Category Archives: Cancer

Tribute to Mom: Behind The Bucket List Wedding Dress Story

verily magazine

 

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, this is your story…

There are many treasured moments that I shared with my Mother, and then there were moments that have changed me — even though it has taken time for me to truly understand how. I first wrote this piece that Verily magazine just published back in 2012. Part of my grieving process a year after my Mom passed, I wanted to capture the beauty of that experience. My desire was also to have the story published, which I attempted a few times that spring without success. I knew that in its due season it would be shared, but it likely would still be lying dormant in my archives had the Verily Editor not reached out for another story and my husband not encouraged me to give it another shot. I’m grateful to him, and my friends and family that have shown their love and support.

Read, “I Learned the Secret to a Happy Marriage While Fulfilling My Mom’s Dying Wish” here.

BONUS: Scroll down below the pictures for an unpublished bonus part of this story, an exchange that reminded me God’s loving care and tender mercies in the final weeks of my Mom’s life. It is the Year of Mercy after all.

This story really is a tribute to the woman, mother, wife, sister, daughter, Godmother, Aunt, cousin, friend — all of who she was, and the profound impact on our lives and the imprint that she’s left on our hearts. These are pictures captured while I was trying the dresses on for my Mom, as well as a bridal portrait with my Sweet Mother Mary and my Mom’s Rosary, wearing my wedding dress and my birthstone jewelry that she gave me. Also, I had to include a shot with Mary Katherine, the sweet dress shop owner, that made it all possible. {Bridal shot by John Wehlage}

wedding dress hospicemom bucket listmary katherines fine ladiesmonth of maryMary Katherines wedding dresses

STORY BONUS:

…Changing out of the last dress, my heart had expanded.  Humbled, I confided in my new friend, “My mom loves Angels. There are over seventy that she has collected, all over this house. Mary-Katherine, you were our Angel today.”

“No, it was my blessing,” she responded, without hesitation.

“I am a one-year breast cancer survivor,” she told me. She had been a Medical Social Worker for about twenty years, and had served on the Board of Hospice for five years. I was now making it a habit of crying to Mary-Katherine.

Throughout her second battle with cancer that eventually claimed her life, Mom reminded us that we can laugh and find joy amidst the suffering of life. She cherished the opportunities to celebrate life and love in all circumstances. I hardly expected to have a profound experience of love while trying to cross one more thing off Mom’s Bucket List; yet I discovered a love that draws people together and carries them through good times and bad, in sickness and in health.


As it is Mother’s Day, I send love and blessings to all the mothers in their many faces: moms, godmothers, foster moms, adoptive moms, moms-to-be, grandmothers, spiritual mothers. Happy Mother’s Day! I also send my love and prayers to those whose mothers have passed, to grieving mothers, and women who grieve to become mothers – the Lord knows your suffering, may you know His peace.

If you haven’t read my previous article at Verily, 6 Pieces of Hard-Earned Advice I Gained From My Single Years,” check it out.

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Bereavement: A Call for Greater Support to the Grieving

grieving processOne of my older brothers is going through a Master’s program in Theology currently. “Spirituality of Death and Healing” is a class he is attending, which has produced fodder for some riveting conversations. Having lost our dear Mom four years ago today, we have lived through more than I thought I would in my 30’s: Her initial Cancer diagnosis, months of treatments, remission, Cancer re-diagnosis, more treatments, Hospice, her death, and then bereavement.

In the beginning of this past December, my brother texted me something “random” (my use of quotes is due to the fact that if you know me, then you know that I don’t believe that anything is random). In the message, he thanked me for the “tremendous sacrifice” that I made four years ago to stay with my Dad in the last weeks of our Mother’s life. I share this in all humility, as it’s hard even for this writer to share something of that intimate nature into a public space, let alone unpack it’s meaning. But since I know that there are many, many others who have done the same – or will do it, I wanted to use this as means to affirm your choice of caring for and ministering to the dying. There is no other experience that I find comparable to this inexplicable time of suffering, preparation, grace, and indescribable love.

We do what we are called to do, and His grace is always sufficient; yet it can take months, actually years, to work through the aftermath. It was that unexpected text which blessed me in a way that I didn’t know I needed. It was a message to help press on amidst the intensity of what has been swirling around us.

This blessing came after four unplanned experiences of ministering to families of the dying or deceased last year, and right before two more. Without fail, these experiences always reveal new areas of my heart that need Christ’s healing – so it’s a process where I am being ministered too as well. God…He knows how to get things done!

Our own journey has revealed what I view as a deep deficiency in support during the grieving process. My brother and I discussed how the Church is often good at preparing a soul for death (i.e. Chaplains, administering Sacraments, etc), but can fall short in supporting the loved ones after the funeral. As my Mom was dying and right after she passed, many poured out their support – it was beautiful. But people had to go home, as is the case, and get back to the lives. And that’s when it gets tough, as you stumble through the “new” way of life that was not of your choosing.

Looking back, I think I resented that at the time. I was newly engaged, but did not have my Mom at such a time that we had waited and prayed for, for years. Beyond that, a girl naturally wants to plan her wedding with her Mom. Things continued to move forward for everyone else, but our family would never be the same.

