Yesterday, we said farewell to my mother, and celebrated her life. The following is my “eulogy”, if you will, that I gave, and just wanted to share it with those who could not be there.
She was born Cheryl Lynn O’Connell, on August 14th, 1949. It’s to my understanding that she was a vibrant child, full of life, always with a smile on her face. I can attest that her smile remained on her face, no matter what adversity life decided to throw at her, and there were plenty. It’s funny, because I was just getting to a point, in my writing, where I was forming questions to ask my mom, to get to know more about her childhood, high school, and young adult years … Knowing that her time here on Earth, was coming to an end, there are things that I just didn’t know about her, and thought that, maybe if I do an interview with her, I would have the answers to my questions about her life, and be able to pass that information along to her grandchildren … Unfortunately, my time ran out, as I was busy being her caregiver. A job I knew I would be great at, but at the same time, left me very little time for anything else, and, I wouldn’t trade that time with anything else in this world. It was my honor to be for her, what she’s always been for me.
As a child, she loved to cheer, dance and sing … But most of all, she loved to laugh. Her smile was enough to light up any room, and it makes me sad, how her smiled slowly disappeared, over these last 8 years. It makes me even more sad that my Marissa, only knew her Grandma like this, and anyone else who may have met her during this time, as this was not the woman who raised my brother and I. Her laugh was infectious, and her smile so bright and warm. She loved a great joke … and even a stupid one. I thank her for this, as it has been passed down to me. I love to laugh, and I love to smile, and there is no better medicine, than a stupid joke!
When my parents separated, she was faced with a hard reality … “How am I gonna support myself, and my two children?!” … At the time, she was a part time CNA, at Andover Nursing Home, and decided to go to school, to get her nursing license, and that she did. I remember being so proud to say that my Mommy was a nurse. I recall the countless times I would visit her at work. I would ask “Who doesn’t get visitors?!” and that’s who I would spend my time with. Making sure they weren’t lonely, even if only for a moment. I watched in awe, how my mother interacted with her patients, and how she would bring smiles to each of their faces … even the grouchy ones, and remember thinking how special she was. Not every person is born with compassion, which is actually a crazy thought to me, but know first hand, for this to be true. I’m not sure if compassion can be learned, but if it can, I most certainly know where I get mine from.
When my mother decided to leave NJ, and move to NC, because NJ was getting to be too expensive, I thought I was losing my world. Not gonna lie … I was mad at her. I had just had Morgan, my first marriage was going down the pooper, and what the hell was I gonna do without my mother being right down the road … In my adult life, through all it’s trials and tribulations, I have lived without my mother, maybe, 4 or 5 years, total. I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive, with her being 600 miles away.
Luckily it didn’t take long, before I moved down to Hickory, when my first marriage flaked, and had nowhere to go … there she was, with open arms, waiting for me, Seany and Morgan. We spent 6 ½ glorious years in NC. When my children had gotten to be a little older, I felt that I never wanted them to think I kept them from their father, so I made the hard decision, to move back to NJ, so he could be a bigger part of their lives. Now I was leaving her, and I felt awful, but knew I had to do it for my children. Fast forward two years from when I moved, and I got that dreaded phone call … “Stephanie … The biopsy is positive, and I. Have. Cancer. Stage 4, Vulvar Cancer …”
I remember thinking to myself … “Of course you do … Of course you do because I moved away … How am I supposed to take care of you being 600 miles away?!” My heart broke into a billion pieces on that September Day, in 2010 … But I put on a smile (along with my big girl panties) and said, “What do you need me to do?” and with that, between my brother and I, we got her through 6 weeks of aggressive chemo and about 3 months of radiation. Then in January of 2011, I flew down for a month, to help aid in her recovery from her vulvectomy surgery to remove the tumor. Mind you, Marissa was a new born, and always in tow with me, while my older two would stay with their father, and step mother, at the time, so I could be with my mother. It took a village, but we got through it all … I would feel bad for my husband, being that Marissa and I would be gone for weeks at a time, but we got through it!
