My mother, Claudia Louise Tarver, who we all came to refer to as Mabes, would have been one hundred years old today. She was an incredible woman, and I miss her earthly presence every day.
Mabes was an accomplished professional, the first black nursing administrator in the entire city of Flint, Michigan. She was the Assistant Director of Nursing at Hurley Hospital. In spite of this, in her latter years, my mother expressed to me regret that she was born at a time of severely limited opportunities for black people. She felt she could have contributed much more to the world. My mother received her nursing degree from the Grady Colored School of Nursing in Atlanta, Georgia (see photo). Sometime after her graduation, she was working at Phoebe Hospital in Albany Georgia. The hospital was divided into a “white” wing and a “colored” wing to preclude race-mixing. One night while she was on duty, she felt a strong urge to pee, and to avoid an accident she ducked into a “whites-only” bathroom near the “white” wing of the hospital. A white person saw my mother emerging from the bathroom and reported her to management. My mother was severely reprimanded for her transgression, and that proved to be the breaking point. My mother and father moved north to Flint, and my mother was able to secure a nursing job at Hurley Hospital that paid twice her Phoebe salary.
Fast-forward about sixty-six years. Mabes was lying on a gurney in the emergency room at Genesys Medical Center outside Flint. She had been out getting ice cream with a close family friend when she experienced some confusion, slurring of speech, and mild paralysis. She was rushed to the emergency room, and my brother Fred and I arrived shortly thereafter. The emergency room staff ran a bunch of tests and said my mother may have experienced a stroke, but she seemed to be doing okay and was not exhibiting symptoms. The attending physician said they could put her on a helicopter to one of their other hospitals, about an hour away by car, where stroke protocol medications could be administered. However, as my mom wasn’t at that moment showing symptoms, the scans didn’t show evidence of a stroke, and the doctor didn’t seem to be strongly suggesting the stroke protocol, my brother and I talked with Mabes and we agreed that we would not put her on the helicopter. After that brief discussion, Mabes started crying and said, “I just wanted to see Nadiyah graduate from high school.” Nadiyah was seven at the time.
I will forever regret that I didn’t immediately say, “what the heck, we’re getting on that helicopter!” My mother’s statement indicated to me that she knew something was different in her body – that this wasn’t just a temporary health glitch. I was in denial. I wanted her to be okay, and I didn’t force the issue. Sure enough, the next day, my mom’s stroke symptoms reappeared, and shortly thereafter she lost the ability to speak. Though my mom lived another year, it was a miserable time of paralyzed nursing home existence, and she never spoke another word. Mabes deserved better than that.
My mother was forever teaching folks about one thing or another, in her own usually subtle way. She would want the story of her experience to be of some benefit to others. The lesson I learned from the experience, and would like to share with everyone, is that if one of your loved ones is exhibiting stroke symptoms, don’t be in denial. Immediately get your loved one to the nearest hospital that is able to administer the stroke protocol, even if the symptoms are mild or fleeting. A stroke is nothing to play with. You can find more information about how to deal with a possible stroke at this link.
My mother enjoyed her latter years immensely. She was always telling me how much she loved her home, her friends, our frequent outings to local restaurants, and just hanging out together watching TV and talking about current events. She was happy and proud that her three children built successful careers and families, and she loved being with her grandchildren. I just wish her exit from this earth could have been more graceful, and much later.
Mabes died on August 11, 2014 in an upstairs bedroom at my Michigan home. My brother Fred and sister-in-law Pat were there, as were Kishna, Nadiyah and I. The night my mother died coincided with a 100-year rainstorm, and occurred on the same day that the surreally talented actor Robin Williams died. I believe God sends little messages.
Happy Heavenly 100 Mabes. I love you. I hope your spirit is reveling with those of our loved ones and friends who preceded you. And I hope you all are occasionally enjoying one of those crazy Robin Williams monologues.