The Journey of a Woman Named Tamara

I use this blog to talk about different journeys accessed by my motorcycle, and sometimes to just vent or talk about meaningless things.   I am exhausted but unable to sleep tonight because of something I need to write.

I must tell you about a special woman.  This entry is about the journey of a person who genuinely cared about others, even while life did everything it could to keep her down.  A very private person, she touched the lives of so many people; but nobody seemed to know the true story of this lady.  This is about the journey of a woman named Tamara.

Tamara was born July 7, 1940 in Homestead, Pennsylvania.  She grew up, moved out of her parents home, and eventually acquired a Bachelor’s degree in Education.  She found a job teaching at a high school, got married, and had two children; both boys. Unfortunately, her husband became unstable a few years into the marriage, and he became an abuser to his wife and children.  Tamara gave up her teaching certificate to become a stay at home mom, and to focus on protecting her sons as best as she could from the wrath of an confused and angry man.  Eventually, she realized that she had to get away, found the strength to leave and fled with her children to a shelter for abused women, encountered a very nasty separation period, and finally divorced her husband.

Tamara had to raise the two children by herself, as the father decided to start a new life by himself and leave his responsibilities behind.  She worked multiple jobs at one time to ensure that food was always available, clothing was on their backs, and a roof always sheltered the family.  Tamara had no extra money, and her children were not able to get the things most other children had.  Yet, her sons learned valuable lessons as they got older.  They appreciated what they had, always ate the provided food without complaint, and grew to learn that love means so much more than anything materialistic in nature.

Both boys grew up angry and confused; yet Tamara did her best to keep raising them with a strong foundation.  She protected them where she could, yet let them learn life’s lessons the hard way in order to grow up properly.  Tamara was always there to support her children, even after all the displays of anger that both boys demonstrated in their own way.  Life was hard for Tamara, and her sons at the time did not make things any easier for her.

Even while raising two children to adulthood and working countless hours to get by, she made the time to better herself and graduated in her forties from Ball State University with Master’s degrees in Gerontology and Counseling Psychology.  After the abuse that she had suffered in her marriage, Tamara became focused on making sure that she made a difference in the lives of those others that needed help but were trapped in their own circumstances.

Tamara unselfishly picked the world of thankless social service jobs to provide a voice for those that could not speak for their selves.  She got a job working at a county welfare department, and became a child abuse investigator working in conjunction with the local Sheriff’s department.  She continued putting in many hours studying to further her skills so that she could become a certified investigator and a court-approved child advocate.  Many of her cases were horrific in nature…children physically and sexually abused and even tortured by parents, family members and friends.  Tamara hid the daily psychological pains that she encountered, knowing that somebody needed to be the one to help those that were defenseless, as she had once been.  While she kept the day to day experiences away from her children, they grew to see the onslaught of anguish that their mother was constantly exposed to in her job.

The typical length of employment for somebody doing this kind of work is around three years.  After ten years, the stress of the job had become too much, and she resigned her position in order to allow somebody else to continue the fight.  Tamara sought something new, and chose to use her Gerontology degree to help those in need…at the other end of the age spectrum.  She was hired to create and develop a Alzheimer’s unit at a large nursing home, and as one of her sons moved onto college, the other was witness to the many eighty hour weeks that she worked in order to create a facility that family members of those inflicted with such a terrible disease would be proud of.  Tamara’s focus was to provide a safe shelter, with care given with respect, to those afflicted with such a terrible disorder.

After several years as the successful director of the Alzheimer’s unit, Tamara moved on in an attempt to find something that would allow more normal work hours.  She joined a state agency as a case worker, and did her best to improve the lives of those in need.  Tamara helped those that were indigent, hungry, had disabilities, or needing psychological program assistance.  Her state salary was paltry and never enough; yet even when clients could not get help from the state, she would reach into her own purse to give out the few extra dollars that she had.  Tamara never asked for anything in return.  And she found that many people would never bother to thank her for her assistance or time…yet that did not stop her from smiling when she met the next person in need, and making it her mission in life to leave them in a better position afterwards.

By this time, Tamara had started to become tired.  Although her mind was sharp and her heart was golden, her body could no longer accept the sacrifices that she was making.  However, her spirit was strong.  In the 1990’s, she had a heart attack, but she recovered.  Later in the same decade, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she recovered.  In early 2000s, she was diagnosed with thyroid disease…and she recovered.   She spent years saving for what would be the trip of a lifetime for her…a cruise to Alaska with her own mother.  It was something she talked about all the time with her sons when she saw them, even years later.  Tamara felt free for some reason during her time in Alaska, and looked forward to revisiting sometime.

Tamara had made the dean’s list at Ball State repeatedly during her studies there; she was a very intelligent woman.  She had previously considered going into private practice and making a very comfortable living; but something had told her this type of occupation would never allow her to truly help those that really needed it.  She lived life with just dollars in her checking account, sometimes a step behind the electric company service shut-off man, and sometimes taking the bus to work when gas for her car was not able to be afforded.  Yet she never once complained to anybody about her troubles, and simply focused on helping her family and the strangers around her.

It eventually came time to retire.  She moved in with her youngest son and his wife, and lived there for nearly a decade.  Her health continued to deteriorate, but her will was too strong.  A quiet woman she was, but she knew how to fight whatever negatives life threw at her.  While some people in the world seem to get all the breaks, Tamara had to fight for everything, every step of the way.  A simple woman, she had very little possessions, drove old cars throughout her life that were always in need of repair, and did not have the opportunity to splurge for anything nice for herself.  Whenever her family would try to do something nice for her, she was adamant that the funds be used for something more practical.  She only wanted the hugs and laughter around her; material items had absolutely no value to her.

