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story.lead_photo.caption News Tribune sports reporter Tom Rackers

Sometimes, it's tough to decide what to write about when it's your turn for the column.

The decision what to write about this time wasn't difficult. But it may be the hardest column I've ever written.

My mom passed away last week.

When I was in my early teens, my dad told me of the three children, I was most like my mom. Now, this was when it was the two of us in the car after mom and I had the latest of a series of spats about who knows what, so it didn't really sink in what he was attempting to tell me.

But as I got older, I started to understand it. We had a bit of an unspoken bond, we thought the same way about a lot of things. She looked out for me.

I know this is supposed to be a sports column, so here's some sports.

My grandfather worked for the railroad and when Mom was in her mid-20s back in the mid- to late-1950s, she would take the train to St. Louis for the occasional weekend to go to Cardinal games. By herself.

She only mentioned doing it a couple of times that I remember. But looking back, that was pretty cool, a young single woman who decided she wanted to go to the big city alone watch a baseball game.

When she got married and started a family, we didn't go to baseball games a lot as a group, it would just be two or three of us going most of the time.

But there was one occasion, it had to be in the late 1980s, we all went to Busch Stadium II for a Cardinal game on a sunny weekend afternoon. The first thing Mom wanted to do when we got there was buy herself a Cardinals cap.

I don't remember the score of the game, or even who the Cardinals played that day. But I can still see Mom sitting in the Busch Stadium bleachers, wearing that cap and rooting for the Cardinals.

The opportunities for family outings diminished as Mom hadn't been in the best of health for more than the last 10 years and was living at a skilled nursing facility.

I would try to go see her for an hour or so every day before I came to work. Depending on the day, one of two things would be on the television. It would be game shows or the Hallmark Channel. If it was a Hallmark movie, it wasn't too tough to get caught up on the plot if it had already started. Small town girl moves to the big city to chase her dreams, has to come back to same small town for some reason and realizes the love of her life was there all along, her high school boyfriend who is a flannel wearing carpenter with a square jawline who builds gazebos. There always was a gazebo. I don't know that I've ever seen a gazebo outside of a Hallmark movie.

But in March 2020, those visits stopped when COVID-19 restrictions were placed on visitors to the facilities. For the safety of the residents, no one would be allowed in except staff. I know there were so many families in town and all around the country in the same situation as ours, unable to have in-person visits. The decision was understandable, but that didn't make it any easier on our family or any other family.

On a snowy Friday night last February, I got a call from the facility saying they were taking Mom to the emergency room. So I slipped and slid my way as quickly as I could out to the hospital.

After getting my temperature checked at the desk, I went back to the room where she was being treated. There were three nurses in the room, checking her vital signs and hooking up some equipment as I saw Mom for the first time in nearly a year.

One of them noticed me in the doorway and asked Mom if she knew who I was.

In the cheery voice, as strong as I had heard it in a long time, Mom said, "That's my son!"

I smiled under my mask and told the nurses it was the first time we'd seen each other for 11 months. Understandably, they shot daggers at me with their eyes until I told them Mom was living at a skilled nursing facility and I couldn't visit because of COVID-19 restrictions. One of them said they would get done as quickly as possible so we could visit.

And we did, for about an hour before she fell asleep. A couple of hours later, Mom was admitted for the night. I wasn't able to go to her room, so I went home. It turned out it was the last time we had the chance to talk for any extended period of time in person, just the two of us.

Mom went back to the facility a couple of days later. We still couldn't visit and when the restrictions were lifted a few months later, it was decided hospice was the best thing we could do for her and she passed away July 9.

I'm proud to be her son, just like I know my brother, Greg, is. I know my sister, Kathy, is proud to be her daughter. And Dad knows he had the best companion anyone could ever want for the past 60 years.

Love  you, Mom.

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