I had this form of anger, that I wanted others to understand what the world had lost when my Mom died. That I was coming into a time of my life when I needed her so much, but she was gone.

But things got busy and life had to keep moving. I was sometimes surprised to receive support from the most unexpected people and didn’t know what to do when I felt support lacking from “expected” people in my life. It was a time in my life that I am glad is behind me.

Even four years later, I haven’t gotten over the grief – I’ve just reached a different state with it. Yet the lessons I’ve learned will always stay with me. People need people to show their love and support, to be there, long after the funeral. I believe the lack of this occurrence may have something to do with our culture, and also with the awkwardness of what to say or do to family in the grieving process. Prayers are so important, but mourners need more than that, undeniably.

This became more apparent when I had something to compare it against. My brother shared the Jewish customs concerning death and mourning that he has learned about in his class. The Jews are obligated to recite what is called Kaddish, (Aramaic, lit. “holy”); brief prayer recited by a mourner or by the chazan. “It is part of the mourning observances for a parent, sibling, offspring or spouse for one month, starting immediately upon burial. For parents, the mourning continues through the rest of the year because of the obligation of ‘honor’ in addition to the mourning.” [Source: chabad.org]

The Kaddish is not a prayer for the dead, but rather is meant to help those who mourn.

Think about that. The community surrounds the grieving family and supports them from the funeral, through the first week, month, and year that follow. This is much more than a ritual — it is providing necessary support by bringing the community together on an ongoing basis for those who grieve.

I strongly believe that there is much that our culture can take away from these Jewish practices. I’m intrigued to learn more about “How to Comfort the Dying, Bury the Dead, and Mourn As a Jew”, which can be found in the recommended book, “Saying Kaddish.” It’s on my reading list, and then from there, how to apply it will be the takeaway.

This concept is so critical: To stay, pray, and care for the grieving. Not just for the day, but the Jews stay with them for days, and have set “checkpoints” beyond that. Shloshim, the first thirty days, the Jews exempt mourners from responsibilities of social, business, and religious life. It’s not take the rest of the week off and then back to the grind.

Reaching out to grieving instead of have them find their own way – and to do that in the days, weeks, and months ahead — I believe it would profoundly impact our culture. How much dysfunction can be traced back to the loss of a loved one from which another never recovered?

Personally, I know that there are grieving groups that I could’ve joined at Church, or I could’ve gone to Counseling; but at the time when my Mom died, I just couldn’t initiate or do “one more thing”. It honestly took all my energy to try and make it day-by-day at work and get through 5 months of destination wedding planning. I felt like diving into the loss of my Mom around other people grieving would just open the wound deeper and make me cry more, and I wanted anything but that.

I think friends tried to avoid the topic . I’ve been on both the receiving and giving end of the awkwardness that comes from loss. While this should be an obvious point, I will give a bit of advice: Saying too much is often what will makes things awkward. I know that people are 100% good-intentioned when they try to console, seriously; however, when you’ve just lost someone who meant the world to you, having someone say things like, “Well, s/he’s in a better place” or “at least she’s not suffering anymore” just did not feel comforting.

This coming from someone who whole-heartedly believes in Heaven and is working out my salvation daily in “fear and trembling.” God, I prayed that she was in a better place– but when grief had a fierce grip on my heart, it just felt, well — to me, it felt something someone should say.

Honestly, death and dying are moments when words often fail. I think that PRESENCE is what really matters. Being present to the family/loved ones is what they need. I honestly can’t remember what many people said, but the people that were there, or that made gestures to show their support across the miles – that I certainly will never forget. Maybe the distance is too great, but a phone call, card, text, social media message, or email, any gesture can be a beacon amidst the darkness of grief for someone.

Sitting with someone and letting them share memories, tell stories, or just say whatever they want to in the moment is the gift of being present that means more than anything. Let someone just be, whether it’s sad, pensive, laughing or crying through memories — and believe me, the emotions will be up and down — that’s a gift to the mourner.

Reaching out to that person also means a lot, as many folks may think someone grieving will initiate contact. Sometimes they may, but many can’t remember who told them, “Call me if you need anything.” That’s so vague at any rate to someone overwhelmed by loss. I’d venture to say not to expect someone who is nursing a broken heart to readily call you, wanting to talk about it. Often times grieving brings depression, which means people want to withdraw. So it takes a friend to know when someone has gone deep into the isolation of depression and needs help reconnecting with the land of the living.

There are no hard and fast rules to grieving – it takes on a myriad of approaches. You don’t even know until you are in it how you will deal – and even then, it’s hard to determine what is best for yourself in moving forward. Sadly, many folks are just trying to survive.

I believe it simply comes down to love.

Love is what rescues the lost and brings them back to a safe place to reveal what’s in their heart.

There is undoubtedly a reason that comforting the afflicted is one of 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy. I know that my soul would’ve wrestled with the loss like it was falling into a black abyss without the context of my faith to place it within, and the comfort of those who love me. My experiences certainly haven’t been void of comforters, but they have caused me to issue a call for greater support to the grieving.

