Something we all face sooner or later
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:
"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 Â again Â 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 Â he had four holes-in-one Â 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 Â in my life Â 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 Â 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 Â© 1999, from Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Heather McNamara.