‘My mom came out of surgery. ‘Everything looks beautiful,’ the nurse said. Just 10 minutes later, my sister called screaming. My little mom was gone.’ Mom passes after heart surgery, brings family closer than ‘ever before’

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“If there were a movie about my life, people would walk out thinking, ‘That was overboard. No one could possibly face that much adversity.’

This year started off somewhat normal….. well, normal for our family. Just like with many others, there’s always something. I’m what one would call the ‘go to’ or ‘problem solver’ in my family, so there’s not many family problems that I’m not directly or indirectly involved in. My mom used to say, ‘If you need something done, ask Sherri.’ Just seeing myself type that makes me smile, looking back.

Courtesy of Sherri Duncan Tan

I have three adult kids and two young ones. Earlier this year, my oldest son began having problems. Looking back on it and realizing it was just the beginning is quite shocking. He had a cute little family, a wife, and four gorgeous kids. He has a memory issue that prevents a lot of jobs, so he homeschooled his kids while his wife worked. His wife invited my mom to move in and she gladly accepted. My oldest son was a joy to my mom and his kids were too. Not long after my mom moved in, my son’s wife decided to leave. We think my mom moving in was a planned, easy way out for her conscience. A few months after, unbeknownst to my son and my mom, an eviction was already in process.

Courtesy of Sherri Duncan Tan

At this point, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. Several years prior, my son had saved money and bought two acres and a little mobile home about an hour out of the city, with plans of moving his little family out there to live a quiet country life. Perfect situation, right? We thought so too.

They hurriedly packed up their belongings and headed there. Once there, they realized that the elements had taken its toll on the little mobile home and they found a leaky roof, rotting floors, and busted pipes. We rallied as a family and with only our labor (we had no money) we repaired roofs, fixed floors, and painted rooms. I still remember my little mom stepping into the house; as she looked around, she said, ‘It’s cute right? Can you see it’s potential?’ Looking back, I wonder if she saw this place through glasses of love or how it really looked and was just trying to be strong.

Anyways, the problems were far beyond our control and my son and mom kept things from us so we wouldn’t be burdened too much. This year was extremely cold and, during these times, he arranged for the kids to stay with their mom for a few days at a time and my mom would come stay with me or my sister for a few days at a time. But she was always eager to get home. She was excited for me to ‘fix up her room’ but wanted to make sure the kids room was finished first. She glowed with excitement when I brought curtains and we fixed a shelf or closet door. She was always cleaning and organizing to help make a home for them all.

My mom never had much. She always lived with one of us and she always hated unpacking. She thought it was bad luck. She thought that once she unpacked, something would happen to cause her to have to move again. She told us all that this would be her last move, that she was never moving again and she would NOT unpack her boxes or hang pictures. She would only unpack the bare necessities.

In late March, she came to stay with me for a week. But this time she seemed different. She was always a dynamo; we often joked that she was stronger than us all. But this week, she was listless, she was weak, she couldn’t ‘get her energy up’ as she would say. In talking to her about it, she blamed it on bacon… yes, bacon. She swore she ate bad bacon and had food poisoning. As I told my sister her symptoms, we became more and more concerned that she’d had a heart attack.

I talked to my mom about the possibility and she stubbornly looked at me and said, ‘So.’ She said she didn’t think she had a heart attack, but if she did, there was nothing she could do about it. After many conversations, we talked her into going to the hospital. She said she would only go for ‘her little angels’ which is what she called the grand and great grandkids.

We took my mom to the hospital on a Friday morning. As it turned out, she did previously have a heart attack. She had surgery, all looked good. I was scheduled to be out of town that evening and when the nurse told me everything looked beautiful, I left. But just 10 minutes later, my sister called me screaming. My little mom was gone.

Courtesy of Sherri Duncan Tan

I was the one to call everyone. I facilitated taking family members to and from the ICU room to see her for four hours. I couldn’t cry until later. When I told my son, I saw shock, sorrow, and honestly terror. The person that helped raise him from day one, the person that helped with his kids, the person that told him she was proud of him and everything would be okay, was gone.

Courtesy of Sherri Duncan Tan

He faced the reality that now he had to face things in a way he never had. He began to try to get work in the city we lived in where there was more opportunity. He and the kids would stay between my sister and I during the week and go back to his little home on the weekends. The home where she had been, the home where every curtain was hung by her, every towel folded by her, and every surface lovingly scrubbed by her. He and the kids were understandably having a hard time coping with this shocking sudden loss.

