Eulogy (Shorter)

23 Aug 2007

Thanks to Grace for her assistance with editing. This is a shorter version of the eulogy that reflects more closely what I read at the funeral.

_It seems like I’ve been up here a lot recently. Just under five years ago [in September, 2002], I read some verses from Corinthians for my mother’s wedding to Dick Zahner. Then not even two years ago [in March of 2006], I read a eulogy for my grandmother’s funeral. Now I’m back to read a eulogy for my mother. This all has happened very quickly. You may be wondering just what happened. I’m still trying to figure it all out. So, I wrote this letter to my mother and I wanted to share it with you.

Dear Mom,

In the past few years, whenever something happened in my life, good or bad, I always got the urge to call you and bring you up-to-date, reassure you, and get your reassurance and advice. For the past few weeks, I’ve had that urge to call you constantly, because a lot of big changes have been happening. Now I can’t call you, but I can still write you a letter. I can’t mail it to you, but here is what it says.

The big news is that you have died. This was quite a shock to everyone. It happened very quickly. You had a lot of things going on — oxygen masks, IVs, all kinds of doctors and nurses, and lots of family members with worried expressions. It must have been very confusing, especially at the end, so I thought I would explain to you what happened.

About three weeks ago, after a short trip to Chataqua, New York, you were exercising with your friends at the YMCA. Things didn’t feel right, though; you complained about a feeling of bloating and pain in your abdomen. You said that you must have eaten something that didn’t agree with you. You were only a few days away from your regular follow-up visit with your doctor. But when you called and told him about the problem, he suggested you go to the Emergency Room immediately.

From that point everything started moving with frightening speed. You had a CAT scan, and it showed tumors in your abdomen. It isn’t exactly clear whether these were caused by cancer cells from the breast cancer or whether it was new ovarian cancer. It doesn’t really matter much at this point. It would be easy to get very angry at your doctors and blame them for not spotting it earlier. However, this kind of cancer often has no detectable symptoms at all until it is very advanced. And I remind myself that the treatment you got two years ago restored your health and gave you two good and enjoyable years that you would not have had otherwise.

Next you went down to the Magee-Womens hospital in Pittsburgh for some tests. The plan was to find out what was going on and decide how to treat it. But your pain got rapidly worse. They admitted you. I spoke to you on the phone a couple of times; I was making plans to come on the weekend with my family, and trying to arrange with my father and brother to do the same thing. But then we got word that you had been moved to the intensive care unit, so we moved everything into high gear. We arrived in Pittsburgh the evening of Thursday the 9th of August, and came to visit in the middle of the night.

In the ICU, you were not doing well. You had your eyes tightly closed. It was a frightening environment. It took a while for us to find out exactly what had happened. You had a a partially collapsed lung, and fluid building up. It was hard for you to breathe. You had pneumonia in one lung. You also had some sort of kidney infection. But with tubes and antibiotics and a lot of moral support over the next day or so you improved. You were able to sit and talk with us. We talked about how you were doing. We told you about our families and how well everyone was doing. We talked about dying and what we thought it might be like, and what you believed and we believed would happen to you after you died. We told you we loved you.

You were moved back into a regular hospital room. Over the next couple of days you had a lot of visitors — your husband Dick, your step-daughter Carolyn, my father Richard, my brother Brian, your niece Linda, and Grace and the kids. We arranged for people to stay with you around the clock. We read to you, talked to you, or just held your hand. Often one or two of us would be in your room and another one of us would be asleep in the waiting room next door. For a few days your condition went back and forth: you’d improve a little bit; but you’d get worse in the middle of the night. The tests the doctors had planned to give you were postponed again and again.

At one point the doctors considered putting you back into the ICU, but you didn’t want to go back there. What you wanted was to leave the hospital and go up to a nursing home in Erie, so that you could die in a more comfortable place, surrounded by friends.

This brings me to the point of talking about your wishes. You made clear both in your written directives, and verbally, that if there was no chance of recovery, you did not want invasive procedures or extreme measures. It is one thing to check some boxes on a form, but I think it is quite another thing to realize that it is time for these directives to be carried out. I was, in fact, awed by your bravery.

So, we next focused all our attention on trying to get you moved to Erie. My biggest fear was that you would die before we could get you there. But on the morning of Tuesday, August 14th, the ambulance crew came and took you to Erie. I rode in the front of the ambulance with the driver while you were in the back with the nurse. For me it was the longest chunk of uninterrupted quiet time I had gotten since leaving for Pittsburgh, and I finally broke down crying for a while.

Once at Manchester Lodge, all of your IVs and needles were removed. You no longer had the heavy, uncomfortable oxygen mask. Instead you just had a simple tube in your nose. You were able to visit with family and friends. We got round-the-clock visitation going again — which was easy, since so many were so eager to come and support you. Carolyn came back and brought Alicia. You had live music and grandchildren. You had a couple of good days.

You gradually became weaker. Your heart rate went up and your blood pressure went down. You began to accumulate more fluid in your lungs. We carefully monitored your medication so that there was no possibility you would be in any pain. The decision was made that you could not receive anything more by mouth to eat or drink. On Saturday evening, at about 6:30 p.m., you died. It was as peaceful and graceful a death as we could make it.

I just want to say a couple more things.

First, the way you faced your death was an inspiration to me and to everyone around you.

Second, while you had your share of doctors with poor bedside manner and nurses who treated you like an annoyance, there were also quite a few people who were very kind to you. The hospice nurse who was with you on your last day was wonderful. The palliative care physicians in Pittsburgh were wonderful. They spoke very calmly to you and asked you if you had any unfinished business. You said that you wanted everyone to know that you loved them.

Finally, I just want to thank you. You were a single mother in a difficult time. You had a hard and complicated life. You raised me and my brother. You did a great job. You re-married and brought new fathers into our lives. You cared for my stepfather Wence, and you cared for your mother, and you cared for your husband Dick. You enriched the lives of everyone around you. You had a lot of friends and you were well-loved, and you still are.

We’ll go on. We’ll miss you terribly. I wish you had gotten more time to enjoy your grandchildren. I wish we had gotten more time to spend with you. You said that you were concerned about the state of the world. The world will go on. It will be OK. We’ll be OK. And we know that you are OK now too. I’ll see you again, before too long. And I’ll be in touch.



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