Some of us are fortunate enough to have a pretty good idea of when we will end our time here on earth. Regina was one of those. She was able to decide where and how she wanted to spend her last days, and Beth and I were honored that she and Julie wanted to spend it at our home. Julie, and Regina's amazing siblings and cousins made all the logistic arangements from the Richmond end and we took care of the Tapphannock end. She settled in pretty easily and we were off and running, with the goal of a peaceful passing ever in our minds and actions. She was mobile, active, aware and as always, funny up until the last few days. In short, she was fully Regina as long as she could be.
The saying, "It takes a village." cannot be more true than in a situation like this. The family and the hospice staff worked tirelessly to accomplish Regina's wishes. People who had an important part in her care, without realizing that they were answering God's call, were critical. For instance, when you need medication and a man drives 1 1/2 hours to deliver it to you at 9:30 at night because he knows it probably couldn't wait til morning, reminds us that the prayers and the energy that were radiating around all of us were powerful. Moment after moment let us know that all things, and I mean all things were working together for the good.
Nature showed up many times and in many ways to let us know that it was aware of what was happening on our property and that what was happening was a part of nature. We all, including Regina, felt very connected.
We learned a few truths: 1) The difficult truth told with love and calmness is the only way to go. 2). We can endure anything for 5 seconds, even if you have to repeat those 5 seconds over and over. 3). Keeping the goal in mind helps get through those difficult moments. 4). And we learned, again, that this thing called death is sad but not scary. In fact, it was a beautiful experience.
We will remember the great times we had during those 12 days -- we danced, we talked, we ate and we sang. I ran around with sparklers one night, we enjoyed pizza by a bon fire and Beth played and sang every song Regina requested. We soaked up the time with as many good stories and jokes as we could.
It will be no surprise that Regina got the last two jokes in on us. She had been eating small pieces of candy for several days and the time came that I had to tell her she couldn't have anymore due to the risk of choaking. She was upset and said, "You mean a Twix bar was my last piece of candy?" I said I was afraid so. An hour later, as she was getting up again, 3 pieces of candy fell out of her shirt and bounced on the floor. I said...well, I won't say what I said, but she said, "At least let it be a Milky Way!" Oh my, how she laughed!
The very last joke she played was after she passed. The hearse was starting to pull out of the driveway and as the tires hit the street, Beth and I heard a loud clunk on the roof of our house. We ran around to the back and as the hearse drove past, we saw one of our 10' orange umbrellas on the rooftop. It had been picked up out of a cast iron stand, flipped and placed over the screened-in porch. Beth immediately looks at the sky and yells, "Regina, you didn't need to do that!" Somehow, we know it was her saying goodbye!
The last coherent thing Regina said to me was after an especially painful moment. She looked at me and whispered, "I could not have picked a better friend for this." I'm telling you, it doesn't get any better than that.
July 18, 2017
Regina Chapter Two:
Regina wanted to get a college degree and she worked hard for three years, especially on math, to get credits. Her partner, Julie Bradshaw, spent many a weekend coaching her, and Board Member Judy Roskowski worked with her during the week. Their joint effort was so worth all the work to Regina because she was awarded an A the second time through.
One of her great jokes on me was telling our congregation I was going to have a live manger scene in front of our church at Christmas. She was so convincing, people believed her, and I howled with laughter! The next year she announced plans had changed and said, “ Reverend Joyce is going to have an inflatable manger scene out front during Christmas - animals and all”.
Everyone howled at that!
Meanwhile, each Christmas she kept making holiday earrings and ultimately raised more than $5000 for the building campaign.
Two years ago, Regina shared with me that a CT scan revealed she had a large tumor on her liver. She told me whatever it was, she would not accept chemotherapy or radiation treatment. She engaged the surgeon who removed growths on her liver previously. Surgery was scheduled and the surgeon removed 20% of her liver and Regina changed her diet. We all prayed and yet the cancer came back.
Regina, who had kept working, finally accepted the advice of her friends and went on a leave of absence.
She continued to attend church and to perform sign language during the Lord’s Prayer and the closing Peace Song. She also kept her sense of humor. She was losing weight and reluctantly accepted being in a wheelchair from the front door to the sanctuary. Our Congregation Care Team brought her meals at home and helped her as she became weaker.
