Tuesday, March 5, 2013

In Loving Memory

...of my mom, JoAn. For those of you who have seen me at shows, you know she was my regular companion.  She was not only my mom - but a great friend as well. She was an RN and a wonderful nurse.  She worked in several different specialties, one of them being oncology - caring for and treating patients with cancer while battling her own disease, breast cancer.  Her final job was working in hospice, once again treating patients in their final days, caring for their families and loved ones and helping them with their grief and pain; all the while dealing with and coming to understanding her own mortality.

Joan K. Gehris
December 29, 1945 - December 5, 2012

Me, my mom, and my sister last Mother's Day at a "Fancy Nancy" party.

I wrote the following letter to my mom several years ago, and share it here to help you understand the kind of person she was.

Dear Mom,

Today in church we had a lady talk about her experience with cancer.  She has stage 3 non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  Not that that’s really important though – what struck me was something she said.  She said that it is wonderful to be a cancer survivor.  Everyone who has cancer hopes to be a cancer survivor, but ultimately, not everyone is.  “But,” she said, “it is much more important to be a cancer conqueror.

I couldn’t imagine what she meant by that, but she went on to explain.  A cancer conqueror is someone who never lets their cancer beat them.  I mean in everyday things – getting up in the morning, going to work, living life as fully as you can while you go through your treatments.  Not holding a pity-party for yourself.  Doing what needs to be done.  Doing things you want to do.  Thinking of and serving others.  Being content in the midst of what can be a horrifying and devastating illness.  Having joy despite the circumstances, and letting others see that joy come through you so it blesses them as well.  Displaying peace through the pain.  If you can do all these things, then cancer cannot beat you.  You have conquered it – it has no hold and no power over you, and though you may still have symptoms and side effects from treatment, you are free from cancer.

What a powerful message that was.  And the whole time she was giving it, you know what I was thinking?  I was thinking, “Wow! That’s my mom to a T!! She is a cancer conqueror if ever I knew one.” 

I know I’ve never said this to you, but I sure have said it to other people I know - I really don’t know how you do it.  I sometimes think if I was going through the same things, I couldn’t be nearly as strong.  Your witness to those around you is a testimony to your strength, determination, positive attitude, and that you can be free from cancer even when you have cancer.  What an awesome way to live life!! 

I wanted to write you this note and let you know what an encouragement you have been to me (and so many others) throughout your experience with cancer.  You have never let it stop you from doing what you needed to do. Throughout the whole process you have continued to work and serve others who were going through some of the same things you were going through.  I am sure this side of Heaven you will have no idea how you have touched so many other people through what you do at work.  You have been a blessing to many, I’m absolutely sure of that.  I really don’t know what other word to use other than “ministry” – it is your ministry to others, and you show them God’s love with everything you do for them.

You have also never let it stop you from doing anything you wanted to do.  I will always remember going bead shopping with you that day while you had the severe radiation burns on your shoulder and neck.

Never once did I hear you complain.  Never once were you cranky.  I’ve never seen you hold a pity-party for yourself.  You display contentment.  You are joyful through your circumstances, and you bless others because of it.  You show peace through your pain. Mom, you have conquered cancer – it has no hold and no power over you.  You are free from cancer.

My prayer is that you will also be a cancer survivor, for as long as possible.  But I want you to know that no matter what happens, you are a living testimony to all those around you of a “cancer conqueror.”

I love you,


It was a very tough fall and winter, and it has taken me quite a while to write this post.  We had been dealing with my mom's cancer for so long (she was originally diagnosed as 42) that it seemed at times she would live forever.  Even though we had her for almost 25 years after her original diagnosis, I have to say the end came much too quickly for me.  I miss her every day, and often think about all the things she will not be here to share with us - things as simple as family dinners and as important as weddings and her great-grandchildren. I have decided not to do any art shows this year, mostly because of my hands and the difficulty I have tatting now; but admittedly because I also cannot imagine my mom not being there with me at any of them.

I know it gets easier with time but right now the grief is still overwhelming.  I still cannot really talk about it without a lot of emotion but it has been good to write some things down.  Thanks for letting me share a little about my mom - is does help to think back and celebrate the wonderful person she was. 


Margarets designer cards said...

I am very sorry to hear your mum has died, my thoughts and prayers are with you at this sad time

Lace-lovin' Librarian ~ Diane said...

Thank you for sharing your mother's story. The loss of a parent is never easy, but I'm glad that you have wonderful memories of her caring and giving ways. God bless you.

Julie Romero said...

I am so sorry to hear of your loss! My Grandmother passed away from cancer just a bit over 13 years ago now. She lived to hold my baby...but she missed so many more such moments. I still miss her today. The memories you have of your mother are priceless...thankyou for sharing and honoring her with this post.

Suztats said...

I am so sorry to read of your mother's passing. No matter how prepared we think we are, losing a beloved mother always comes too soon. What a wonderful letter you wrote her! I am sure she treasured it.
Thank you for sharing a little about the kind of person your mother was. One day, the pain of losing her will be replaced by the memories of wonderful times you shared, and they will comfort you.
Hugs and Blessings....

Randi said...

Please accept my sincere condolences. May God comfort you.

Ladytats said...

Blessings Elizabeth as you continue on this journey called life. That is a wonderful letter to your mother, and I am sure it meant a great deal to her.

Marilee Rockley said...

I'm so sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. The letter is a beautiful tribute. Sounds like she was a very special lady and a wonderful mom.

H J Hess said...

My sincere sympathy. It is hard to lose a parent. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

Kathy Niklewicz said...

Ron and I are stunned and greatly saddened at this very sad news. We send our deepest and heartfelt sympathy to you and your family. I will write soon.

Fox said...

I am so very sorry for your loss. It sounds as if she was an amazing woman.

GraceT said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. But what good memories you have of your mother! Thank you for sharing them. I particularly like the term "cancer conqueror". We're dealing with cancer in my family, too, and that's really helpful to me. I've forwarded your link to the rest of my family.

Thanks, and blessings to you in this hour,


Bonnie said...

Your mother had a great smile. I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing such a loving tribute blog post.

Unknown said...

So sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. God bless... I know it's been awhile, but I've lost my mother too and I understand that pain of loss does not leave easily.