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  • Writer's picturePeggy Spear

The Strongest Person I Know


I knew if I looked hard enough, I could find the answer to life on Facebook.


It was sitting there, nestled in a sweet birthday homage my brother had posted in honor of our mom’s 96th birthday: “She looks at each day as a joyous opportunity to see what it'll bring and to bestow her special kind of love on everyone and everything she touches. Her optimism and generous spirit will infect you and remind you that there is goodness all around us. Thank you Mom, for teaching me that kindness and generosity count most, that love can be unconditional, and that it's okay to be me.”


It's especially poignant as my mom suffers from mid-stage Alzheimer’s Disease. She can’t read her beloved Facebook anymore. (Where, 10 years ago, when it asked if she like men or women, she answered, “well, both. I have women friends and men friends.” She was a little unclear on the concept, but still, the fact that at 86 she was on Facebook is still pretty impressive.)


But that is just one of the many impressive things about my mom. She was born three months early, back in 1927, and survived. She suffered several life-threatening illnesses as a child – and even had the Last Rites performed – and survived. Her parents split up when she was a child, and she survived. She and her mom watched her two brothers go to war and huddled around the radio during news of each great battle in the Pacific, and luckily, her brothers survived. She married my father and had three kids in three years – a feat many of us moms are amazed anyone could survive.


She nursed my father through alcoholism and mental illness and survived. I arrived unexpectedly six years after her third child, and she survived. My father didn’t. He was killed in a car accident when I was two months old. But my mom survived and raised all four of us on her own. She was a teacher and went back to school at nights to get her Master’s in reading, and then her administrative credential. We all survived. She went through the late 60s and early 70s with teenage children and survived. She was the first woman elementary school principal in Chico and went on to become the Director of Elementary Education, and didn’t just survive, but thrived. She loved her students, the parents and the role she played in their lives.


She and I survived my teenage years more as roommates than mother and daughter, and she survived the empty nest when I left our hometown of Chico for Berkeley.


After she retired, she ran for and was elected to the Butte County Board of Education. She survived that too, as it opened her eyes to a whole new world of rural education and the obstacles it faced.


She always has been, by nature, a “people person.” And that phrase has been demeaned, even in my own brain as I navigated my own life and career. I learned that you were only respected if you were tough, if you were a bitch. But I’m Pat Spear’s daughter, and that isn’t in my nature. I thought it was a flaw, until I read that short passage my brother wrote.


My very nature thrives on helping others, and I needed to understand that.


These days, I don’t see my mom as much as I’d like. She just broke her hip and her wrist – and survived. But now each bump and bruise to her beautiful aging body takes a toll on her brain that we won’t get back. Luckily, she remembers her family, her beloved nieces, and her grandkids, but gets confused where they hang on the family tree. Her brothers are both gone now, and when she asks why they don’t visit her in her memory care facility, we tell her they are traveling. Imagine telling someone day after day that a loved one has died. She asks about her mom – who’s been gone for 40 years – and gets worried that she won’t know where she is. I tell her I stopped by Nana’s and told her, and that makes my mom feel better. Lying to an Alzheimer’s patient is encouraged – you just go with it.


Having a parent with Alzheimer’s is like watching them die day by day, as the light slowly fades from their eyes. But my mom is still thrilled when her children – and my dog Lola – visit. The light shines for a bit, before she falls back into her confused state. But she is as sweet and loving to the staff and other “neighbors” at her facility as she has been to everyone in her life. It’s just her nature.


And I realized that I have a big part of that nature too, and it is something to be proud of, not scorned. Pat Spear may not be out in the world every day with her hugs and smiles, but I can be. That’s my birthday present to the strongest person I know.

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walid.1
13 sept 2023

I am so glad to have read this! I have always known your mom as a positive, happy force in the Universe, ever since "Pat Spear Awareness" -- but I never knew that she went through so much and was so accomplished! Love her that much more!

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