My mother’s Alzheimer’s stole a piece of my soul

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Gwendolyn Marie Hagler Clincy died August 22. She was 71. Photo courtesy of John W. Fountain.

“Dr. Harriott met her last night… Complaints of throwing up and up walking” late at night… “CT scan of abdomen and pelvis… bowel obstruction, lesions on liver…but doesn’t tell us where they’re coming from. Most likely some type of bowel cancer… Needs to go to surgery.”

My notes on Mama stored in a file on my computer. I search them for solace amid this pain.

Peppered with “our” schedule, events and emotion over her last months, weeks, days, they are filled with my dictation of conversations with doctors and nurses, with nursing home administrators… Notes I wrote as a son charged years earlier with handling my mother’s affairs and final wishes should it ever come to this.


It seems like yesterday. Four years earlier, Mama sat my kitchen table, finalizing the legal documents, granting me power of attorney.

“I’ll do exactly what you want me to do,” I told Mama, comforting and seeing in her a strength, despite her fears and sadness over losing control, over the unknown. Over her worries that perhaps in the end there would be no man on whom she could completely depend. Her fears that she might, in the end, be abandoned, cast away like garbage, forgotten, left unloved.

“I promise,” I assured.

“John, I know you will,” Mama responded, her voice soft, loving. “I trust you completely, more than anyone else in this world. I trust you with my life.”

“But I have to tell you, Mama, that if anybody tries to tell me anything different, they gon’ get cussed out. I got it, Ma. I’ll handle it.”

“I know,” Mama said, chuckling.

She knew. I am my mother’s son. Gwen’s son.

Tough. A fighter. Fiercely loyal. A rock. And yet, the storm of Alzheimer’s and cancer managed to steal a piece of my soul.

More notes… “Liver biopsy and piece of her bowel. She had not yet had a colonoscopy. And CT scan shows she has a mass in her colon and may need an oscopy, where the bowel is brought out to the skin and bag…”

“…Kidney failure.” Surgery needed immediately. “What have you and your mother talked about on end of life issues?”

On the morning of surgery, the anesthesiologist prepped us for the worse. If she survived surgery, he explained, she likely would be connected to tubes, unable to talk, recovery iffy.

“We don’t receive that,” I responded tersely as the interns surrounding him stood stunned.

“Sir, I just have to prepare you all for the possibilities.”

“I understand. Thank you, but we don’t accept that.”

Hours later, Mama emerged from surgery, diagnosed with small cell lung cancer on top of the Alzheimer’s. “How long does she have?” I asked the doctor. “Years? Months?”

“Months…” he said. Possibly two or three.


Eighteen days after her 71st birthday — two days after I lifted her from a wheelchair in the tranquil, tree-line courtyard of a nursing home and held her in my arms, beneath her last golden sunset — my mother, Gwendolyn Marie Hagler Clincy, died.

And I have never known such pain.

It’s going on two years now, and I still grieve. Still long for one more touch. For one more kiss. Still feel the hollowness of losing to death the one who gave me life.

More notes: Meet funeral director… Services, flowers, etc. … Cemetery, headstone.

After all the cars pulled away from the cemetery, I stood alone until the workers filled my mother’s grave with earth. And yet, even with my dear Mama safe in His arms and my promise kept, I wept.

Maybe I always will, especially on Mother’s Day.


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