Paul Coakley, a young man that I went to University with, passed away this week from Cancer. A 30-something-full-of-life-and-faith man died a few weeks after his diagnosis… Lord have mercy. Even though I didn’t know Paul well, the witness that he and his wife have been profoundly moved me to the point that when I learned of his death I sobbed. Amidst the loss of a young shining light and true adventurer, it has been beautiful to see the community rally around his pregnant wife, young children, and loved ones. I pray that the support will continue to span the months and years to come, as that is when they will really need it.

That is what we are called to – comfort the afflicted. One way to do this is to be present to those who are in mourning, love them, and be attentive as to how God may want to use you to minister to the dying and their loved ones. Reach out to them. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture, but even a small, “I’m thinking of you” could be a light to them in their time of need. Don’t be afraid to speak about the person they lost – share the good memories and things you loved about them too!

This post is the first in a short series on grieving and loss, including the next post by my first guest blogger on her experience with grief after suicide.

P.S. For a beautiful gift to those mourning as a reminder that your love remains, visit Songs of Consolation.

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Celebrating Birthdays in Heaven?

My Mom would have been 67 today. I’m sure her sunny Florida day would’ve involved something kind of like this, with her delicious frozen Margaritas, going to dinner with my Dad and their retired pals.

frozen margaritas

lady lake floridaThis is Mom’s 3rd birthday in Heaven, which has me pondering, “Do they celebrate birthdays in Heaven?”

Hmmm….I can’t quite wrap my mind around it, because it’s Heaven and well, I’m not there (yet!). I mean if you’re in Heaven, you’re infinitely joyful and there are only memories of your time on Earth, right? Standing in the Beatific Vision, seriously, would it even occur to you to celebrate something from another lifetime?

Perhaps they celebrate their birth into new life, into Heaven? In which case, that’s only 2 days away for my Mom…

At any rate, I’m going to do my very best this week to try and celebrate the life we shared with Mom. I’ve made a few plans with friends to keep people close to me who know and love me. I also have some professional development seminars that we’ll be attending, and I’m sure they’ll keep my brain active and occupied. Three years later, the emotions and that missing ache are still real, but so is the love and gratitude for a life well lived.

Do you think they celebrate birthdays in heaven? Let me know what you think…

Two Years Later

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:5photo (15)

IMG_7230Mother Mary, at St. Monica’s, was really where the story of Mike and I began, happening at the same time as my Mom’s illness.

Last night we visited Our Lady, in remembrance of Mom.

A mingling of joy with tears, gratitude, love, petition, thanksgiving…just laying it all out before Our Mama.

Mom and MeMe as a toddler with my beautiful Mom.

We celebrated your birth into this world two days ago. Today, we celebrate your rebirth into another.

It’s been two years without you, physically; but I’m grateful for the 30-something I had with you.

We love you, miss you, and are all better for having known and been loved by you.

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The Circle of Life

“A circle is the reflection of eternity. It has no beginning and it has no end – and if you put several circles over each other, then you get a spiral.”
Maynard James Keenan

It was a restless night at my parent’s Florida home, two years ago.  My Mother was laying in her Hospice bed just beyond the room where I would attempt to sleep. Each day she continued to slip away from our world of interaction, lying on her back, saying little to no words.  She would lie waiting, still, hanging on, as she wanted to see him.

Nine months prior, Mom had been elated as any grey-haired Matron, to hear that wonderful announcement: Her oldest Son and Daughter-in-Law were pregnant! Meeting that baby was high-priority on her “Bucket List”, an important list since her second go-round with Cancer. Since the Cancer was in her bones this time, she knew the only cure was a miracle; yet, she had gracefully accepted whatever God willed very early into her diagnosis. Holding on to see that baby nine months later, I knew she was asking God for it to be in His will too.

Nine months prior, I excitedly thought that by living in the same city as one of my pregnant family members, it was my long-standing chance to be there during the birth of either a niece or nephew! My soon-to-be-husband (at the time) and I already had 8 nieces and nephews, and never had been close enough, locationally, when they were born to be able to glimpse at the wonder of their precious tiny newborness. (Yes, I know, newborness is not a word, but I liked it, so take that, spell check and grammarians.)

Those thoughts came way before everything had spiraled down too quickly with Mom’s health. We had seen what was needed at Christmas: Our hearts had desired to be there in her last days, so we decided not to return to Texas until after she passed. As Mom became more and more distant from the physical world—suffering, and slipping into a spiritual one that I’ve only dreamed about—the excitement and anticipation of baby Jacob’s coming consumed me. The few words Mom would utter during those days were incessantly asking for Jacob. Restless, we did not know then how dangerously close her time in fact was, and she needed to see him.

Jacob didn’t seem too eager about arriving, however. I’ve never gone through that time right before labor (yet), but things seemed slow-going.  Seeing how anxious Mom was getting, knowing that her Hospice Doctor had finally confessed she was in her final 2-weeks, I was anxious about when Jacob would arrive too. I called and spoke to my SIL, who I don’t think had slept in a few days, checking on what I hoped was progress.  Watching my Mother suffer was such a deep suffering for me, and with her holding on to see Jacob, my heart would continue to ache until he arrived and she could “see” him.

My SIL told me that she was doing everything possible to get the labor going, it just wasn’t happening yet. I probably broke down on the phone with her – that was quite common at that time. “Keep us updated, please,” I told her, even though they were. I began praying even harder…come on Jacob, we need you here…

It probably was about 8-hours later, when my brother called.  “Her contractions are about an hour and half apart. I’m getting her bags ready for the hospital…” he said.

