On February 15, 1998, just two months and four days after a diagnosis of lung and liver cancer, my Mother, Darlene Huseth, passed from this life into the arms of Jesus. I recall the following phrases so that I might never forget the pain and the joy of those last months together. These days created a richness between family members she had been crafting since we were born. Each quote brings to mind a story of our last precious days together in this world. Just as the pendulum swings both ways, the pain of this chapter must be faced to reap the joy and the clarity of Mom’s message to us. She left a well-lit path for us to follow: one of integrity and honesty, of commitment and toughness, faith and good judgment, and most of all, fun and of love.

November 1997: “Darlene, I heard you have pneumonia. I’ll bring a meal. How about some nice turkey soup?”

December 11, 1997: “The tests show a mass on my left lung and some spots on my liver. We are going to Rochester for further tests and a second opinion.”

At Mayo Clinic: “What do you mean, you don’t have my mother’s records?! The clinic in Minneapolis assured us they’d send them!”

“Well Darlene, as your oncologist, I can only say that it could be this. It might be that. It looks like this. It could respond to that. You may have six months or a year. Every patient reacts differently. No one really knows for sure.” [We just want solid information. We just want to know what to expect. Talking to doctors feels like talking to their attorneys–like they have been forbidden to give a straight answer. They know exactly what to expect, but they won’t exactly tell us. Must we rely on bootleg information from friends in the medical field?]

“Darlene, the tests are back…”

“Doctor, I’ve been thinking. I’ve watched friends my age go through debilitating treatments for cancer. For what? Maybe an extra 18 months of misery? I’m not so sure I want to undergo treatment if the outcome is inevitable.”

“It’s a good thing, Darlene, that you feel that way because this type and location of cancer won’t react to chemo or to medication. We can try radiation, which will not cure it but may only shrink it temporarily.”

Back home again:

“We have had a good, long life together. We have had some good times and some not-so-good times. I’ve done some good things and some things that were not so good.” [Silence and then tears, but not her tears.]

“Yes, Donnie, and you know I have forgiven you for those things.”

“Whatever happens, I want you kids to know that your Dad has been an excellent caregiver. He has been so good to me. While I’ve been sick, he has had to do everything, you know. He has been so good to me. I want all you kids to know that.”

At the doctor’s office:

“Wow! Any history of diabetes? Your blood sugar is over 400. Get to the hospital right away! Someone can bring your things later.”

At the hospital: “They told us they would fax mom’s chart over … that it would beat us here! I’ll take care of this! Give me that phone!” [Solveig, the youngest of five, begins to take charge.]

Back at the doctor’s office: “Miss, is there a problem?”

“I don’t know. I’ll let you know in a minute.” [Solveig thumbs through each x-ray and film, examining them to make sure she’s been given the right ones. She’s been down this road before and now knows that their word cannot be trusted. She snarls to herself. Getting information from doctor to doctor in 1998 seems to be more difficult than space travel!]

Back at home: “Oh, Darlene! We’re sorry about the news and brought you some delicious soup.” [Meals miraculously begin to appear at the door each evening.]

At the hospital for radiation treatment: “Why yes, Doctor, I am limping. I fell in the hospital last week and bruised my leg.”

“Get down to the admitting room right away! You have a blood clot that could let go any time!”

New Year’s Eve at the hospital: “Darlene, we are very sorry to tell you the radiation is having no effect on the mass. We’ll tap the lung to drain the fluid. We will set up home hospice next week. They’ll make sure you’re as comfortable as possible. You can call on them for anything. By the way, don’t dial 9-1-1. Call hospice instead. When you call 9-1-1 they are required to resuscitate.”

God made us and provides us with all we need to live and die without fear.

The first weeks of January: “If you need anything—anything at all—don’t hesitate to call me. But by the looks of your support system [medical term for a family], I probably won’t be seeing you again. I usually am called back to families who, shall I say, aren’t as well adjusted.” [The hospice psychologist makes us feel as though we somehow are going to make it through this.]