It was when my mom came to visit for Marissa’s first birthday, that we decided to ask her if she would consider moving back to NJ, so I could better help her. She had lost her job, thanks to cancer … She really wasn’t able to make ends meet, and all I could think was, this is MY TIME to do for her, what she’s always done for me. After a few talks with my Saint of a husband, it was and easy decision, for us, we just needed to convince her. Luckily, it didn’t take too much convincing, and she moved up here with us, in November of 2011.
I was so happy to have her back in my proximity. It was a tough pill for her to swallow, as she had been so independent for so many years. Regardless, it was now my time to help her, in any way that I could.
Fast forward a few years, all things had been okay .. standard drs appts, and what not, until June of 2017, when her dr saw a suspicious lesion, that needed to be biopsied, and of course, came back positive in July. “What do we do now?!”, I asked her dr. Being that my mom’s first surgery, in January of 2011, had been so invasive, causing her to have a colostomy bag indefinitely. If they were to do another tumor removal surgery, they would have needed to take a ⅓ of her urethra, causing her to have a catheter, as well, and since her colostomy caused her to have two massive hernias, there simply wasn’t a spot to put a foley bag, so surgery was not an option. Radiation, was not an option, as well. She guided us the best she could, and my mother decided that she would go through chemo treatments, one last time. If it works, it works, if not, she decided that she would go untreated, and whatever happens, happens.
She started her treatments in September, once the kids were back in school. Every Tuesday, she and I made the trip to Berkeley Heights, 3 weeks on, 1 week off. We would listen to Howard Stern, and laugh … She loved Howard, almost as much as I do. Now when I listen to him, I smile, and think of her, and how many laughs we had together. She would tell me that I could easily be the female version of him, and that I should try … I would just laugh and say MmmmHmmmm!!!
January 23, 2018 was my mother’s last chemo treatment. The doctor had noticed that her tumor looked a little bigger, which now meant that the chemo was no longer doing its job. Which also meant there was nothing left that we could do. To make a long story, short, all resources had been utilized, and my mother needed to make the decision to stop treatment all together, and try to enjoy whatever time she may have left, which was hard to determine, at that time. The doctor could not give us any prognosis.
It was at this time that reality hit me, and I knew that it was only a matter of time, before we lost her. It was also at this time that I was going to start paying attention to her “lasts” …
When babies are born, we naturally look for all of their “firsts”, right … Their first smile, first giggle, first word, first roll over, first steps, first EVERYTHING … But no one tends to notice the lasts of anything, more so because we don’t know they are happening. So, I know that my mother’s last time in my car was on May 2, 2018 for her very last dr’s appt with her Oncologist, I know that the last time I physically helped my mother up the stairs, was on June 1st, 2018, after she got home from the hospital … I know that the last time she was herself, full of life, was the weekend of June 2nd & 3rd, I know that the last time she had the best hamburger EVER, was June 3rd, the last time Marissa laid in bed with her MoMo, was June 14, at the hospice house … The last time I helped her shower, was June 18th, The last time she smiled and joked with me was on June 18th, when I accidentally dropped my water bottle on her leg, and she said “Don’t worry, I have another one,” as she smiled and went to sleep, and that was the last thing she ever said to me … The last time I spoke to her was June 22, around 1:15pm, when I told her that I’d be right back, I just needed to text Stephen … I sent my brother a text at exactly 1:20, saying that it wasn’t a good day, and that if anyone up above, had any compassion for me, it would be today ..
She took her last breath at exactly 1:20 pm … as my sweet Morgan witnessed.
So, I guess my message to you all, is this … Remember the firsts, remember the middles, and please try to remember the lasts … Even though you don’t really know when they are happening, try to pay attention, and then they won’t be hard to forget. The big things, the little things … they are all amazing things, as long as you pay attention.