Column: She’s breathing free now

My mom holding my daughter Katie at the hospital, six years ago.

My mom holding my daughter Katie at the hospital, six years ago.

Her clothes were picked out.

She had two outfits to pick from.

They were hanging in a clear plastic dry cleaning bag at the front of her closet.

The songs we would sing also were chosen. She had picked too many, saying they were all favorites, so it would be up to us to decide.

My mother’s death, or at least everything we were supposed to do after she left us, was planned out, almost to the last detail.

She even had written most of her own obituary on her iPad. I just had to add in a few details and polish it up.

The day finally came for my three siblings, dad and I to make sure all of her wishes were fulfilled.

On Nov. 7, the day before my 13th wedding anniversary, my mama left this world at 3:15 p.m. She was 63, less than one month away from her birthday.

All five of us surrounded her in a Hospice room at Mercy Hospital in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. We prayed the Rosary together and the Litany of Saints, and took communion before she took her last breath.

No more oxygen mama.

No more medicine.

You can breathe freely now.

You are finally reunited with your mom, dad and Michael, the one-day-old baby you lost 38 years ago.

For the past 14 years, she suffered. At first, she had rheumatoid arthritis but the disease attacked her lungs, resulting in pulmonary fibrosis.

Our family lost count of the times her doctors told us she had six months or a year left to live. But each and every time, she surpassed her “expiration date,” defying all odds and staying with us a little while longer.

She was even in the room with me when I had my daughter six years ago – a moment I never imagined I get to share with her. She brought me life and I got to let her watch me do the same. It’s a memory I will forever treasure the first time she held my Katie in her arms.

I’m confident she stayed with us as long as she did because of everyone praying for her, her regime of medicines and the fact she stayed mostly at home, safe from a world of germs that could easily take away the precious little lung capacity she had left if she got sick.

Her beloved iPad was her window to the outside world. We know now she would often write emails and messages to people, randomly praising them for being a good parent, telling them how beautiful they were or thanking them for something they did.

She had a true servant’s heart until the very end. This carried over from her work as a parent educator for Oklahoma Parents as Teachers, which she did even after she first got sick but eventually had to stop.

In her monthly OPAT home visits, mom helped hundreds of families with their child’s development from birth to age three. Mom was only supposed to see a max of 30 kids but because she couldn’t say no, she saw twice that number.

Her youngest mother was 12 years old.

We found in one of her journals an entry saying how “heart-wrenching” her job could be at times. “I don’t know how to help them,” she wrote.

My mother was so strong despite being so fragile from an illness that slowly robbed all of her physical abilities, except for her mind. She was a superstar at Jeopardy, even answering the final question just days before her death.

I feel lucky to have had her as my mom for 35 years. I cannot list a single thing I would change about my life with her.

It was perfect.

She made it perfect.

My younger sister said God knew my mama wouldn’t always be around, so he packed in as much joy, laughter and memories he possibly could.

The only problem with this is now, I’m left with a huge hole in my heart and in my world, for the person I admired most.

She was my hero and my best friend. She had the kindest heart and was so strong in her faith, just like her own mother, despite her suffering. We talked every single day on the phone and often times throughout the day on Facebook Messenger with my sisters and I.

Another one of my mother’s final wishes was to have an autopsy report of her heart and lungs. She wanted this to help further the cause for research of these horrible diseases. We carried out her wish to help spare as many as possible of the same pain, suffering and heartache.

The coming minutes, hours and days are sure to be tough without my No. 1 fan in my life. But I know I have her on my side in an even bigger capacity now.

I truly thank God for making her mine and I look forward to the day I get to be with her again.

To find out more about Pulmonary Fibrosis, visit If you would like to donate to the PF Foundation for research, visit and search for “Honoring Jan Bryan.”


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