“I’ve taught you kids how to live. Now I get to teach you how to die.” [Mom begins to prepare us for things she knows are to come.]

“Come on over here and let me brush your hair.”

“Oh, Mom you don’t have to brush my hair.”

“Well, it’s not like I have anything else to do.” [Holly’s eyes are puffy. The tears flow freely that day. The reality sets in that Mom’s days with us are numbered. Mom comforts her middle daughter running the brush through her blonde hair. Sitting at her feet, Holly knows this is a moment frozen in time. She knows in that instant that she will keep this moment in her heart and treasure it always.]

“We brought you some nice hot soup and some cookies. Let us know if you need anything else … anything at all.”

“We brought an entire turkey dinner, complete with wine. Care if we join you?!” [There is no shortage of food or friends during these days.]

“I am so glad we had that big party for our 50th wedding anniversary. What a wonderful day that was! It was even better than our wedding reception, after all, that was mostly our parents’ friends. Our 50th was a tapestry of relationships we had built over the years, just 400 of our closest and dearest friends. What a memorable day that was.”

“Which would you rather say? ‘My mother handed this down to me’ or ‘This was in my ma’s things when she died.’” [Cleaning out drawers and closets become an obsession for Mom these days. She has certain possessions in mind for certain people, and she wants to make sure they get them. Perhaps she feels this is the only area she has any control over, and she is going to exercise it regardless of our protests.]

“I can’t possibly take your wedding ring now—not like this.”

“Well, what do you want ME to do with it?”

“It just doesn’t seem right. Wouldn’t that mean you’d be living in sin?” [Mom replied with a crooked grin.] “I am already hooked on morphine, and now I’m living in sin? Hmmm, sounds like more fun than I’ve had in a while.”

“I want you to have this scarf. Remember when we bought it together in Norway two years ago? We looked at dozens until we found this one. Oh, I am so glad we took that trip together! What a memory! That is something we’ll have forever.”

“Has the mail come yet? Someone go check the mailbox.” [God thinks of us always. His messages are often received through the mail in the form of hundreds of cards and letters from friends and family; some long lost friends, some relatives from across the sea, some past co-workers, some everyday next-door neighbors—but each note carrying a message of love and prayers and shared grief for our Mother and their friend. Mail call is the centerpiece of each day.]

[There is a peace in the house these days. It is a peace that can only be absorbed by being near Mom for long periods of time. The peace she feels is real, and it is contagious. It is a peace that says for a Christian there is absolutely nothing morbid about the thought of death. On the contrary, it is like getting ready to go visit your very best friend.* The more time we spend with her, the more peace we feel.]

January 19: “Happy Birthday, Ma! We all wrote letters to you for your birthday, telling you on paper what is hard for us to choke out.” [Reading these letters from Dick’s family is one of the only times I saw Mom tear up.]

“My, you are really a good-looking young man!” [The well-dressed, Tom Cruise-looking oxygen man, explaining the new machine to Mom is taken by surprise and blushes.]

“Which book should we read from tonight, Mom? The Great House of God or I’m Thinking of You?”

“They are both my favorites. You choose tonight.”

“Oh Mia, what would we have done without you? We are so glad you are here.” [Her oldest daughter traveled from her home in Indiana to be with her mother during these precious weeks.]

“Yes, tell them they can come; but just two at a time and only for 15 minutes.” [No matter how weak she feels, she never tells anyone to stay away. Regardless of their intentions, she knows they are not coming to visit a shut-in or bring a casserole. She knows that God sends them to her so that she can minister health to them, a beautiful spiritual health that usually sends them home reeling.]

[They say that in the moments before a man dies, he often sees a vision of his wife standing in the door waving him in from the snowstorm. But when a woman nears her moment of death, she sees her mother bidding her welcome.]

The first weeks of February: “Mom, were you there when your mother died?”