Over-the-moon, I exclaimed, “You have to tell Mom the news! She’s been waiting to hear this!”

Turning on the speaker phone, hovering it over Mom in her bed, Paul gave her the long-awaited news.

She laid there, eyes closed, as she heard it. Yet I felt that there was something she wanted to say.

“Mom, what is it? What did you want to say?”

Eyes still closed, “Hurry up,” she said.

The room erupted in laughter. I had expected something profound, but it was funny as usual, even on her deathbed.

I never slept well during that time. The door to my room was always left open, just in case. I had drifted off to sleep for not too long, when I heard my mother’s voice amidst the darkness.

I jumped out of bed to go directly to hers. She laid there, with her eyes closed.

“Seven. Seven. Seven. Seven…” she continually repeated.

I tried to ask her if she was ok. She just kept repeating, “Seven.”

I lingered near her for awhile longer, and after a time, she was quiet. I eventually returned to bed.

A few hours later, very early in the morning, another call came from my brother.

“She’s having a tough time…exhausted…it will be awhile…contractions still not progressing close enough…”was the gist of the update.

“Yes, we will continue to pray,” I promised.

I proceeded to write a prayer request—here on my blog, and on Facebook—asking friends to join me in the quick and safe delivery petition. My amazing friends, as always, responded and prayed. I then went into my Sweetheart’s room, and asked him to pray with me. We both felt inclined to lift our arms, hands pointing towards heaven. A gutsy prayer began to form deep down inside, and forcefully came out of my mouth. In my mind’s eye, I had a vision of Jacob fighting with the Angel, from the Bible. I saw a tug-of-war happening in our prayers for his birth, my Mom as the Angel trying to wrestle him out while he struggled to stay safe and warm in his dear Momma’s belly.

I can’t remember the exact words of that commanding prayer, as things said from the soul are meant to be prayed and not remembered verbatim, but it was something like:

“Jacob! Be kind, and stop fighting with your Mother. Come out!! God, you are the author of life, make it so!”

We laid there, waiting, praying.  And about one and half hours later, not long after SEVEN in the morning, another update from my brother.  After our earlier conversation, some things had rapidly changed. The contractions quickly became so close together that apparently the Doctor could barely get there in time to deliver the long-awaited baby boy. A text came shortly after, with this precious photo. Jacob was here!! This is who we had all been waiting for, but most of all Mom.

Newborn Jacob w Daddy

Crossing the birth of her newest Grandson off of her Bucket List, Mom’s decline now was speeding like a bullet train. Her eyes were no longer opening, her voice could no longer be heard…her soul was still in her body, but that body was breaking down quickly. All I could do was be near her, trying to make her as comfortable as possible, giving my Mother Morphine. It was killing me.

My brother and SIL wanted Mom to see the Baby too. They Skyped with her and Dad, introducing Mom to her Grandson. Her eyes, that had turned inward, struggled to open and see. I couldn’t even stay in the room, it was too much for me.

Everything was happening too quickly. Jacob arrived on January 19th. We celebrated Mom’s 64th birthday on January 21st. The morning of January 23rd, shortly after a middle-of-the-night “Festival of Praise” over her (Dad, my other brother, Mike and I) she was called home.  “For both in life and death, we belong to God…”

There it was, before my own eyes, the circle of life.

After the funeral, Mike and I stayed with Dad a bit more, to help in those first couple painful weeks of the aftermath.

When we did leave what had now become only “Dad’s house”, it was another separation that caused me much suffering and grief. Leaving my Father to his grief, alone in the house that they had built together, the place where my Mother had lived and died. It was the second most tearful goodbye I had ever had, aside from that of my Mother two weeks prior.

I felt like a shell of a human being. Exhausted. Grief-stricken. I was returning home, after over a month, but I didn’t want to be there. I was finally engaged to the love of my life after years of waiting and praying—had wedding planning to do—but even that did not excite me.

On the last leg of that painful 2-day drive back to Texas, we decided to stop by to meet little Jacob. Arriving in their home, hugging, trying to come up with some words, I just wanted to hold that tiny, sweet boy.

Meeting my newest nephew, Jacob Richard, upon our return to Dallas. Holding him was what my heart needed...

A friend called this “Baby Therapy” when I posted this picture, nearly two years ago. Precisely. No Grief Group, book, journal entry, etc…could touch what my heart experienced in this moment. As I held him in my arms, love began to creep back into my broken heart. The feeling was so supernatural, even for this writer, there are no words to adequately describe it.

It’s the circle of life at work, with life well-lived going back to their Creator and new life springing forth to begin living.

A mystery.

A sorrow.

A joy.

In truth, there is no beginning, no end, as the circle continues.

