The memory of a mother's love for her family remains with us for a lifetime. My own mother gave me her greatest gift almost two years ago, and on this anniversary, I continue to be forever grateful.
Marge Zdravecky was an active, energetic and independent 85-year-old widow, the neighborhood matriarch who organized picnics and parties, served as the treasurer of her seniors' club, and worked every Friday night at the Slovenian club dance hall, talking about her lucrative bingo outings and Steelers football.
When she confessed to having some abdominal discomfort in late summer, she put off a doctor's visit until after she completed chairing her church's annual banquet. On the Tuesday after Labor Day, a diagnosis of terminal liver cancer was dropped on us like a bomb. An unapologetic referral to hospice for home care came with it.
Shocked into silence, we all began our individual journeys through the stages of grief. But "Marge in Charge," with a few tears and her rosary, took on her last big event: the business of planning the end of her life.
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News travels fast through little towns, and friends with food began arriving -- five kinds of chicken soup that first week. Mom received her visitors and their gifts with hugs, resignation and an occasional toast of pear brandy. It was simply her time.
The local funeral director is a trusted confidant in these parts, and she received one of Marge's first calls. Mom arranged her own service schedule, picked out her favorite pink outfit to wear (but was emphatic that her shoes be removed before burial so she wouldn't be uncomfortable!) and wrote the check to pay for it all -- with strict orders to us that there were to be no unbudgeted upgrades.
As a member of the funeral choir, she selected her own musical pieces and the soloist ... . I was there to witness their tender conversation. She even hand-picked her own team of pallbearers who would carry her -- no man could turn Marge down!
She sat at our kitchen table and wrote her own obituary. She hired the caterer and planned the menu for the post-funeral luncheon where 150 of her friends would gather, bringing their finest home-baked desserts in her honor. And she reminded us to leave a big tip.
She reviewed her will, divided her assets among her
three children, assembled insurance documents and carefully divided her treasures among her grandchildren. And when hospice and the priest showed up, she was graceful and attentive, but they all knew who was running this show.
As the nurse in the family, I had the ultimate privilege of caring for Marge during her last week. She insisted that I sleep in the hospital bed while she stayed in her own, she refused any medication because she didn't want to get addicted (really, Mom?) and most of the medical equipment, walker, bedside commode, sat idle.
On Thursday evening, my best friend and I sat on her bed reminiscing and gossiping. And on Monday evening she was gone... five weeks from diagnosis to death, surrounded by her family.
No one had to panic. There were no decisions to be made. With our grief we also had our lists of contacts and numbers, and we implemented it all with her directions.
Marge's final event went off without a hitch. In her final days, "Marge in Charge" had given us the gift of knowing what she wanted. And as this second anniversary approaches, and the ache of loss continues, I take comfort in knowing that she planned it all, so that we could all be spared by her greatest gift.
I miss you, Mom.
Barbara Zdravecky, 30-year resident of Anna Maria Island, registered nurse, mom and CEO of Planned Parenthood, can be reached at email@example.com. She encourages you to have those tough conversations with your loved ones.
COMING NEXT SUNDAY: Emma Taylor, an aspiring writer who has returned to Manatee County after college, writes about looking to her roots for guidance and inspiration as she navigates through her 20s.