“Yes, it was February just like it is now, and Solveig was a baby, not yet a year old. Your Grandpa Tody was out, and Ma was lying on the couch, very weak. Your Dad was holding her hand. The baby started to fuss, and she told me I should tend to her. Just as I walked out into the kitchen with the baby, my Ma slipped away. Your Dad was holding her hand. He cried and cried. He loved her so much. They were so good to each other.”

“I am not going to cry! I am not going to cry! Not in front of Mom! Not every single day!” [Mia stands in front of the bathroom mirror admonishing herself to be tough. As she returns to her mom in the living room with dry eyes and a perky smile, she is struck by just how well the new baby monitor picks up even the slightest sound from the other end of the house. So much for her tough façade!]

“You know, there is a certain excitement about being this close to someone who is going to see heaven so soon.” [As she gives Mom her last haircut, Bonnie from St. Bonnie chatters away. With tears in her eyes, she gives Mom the nicest haircut she has had in a long time.]

I continue to pray for a miracle until it is certain that God has another plan for you.

“Squeeze my hand, Ma, squeeze my hand. Ohhhh, you’re strong today. Very strong! Do you feel good? Do you feel better? I think you’re stronger today, right, Ma?! Right?!” [Her second son, Dick, is still in denial about the terminal part of his mother’s condition. Positive thinking and enthusiasm only go so far when dealing with this adversary, this invader called cancer.]

“Ma, how am I going to know how to live without you here?! How can I make it through each day without our morning phone call? You are so damn strong! How can I ever be that strong?! We get our strength from you—we get our emotion from Dad—but we get our strength from you. I don’t want to cry, but I just can’t help it! I am so damn mad! You, of all people, should not have to suffer. You should not have to endure one minute of pain. You of all people!” [This is a turning point for Dick. The floodgates have opened, and it is a good thing.]

“Cry. Go ahead and cry. It is good to cry. You are going to miss me when I am gone. Go ahead and cry. It is good to cry.” [Again, she ministers to us. She gives us permission to begin to grieve.]

“Yes, that’s the one. In The Presence Of God is the song I want the choir to sing at my funeral.” [Mom’s eyes fill with tears as she listens to the demo tape.]

“Hi, Grandma! I want you to see this. I am writing a book for you. So far I only have the dedication written. Want me to read it to you?” [Dayna made a special trip to show Grandma her words.]

“Is that Karl on the phone? I want to talk to him. Karl, I just want you to know how much I love you and appreciate you letting Mia come up here for so long.”

“Oh, that’s ok. I love you too, Mom.”

“But, Karl, I love you more.”

“You know, I think you might be right. I think you do know the true meaning of the word, LOVE, better than anyone I know.”

 “Goodbye now.” [Short of breath now, all her conversations are brief and to the point.]

“Goodbye.” [That was the last time Karl and Mom spoke.]

“Dawn, this lace and pearl piece was worn on the wedding gowns of the first daughters in our family beginning with my mother. It is now yours.” [Darlene’s oldest granddaughter accepts this precious heirloom.]

“Nick, I want you to have this solje I bought in Norway. You must only give it to the girl you marry. And you may only marry someone as nice as your Grandma.” [The Norwegian Solje is the traditional and beautiful sterling silver jewelry worn with the national costume, the bunad, often at weddings and other special occasions. It means “sun-catcher” because it has many tiny spoons that reflect the rays of sunlight.]

“I have so many great memories of Grandma’s house. Remember the surprise drawer in the red bedroom, where we got to choose one treasure to take home every time we came for a visit?”

“One thing? You only took one thing?”

“Why yes, of course, didn’t you?” [Dawn loved choosing one special item each visit to Grandma’s house. Dayna smirked remembering how she somehow ended up with more than the one allowed treasure at each visit.]

