Sheehan

Mother's sweet send-off

Mary Clegg gave and received love and devotion

Staff WriterJuly 27, 2010 

Mary Clegg loved ice cream and adored ice cream socials.

So on Saturday afternoon, after the preachers had intoned the familiar "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" at her burial, her son David broke out the ice cream and lemonade, fulfilling a wish she made long ago.

It was not your typical graveside scene.

But then, Mary Clegg was not your typical Sanford homemaker.

She repaired airplanes and tanks during World War II; she recorded Gospel music for the radio in the 1950s; she taught in Moore County's first Head Start program. For nearly 40 years, she was the commanding choir director of the Moncure United Methodist Church.

When David was born in 1956, it turned her world upside down.

"Oh, she loved Wilbur [her husband]," said the Rev. Judi Johnson Smith, during the eulogy. "But David was the center of her universe."

The week before Mother's Day, I wrote a column about Miss Mary and David. Mary was in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease and David, chief operating officer of the state's Employment Security Commission, had devoted the last eight years of his life to providing round-the-clock care in her Sanford home.

He took the weekend shifts himself.

Over the years, he watched her body grow frail as her mind wandered, scrolling back through the decades, reliving happy times.

It had been many moons since she recognized David as the son she'd wished for - and cherished.

But she had nursed her parents and in-laws and finally, her husband, until their deaths. So David shouldered his mother's care without complaint.

As long as she was happy, he was too, he said.

Then, over the last several weeks, her condition began to deteriorate. On July 19, David asked all of his mother's caregivers, their children and grandchildren, to gather round.

She died resting in her son's arms, a smile on her face.

"It was like she was waiting for every single person to be in place," Clegg said. "After she left us, we all sat with her, talking and reminiscing, and I said, 'Mother would have loved this.' "

At her funeral in the old Moncure Methodist Church, Clegg made sure the organist began the service by pushing the boombox button on a 1951 recording of his mother singing one of her favorite tunes.

Clegg stood outside until the last wavering note was silent.

In many ways, Clegg had lost his mother to Alzheimer's years ago. He'd planned for this service for years.

Yet, that recording was one part of the funeral Clegg could not bear to hear: his mother's voice, as cool and sweet as ice cream on a hot summer's day.

ruth.sheehan@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4828

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