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Barbara Jean Cooper McDonald Moline
June 13, 1929 - October 20, 2003

Remembering Mama
Written January 7, 2004
Updated August 23, 2006

I was thinking of Mama tonight and thought it was time to document my time with her. First, a few thoughts:

As I sit here, this Wednesday, January 7th, I am remembering Mama. It is so hard to think of her in the past tense as she still seems so very much alive. It's not that I'm trying to deny her passing, and it's not that I won't 'let go' - it's more than that. I just still think of her as being in the present. I can't explain it and wouldn't know how to even begin. The memories, though covering a wide span of years, still seem so fresh.

Mama was always praised for the way she carried herself, not just in her posture but also in her poise. She was gracious, tactful, and a very upbeat, optimistic and positive person. When she worked at Harvey Aluminum in Torrance, California, her nickname was 'Bubbles'.

The last few months that I spent with Mama was a period that I will never regret or forget, and will fondly remember the time as something that had to be arranged by God. The fact that I worked from my home, and could take my work with me wherever I went, was a miracle in itself. That alone allowed me to spend the time with Mama, the time she had left in this world, which turned out to be exactly 82 days.

All through the year (2003) I was trying to convince Mama to let me stay with her but she was her usual stubborn self and refused my offer of help. Daisy and I flew down to see her for her birthday in June and I knew then that it would not be long before I would have to be with Mama. She was growing increasingly weak and using her cane but her spirits were still so very high.

Though she had planned the trip and booked her hotel room, it was in the middle of June that she called to tell me that she would not be able to attend our wedding. I knew this was not a good sign. I talked to her again about my coming down there and, to my astonishment, she finally relented.

On July 19, 2002, Daisy and I were on our wedding cruise and, less than two weeks later, on July 30th, I was flying down to Mama's house in Ontario, California. My youngest daughter, Aimee, was staying with us for the summer so she flew down with me. At that point, Mama was still in good spirits, laughing and having a good time. She still used her cane but resisted any helping hand I offered. I cooked, cleaned, and did laundry for her while she sat and watched either the Food Channel or House & Garden TV.

The following Tuesday, August 2nd, Mama had an appointment with her oncologist (cancer doctor). Aimee & I went along and Mama told us to be with her when she went into the room. There the doctor told Mama that she was putting her on hospice. While the doctor was busy preparing the paperwork, Mama, her face seeming extremely pale, whispered in my ear.

"Do you know what that means?" she asked.

I nodded that I knew what hospice care was and that it meant there would be home treatments instead of going to the doctor's office. She shook her head and whispered again, "No, they only put people on hospice when they have six months or less to live."

She told me so matter-of-fact, and it hit me so hard, that I was in shock. I could not speak and I think my mouth remained open as I turned to look at Aimee. I was sure that she had heard it but I couldn't judge her reaction at the time. I know now that Aimee had no idea what was being said and, for that, I am relieved.

Aimee left us at the end of August to return home to her mother. Mama spent her time in the chair, watching TV, and not doing much else. Since she was not getting much mental stimulation by watching TV, I offered to get her a cat on the condition that I would take all responsibility for it. She agreed and told me what she wanted: either an orange & white tabby or an all-black cat. She never had either before.

I searched for about two weeks before I found the perfect cat. He was six weeks old and black. When I brought him home he ran all through the house to investigate his new surroundings. After awhile, Mama and I wondered where he was. I checked everywhere I could think of, searched the entire house three times, and found nothing. As I sat in my chair talking with Mama, I thought, 'Where would a black cat hide and be invisible?.' Then it came to me...the fireplace! I quickly checked the one in the front room and there he was! I could only see his eyes but managed to pull him out of there. For that reason, Mama named him 'Cinder'.

The name 'Cinder' was short for either 'Cinderella' or 'Cinderfella' as we had no idea what sex he was at the time and wouldn't know until he was at least 10 weeks old. At that time, I took him to the vet to be neutered and declawed.

Cinder and Mama bonded from that very first day. He slept on her lap while she stroked his smooth fur. He was so tiny then! The next night, as she held Cinder in her arms, I saw tears flow down her cheeks. She turned to me and said, "Thank you, Jim. I've always wanted a black cat. I love him so much!" And for that reason, Cinder is here with Daisy & I now, along with our ten birds and aquarium full of fish.

