Below is the eulogy I gave at my Mama’s funeral on Friday September 9th. Nothing in this world would prepare me to handle the death of my Mother but everything in life prepared me for having the strength to make it through her eulogy. I couldn’t have asked for anything better for my Mother’s service. Her service was a celebration of her life and who she was. I felt her spirit stronger than ever before. I felt lifted up by her and my higher power.
At the start of my eulogy I passed around packets of sunflower seeds, with my Mom’s picture on them, to everyone. I then had everyone exchange them… Those seeds represented what my beautiful, loving Mother had given to us all…
A few years ago I received a birthday card with a picture of a turtle who was walking down a path. At the end of the path, the turtle was planting a peach pit. Behind him were a long row of peach trees, with a huge orchard full of peach trees in the background.
The message behind the picture was that often times when we encounter someone we don’t realize the impact we leave behind. Many times we are not able to see the fruits of our labor and it is easy to forget what we have to offer.
If we could only look back on those we have touched, we would see orchards upon orchards of peach trees filled full of bountiful fruit.
So each time we give our hearts to someone, we are planting a seed deep inside that person. That seed will grow and blossom into something beautiful. That love not only produces fruit that will continue to nourish that person but when they are done eating that peach, left is the pit. Then they will have the chance to plant that peach pit in someone else’s heart and the cycle continues, over and over.
That was the life my Mother lived. She planted so many seeds, that now the world is full of peach trees. During this life she wasn’t always able to see her impact on the world. She is just like the turtle, humble, selfless and pure. Now she is up in the heavens any finally can look down upon the earth to see all the fruits of her labor.
Her heart was a gift and blessing to this world.
The seed given to you today symbolizes who my Mother was and the love she had for those around her. Though her life on this earth is done, her spirit is still alive in every peach pit she has planted. So take this seed with you and hold onto it as a reminder of my Mother and the impact you have on others. Each person you meet, you plant a seed deep inside of them.
That is the glory of God, and my mother embraced that fully. She had a heart of gold and a spirit as bright as the sun. She gave her all to her children, grandbabies, family and friends. Her family was very important to her, and we filled her up with joy. Paige, Peyton and Grace are her world, as she is to them. She not only passed on who she was to my sister and I, but her grandbabies as well.
Dana I are who we are today because of our Momma. Now it is our turn to pass that light and love, onto to Paige, Peyton and Grace… and the rest of the world.
The last month has been a roller coaster ride. Often times my sister and I didn’t know we were coming or going. When we first learned Mom had Cancer we told her we would do whatever it took for her to overcome this Cancer, even if it meant driving to California or even Sweden.
The type of Cancer my Mom had is called Carcinoid cancer. It is the rarest form of Cancer. The treatment for this type of cancer is not typical, as chemo and radiation doesn’t work. The only option to cure it was surgery; no one in Michigan would operate as they treated it like a typical cancer.
(For more information visit this website: http://www.carcinoidawareness.org/)
The tumor was blocking her air way by 75%, causing her to get bronchitis and pneumonia frequently, among other complications.
The oncologist at UofM, said we needed to find an aggressive surgeon to remove it.
Through a lot of research my sister found out about the only specialist for Carcinoids was in Nashville, as well as an amazing thoracic surgeon at the same hospital. Momma wanted the Cancer out of her and we were determined to do whatever it took to make that happen.
Her oncologist became her personal cheerleader. After months of unknown she finally had some relief. It was the first time a Doctor treated her as a person, and not a cancer patient. The surgeon was confident that they could remove the tumor and save the upper part of her right lung, so he scheduled her surgery for the beginning of August.
My Mom was a worry wart, we come from a long line of worry warts. I myself am one as well. As much as she wanted that tumor out of her, she was scared of the surgery.
Her surgery was scheduled for 1pm on a Thursday… 1pm came and passed, and we waited for hours. As each hour passed, Mom became even more nervous and frustrated. We were told there were complications with a surgery and that was causing the delay. By 6pm, Dr. Grogan came down to talk to mom. He apologized and explained the delay. He said it was important to give my Mom his full attention and thought it would be best to delay the surgery til the next morning. He was so caring and compassionate that something changed with Mom.
The next morning she was no longer nervous and went back into surgery calm as can be.
The surgery was a success and the Doctor was very happy. He was able to get out all the Cancer and was able to save the upper lobe of her lung. Later it was found that all of the lymph nodes were negative, even the one that UofM said was cancerous. Plus the progression rate was less than 1%, meaning it would be very unlikely it would come back somewhere else… This is rare for this kind of Cancer.
We couldn’t have asked for better news, we were on cloud nine. That all changed a few days later when it was discovered that my Mom had aspirated, causing a severe bacterial infection. They had to perform an emergency second surgery to try to clean up the infection.
