"Strong woman" was not the first thing that would come to mind when thinking of my mom. She was a soft spoken, people pleasing, positive minded woman, but was she strong? I mean I knew she had to be sort of strong to raise six kids without losing her mind, but I never knew she was the kind of strong she has proven to be in the past three and half years.
When we found out dad was sick on August 22, 2013 I was very scared for mom. I did not know how she would handle him being sick. When dad passed away on September 15, 2013 I was petrified. How could mom possibly do life without him? He was truly her other half. He would fill her car with gas, drive her to work, type her emails and make her dinner. I did not know how mom would function. Despite her total heartbreak she took care of herself and more. She proved that she could be a strong woman when the need arose. We tried to rally around as mom's cheerleader but she proved to need very little cheerleading in most situations. She carried on with life as best she could and led our family so well.
On January 23, 2016 mom went to the hospital with abdominal discomfort. She had been having some unusual indigestion and was finally uncomfortable enough to seek help. After a couple days in the hospital and an initial diagnosis of gallbladder stones we found out mom had Pancreatic Cancer. We were shocked that mom was facing the same disease that had taken dad in just 24 days. We were hopeful when the doctors said she was eligible for whipple surgery which only 15-20 % of those with pancreatic cancer are eligible to receive. She received the surgery and bounced back amazingly well. The picture below is me and mom at my cousin's wedding just a day after discharge from the hospital from surgery.
After surgery the doctors recommended chemotherapy to continue to address the cancer. They explained that she was cancer free but that pancreatic cancer is extremely aggressive and was probably already looking for another place in her body to reside. Mom went through 6 months of chemotherapy and did remarkably well with it. On August 23rd she rang the bell and we celebrated the completion of her chemo.
Right after Labor Day she had a scan and we found out that her cancer had spread. The chemo did not work. She was so positive and that darn cancer had spread to her liver. Mom started another round of chemotherapy. This time she was most self conscious about the bag she had to wear for a couple days after each round. She still did amazingly well. She still was incredibly positive. During this round of chemo my brother planned a family retreat. We all went to Steelville, MO for the weekend and stayed in a large cabin. Mom had the time of her life with all of her kids and grandkids. We took family pictures and truly celebrated just being together.
Our trip was in early November. On November 28 mom had another scan. When she went in for her chemo treatment on the 29th she met with the doctor and the treatment was canceled. The cancer had grown again. She was devastated. The doctor told her she could completely stop treatment or get into a trial at Siteman. In her words, "I can't not do anything". Mom met with the doctor at Siteman and decided to begin an aggressive trial treatment. She had a rough month of December. She had several blood transfusions due to low hemoglobin. She was low energy during a time she was trying to continue to do it all. Mom began treatment at Siteman on December 20th. She had three weeks of treatment then a week without treatment. She began to have all of the side effects of the medicine. Although she was discouraged by that she tried to keep her spirits up. We mainly just saw her become to herself as she slept often and was sick frequently.
On January 12, my sister and I spent the day with mom. We had a great lunch, went grocery shopping, picked out a new wig and met with a lawyer. Mom was full of energy and eating well. She seemed to be on the upswing during this week of rest from chemotherapy. The next day an ice storm was coming so my brother stopped by to give her some soup and salt her walk. When he got there he found her very sick. He called my sister and when she arrived to help mom passed out in her arms. 911 was called and mom was rushed to the hospital.
After an overnight on the cardiac floor for a heart strain an echocardiogram discovered that mom had a heart attack. We were shocked. Mom would have a stent put in on Monday. I went home to put my babies to bed and came back to the hospital at 7:30 pm. When I arrived mom was acting very weird. After further discussion with my sister, Amy, we decided to have the doctors take a closer look. Blood cultures showed an infection and DIC and next thing we knew we were heading up to the ICU. Mom was scared. We were scared but we were led to believe some antibiotics would fix the infection.
I fell asleep in the ICU waiting room and woke up to a nurse just 45 minutes later. She said the doctor would like to speak with me. When I came back the doctor talked for several minutes about mom's condition. He finished by saying, "Your mom has DIC causing her blood to clot and bleed at the same time. She also has a blood infection. It's very unlikely she will make it through the day".
I had to stop and catch my breath but then I looked at mom. She simply said "OH NO!" How absolutely gut wrenching to hear you will die that day. I asked her if she was scared and she said, "No, I'm not scared. I am going to be with dad". Tears. I called all my siblings to come up to the hospital and to try to make it quickly as the doctors thought they may need to ventilate her. Everyone made it within a few hours and we were by mom's side. My 91 year old grandmother was able to come too.