Near the end of August, Mama resigned herself to only using the walker. The only time she used her cane was to go from her bathroom to her bed. By September, we still had a few doctor's appointments to attend to and, since she was becoming more and more fragile, she finally relented and started using the wheelchair that hospice had provided. She had a kidney stint changed in the hospital only because the doctor said that an infection could set in and make things worse for Mama.

She continued to eat her meals as usual but was becoming more and more introverted. I managed to get ahold of all the friends, family members, people she knew from church, etc. as I could possibly find in her address book. I wanted all of them to see her before time ran out. Quite a few showed up for which I was grateful and which made Mama very happy. She could still laugh and carry on a normal conversation at the time although brief.

It was the beginning of October when, while I was chatting with my wife on the phone at about 10:30pm, I heard a loud double-thud from Mama's bedroom. I knew that this was not good, said goodbye to my wife, and immediately ran to Mama's room. She was lying on the floor, by her bed, face down. She said she was fine but felt dizzy and would not move. I didn't try to move her but kept asking her questions so I could determine her mental condition. She seemed lucid and aware.

I called Daisy back and, since she is a nurse, explained what had happened. She told me to call 911 immediately but Mama told me to call hospice since she was their patient. I called hospice and they said a doctor would call me right back. I then had Mama sit up and I nearly lost it: she had a golf ball-sized lump in the middle of her forehead, another above her right ear, and a smaller one just above that. When the doctor called back, I explained everything and he suggested ice and rest with constant monitoring. She was much better the next morning but I was a wreck, having stayed up all night checking on her constantly. I am convinced that, from that moment, things began to go downhill for Mama.

I talked with Kent, my step-brother who lived in Seattle, Washington, on the phone and we agreed that he should fly down. He worked in hospice and would be of great help especially since I was starting to become frantic in my efforts to keep Mama from slipping away.

On October 6th, a Monday, Mama stopped eating. On October 10th, I had an electric hospital-type bed brought in for Mama. I believe it was on or about October 14th that Kent came to join us. Mama was severely weakened at that point which was quite shocking to Kent. He definitely did not expect her to be in such a state when he arrived. She recognized him but could barely speak. She seemed to be sleeping 20 hours a day by that time.

I tried everything to get her to eat and was becoming increasingly frustrated at her refusal of anything solid. Every nurse and doctor I talked to told me that it was just a part of the cancer, the body was shutting down and it was just a matter of time. THAT was very hard for me to take. This couldn't be happening yet, not so soon! I wasn't ready!

I frantically called everyone again and told them that this might be the last time to see Mama. They all came, every one of them, God bless them all. Mama managed to smile and recognize her visitors but she just could not talk. She had a blank stare that scared me and would often drift off to sleep. I can still recall the look on people's faces when they saw how quickly Mama had deteriorated.

The final four days, from Friday until Monday, Mama remained in her bed. Kent and I were on constant vigil as we tended to her as best we could. Nurses were coming by twice a day by that time, tending to her personal hygiene needs and monitoring her functions. Starting Saturday night, Kent began to sleep in her room, in an old rocking chair, so he could be close to her and watch over her.

Monday, October 20th, began as a normal day - nothing out of the ordinary. We monitored Mama, I worked on my computer, and I could see Kent as he read his book in Mama's room. At almost 2:00pm Kent called me into the room and said, "I think this might be it."

We knelt by her bedside, Kent on one side, me on the other, and we held Mama's hands. We talked to her, watched her, listened to her, and tried to comfort her as best we could. Her breathing was halting and labored as tears ran down our faces. We told her it was okay to go, that we loved her, and that Heaven was waiting to embrace her soul. At exactly 2:12pm, she tried to take her last breath. Her mouth opened as she seemed to gasp for air but got none. Then her body relaxed and she was still. I asked Kent if that was it so he checked her vital signs and nodded his head.

I left the room to begin calling people but, after sitting in the chair and staring at the phone, I broke down and cried a mountain of tears for at least five minutes. I found it very hard to compose myself and the first few phone calls were the toughest to make. My world had completely changed in a matter of minutes and I was literally in shock. After about the 5th call, I sat back and smiled for I knew that Mama was with my loving father, with Jesus, with God, and that her soul was finally at peace.

Everyone who knew Mama knows that she touched hundreds of people, and changed some lives, with her kindness, generosity, and laughter.

I feel better now that I have gotten this all out. Thank you for bearing with me. Love to you all.


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