This is where the real roller coaster began. After the surgery the Doctor came out to talk to us. He informed us that there was a chance my Mom would not make it, as the infection was widespread. He advised us that if they hadn’t operated when they did she wouldn’t have made it through the evening. Our hearts sunk to the floor, as we were in shock.
Though even with that scary news, I didn’t lose hope. Even before the surgery I was not worried at all. I had this sense that everything would be okay. So to have this happen completely knocked the wind out of me.
Her lungs were very sick and she had to be put on respirator at full support, where she was under heavy sedation. It was difficult seeing the Woman you knew was so lively and full of life lay in bed hooked up to monitors, with numerous tubes in her and constantly being poked and prodded… all while not being able to say a word. It was painful to watch.
My sister and I were dedicated to see her through this. My mom was not a classic case for the Doctors, what worked for most people didn’t for her. My Mom was a fighter, a true survivor and this journey to Nashville proved that. One particular morning this was proven to us when they took her off her sedation. She began to kick her legs about. I seriously thought she was going to break free from her arm restraints. I had to hold her legs down and my sister her arms. As traumatic as that was for us, it proved how much of a fighter she was and how much life was left in her.
It just strengthened my faith and belief that she would overcome this. I have always struggled with my faith and my time in Nashville was the first time I didn’t doubt it one bit. Something just clicked.
I prayed more than I ever have. Her surgeon told us that once you are on your back in despair, all you can do is look up and that is what we did.
Daily I prayed for God to bring Momma home to Paige, Peyton and Grace.
As the days slowly went by, things would change so quickly. She would take a step forward, and then a step back. Each time she took a step back, I knew that she would rebound and she did.
The days were long, and the nights sleepless. It was like I was watching a movie that repeated over and over. With each bit of bad news, I didn’t let it touch my faith in God or my belief in my Mother.
There are many things I have doubted in this world but I never doubted my Mom. I believed in her with all my heart.
The more days that we into it, it just strengthened my faith. I am not saying it was easy because it was the most difficult month of my life. There were times I felt like I was going crazy but I kept moving forward.
All these years our Momma took care of us and was our biggest Champion and now it was turn to return the favor. We stuck by her side, nothing was going to separate us.
When my Mom got the infection I created a prayer page on facebook. I knew the importance and power of prayer. I also realized this was our time to lift her up when she needed it the most. I was overwhelmed with countless number of people offering support, love and prayers. People from all over the country and the world, many who didn’t know any of us, prayed daily. This page was so much comfort during a very difficult time.
I had already become a huge fan of her surgeon and was completely in awe when he asked me if it would be okay if he prayed with me and my Mom. We stood by her bedside and he spoke with such strength it was humbling. He wasn’t just a surgeon by he was one of God’s healers.
Even her oncologist Dr. Eric Liu, who didn’t really have a medical role in this process, visited us daily for a month. They were so much of a comfort as well.
One of the resident thoracic doctors showed how much she cared by hugging my sister for over 10 minutes after the second surgery. The whole staff was so supportive and loving. They cared for my mom, like she was their own mom. That is who she was, she touched everyone she met. She had that much impact.
It was so humbling to see those who embraced the essence of who God and Jesus are. We encountered so many people in Nashville who let their lights shine so brilliantly, it liberated us as well.
For me that is what God is all about.
Even during our darkest moments, we knew that God had a plan. For a month we were caught up in a storm and I knew that all we had to do was hold on… That beyond all the lighting, thunder and clouds was beautiful sunshine. I knew that God would see us through this.
Nothing in this world prepares you for seeing your mother sick, nor does it prepare you for losing your Mom.
I am sure the doctors thought I was in denial but I wouldn’t allow anything to waiver my faith. Even when her lungs started to fail her, I didn’t give up hope of her getting better.
I was confident that God would not take my mother, after the month of torment we went through. It wasn’t until she passed that I realized that Momma and God were preparing us.
All these years I thought I had lost my spirituality, and all this time it was buried deep inside. I just need a jump start to get going again.
As tough and tragic as losing my Momma, this experience has changed me deeply.
Til her last breath, I didn’t lose my faith in her or God. Nor did my sister and I leave her side. We were devoted to her completely.
When it was time for her to go, I held her in my arms and I comforted her. When I came into this world she held me, and when she left his world I held her. Through it all I told her how beautiful and strong she was, and how much her family loved her. I told her it was okay to go home. When they took her breathing tube out, her lungs did not move. That not only proved to me how sick she was but that it was her time to go.
Granted it wasn’t the home I had envisioned but it was something even better. A place where she would no longer have chest tubes, nor would she have trouble breathing. A home filled with nothing but light and love. No more pain, no more sorrow and no more suffering. No more bronchitis, and no more pneumonia.
Someone recently said that our test would turn into a testimony, and I strongly believe that. My Momma gave her life, in order for me to believe again.
