To Mourn my Mother, For My Aunt Ruth’s Death

Oh dear God, why does this relate to my dear mother–it’s her sister, and now my aunt could go anytime, and what we have learned what is more of the same, at this point and time, she could go anytime, anytime as what the Lord wills? We shall know in advance.  We know how seriously ill she is with lung cancer. More to be done, more to mourn for, let there be some justice, some memory! What could be written about two women, battered by betrayal as children? My mother was placed in foster care after a short time in The Girls Iowa State Reformatory, and Ruth was placed in Woodard State Hospital For the Epileptic and Retarded. This can not raise my mother from the dead, my poor mother who in her last days has reached out to me, and my tears have never stopped. My mother died of cancer, and Ruthie saw my mother Dorothy breathe her last breath. How seriously ill is Ruthie, and my brother can in no way stop to drive the 50 miles to see aunt Ruthie, my mother’s only living sibling. I have asked him, and he will not go to this assisted living center, and how calloused could he be? Shall I ask again, and shall I ask? No, I cannot!

So my wife dear Marjorie and I will drive 350 plus miles first to Des Moines, Iowa then on in to Oskalosa,  Iowa. Ruthie’s home in this small town, there at Heritage Assisted Living, we will for a short time be with her as we have time in all it’s cruel way, and we will be there for her before her death.  So, what of aunt Ruthie, this simple woman, she with the mind of a 10-year-old child, she with simple needs, with knowledge and foresight such that we shall go to be with her because she called me on her cell phone? The tears well up inside; have I never been so terrible? My cold so this my runny nose stopped up and nasal passages clogged and with this we shall know how to respond. My simple cold, and her lung cancer–large tumor engulfing her, we will be with her a short time. Love, we’ll give love as this is all we can do for a visit in two days before death, and then again, and we shall go to her, and be with her. One can see her needs, her added simplicity. We will be there for this lady having visited once before.

She was as a child at Woodward State Hospital for the Epileptic and Retarded, the demeaning way they treated inmates kept like animals, hosed down into no special injunction when bathing. I know they were actually hosed-down like animals to bathe openly with some faithless woman dousing her, with no ordinary people. These were the developmentally disabled called in shame “retarded.” Ruthie had her tubes cut without her knowledge at age 14 as she was housed in some general dormitory. Ruthie was refereed to as feeble minded or mentally deficient, or moronic. She was removed from her home, my grandmother’s home, when my grandfather Charles died of lip cancer being a pipe smoker. I’m named after both grandfathers, Charles Hoffman, and Elgwyn Arthur Taylor, my name Charles Elgwyn Taylor. When I was wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1974, my Taylor side of the family shunned me, and finally I convinced my dad’s return. The Taylors grouped me with the “feeble minded” until I married, but none of them came to our marriage. I surprised the families, and the people at the University of Iowa, when I went on to earn an MA in English, and an Ed. S. in  higher education, having graduated from Grinnell College with a degree in English lit. After a college teaching job, and within eight years went on to earn an MFA in creative writing with a GPA of 3.9, but throughout my graduate work, I came to understand that I was refereed to as feeble minded.

These records are now open to me, and at age 60, I learned that since 1974 I had been misdiagnosed, and that I actually have had bipolar disorder. I have been married for 36 years, and my wife and I had my gifted daughter Laurel Ann who is at this point perusing the PhD in Japanese literature, and in comp lit. My daughter speaks fluent Japanese and spent four years teaching in Japan, My daughter earned an MFA in Asian (Japanese) translation  at the University of Iowa, and was a runner-up in the prestigious Penn Award for her translation of a Japanese novel, and I myself taught have taught both full-time, and part-time as a college English teacher. My wife and my daughter both Phi Beta Kappa, my wife earning a 4.0 GPA at Iowa in her BA in cultural anthropology, and my daughter better than a 3.95 GPA in Japanese studies at Middlebury college in Vermont, were high school valedictorian and co-valedictorian respectively,  My daughter has gone on to study at Washington University with a fellowship. She was awarded a full fellowship at Iowa which covered all her expenses in the MFA. Our family has lived successfully in every way, and my wife worked for the federal government for 32 years and four months. Though my Taylor side of the family has stereotyped myself, my wife and my daughter as somehow more deficient than normal society, and shunned myself and my little family, we have gone on to far superior standards than this side of the family. The Hanson family, my aunt Gale from the Taylor side, and my aunt Evelyn have had nothing to do with us since about 1972 except the occasional Christmas card and one visit in 1992.

Ruthie’s experience at Woodward State Hospital for the Epileptic and the Retarded during the 1940s was an attempt to “socialize” her and train her for a “job in polite society.” Yet, the conditions of the hospital meant that Ruthie was treated terribly. The hospital was severely understaffed and  remained so until the decade of the 1970s and may still be so.I actually worked at the hospital in 1975, and I watched patients play in their own excrement, and live unclothed. Patients were treated unsuccessfully with behavior modification. In the 1970s the facility was in poor repair, and on the ward where I worked patients were refereed to as severely, and profoundly retarded. Many of these patients were left unattended. I was given the most difficult jobs of trying to teach patients how to eat properly, how to bathe, and how to dress themselves. Though I had received very little training, I was expected to work alone in these job capacities. I watched patients in these horrid conditions with group bathrooms directly next to group dorms with no privacy for bathrooms. One night I was left to hose down nude male patients on a male ward in an open bathing room with peeling paint on the walls, and separated from a group toilet with only a rubber curtain. The temperature in these rooms were unregulated, sometimes very hot, and sometimes very cold. I had been given no training except to be told this is the way it was done.