“Make sure you and your Dad wash the living room curtains while you are here. They need washing, and it takes two tall people to re-hang them when they are wet. Promise me you’ll take care of that next week before you go home, okay?” [The living room curtains and valance were custom-made from Danish embroidered lace and sheer fabric. We had shopped for them together after she saw similar ones in Norway in the 1970s. She made me promise never to tell Dad how much they really cost. They were VERY lovely.]

“What do you need? Do you need anything? How about something to eat? Do you need some more medicine? How about some fresh water? How about …? Do you want …?” [We all circle her endlessly, trying to find the key to her comfort. She is so polite in her answers, but sometimes she has that look in her eye, like, “Just leave me alone – I don’t need anything – really!” Sort of like that famous line from the movie, Midnight Run, “I’ve got just two words for you….Shut the eff up.”]

“I can’t breathe! I need to sit up. My side hurts. I need to lie down. Get the frozen peas … my neck is so stiff.” [Her complaints are few and far between. When she does complain of pain, we soon learn to multiply by a factor of four to know how she is really feeling. Trying to manage the various pains is like trying to put an octopus to bed. What worked yesterday isn’t working today.]

“I love all you kids so much. You have all done such a good job with your lives. You are such good kids and have married so well. Carleen has done such a wonderful job with those children. And Larry is such a good husband and father. Mark is so good for Holly, I am so happy they found each other. And Pat, oh how we thank God for Pat, who could be better for Hans. And Karl at home with the boys, not many women could go away and leave their kids and their homes in such good hands. He is a good man. All you kids have done so well, I am so proud of each of you.”

Valentine’s Day weekend: “I feel there is a little child in the house.” [Mom sits in her blue recliner with her three daughters hovering around her. Where once there were little children in and out of the house all the time, there haven’t been ‘little’ children here in months. Her children, yes. But we are no longer little. The hospice nurse explains that it is very common for patients near the end to sense the presence of a little child. It is almost like a little angel, waiting to escort them to the next world.]

“I’m not sad because I am dying. I am sad to leave you, but I’m not sad to be dying. Thank goodness it’s me and not one of you. If it were one of you, I’d be very sad plus I’d have to be in charge.” [It is good Mom is going first before any of her children or her husband. That way, we get to wait on her hand and foot instead of her having to care for us. That way, she does not have to endure these feelings of despair and helplessness, watching one of us battle some relentless disease. We’re thankful that she gets to go first. In a strange way, that is her reward. Great is her reward.]

“Let’s make coffee and exchange Valentines. So what if it’s the middle of the night.” [The tenderness between Mom and Dad has entered a new dimension we have not witnessed before. The pain and anxiety come to her in increasingly intense waves, and it is Dad she asks for when it is at its worst. They now communicate on an entirely new level, a level it took 53 years to build. Sobs shake his frame as Dad reads aloud the Valentine he chose for her.]

[Friday night is a very difficult night. No one gets much sleep. Up at midnight making coffee and breakfast, and reading valentines, Mom spends the rest of the night in the recliner so she can breathe more easily. By morning her tailbone and neck are sore from sleeping in one position. Dad plays solitaire by the kitchen table until she is asleep and then retires downstairs to dig through old 8-millimeter home movies. Watching them must have been a comfort to him in those quiet hours before dawn. By this time, we begin to abandon diabetes testing and treatment. It no longer seems relevant. Managing the pain and soothing the anxiety become our top priorities.]

“I dreamed about Paul Huseth’s mother last night.”

“Hilda? Well, how is she?”

“Why, dead, of course.”

“Look, there is Grandma Tody! Rewind it. Look, there she is…can you believe she didn’t spill that cup of coffee?” [Saturday afternoon, the living room is filled with bodies sprawled this way and that, watching the home movies Dad found the night before. Right in the center of the room is the blue recliner with Mom sleeping a sound yet fitful slumber. Her color is changing. Her eyes are changing. Images of our dearly departed move about the screen along with little children–those children, now grown and sprawled about the room. Are we are trying to torture ourselves, watching these flashes of carefree days? We laugh and cry as the grainy figures scurry across the screen in fast motion. Christmas. Birthdays. Vacations. Another decade. Another place. Another time. The same family. But today we try not to move in fast motion. We try to slow the clock’s ticking in hopes of holding this enemy called cancer at bay. But the clock is relentless. It just keeps on ticking, no matter how hard we brace ourselves against it. It just keeps on ticking. Ticking.]

