One year ago today, I sat with family members in my mother’s living room, watching her struggle to breathe. It had been a long road since November of 2021 when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The cancer had reached her brain, and she had been struggling for the past few weeks to carry any kind of conversation or even hold a thought for too long. One of us was always by her side, as she couldn’t do anything alone anymore. That was hard for someone as stubborn as her! She had broken her arm the week before and had really gone downhill since then. She was sleeping a lot, often drifting off while saying the Hail Mary prayer, and she would wake up and yell HAIL MARY and startle the hell out of us who were in the room. It was sad to see, but we were trying to keep her comfortable and keep her from being in pain. Anyone who has been through this knows that the final days become a matter of pain management more than anything else.
Mom was really struggling to breathe, and so we thought it might be time to put her on morphine, so we called the hospice nurse on call, and this young lady showed up a short time after. We didn’t want to administer the morphine without a nurse present. We already had morphine in the fridge, so the nurse got it out and told us how to administer it. We gave mom a very small dose, but it didn’t take long. I think her body was already in such a frail state that the morphine was, as they say, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Mom’s breathing became very slow once the morphine was delivered, and even though it was a very small dose, that’s all it took. She took her last breath within a few minutes of the morphine dose. It was over. The great Shirley was gone. We had hugs and tears and knew our lives would never be the same. Oh, and that poor nurse. We tried to comfort her as well, as she was a bit shaken and thought she had killed our mom. We assured her that mom was on the verge already, and all she did was to help her along. I don’t know what became of her but I hope that nurse is doing ok and has recovered.
We had the service for mom in March, and I had a few minutes to deliver her eulogy at St. Kenneth Catholic Church, where she had attended faithfully for almost 50 years. Here is the text of my eulogy:
Thank you all for coming today to honor and remember my mother, Shirley Anne Williams. My mother loved much and she was much loved. She touched so many lives, and many of you are here today and watching online. Mom was a faithful member of this church parish for almost 50 years; she was also a faithful wife to two husbands who preceded her in death. She was:
- Funny- in her own “Shirley” way – I think we can all agree that there’s only one “Shirley”
My mom didn’t have it easy; she was a widow at age 33 and raised Sheryl and I by herself, until she married Bill in 1981. I am glad she married Bill and they had so many years together. I think I can safely say she had the best years of her life with him. My mom was always surrounded by many friends. I remember when the pandemic hit in March 2020, I called and would ask what she was up to and come to find out – she was delivering meals and supplies to everyone she knew. I was like – mom – stop it. People should be bringing things to you – not the other way around. But she wouldn’t stop. She was stubborn like that.
I am glad so many of you came to see her during the last year of her life. I am thankful for all of you who helped fill her last days with glimmers of hope and joy. She loved seeing and hearing from all of you. Thank you to my family members and all the nurses and caregivers for helping to coordinate everything and for being here with her every other week. Thank you to all the family members who came from near and far to say their goodbyes.
I miss her a lot and there’s hardly a day that goes by where I don’t think of her. Heck, every morning when I look at my Facebook memories, there she is. She liked and/or responded to every FB post I made. Her presence on FB was constant! For the past year, I have enjoyed reminiscing via her FB posts on my timeline. There are some real classics in there, lol.
I must have gotten my sense of humor from my dad because it sure as heck didn’t come from my mom. I remember that I almost always had to explain my jokes to my mom. I’d post something on Facebook such as “5/3 of the math teachers I had said I stunk at fractions” and mom would reply “You were good at math!” and I’d have to explain that she missed the joke – the 5/3 part – LOL. Then there was the time that I mentioned on FB that I was assigned by a teacher to write “I will not procrastinate” on the chalkboard 500 times and I announced that I was finally done. Her response? “I don’t know if you’re kidding or not…” LOL. Yeah, I was kidding. I miss having to interpret my humor for her.
After mom’s memorial service, many of us stuck around and told stories. Here are some I shared:
12 Days – In February of 2020, my drama group back in Indy did a play reading of a play I wrote called 12 Days, and due to the pandemic, that play never got produced. I’m still hoping it will see the light of day sometime soon, but anyway… the play featured quotes from my mom and stepdad prominently. In fact, I named grandma and grandpa Shirley and Bill after my mom and dad. I put a lot of my parents’ quotes in there, as they were known for some really funny zingers at times. Since the play was never done in a theater setting, I decided to send my edited copy over to Kinkos to have it professionally printed so my mom could read it. As she was reading it she kept saying “that sounds like something I would say” and I was like… mom, it is something you said! I told her I had been keeping track of her quotes all these years, lol 🙂
QVC – Back when online shopping was new, it was common to get a call from my mom asking if I wanted something. I’d pick up the phone and my mom would be like, “Do you need a deluxe portable cheese straightener model II?” and I’d be like, what??? I don’t even know what that is! And then she’d say that I need to hurry because there was only 4 left and the sale was over in 90 seconds. That happened a lot. I pretty much had to tell her that I can’t make decisions that quickly, especially if I don’t even know what it is they are selling. Thankfully she got the hint after a little while and the emergency QVC calls stopped.