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5 Ways to Beat Breast Cancer

This logo is totally something that would have made my mother laugh, so that’s for you, Mom. But I digress…  I love the beginning of October–there are so many of my favorite Saints to celebrate–St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Faustina…etc.  But the one that I think about and talk to the most, especially in asking for help, is my Mom.  Although it has been 20 months since Breast Cancer claimed her life, I can remember like it was yesterday the incredible attitude and faith in which she fought the good fight.  Breast Cancer took her life, yet she did not let it rob her of her joy, her faith, and her pure love for others–Mom did not let Breast Cancer win!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  I love seeing pink, from the grocery store to the football field, but if I learned anything from my Mom, it takes more than sporting a pretty color to battle an ugly disease.  Learning from the best, here are 5 ways to not let Breast Cancer win.

1) Be honest. Cancer is not like a Common Cold, where one could perhaps carry on a type of normalcy in the day-to-day while addressing it.  Honestly, Breast Cancer is a serious disease with serious forms of treatment.  A gambit of emotions will roll over you and your loved ones throughout the course of dealing with it, and avoiding the feelings is not going to cure or help anyone.  Now that’s not a license to say or do anything, or dwell in what could become a negativity that could suck you into depression; rather, its acknowledging whatever feelings arise — fear, anxiety, loss of functionality, etc — talking about it, praying through it, and moving along in due time.  There were times when Mom was feeling ok with things, and there were times when she was not — and we were able to talk about it either way.  But if someone with Cancer needs to talk, remember to try not to fix everything – listening to someone be honest is what is really important.  And trust me, they will talk about some topics that you would rather not discuss – like being afraid of dying.  Let them. They obviously need to.  And guess what, you probably need to as well.   

2) Surround yourself with love. We all need each other to help us to carry on, but when you are battling for your life, it’s even more important.  Cards, emails, Facebook, phone calls, visits, text messages – there are so many ways to connect with people.  Having the love and support of the people that mean the most to you during this time makes the journey easier – you can share the load.  Note to the loved ones: I encourage you to continue to reach out over the course of treatment – a card, a call, a visit can really lift the spirits of someone who may feel completely awful that day and do more than you know.  My Mom kept all her cards on her bedroom door during her 1st bout with Cancer, and they were a cheerful reminder (especially on a hard day) of just some of the people whose love and prayers were behind her.

The first time Mike met my Mom – a few months after she was diagnosed with Bone Cancer, when the Breast Cancer returned in her bones.

3) Have a sense of humor.  Going through Chemo, Radiation, surgery, or whatever kind of treatment it is, probably will not put you in a joking mood.  Find reasons to laugh anyway.  Besides the fact that laughing and smiling actually lift your mood, losing all ability to laugh or even joke about the situation will contribute to the tendency to want to cry and sink into self-pity.  My Mom had a great sense of humor, and that made a huge difference.  I remember one time, a side effect from the Chemo made her voice sound super strange for about a month.  They finally figured out that in losing all her hair – yes, even in her nose – it was causing a post-nasal drip that ended up making her sound kinda-like that little Poltergeist lady.  We were talking on the phone, and I was trying not to laugh to avoid hurting her feelings, but I couldn’t help it.  My laughing made her laugh, and we just laughed for a few minutes straight on the phone.  I told her I was sorry as my laughter dissipated, but she told me that it was good – she hadn’t laughed that hard in awhile, and it was what she needed.

Attitude is what changes up the game.

4) A good attitude is crucial. The TV host Brian Lacy said, You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you. How true that is. At the beginning of my Mom’s second bout with Cancer, the majority of her kids and grandkids went to be with her.  She planned a “surprise” for us not long after we all arrived, telling us to meet by the side of the house in our swimsuits at 1:00 pm.  There were bottles of whipped cream for everyone to squirt on each other, dozens of eggs for an egg toss, and coolers full of water balloons to pelt – it was time to get dirty and have some fun!  For whatever reason, she had always wanted to smash a pie in my Dad’s face – so that’s where the whipped cream became especially fun for her.  Afterwards we swam in their pool, and she shared that she wanted to show us that we could laugh and have fun, even during hard times.  

5) Keep the faith.  Never, never, NEVER let go of hope!  If there is nothing to believe in, to hope for, to me, the battle would seem futile.  The miracle we all pray for is healing, but for whatever reason, a physical healing may not be part of God’s plan.  Not having faith, a bigger purpose, would have made this journey 100% more difficult on my Mother.  Mom was a woman of faith throughout everything that life brought her, so Cancer was nothing different.  Her journey brought some very hard times, definitely; but despite it all, I did not see her waiver.  I never heard her curse God for allowing her to get Cancer twice, never saw her walk away from the Church (when she couldn’t leave the house, she would watch Mass on EWTN and have a Eucharistic Minister bring her Communion), never witnessed her stop living her faith, never did she turn away from the Bible or stop praying, never watched her let go of a bigger purpose that her suffering could serve.  She eventually came to be at peace with whatever would happen, and kept the Faith to the very end. And in my heart I know that the Angels carried her home to a Father who said, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come, and live in my Love.” 

I saw the impact that these 5 things had–not only on my Mother, but on those around her–and can say most undoubtedly that Breast Cancer did not win.  People were inspired by her, they loved her, they wanted to be near her.  The Doctors told her that she could come back to the office anytime to talk to patients during their Chemo, because her way made people feel at ease.  She taught me all of this, so I thank her and dedicate this post, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in memory of Eve Sanchez.

Now, go and do your part to “Save the Ta Tas”!

