Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Mother's Funeral and Celebration of Life

Not something you ever want to write, "My Mother's Funeral..".  Still feel so unreal.  I am fine, then all of the sudden a wave of emotion will hit me.  The reality that she is really gone.  Because she was in the hospital so much, sometimes my brain shuts off and I think she is just in there.  Then I realize.."oh, no, she is not coming back."  Surreal.  When we lost my grandmother, we had the same feelings because she spent summers in Ohio.  Still hard to grasp it's not even been 3 weeks.  

Again, I am sharing these details because I want to keep a fresh journal of the events surrounding the loss of my mother for myself and my children. But so many friends have walked this road with us and perhaps someone might need help in their own journey of loss.  So forgive my ramblings where they happen.

My mother, Donna, died on Sunday, February 2, 2014.  After arranging the preparations to have her body transferred to Ohio for the funeral and burial, we left on Wednesday at midnight and drove straight through with all the kids.  My Aunt Ann was kind enough to host this noisy brood.  It was the kids' first time seeing snow and they had a ball, despite the freezing temperatures and situation.
FYI: The pitter-patter of little feet sound like a herd of elephants in a house with a basement.
The funeral was held in Barberton at Cox Funeral home.  My mom's cousin, Pastor Jerry Butcher, brought the message.  We played "The Old Rugged Cross" performed by Alan Jackson and "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" preformed by mom's favorite, Elvis, before Jerry spoke.  Since he grew up with her, he shared special personal memories of her life.  He shared of her love to cook & bake, especially her "fold over cookies" she was famous for in the family.  He encouraged everyone to bake a batch of cookies and share them with someone to honor and remember her.  Such a sweet touch to pass on her passion for giving to others.  We closed the funeral service with the song she left this earth hearing, "I'll Fly Away" by Jars of Clay.
 She was buried next to her father and we had a short chapel service at the cemetery since it was too cold to go to the graveside.  A meal was served at Pastor Jerry's church, Crossroads Community in Doylestown.
As you probably know, I am a digital & papercrafter.  I had to use my gifts in this area..I just couldn't use the ones from the funeral home.  Here is her program.  

