As you can see, this bracelet is well-worn. It was given to my mother, Linda, by her sister Shirley, in 2012 for her birthday. It doesn’t look like much, but if you knew Linda it says a lot about her.
First, she loved gifts and gift giving when she still had her mind. The nice man at the funeral home came up with that line on his own after speaking with us, but it’s true. She was an expert gift giver and always went overboard. It was a source of contention between us after Erin was born, because you can only give a person so much before it either becomes clutter or unappreciated. Part of this gluttony was due to the dementia, which we didn’t know she had then, but still, she always gave many gifts and nice ones.
She loved jewelry. Almost all of her pictures displayed some sort of jewelry. In the 70’s and early 80’s it was multiple gold necklaces, bracelets, rings, and earrings. Then it became the popular costume jewelry. Both her 2nd and 3rd husbands got her large solitaire diamond engagement rings, which she picked out of course. She liked jewelry and to dress up and go out on the town.
She loved her sisters deeply. So this gift from her sister, even though she was already very ill with dementia, was treasured. Only once did I see her forget its significance, and she wore it daily in the nursing home even after she could no longer dress herself. The lovely nurses assistants who cared for her put it on her each day. You can see, just barely now, the message of Peace and Joy. These messages were deliberate, because after she became sick with dementia, she had very little peace and joy. In fact in the last year of her life, there was nothing that she enjoyed. All of the things she had ever enjoyed brought her no joy at all, or else they were forgotten. Moments of clarity brought only distress in knowing something was wrong but not how to fix it.
In my own life, I have a focus on integrity and character, I also have a focus on compassion. Part of being compassionate is understanding why someone is the way they are. Mom had a hard life in many ways, and while one could say she didn’t handle it well she did the best she could with the tools available to her. She married Harold Dean Hunt at age 17, and he was soon discharged from the Navy and began school at Mississippi State University. As many wives did back then, she worked while he went to school. When he got his BS in Engineering and was offered a job with Boeing in Huntsville, AL, they moved and began their new lives here. That was 1968. She worked for a little while at Boeing, too, in their document control room. This was during the exciting time of the Apollo launches and they both enjoyed their jobs. After a time, Mom decided she didn’t want to work anymore and that was fine with Harold, so she became a house wife once again.
I was born in 1971 and was their only child in 1973 when Harold was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, at the young age of 34. He died 2 years later at the age of 36, and Mom was a widow at age 32. She had loved him dearly and I’m not sure she ever got over his death.
In 1978 she met the person who was to be her 2nd husband, Jerry Chesser. They dated several years and were married in 1983. During their time together they went to exciting things like the Indianapolis 500 and the Inaugural Ball for one of the Alabama Governors (I forget which, but it may have been Jim Folsom Jr.). They divorced around 1985, but she remained an employee of his company where she was the Manager of Fagan Springs Apartments.
Fagan Springs was our home for 15 years, and Mom was good at property management. When circumstances caused her to have to move and change jobs in 1994, she worked for a short time with Oxford Properties and began dating Bill Stevens, who had recently became separated from his wife.
The circumstances that caused her to have to leave Fagan Springs were very traumatic to her, since she had built her life there (mostly) after recovering from Harold’s death. Loss was a theme throughout Mom’s life, whether it be losing a person or her possessions. It hurt her deeply, shaped her character, and later contributed to her developing dementia.
She and Bill hit it off and lived together 6 or 7 years before marrying. Mom was trusting and was a giver, and so when she signed a prenuptial agreement prior to marriage she trusted Bill and his lawyer to have provided for her in the case of his death. He died after around 7 years of marriage on January 20, 2007, and on January 22 she realized that he had not provided for her. She did not even get to retain her home. That was the final bit of stress and on that same day she developed aphasia for the first time (language confusion). We attributed it to stress, but later realized that it was the first manifestation of dementia. She was only 64 years old at the time.
Losing her home, and having no income (she retired when Bill asked her to), contributed to some of the behaviors that later manifested in a huge way during her illness. She hoarded odd things and was obsessed with her things. However, that ebbed and flowed and at times she would try to give away precious gifts or valuables to mere strangers. That was her giving nature coming out, just in a way that wasn’t so great.
Mom also lost many of her friends at the end of her marriage to Bill. While that is another story, the lack of support was hard in and of itself. She had always loved socializing, and like most people she liked attention. This was more of a blessing than a curse as the awkwardness of the disease began to set in, but the overall magnitude of loss affected her deeply.
In 2012 we brought Mom to live with us, and built a larger house to accommodate all of her things. We wanted her to feel loved and at home, but unfortunately the illness had made it impossible for her to enjoy family or even day to day life. She lived with us until February 14, 2014 when she went to live at the Windsor House skilled nursing facility here in Huntsville. She was loved and well cared for until she died there on December 29, 2014.
Mom and I had a complicated relationship that wasn’t always harmonious, but I try to keep in mind the “bad breaks” that life threw her way. I’m sure she was afraid, and felt alone, and did what she needed to do in order to have a little fun and provide for herself. I can now look back at who she was, and I regret the harshness I sometimes treated her with, because I see how awful her life circumstances were at times. At least I had the opportunity to tell her “I’m sorry” before she died.
In her last years, Mom was so distressed on a daily basis due to the dementia, that I wish her the joy and peace in her next place that her bracelet symbolized. Everyone deserves joy and peace, and love.
If you know anyone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s, I suggest that you read The 36 Hour Day as soon as you can get it from the book store. We did not know what was wrong with Mom for years. At first we thought it was stress, then just bad behavior or drunkenness. Later we thought it was schizophrenia and we were shocked to find out she had dementia. Even then, the way the brain “breaks” can make you think they are just being stubborn or flat out lying to you, but this book helped me to understand. If I had read it sooner, and known what she had, it would have made a huge difference in all of our lives. I also benefited from the Alzheimer’s Association website and forums. These memory diseases are awful for all involved, so make sure that you seek help if it applies.
In closing, I mentioned that I had grieved my Mom twice already. I grieved our complicated relationship, after years of being angry that I didn’t have the “mother I wanted or needed,” and moved on. But then I grieved her again when she got the dementia, because even the mother I did have was “leaving.” And now I grieve her a 3rd time, because she is truly gone now. But now I can look back to the lively, beautiful, and giving Mom that I had once and remember her that way. If you knew Linda, I hope you do the same.
Linda was cremated and her urn is buried next to Harold at Valhalla Memory Gardens in the original Chapel Gardens. Her legal name was Linda Ruth Stevens, but her marker will list her as Linda Ruth Hunt. Her Obituary is listed here. Enjoy the picture of the beautiful flowers that the Windsor House sent for her service.