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Today We Celebrate Her Life…

I imagine that it was a cold, January day in Detroit, 1947, when little Eve came into this world. She was the first of four beautiful girls born to Anthony and Helen.

Family Photo: Tony and Helen, my Grandparents, are both 2nd from the Left

The blond curls of her tow-headed youth faded at some point to the short, brown hair that we always knew.

My Mother’s Graduation Photo

So too, her shyness as a girl later gave way to the chatty-with-anyone Mom that sometimes made us, inpatient children, sigh in exasperation in the grocery store line.

Little Me & Mom

Yet she showed us how to love, just by being who she was.

Simply by taking the time to have a friendly conversation with a stranger, or bringing a glass of cool lemonade to a worker in the yard, or giving her freshly, baked goods to the staff at Dentist office, or making her Fluffy Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes when your friends came over…all her simple acts of love were saying “you are special”. Such a beautiful reflection of God, who provides so many little and big ways to let us know of His love and care for us.

She made us laugh by making herself laugh.

She would thoughtlessly shake her foot on the bed as she tore through the paperback pages of her library romance novels.

She would tell you all the ingredients, measurements, and instructions to a recipe that you didn’t realize you wanted.

She would say, “Better let you go,” at least three times around the end of a phone conversation before she actually would let you go.

She would have your favorite meal on the table when you came home for a visit.

She spent many evenings playing cards or board games.

She would befriend someone that she just met outside a movie theater.

She loved us incomparably.

As did we.

My Parents on their Wedding Day

Our family in the great outdoors – as usual.

Grandma & Friend, with Four Daughters & Son-In-Laws

Mom spent every Christmas with her Grandchildren

Mom loved to be with her family. Family Reunion 2009

She would play games and/or cards on a dime

She loved her daughter-in-laws like her own

Spending time with family was always a priority

Always making something delicious from scratch

She took a surprise like a champ. My airport surprise when she was going through Cancer treatments the 1st time

She had a good time wherever she went

Mom + Dad = Witness of a loving marriage

Her humor and faith brought her through everything. At the games she secretly organized, after found out her Cancer had come back. Mom showed us we could laugh, even in the hard times.

She was able to meet my Sweetheart, and get to know him a bit…

Beautiful Mom, inside and out

Whatever she was made, it was bound to be gooood

Many family meals together…

She instilled the Faith in us that kept her strong

Loved her sisters, and shopping. Sporting her stylized Converse – fashionable, and Doctor-recommended 🙂

Beloved and loving Mom, thank you.

It is the first time that we are celebrating her birthday without her physically present…tough stuff. Not a day goes by that we don’t think of her or miss her.

Mom, it gives me peace that you are forever happy and whole now. You ran the race with endurance, rest in the greatest Love of all now.

As for us, today we will celebrate your life, that gave us life; the joy that brought many joy; and the love that made others feel so loved.

Love you, my Mom, my hero.

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Painting for Mom

Painting for Mom

Inspired by my Mom, this was my submission for the 2011 Artists Competition

I could talk about it, or I could paint about it.  So paint I did…

Indeed, this was a stretching exercise for me.  I’ve drawn using various mediums since I was a kid, but painting has been a virtually untouched medium for me.  I was discovering the seemingly limitless world of Acrylics mostly as I went.  Thankfully I was blessed to have the support and supplies of loved ones.

The Catholic Foundation has done a competition for Artists for the past 6 years.  This time I actually found out that I hadn’t missed the deadline about a week or two out.  So I started to toss around ideas of subject matter. Should I go edgy – do an urban jungle?  What is appealing to those who will be judging?  Then it came to me…for centuries Artists have been expressing their emotions in their work.  This could be used not only as an opportunity to express some of my grief, but also to pay tribute to my beautiful Mom.

The painting is entitled “Cloud Dancers.”  It was inspired by my Mom’s love for Angels (she has left us a huge collection of them) as well as her love of dancing.  I always loved watching her and my Dad dance- to think of it still makes me smile – how they glided almost over the top of the floor, embracing each other, in the rhythm of the song, smiling…

To finalize my composition, I took my sketch book to St. Catherine’s adoration chapel 5 days before the deadline, and I asked Mom and the Holy Spirit to guide me.  How do you look now?  How do you want to be represented?  I kept coming back to Degas’ dancers, and various pictures of angels and dancers.

I picture her now running across the clouds, using her legs like they had never not worked.  She is in her prime, experiencing more joy then my heart could know this side of heaven.

Here are a few notes from moi, the Artist:

My Mom is the yellow figure in the middle – such a bright and joy-filled Spirit.

Mike’s brother, Tony, who passed away in his early 20’s is on the left.  His pointed finger leads us upwards to the Father.

And on the right, is my beautiful Grandma, Luisa Sanchez.  She was such an example to me, and many, of unfaltering love.

It’s amazing how a piece of art can not only reveal what is in our hearts, but can also help us to also get in touch with what it is feeling.  So even if my painting is not selected and my Mom doesn’t dance on a mural in the Dallas Art’s District, nothing is lost.  I have pushed past where I was:  In my art, in my expression of self, as well as where I was in my emotional life.

