What would your obituary say? What matters to you? What impact have you had on others? What do you know about you that we don’t know yet? Remember, you are writing your obituary as we speak!
It was a gift to be able to write Momma’s obit while she was living and engaged. I told her I was ready to prepare it and would love her input unless it was creepy or painful to her to think about it. In her classic way, she quickly let me know she was “all in.” She wanted to hear what I had written, fill in the gaps, add a few things here and there, and clarify when needed. It seemed to be a holy review of some aspects of her life that she was proud of and happy to share.
Virginia Shockley Creek passed away on September 3, 2017 at her home in Macon County, Tennessee due to pancreatic and liver cancer. She had survived diabetes, renal failure, cardiac arrest, open heart surgery, joint replacements, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, three childbirths and raising them, the death of a child, and much more unseen and unspoken. In her words, “I had a very long and mostly happy life. I have a heart and house full of great memories.” She had a strong will for life.
Virginia was born at her family home in Fountain Run, Kentucky on October 28 in 1938 and was delivered by a midwife. Her parents were William Henry Shockley and Myrtle Lois Driver Shockley. She was the youngest of eight siblings who all preceded her in death: Kenneth Wayne Shockley, William Cleon Shockley, Orene LaVoice Turner, Don Delano Shockley, and three sisters who died young, Cora Helen, Roma Dean, and Barbara Ellen.
She was named “Blue Eyes” by her grandmother as a young girl and her nickname “Ginny” carried through to her death by many family members and friends. Her Carter Automotive friends called her “Lulu.” She was “Nanny” to Wesley and Hadilyn and “Momma Creek” to many.
She is lovingly survived by her daughter Martha Creek, son and wife Joe Dale Creek and Shirley, their son and her grandson, Wesley Shane Creek and his daughter Hadilyn Kate. Her husband of 48 years, Joe Hurshel Creek and her youngest son Randy Wayne Creek, preceded her death in 2007 and 2009 respectively. Randy had one son, David Ray Mansfield and his offspring, who are also living.
Virginia attended school at Rough Hill, Akersville and Fountain Run until the 8th grade. She was the only female on the Akersville championship fast-pitch softball team.
She completed her GED in 1975. She worked at various sewing and machine factories in Gamaliel, Kentucky, Red Boiling Springs and Lafayette, Tennessee until 1994, when Carter Automotive closed down. Virginia was President and Officer of the Local 1988 Automotive Worker’s Union. Her Carter Automotive work associates were like family to her.
She was involved in local sportsmen’s clubs, fishing and hunting tournaments, card playing and community benefit events for approximately 40 years. She was a marksmen hunter and taught several young local kids to hunt. Virginia loved fishing the most and was able to go fishing during the last month of her life. She caught three huge largemouth bass, one on her first cast.
Virginia was a notable balance between masculine and feminine. She made beautifully, intricate embroidered quilts, pillowcases and loved challenging herself in those endeavors. She painted on quilts, shirts and pillowcases as well. She generally had someone else in mind when she was making them all.
She was masterful at cooking, canning, preserving, and freezing. She truly enjoyed the full process from breaking the ground, putting in the seeds, watching the growth, harvesting the fruits and vegetables, sharing it all, cooking it up for our meals, and preserving more than plenty “just in case.”
She was at peace, ready for the transition, believing she would be reunited with God and her loved ones. She looked forward to heaven.
Burial is in the Rocky Hill Cemetery in the Bugtussle community.
Grace and Gratitude – and then some.
Life is precious. Is death precious, also? How is the process of the body dying precious when it is shutting down and withdrawing from its normal functioning and expressing? In any case, there is a significant change and a physical absence that is now necessary to integrate.
I had plenty of time to observe the miracles of life and death through my mother’s experience. Here are some thoughts and experiences that arose over the last six months with her:
LETTING GO OF TIME
- My family had the gift of TIME to really be WITH momma after her diagnosis. Her death was not sudden. The prognosis for this type of pancreatic and liver cancer for her age group is three to six months. She lived six months. We had the opportunity to come together, change our schedules, have more intentional shared meals, stories, pictures, fishing, and many, many visits with friends and family—all with Momma in our homestead.
