On this Tuesday, exactly three years after the passing of my dear mother, allow me to tell a story of one of her final hours…
“I don’t think I can go to work tonight,” she said. I stared at my mom in disbelief, as she lay stretched out on her flowered couch. It was Thursday, and this had been an unusually difficult day. Mom had begun to struggle to breathe properly and spent her hours gripped by severe nausea. The mere mention of her teaching her Early Childhood Education class tonight seemed so out of the question, it almost shocked me.
“Mom, of course you can’t go to work,” I said. “You’re too sick.”
A beat passed, and I could tell mom was thinking about something. “Then you’re going to have to go down there. Tell them. Tell my students I am sorry I can’t be there for them tonight. Tell them they deserve better. Would you do that, please?” Her eyes seemed to plead with me.
“Of course, Mom. I’ll go. But I won’t tell them they deserve better because you already are the best.”
Fifteen minutes later, I entered the Maywood Park Educational Center. After asking at the front desk, I located my mom’s classroom and opened the door. Immediately, around fifteen Latina women turned to stare at me. Expressions of worry and surprise blanketed their faces. Do they know? I wondered. I introduced myself and several of them rose to greet me. One carried a large bouquet of flowers. “She wanted me to tell you she is sorry she cannot be here tonight, and she will be back as soon as she can,” I announced with as much confidence as I could muster. Another woman handed me a card, a card that appeared to have been signed by the entire class. Her eyes met mine.
“Tell her we love her,” said the woman.
My mom never returned to teach her students. Unbeknownst to all of us, the cancer had mercilessly advanced to a point beyond treatment. She passed away three years ago today. The story of this final errand I did for my mother has always served as a poignant reminder to me of who she really was: Dedicated. Loving. Generous. Courageous. Always thinking of others. A truly special and amazing woman: Donna Rae Callaway Ball, 1942-2017.