She had been having some health issues and pain. I decided to visit and bought a plane ticket for California for a visit beginning March 1st. My adult daughter was visiting at that time as well and I thought it would be fun for us to all hang out with my mom, watch movies, eat popcorn and laugh like we always do. I was of course concerned about her health issues and weight loss she'd experienced recently, but no one involved (my family, her, her doctors...) were saying that her body was near to giving up and for us to prepare for the end. My mom was always so optimistic, so hopeful, right up to the very end.
My mama as a baby.
My mom on her mother's lap.
Ten days before my scheduled visit, my husband answered the phone. It was my mom's beloved partner. Not quite her husband, but the man she spent the last decade of her life with. I'll never forget my husband coming to me after that phone call, laying his hand on my shoulder and saying, "We need to reschedule your trip....... you need to fly to your mom... tonight. And.... you might not make it in time...her limbs are going cold..."
This is my mom, standing behind me as a child. Her mom is next to her, and her mom's mom on the left. Four generations of women.
And some years later- my first child was two years old. I am kneeling next to her, my mom, grandma and great grandma are behind us. Five generations of women. My mom's mother is still living. Her mother (my great grandma, on the left) passed only a couple years ago. I believe she was 94. I'm told by my aunt that the photos of our 5 generations appeared in the local newspaper at the time.
Look how pretty my mama was!
Here she is with my dad as teens. They met when my mom was 14, and married when she was 16. He was 2 years older. I was born three weeks after my mom's 17th birthday. She had been a cheerleader in high school.
This is her at age 17, holding my hands. All my life I was told by her how much she enjoyed being a mother. Always, always she called my brother and me "perfect". She was still telling us this up until the day her voice wouldn't come anymore.
My parents joined the rest of the "back to the landers" in the 1970s (and then fled back to the city in the 1980s). I adore all my childhood memories of farming and very rural living. It definitely planted a seed for country living within me, and I had always hoped to raise my children in a similar atmosphere. My mom is kneeling on the left there, her clothesline behind her. My brother and I are in the garden.
My eldest daughter, youngest daughter, and I did fly out the night of that phone call. My mom met us with smiles and utter joy from her hospital bed. She'd been admitted only a few days before because she had been having breathing problems. She was very thin, and unable to speak very loudly or perfectly clearly, but we got to talk with her for about two days. Then her voice stopped. She communicated with nods and sounds for another day or so, then there was no more communication. She took her last breath five days after my arrival. To say that we were all shocked at how quickly it happened is an enormous understatement. Truly, I was not prepared to see her go yet, or so quickly. I didn't realize a human body could change so quickly like hers did over those 5 days.
Her cancer had spread throughout her torso. It was affecting her diaphragm and digestion. It was the cancer in her liver that actually caused her death. We all believe she had been keeping some information from us. She didn't want to cause us to worry about her. That's just the way she was. Humble, happy, hopeful. She passed away just short of 19 months since her diagnosis.
Taking a train ride at the zoo with us in 2010.
Her and her "sweetie". That is what she always called him. They had a very close and wonderful relationship. I can't imagine how empty and sad he must feel, alone in their home. He is a good man and will always be considered a part of our family.
Her with her beloved "sister-aunts". Technically her aunts but as close as sisters. When I was going through my mom's many photo albums it made me smile to see her sister-aunts in about every 12th picture throughout her entire lifetime. My daughters and I spent those last 5 days at the hospital with the sister-aunt on the right in this photo. Also with my mom's "sweetie", my brother and his wife.
The sister-aunts celebrating with my mom at my brother's wedding in 2011, a few weeks before her diagnosis.
My mama came and visited us at our new home in Idaho in mid 2012. After her first round of chemotherapy, her blond hair grew back gray. Not that she ever complained. My mom was not a complainer, about anything really. Here I took a picture of her taking a picture of our cow.
Me, her, and littlest farmgirl during that 2012 visit.
When we moved from that (rental) home to our current homestead last year, my mom flew up here just to help us get work done on our new fixer upper. If anyone was interested in doing any sort of gardening, landscaping, or home remodeling, my mom was the person you would want to help you! In fact, if you just needed to take a trip to Home Depot my mama came in handy. She had the store layout nearly memorized, and knew just what was needed for each project. We were so grateful for all her help. And that she took time out from her own many home projects to come help with ours.
This is her, me, and my two daughters during her next, and final, visit to our home in September 2012. She came for littlest farmgirl's first birthday. My mom was emotional- so happy that she had lived to see her grandbaby turn one. And not only that, but I was expecting again, and so was my brother's wife! My sister-in-law is due 6 weeks before me. My brother's first child. My mom gushed with joy about both her kids being due with grandbabies this spring.
If you were to ask anyone- from past co-workers to her closest friends and family to describe my mom, you would hear words like this: happy, cheerful, always smiling, a ray of light, generous, easygoing, fun. I don't have a memory of my mom getting angry. She never uttered swear words. She adored her family, enjoyed being with her friends, talking about her kids, being with her "sweetie", and gardening. She regularly turned patches of weeds and dirt into gorgeous flower gardens throughout her life. She knew the name of each and every flower, tree, and plant you ever did see. She loved vacationing, especially with her sister-aunts.
She was so very, very full of life. She was only 56. A young 56. Busy, active, with many projects she was right in the middle of. It gave me tears to see her half finished sewing project in her sewing room. She had been right in the middle of sewing herself purple pajamas. She was never a lazy person. Always busy, always smiling, talking, laughing. She hadn't reached "old age" where one might sit around in a recliner for several years, contemplating life and death. She was too busy for that. She had plans.... so many more plans for this life. And two grandbabies on the way.
I witnessed a heart breaking conversation she had with her doctor very early the morning after I arrived. She begged the doctor to help her live. She announced to him that she "really really really wants to live, so what I need you to tell me is if someone like me can live with this." I think she was as shocked as we were that the end was actually near. I can imagine her thinking to herself, "Die? ME?? Haha! I'm not going to die. That's ridiculous!"
During her last 2 days on this earth she appeared unconscious. But I believe she was hearing us. We all shared story after story of her life, laughed and cried around her hospital bed. There was a lot of crying. We played music- happy music and music that brought the tears flowing. We played a disco song and my aunt and oldest daughter danced with my toddler at the foot of my mom's hospital bed- exactly the kind of fun my mom would have loved to be a part of. My sister-in-law and I talked pregnancy and birth together, something I know my mom had so hoped would happen. Her "sweetie" said a perfect, moving, heart wrenching prayer while we all held hands in a circle with her. There was a lot of love surrounding my mama in that room every single minute until her last. She was never left alone.
The very last sign of movement or consciousness that I witnessed in her was the day before she passed. Her mom had called on the phone, as she did a few times every day. My aunt held the phone up to my mom's ear so she could listen to her mom speak to her. And her eyes twitched. A definite movement. I know she heard her mom. Moms are so, so important.
My brother, mama, me, and my daughter, loving my mom through her final days.
I'm in shock that she's really gone. It hits me over and over every day. We were so close... I'm going to miss her every day for the rest of my life.
Isn't life bizarre. While some of us are doing the most mundane things- scrubbing a bath tub, driving to work, arguing with a spouse, boarding an airplane, brushing our teeth... others are leaving this physical existence, experiencing spectacular things, seeing angels, knowing God, understanding what it was all about...