One year ago, today, my momma went home. I’ve been anxious about this day, not knowing how I would handle it but to be honest, I missed her just as much yesterday as I do today and it will be just as hard without her tomorrow as it is today. Today is just a date.
Yesterday, I told you about how my mom lived life with strength and with such dignity and today I am going to share with you how she died with strength and with such dignity.
My mom had not been feeling well for about a year, so much so that she went to the doctor and my mom NEVER went to the doctor. She didn’t feel well and she complained a lot of pain in her stomach and side. She began losing weight without trying and although she ended up losing over 90 pounds, no one listened. They took her gallbladder out, nothing changed, they put her on antibiotics for a stomach infection, nothing changed. We even thought that it may be related to her heart issues but the cardiologist wasn’t interested in her case at all. Thankfully, my sister took matters in to her own hands after no one would listen and she pretty much strong armed the doctor in my hometown to refer our mom to a cardiologist at Emory. I took her to her appointment with him and he listened, finally someone listened. She told him that while she was there obviously for her heart that she was really hurting in her side and stomach and how sick she felt when she ate and how much weight she had lost. He immediately admitted her to Emory Hospital and within 24 hours knew that she had multiple masses in several areas of her body. He wouldn’t say the word, but she knew. As always, she practically became best friends with every person working at Emory because she was just that amazing. People were just drawn to her and she had a way of making you feel like you were the closest person in the world to her. Some of the phlebotomists even came to visit her daily and brought family and friends to meet her when she was moved to the cardiology floor. Then, there was the poor guy taking the biopsy…he had to tie her hands above her head to secure them while taking the biopsy and she said to him, “I’m going to go back and tell my girls that a handsome young thing tied me to a bed.” If he wasn’t scarred for life, he is still telling that story.
It took about a week to get an appointment with the oncologist to find out the diagnosis. When he listed the many, many tumors and said the words, Stage IV, it felt like a horrible nightmare that surely we would wake up from but unfortunately, it was reality. She sat there, looked him straight in the eye as strong as I’ve ever seen someone and said, “well, how much time do I have, days, weeks, months?” He refused to answer only saying that he wasn’t God and couldn’t give her a definite amount of time. …but she knew.
On the way back to Tifton from Atlanta, she made a plan. She wanted to make the most of her time, she said that she was going to fill the house with worship music so we made a playlist, she wanted to go to the beach one last time, and she wanted to get in her kitchen to bake goodies for random acts of kindness. She said, “I always wished that I had my mom’s recipes and I don’t want you girls to feel that so I want you to write them all down,” so we did. In her last days, still only thinking of others. In fact, one night, I went in to check on her, thinking that she was asleep but when I opened her door, she opened her eyes. I asked what she was doing and she said, “I’m just praying for Jane Grimes,” a friend also battling cancer. I will never forget that. We did everything on her list except make it to the beach. She was spiraling fast and knew that she couldn’t make it that far so she decided that we would go to the lake to have uninterrupted time together, no visitors, no phone calls, just us! She was so excited about going to the lake but when she got there, she was too worn out to do much so she ended up sleeping a lot. We made her a meme and when we showed her, she gave us her famous line, “look under the table.” Momma loved Jesus with her whole heart but she would give you the middle finger if you needed it.
One day when we were sitting in her living room, she asked if we saw the little boy next to her. When we told her that we didn’t see a little boy, she told us that he was trying to climb into her lap to hug and kiss her and at first she thought it was Marli Claire until she realized it was a boy. She said that he had the sweetest little face. It really bothered her that we couldn’t see him. She said, “I mean, I’m not even on drugs!” Mom wanted to be herself for as long as possible so she chose to wait until she really needed them to start. A couple of weeks, she said, “He’s back and he’s sitting at my feet with a tray trying to feed me. Can y’all see him?” Um, nope, couldn’t see him. …and that was just the beginning of it all.
Most of you know about the day she planned her funeral but in the event you don’t, lean in because you don’t want to miss this. When it came time to plan her funeral, she wanted to get it all done so that her girls didn’t have to worry about a thing. Her pastor and friend came over to discuss the service. She said, “Listen, I’ve been to some of your funerals and when I hear you talk about how sweet and good those people are, I wonder if I’m at the right funeral because that doesn’t describe the person I knew. Don’t do that for me, shoot it to them straight.” Then, the funeral director came to her house and we all sat there as she told him what she wanted. She said, “wouldn’t it be fun to have fireworks one each corner of my casket and as I’m lowered in the ground, they shoot off?” The poor guy had the look of fear like I’ve never seen. Apparently, it’s frowned upon to shoot fireworks off at a funeral so we did what she asked that night and I could almost hear that laugh from Heaven!
At night, I slept next to her and we would hold hands and listen to music. I asked her one night, if she was scared at all. I wanted to know what she was thinking. She said, “well, I’m not scared about where I’m going but I nervous about the transition. I don’t know if I’ll go to sleep and wake up there or what?” I had never in my life thought about it, but now I wondered what it would be like for her. I told her that I would rather have her, the best mom, for only 35 years than any other for 100. She told me how proud of me she was. Those nights were so special, getting to have our last few talks and my last “one more thing” chats.
When she was too weak to move from her chair to bed, she had to remain in the hospital bed, so we moved the bed in to the living room so she wouldn’t miss anything. 🙂 She didn’t like to miss the action. Somehow we knew that it wouldn’t be long before she left so we all gathered around her bed to sing to her and just be near her. She began sleeping a lot more but would open her eyes and talk every once in a while and mouth the words to the songs with us. On the day before she passed away, she opened her eyes, looked up and had a look of confusion. We asked her what was wrong and she said, “I see someone.” When we asked her who she saw she said that she didn’t know who it was then she went back to sleep. We had been praying since her diagnosis that God would heal her and she was praying for the same but she opened her eyes again, looked at us and said, “I have to leave y’all but I’m going to be ok.” We cried and assured her that we would also be ok. She went back to sleep but opened her eyes one last time, looked up and smiled. My sister asked her what she saw and she whispered, “I can see Heaven.” I cannot think of any sweeter last words than those. God gave us something so special in that to be the reminder that we need on days like today that she is home.
My mom was not blessed with a beautiful singing voice but that didn’t stop her from using it. Growing up, she would say that she had the voice that made the children at church sitting in front of her turn around to see what was wrong. When she would start singing a song, I would beg her to stop but she would say, every single time, “I can’t stop in the middle of the song, I have to finish what I started.” I was reminded of that as we were gathered around her, singing the songs from her playlist. And on March 3, 2015, just three and half weeks after being diagnosed, as we sang the very last word of “It is Well,” she took her last breath and was with Jesus. She couldn’t stop in the middle of the song, she had to finish what she started.
I believe her brother said it best when he said, “Linda Ann showed the world how to die.” What a legacy!