We spent the day talking and laughing with mom. We held her hands. We told her stories. She made us laugh and scared us too. She came in and out of states of consciousness. About 3:00 in the afternoon the doctor told us it would be a few hours before we saw her "go to sleep". Several times during the day mom asked us to turn off the light in the already dark room. She would also say randomly, "I'm going. I'm going". Between her comfort and her comments I found myself at peace when mom slipped away from us at 7:38 pm on January 15, 2017. We lost mom on the same day (Sunday) and date (15) as my dad. She told me she wanted to be with dad and I believe wholeheartedly that that is exactly where she is. My beautiful strong mother does not have to be strong any longer.
As I held mom's hand all day Sunday I prepared for our goodbye. A second goodbye to a parent in just 3.5 years. It was heart wrenching. It still is so confusing and so so painful. This time I do feel a little peace in knowing that she is with dad and that she wasn't scared but what I would give to hold her hand again.
All the days since Sunday have been a blur. It has been just 7 days since I lost my mom. This week I have learned the value in sisterhood and brotherhood. Those are my people now. We have to stick together. I thank mom and dad for having six kids because I don't know how I would carry on without them. We have laughed and cried and looked for all of the signs. This beautiful sunset stretched the sky on Wednesday night and as I went to look at it a male and female cardinal flew by. Cardinal birds always serve as a reminder that mom and dad are near.
I'll keep looking for the signs and keep visiting this special place where now my sweet mom and dad are laid to rest as they spend eternity together at last.
Below is my eulogy read at the funeral:
If ever there was an angel this side of Heaven my mom was one. She was kind, gentle, humble, patient, selfless and loving to not just her husband, children and grandchildren, but to every single person she encountered. She led our crazy family with a grace and eloquence that only she could. She never spoke ill of anyone and could find the positive in all. She gave us the best possible example of how to love people unconditionally.
When we lost our dad three years ago we wondered how mom would go on. He was her other half and her everything. We know her pain was unbearable but those from the outside would have never known because she never seemed to miss a beat. She made sure that everything went on as usual for her family. It was important to her that we celebrate together and continue to make memories. In the quiet moments she would simply say, “I miss your dad so much”. We watched in shock as mom proved just how strong she was and just how important our happiness was to her.
The happiness of others was the most important thing to mom. She never ever put herself before anyone else. You would not believe all of the people who have told us mom was their dearest and best friend. She made everyone around her feel so special. Sometimes it was hard to go places with mom because as I was dodging people and trying to make efficient time she was chumming it up with the cashier and having lengthy conversations with the various friends she just happened to run into. She was never too hurried to make a new friend or catch up with an old one.
In fact, keeping up with friends was like a part time job to our mom. She loved to meet friends for meals, have friends to her home, send cards, buy gifts and chat on the phone. I get exhausted just thinking about all of her relationships and yet she kept up with them with such grace. Just two and a half weeks ago she had a group of friends for a luncheon at her house. Stories from her colleagues also spoke volumes about the woman she was. Everyone talked about her positive aire and willingness to help in any way she could. She was often the butt of jokes as her evaluations about programs were always skewed because she simply could not find the flaws in anything. Several coworkers mentioned that she was banned from using the word “wonderful” so instead she found many synonyms to describe just how wonderful, fantastic, excellent and great everything was that she was able to be a part of.
Mom’s positivity in life was unriveled. When we took our girls trip to New York City she walked around snapping pictures like a kid in a candy shop. After a walk across Brooklyn Bridge that finished with us drenched and frozen to the bone mom said with excitement, “ How many people can say they walked the Brooklyn Bridge in rain, sleet and snow!?”
Mom truly created the best childhood for her six children and twelve grandchildren. She loved to celebrate holidays and did so with a passion without compare. Every holiday was a big deal including Valentine’s Day and St. Patricks Day. I remember going to school to tell my friends that the leprechaun took a bath at my house and turned the water green. Oh the shock when I discovered that the leprechaun did not take a bath at everyone’s house on St. Patricks Day eve.
As a mother myself there is nothing I want more than for my boys to know they are each special and loved individually by me. Even as a mother of six my mom did this effortlessly. Each of us has special memories with our mom. Tammy and John will always be grateful for celebrating this New Year’s Eve with mom and Tammy will forever cherish the day she spent with mom this last Thursday where mom seemed so happy and full of life. Stephanie will always remember shopping with mom in Ste Genevieve and working together to plan her neighborhood holiday parties. Amy always loved dinner and the muny with mom and the Frosts especially enjoyed taking mom to South Haven Michigan this summer where mom was able to enjoy the cute shops and relax on the beach. Kara and Steve loved to host mom for New Years Eve and Steve always enjoyed working with mom to brine the Thanksgiving turkey. Tj and Ashley loved to have mom over for dinner and Ashley has always appreciated how welcoming and loving mom was to her from day one. I will always cherish the time I spent with my boys and mom during the days and our trip to New York City in high school. Tom will forever cherish mom’s genuine reaction of excitement when he asked if he could marry me.
We were and are incredibly lucky kids. There are very few people in this world that receive the kind of unconditional love we did growing up. Forever and always we will be grateful to have had a mom that in her words “Loved us to the moon and back a million zillion times”.