In her life, she didn’t always thing she was strong and she proved to everyone how strong she was. She lasted 31 days after two major surgeries, a severe bacterial infection that caused even her good lung to go bad.
I know some may think the surgery was not a success but I believe it was a triumph. She left this world Cancer free, which is what she wanted. She quit smoking after thirty years. Even after she almost died, she survived another 21 days. She wasn’t going to go out without all her might, and she fought hard but her body just couldn’t endure it anymore.
I won’t lie, I am devastated by this. I will miss her dearly. I had always dreamed of buying her a home and had hoped that she would find someone who loved her the way she deserved. Then I realized she already had everything she needed. She also proved to herself that she could make it in the world alone. After the divorce, at the age of 50, she got a job after haven’t ever been in the work place and got her own apartment. She got something more important than a love of a man, she got her freedom. While I couldn’t give her the material things, I gave her my love fully. I gave her what she needed, so did her family… One of her favorite songs was I get knocked down, but I get up again… and her life was a testament to that. No matter how many times she’d get knocked down, she would always get back up. She didn’t let this Cancer or the infection keep her down, and in the end she got back up by flying into the arms of her loved ones in heaven. She has proven that she is a warrior queen and I am so proud of her. I am comforted that during her 31 days in the hospital that she only had a few days of pain, she did not suffer. She left this world at peace and in rest. Granted she didn’t die from Cancer but those who die from Cancer don’t usually go through a lot of suffering and pain.
I have also have doubted my strength in the past, and now I no longer do thanks to my Mom. I’ve also come to realize that there are so many angels on this earth who are in regular clothing, that will help lift you up when you are down.
Of course I want more time but I have to thank what a blessing it has been to have her in my life for 36 years. There are some children who are not so fortunate. She has taught me so many things, and I am forever grateful that God chose her to be my Mother.
I feel her stronger now, than ever before. I see her in my sister, and in her grandbabies. I close my eyes and there she is. She is all around me.
She has always protected us, and now that she’s our guardian angel she can watch over us in ways she couldn’t before.
Now it is our turn to pass my Mother’s love onto others especially Paige, Peyton and Grace. She was a rare breed, one of a kind. Beautiful inside and out.
This journey to Nashville and back has taught me that how fragile life is, and to cherish every moment of it. To live fully.
It has reminded me the importance of one of my favorite quotes:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
That is what this experience has done for me, it has liberated me and allowed me to let my own light shine like my Momma did. So many others on this journey have given me the courage to do so, and most importantly my Momma. I have also realized how much of an impact I have on other people. Everyone I have met during the past few months have been mirrors, that has allowed me to see who I am.
I have also come to terms that this was my Mom’s time to pass away; it was all part of God’s plan. Looking back I have to wonder if somewhere deep inside Momma knew. I am also comforted to know that she had an amazing group of doctors who not only went the extra mile for her but helped her come to terms with her own mortality. Her doctors were just as devastated at her loss, as we were. In my heart I know that they did everything they could for my Mama.
I believe God brought us down to Nashville for a reason, and that was part of it. Ever since we first found out about Vanderbilt we have been seeing signs of that. Everything from seeing zebra prints in unusual place, which is the mascot for Carcinoid Cancer, to my sister getting her haircut by Lorretta Lynn’s grand-daughter, to having someone from a local church sending Mom a get well card where she stated that her nephew’s name was Derek Stephens as well. It is easy to ignore one or two signs, but a whole lot of them are impossible to ignore. Then there are times like having her surgeon pray with us, are what I call TKO signs. Sometimes they are whispers and sometimes they are roars. You just have to listen.
(This is one of those signs. We found this praying mantis on our front porch this evening. The mantis comes to us when we need peace, quiet and calm in our lives. Usually the mantis makes an appearance when we’ve flooded our lives with so much business, activity, or chaos that we can no longer hear the still small voice within us because of the external din we’ve created.
A praying mantis appearing is a sign of Angelic protection.
The praying mantis shows the way. In the Arabic and Turkish cultures a mantis points pilgrims to Mecca, the holiest site in the Islamic world. In Africa it helps find lost sheep and goats. In France, it’s believed that if you are lost the mantis points the way home.
“Follow Mantis” means putting that core aspect of yourself, your foundation of Spirit, at the helm and let it direct your intellect and ultimately your life.
This praying mantis was my Mama telling me it was going to be okay.)
Last night as it was pouring rain, I stood outside and gazed up at the sky in awe. It has reminded me that even during the strongest of storms there is always rain, which nourishes the earth. Like the storm we all have endured the last past month, it has filled our lives with rain and like with Momma’s passing, today the storm has passed and the sky is nothing but blue skies and sunshine.
So I will live my life in honor and memory of my dear sweet Momma and I will embrace the gifts that God gave me. There will come a day where I will be able to turn around, and see all the beautiful peach trees that have grown in place of the seeds that I have planted and that will be a glorious day.