Mom: Poignant Last Days

Thanks to my sister Gloria, Mom was able to live on her beloved Iowa farm until after her 97th birthday. Gloria stayed with her “temporarily” after she retired from 34 years of teaching junior high art at Creston’s Burton R. Jones Junior High.

But Mom had said that if she got to the place where she needed a nursing home, she’d like to go to the Stuart Care Center in the neighboring town. All four Neal aunts had lived at the Care Center. Aunt Nadine Shepherd lived her last days there, also Aunt Helen Neal, and even Dad’s youngest sister Aunt Marian Beaman.

Gloria saved newspapers regularly for the aunts, and gathered other items to deliver to them.

By the time Mom checked into the Care Center, Aunt Betty Wells also had a room there.

Mom wanted the pictures of her five brothers with her at the Care Center.

Last Tennis Shoes with Pink

Mom was still eating with others in the main dining room when she took a liking to Sylvia Williams’s tennis shoes because they had pink laces and splashes of pink on them. So next trip to the city, Gloria found her a new pair of tennies with hot pink accents. Mom was delighted.

Mom hadn’t been at the Care Center long when she was no longer interested in watching TV, so we took it back to the farm. She’d been there just over a month when she became more quiet. She was moved to the north dining room where she was often alone and needed help eating.

And Aunt Betty was moved to the Hospice area.

Last Nail Polish

One of the aids had trimmed Mom’s nails and shaped them, so Gloria–who is never without a manicure–took two shades of polish to the Care Center with her, pink and mauve. Mom rarely spoke by then, but we could tell she recognized her daughters.

Gloria placed the polish on the table and asked Mom which she liked best. Her finger point to the mauve. She stretched out her hand on the table for my sister to work on. Gloria and I talked while the polishing was underway.

Mom readied her other hand, patiently spreading the first one to dry.

Tennies with pink laces. Mauve fingernails. What small gifts, but what lovely ways to bless our mother.

Last Signature

I come from a motherline of greeting card senders. (I still have ones sent long ago to Mom, her mother, and even her grandmother.) When Mom could no longer shop for her own cards, Gloria would address the envelope and have Mom sign the card.

Even while she was in the nursing home, Mom signed a card that November for my husband for Veterans Day.

Mom lived at the Stuart Care Center just six weeks and two days, her last day there wasn’t  long after we lost our Aunt Betty.

Not until later did we realize that Mom’s very last signature was the one on Guy’s Veterans Day card.


A young woman I “met” through Facebook makes charms from several things, including signatures. She made these for Gloria and me. Mom loved bird watching, so she included a tiny bird charm.

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    • Dave, this was triggered by one man’s cover photo, a closeup of his hand holding his mother’s in a bed, maybe a hospital bed. Lump in throat. Wish I’d thought to do that.

  1. This beautiful tribute to your mom made me so teary. I could just see her wave her hand toward the mauve polish. Haven’t we all seen an elderly person make that move, as if it’s all she can do to gesture toward what she chooses? xo

  2. Joy, this is so touching. It’s hard to make those end of days special, but you and Gloria did a marvelous job. And it seems like your mom had the right frame of mind, too.

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