This painting gives a message to her too.  “I love you Mom.  Keep dancing on the clouds for me until we meet and dance together again…”

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After the Loss…a Brief Update

Okay, so it’s not just me, right?  I’m just gonna put it out there.  It’s not meant to be a vent, but more of an observation – so please read it through that “lens” if you will.

Sometimes it can be either a blessing or a pain to try and give a true answer to the standard American greeting, “How are you doing?” Especially when it has just been “one of those days”, and the inquiry is paired with a concerned scrunch of the brow, a shoulder rub, and a knowledge that your Mother recently passed away and you’re trying to plan a wedding about 3-months-and-8-hours-south-of-my-current-locale away.  But then if people don’t acknowledge it, it feels like, “Why aren’t they saying anything about that smelly, fat elephant in the room?”  Ugh, let’s simplify it, let me share with you here the latest and not so greatest, but real deal answer.

Honestly, friends, it can be a moment-by-moment or day-by-day fluctuating thing. Mom went back home to Jesus only 7 short weeks ago.  Mike and I left my grieving Father and came back to Dallas about 3 1/2 weeks ago.  It’s obviously still very fresh, mainly uncharted territory, stumbling along on the vast tundra of grieving.  Even though I don’t see the end in sight, and I don’t know when the ache will lessen, I know that she is eternally happy and where she is supposed to be.  That knowledge doesn’t dull the heartbreak, it just puts it into an eternal perspective that can bring peace.

My Mom was a fantastic Mother, and it’s still hard to be at peace with the fact that she won’t physically be present at our wedding…holding the children we hope to have…helping me pick out color schemes for our future home…etc.  Of course I know that she is with me and no longer bound by space and time, among the Saints specially interceding for me and all of our needs.  Some days that is a comfort, and some days it still makes me weep, to be completely honest for those who have been wondering how I’m doing.

The more I travel along this part of my journey, the more that I discover what a tricky thing grieving is.  I can talk and laugh about a memory of Mom one night, and the next morning I can bust into tears at the thought of shopping for Bridesmaids dresses without her.  But I love a conversation that I was blessed by this week, with a Nun that I have never met up in New York.

I had that blessed conversation via phone with this Religious Sister about work-related things; and before I knew it, we began sharing from our hearts.  I confessed that my Mother had recently passed  away, and she began to comfort me by just being herself.  She had such a beautiful spirit…I could even tell that through the phone.  Her words of compassion, based on experience from losing her Mom, and filled with wisdom, brought such love to my little wounded heart.  God continues to show me that even though I can’t imagine where He will send blessings to me from, He still does.  It can be a total “stranger” or a trusted friend, and anyone in between.

I am still navigating through this, but learning how to better utilize the tools I’ve been given, and to lean into an incredible support system all around me.  By God’s grace, we will continue to move forward.  It has been a long and hard week for me, I won’t say that it wasn’t.  The wedding planning is still slow and ardous right now, wrestling with vendors and what not to get some of the major decisions nailed down.  There is tons of new ground work being laid in every single area of my life, all at once.  Yes, I get overwhelmed at times.  All I know is that I am in good hands.  That much I know.  Oh, and I also know that God will not lead me into something that will be detrimental to me – He wants good things for me, as His child.

Thank you again for asking how I am, whether it be via email, Facebook, text, a card, or through your prayers – please don’t stop.  Just realize that one day I might smile and say, “good”, while the next I may give a little more melancholic expression with a, “hanging in there.”  I truly am a mix of both my parents, with the smiling-optimistic Mom part of me, and the more passionate-melancholic side from my Dad.  Thank you, God, for finally sending me a man who can truly handle both my ying and my yang, and still loves me because of them, not despite them.

The real key to all of this is said so perfectly in this Matt Maher song.  I found this video on YouTube – the editing may appear a little rough in some spots, and the song, “Letting Go”, is longer and even more meaningful; but the horses have a lot of significance for me and it’s a beautiful short.

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A Life Well Lived: My Mom’s Obituary

Eve Marie Sanchez

January 21, 1947 – January 23, 2011

Praying for Mom

Our Family Praying Over Mom after her Diagnosis

Eve Marie Sanchez, 64-years-old, died on Sunday, January 23, 2011, at her home in The Villages, Florida. After her valiant fight with Breast Cancer in 2006, Eve’s battle resumed in May 2010 with Stage 4 Breast Cancer that spread to the bones. Her strong will to live, unwavering faith in God, and the love and prayers of family, friends, and many supporters carried her through 4 more months of grueling Chemotherapy. Yet even throughout her own struggle with Cancer, she reached out to others affected by the horrendous disease in many ways, including: 4 American Cancer Society Relays for Life, 2007-2010; Support Groups with other Survivors; participating in John Hopkins Cancer Research Study, and even just comforting others sitting nearby receiving their Chemo treatments simultaneously.

Eve was born on January 21, 1947 in Detroit, Michigan to Anthony and Helen Perlaki. The oldest of 4 beautiful girls, her sisters – Karen, Nancy, and Susan – still live with their spouses – Bob, John, and Wally respectively – in different areas of Eve’s home state of Michigan.

