I was born in 1959 to Doris Woodward, and she’s the best Mom ever! Mom did everything for my sister and me as we grew up, exposing us to everything she could on her Government salary while raising us in our grandparents home in D.C. as a single Mom. I had been in every Smithsonian Museum by the time I was 10, and we went there often, which was such a treat to experience all the wonderful treasures they held. My love of museums and all they contained inspired me to travel the world, which Tim and I did our best to accomplish. Mom was also a stickler for education and inspired my love of learning something new every day. My Mom was everything to me! I loved our long talks and us just hanging out. She supported me in every single thing I was involved in growing up. I remember her riding three Metrobuses to Girl Scout events since we didn’t have a car. She never let lack of transportation get in the way of my activities. At the time I never understood what a sacrifice that was for her. By 2006 after Mom’s dementia diagnosis, our conversations that I cherished slowly came to an end and it was devastating. Our relationship was reduced to me doing all the talking and making all of the decisions.
Fast forward forty-nine years to June of 2008. I was working and attending a very special event at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Capitol Hill honoring Paul Abernathy’s 30 years of ministry as an Episcopal priest, 20 years in the Diocese of Washington and 10 years as Rector of St. Mark’s. That night I met my second Mom, Pontheolla’s mother Geneva Watkins. As I said in my book, I was immediately “powerfully drawn to Geneva”. We hit it off right away. As the weekend events continued, I followed Geneva everywhere. It was like I was stalking her and I didn’t know why. We talked and talked and talked. It was the best feeling ever! The next day I apologized to Pontheolla for “monopolizing” her Mom. She said she’d gladly share Geneva with me. Not long after that, I began calling Geneva Mom too. She considered Tim and I her other kids!! This woman was a force of nature!! She was honest and forthright and she loved you with every ounce of energy in her body! When Tim and I stayed with her in SC, she treated us like royalty! We shared many holidays with Geneva, Paul and Pontheolla. Thanksgivings were the BEST with so much food and fun!! When Tim died, Geneva took his death incredibly hard. We talked even more after he died so she could ensure I was ok. She left me several voicemails over the last few months just to say how much she loved me.
Almost a month ago, her cancer returned and I got this really sinking feeling. After giving a speech in Roanoke, VA I got the message that Geneva wasn’t doing well. Instead of going home I drove the 4 hours to SC and spent almost two full days with her in intensive care. It was so hard for me to go inside a hospital for the first time after Tim’s death, but because I’d do anything for Geneva, I pushed myself. I’m grateful that I got to say as many times as I could during that stay how much I loved her and how much I appreciate all she’d done for my life especially giving me the opportunity to talk about whatever I wanted, any time I wanted. I didn’t realize it right away, but Geneva helped me to grieve what I had lost with my biological mother. I’m beyond grateful. This last 8 years wouldn’t have been nearly as smooth for me without having Geneva as an emotional outlet. This morning that all ended when Geneva died. Though I knew it was coming it hurt like Hell. She had fought so hard! It feels as if I’ve known Geneva all my life – because she made me feel like a special member of the family! Geneva taught me that grieving in advance for my Mom was just fine, and now I grieve in real time for her. I cried at my desk several times today, but tried to work as best I could.
Later this afternoon I was notified by both lead caregiver Angelina and the police that my Mom had wandered away from the group home and had been missing for almost an hour. What????? I immediately started to cry and thinking the worst – when I had thought this day couldn’t get any worse! My Mom hasn’t known my name for almost three years, but when two earthly angels asked her for her kids names she gave them the name Loretta. When they asked her if I was her daughter, she said “maybe”. From there the Angel Tiffany Goggled me and found the Washington Post article Kristen Hartke wrote about me and Mom last July. She then looked me up on Facebook and actually found me! The police came after Tiffany called them and returned Mom to the group home since they had reported her missing. The story is beyond incredible and I’m so grateful!
We typically only get one Mom in our lives, but I was fortunate enough to have two. For me, when my Mom Doris could no longer have conversations or make decisions, my Mom Geneva was there whenever I needed her! Today we lost Geneva, and could easily have lost Mom too. I can’t help but think that Tim and Geneva helped steer Mom towards those earthly angels in Fort Washington before she got hurt (or worse)! Thank you Geneva, for being such a loving and caring soul, and for adding much more meaning to the word “family” to my life. I know I have the love and patience I need for helping Mom be as happy and content as she can be for the rest of her life, but I also have Geneva’s amazing spirit to guide me on the tough days that I know are coming. I can still hear Geneva calling my name, “Low-Retta” as no one else can, and it’s incredibly comforting for me especially since the only name dementia allows my Mom to call me is “very nice person”! I love you Geneva Watkins, I’m Blessed to have had you in my life, and may you now Rest in Peace!