Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mom's Memorial Slideshow

This is the slideshow we played at Mom's memorial service. It is a photo montage set to the song Babe by Styx. Babe was my stepfather's pet name for Mom. This was their song.

Mom's Final Story

One last time, Mom, Clara, has left us.

In all the years we knew her, Mom often talked about shedding all her possessions and hitting the road. Be it in a RV headed to Montana, or on a boat headed to the Keys, she was always in part a nomad. In her final years, she talked a lot about wanting to move to the Keys. She started collecting pirate paraphernalia, and other tropical sundries. The Keys seemed to hold a promise of the ultimate escape she had always longed for, free from responsibility, to anyone or anything. It was a place where her inner rebel could find sanctuary, along with all the other Conch Rebels, as those who seek asylum in the Southernmost part of the country call themselves. Indeed, she even had the moniker as her personal email address.

Sensing that we were racing the clock, we were all working towards making a trip to the Keys as a family. It was our hope that a window of opportunity between Mom's cancer treatments would open up, even briefly, for a road trip to the Conch Republic. Sadly, this would not happen.

At the end of her first round of chemotherapy, Mom's pain from her cancer intensified, so much so that she required hospitalization. While in the hospital, she developed other complications related to pain management, but her primary goal was to get her pain under control and to get out of the hospital. There was that trip to the Keys beckoning, after all. We managed to bring Mom home after a couple of weeks, but her pain got out of control again, and she ended up back in the hospital. We didn't know it at the time, but Mom was losing her battle with the disease, and we were losing her. Her cancer was highly aggressive; a final scan had shown that the cancer had spread dramatically, in spite of her treatment. As Mom's pain got worse, and her pain medication increased, her consciousness faded.

We brought Mom home under the auspices of hospice care on July 4th. She had her family at her side at all times, playing music she loved, reading to her, talking to her, or just holding her hand, loving her.

It was fortunate that she was home, as July 7th was her grandson Dewayne's birthday. We were able to have a small party, and for Mom to be there with us. It was a joyous event, despite the circumstances. But sadly, later that evening, Mom started showing signs that she may be nearing the end. Her hospice nurse, a wonderful woman named May, said she had a sense that Mom would pass before her shift ended the next morning.

Late in the evening, her husband Jerry, her children Brenda, Jake, Christina, and Amanda, and her grandchildren Dewayne and Chrystal all gathered around her. Joining hands together and with Mom, we took turns saying to Mom what we felt needed to be said before we could let her go. Afterwards, we all sat around her as we listened to and sang along to many of Mom's favorite songs into the wee hours of the morning.

Mom slipped away around 7 am on July 8, 2009.

Other than May, we had all fallen asleep not long before Mom left us. It's easy to believe that she was waiting for us to not be watching as she left. When we were children, Mom would sometimes have to leave because of her assignments the Air Force would send her on. We would tell her to wake us before she left so she could say goodbye, but she always slipped away while we were asleep. We would eventually try to beat her at this game and attempt to stay awake all night, but she always won, as she did this one last time.

It was an amazing privilege to be able - as a family - to spend that time with Mom in her final hours. It was an even greater gift to be able to have cared for her in her final days.

We held a memorial service for Mom at her childhood church, Lake Hill Baptist Church, the place where she was first married, and the same church where services for her mother were held. The turnout was wonderful, with approximately 150 people who came to pay respect in person, and countless others joining us in spirit, testament to the impact Clara had on people. The memorial was closed with each of those present symbolically releasing butterflies into the wind. This was followed by a joyous Celebration of Life at one of her favorite haunts, the Dubsdread Golf Course, just down the road from her home. Mom enjoyed dining on the patio, something we got to do with her just a couple months ago.

Mom, Clara, was an exceptional woman. She deserved an exceptional send off. Because she had longed to return to the Keys, we made it our mission to make sure she did. It was a mission not without difficulties, indeed there were many, but in the end, it was a great success. With the use of a family member's boat, Mom was taken to a quiet and calm location in the Gulf of Mexico, off of Key West. In a casual but beautiful ceremony, with Mom's favorite songs playing in the background, we prepared the water with flower petals. We collectively read a poem aloud, with her first husband and friend, Curtis, joining in on speakerphone. A final but brief poem was read before her ashes - enclosed in a biodegradable container - were released to the sea.

We sat and watched the currents slowly carry away the flower petals, and symbolically, Mom. After a short while, her grandson, Joey, wanted to swim with his Grammy one last time. We all followed him into the water, floating and swimming, singing along with Mom's songs, being with her wholly one last time.

We eventually left and went to explore an area elsewhere that Mom had liked, before heading back to shore. Using saved GPS coordinates, we returned to the spot where we had released Mom, and now the water was even more calm. We stopped for just one last swim, and noticed that the place had a completely different feel. It felt more lively, yet peaceful. We noticed much more sea life than before, including a very large stingray passing by, and a wayward butterfly fluttering by the boat. The symbolism was remarkable.

Clara is gone in body, but she remains with us in our hearts and our memories.

All of the family is extremely grateful for all of the love and support - emotional and material - that we have been given by those who love us, and those who loved Clara. That we could all be so fortunate to be connected with such great people is testament to that which Clara gave to the world.

We humbly thank you, with all of our hearts.