Georgette Hillas


“Wonderful.” “Fun.” “Beautiful.” “Time goes fast.” I am the adult child of two deaf adults, and these were words that my mother repeated often before her passing. In the last few years of her life, she managed to separate from daily complications, see the big picture, and appreciate what was around her in a very simple and essential way.

She may seem familiar to you, as she was a frequent visitor to such restaurants as the Paradise Café, Ca’ Dario, Louie’s at the Upham Hotel, and the FisHouse, where she would sit facing the expansive windows onto East Beach. Although she could not often participate in the conversations that were going on around her, she was always embraced and appreciated by those who came in contact with her. Humorous and dignified, she was quick with a smile, lived, on a daily basis, with courage, and earned respect from many. She enjoyed being in the spotlight, and perhaps, in another life, would have been a showgirl, singing and dancing her way to stardom.

Georgette Hillas
Courtesy Photo

Georgette lived in Santa Barbara for 26 years, embracing life with new friends, daily walks, sunshine, and fresh air. During those years, I began to see her not just as my mother but as an individual with a broad range of traits that I’d rarely considered or fully appreciated. I began to see myself differently. Family, a sense of responsibility to another individual, brings depth and beauty, pain, love, and eventually loss. It is the sum of human experience.

Caring for my mother was a challenge. She had little money. Navigating, on her behalf, through the labyrinth of Medicare, MediCal, Section 8, Social Services. etc. was an effort that I was ill prepared to deal with as an only child with a fulltime career. I could at least “speak” for my mother, but I often wondered about the people who have no advocates and what might happen to them.

In recent years, she had setbacks with her health, beginning with shingles and finalizing with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure. During this time, she learned to accommodate continuous discomfort. Although she complained, not much would really hold her down. She wanted to move on, go out, and “see”.

So Dennis, my partner, and I, packed the bags and off we went, as a family, to the Mexican Riviera, weekends in San Diego, and finally on an Alaskan cruise. We developed small traditions. My mother and I took many silent drives along Shoreline Drive and Cabrillo Boulevard. My mother would invariably utter, and sign, “Beautiful.” In the evenings, we would gather for a toast, Dennis with his martini, me with a glass of California red, and my mother with her small glass of rosé. She would say, “Let’s knock our glasses together! Good luck, good health!” Looking back, I see these few words as large and bountiful.

In the last several months of her life, my mother would frequently sit in her favorite chair looking out of her picture window. I realized that she was gazing beyond the parked cars, beyond the fence and evergreens, beyond the mountains and sky. She was beginning connect to something I could not visualize. I noticed a shimmer on the trees, as if the colors were pulsating; the sky seemed bluer and more transparent. I would sit down beside her and she would touch my cheek with her paper-thin hand. I knew then that she loved me deeply, without conditions. It was the same look I experienced as a little boy. “Wonderful.”

The Sunday before she died, my mother, as uncomfortable as she was, barked that she wanted to go out. “Fun!” Dennis and I collected her walker and wheel chair and off we went to the FisHouse. As tradition had it, we included friends. We were enjoying dinner and conversation, trying to include my mother wherever we could with splashes of sign language, lip-reading, and teasing. It was one of my dear friends who caught the difference in my mother’s eyes, her faraway gaze. I knew, then, that it would not be long. The following Saturday, June 14, 2008, at 7:45 a.m., my mother passed away.

After this length of time, I have finally been able to sit down and write this memoriam.

For many of us, grief goes unseen; we are expected to move on instantaneously. But grief is a process and a testament to the individual you loved, you fought with, you cherished. No one can ever know the full story, all of the details, but we can say yes, this person was among us, maybe unrecognized, imperfectly seen, but still important. Perhaps the true summary of a relationship rests on the word “love.” Ever changing, but always deepening. Never really vanishing.

I had a unique experience in life, growing up with two deaf adults. We had an argumentative but supportive and loving family, all mostly gone now. They taught me compassion and consideration for others. I understand now, Mom, that your message was to cherish all that was, is, and will be. “Time goes fast.”

Kudos to Visiting Nurses, Hospice, Visiting Care and Companions, and Sarah House. And deepest, heartfelt thanks to all the many wonderful friends who lifted my mother/myself with their love and carried us along the way.


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