Here is the story of Tara's journey just before she crossed:
Tara had a pons bsg and she lived under 15 months from the diagnosis. 14 of those 15 months were in good health.
The last time I saw Tara was over the Thanksgiving holiday. She was lucid but slow-moving. Tara could talk, but she was short of breath and would sometimes draw or write to get her point across.
Over Thanksgiving, I sat with Tara on my lap for about three hours. We made a list of things she desired. On that list were the usual items like sparkly jewelry and a cowgirl outfit. But she also desired a "real and fake anaconda" and "all birds". We were watching the Discovery channel at the time.
The following morning, Tara dictated (and drew) a list for me...a list of Christmas gifts she wanted for her parents and their significant others. I was to go out and buy these things and bring them on my next visit. I live 4 hours away, so we agreed that I would bring the presents to Tara's parents before Christmas.
Tara made her Mom a Christmas card and had just started on her Dad's when the pain meds kicked in and she was unable to continue. We had an "eyelash party". I put on a pair of goofy clown eyelashes. My sister, Beth, snapped a picture. Tara and I hung out a little while longer and I left. That would be the last time I saw "my girl" moving and interacting.
Tara's decline from that point was rapid and methodical. Tara would lose her ability to speak. She would lose her ability to walk. By the week before Christmas, Tara became unable to hold her head up or respond in a meaningful way to questions. She was put on a morphine drip, oxygen just in her nose, and the Decadron was discontinued.
Just before the tumor had taken away Tara's speech, Beth and Tom (Tara's parents) brought Tara to the beach and told her that she was going to die. They talked to her about God and her Uncle Stephan and her cat Elvis who were already there to greet her. They promised her they would all be together again one day. Beth says that they told Tara so she would have time to ask questions while she could still talk. But mainly, they did not want Tara to fight when the time came for her soul to go Home.
Tara refused to get a feeding tube, by the way. She made it clear that her parents would do none of that to her. No problem, Beth said. She did not want to prolong Tara's life here on earth at the expense of Tara's comfort. At this point, Beth was using terms like "giving Tara back to God" and being grateful that she had her for 7 years.
And now we come to the last week.
Tara crossed over on Thursday, December 20th. By Monday of the final week, Tara's eyes were still open. Family was encouraged to come to the house to say what they had to say to Tara. My original plan was to come on Friday, December 21st with Tara's parent's Christmas gifts, so I was waiting until Friday. Tara had known that I was coming on Friday, too.
Beth called me at 6am on Thursday, December 20th and asked if was still waiting until Friday. I told her yes. She said that Tara had a particularly rough night...that she had stopped breathing and turned blue 6 times and that she did not think Tara would make it.
Beth put the phone to Tara's ear and told me to say what I had to say. I told Tara that I did what I promised and I got her the presents for her parents and made some other 6am-ish ramblings. The whole time I spoke to Tara I heard her breathe--choppy, labored, gaspy. I found out later from my good friend Marcia that Tara was about 7 hours into agonal breathing and apnea...very close to the end. I drove to Tallahassee.
When I arrived at noon, Tara's condition had improved. Beth and Tom agreed that Tara had rallied at about 10:30am when they told her I was coming. They said she was waiting for me.
I sat with Tara and told her what I knew about the other side. I had had two dreams about Tara that week. One dream laid out her entire crossing, right down to where I was sitting, her coloring, that her Mom was on her left side and I heard her mom scream in the dream. I told her that we could visit each other in dreams just like we already had that week. I told her that she could play with Anjuli on Rainbow Pony Island. I also told Tara that she would be given a job when she got there. I believe with all my heart, I told her, that she would be picked to help greet the animals who had crossed as they came to God's Heaven. Tara loved animals. I read her Lion King and her favorite Dr. Seuss book.
Tara's Mom came in and cut the nightshirt off of her that she had been wearing. She changed Tara into one of her favorite blue silky pajama numbers.
Her Mom and Jimmy (Tara's "fake Dad"), her Dad and I all sat at Tara's bedside. I asked if they had had Christmas yet. I told them that Tara had sent me off on a mission to get their presents and she was very specific about what she wanted each of them to have. We decided to have Christmas right then and there.
We began with the unfinished Christmas cards for Tom and Beth. Beth's card had butterflies, by the way. It was beautiful.
We moved to the gifts, which were a total surprise to Tom and Jimmy. We started with Jimmy (the "fake Dad"). Jimmy, being low-key and matter-of-fact kind of guy, got socks. I explained that when I asked Tara back over Thanksgiving if he should get dress socks or athletic socks, Tara just swiped her hand and simply stated, "Socks". He laughed. We all laughed.
We then went to Tom. I explained, as we sat there surrounding Tara, that Tara had just plain run out of breath describing in great detail what Tom should get. Over Thanksgiving, I explained, Tara went on and on about how her Dad wore this same old holey blue t-shirt around the house. She said the holes were so big that you could see his shoulder. We were all cracking up. Tom and I both thought we saw a smile on Tara's face, even though her eyes hadn't opened since the day before. Tom said, "That's true, I do have a t-shirt like that." We laughed even harder.
So Tara wanted her Dad to have a new t-shirt. I made Tom a shirt that said, "Daaaaaad.... Do you have to wear that holey old blue t-shirt?" In the middle of the shirt was a picture of Tara with her hands thrown up making a goofy face. Incidentally, Tara was wearing the same pajama top on the t-shirt that she was wearing right there on the couch at that Christmas party.
