By Leanne Cook Gurley
Cook produces a company newsletter for its employees. In our September / October edition, my brother, Ron Cook, and I had started talking about how to “Have the Talk of a Lifetime.” Despite our family being advocates for advance funeral planning, we had not done so for our parents, Fred & Kathy Cook. This edition was published early September, and the following events unfolded within the next week.
My husband, Scott, was the first to see he had a missed call from my mom at 2:36 a.m. A quick look at mine, I had missed one too. I immediately called my mom back, “What’s wrong?”
She was in the hospital after having symptoms that had seemed like a heart attack, but they were running some more tests. They were ruling out a pulmonary embolism.
She wasn’t a great patient in all honesty. She jokingly texted Scott to help her leave the hospital before the doctors were ready to release her. Her tests were only coming back slight, and so it led them to believe this was more of an emotional attack on her body. The Friday before this day, Monday, September 18, my parents’ dear friend, Joel Boomsma, passed away from a heart attack at his office. Joel and his wife, Dawn, and some friends were supposed to come over that very evening. Joel also had been having symptoms for the previous few days, we later found out, but didn’t get checked out.
Funny, lovable Joel
As my mom had been weighing whether to go in for her symptoms, she thought, “I can’t be upset with Joel for not going in, if I’m feeling this way and don’t get checked out.” Just within days of Joel’s death, he inspired my mom to take action and be evaluated. Mom says that Joel is her superhero. She is here in some way because of him.
Despite looking like she would be sent home, her echocardiogram stress test showed the lower portion of her heart was slow and her last triponin level (which indicates heart damage if an attack has occurred) was significantly elevated from her previous three levels. She had had a heart attack. A heart cath was ordered the next day, and her heart looked beautifully clear. It ended up being a virus that had caused inflammation and led to the to the heart attack. The doctor’s orders: Rest.
Our entire family was so grateful for that report, and all of the support and well wishes she received throughout this process. Fast forward to October 9, her birthday. It was a meaningful family dinner as we appreciated the wife, mom and grandma she is to our family. We know all too well that so many stories don’t end with this happy ending.
Previously scheduled Detroit Lions –
Atlanta Falcons NFL game in Detroit.
This was just days after Mom’s heart attack.
My parents were headed out of town soon to go help Mom rest at the U.P. cabin in Rock, Michigan. However, Ron and I were both very aware that in our last edition of the Cook Connection, we said we would meet with our parents to set up pre-arrangements. The time could not have felt more awkward.
As we stood in the restaurant parking lot trying to find a time before they left to help us meet our publishing deadline, it seemed like an emotional task to undertake after all we had just been through. The very next morning was the only timeframe that worked for us all.
Honestly, that morning came, and Mom had overdone things over the weekend, and she wasn’t feeling her best. The weight of the situation was not lost on any of us. We were planning our parents’ funerals.
Mom & Ron – 2016 (Photo By Jillian VanZytveld)
But you know what? With the four of us – Dad, Mom, Ron and me – we had such a wonderful time together. To discuss our parents’ accomplishments, favorites and wishes was so meaningful. We learned things we never knew about each other. We could say things that meant a lot to each of us. There were some surprises in the way everything came together, and there is a reason Ron Cook II is in the work he is in – he’s so good at it.
Our pre-arrangement conference wasn’t your typical conference. The four of us were pretty well-versed on the options, but all of this had been unspoken until that morning. Together the four of us put a plan in place that honored their wishes, while keeping those surviving in mind.
Mom has the gift of hospitality and her pride and joy has always been her kids and grandsons. Hearing the message that she wanted conveyed as we would celebrate her life meant a lot to me. It’s always been about God’s faithfulness for her. At her visitation, full-size Hershey’s with almonds will be given out. She loves reading, blue hydrangeas, and the colors turquoise and blue. Now, typically, some of these details aren’t addressed in an advance planning meeting, but since they knew what services they would like and what would best help their family and friends, we found this unusual part of the conference to be fun and memorable. These are things that you should take the time to talk about prior to or following pre-planning.
Our dad is a man of many talents and passions. What a sense of pride we could draw from looking at the list of his accomplishments. He’s been an entrepreneurial businessman, but it’s his hobbies that really helped us select his services. He wants his Harley in the visitation room, and we thought hot and cold appetizers seemed more like him instead of the usual church luncheon that’s served. Even though he has spent many hours in a suit, we agreed that he should be buried in his favorite Filson shooting vest. We also learned that he loves when a service ends with the traditional hymn “By the Sea of Crystal.” What a burden lifted off our shoulders knowing that when the day comes, we will be confident in the plan that is in place.
After such a big season behind us, we all said that we were so glad to have done this. Not just for the peace of mind, which is so important, but for the bonding that happened that morning. Death is a hard subject – one we don’t like to internalize too frequently, because our family has to go about our work. However, we encourage you to have these important talks with your loved ones, either for yourself or your parents. They will see that you care enough to ask about these things.
For this funeral directing family, the temptation would have been easy to say that since we know what’s available, we can wait. However, we would have done things differently in some cases, and now we have a special family memory from a Tuesday morning in October.
If you would like to start having “The Talk of a Lifetime,” you can find more information here.