Yaya’s funeral was today.
I know. That was fast, right?
April 9 – discovery of tumors in lungs, pancreas, and liver after complaint of pain in sides.
April 12 – PET scan to determine if tumors are benign or cancerous.
April 15 – return to PCP who confirms she has cancer.
April 22 – meeting with oncologist who says the average life expectancy is 3 to 4 months, but he has seen as long as 1 year and as short as 2 weeks.
May 6 – last breath taken.
I have never experienced anything like this, and while there have been many nights with little sleep, I have seen God working in many beautiful ways. She was lucid the entire time. She only complained of nausea 2 days before she died and we solved that with stool softener, as opposed to the excruciating, debilitating pain that often comes with cancer. I didn’t anticipate that I would spend my birthday writing an obituary, but I wouldn’t have it any other way – it was truly a pleasure to ensure that she was recognized properly. Moreover, when I needed love the most, people in my life were already primed to give it to me because it was my birthday. God spared her by not allowing her to suffer and spared me the additional sorrow of having to share the day of her death with the day of my birth.
We spent her last weekend making sure all of her needs were met, summoning hospice nurses when needed. On Friday, Yaya had said to her regular nurse, “See you Monday – if I am still here.” She insisted that Pete not leave my brother-in-law alone because she felt she was going to die soon. I went back home and brought enough things for us to stay for the weekend. I will never forget the angel of a nurse that God sent both on Saturday and Sunday, who warned us that her death was imminent. Yaya was ready. She had spent the previous weekend giving us her things. She had told me she was tired and that we were going to be okay.
Pete and I each had one of her hands as her breathing slowed to a full stop at 4:10 AM. She was peacefully in her bed, just as she had wished. She knew we loved her and we knew she loved us. I stared in disbelief, as I had been in and out of her presence all week, checking for the rise and fall of her chest as she appeared to sleep. She still looked like she was only sleeping, but now she had achieved full healing.
I knew church today would be strange. I have had many family members die, but this is the closest I have been to the deceased – both for her death and in terms of relation. I always think of Gerard Manley Hopkins Spring and Fall to a Young Child at funerals – with each passing day, and indeed with each passing, my own is closer. In the busy-ness of life, it is easy to forget that we are mortal and one day will take our last breath. I hope not only to honor my mother-in-law’s life, but her death as well.