- I also experienced the stress of time – discerning to hold or cancel a schedule of more than full work travel and commitments, while staying available and close for caregiving my mother. Never knowing if I was clearing my calendar for her to live one more hour, day, week or month? Even with support, help and an abundance of love all around me/us, the reality included sleepless nights, total care for another human being and keeping an ongoing watch on someone else’s physical functioning. I learned to follow the rhythm of life and less the hands of a clock. While prognosis may be true, life and illness do what they do. One day the body is functioning at one level and the next it is not. Through my practice of questioning, I was more able to be in the reality of we can do what we can do, and can’t do, what we can’t do with less resistance and stress.
LETTING GO OF STUFF, aka, TREASURES ☺
- Momma had the opportunity to participate in giving her personal and household belongings to those she knew would use, love and cherish them. Bags and bags of frozen nuts, berries, fruits, vegetables, quilt pieces, sewing supplies, canning jars, pressure cookers, a BB gun, knick knacks, clothes and so much more were given to family, friends and neighbors. There was so much joy in the giving and in those receiving. This was a tremendous gift to me to witness the transactions and to enjoy the way Momma got to make decisions and direct the flow. It was enormously helpful to have a majority of specific items already in place, as we emptied the house after Momma’s passing and prepared it to be up for sale. Although I had been systematically going through closets, drawers, basement, kitchen, bedrooms, there was a continual stream of pickup trucks backed up to the door the Saturday after the funeral picking up furniture, tables, chairs, refrigerator, deep freezers, etc. There was a perfect flow of one in and out and the next one pulling in. Grace, for sure, and a lot of gratitude both ways. In case you’re concerned I gave it all away – relax. I kept some very important things - quilts, skillets, cookware, bowls, keepsakes that are visual reminders of her for Wesley’s new house that will be under construction soon. AND, I will get a bedroom and a bathroom in that new house. Looks like Bugtussle will always have a place for me.
- Momma mostly wore very casual clothes, jeans, t-shirts, and sweatshirts. She LOVED baseball – Red Sox first, Cubs second. She loved her community and neighborhood and anything related to her grandson Wesley, hunting or fishing. So I gathered up her favorite and well-worn shirts she was no longer wearing and sent them off to be made into a large quilt. She was able to see the quilt finished and appreciate the ongoing life of her in this family treasure.
- We donated several loads of clothes and household items to our local support organization where they receive donations and resell or give away as appropriate. On one of the trips to donate Momma’s clothes, the employee who helped unload the car was ecstatic to have so many “good” jeans and clothes on hangers. While carrying them into the building she actually smelled the clothes and said, “These are clean, aren’t they?” “Yes.” “Oh my,” she replied, “that is so awesome! We don’t always get clean, nice stuff on hangers in here.”
- Momma had a green thumb and was a passionate, creative, gardener. She loved working in the dirt, planting seeds and watching them grow – with faith, water, sun, and love she brought thousands of flowers, fruits and garden vegetables to life and into the lives of many. I would be so frustrated with her as a kid because she was planting so much and it was so much work to tend, harvest and care for. I would say, “You’ve planted enough for a community.” She would reply, “I hope so.” Her yard and flower beds were always in bloom or producing something. Just like her. In addition to working in factories to support our family, she was also quilting, canning, gardening, cooking and caring for elders and others. Some of her specialty flowers grown over the years were giant sunflowers, dinner plate size dahlias, and most recently glorious gladiolas. The glads started blooming early this year (just for her I think), the first week of June and were still going the week after her death on September 3rd. It was a miracle to watch the spectacular colors open up one stalk after the other throughout those weeks. Vases and vases of cut blooms were shared with Momma’s friends. After the funeral, those who asked for some of her bulbs came by the house and dug out bulbs to put in their gardens to remember her by. Although it seemed that after so many had been removed, truckloads actually, that the landscape would appear empty, it was not true. After all that sharing, it still looked full and beautiful. Many others will have blooms of gladiolas, iris, dahlias, iris and roses that will keep Virginia Creek’s spirit alive and blooming.
