Forty years ago, as a junior at the University of Tennessee, I wrote an essay entitled My Mom, the Superwoman. In it I extolled my mother’s work ethic; her community service; exemplary love for family and friends and her attention to self-care. As her daughter, I was in awe of all she did and was proud to call her “Mom.”
Young Shirley grew up in rural East Tennessee as a sharecropper’s daughter. Her mother died when she was just eleven, leaving her with a bereft father. For a few years she lived with relatives and friends while her dad found his footing. This poor and shy little girl would grow up to do great things in her community.
Mom served two terms on city council and one as Vice Mayor. She was the first woman invited to be in her local Rotary club and her chapter’s first woman president. She served as president of the state of Tennessee’s Business and Professional Women’s Club (now recognized as the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs - NFBPWC). My mother worked full-time, cooked for our family and still found time to get away for a weekend with friends.
Years later, after becoming a mother myself, I came to realize that as amazing as my mom was and is, if you put a person under a microscope, there are no superwomen (or men). We are all flawed human beings, doing the best we can.
Then, two years ago my 80 year old mom was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia. The disease is a type of dementia that affects the speech. (Last year the public learned of actor Bruce Willis’ diagnosis of the same disease. Thankfully hers has not escalated as quickly as his.) Predictably her condition has progressed to the point where she has great difficulty speaking more than a few words at a time, especially if she’s under stress or is trying to answer quickly. Sometimes, if she’s relaxed and hasn’t been asked a question, she can get out a full sentence, but it’s a rarity these days.
The past month we’ve spent a lot of time together, navigating the inevitable changes she’s experiencing in her own health and her husband’s. I’ve been blown away by her attitude. For a woman who blossomed into an outgoing, vivacious person in adulthood and spoke publicly on a regular basis, she has not complained and is rarely frustrated. Still, she gets up every morning, showers, dresses, puts on her makeup and gets the day started.
I’ve realized my mom IS in fact a Superwoman. Sure she has her imperfections, but Mom’s fortitude in the light of her current challenges is an inspiration to me and those around her.
This piece first appeared in Sherry’s column, Finding Myself in a Small Town, in the March 11, 2023 edition of the Corsicana Daily Sun.