“Do you think my husband could sleep with me tonight?”

“Why sure, Mom. After all, it is Valentine’s Day.”

Sunday, February 15: “Mia, call all the kids. Tell them to come today. I want the blue cotton dress. That one right there! The COTTON one! THAT cotton one!” [Guests are coming. She wants to be presentable.]

“Tracey, if you are coming sooner or later today, could you please make it sooner? We want you to talk to the nurse. You know what we need; you speak the nurse’s language.” [Our longtime neighbor and family friend was a nurse.]

“Why yes, she does have a cooler cotton nightgown. I’ll get it.” [DUH!! That might help with the night sweats she’s had for weeks! HELLOOO!!]

“Why yes, we do have a fan.” [Why hadn’t WE thought of that?! We don’t have a clue, do we? What would we do without Tracey’s nursing degree?!]

“Give Alex his Magic Quilt today.” [The Magic Quilts were handmade by Mom for each grandchild for their high school graduation. It was guaranteed to have a prayer in every stitch, and guaranteed to make you feel better after snuggling up in it.]

“Thank you, Grandma, I love you.” [Teenage boy tears— the worst kind.]

“Everybody, come in. Let’s pray together.” [It looked like a Norman Rockwell painting as we all crowd around her bed, praying and weeping.]

“Everybody out! Two at a time! Two at a time!” [Time and space have become distorted, but she is still in charge.]

“Why are you listening to that baby monitor? Is it good for you to listen to this?” [With tears streaming down their cheeks, the grandchildren hover around the monitor.] “It’s terrible, but we can’t stop…we can’t help but listen to what is going on in her room.”

“Give me the baby. Is the baby OK? I don’t want to hurt the baby.”

“That’s not a funny joke. Why do they think that’s funny? It’s not!”

“Am I really a Christian?” “Do I really have cancer?”

“All three of you are pregnant now, right?”

“I’m so hot.” “I am so chilled.”

“I can’t seem to get any air.”

“Is it time for more medicine?” “I need more medicine.”

[Inadequate supply of oxygen to the brain is causing confusion. Fluid-filled lungs are causing panic. Inflammation of the liver is causing sharp squeezing pain. Increasing doses of morphine are given in an attempt to suppress these symptoms, but it’s not working well enough. Mom is now in and out of a fog, while the biggest battle of her life is raging within her. Regardless of how ready the mind and the spirit are, the body fights to hold on. It is excruciatingly painful to watch. We all feel so helpless.]

“Pastor is here. Everyone, come back in. Please pray Pastor, that all this commotion leaves my head.”

“You know Darlene, Satan never gives up. And he works hardest on those he can’t have.”

“The Lord is My Shepherd. I shall not want. He leadeth me beside green pastures. He leadeth me beside green pastures. He leadeth me beside green pastures. He leadeth me beside green pastures …. ….”

“Jesus, come and get me! Why doesn’t He come? He’s not coming, is He?”

“I feel hungry. Maybe I could have some Corn Flakes.” [Corn Flakes!! We all jump up and trip over ourselves trying to get to the kitchen, throwing together a bowl of cereal. She eats her Corn Flakes – almost a whole bowl! She seems to be rallying a little!]

“Nurse, when should I change the catheter?”

“You probably won’t have to change it. But morning and night, that’s the general instruction. It’s probably in for the duration. I wish all my patients had care like this … families like this. Such excellent care … such love in action.”

“Tracey, where are you going and when will you be back? Oh, just across the street for a minute? Could you make it half a minute? You’ll spend the night? You’ll take the first shift? Great! What would we do without you?”