That evening we drove back to Florida, once again straight through but with the weather, it took 25 hours.  
Thursday, February 13, 2014, we held her Celebration of Life service at First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Florida.  Pastor Darrin Brown officiated the service bringign a clear message of the Gospel, with his wife, Kristi, singing "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" in the beginning and once again closing with a resounding send off of "I'll Fly Away".  
Darrin married us, was my boss when I worked at the church, and is a very dear friend to our family.  He was also there when mom went to be with the Lord.  He encouraged John & I to share from our hearts at the service.  I was apprehensive on what to say and if I could even speak.  But God gave me the strength to speak about her and our life together.  
So for those that couldn't be there, those that care, and for my children, it's long but this is what I read:
My mother was born Donna Gale Parsons in Akron, Ohio.  She was blessed to grow up in a very loving family, with her mom & dad and 3 younger brothers.  My grandmother was the oldest of her 6 brothers & sisters. My mother was the first niece and very close to all her aunts & uncles. She was married for a short time, had me & divorced by the time I was 3 months old.  So it was always just her & I.  The sacrifices she made to stand up for my safety and become a single mother shows me how strong & brave she was, especially in that era.  I will never fully know how much she protected me from, by doing this.  
She taught me the most important thing, about God.  From an early age, she said I might not know an earthly father, but I always had God the Father.  He made me, He loved me and wanted to be with me forever. And because of that, there was never a lacking or yearning in my life in that area.
  My grandmother was a widow when I came along so we lived with her most of my childhood.  This gave me a great appreciation for the stories of the older generations.  I think my love of vintage & retro comes from looking at all the pictures of them as young people then being a part of our large family gatherings really connected me to my great aunts & uncles.  Our house was often party central since my grandmother was the matriarch of the family.  So I learned from an early age how to throw a large gathering.  How to make people feel special at an event, that details mattered.  So later on when I worked here at the church, she was always at my right hand helping at the YoungMarried events.  She  was usually in the kitchen filling platters or cutting the desserts. When the kids birthday parties came along, she was right there to help me with the details.  She had such a big heart and wanted to make everyone feel special.
My mother loved to cook & bake and I am blessed to have picked up her love for all of that.  She & grandma cooked just about everything from scratch.  We laugh that I didn't have Chef Boyardee until a family friend gave it to me when I was 12.  She loved to make cookies and candies the most I think.  I joke that I grew up in Willy Wonka's house because my mom made chocolate candy creations for every holiday and sold them to area offices and through friends. From an early age, I was filling the colored chocolate little bunnies into the candy molds. In fact one year, she raised enough on easter candy, that we came here to Lakeland on vacation in 1986.  She loved it so much and knew this was where we were supposed to live.  2 years later she took a leap of faith and we moved here.
She loved to sew, whether making bridesmaids dresses, children's clothing, quilts or repairs.  She loved to collect material, buttons & details for that next potential project.  She could alter & make her own patterns, take ideas from one dress & merge them with another, & figure out how things were created just by looking at them. In her notepads, I have found sketch after sketch of dresses she saw & wanted to recreate for Abigale.  She used her creative gift to bless others whenever she could, too.  She found great joy in giving baby blankets to friends & coworkers.  I fully know any creative gifts I have, grew from her love of doing them and teaching me from an early age.
My mother was a beautician and her beauty parlor was in our basement.  She was a single working mom but still always around since she was at home.  When she moved here to Florida, she worked in retail as a cashier, head cashier , or the offices at PharMor & Home Depot.  She retired in 2004 because of her health.  Her work ethic was such an example to me, and others, I think.  The Bible says "Do all things to best of your ability as if working for God not man".  So whether she was teasing a bouffant hairdo, counting money, customer service, or some menial task; whatever the job you were given was to be completed well.  Even in personal life, she cared about the details, whether that meant bows on packages or ironing clothes. I  would like to think I carried that "best of my ability" theme into the places I worked and I am trying to instill that character into my kids.  
As a single mom, she focused most of her attention on me.  She loved to be a part of the things I loved to do!  So whether that was dancing or cheerleading as a kid, chasing the New Kids with me as a teen, helping make food for our singles' Soular Cafe each week, helping me with Stampin' Up classes I was teaching, or being a part of church events I was involved with, she was always right there with me.  My friends were her friends. My passions were hers.
Her greatest joy started about 6 years ago in Jesse, Abigale & Johnathan.  She was born to be a grandmother.  When we were pushing along fast, she walked slow with them.  She loved to do puzzles with them, to color & craft with them, loved to read to them, to take them out on dates; she'd spend an hour with them just looking at her little buttons collection & answering their questions on where each one came from. She just loved to spend moments with them.  My goal is to keep her memory alive for all them.  
My mother was my cheerleader, my best friend, my advocate & bodyguard, my lifelong #1 fan, my right hand beside me in everything. She loved me with her whole heart even when I didn't deserve it.  We drove each other nuts sometimes as all mothers & daughters can do but I knew she'd kill tigers for me. Through it all, I couldn't imagine her not being a part of every experience.  I am a better mother & person because of her.  My hope is that I can honor her in life through continuing to serve others like she did. 
I can find joy in the fact that I have the blessed assurance that I will see her again.  I can clearly see that God has had his hand on us through these last few months, that he was protecting us and preparing us, even when we didn't realize it.  And I know He is continuing to hold us up.  A few verses that I am clinging to are: 
Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Psalm 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 
I can't imagine going through all of this without Him and the friends that are His hands & feet in our lives.  Thank you all so much.

So as we continue on this journey of loss, please keep us all in your prayers.  I know there will be rough days ahead as we continue to process our grief.  We pray that God's providence & glory will shine in our healing and response.  
And you just might hear me humming..."One Day at a Time, sweet Jesus, that's all I'm asking from You"..

 Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

My Mother and Our Journey This Last Year

This is my mother, Donna.  This is our journey over this last year.  A lot of people ask what happened, what led to this since she was only 67.  I know my kids will ask so I am posting this here while I still recall the details.  It's long but you are invited to read & share in our story.

She had heart issues for the last 10 years.  In the winter/spring of 2013, heart & lung problems flared up along with a broken foot, making her have to move in with us since she needed help getting around, food, on oxygen, etc.  Normally, she lived alone in her own home and was fairly independent.  During the summer, she was fine but never moved back to her home, both for comfort of not being alone and lack of motivation probably.  She was active and even on October 3rd, went with the kids & I to the Florida Aquarium.  This would be the last healthy picture we would take together.