- The funeral service was described by many as one of the most heartfelt and memorable they had experienced. Momma had requested our young family friend Jeremy conduct her memorial service. She had a note for him in a sealed envelope that said something along the lines of “Jeremy, I have known you for your whole life. My funeral has already been preached. Keep the service short and sweet, and talk about what you like. Be sure to tell stories of our squirrel hunting days (some of her favorite memories).” Also, Momma wanted my special cousin Derek Shockley to speak at her service. Derek spoke from the heart about momma and her impact on his life, especially in his early years. It was clear that those early formative years when he lived with us had tremendous impact on him. While Derek was speaking, a car alarm started sounding from the parking lot. Derek kept on speaking, and then another car alarm started joining and amplifying the first. Naturally many people at the service started checking their pockets, purses and key fobs trying to figure out if it was their vehicle sounding off. In some way, I think Momma was present in all that fanfare moment as it was a grand sounding off as she made her way “home.”
LETTING GO OF THE PHYSICAL BODY
- My mother’s life exceeded the medical norms. She lived nine weeks without eating any food – No nutrition of any kind – water only. She continued to drink water even though she had lost her appetite, lost interest in food, nothing sounded good. She did not like the nausea she experienced when she did eat sometimes either. It was a gradual process of her favorite foods not agreeing with her digestive system any longer and she would report it as, “no more bacon,” “no more eggs,” and then, “no more fish.” Fish was a big one for her to let go of as she comes from a life-long lineage of fishermen/women and fish fry meals. She actually said, “Well, the fish turned on me,” the day that she was no longer going to eat fish.
- My momma, like most all of us, worked at keeping her hair in a haircut that she liked and suited her over the years. She would get a curly perm or get a really short haircut to “tame her horns” (cowlicks) as she would put it. I never liked those perms in her hair, it made her look old. She was truly a teenager in a body that wouldn’t cooperate with her. During her illness as she became bedridden and unable to get herself to the bathroom, she still cared, just less and less what style her hair was and occasionally asked me to brush her hair. As her body was going through this process, her hair grew out and became more and more beautiful on her. Friends and family who hadn’t seen her in a while and stopped by to visit would almost without fail comment on how much they liked her hair. Up to, and including her final day, people would say how she looked good, beautiful. It was true. I believe it is what is meant by their essence shines through.
LETTING GO OF CARING ABOUT WHAT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER
- After months of cooking meals for family and friends as they visited, my state of condition, lower stamina and not loving to cook anyway, I was done with cooking and meal planning. Though it seemed odd, against tradition, and I couldn’t quite explain it to others, I did not plan a meal gathering for immediately following the funeral service. All I knew for sure was that I was exhausted and I was following internal guidance. As it naturally goes, there were about 25 family and friends at the house following the service. We put leftovers, meat, sandwiches and snacks that had been at the funeral home and everyone went about preparing a plate. As God would have it, my life long friend Pat showed up with trays full of homemade biscuits, meat and potatoes - plenty for all to fix a hot plate. Even the vegetarians were excited. More Grace. And, more Gratitude.
SMALL TOWN, BIG HEART, HOME TOWN GIFTS
- The morning of the visitation and funeral, my family stopped at Flapper’s corner market for breakfast. Flapper has been a friend of my brother Joe Dale for years. The first morning when we went up to pay and leave, we learned another local family friend had already paid for all of our breakfasts. The next morning we were back to Flapper’s for breakfast. My brother declares the breakfast is “better than Cracker Barrel” and Flapper graciously gifted our family and extended family that were with us the gift of breakfast. When thanking this kind soul, he replied that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
- While the flowers that surrounded Momma while she was living were magnificent, as God would have it, the flowers that were gifted to her funeral were also beyond spectacular. One of the local florists, who had made many deliveries to Momma, sent their own arrangement to the funeral – from the girls at the florist. Several fresh and silk flowers were left on her grave. We took the remainder of the bouquets home, disassembled and made them into 30 bouquets in vases. We delivered these to the local nursing home to bring more love and life to more beautiful souls. Momma surely loved this gesture, as she regularly took vases of her flowers to the nursing home to share.
