‘Her battle ended, but she was not defeated. She was ready, her time here was fulfilled’: Cancer-stricken mother shares powerful final photo shoot with family

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“Today, June 20, marks one year since her death. We miss her so much.

Cancer. Our hearts dropped. We thought to ourselves, ‘How can this be? This is hitting so close to home.’ Mama was determined to beat ‘Mr. P,’ her pancreatic cancer. So, the battle began…

2017 was such a heavy year. In June, we were sitting in the hospital after months and months of treatment, watching Mama (Sheila) experience the awful pain and agony, to later hear we had an option for a better quality of life. However, it was an extremely risky surgery and the likelihood of her surviving was minimal. Her body became so weak from the pancreatic cancer taking over. She and Allen, her husband, sat there holding hands on the bed as tears were steaming down all our faces. Being the fighter she was, Mama at that point said, ‘Enough is enough. I just want to go home.’ Her wish was to be surrounded by family and friends, and that she received. Mama was released from the hospital and hospice was called in. Family and friends gathered together to give her the best final days that we could.

As a family we purchased first class tickets to Florida where she had her ‘Mann Paradise’ (her dream Florida home, close to her best friend Tonya), as she wanted to visit just one last time. Her sons presented her with news of the trip and tears of joy ran down her cheeks, she was so elated. The next day though, she told us she feared she wouldn’t be able to make it. Our family’s hearts sank. She knew she didn’t have long, but the family’s willingness to go provided her peace. Although we didn’t make it to her paradise, these photos we took at home instead serve as a lovely celebration of her life, and one that will last longer than the trip would have.

Erika Brooke Photography

As the days went by, they felt long and certainly exhausting. When you see your loved one slowly shutting down – you can never separate from these memories. But we did whatever she needed to be comfortable. Hospice would visit and educate the family on new procedures to provide her a better quality of life. Friends took shifts caring for her, some even had sleepovers which made her heart so happy. Throughout this time, Mama made sure to have one-on-ones with all of us. I had the pleasure of taking extra time off work to spend with her. I will never forget the lasting memories we created.

As Mama was laying her bed, I got her some tea and she grabbed my hand and started to tell me what she wanted for my future with Rob (her son) and to not fear what we were all experiencing in the interim. She told me to take care of her boys and to always stay close to Brittney (my sister-in-law) and Mama’s sister, Ginger (Gigi). She then looked at me and told me how much she loved me and Rob, and she didn’t want us to hurt any longer. That tells you the exact woman that she was – selfless. No matter what she was going through, no matter the pain she felt or how exhausted she was, she made sure to tell me what I needed to hear to accept the inevitable. You can never be prepared to lose someone of such value in your life, but she tried to make it painless for us. Nothing can ever take the place of her presence. She was a gem.

Erika Brooke Photography

Those who knew Sheila knew that family was everything. She was the glue that held the family together. As her final days approached she remained true to who she was. Close friends of ours gifted us a session with Erika Franta of Erika Brooke Photography to photograph a family session, as we all knew Mama loved her pictures. This is something all of us will forever cherish. Her love knew no distance with her bubby (Allen, her husband) and her precious boys (Rob and Mo), along with her girls, Brittney and myself, Sabrina.

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Erika Brooke Photography
Erika Brooke Photography

Mama asked if we could look in her closet and pick out a beautiful dress along with a pastel cardigan. She loved to coordinate, so we all followed suit. Brittney made sure her nails were painted as she never went a day without freshly polished nails. We also dolled her up with makeup as she never went a day in her life without lipstick. We wanted her to feel so comfortable.

Erika Brooke Photography
Erika Brooke Photography
Erika Brooke Photography

My sister-in-law gifted us the most thoughtful gift for the photo shoot –Teddy bears for our future children to have, along with onesies that said, ‘Grandma was here!’ The idea was so lovely –  a keepsake for our future littles to have in memory of their Grammie. As we went through our family session, our hearts were so heavy and full at the same time.

Erika Brooke Photography
Erika Brooke Photography
Erika Brooke Photography
Erika Brooke Photography

As we each took turns waiting on our final photographed moment with her, we embraced the experience and drank in each passing second. There was light rainfall the background. I could hear each frame that was taken – each click of the button. There was a silence among us that day, along with many tears shed and smiles. I thought to myself, ‘This is something I will admire forever. I will be able to tell my future children about this day and explain how important family was to their Grammie. How mommy and daddy felt during and after these were taken years down the road.’ This was also extremely hard. I sat there kissing Mama’s cheek, embracing her little petite body, holding her fragile hands and never wanted to let go.

Erika Brooke Photography

We each had our own relationship with her that was so very special. I kept thinking, ‘This is something so final. This is our closing chapter.’ That was extremely hard to swallow. Her spirit that day – I cannot find the words to describe how perfect she was. Rob, my husband, says to me every time we look at pictures, ‘Mom’s smile! She was so happy and proud. I’ve never seen her smile that big before.’

Erika Brooke Photography

Many families aren’t fortunate enough to create these ever-lasting memories. For Mama this was everything. She wanted our hearts to be happy. Clearly you can see hers was. She was with the very people she loved the most, her family.

Erika Brooke Photography
Erika Brooke Photography
Erika Brooke Photography
Erika Brooke Photography

Sheila Sue Mann had lost her battle to cancer on June 20th, 2017. She passed peacefully in her sleep. Her battle ended, but she was not defeated. She was ready, her time here was fulfilled and she was ready to serve her purpose in her next life. Mama did not want us to cry over her, she often reminded us to celebrate her. In lieu of a funeral we opted for a celebration of life. We honored her with bright vibrant colors just like her personality along with pink flamingos. They were her spirit animal, she loved them!

Erika Brooke Photography

Two days before her celebration of life, Rob and I were gifted with the best news — we were pregnant! You can only imagine the raw emotion of finding out you are pregnant while simultaneously losing your mother-in-law. How could I be happy and sad all at the same time? Looking back at this picture of Grammie with her Teddy bear means so much because unbeknownst us at the time, we were approximately 4 weeks pregnant. An angel left us, and we were blessed with another, Theodore.

Erika Brooke Photography

This was gut wrenching to write and so very difficult to muster through. How do you highlight the perfection of one individual? How do you pay the proper tribute? How do you just touch on a few memories and not all? We so badly wish things could have turned out differently, however, this is the path we were meant to travel. But one thing remains the same, we always put our family first — Mama was a constant reminder of that. Rob and I each day choose happiness over being saddened by her loss. We celebrate the lovely person she was. We’ve learned to be the very glue she was.

Mama, in the days ahead, we know you’re guiding us, watching over us and blessing us. You have witnessed all our accomplishments to date and are being our No. 1 cheerleader as you always were. We miss you Mama and we know that we are making you proud.

Xoxo Rob, Sabrina and Theodore.”

Erika Brooke Photography
Courtesy of Sabrina Mann

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sabrina Mann, 30, of Centerburg, Ohio. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best love stories here.

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