Photography by Brandi Stage Portraiture
Hair and makeup by Heather Dubuisson, HD Hair and Makeup
Standing at a petite 4 feet, 10 inches tall, Nell Cowart possesses a fierceness and feistiness that belie her small stature.
“My mom was a hard worker; I remember her holding three jobs simultaneously, as well as taking classes to better herself,” recalls her daughter, Robin Killeen. “She was and is an overachiever.”
Cowart grew up in the Poplarville area as the lone girl among four brothers, Killeen says, “so she is tough as nails.” That grit served her well as a Justice Court judge in Pearl River County and as a parent to her four children, whom she raised with a healthy dose of tough love.
Today, the 83-year-old suffers from mobility issues, undergoes frequent surgeries due to back problems and requires help with walking. Killeen, founder and president of WOW Women of Wisdom, has stepped in as her caretaker — making the hourlong commute multiple times a month between her home in Biloxi and her mom’s in Carriere.
“I feel that our relationship has grown stronger due to the amount of time we spend together,” Killeen says.
“We enjoy each other’s company; this has strengthened our relationship beyond measure. We have loads of fun, laugh a lot, and she is a joy to my soul.” — Nell Cowart
‘A JOY TO MY SOUL’
For many years, Killeen’s sister, Vicky Burge, was Cowart’s primary caretaker. When Burge moved to Texas five years ago after her husband died in a tragic car accident, Killeen took over. Her brother, Greg Shaw, handles Cowart’s finances, and her niece, Kandyce Bonilla, pitches in with her medications.
“My main role is to manage (mom’s) medical care, doctor’s appointments, procedures and pain management, along with cleaning her house, managing her property, keeping her supplied with groceries and home beautification,” Killeen says, adding with a laugh, “I am her personal hairdresser.”
When she is expecting her daughter, Cowart sits in her chair and watches out the window, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Killeen’s little white car. Once Killeen arrives, she works tirelessly with no complaints, according to Cowart, and sings while she goes about her tasks.
“We enjoy each other’s company; this has strengthened our relationship beyond measure,” Cowart says. “We have loads of fun, laugh a lot, and she is a joy to my soul.”
Killeen fondly recalls the time her mother attempted to start a workout routine by buying running shoes but ended up tripping and hurting her knee on the first attempt, bringing her exercise journey to an abrupt end. Cowart’s spirited personality also has earned her the nickname “crazy Mawmaw” among her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and she humorously attributes her propensity to cry to colic she experienced as a baby, which has seemingly lasted throughout her life.
All jokes aside, her daughter’s goodness, kindness and faithfulness to her Christian beliefs bring Cowart immense pride.
“It means the world to have Robin take the time to care for me,” Cowart says.
RESPECT AND HONOR
In return for her efforts, Killeen receives precious quality time with her mom and the opportunity to learn more about her. The older she gets, the more honored Killeen is to hear or notice that she takes after Cowart.
“My mom always has been a very emotional and passionate person who cries when she is happy and sad,” she says. “So, I have noticed that I may be a little like her in that respect.”
Above all, she never wants Cowart to feel like a burden.
“What she says and thinks matters,” Killeen says. “I want to show honor to my mom and live out the scripture — Ephesians 6:2: ‘Honor your father and mother.’”
By caring for her mom, Killeen has developed a deep respect for seniors and the importance of what they have to say. For that reason, she urges others to not rush or hurry the person they are caring for, but instead, take the time to truly listen.
“We can learn a lot from our seniors,” Killeen says. “They spent a lifetime contributing to society.”
Cowart reciprocates her daughter’s affection and attentiveness in numerous ways, including lots of “I love yous” at the end of every visit and telephone call. Despite the many challenges, the mother and daughter have forged a bond that transcends time and distance.
The best caretaking advice Killeen has received is to maintain a self-care routine, as no one can give their best to others while neglecting themselves. Cherishing elders should be approached as a privilege, she maintains, rather than a chore.
“Enjoy every minute of it, and always show respect and honor to them,” Killeen says. “They are valuable and deserve it!”