Memories of a beloved mother

Byron and Billie Harvey holding their 2-year-old son, James, in Clay, Kentucky.
Byron and Billie Harvey holding their 2-year-old son, James Harvey, in Clay, Kentucky, 1971. Both of the elder Harveys died of cancer, Byron at age 53 and Billie at age 82. Photo courtesy of James Harvey

Mom always said, “See you later, bye-bye now.” One of the most difficult tasks any son or daughter will face is saying, “See you later, bye-bye” forever — and to the most important person who has been in your life for the past 48 years.

They called her “Ms. Billie,” “Billie Davis” or just “Willie,” and everyone remembered her as someone who loved to have a great time. But she was ultimately my mom, a champion and a mother to 93 children over 30-plus years of operating a day care in Dixon, Kentucky. This was what she did best: being a mom.

I lost my mom on Oct. 6, 2017 at 10:37 a.m., after she had battled uterine cancer over the past 10 years.

Mom never told anyone about her first episode with cancer — only to me. Her first serious experience was cured quickly with medication.

When my mom’s third episode of cancer occurred, it came back with an aggressive attack on her uterus that was incurable. My mom never had the privilege to receive needed treatment from Fred Hutch. We begged her to come to the Northwest, but it was too late. This third episode was simply too aggressive to move her. Her physical and cognitive abilities were decompensating quickly.

My mom (like many survivors) was a winner combating this shitty, life-cheating disease on multiple levels. At the beginning my mom realized this was going to be a journey that one day would ultimately end her life. Therefore, she began taking small steps to protect herself.

About Billie: mother, teacher and fun-lover

My mom loved children, she loved teaching and she loved having fun best.

She was a woman of pride and integrity in her beliefs. Mom spoke strongly about parenting and discipline. She wanted everyone to know that you have to learn to forgive, and learn to let go.

My mom was known for her dressed bananas and home-style deviled eggs that only she carried the recipe to making. During the holidays, she loved making these two items. Everyone expected it.

Mom always enjoyed going to Kentucky Lake and camping every summer and just having a good ol’ time. Of course she always enjoyed boating, and when she was young, she and two other friends had a cabin at Land Between the Lakes.

My mom always had the best and brightest smile whenever anyone saw her. This was my mom: enjoying life, laughing and celebrating nothing in particular. She would always say, “Life is too short not to have a good time.”

If you were one of those children who used to attend “Billie’s Daycare,” you probably remember eating fish sticks she had every Friday with French fries. Of course you can't forget her buying Swans' ice cream and those Christmas cookies during the holidays. If you are someone who grew up with her and went to high school with her, you probably remember her cheerleading days, or when she played softball. You may be someone who was a former college roommate who hung around with her while attending Murray State University. You may be someone special who went on a cruise with her to Nassau in the 1960s. You may have been our neighbor.

As her son, I didn't realize until many years later my mom was a survivor, a fighter, a teacher, a parent-protector, a businesswoman, a caregiver, and she was, most of all, a mom to many of us.

As I become a first-time parent at 48 years of age, I am amazed by her ability to be a parent, not just to me but to 93 other children. How did my mom do all of these things as a single parent, taking care of not just her own child, but other family's children?

A mother’s reflections at the end of life

In May 2017, what she thought was the start of another urinary tract infection really was the start to the end of her life. If she had gone until Nov. 23 of that year, with no indication of cancer cells, she would have met her five-year mark being cancer-free. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Mom was 82 years of age when she passed away, and I was fortunate to hear some of her deepest and most passionate moments from her life just before her passing. One of those moments was how proud she was of me, my education, my career — and proud of me for being determined. The most touching moment for me was to hear her say, “I've always been proud of you, Jamie. You have accomplished more than I had ever dreamed of or hoped for. You have to promise not to cry around me, Jamie. I am not crying over this. I have lived a long and amazing life, and I am not ashamed. I had you — you gave me everything I ever wanted.”

Mom and I had our last lunch and our last supper together Labor Day weekend in September 2017. During both of those times, we talked about how she wanted to be remembered. I remember her saying, “You will never get rid of me even when I am gone. I will be looking over your shoulder every day.”

A grandmother’s wish

When she passed away the following day, my mom left our world knowing she was going to be a grandmother. I had promised her that her grandchild would see pictures of her around our home and would hear stories about her childhood growing up in Maysville and Dixon, Kentucky, always.

When my mom found out she was going to be a grandmother in July 2017, she realized that same day that her granddaughter would carry her middle name, Davis. Later that summer, we sat down during one of my many visits to Kentucky and she picked out all of the furniture for the baby’s room. Of course, it would have to be the best, with cherry finishing on oak wood for the crib, drawers and changing table. This was a precious moment in my life as her son, for her to be able to pick her granddaughter’s baby furniture. The smile on my mom’s face was vibrant, and at one point I believed she was healing. My mom said, “If there is any money left in my checking account, use it and buy the baby’s furniture for me. Do that for me.”

Shortly after her passing, we fulfilled our oath to her, getting only the best in baby’s furniture with cherry finishing on oak wood.

‘Winner against cancer’

Oh yes, my mom is a winner combating cancer. I am proud of you, Mom. You will always, now and forever, be a winner against cancer. The “capital C” is forever gone.

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