October 7th, 2013, she had a surgery to repair 3 hernias, a gallbladder removal and to repair & separate her intestines that had become twisted & entwined together with scar tissue, possibly from a previous bout of diverticulitis and/or the surgery she had for it about 6 years ago.  In that process, there was a "leak" or fistula, meaning there was an opening somewhere in the intestines that wasn't sealed in the surgical process.  She was put on "TPN" which was food/nutrients in IV fluid form, and not allowed to eat or drink. She also had drainage bags on both sides in hopes that the leak would heal itself.  She did not leave the hospital in 3 days like they had predicted.  Instead, she was in there for 2 months and 2 days straight along with a few other week long stays because of infections and pulling out the drainage on accident.  It was over 3 months of time in the hospital within a 4 month span.
Finally, we were beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel for her being able to eat again & "be normal".  On Monday, January 27, 2014, they removed the pic line, which meant she was officially off TPN and they had been weaning her back on normal food, starting with liquids over the previous week.  Bless her heart, she was so excited.  She had charted on the calender when she would be able to eat chicken, when she could eat beef, etc.  She & her friends were already making plans on which restaurants they were going to visit.  It had been a long 4 months without food & liquids, as you can imagine, including Thanksgiving & Christmas, so she was ready.  
Unfortunately, Tuesday, a swell came up on her side, that I can only describe as looking like a long balloon under her skin.  Her stomach starting hurting, too.  By Wednesday morning, she was not only in great pain, but the swell now looked black & bruised. We went to the ER and, of course, she was admitted. We said goodbye that night and surgery was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.  She was in so much pain Thursday, they kept her basically sedated but she did kind of respond when I kissed her goodbye.  After the surgery, the surgeon kept saying it was very serious, that she could only do part 1 of possibly 3-4 more surgeries, wasn't sure if her body could take the stress, etc.  But the problem with going in & out of the hospital so much is you kind of stop taking it seriously.  "I know this is bad but she was bad before and came out of it & pulled through".. so I wasn't fully grasping the severity of the situation. 
She was stable on Friday but on Saturday in the afternoon we got the call that you never want to hear.  My mom had coded and they were doing CPR on her, "please come quickly".  As I drove, I texted friend after friend "please pray". I thanked God for technology, to live in a time where I could reach that many people so quickly and know they would be holding me up in prayer.  I was singing "Blessed Be the Name".. this song has proven to be a life song for me through our losses and times of trials. "He gives and takes away, still I will choose to say, Lord, Blessed be Your Name".  Did I believe that? Yes.
When I arrived at the hospital, they had revived her and she was stable but they were saying the next 48 hours would be telling.  She was still intubated & sedated from the surgery so she was not responsive.  My mother in law was there and tried to get me to speak to her.  I just didn't know what to say as I looked at her in that state.  Finally as I was going to leave, I said "I love you, mommy" which isn't a term I had called her in quite a long time but it just naturally came out.
We decided to leave the kids with my mother in law in case they called again and left the hospital for the night.  All night my phone beeped with sweet messages & notifications from friends but the phone never rang. 
On Sunday, February 2nd, I decided to go to the hospital instead of church, even though they hadn't called, thinking she must have had a better night.  John went to pick up the kids. When I arrived, they frantically told me they had called & left messages, and that she had coded 2 other times.  Oddly, I didn't get the voicemails until that evening.  I quickly, and kind-of in shock, texted John that he needed to come now.  He turned around and dropped the kids back off and came up.  
Shortly after he arrived, she began to code again and we stood there while they preformed CPR on her and medically tried to bring her back again.  All I could hear in my head was "This. is. it.".  Whether that was God giving me a gentle awareness of the true reality happening here or it was just me, it was on repeat in my head.  John was praying, I was singing, and somehow saying "It's okay."  After they revived her again, both doctors came over to explain that her organs were shutting down, that her heart was dying, each time they revived her was actually getting worse for her body, they could continue to pound on her and repeat this process...or I could let her heart do what it wanted to do and let her die.  What a decision to put on someone...but I knew she didn't want to I had to sign the "Do Not Resuscitate" papers.  
Soon, the pastor who had married us and such a dear friend arrived, along with John's brother, who is also a pastor.  We surrounded her bed and prayed.  I stood next to her and whispered thank yous and I love yous.  I sang "I'll Fly Away" into her ear and told her it was okay, she could go, she would always be remembered and loved.  As I said a last goodbye and continued singing that favorite hymn, one tear fell from her... and she was gone.  Now I will never know this side of heaven if that was her response in all of this, but I will choose to think that she could hear me and that was a little gift from God to know she did.  
If there is a good way to lose someone, this was a precious way to be a part of that departure.  To leave here hearing praise and arrive in Heaven hearing praise, in one blink.  What a welcome she must have received from all the loved ones that have gone before her.  And someday, I know & fully believe, I have the blessed assurance I will see her again. 

She held my hand and whispered sweetness into my ear as I came into this world.  And I was able to hold her hand and whisper love to her as she left and entered into Heaven.  What a gift. 

"so you will not grieve like those who have no hope." 1 Thessalonians 4:13b
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit. — Psalm 34:18