We found out on Friday that my mom had cancer. She was dead the next Tuesday….. four days…….no treatment…….immediate acceptance…..few tears. Lots of support and love poured onto our family in a whirlwind hospital/ hospice stay that was, in all respects, a funeral for the not-yet-dead. What an oxymoron, yet, what a good idea.
Mom had unexplained abdominal pain for months before her death on April 19th , 1988. Every medical test imaginable proved inconclusive. No medication could ease the constant pain she described as stabbing, twisting, like something is eating my insides, ten times worse than childbirth-or 100 times worse. In and out of the hospital for tests, mom hated that she developed a blood clot in her leg and had to stay. She wanted to watch her daffodils and tulips bloom.
Finally, on April 15, mom had exploratory surgery. It took only a glance from the seasoned surgeon to see “a thin coating of cancerous cells on every internal organ.”
“They just closed her up.” Those were my brother’s words when he called me that day.
My husband, toddler twins and I had gone on a pre-planned vacation to a resort a few days prior. Mom insisted that we go. “I’ll be fine,” she said. I’ll feel worse if you don’t go than if you stay because of me.
That was April 12th, my 34th birthday. Mom gave me a check and encouraged me to buy something special. “You deserve it,” she said, knowing all too well how exhausting (yet exciting) it was to be a mom to darling two-year-olds. She knew I’d spend every penny on clothes for my long-awaited bundles of joy, adopted from Korea in 1986.
“Thanks, mom. We’ll only be two hours away, so I’ll come back if you need me to,” I remember saying. I felt confident that a brother, sister, sister-in-law, dad would keep close contact.
And they did. “They just closed her up,” said my brother, minutes after he talked to the surgeon who told him it could be “days or weeks” until mom would enter heaven.
“We’ll come home right away,” I said.
We came. Thus began the funeral.
Not only immediate family, but every niece, nephew and other relative and 200 or so of mom’s closest friends came with last greetings and words of love and appreciation. The hospital room buzzed as one friend after another arrived, many bearing flowers; we had spread the word about mom’s disappointed over daffodils and tulips blooming at home alone while she convalesced. Dozens of bouquets filled mom’s room and the family conference room across the hall.
A veritable funeral for the not-yet-dead; what an oxymoron, yet, what a good idea. For as people told mom goodbye and thanked her for her friendship over the years, she answered. Sure, mom was weak, but her few words were precious- and much more than expected. After all, how often do you get to pay your last respects and have your loved one look up and say “thank you?”
Mom gave us another gift. She assured us of the kingdom she was about to enter.
In the weakness of her waking hours, mom shared as much as she could about what was happening with her body, mind and soul. “It’s so lovely,” she said. “One moment I’m here on Earth and the next, I’m walking with my God in heaven.”
When our long-time friend Gloria visited, she asked mom to be sure to tell her late husband Dick how much she missed him. “I just saw him,” said mom, “he knows.” Some may have thought we were getting a few last doses of mom’s humor, but Gloria knew, mom knew, I knew. Mom would soon be with Dick and Jesus for eternity.
My brother, sister and I alternated reprieve time during that five day funeral. Dad went home for a break and mom awoke, a bit agitated that dad wasn’t there. “It’s almost time,” she said Tuesday morning.
Early that evening, my sister had gone home for a break. I returned and found my brother and dad at mom’s side. She was barely breathing. Soon, mom’s life on Earth ended.
When my sister returned, we compared notes about mom’s last gifts to us. She had heard mom’s last words, spoken after mom’s descriptions of her glimpses of heaven and walks with her savior.
“Let me in,” said mom. We knew mom had entered.
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