On August 11, 2017 my Mom, Nadine McCay passed away at the young age of 80. I just spent the last week with my awesome step-dad Allen dealing with post death stuff and of course my Mom has been on my mind a lot lately.
I didn’t know my mother until I was 19 years old. My Mom and Dad divorced when I was a baby and my father got custody of me. For whatever weird reason he had, I was allowed zero contact with my mother. My father’s version of why was pretty convoluted and I know it was because my mother probably broke his heart. He claimed he never loved her and that they were only together so that God would give him me. And I know that I reminded him of her, hence him saying one day when he was whipping me (as he was prone to do a lot) “I will beat the wild seed of your mother out of you if it’s the last thing I do” That was the day I realized the my Dad wasn’t beating me because of me, he was beating me because of his anger and grief at my mother; a weird realization at the age of 11. That was when I know that I wanted to someday find her.
When I was 19 I wrote my Dad’s Mom, Grandma Pearcey and asked her if she knew where my Mom was (I was living in the Bay area like many hippies did in 1972). She wrote back and told me that yes, she did and that over the last 19 years Grandma had been sending her photos and info on how I was doing. She sent me her address. It took me a couple of months to get up the courage to hitchhike (like we did in the 70’s) down to San Diego and knock on her door (that is a story for another day). . The best thing I ever did in my life was to find her. I’m so grateful that my Grandma Pearcey kept in touch with her.
One of the most striking things about my Mom was her resilience. She truly was one of the most resilient women I’ve ever known. From the stories she shared about her abusive mother and father she had no other recourse but to be resilient. I won’t go into details about her early childhood, except to say that she and my aunt were mistreated terribly by their parents and they both survived amazingly.
My mother was 14 when she met my Dad, a 21 year old sailor, at a USO hangout that she and my aunt used to sneak into. To his credit he did think she was 18 when they started dating and he did know that she was 14 when he proposed. She married my Dad primarily to get away from her abusive home. Sadly, she didn’t fare well with Dad, either. He told her on their wedding night that he was going to “raise her like she needed to be raised” and that didn’t go over well with Mom. They lived with my Grandma Pearcey and at least four of my aunts and uncles who were still at home (Grandma had 11 kids).
Mom got pregnant right away with me because according to her — they both thought if you didn’t want to get pregnant you wouldn’t get pregnant. Well, that was misguided. Shortly after I was born my parents split up. Because in 1953 a 16 year old girl had no agency(she was either the ward of her parents or her husband), she had no choice in whether she could have custody or not. My Mom’s mother refused to allow her to keep me and my Dad wanted me completely to himself. Initially my Mom ran off with me but my Dad found her and took me back. Ironically they tried briefly to get back together and that resulted in my brother, Danny, whom my Dad never claimed as his.
And then things got even worse for my Mom and her resilience became even more necessary. Shortly after Danny was born, she met my brother, Michael’s dad who she really loved. Sadly, he was from the south and when he took her home to Alabama with him she couldn’t deal with living in the segregated South and left him and went back to California, this time with a toddler and a newborn.
And it got worse. When Danny was 3 years old he fell off the deck of a three-story apartment building and it was a miracle that he survived. He had massive brain injuries and spent several years in the hospital. Then, because my Mom couldn’t afford the hospital bills and the constant attention he needed he was put in a home for developmentally disabled children (which he was not, even with his brain injury). And my Mom persevered.
Somewhere in the midst of this she met my brother, Mark’s father and got married. This marriage didn’t last that long but long enough for him to adopt Michael and for them to settle in San Diego.
I don’t know a lot about her life then as we didn’t talk about it much. I do know that she has little memory of the two years after Danny went into the hospital and that because her husband was in the Navy they moved a lot and it was difficult with two small children and yet she preserved.
When I found her in 1972, Danny had just moved back home and she was divorced from Mark’s Dad. My Mom was single and a bit of a party girl. She self-medicated with alcohol and did her best to raise three teenagers: Danny, who was brain damaged and had been pretty much institutionalized by his living conditions, Michael, who had been in and out of juvenile detention for theft and drugs and Mark, a sweet teenager who tried to do his best. And then I showed up. Things were a bit chaotic and she kept persevering.
My brother Michael continued to be in and out of jail and prison even once convincing my brother Danny to help him which resulted in Danny almost going to prison (his brain injury kept him out). Eventually due to drug use Michael contracted AIDS and that actually was the catalyst for him quitting drugs and for many years staying out of trouble until he relapsed and went to prison again in the mid 2000’s for selling drugs. When he came out of prison his health continued to deteriorate and Michael died a couple years ago.
Probably the best thing that happened to her in the 70’s was meeting Allen, the man she eventually married and who was with her until the very end. He propped her up when things got bad and yes, they continued to get bad (although she and Allen had some amazing adventures together and loved and lived passionately).
It finally looked like things were going to get better for Mom. She and Allen spent 2 years traveling around the US in a 5th wheel and eventually settling down in the 5th wheel in Mason County. Then she fell and broke her leg, so badly that she need metal plates installed. Which meant they needed to move. So 12 years ago they moved to Shelton and settled in their turquoise blue double wide with their puppies (Angel and Jax, the wonder dachshunds).
My Mom’s health kept kicking her ass and she kept bouncing back. She was diagnosed with diabetes, which caused severe neuropathy of her legs and feet which was why she ultimately became 90% wheelchair bound. She had internalized bleeding several years ago and lost so much blood before they discovered it that she should have died (and yet she persevered). She spent time in an assisted living rehab facility recovering from another illness. She dealt with Allen having stomach cancer, my brother Mark getting a triple by-pass, me getting breast cancer and Michael dying. She had numerous falls and trips to the hospital. Then a couple years ago, right when they were moving into a hotel to live for a couple months due to needing to have the floor of their home replaced because of a broken water pipe, she got diagnosed with bladder cancer. She did her initial treatment while living in a hotel without the comfort of her pups and her home. And she persevered.
Over this last year she began to fade. Her short-term memory was a bit fuzzy and she pretty much quit eating more than a couple mouthfuls at meals. She slept a lot and Allen couldn’t leave her alone for any length of time. The bladder cancer meant she needed to wear pads (which she hated) and regular treatment both at home and at the doctors. Just before she died, she fell again and spent a day in rehab. That was where Allen last saw her. I think it finally got to be too much. Her heart just stopped.
My Mom was one of the most amazing women I’ve ever known. I’m going to miss you, Nadine McCay.