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I Was Not Hatched...The Truth of "Family First"

Dave Wilber


Contrary to some theories, I was not hatched. I am also not a dropped off stray from Vulcan. I am not a character invented at Rockbottum CC. I am not the vision in Mama's frying pan.


This is my mom. Donna Wilber. f2e808019d309b8838021acb3213097e-.jpgShe lives in the mountains of Colorado, where I was born. Not hatched. This picture was taken several years ago, on her 80th birthday. I had flown home to surprise her. Had a big evening in Denver all planned and she vetoed the whole thing. Insisting on drinks and pub food at The Crooked Creek Saloon. A local watering hole of great and storied history. (Where I used to sneak in and have underage drinking sprees with the local Turfheads.) And that's my mom to a tee. No need for a fancy dinner or a big deal celebration. Just do something you don't always do and that's special enough. Very cool.


The third week of February, I got the call to come home. Mom hadn't been doing well for the last couple months. A couple of visits to the ER and a procedure gone wrong. And her decision, enough is enough. No more doctors. No more ER. No more. Her declaration is that she's not going to overcome the heart and lung trouble and she didn't want to be poked and prodded at any more. Everyone was sure, including her, that she didn't have long. She wanted to be taken home and to just pass.


My close advisors told me that I would never regret dropping everything to be near her. So I did. Family First was the mantra, the advice and the method. And when mom didn't pass away right away, I was forced to make some really hard decisions about where to be. Including missing my favorite event of the year and a birth child of my mine, The Sierra Pacific Spring Symposium. I still handled the registration and everything I could do from afar. 39ba7d7e351c849fde1f1ffba9e03a30-.jpgAnd I became cook, nurse, housekeeper, spiritual advisor and pillar of wisdom for my mom and our very small family. 


If I had a hero growing up, it was Donna Wilber. She and I had a legendary relationship. Not always an easy one. But my respect for her was and is immense. She and my dad came to the mountains of Colorado from Southern California in the early 60's to open a restaurant and to be in a place where people liked to come and play. They were service oriented people. My dad, a chef, believed in hospitality as an art form. Feeding people was love. My mom, didn't love the restaurant biz, but she later found her calling working in public health and women's health... taking care of people. Caretakers don't make good patients, it is said. I think that's true. But my mom has been a trooper despite a body in failure. 


"Family First", everyone kept saying. And so, as I respected my mom's wishes and helped set up hospice care for her in her home, I never really thought that this may be a long haul kind of thing. One of the nurses, who has seen this before warned me I may be in for a marathon and not a sprint. Her particular ailment doesn't always follow a clear path, I was warned. But that's ok. It's the end of winter, I have a good net connection. What could I not be able to handle? Who can't find me? I'm Wilber. Invincible. Or so I thought.


As we turned the corner into week six, and spring of 2014 showed in the calendar (but not the actual weather), I began to get calls and communications that were less and less about "Family First" and started to ring with "Turfgrass First". But again, committed that I am, I increased my efforts in both the care taking arena for my mom and my clients. Work hard. Work harder. Sleep is for wimps.


This week, the red tape of the hospice program and our wonderful American health care system came to visit. "Your mom is pretty stable", said the hospice director and they were concerned about using medicare dollars the wrong way and perhaps need to suspend services. And to increase the fun, the same day, came the note from my employer. And even though I spend my life on the road, I guess someone has it in their head that I'm not working and therefore probably shouldn't be paid or maybe I should or...blah blah blah (insert Company Klingon Speak here) for which I don't have a universal translator. And I guess the nights and weekends and the years of not really taking time off, never shutting off the cell phone don't matter. This makes me hate the economic downturn that forced me to give up independent employment and take a job even that much more because now I can't just look in the mirror at my boss and my staff. It's not bad, just more complicated. But both medical people and employer are right. And wrong. Because you just cant reconcile in a spreadsheet what the human side of things should be. 


