Remembering My Mother, the Woman Who Forged My Activist Heart

This Mother’s Day, I must, for the first time, actively recall and remember the woman who was my Mom. She died from COVID-19 on December 22, 2020. But her passion, her love for me — her gay son — and all her selfless acts helping others stays with me. She has always shaped who I am, and she will continue to do so.

My mom’s last days were spent in a hospital in Topeka, Kan. She battled the disease for 30 days, alone. I remember the phone call and the deep helplessness that came over me when she first told me she was not feeling well. A complex mix of emotions persisted: fear, sadness, anger, and guilt. I could not help her and protect her, the way she had always done for me.

At the time, the COVID-19 death toll was more than 250,000 people across the United States. I tried to be strong, knowing many more had survived, and yet I was gripped by the fear of what could happen.

A few days later, my mom walked by herself into an emergency room. Her oxygen-saturation level was low. She had migraines and could not sleep well. She tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to the hospital. I cannot imagine how scared and lonely she must have been. But, as many times before in her life, she found the courage to do what she had to. She walked alone and trusted the goodness of life and others would find her.

Living more than 1,000 miles away, there was little I could do. Even if I could get there to be with her, the hospital would not allow anyone inside. Instead, I could only FaceTime mom — or call her nurses and doctors, sometimes two or three times a day. I cried thinking of how alone she must have been sitting in the hospital bed by herself, no family to hold her hand. In her final days, she saw only nurses in full PPE gear. This had to have been surreal for such a loving and warm woman: a sterile, isolated, and dystopian place in which to suffer.

During her final 30 days, I recall good moments where she would talk to me, and I could get her to smile and laugh, lifting her spirits and giving her hope of being home by Christmas. I promised her Santa would bring her a new iPhone so she could play her favorite word games and do puzzles while she recuperated. That new phone still sits on my desk in a rhinestone purple case.

Then, there were the toughest days, after she was put on a ventilator. She was not responsive, and our ability to connect came to a halt. The nurse told me my mom was kind. She said they hoped she would be one of the lucky ones.

I know mom loved “Mickey” and that Walt Disney World was a special place for her. We took her there in 2004, right after my Dad had been killed by a drunk driver. Despite tragedy, my mom held strong and always loved us with each piece of her broken heart. Together, we would walk in front of Cinderella’s castle at night. I would hold her hand and raise it up so she could spin for me. She would smile and laugh.

Near the end, though, I know that my mom didn’t need or want to dance under the lights at Disney World. She just wanted to see her kids. She just wanted to come home, to be back in her own little castle.

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Shane Mendez Windmeyer, M.S., Ed. is a best-selling author, LGBTQ+ campus pioneer and civil rights champion. He is founder and executive director of Campus Pride, the leading national LGBTQ+ organization for student leaders and campus organizations working to build future leaders and create safer campus communities.

Windmeyer is the creator of the Campus Pride Index (CampusPrideIndex.org), the premier national LGBTQ+ benchmarking tool for colleges and universities. Released Fall 2006 by Alyson Books, Windmeyer is the author of The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students, the first-ever college guide profiling the “100 Best LGBT-Friendly Campuses.” He is also the editor of Brotherhood: Gay Life in College Fraternities and co-editor of the books Inspiration for LGBT Students & Allies, Out on Fraternity Row: Personal Accounts of Being Gay in a College Fraternity and Secret Sisters: Stories of Being Lesbian & Bisexual in a College Sorority.

Windmeyer graduated from Emporia State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and then attended Indiana University where he received his Master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. with his husband Thomas Feldman. They were legally married in 2015 after 20 years of being together.

 

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