Goodbye to Ruby

On Monday morning, May 14, my mother-in-law, Ruby Kimrey Dollar, died. Which makes my husband an orphan (his dad died of colon cancer in 1988).

I cannot speak for what my husband is feeling, and in fact, he may be trying to figure that out for some time to come. We’ve lived in Connecticut—a 14-hour drive from Daniel’s childhood home in North Carolina—for 13 years now. For the first 10 or so of those years, we got down to North Carolina at least twice a year to see Ruby and the rest of Daniel’s family. Ruby even made it up here a few times when Leah and Meg were babies—a feat close to miraculous for someone who didn’t like to fly and who lived her entire life within a several-mile radius of where she was born. During our children’s lifetimes, Ruby’s health was never robust. But the kids at least have some memories of visiting her at her house. Those visits largely revolved around where we would go for our next meal, so that now, when we say we’re heading south, the kids immediately start fantasizing about meals at Chick Fil’ A and Steak ‘n Shake. (True to tradition, on our drive south this week for Ruby’s funeral, the first meal we stopped for was at a Chick Fil’ A in Fredericksburg, VA. Ahhhhh……) In between meals, the kids would play hide and seek in Ruby’s huge backyard, build forts with Daniel’s old Lincoln Logs, and forage in the treasure trove of old toys (1970s-era Star Wars toys anyone?) that filled Ruby’s basement.

But for the past couple of years, as Ruby’s health failed and she eventually moved into a nursing home, our visits south became less frequent, and sadder too. We began spending the majority of our time in N.C. with Daniel’s siblings, who have children and grandchildren to keep our kids entertained. We would go visit Ruby wherever she was at the time, either the nursing home or the hospital. But the visits were short. Conversation became hard as she began to slip into forgetfulness, couldn’t always place where she was and what we were doing there, and frequently drifted off to sleep mid-conversation. The kids would give her kisses and hugs and pictures, but they became quickly bored.

So it’s hard to know what any of us are feeling, or should be feeling, upon Ruby’s death, because in so many ways she was already lost to us. And Daniel and I have carried some guilt and discomfort at being so, so far away as she declined, while his brother and sister did the hard work of regular visits, conversations with doctors and nurses and nursing home staff, and responding to ever-more-frequent medical emergencies.

As a daughter, a daughter-in-law, and mostly as a mom, it just boggles my mind that someone’s mother can die and our lives will essentially continue just as they have.

Eventually. But for now, we’re in North Carolina for her funeral, to remember her life, which was far from extraordinary in some ways, but more than extraordinary in others. She buried a husband and two of five children, and yet continued to love life and to thrive on connections with other people, particularly her family. Until her health made it impossible, Ruby was always up for a meal out and good conversation with a friend or family member. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that even some of Ruby’s quirks that drove me batty contained layers of wisdom. I’ve written about two of those quirks, her fierce holding on to every object that ever came into her home, and her passion for the church’s bereavement ministry, which mostly involved feeding people.

I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a few days as we gather with Daniel’s family to mourn and celebrate.

About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • Tim

    Ellen, I am so sorry for teh heartache and loss you and Daniel and the fmaily are going through. When it comes to what it’s like to experience this, you said it so well here: “… it’s hard to know what any of us are feeling, or should be feeling.” I couldn’t help but smile though at your description of Ruby: “Until her health made it impossible, Ruby was always up for a meal out and good conversation with a friend or family member.”

    That’s a description of someone I’d like to know. Thanks for sharing this with us today.

    Prayers and blessings for you and the family,
    Tim

  • Taffy Wilcox

    Ellen,

    Your reflections are thoughtful and loving. It makes me think of my journey with my aging mother. You will be in my thoughts and prayers as you travel and celebrate Ruby’s life. Blessings!

    Taffy


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