One of my sisters and I would try to do things for them to make life feel a little more normal. One Tuesday night, I asked them to all spend the night at my house. My little kids (the same age range as his kids) were having a baseball game with free hot dogs and we intended to watch the game, eat, and go home to watch movies, they would head home the next morning.

The next day, as I was on my porch reading my Bible, his kids came out to me and I was talking to them about prayer. How we all needed to pray for each other and our sorrow as well as for their dad and just everything going on. As we talked, my son came out to the porch, he was rubbing his face trying to breathe. I could tell I needed to calm him down and see what happened. He gasped for air as he told me a random tornado dropped down and destroyed his little mobile home. A large, neglected barn on the adjacent property lifted and impaled his house, putting a van-sized hole in his house… right where they would have been.

Courtesy of Sherri Duncan Tan

What else could possibly happen? Abandonment, eviction, dilapidated house, death, tornado, and homelessness.

Our weekday ‘spending the night’ turned into him and his kids floor surfing between myself and my sister. We had a few friends contribute a bit of money to our GoFundMe and we REALLY appreciated it, but it was nothing that would get him out of this mess. I asked every charity I could for help. The Red Cross gave him a card with a bit of money for gas and food, but anyone else I tried politely declined and referred me to another charity who politely declined as well.

We found ourselves in tidal wave after tidal wave of problems. Our faith in God is all that has carried us through this time, where the death of a mom/grandma would have (and did) destroyed most people.

What is the light at the end of the tunnel, you ask? Where is the ‘overcoming adversity’ happy ending that most stories end on? Well, I asked myself that before I started writing. So, here’s what I got, and honestly with each ‘light,’ a problem immediately pops up. We found out my mom left a little money for my son (she paid outrageously for it), she knew he would need help. This bit of money is helping with bills and gas, but won’t last for long. I got him a mobile home donated for a while. Great, right? Yup! Until we had it moved to his land and found out the gas line was mismarked and we have to find a way to pay to move it again because it’s too close. We had a plumber look at hooking up the water and the way the lines were cut changed the bill from $300 to $1500, which we can’t afford. We talked to the electrician about getting hooked up… the same week the entire town had an outage and they were working six weeks behind.

You may ask, where’s the positives? Well, we definitely found out who our friends are. We each found out by telling stories to each other about how much our little mom had her hand in everyone’s lives, making each one a little better. I saw my extremely rambunctious grandkids go from little balls of energy to being contained, to the little joys my mom saw, now when I look into their eyes. I swear I can see what she saw. I saw the human spirit and kindness when the home mover, that took 5 weeks in the initial move, felt compassion for us and promised to get the house moved in a few days and ‘cut me a deal’ on the price. He couldn’t afford to do that, but it’s the thought that mattered. He cared. I saw kindness as I spoke to the electric company and explained his situation. They had the transformer put in place within two days instead of weeks, so now it’s ready to be hooked up when we are. I became closer to my sister who has been an invaluable help to us all.

Courtesy of Sherri Duncan Tan

Oh, and by the way, my mom who swore to never unpack? Well, shortly after her death, we went into her little room with the futon mattress on the floor; we slowly went through her things. I opened a drawer and saw color coordinated shirts neatly rolled up. I saw shirts hanging in the closet. I opened the bathroom cabinet and saw soaps and creams. SHE UNPACKED! After all the years, she finally felt she had found a home, but the feeling she may have actually had was that she was being called home. We all smiled and cried as we touched the things she had last touched in preparation for the life she loved with my son, when in reality she was being prepared for her final move to be with God.

Courtesy of Sherri Duncan Tan
Courtesy of Sherri Duncan Tan

I always imagined buying her a little house with a little chair on a cute porch so she could watch the sun rise and set. Well, she has her house now! Her porch is probably amazing and the sights she is seeing puts our earthly views to shame.

So, are our lives now miraculously fixed and all rainbows? HECK no! I honestly hold my breath every time the phone rings, thinking it’s my mom calling. But I know a part of my mom that secretly, without fanfare, helped each one of us. She lives in each of us as we all struggle together to begin life without her. As we help each other like we never have before. We are still trying to figure out how to help my son get on his feet. We still don’t know where the money is going to come from, but we’re alive to fight another day, to see the joys and sorrows that make each life worth fighting for.”

Courtesy of Sherri Duncan Tan

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sherri Duncan Tan of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. You can follow her journey on Facebook, and donate here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletters for our best stories.

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