11:20 PM, Sunday, February 15: “Mia, Dick, Dad … you better come in now.” [Tracey woke us gently. Solveig was already in Mom’s room.]

“She is unresponsive. There is a little thread pulse, but it is fading fast.” [Thank God for Tracey being there with us – she is so calm.]

[Then quietly our Mother just slept away. She breathed slower and slower and slower and then didn’t breathe again. Mom was there when Solveig took her first breath, and now Solveig is there when Mom takes her last. Gathered around her bed, we sob out loud, not holding back, not trying to regain composure. We just sob. Shoulders shaking. Tears falling. Noses running. We sob.]

“She was a good woman, a good wife and mother. There will never be another like her.”

“That isn’t Mom anymore. It’s just an empty vehicle. She’s not in there anymore.”

“She’s with her Ma now who she hasn’t seen in 36 years. That’s the only good part of this. But I’m going to miss her so much!”

“She’s healed now, and free of pain, with Jesus. She can breathe, and she can run. Her ankles aren’t weak anymore. Her neck isn’t stiff anymore. She can fill her lungs when she laughs. She has perfect pitch when she sings.”

“Hello, Cremation Society? We are ready for you to come now.”

[As they prepare to move the body from her deathbed to their vehicle, we all gather in the living room and promptly get the giggles.]

“Are those two of the strangest-looking guys you have ever seen?”

“Do you think the night shift always sends one real tall one and one really short one?”

“Do you think the short one is really that pasty white or is he wearing mortician makeup?”

[We should stop giggling, but we can’t. Mom would be giggling too. She maybe is at the very sight of us. ]

“Do you think we should let Mom ride with them all alone in that Suburban?”

“Holly, did they scare you when you saw them standing in the doorway?” [Holly was by herself at Mom’s bedside when they arrived.]

“Holy shit; did they ever!” [We dissolve into uncontrollable giggling and the tears roll yet again.]

The next morning, February 16:

“We can’t forget to wash the curtains this week.” [These are the first words out of Dad’s mouth on his first morning as a widower.]

“I sort of felt like if I kept holding on to her hand, I would feel her spirit travel through me on the way up…but I didn’t. I think she may have floated out through Dad’s room whispering, ‘Don’t forget to wash the curtains.’” [Solveig didn’t leave Mom’s deathbed from evening until she was gone.]

At the Cremation Society Chapel, we read all the memorial verses, but this is the one that got us:

“God saw you getting tired,
    And a cure was not to be,
    So He put His arms around you
    And whispered, “Come with Me.”
    With tearful eyes we watched you suffer
    And saw you fade away.
    Although we loved you dearly
    We could not make you stay.
    A golden heart stopped beating,
    You’re now at peaceful rest.
    God broke our hearts to prove to us,
    He only takes the best.”

“Sprinkle my ashes over the airport. When you die, your friend, Earl, promised to sprinkle yours there. That way we will be together again one day.” [Dad tells the story of Mom’s wishes for her ashes over and over to anyone who will listen – and breaks down in tears every time.]

“I should have come yesterday, but I guess I didn’t realize how close it was. I guess I really blew it, didn’t I?” [Hans had Sunday commitments and had planned to come over on Monday, but it was now Monday and he was feeling really sad. What a difference a day makes.]

“No, no, don’t think that. It really went so fast at the end. There was no way of knowing.”

“Let’s all wear Grandma’s hats to her Memorial Service!”

“Great idea! Lets!”

“On the way over here, I turned on the radio to hear some dumb announcer talking about some stupid Olympic hero. I turned it off, with a loud CLICK. Shit! What the hell do they know about heroes? They don’t know a f—-ing thing about heroes! They didn’t know our mother! What made me think I could go to work today? I fell apart every time anyone said, ‘Good Morning. I had to get out of there, but it’s funny how I seem to feel much better now that I am here at the house.” [In the days that follow we are all drawn home to the kitchen table like moths to a flame, fearing that we might get short of breath if we are gone too long. If we do leave, it’s in packs, to run to the store and then to get right back. It is an indescribable power that draws us there. Maybe the power of family (the in-laws did not feel the same pull). We wonder aloud, “What do people with no family do at times like these? Do they suffocate?”]