Her family in Philadelphia, brothers, sister, cousins and other relatives, supported her by coming to visit often. Then one Sunday after our second service, her brother John spoke with me saying Regina wanted me to perform her memorial service. After telling him I would be honored to do so, I asked him if he would consider having a living memorial service in which we would celebrate Regina with her present. John first cried, and then said he was in favor of it and suggested we ask Regina. We immediately talked with her, sharing my proposal and she loved the idea!
We scheduled her service for mid-afternoon Friday, June 2, followed by a potluck dinner. Regina selected the songs, singers and the readings.
June 2, when she was driven into the church parking lot and saw it filled with cars, she cried. She had no idea so many people wanted to be with her at her service.
I did my best to keep the number of speakers relatively controlled and when the service had reached 50 minutes in length, I invited everyone to stand and cheer, clap, whistle or make any noise they wished, giving Regina a standing ovation of love. It was a joyful and tearful and delightful and inspiring service.
At the potluck dinner Regina stayed as long as her body would hold her. She knew this was her last time with all her friends – and she loved and made every moment rich with conversation.
The next day she left her home and was taken to a beautiful river house owned by dear friends, who invited her to let them support her in her last days. Hospice was engaged and Regina left this earth plane 14 days later.
I have asked Dana Wells, who together with Beth Harvey cared for her, to describe Regina’s closing chapter of life. She will write Regina - Chapter Three.
Blessings and love to you all - Joyce
July 1, 2017
Dear Unity Friends,
This will be the start of something new…I will be writing a blog often and it will be on our website and perhaps on Face Book and E-news. However, the first commentary I am writing for the next couple issues will be about our beloved Regina Makem who “graduated” from this Earth plane June 14.
Regina Chapter One:
Regina was her name and I’m not sure just when she started coming to our church in the little white house on Buford Road. However, it was when she signed up for the 4T Prosperity Class and began radiating her love, humor and joyful laughter that I felt her name was perfect for her. For as I got to know her, Regina became a queen because her amazing powerful, joyful presence and humor just flowed out wherever she was.
She had a lot of angst about “this 4T class.” She was not at all comfortable with the idea of giving 10% of her income each week at the close of the class when the offering basket was passed. Although she was guaranteed she could have all of her money back at the end of the 10-weeks if she wasn’t satisfied, she still held her check over the basket nervously laughing and saying a prayer that God take care of her money. In the class she humorously made comments that a lot of the class members were feeling, yet not willing to reveal. Ultimately I believe she took the class two or more times, always helping others as well as herself with her questions.
People grew to love her unconditionally and immensely. Her humor and laughter rocked our congregation as we began to grow and ultimately made the decision to build a new church. Somewhere along her life she had learned sign language and stepped up to the podium to sign The Lord’s Prayer as we sang and returned to sign The Peace Song at the close of services.
Regina knew a lot about cars and often helped members who had car problems – basically checking out their vehicles and advising where to take their car for repair. I don’t know how many times she “healed” little dents or helped start cars with her jumper cables.
Soon after I began to know her I shared that she was a natural comedienne and might consider stand-up comedy. She wasn’t interested so I kept mentioning the idea and much later I finally had to let it go.
Now Regina was a tall, muscular woman and usually wore t-shirts and shorts in the summer and jeans in the winter. She did not wear jewelry. So in 2008 when we kicked off a capital campaign to raise one million dollars to build a new church, she came to me asking if she could make and sell Christmas earrings to support the campaign. She asked me with a Cheshire cat grin on her face because she knew it just wasn’t like her to even consider making jewelry and thus, we both knew it was a God-idea.
Regina had tremendous success that first year and continued to have success each following year. In the beginning she accepted the payments as people picked out earrings. It wasn’t long though, before she came to me and said she was just going to place Love Offering baskets on the table and let people give as they wished. People were very generous and thrilled with the earrings. To promote her sale table, she would personally wear a big, outrageous pair of Christmas earrings that hung down to her shoulders at the start of each Sunday service.
After each December Sunday service she had a crowd around the table and her earrings were a smash hit! Regina was overjoyed. That first year she collected more than $1000 for the new church building fund and started work on her earrings for the next year.
Friends, “tune in next week” for Chapter Two.
Peace, love and joy to you all!