More red tape. 716bae93acacf317185cf65f93f87f26-.jpgThe navigation of the family leave laws of California being about as clear as the tobacco juice in the fairway mower's cup holder. I just wanted to scream. And I did. For about two hours as I had to drive to Denver to pick up a prescription that couldn't be filled at the local pharmacy. But this isn't about me. It's not. It's all about her. And I'm reminded about the number of days she gave up for me. And certainly there were probably many opportunities that passed her by because she had to care for a growing boy. And when she became my dad's caretaker until he passed away 10 years ago, she never complained. Not once. Not ever. So I complained to the windshield. Which I'm good at but not really entitled to.


This afternoon, I got my mom laid down for her afternoon nap. And while I sat and held her hand, I had a very spiritual moment. A moment when, if there ever has been a still silent voice, there was one thundering in my ears like a ten gang of buffalo blowers. Telling me to do my best to take care of everyone around me and to use my best skills to help in whatever way possible, be it for family or for turfheads or for employer. And if it means that I get a job at the local head shop (this is Colorado, hello!) using my glassblowing skills in making glass "accessories", well...there it is. Because really, this time is priceless.


And if "they" don't wanna do the same care taking of me? Well, that's "their" choice.  I'm entitled to nothing and in gratitude for it all. For the growth as a man. For the balance applied to my workaholism. For the vision about what others really think about me and my work. All of it. And my wish? That I can hold up my end of the deal that was signed as my feet were inked and touched to the paper of my hospital birth certificate. Because that day, 48 years ago, my mom knew everything was gonna change and probably didn't know exactly how. But simply that it would.


Like the crash of most hard drives and like most of the Poa I've ever met, the death part of life is assured. I would rather that Donna Wilber stay around for a while longer, but the quality of her life isn't what it should be and there is every indication that she has weeks, not months. 6b8b76abe4ee07c7f6f14bcdc2b5bf57-.jpgAnd it all makes me face my own mortality and my lack of preparedness for the days when my hard drive decides to sputter on the way to quitting.


The woman in the pictures here never missed a chance to tell it like it is. And she never missed a chance to help someone who really needed it. Her heart, big as a house and then some and her edge... tournament day sharp.


And I wish I could fix her. I wish I could give her the magic Wilber Mineral Spray or the perfect Thai Curry that would make it all better. But the truth is, death is going to be her cure.


And so, I'm here. Until it ends. Hanging onto the real truths of Family First. And if it costs in the material things? Well that's nothing compared to the cost that the loss of Donna Wilber will inflict on my life. 



Tears stream down your face
I promise you I will learn from my mistakes
Tears stream down your face
And I.....


Lights will guide you home

And ignite your bones
And I will try.... to fix you


-from the Coldplay classic, Fix You


Recommended Comments



Very well said. Your Mom raised a son she is very proud of. You are showing how much you are proud of your Mom.


God will call when He is ready. Pray. Care. Love.


John Colo

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This is unbelievable, thanks for laying it out there. I had never seen the duality of our lives laid out so clearly. We leave home and build our own life that requires us to be present...what happens when our old life needs us back? It cannot be easy to navigate.


Thanks for sharing this.

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Guest Doug Johanningsmeier


Dave, I hope to be able to make like decisions when that time comes. Employers come and go with little regard most of the time for people. Your decision will be remembered for your lifetime.

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Guest Kim Dushinski


My friend, you are making the right choice to put family first...and it does suck that the cost to do is such a complicated price. My heart is with you.

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Dave...I wish I had your ability with words; that is truly one of the best pieces I've ever read about end of life. I don't have to tell you how I feel, but I will say I am damn proud of you. Give Donna a hug from Denise and me.

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Guest Chris Edwards


Dave, My heart is with you and your mom. She meant a lot to a lot of us growing up! You are wonderful and, I am sure, a great comfort to her. Very well said and definitely the right choice!

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Wow Dave, thanks so much for sharing so much. It was truly touching to hear you talk so frankly and lay it down. Stay real like that always, and know in your soul that you have made the right decision. People as talented as you don't just go away, you will land on your feet and will look back on this time as the best decision you have ever made...period. Much love from one of the Eastern most turfnetters there be...

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Guest Karen Gadberry


A moving and intense outpouring of love of family, life, joys, and sorrows. Sending love and energy to your family as you move through difficult times.

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