“You know what’s interesting about the last two months? This is undoubtedly the most stress any of us have experienced, yet none of us ended up with that nervous twitch in our lip. You know, our genetic ‘Elvis Presley’ twitch?” [This condition has plagued most of us at one time or another during times of stress, but not this time. It should serve as a lesson to us. Stressed as we were, we talked about it a lot, received a lot of concern and support, and we cried many times a day, perhaps releasing the stress that normally would bring out the ‘Elvis’ in us.]

“I think I’ll shampoo the carpets today. Hey, need some help hanging up those wet curtains? Oh, that looks great, just perfect.” [Dick pitches in. The valance is all bunched up at one end of the rod and barely strung across the other end. No wonder Mom wanted Mia here for this!]

The phone rings: “Hello. This is the hospice coordinator. We were all so sorry to hear about your Mom. She went so fast, but at least it is a comfort to know she is no longer suffering. All of our staff members who visited your Mom commented on what excellent care her family gave her. If only all our patients could have such love and care in their last days. She knew you were really there for her and that made it so much easier for her. We are calling to tell you that the hospice program provides grief counseling for your Dad and for the whole family for up to two years. Someone from our bereavement team will be calling your Dad next week. We automatically classify him as ‘high risk’ because of the length of their marriage. This will be quite a lifestyle change for him. Any of you may feel free to call us at any time at no charge.”

“Yes, I knew what your mom liked — and I also knew what she didn’t like—carnations for instance!” [The shopkeeper is more than a florist. He knows Mom personally from years of filling her orders. What a blessing he is to us.]

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU ATE THE CASHEWS?! WELL, FIND THE DRESSING. IT’S THERE SOMEWHERE! NOW YOU WILL HAVE TO STOP AT THE GROCERY STORE AND BUY MORE CASHEWS! I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU ATE THE CASHEWS! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? THE DRESSING HAS TO BE THERE! YOU HAD TO OPEN IT WHEN YOU WERE SEARCHING FOR THE CASHEWS—WHICH YOU ATE! [Why am I red-lining over this salad? And, my goodness, isn’t he being nice about it?!!] THEY WERE BOTH PART OF THAT VERY SPECIAL SALAD. IT WON’T BE RIGHT WITHOUT THE CASHEWS AND THE SPECIAL DRESSING!” [Hello Bereavement Team? No, I’m fine … really. I can handle holding my Mother’s hand when her heartbeat for the last time. I can handle making arrangements for her cremation. I can handle the inept doctor’s office staff, who can’t figure out how to work a fax machine or call FedEx. I can handle wheelchairs, bedside commodes, needles, oxygen machines that sometimes don’t work, pain medicine, and lunch cut into little tiny pieces. I can handle my job, my family, and this crisis. I don’t need someone to talk to. I JUST NEED YOU TO GO TO MY HOUSE AND FIND THE DRESSING FOR THE CASHEW SALAD!!! No really, I’m fine.]

“Why is everyone stealing Grandma’s stuff? Mommy, can we have a treasure from Grandma, too?” [Walker and Jackson, ages five and seven, are puzzled by family members helping to clean out some of the closets and cupboards.]

“Can I come with you? I want to see how you do this.” [Mandy had been away at college when she got the call that her Grandma had passed. Now she was home and didn’t want to miss a thing. From the planning of the funeral, shopping for flowers and funeral clothes, hanging out around the kitchen table … every step brought her closer to the Grandma she already missed.]

“Where is Grandma’s wedding dress, anyway?”

“I don’t know … I’m pretty sure it fell to pieces and was thrown out years ago.”