- As I wrapped up the closing of Momma’s house and was at the local phone company office to return the wireless router box, I walked in and was greeted with hugs from each of the three customer service representatives. They all had known and loved Momma and knew me too. I closed the account on September 15th, and I gave the date of Momma’s death as September 3rd. This kind soul looked at me and said well we are back dating the end of service to that date so you will have a bigger refund. Grace, more grace. And kindness, caring and love.
HOLDING ON TO LOVE
- One of the many miracles that presented itself was that Spidey, our family dog, a mini dachshund, was relocated to a home through the love and care of our hospice social worker. Erica went over and above in her care for finding a senior dog of 12 years a home that would be suitable for a slightly cranky, little bit finicky, beloved companion. My nephew Wesley really helped me put this in perspective as we were preparing to move Spidey to his new home. Wesley witnessed my understandable sadness and grief that came in waves through me and then said, “Aunt Martha, everyone’s got their job to get back to. I’ve got to get back to my job in Illinois. You’ve got to get back to your job schedule and Spidey has to get back to his job. His job is to be someone’s companion.” Spidey had been my father and mother’s ever faithful, by her side companion for the last 12 years. Grateful for open hearts and minds who would adopt a senior pet. Grateful for an enormously hearted social worker’s support.
- With my ministry of serving those who serve, naturally the field was full of opportunities including the hospice nurse who visited weekly. Her obvious care for my mother and her desire to do what she could do for me and my momma’s wellbeing was sometimes overshadowed by her humanness. And during the many weeks of visits, I learned that this hospice angel was managing her own health challenges, was new to hospice, and was doing the best she could. On many visits it appeared that I was giving her the medical report of the updates on my mother while she was simply sitting next to her, enjoying the vases of flowers and petting the dog. I also got to minister to my mother’s many long-time friends and family as they processed their own emotions while letting go of the physical life of their mother, mother-in-law, nanny, aunt, cousin and life-long friend. It was the highest honor to cry, laugh and just be with this community of souls as we honored her life.
- The time since her passing has been filled with outpours of love, care, support, prayers, cards, flowers, gifts, stories, memories, and a full spectrum of proof of just how passionate she was about living and how many lives were made better as a result of hers.
- There is so much for me to hold on to beyond the quilts. Most importantly, I hold on to the unconditional love of my momma who laid the tracks of love all around my life. I hold on to the love of family and friends, who continue to pour out blessings, love and comfort to me. I hold on to the reality that this life is a treasure and that each of us has the ability to leave handprints on each other’s hearts. So let’s go on as momma often said to me and again just a couple of weeks ago, “I’m fine, now you go on about your business.” Let’s sow seeds of love every chance we get. Momma Creek, mine and yours, is smiling through each of those blooms.
Happy Birthday Momma – October 28th and eternally...
I love you,
Next month’s newsletter: Self care – stay tuned.
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“Those who have the strength and the love to sit with a dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body. Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment.”
~ Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying
“Simple people with less education, sophistication, social ties, and professional obligations seem in general to have somewhat less difficulty in facing this final crisis than people of affluence who lose a great deal more in terms of material luxuries, comfort, and number of interpersonal relationships. It appears that people who have gone through a life of suffering, hard work, and labor, who have raised their children and been gratified in their work, have shown greater ease in accepting death with peace and dignity compared to those who have been ambitiously controlling their environment, accumulating material goods, and a great number of social relationships but few meaningful interpersonal relationships which would have been available at the end of life.”
~ Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying
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