In the year 2004, a young Courtney Clawson-Keels, Creekside’s Marketing Director, was on vacation in Cabo, Mexico with her parents and sister. Without warning and far away from home, her mother, Linda Clawson, complained of feeling ill before she became unconscious and unresponsive. After a traumatic and worrisome ride in an emergency medical jet, the family arrived back in their hometown of Lufkin still reeling from what would mark the beginning of a six-year long journey. Linda was the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for Woodland Heights Hospital in Lufkin where she spent the following 10 days in a coma. It was the medical team who worked alongside her each day that delivered the devastating news, she had stage four breast cancer that had aggressively spread through her body. Courtney recalls the parade of visitors who came to see her mother during this tender time-executives, nurses, housekeepers- it seemed the entire hospital staff came by. It was then that Courtney began to realize that her mother was special to many people, not just her family.
As time went on, Linda was able to regain parts of her life. Her treatment allowed her to return to work and live somewhat normally. She began working as a consultant filling in as interim CFO for various hospitals around the country who were in need. This new job required her to travel frequently. While Linda was on a work trip to Savannah, Georgia in 2008, the family suddenly quit hearing from her and couldn’t get her to answer her cell phone. They knew something was very wrong. They eventually reached the Bed and Breakfast where she was known to stay.
They were devastated to learn that the staff found Linda after she had collapsed in her room and had ultimately slipped into another coma. She was rushed to the local hospital but they didn’t have her emergency contact information to notify family.
After learning what had happened, Bubba, Linda’s husband, jumped on a plane to be at his wife’s side. When she woke, the next conversation was clear, no more travel. All time and energy would soon be consumed by various treatments and continual rest due to the toll it was taking on her body.
The year 2010 held another major milestone for the family when Courtney got married. Shortly after the wedding, Linda announced that she wanted to stop all treatment and she would enter an inpatient hospice. She had been lovingly and sacrificially hanging on to attend the wedding and the family knew that it was time.
While in hospice, a housekeeper came in to clean Linda’s room while Courtney was sitting at her bedside. The housekeeper instantly recognized “Mrs. Linda,” as she was a former employee of the hospital. Courtney listened as she filled the room with story after story about what a life changing woman her mother was, how she made everyone feel special regardless of their position in life. Despite being a well-respected CFO with an impressive station in life, she made whoever she was in front of feel like the most important person in the room.
Linda started her own career with no education and unimpressive credentials. This life experience prompted her to engage each employee with kindness and respect. The day that Linda passed she was surrounded by her husband, Bubba and their two daughters, Leslie and Courtney along with a multitude of wonderful memories and a lasting impact to those she encountered.
Courtney says she has learned two important things through her grief: 1) she wants to spend her life serving others the way her mom did, 2) she now looks back and regrets not carrying a stronger voice in her mother’s care because she was often pushed away due to her parent’s denial or stubbornness. Today, she uses her experiences to help other adult children as they navigate the delicate balance between obedient child and engaged caregiver. She now advocates for caregivers to recognize the warning signs that it is time to have tough conversations. It is through her grief that Courtney has found her inspiration and purpose.