And now it was her Mom's turn. I handed Beth a picture Tara had drawn over Thanksgiving of a beautiful dress and shawl. Like I said, Tara was out of breath from describing Tom's gift. Everyone ooohed and aaahed over the drawing. Beth opened her box and pulled out her new dress. It was mauve-ish.
Beth took the dress and held it close to her and said, "I didn't have a dress...you know?" Her eyes filled up with tears. Beth said, "I don't have one for...." and her voice trailed off. Beth was trying to say that she did not have a dress for Tara's funeral, and here it was Tara who provided it for her. Beth wore the dress to the funeral.
With that, Tara's Dad, fake Dad and Mom all thanked Tara for the great Christmas. The kissed her and rubbed her and praised her. It was an exceptional Christmas. Now we knew why Tara was waiting for me. That was her last piece of unfinished business.
We had an unexpected visitor. Gregg. A crazy friend of Jimmy's. Tara adored him. He had not been by for a while and had no idea why he showed up on that day at that hour. He had no idea that Tara had declined so badly and rapidly. He sat at Tara's feet and just rubbed them. I told him, "Gregg, Tara can hear you." Gregg talked so sweetly to her. We told a funny Gregg-and-Tara story and again, we all laughed and laughed.
Tom and I sat with Tara a while longer. We took a picture of each other with Tara. Tara would cross over within a half an hour of these pictures.
We put Tom and Jerry on the television. Tom got up to take a phone call. Jimmy and Gregg were out back. Beth was hovering in and out of the room running back and forth. Tara's breathing seemed okay-ish.
At about 2:45 pm on Thursday, I was describing to Tara what Tom was doing to Jerry. I was holding Tara's hand. I turned to Tara and said, "You go, girl. You gave them the best Christmas ever. Good job, Tara. You rock. Good girl." I told her I was proud of her. I then told Tara that I was going to be leaving soon to get my son who was visiting with Grandma and that I would be back in the morning to spend about an hour with her.
With that, I turned my head back to the television and kept on with how Tom was trying to blow Jerry up with firecrackers. I turned back to Tara and saw her shoulders jerk. Tara's face was blue. I said, "Beth, she moved." Beth ran over. She turned around to Tom, who was on the phone, and said, "She moved". Beth and I saw one of Tara's eyes open just slightly. Beth came back to Tara's side and screamed, "Call Hospice." Beth didn't want them to be there when Tara crossed. Just family. My dream started to come true piece by piece. I must say, at this point, I was like a puppet. It was like I was prepared for this exact moment. Not ME, but a borrowed me who was not myself but someone working for God to help Tara cross.
I waved Tara's Dad over and he checked Tara's pulse. Tom then started dabbing Tara's cheek as she cleared her mouth. She inhaled once and then once more. Tom sat there gently urging Tara, "Go, honey. It's okay to go. I love you, honey." I jumped up to clear room for Jimmy and Gregg and Beth. Jimmy rubbed Tara's knee. Gregg had Tara by the foot. Beth was running back and forth. I was standing at the foot of the sofa. I started jumping up and down and punching my hands and arms upward yelling, "Go girl, go. You can do it. You go, girl. Go, Tara, GO! You ROCK Tara!!!"
Beth came over once again and asked Tom to remove the oxygen tube from her nose. He gently said to Tara, "You won't be needing that anymore, will you honey?" Beth asked if he could remove the morphine IV. Tom stood ceremoniously over Tara and said, "No more of this shit, Tara. No more of this shit for you." And he turned the machine off. Tom generally does not curse, by the way. He is a gentle giant.
Hospice knocked at exactly 3pm, just after Tara crossed, and the funeral process began.
We 5 adults: Tom, Beth, Jimmy, Gregg and Crazy Aunt DJ all knew that we had been summoned. We knew instantly that Tara's crossing was exactly that...TARA's crossing. We felt honored and special and grateful to have been there to help her go Home. Not one of us had a doubt that Tara had engineered the whole thing--from Beth calling me at 6am, to the Christmas party, to the sudden urge Gregg had to show up at the exact time he did.
Beth said that she has a hard time only mourning when the way Tara passed was so special. Beth said later that she feels that it is a dishonor to Tara to always mourn the loss and not celebrate the gift of Tara. Don't get me wrong, she cries. When we cry, we cry not only for loss...but for love and gratitude, too. Beth is going to grief counseling. I am joining Day by Day online to process the feelings that accompany this kind of loss.
But all in all, Tara added so many things to our lives that when you tally the score, there is no way to be left with a ONLY a feeling of loss when the JOY she brought us is so much greater.
Tara's parents had initially decided against an open casket. But Tara looked so beautiful in her wedding gown from her birthday in April that they decided to let everyone see how beautiful of a shell Tara's soul had left behind.
I will be remaining on brain-activists and brainstem-glioma for a while, but will shortly be signing off of brain-TMZ, brain-GLV and brainstem. Thank you for all of your help along the way.
To other parents facing this same beast...God bless you and have mercy on your children. We are eternally grateful for the mercy he had on Tara in her passing.
DJ, "Aunt Crazy" to Angel Tara