TV – Television was a big thing when I was growing up, and it still was all of my mom’s life. I remember whenever we’d be on the phone talking to her, she’d have to get off if one of her shows was on. Me: “Anyway, mom, my test results came back. It looks like I will have to have treatment for” <interrupted by mom> “Can I call you back? Blue Bloods is coming on.” LOL. Thankfully the DVR helped that from happening too often. Anyway, mom always felt bad that I had an old clunky TV, so she offered to buy a brand new one at Christmas one year. I reluctantly agreed and then went out to buy it. She had said to tell her how much it was, and I called her and told her it was $900. Then she said: “Ok, I’ll send the first payment this week.” I was like, payment? What is this, the bank of Lloyd? So she explained that she couldn’t afford to pay me all at once, so she’d send it in payments. I tried to get her to understand why that wasn’t right. I said, “Mom, what if I said that I was going to buy you a new car, and you bought it with your own cash, and then I said I was sending my first payment this week?” “Lloyd!”, she said, “that’s ridiculous! I don’t need a new car!” LOL, oh my, I still get a big laugh every time I think of that story.
Big Wheels – When we lived in Detroit, my friend and I decided to play a joke on my mom. We pretended to smash our big wheels together and smeared fake vampire blood all over us. Then we lay under the big wheels and screamed bloody murder, fully expecting my mom to rush out of the house in horror at the sight she would see. Well, we did manage to scream for probably ten minutes straight. A few neighbors came out to make sure we were ok, and a car even stopped to check on us, but no sign of my mom. So, after several more minutes of this, I decided we should run into the house and scream instead. So that’s what we did. We ran into the house and were saying that we had a bike accident and we had blood everywhere and there was my mom, laying on the couch, reading the newspaper. She looked at us, got up immediately, and yelled: “Don’t get blood on the carpet!” LOL… Ok mom, if we die, we’ll make sure it’s outside. We started laughing and it kind of ruined the whole thing. Still cracks me up.
Five Years Old – My mom never quite got that I became an adult at some point. She always acted like I was five years old. Even in her last few years, she always thought I was born yesterday. We’d be driving and she’d tell me to get in the left lane to turn left. I always had a snarky response for her. I told her I didn’t think left turns were legal and I’d always been turning right and doing a u-turn my whole life. She told me to put the car in R for reverse one time, and I told her I always thought R was for Run, and wondered why every car I ever owned always only went backward. Then there was the time we were going to the 4th floor of a hospital and she told me to press 4 because that takes us to the 4th floor. I said I didn’t realize that and that I had always pressed 5 and then walked down a set of stairs. I never thought I’d miss those days, but they always crack me up when I think of them now!
One thing that happened after mom passed was that I had to get into all her online accounts to cancel them. I opened her computer and wrote down her passwords for everything and boy did we all get a big laugh over that! Here are some of my favorites, and don’t worry, none of these are active anymore:
Youscrewedup2 (DTE Energy)
wegetnohelp (HOA space)
goscrewyourself (JC Penny)
OMG, so funny!!! 😂😂😂
And now, for some of my favorite memories that have come flooding back to me in the past week:
Your family and friends sure do miss you, mom! You were a character! And, I’ve said this before and will continue to say it – to all those that knew her – there’s only one Shirley! ❤️
Every milestone is hard. Just plain hard.
And sometimes, it’s a little harder when you start to feel it’s not as hard as it was. That should be a contradiction, but it’s not.
One day it’s the high tides of pressures, of keeping them comfortable, perhaps distracted from their circumstances. The pressure to perform evaporates into the stresses of planning a final celebration, of rehoming possessions, selling an estate, and just saying the deepest hard goodbye.
And from there?
Those tidal pressures withdraw. They wash back into a sea of surreal normalcy that’s neither real nor normal. And yet they are. Now it’s the pressure to mourn, the long quest of grieving, the persistence of memories in place of real moments with them, and keeping alight the fire of legacy.
That’s when it’s a little harder when you start to feel as it’s not as hard as it was.
I guess maybe just a different kind of hard.
And yet all of it, all that pressure and weight, all the ebbing and flowing of such tides are stirred with ease forces above or beyond. Maybe they’re the counterbalance to all that’s been hard…
The best of times from days gone by.
The sacrifices that paid off.
The patience that blossomed into living and unexpected hopes.
The currency of character that accrues interest still, invested into so many other lives.
So, yeah: It’s hard because it was easy, and it’s easy because it was hard. All because we’re able to live in this “both are true” reality where what would otherwise confound us somehow just makes sense. And what you’re written here shows this truth, beautifully so!
And here we are, accepting that it’s upon those tides we must set sail, knowing that the waves still obey the Master’s command.
Thank you for sharing your thoughtful tribute in memory of your mother.
I was quite saddened to hear that she passed away from cancer.
If only we were allowed to ‘script’ how our loved ones depart this earth.
Perhaps their passing might be a little easier to accept.
Your mother was very dear to me. She wasn’t only Shelley’s aunt . I thought of her as a friend.
I fondly remember all the family gatherings.
At those celebrations of life, she would always make a point to sit down right next to and have a little chat.
This chat was more than just a simple hello and how are you doing, type of thing that’s expected at these occasions.
There was a personal connection.
It was just different from the rest of those who were gathered.
She always spoke softly because she always sat right next to me. It was a special kind of a connection.
She was like a good friend from high school. You know the kind of friend I’m thinking about. That kind of friend that you knew very well. The kind of person that took no time to warm up to. Because even though you didn’t see them as often as you would like, you’d always picked up like you had just spoken the day before. There was no getting reacquainted with each other again because we were kindred spirits.
That connection was never lost through the time elapsed or distance apart from one another.
I believe this type of connection is never lost with someone that you love. Regardless of whether they’re here on earth or in heaven above.
Lloyd, Please accept my heartfelt sympathy on the passing of mom.