Known for her ease in frequent conversation with even total strangers, some may be surprised to learn of the extreme shyness of her youth. Yet even as a child, she possessed a contagious smile and an entertaining sense of humor. Throughout her life she maintained a sweet and simple demeanor that won the trust and hearts of many, who even now are being changed by her witness of constant nurturing love and faith. Her signature gift of joy, shown through her constant smiling, laughter, and joking around, will never be forgotten.

After graduating from Allen Park High School and working as a Secretary, she met her Sweetheart, Richard Sanchez, during a summer camping trip. The couple was married the following year on August 19, 1967 at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Melvindale, Michigan.

Married for 43 years, Eve & Richard raised their 4 dear children, Paul, Jeffrey, Christopher and Lisa over the years in Inkster, Livonia, and finally in Dearborn, Michigan. Possessing a true servant’s heart, Eve faithfully cared for family and friends through delicious cooking/baking from scratch – including cake decorating, sewing and crafting. A woman of faith and the heart of the Sanchez family, Eve shaped their spirituality by her tireless Christian example, and also through various Catholic Charismatic prayer groups and activities. With a real zest for life, Mrs. Sanchez loved to dance, write, read, pray, bowl, play games/cards – especially with her Grandchildren, chat with friends and family, and travel…just to name a few.

After the couple’s retirement in 2000, they built a house in The Villages near several of Eve’s brothers and sisters-in-law, and later many close friends. She loved to go on outings with her Red Hat Society and eat with friends through the Enrique Dinner Club.

Her surviving family members are numerous, but mainly include:

Husband of 43 years: Richard P. Sanchez

Mother of 4 Children & Partners: Paul and Pilar Sanchez, Jeffrey and Annette Sanchez, Christopher and Jennifer Sanchez, and Lisa Sanchez and fiancée, Mike Martinez.

Grandmother to 6: Daniel and Abraham Moreno, Jacob Sanchez; Alyssa, Jon, and Annalyse Sanchez

Immediate family: Mother, Helen Perlaki; 3 Sisters and Partners: Karen and Bob Hayward, Susan and Wally Green, and Nancy and John Bialowicz

In-Law’s: Bob and Virginia Sanchez, Joe and Barbara Sanchez, Pete and Carmen Bava, Mary and Bob McIntyre, Virginia and Doug Atha

Other family members: Unfortunately too many beloved cousins, nieces, nephews, and God-children to list or even count.

Visitation information for friends and family of Eve Sanchez: There will be a Memorial Service with a Rosary led by Deacon John Sullivan at Hiers-Baxley Funeral Home, 1511 Buenos Aires Blvd, The Villages, FL 32159, on Wednesday, January 26, 2011 from 4:00 – 7:00 pm.

The funeral Mass will be presided by Fr. Gene Weis at St. Timothy Catholic Church, 1341 Paige Place, Lady Lake, FL 32159, on Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 10:00 am. Pallbearers include: Paul Sanchez, Jeffrey Sanchez, Christopher Sanchez, Mike Martinez, Joe Sanchez, and Wally Green, with Bob Hayward, Jon Sanchez, Abraham and Daniel Moreno, as Honorary Pallbearers. A luncheon reception for the family and close friends will be held at St. Timothy’s Parish Hall immediately following the Funeral Mass.

For more information, please call: Hiers-Baxley Funeral Services of The Villages, Florida at (352) 753-8353

Memorial donations can be made to:

  • Communities of Prayer in Dallas, Texas: A Memorial Fund to be set-up in Eve Sanchez’s memory for the organization Lisa Sanchez, her daughter, is helping establish. Checks payable to: Communities of Prayer, 1303 Hillsdale Drive, Richardson, TX 75081, or online at http://communitiesofprayer.com/donations
  • The American Cancer Society, Marion Unit Office, 2201 SE 30th Ave, Ocala, FL 34471
  • Christian Foundation For Children and Aging, 1 Elmwood Ave, #301, Ocala, FL 34471, for the child from Venezuela, Edgardo Alfonso Suarez Hernandez, that Eve and Richard have financially supported.
  • Yet, beyond financial donations, Eve always lived by the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you would like to be treated. i.e. Do a loving act of kindness, make someone laugh, send a card, give a hug, or say “I love you” to your special friend in her memory.

The family is deeply grateful for the outpouring of love, prayers, and support in many heart-felt forms from too many people to name individually, but including: Hospice – the amazing Village Team, family and friends – either through prayer and/or visits, neighbors, and even random acts of kindness through total “strangers”. A special thank you to Mary Catherine, owner of an Ocala Bridal Shop, who helped Eve cross one life-long dream off of her bucket list: She brought 10 dresses to her home in order for her to shop and buy her newly engaged daughter, Lisa, her wedding dress.

The urn that Eve’s earthly remains will be held in nicely sums up, in one sentence, how fondly she will be remembered: Our Angel that lived, laughed, and loved.

This is the Obituary written by yours truly, Lisa Sanchez, in honor of my dearest Mother. It is my tribute to her memory, which will be carried on in the legacy of love which is now each of us – the lives she formed and touched by her love.


NOTE: All funeral arrangements and details can be found on my Mom’s page with the funeral service we are using, Hiers-Baxley.

Messages, donations to preserve her page, online “candles”, pictures, videos and the like can all be left there at that page,

which is: http://www.hiers-baxley.com/obituaries/Eve-Sanchez/

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