Monday, October 04, 2010


Writing this post feels like it should provide some amount of closure to the grieving process, but as I think about what to write and begin to type, I realize that my grieving will take longer.  I am learning that my body will not let me grieve all at once.  It comes out in little bits here and there, sometimes voluntarily because I am stopping to take time to think about her and other times involuntarily because something reminds me of her or we do something that I know she would have loved to do and now I don't get to share it with her.  I am learning that grieving is unique to each person and that there is no one, right way to grieve...that the amount of time, the process, and emotions associated with it can vary greatly from one person to the next. 

So this post is no longer about ending the grieving, but more about remembering the amazing person that she was and sharing with you how she changed me.  I know it is long, but please take the time to read it.  It means the world to me.   Thank you.

Mommy C

Donna passed away on Thursday, September 16, 2010.  She had fought the cancer for almost 5 years and did so with grace and strength that I can only describe as "miraculous".   In those 5 years she rarely had a day that she didn't feel well enough to get out of the house.   She continued to travel to see family, volunteer, do lunch with friends, work in the yard, play out in the wilderness, and her life.  She put a new face on what a cancer patient looks like and it was inspiring.  Her whole life was inspiring...

She was an occupational therapist when she got out of college, then she moved to the hospital's Mental Health Unit where she worked as an occupational therapist and then as the Director.  Quite honestly?  I think moving to that Mental Health Unit changed the course of the world.  So many people were touched by her work there.  I know because they came and told us so during the calling hours.  There were patients that came to give their condolences from 20 and 30 years ago.  It was easy to see the impact she had made on these people. 

She loved being outdoors. She liked to hike, paddle, bike, walk, or just sit and enjoy her surroundings. She was an amazing gardener and completed a Master Gardener program.  She used her gardening skills to help create a community garden at a Mental Health Center in her area.   The garden grew flowers, vegetables, and pride in self, others, and community.  There were so many people from the garden at the calling, so many.  It was obvious that not only did these people love the garden, but they loved Donna....oh how they loved Donna.  They told me how she taught them things.  They told me how she listened.  They told me how they now believe in themselves because of her. They were so proud of what they had accomplished in the garden with her help.

In my sister's eulogy she mentioned that when my father met Donna, our "family was not the most broken we've ever been, but we were not quite whole either."  Whether Donna realized it or not, she filled a void by becoming part of our family.  My family is a little intense.  We tend to go, go, go.  She was so calm and although she was highly productive, she knew how to stop and take in the moment.  My family did know how to do this. During the eulogy, my sister told this story:
My Dad recently told me that he hadn’t spent much time watching sunsets before Donna.  That is true.  One time, Donna and Dad came backpacking with my husband and I.  We had reached our camp for the night, and the sun was setting as Dad and I did what [our family does] best - racing around to set up camp and get dinner ready and doing a variety of things all at once.  At one point, I stopped and noticed Donna sitting in the middle of the hustle and bustle, on a camp chair, watching the sun set.  She hadn’t said a word; wasn’t critical at all of what Dad was doing.  But I stopped, and I said, “Donna, what are you doing there, while Dad is running around like crazy?”  And she laughed, and said, “I’m modeling.”
Another amazing thing about her joining our family was how seamless it all was.  Many people have step families and that union isn't so great.  It might be forced and take time to really form in a family, if you ever get there.  I didn't feel like that with Donna.  She immediately opened her heart to me.  When my sister was writing the eulogy, she asked me to send her some thoughts and I wrote about this. She incorporated many of my thoughts in this part of the eulogy (only put more eloquently): 

She gave us what she gave to many of you - a consistent, quiet, sustaining love that changed us entirely for the better. She had a way about her - and I’ve heard many of you talk about it - of making the person that she was with feel like the most special person in the room, the most heard, the most understood. She listened with her whole self, and always found a way to help me feel better. Ghandi once said that "we must be the change that we wish to see in the world." I think that Donna embodied this concept effortlessly. She was kind, gentle, emotionally honest, and so lacking in the usual nonsense that it made you realize that it was nonsense and you had no business holding on to it any longer. I heard someone say that Donna somehow could achieve things that others could not, and could reach people that others could not. I think that this principle is what allowed her to do that: she didn’t try to tear down people’s walls with the force of will; she created an environment where you didn’t feel like a wall was the least bit necessary. Ultimately, it was healing to be around her. It was especially healing for my Dad, my sister and I, and even for our mother, whom Donna welcomed with grace and with style. Donna brought love into our family, and peace into our lives, and for that I will be forever grateful.

I want to share with you one piece of Donna's obituary.  Her obituary was all written by my sister, my stepsister, and my father...except for the last part.  The last part she wrote.   She wrote this when she completed the Five Wishes with my father.

“I have lived a life more interesting, more fulfilling, more adventure-filled, than I ever dreamed possible. It has gone by much too quickly. I have been blessed with wonderful children, who are now delightful adults, a great love in [my husband], and wonderful, caring friends and family. I have been fortunate to have had good health and a career I loved. I treasure the times that I have spent with all of you and thank you for it. I treasured the times I spent with you whether it be hiking, skiing, sitting quietly over dinner, being in the garden, or meeting for lunch. I hope I have made a difference in some small way in your lives, because all of you have brought a richness to mine. I hope you remember me as someone who was happiest when out in nature or being helpful in some way. I hope you remember me with a chuckle when you can’t find your keys or glasses as I hopefully will not be looking for either in the next life. I love you all.”

Before I close, I want to share one last letter to Donna.

I love you.  I will remember you forever.  I will share pictures and videos of you with our son and tell him how much he was loved by you.  I will continue trying to be calm and peaceful.  I will watch sunrises and sunsets and think about you.  I will use your life to inspire me to do better by my family, my community, and those in need.  Thank you for all that you have given my family and me.  You will be missed.


Mommy C


kris said...

Oh, babe.

I am all shivery with tears unspilled as I try to hold them back long enough to let you know that I have been here.

How lucky she was.

How lucky you are.

To have connected and loved so fully.



You are.

Katie said...

Absolutely, positively breathtaking.

JoAnn's Daughter said...

Your stepmom sounds like an amazing woman. My condolences to you and your family.

estefanick said...

I wish I could have known Donna!! Wow!! Thank you for sharing this with all of us.... Biggest hugs to you and your family!

Jackie H. said...

I know I don't really know you but I enjoy reading your thoughts on your blog. Just wanted to say sorry for you loss and I'm thinking of you.

Mommy C said...

Thank you all for your kind words.

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