She still wanted to make a difference, but her body refused to allow her to acquire full-time employment.  So, she got a job at a local pharmacy, and proceeded to spend many hours getting state certified as a Pharmacy Technician.  A pretty far cry from her past work experiences, but it still allowed her to in some way to help those in need.  She developed friendships with her customers while she worked there, and no matter how tired she was working a shift, she always had a smile and a soothing word for those that appeared in front of her needing assistance.  She came home exhausted after each shift, but her family could tell she really enjoyed what she was doing.

In October of 2012, Tamara was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer.  The fight of her life was now happening.  She endured two long rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments to fight this horrible disease, and through the vomiting, headaches, and other severe side affects, she never let those around her know she was suffering.  Everybody knew what she was going through; the loss of all her hair was a dead giveaway.  Tamara was a a strong woman, but not so vain that she could not go out in public now that her physical appearance had changed.  She quickly overcame the loss of follicles and showed off her “battle wound” to anybody that asked about it.  Not once did she complain about her woes or the predicament she was now facing.  The smiles continued as she suffered.

The cancer spread like wildfire through her lymphatic system; eventually finding its way into her liver, spine, and brain.  As the months went by, her only care was about her sons and beloved daughter-in-law, a woman that she had initially kept at a distance but over time had come to love like her own daughter (and claimed her as such).  Tamara continued to work at the pharmacy as long as she could, but eventually reduced her hours due to the physical exhaustion that she was facing.  When she realized that she could no longer work at all, she cried.  This wonderful woman did not cry due to the fact she would lose any of the income…she cried because she would no longer be able to help those that came into the store any longer.

July 2013 came about quickly, and Tamara’s body was badly losing the fight.  She became extremely sick in just two days.  Several weeks in the hospital allowed her to recover somewhat, and she finally made the decision to stop the cancer treatments.  Tamara wanted to live out the rest of the days of her life without the horrible side affects that the radiation and chemotherapy were causing.  The doctors gave her just a couple of weeks to live at this point, and her family came to her to give their final goodbyes.  But Tamara had a little bit of fight left in her spirit, and she recovered enough to be transferred to long term care at a nursing home in the hopes that once again she would be able to recover.

For a couple of weeks, Tamara was alert, talkative, and still had those smiles on her face every time somebody came to see her.  The nursing home staff came to fall in love with her; a stubborn woman they discovered, but one full of life and love to share with anybody that made her acquaintance.  She made it a point to share her last wishes, and had her family make promises to her that they would keep after she passed.  Tamara told her family that she was tired of fighting, and ready to see her own parents and loved ones in the after world.

Each person faces the eternal plan that has been created for them.  Tamara’s condition quickly deteriorated, and she was moved to a private room away from the noise and distractions at the nursing home so that she could receive around the clock care over the next several days.  Her sons and “adopted” daughter gathered to be with her one last time, and stayed by her side for hours as her body started the process of shutting down.  Having received each family member’s “permission” that it was OK to leave them, Tamara’s reason to stay with them any longer was no longer needed.

On Wednesday, September 4, 2013, at 6:40 in the early evening, Tamara, the selfless woman who had given up so much in her life so that others could benefit in their own, lost the fight for life and began her eternal journey. Tamara waited until the one time that both of her sons had stepped out of the room together, and with a smile on her face observed by those still in the room, took her last breath.  Tamara wanted her family with her, but did not want her boys to see her die and have the memory of that moment.  She protected her boys one last time.

This special woman fought every thing that the bad aspects of life threw at her, but she always had that smile when anybody saw her.  She would not allow others to witness the pain and personal suffering in her life, and only cared about making other people’s lives a little richer.  Her life was hard, yet she triumphed through all the adversity that she faced.  While doing many thankless things in her life, she received joy in bolstering others.

Tamara is my mom.  She had a craving for chocolate, loved classical music, saved a kitten that followed her around like a dog for the past ten years, and was a strong-willed but quiet and loving woman.  She made snicker-noodle cookies and a meatloaf that is unsurpassed, and enjoyed watching nature shows.  My mom did not like heights, but fell in love with hot air balloon rides.  We loved to get sarcastic with each other, and she had a way of rolling her eyes that got us all laughing so hard we cried.  She leaves behind my brother Scott and I, my wife Bonnie, and her sister Tira and her family.  She was 73 years young.

Nobody will ever be able to convince me that their own mother was a better soul.  Our family is grieving right now, but I felt the need to let anybody else know just what a wonderful woman she was.  So few people know her life history since she was a private person and kept her own problems hidden away, and it is impossible for me to list the adversities in her life that she had to overcome.  There is so much that is impossible to detail about her, but know that throughout her life, all she cared about was making somebody else’s life better than before she met them.

Today, I heard the saying  that “every ending leads to a new beginning”.  My mom was not a very religious person, but I do believe she was spiritual.  If there really is a God, He knows that she truly deserves to enter His kingdom. By even the most stringent of standards, she has earned this.

Having been very afraid of motorcycles, mom has always refused my offers to take her out on the back of my Harley.  However, her last wish is that I take her for that ride, back to Alaska.  I cannot express how much I am looking forward to doing this.

I miss you mom.  Rest in well deserved peace.

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