Remarkably, aunt Ruthie went on  to work successfully as an aid at nursing homes in Des Moines, Iowa, and in 1968 she passed the exam making her a certified nursing aid, and she worked successfully at Americana Nursing Home in Des Moines. I will say that the nursing staff at this facility “took Ruthie under their wings” such that they helped Ruthie study for the exam. Ruthie, it seems, accomplished much more than the average inmate at Woodward. Ruthie married three times, and at several times in her life she was homeless, once living openly without shelter on the Iowa State Capitol grounds, and she and her husband at the same time foraging for whatever food they could find. Once they lived out of an old school bus infested with mice. When my mother, my brother, and I moved to Des Moines in 1960, my mother became a positive influence in aunt Ruthie’s life, and at times Ruthie lived with us, and my mother would help her “get back on her feet.” Ruthie met Art Mitchell in 1969, and they lived as husband and wife until Art died in 2008. Art’s family had helped them find Heritage, and that family has remained guardians. Ruth and Art Mitchell spent the last eleven years of Arts life in Heritage Assisted Living, and now in the same assisted living, the very kind staff is equipping Ruthie’s apartment for Home Hospice. Ruthie is 82, and will pass away from lung cancer. At this advanced stage of cancer my wife and I will drive next week to make a final visit to Ruthie. We have attempted to send what we could to Ruth Hoffman-Mitchell since I rediscovered her when she contacted me a few years ago. I have bought her a subscription to Birds and Blooms with beautiful pictures, and sending birthday and Christmas gifts from our home in Hartford, South Dakota. Some of our family members in the Des Moines Area have visited Ruth, and given presents, but Art’s family has remained her closest allies. We are making our final visit to Ruth next week while she is yet alive rather than to return for a funeral. It is my feeling that Ruth will die soon, and I would rather see her alive, than dead.

Ruthie’s life was not tragic in spite of incarceration at Woodward, and in spite of being turned out in the 1950s with very little preparation for the “real” world. At first Ruthie lived with her mother, my grandmother and her other daughter Alice. They were disabled, and could not really care for Ruth. Alice could not walk from an early age accident. Arietta Hoffman, herself developmentally disabled, died of stroke and also had at an advanced stage of breast cancer. My grandmother and aunt Alice lived in a three room apartment with only a small allotment of Welfare money. They had no means to care for Ruth. It is remarkable that at times my aunt Ruthie could live as a fully functioning individual because at other times in her life she was homeless without food. Ruth will die cared for by loving staff at Heritage Assisted Living and Art Mitchell’s family, and Ruthie tells me that if her care becomes too much for Heritage, she will be moved to inpatient hospice. After I discovered Ruthie’s location about four years ago, my wife and I have done what we could from a distance of more than 350 miles having visited her once, and now making this final visit. I’m not sure anyone from the Hoffman family will  visit her before she dies, and certainly my brother Robert Douglas Taylor has made it known that he is too busy to visit his aunt though he lives about fifty miles away.

My wife Marjorie and I may well be the only family from my mother’s side to visit Ruth before she dies. My aunt Deni Bash Hoffman, my uncle George’s x-wife who knows Ruth well, recently had a small stroke and cannot visit. Ruthie remains my closest link to my mother. We will take two days to visit. Ruthie was present when my mother passed away of cancer 19 years ago, my brother being out of town, though his wife Beth, and now his x-wife, was present just after my mother’s death. My wife, my small daughter, and I had left our home in Hartford near Sioux Falls. Yes, we had left our home for a week to be present for my mother, but it was Ruth Hoffman-Mitchell who actually cared for mother, my mother, who who died of  complications of breast cancer. Ruthie actually present at about 4:00 a.m. when my mother breathed her last breath that November just six days before Thanksgiving. We drove quickly to be with Ruthie and light a candle in Kavanaugh House Hospice chapel an hour after Dorothy’s death. As we make our way to Des Moines, then to Oskalosa, Iowa visiting my brother first as he works, and then my aunt Ruthie before she passes on and is still living. We may well be the last of my family on my mother’s side to visit Ruthie. We will not be present at the funeral reasoning it is better to see Ruthie alive. I can also say that I too may die of cancer as my aunt Alice died of lymphatic cancer. I am at risk, but for now it is Ruthie we are concerned with, Ruth who is passing on from lung cancer.

Charles E Taylor C 2018

Published by elgwyn

I was a University and community college instructor before retiring. I also worked in fast food restaurants, and retail stores. I am an ordinary man writing for because I want to write and because my education prepared me to write; BA English lit, MA English, EdS higher education, and MFA creative writing, free verse poetry and essays. Blogs are an answer to high-priced self-publishing. Walt Whitman had to self-publish his first 1000 copies of the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass because in 1855 poetry did not sell. Most poets make a living in other ways than writing. Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive, and TS Eliot was a banker. Many writers teach, and always there have been writers who have written because they needed to express their thoughts and feelings. They wrote not necessarily to make money but to express "the old universal truths of the human heart" according to Faulkner. Here I reach a wider audience I missed than by self-publishing, and I stand a better chance to reach a wider audience for less expense than self-publishing. I self-published my first books, Winter from Spring, and Meditations on Gratitude; poetry and photo books which were easier to self-publish than to seek a not to seek a publisher company. This blog allows me to write for an interested audience because I write poetry and personal essays. I write for a friendly audience and present to you a slice of my writing. Perhaps you will enjoy what you read.

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