“Yes, Daddy told me the sad news. Grandma’s dead. When he told me, I had a tear in my eye. I miss her already.” [The little ones catch barely a glimpse of the sadness in the house. It will sink in slowly for them over the coming months.]

“Grandma wanted you to have your Magic Quilt now, even though you don’t graduate until next year.” [Darlene was Micah’s third Grandma—no blood, but a family bond, nonetheless, running deep and true.]

[Mom left strict orders: The service should be joyful, joyful, joyful – none of that ‘poor Mom is dead’ stuff. We followed her directions and it truly was a joyous affair.]

February 19, 1998: The Service to Celebrate the Life of Darlene Hildegaard (Christenson) Huseth: February 19, 1998, at 7:00 PM. Lutheran Church of the Living Christ, Chanhassen, Minnesota. Over 500 people attended (church capacity of 300). Way over fire code, but we’re lucky; the fire chief’s mother was there! Thirty-nine flower arrangements on the altar and another 14 in the narthex. Cars filled the lot and then were parked illegally up to 1⁄2 a mile away. The ushers and elders served coffee and brownies to the police who then directed traffic. Near each door, baskets decorated with flowers were filled with 300 flower seed packets tied with pink ribbon labeled: Blooming Darlene – Take One. A collage of hundreds of pictures of Mom was proudly displayed. To begin the service, we sang the chorus, Majesty. Karl sang, I Bowed On My Knee and Cried Holy, If You Could Only See Me Now, and The Lord’s Prayer. The choir sang In the Presence of God. Mom always loved to hear her church choir sing and specifically requested that they sing at this service. I read an essay I wrote for her years earlier, entitled Bridge Construction. When I read it to her the week before, she asked me to read it at her funeral. The local paper published it as part of her obituary. Pastor Norman Ruthenbeck delivered a warm and personal message based upon another essay written in 1991, entitled Temporary Tents – Permanent Altars. The daughters and granddaughters wore Darlene’s hats, and looked like a million bucks! Mom had asked that the service be held in the evening so that folks would not have to miss work. By the time it was over, people who hadn’t known her wished they had. The presence of the Holy Spirit, energy, as some of them called it, was overwhelming.

What a tribute! What an event!

“Yes, there sure are a lot of people here tonight. I have been to church here on Christmas Eve, and it looks to me like Darlene has more friends than Jesus.”

A friend of Solveig’s sent us the following letter after she attended the service: As I was driving to the Memorial Service for your Mother, and turning onto Lake Street, I realized I had traveled alongside several of the same cars for many miles. Normally you see the traffic turning onto Great Plains to go to the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre, but instead we went a little further to give tribute to a special person, your Mom. I was amazed to see a line of cars just waiting to reach the church parking lot. I’ve never seen this before. It reminded me of the end of the movie, Field of Dreams, where you see the headlights of hundreds of cars winding for miles. It was so touching to see how one person touched so many lives. So now every time I watch that movie, I will remember your Mom. She too had headlights winding up the hill like it was her escort into Heaven. I am sorry for your loss. She will be greatly missed. Love, Jody

“The wonderful thing is that Grandma set the tone for all of us. Now we all know how to leave this world with grace and dignity and faith. We all know exactly how we want our funerals to be: A celebration of our life. Grandma showed us how.”

[Dayna comes sliding across the dining room hardwood floor where she stops and twirls around. Her eyes are dancing. Her smile is beaming. It looks like the white gown has been tailor-made for her young slender body. She could not have been more tickled if she held the winning lottery ticket in her hand.] “Check it out! I found it! I found Grandma’s wedding dress! It fits perfectly! I have to wear it when I get married! And soon—before I gain any weight! Quick, I have to find a boyfriend!”

“Well, I guess it’s time for bed. We’ll all sleep well tonight. This evening feels more like a party than a funeral.”

[Dad heads off to bed thankful for all the action in the house this week. He knows that next week the silence will be deafening.]

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