Something we all face sooner or later

bill_vincentJanuary 25, 2006

The passing of a loved one.

In 1994, we found out that my mother had terminal cancer. At first she was told that she had between 6 months and a year, but she could prolong it if she went for chemo and radiation, which she did. When things got to the point where it looked like the inevitable was going to happen, my four sisters, my brother, and I got together and decided to have a "celebration of life" party For her. We got in touch with everyone from her bridge group and friends at the club, to high school friends and neighbors from our old neighborhood-- anyone and everyone who'd ever been an important part of my mother's life and had a HELLUVA shindig. To top it off, it was a surprise party, and I believe it was one of the best days of my mother's life. The point is that rather than have everyone standing around after her death talking about how great a person she was, we gave them the opportunity to tell her themselves, and for her to HEAR it from them.

Now, the reason this all comes up this morning, 10 years after my mother's death, is that I was cleaning out my email folders, and came across something I sent to my brother and sisters about 4 years ago, and it was a forward that I couldn't delete. I thought I would share it with you all, because sooner or later, it's something that most of us will have to face, and it's a thought that could really help you, as well as your loved one come to terms with what's happening.

Anyway, here's the forward:

The Wake

"You want to do what?" I asked him incredulously, my voice rising to the high-pitched level it reaches when I become exasperated. "Say that again, please; I don't think I heard you!"

"Oh, you heard me, all right," Frank snapped, waving his arms in his expressive manner. "I want to have my wake now before I'm dead! Why should everyone else enjoy it and not me?"

He stalked into the kitchen, and I could hear him muttering to himself as he rummaged in the refrigerator. He returned shortly to the deck where I had remained to watch September's twilight blanket the Blue Ridge Mountains.

He finished munching a ripe peach, and then the voice that could never remain harsh for long broke the silence. "Honey, I want to do this."

I tightened my throat and tried not to cry. I was forty-four, and the thought of being widowed  again  was a devastating one. So devastating, in fact, that denial easily became the cloak I donned each day.

"But, but, you're stronger now. You said so! And the shots, they help..."

"Melva," he touched my shoulder as if pleading. "Let's have a party, and let's do it right. We could disguise it as an anniversary party. Of course, everyone who knows me so well will know."

I looked into those liquid brown eyes, their sparkle dulled now from pain, from medication, from worry. I knew what the last couple of years had taken from him. We had ceased to be the golden couple on the dance floor every weekend. Oh, we still went, he insisted; but we now spent most of the evenings sitting and chatting with friends.

His golf game, once marked by those powerful, straight drives and precision iron shots  he had four holes-in-one  had taken a downward turn.

The many enjoyable hours he once spent gardening and cutting firewood had dwindled to a precious few minutes that left him wan and spent.

The spirit never left him, though. While I seemed to constantly bemoan the changes in our life  in my life  he never complained. Suddenly, I realized that my fears and uncertainties paled in comparison to what he must be going through. The changes we had undergone appeared minuscule beside the cancer that raged within his body, vying with diabetes for the chance to determine his fate.

Swallowing my shame, I reached for his hand. "Okay. If it's a party you want, it's a party we'll have!"

The next morning, I ordered the 150 formal invitations for our "Anniversary Party." October 19, 1991, fell on a Saturday night, and we rented Frank's Shrine Club for the event.

Almost everyone we had invited came to share the evening with us. Mid-party, Frank took center stage with microphone in hand to give a glorious rendition of singer-songwriter Mac Davis's ballad, "It's Hard to Be Humble."

My husband delighted in being in the spotlight and finished to the cheers and, yes, tears, from all who loved him. He made a short speech then, thanking everyone for coming and proclaimed himself the luckiest man in the world! In so many words, he said good-bye.

And then we waltzed. Frank had begun to lose his balance and was no longer comfortable dancing with other women. But that night he danced with all.

Later, a slow number found me with one of his doctors. "How long does he have?" I asked quietly.

"That's impossible to predict, Melva, he seems stronger." "How long?" I asked again and was met by silence. We finished our dance, and he walked me back to my table. "Six months...maybe longer," he finally answered me.

"Thank you," I whispered.

The rest of the night flew by like a vision, with Frank passing from one group to another, talking with everyone and regaling in the many stories told at his expense. Politicking, he'd once called it. As the evening drew to a close he remained at the door to bid each and every guest good night, standing at first, then needing to take a seat  but always smiling.

Three months and three days later, I sat shivering in the cold as his lodge brothers performed Masonic rites. I clutched the neatly folded flag while the strong arms of a friend led me to the waiting limousine.

About a year later, I had lunch with a new friend. She spoke of a wake she'd attended the night before. "What an absolutely beautiful way to say good-bye!" she remarked, obviously unaccustomed to such merriment.

I listened to her recount the frivolity, and I thought how sad that the dearly departed had missed such a fine evening. The "I should have done more" and "Why wasn't I stronger for him" guilt that had been my shroud began to slip away. My mind turned instead to Frank's joy at his last party.

"So, did you hold a wake for Frank?" my friend asked.

"Oh, yes," I replied. "It was a grand party, and he had the time of his life!"

