Bound for Glory? All Aboard!

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by Helen Baldwin |

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As I last wrote, my 89-year-old mother was admitted to the hospital after testing positive for COVID-19.

“Oh no,” you might think. “That doesn’t sound good.”

You’re right, it doesn’t. My mother, however, had high hopes for COVID-19.


Our third baby, Jeffrey, burst into our arms on May 18, 1997. Despite endless duties at the family’s lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway, my folks eagerly found excuses to provide myriad assistance. Besides helping with Jeffrey, both showered our older children, Matthew and Katie, with extra TLC, tightening those bonds even more.

As Jeffrey’s delightful personality emerged, it was clear he adored Nana and Papa’s affections.

losing a parent | SMA News Today | photograph of older woman with an infant in her lap

Jeffrey and his nana loved laughing! (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

Two months after Jeffrey’s birth, my brother, Paul, a doctor, checked him at the request of my husband, Randy. Paul revealed his findings: dull-sounding lung, no reflexes.

The scheduled well-baby visit was the next morning, July 14. Paul alerted the pediatrician with his suspicions before our arrival, and we were promptly sent to the first neurologist who returned her call. That night, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) barged into our family.

Without skipping a beat, my musician mother whipped up a collection of original songs for Jeffrey after hearing he probably wouldn’t be here long. He loved them!

“Dreams for Jeffrey” was the first collection of Mom’s original music to be commercially duplicated. She and her musical genius were on a roll.

This track, which Mom recorded as part of “Dreams for Jeffrey” in July 1997, is titled “Mama and Daddy.” Although she wrote the accompanying verse from Jeffrey’s perspective, it could easily have been from mine or my brother’s: “My mama and daddy, the best that can be/ Thank you, dear Lord, for giving them to me.”


Mom had never put gas in the car or taken trash to the dump when Dad died. She hadn’t even gotten her own coffee. He made sure of it. She learned the ropes, though, and while she never stopped missing her irreplaceable partner, life was as good as possible, and she appreciated it.

When Matthew’s acceptance of a teaching position down the mountain warranted a move for his growing family, Mom insisted they move into her big house down the road from us.

The frantic pace of building an apartment for Mom downstairs in her own house intensified. She moved in less than two weeks before James, her great-grandson, arrived. She was thrilled with her accessible new home! Her beloved keyboards (for playing, composing, and our joint endeavors) were in place, and the walls sported both memories and announcements of new family arrivals.


Mom’s vision began declining years ago, but within the past few months, the decline became particularly troubling. I checked on her daily, asking if she could still see Mitty, her cat.

One day I asked if she could see me in the chair facing her, just a few short feet away. Struggling, she answered, “I can see that there’s something there, but I can’t see your face.”

Miraculously, we both mostly held it together.


On her first full day in the hospital’s COVID-19 wing, Mom asked about signs of decline. The cheery nurse tried to encourage her that she was doing great, but Mom replied, “You misunderstood me. I’m nearly blind and have a hard time hearing. This is my way out.”

Mom had talked about “hopping the train” for years. It looked like the train might be warming up.

Paul and I were able to talk to Mom on the phone daily and then be with her when her condition and treatment shifted. I read heartfelt notes from family and close friends. Paul put hours of her original soothing music on an iPad with headphones so she could listen. Matthew, whom Mom watched while I taught school his first few years and whose family had happily helped watch over her, visited Nana on the last night she could talk.

By the following evening, when Katie and Paul (my son-in-law, not my brother) and Randy visited, Mom was quietly focused on the next level. It was probably easier for them.

Katie and Paul were scheduled to head back home around 11 a.m. on Presidents Day. They’d been at our house just a few minutes when my brother called and said I might want to come on down to the hospital. Katie and her Paul jumped in their car to follow.

I’d never driven with the flashers on before.


Soon after we arrived in Mom’s room, my sister-in-law, Jaymie, texted a picture that had just popped up on one of her online groups: a child’s drawing of a train traversing a field of green grass under a blue sky.

Granted, it was a beautiful, sunny day, perfect for a train ride.

Katie and Paul left the room to find a bottle of water for me. When they returned, they had water and a report. On the elevator was a passenger wearing overalls and a red bandana — sort of like a train conductor.

Get ready, sweet Mama. Looks like the train’s a comin’.

Mom snagged her golden ticket shortly afterward.

Her incredible earthly journey may have ended, but she’s already in full glory.

It’s been a grand ride!

This track is “A Grand Ride!” from “Dancin’ and Romancin’.” Mom wrote the original songs in this collection while the family owned and operated a lodge on the inspirational Blue Ridge Parkway. Originally dedicated to her beloved husband, Elton, she tweaked it a bit and dedicated it in 2011 to her granddaughter Katie and her husband, Paul, for their wedding.

“A Grand Ride!” sums up perfectly the life my parents had — and the one they are having now!

All songs herein written and recorded by my mom, JoAnn Derden. 

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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