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  • Dana D. McKee

Nell Devrow: A Legacy of Love

Updated: Jan 17

My mother as the Carnival Ball Queen in 1958. She was a queen of the best kind in real life.

This month marks one year since I began Stylesupernova. There were twelve published posts in 2020, all on subjects that I felt passionate about, or that were deeply personal to me on some level. There are also twelve saved drafts on file that did not make the cut, and were summarily abandoned for their lackluster read. One, in particular, on the influence my mother had on my style aesthetic, was revisited and reworked several times, to no avail. She read my blog, and I wanted to formerly acknowledge and honor her, and then offer my post to the ether world. The gratitude I felt for having been gifted with such a mother would then be floating out in the universe, with a colossal karmic return hurdling her way. Each attempt I made to write about her, however, fell flat and read one dimensional; my mother had a multifaceted personality, a person that had so many talented sides that were hidden through her own self-deprecation and modesty. Her persona was both epic and legendary in our family, with many of the family events that she created and led memorialized through time. And although she was often the center of attention, that was not her intention. No one else was simply up to the task of creating an atmosphere of extreme merrymaking that became the standard for our tribal gatherings - she was our designated ringleader, a role she was born to play.

One of our many family gatherings where we were playing charades. Everyone had to be involved!

Today I will write and complete a post about my mother, Nell Devrow, and the impact she had on my life. It will probably be the hardest thing I have ever written because I am speaking about her in the past tense. She died on January 4th of this year. (The weight of the words, "she died" still bears down on my heart with such ferocity that it feels like I cannot breathe.) She was eighty-one years young, our center, the person we all went to for comfort, and our compass. Her death was unexpected, but it was a looming and growing presence in my subconscious mind as she grew older. The months preceding her death, she would broach the subject of dying, and I would cut her off pleading, "Mom, please let's not talk about this. You are going to live to be 100 hundred years old!" The very idea that she was pondering her own mortality was hard to hear. I thought steering her away from the conversation would keep her from feeling depressed, sad, or worse, scared. In hindsight, I now believe that maybe she needed to discuss the inevitable to normalize it, feel more comfortable. My mother was such an intuitive individual that I am convinced she knew her time left on earth was limited. True to form, though, she put aside her own feelings and dropped the conversation. We moved on to talking about movies, the news, and family. The lesson I learned from her at the end of her life was the most poignant: Slow down, be present, connect. My mother knew how much she was loved and appreciated. I just wish I would have been aware enough, courageous enough, to offer the support and comfort she perhaps needed in the final year of her life.

This photo captures my parents perfectly. She always had a smile on her face.

Caring for my father was my mother's primary focus, especially the last twenty years. He survived cardiovascular complications, kidney and bladder cancer, diabetes, and two very serious falls, all due to my mother's hawkish attention. She managed every aspect of his care; she thoughtfully prepared his meals and medications, monitored his blood sugar, and coordinated his doctor's appointments. She documented every appointment, and took copious amounts of notes after each visit, along with test and lab results. Her records were compiled in notebooks that date back ten years or more, and were front and center on her desk for quick reference. My father did not relish being waited on hand and foot, and he fought back by taking care of her with equal intensity. One of the keys to her happiness was order and a clean home, so he took on most of the household duties. Their relationship was miraculous to witness, a constant exchange of selfless love.

Forget the fairy tales, their love was bigger and pure magic.
On their wedding day, May 10, 1959. My mother often said it was the happiest day of her life.

As a mother, my sisters and I agree she was perfect. We all spoke to her every day, and we looked forward to hearing her voice because she had a way of making us feel as though we were the most important people in her life. She answered the phone every time - whether she was in the middle of pulling weeds in the yard, about to take a bath, or in the middle of a nap - she answered and sounded so happy to hear from us. I remember telling her once after she breathlessly answered the phone, "Mom, you don't have to pick up the phone if you're busy, ... it's okay." She responded, "Well, I'm not going to do that, Dana. I want to talk to you." She was a brilliant, active listener, and you knew that by her questions, her interest, and attention to conversational nuances. She honed in on all my stressors which I tried to hide from her in her last year, but she was relentless in uncovering and ferreting out information. Her mothering was innate; she had to, and needed to make it all better for me. I spoke with her on Saturdays for sometimes up to two hours, covering every topic imaginable. Our last conversations centered a lot on Covid, and my job working in senior living. I would lament to her on how difficult it was watching residents die and seeing families suffer from not being able to see their loved ones in person. Her response was visceral, I could literally feel how she felt, "Dana, I want you to quit your job." She worried about those she loved, a quality that was endearing, but we all worried about her worrying so much.

A very happy Thanksgiving day (and family!) when we were still in high school.

If I had to sum up who my mother was, aside from the fact that she was a superior human being, I would say that her connection to family ran so deep that it could not be severed. I picture her in heaven, all in white and looking as beautiful as I remember her, with golden tendrils branching out all the way down, touching and caressing all those she loved so dearly. As my Dad says to me practically every time I speak with him now, "She's all around in this house! She's in every corner .... she's everywhere!" That is my mother, Nell Devrow. Her love transcends death, and is permanent. She will forever be remembered by her family. I love and miss you, Mom, - Me, Dad, Vik, and Lisa - all of your family miss you. We look forward to the day when we will all be together again, playing games in heaven, dancing to music, and laughing. Rest in peace.

My beautiful, sweet mother, Nell.

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