories along with all the things I took for granted. She turned me on to Bob Dylan and lost the hearing in her left ear at an Ozzy Osborne concert. She was a talented artist and seamstress. She would design and sew our Easter outfits and even made my brother a little suit. She always took leftover fabric and made my doll a matching dress as well. She loved animals. She fed and cared for many feral cats in her neighborhood, much to the misgiving of her neighbors. She made the best fried chicken. She never met a stranger, and would talk to anyone that would listen. I would get so embarrassed when we would be in the supermarket and she would introduce me to the checkout lady. “This is my daughter. She’s a nurse. She works with cancer patients. My son is really smart, too. He’s an accountant,” and on it would go. I think most of her friends would be surprised to know that she was painfully shy in her youth. She certainly outgrew that. She had a contagious smile and a wicked sense of humor. I could always find her in a crowd when I heard her laughter. She certainly was not afraid to laugh at herself. Even though my cousin gave her a computer, she still wrote me letters and sent them via snail mail. When she finally did understand how to send everyone email, she would inadvertently click on something that would send her and the computer into a tailspin, like the time she accidentally copied me on all her email correspondence. Every time she sent an email, I would get a copy. I saved all those emails because they were so funny. I’d call my friend Jane and read them to her and we’d both be in tears from laughing as she’d write to the “cable dude” requesting help to fix her computer because she thought she clicked on something wrong. She would end up practically telling him her life story and all sorts of trivia. They were hilarious. My mother was also a voracious reader, and that was the first thing that tipped me off to the fact that something was wrong. She would go to the library and get three or four books and have them all read before time ran out to take them back. She told me she took out a book on Jackie Kennedy and was excited to begin reading it. I asked her how far into the book she’d gotten so far and she said page 32. A few days later when we spoke on the phone I was anxious to hear how the story was going, since we both loved to read biographies, and I asked her how far along she had gotten. “Page 32,” she said. My heart skipped a little beat, but denial plays dirty tricks with your mind. I cannot begin to explain how painful it is to watch your once vibrant mother waste away from dementia. Most people think that dementia is just a benign loss of memory or somewhat forgetfulness. It is not simply a case of forgetting. It is a terminal disease, and day-by-day you watch the changes take place. Make a list of all the things you do on a daily basis such as brushing your hair, your teeth, taking a shower, fixing lunch, reading the paper, watching TV. Write them all down on a blackboard and then every month erase a few things. Forever gone. It was like my mother was covered over with a heavy blanket that stopped her thoughts from getting out. The blanket captured everything and held it tight. I had to bring her to live with me because she could not remember to take her medications, couldn’t remember to cook the foods she loved to eat. She could not remember how to live, so I had to live for her. It was beyond maddening. One day I heard her shuffling down the hall so I got up to see what she was doing. She walked toward me smiling and began to recite a love poem by Rod McKuen. “But there are times when you can smile in such a way that I’d forget a ten-year war and lie down in your shadow’s shadow. In the brief times I could die against your side and never make a warning sound content to suffocate with in the circle of your back.” I stood there in wonderment. The heavy blanket that covered her memories had somehow found a little hole to let a piece of poetry slip through. I asked her where she heard that, and that I thought it was beautiful. “I can’t remember,” she said. My mother was obsessed with anything that glittered, sparkled or had sequins. I bought her a beautiful simulated diamond bracelet for Christmas. I knew she’d love it. She wore it day and night and would smile so big when she would hold out her arm for the 200th time to show us how it sparkled. I became physically sick when I had to take it off her arm on the night she died. She would say to me many times throughout my life that no matter how old I got, I would always be her little girl. She called me her Cathy Bumpers. She made up that nickname when I was first born, and I have no idea how she came by it. Mother had been under the care of Community Hospice, and I could not have endured this sadness without them. I send my utmost gratitude and love to Suzanne Fain, Lisa Plunkett, Sue Sparks, Mikea Collins, Leslie Simpson and Emily Owen who were first and foremost there for my mother, but they were also there for me, too. They were beyond compassionate. They raced to my house with every false alarm, and on the night she left this Earth, Suzanne stayed with me long into the night. For that I will be forever grateful. My fiance, Craig, was my “rock” through all this as well. He took on responsibilities that most men would have shuddered at doing. It goes without saying that love is not a big enough word to describe my feelings for this man and all his strength. My best friend, Lee Register, let me cry on her shoulder so many times as we tried to make sense of our emotions, both loving and frustrating. I owe her my sanity. I don’t know how I will ever get through Mother’s death. She has been such a driving force in my life since I could remember. She would tell us “goodnight” sometimes three and four times before finally settling down to sleep. Sometimes she would get out of bed and walk down the hall just to make sure she had not forgotten to say goodnight. For some reason, it was important to her, and we would wait to hear her voice trail down the hall with a resounding, “Goodnight.” So as I try to write what will be the last tribute to a most unusual mother, it is with overwhelming sadness that I say for the last time, Goodnight, Mother. I love you. Till we meet again.

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