By Melva Haggar Dye

Reprinted by permission of Melva Haggar Dye © 1999, from Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Heather McNamara.

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cupofkindness

Bill, I'm speechless. Thank you for this and for being such a good son to your mother.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2006 at 9:27AM
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pirula

wow. sniff.

You know Bill, I lost my mother about nine years ago now, and it was the worst thing that's ever happened to me. I remember when she was lying in the hospital bed, undergoing chemo that was a total waste of time, but we had to try, and family and friends always filled that room. They were laughing, and joking, and singing, and reminiscing. And I was PISSED. I was FURIOUS. How can these people be so happy when my mother is laying there dying!! I hated them. My own mother was having a wonderful time, and I couldn't understand because all I wanted to do was throw myself on her chest and just bawl my head off (jeez, I'm bawling as I write this). I just didn't get it. I even didn't speak to my mother's sister for a long time because she made some joke, at my mother's expense, that my mother found very funny, but I didn't.

Anyway, fast forward to a few years later, and DUH, I got it. Luckily for me, I never DID throw myself on my mother and bawl (until after she was gone and before they took her away). I never let anyone know how angry I was, except my then fiance, who understood. He tried to make me understand of course, but I just couldn't. I was too wrapped up in ME and my pain. But I see it now. And it warms my heart to know that my mother's last days were made so happy and carefree, and just darnright SILLY. That she laughed so hard she cried with that stupid IV in her. That she didn't let the fact that she knew she was dying ruin her last three months (as I let it ruin mine).

It's wonderful that some people recognize this before it's too late and do celebrate the life before it's gone. I learned this lesson the hard way. I'm so happy you were able to enjoy your mother's last days. I hope others will listen to this message, it is a beautiful one. Death is just a part of life, we need to get past our selfish reaction to it (justified and understandable though it may be) and remember the person who's dying and celebrate the time we had with them, before they're gone.

Ivette

    Bookmark   January 25, 2006 at 9:36AM
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cupofkindness

Beautiful words, Ivette. Thank you and please pass the kleenex.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2006 at 9:47AM
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proudmamato4

Bill, that is wonderful that you and your siblings were able to do that for your mother! We actually did a similar thing for my dad. He was diagnosed with cancer right before my wedding in 1997, but didn't tell us until afterwards. His 60th birthday was in Jan 2000, so my siblings and I planned a surprise birthday party for him and included old Army buddies he hadn't seen for 20-30 years, old fraternity brothers, all his cousins and brothers. He was kind of grouchy and didn't like to see people normally, but his face when he walked into my house...we will never forget seeing "The Schmoo" in a moment of pure joy. He had the time of his life. He passed away 2 weeks later. His funeral and the wake afterwards were packed, over 150 people. Many of those people were ones that never would have even known of my dad's illness if we hadn't had that party. He went out in style. God, I miss him.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2006 at 10:03AM
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maddiemom6

Oh dang..... where is the box of Puff's with lotion!... My father is currently battling his 3rd cancer in 4 years. I am not sure he is going to make it this time... Not that I have not known death.. in the past 5 years, my Mom died, my FIL died and my own child has died.. and yet here I am again. It's part of life but that rarely makes it easy. What does make it easier is knowing that you have made your peace with them and they with you... after that a party seems like one hell of a good way to go!

Maddiemom

    Bookmark   January 25, 2006 at 10:45PM
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riverrat1

To all of you, thank you! I will need this info. in my near future ;-)

    Bookmark   January 25, 2006 at 10:56PM
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bill_vincent

riverrat-- don't ask me why, but I had a feeling someone might. :-) Call it intuition, or whatever you like, but I almost felt compelled to put this in here.

Ivette-- I know the feeling well. With my Mom, atleast it was expected. My Dad passed away with no warning whatsoever, and it took years just to get over the shock that he was gone. I've come to realise, though, that he isn't-- he just does alot more LISTENING than he used to!! LOL I've told more than one customer that they've got the three greatest tile guys around doing their work-- me, my father, and JC, because I can feel his presence with me every day. More than once I've gone to perform some insignificant task on a job that if done improperly, would show up after, and if it was done as I intended, it WOULD have been done wrong, but for some reason it comes out the way it's supposed to. It ain't all me!! :-)

As for needing the kleenex, I didn't come thru unscathed, either, when I was typing it. :-)

    Bookmark   January 26, 2006 at 9:20AM
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paulines

Oh jeepers guys, I'll take a hit of the kleenex, too.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2006 at 3:53PM
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spacific

Bill,
Interesting post today. I haven't been checking in lately. My ex-BF's 10-yo daughter is in her last days. They brought her home from the hospital with hospice care two days ago. Her wish... to have a party, to celebrate coming home from the hospital, to be with all her friends and family, so she can see everyone before her body gives out.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2006 at 9:58PM
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bill_vincent

I'm so sorry to hear that. It's bad enough when someone comes to the end later in life, but that's part of life. It's just the way it goes. But I hate to hear about a child on their last leg. That seems so unfair to me. But what do I know? Unlike the rest of you, God doesn't include me when making His plans!! :-) I'll be praying for her. She sounds like she's got a pretty strong spirit, already, though!

    Bookmark   January 26, 2006 at 10:13PM
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