Is this how death should be?

Mom-in-law Ivalene died this week from complications due to pancreatic cancer. We thought we had six to twelve months left with her. And then the call: “She’s in transition. The hospice nurse doesn’t think she’ll last through the day.”


Photo credit: Unsplash


Crossing the eastern Oregon high desert toward Boise — which I can now do with my eyes closed — and arriving at Ivalene’s home, it was shocking to see how far she had declined. I had just been there. How could she be transitioning already?

Family were gathered in chairs around her bed. We held her hands, stroked her arms, talked to her, to each other. How is it that sorrow and gratitude and heartbreak and joy can swirl around each other so beautifully?

As the night progressed, and as people needed to return to their homes, I sat with my nephew and niece at my mother-in-law’s bedside. Watching. Hoping that my sister-in-law and niece flying in from California would arrive before their mother and grandmother died.

Her breaths stretched out with longer pauses in between. I recognized that breathing pattern.

And then she took what we thought was her last breath. And after an interminably long time, she took another jagged breath, and another, letting the air all the way out. I recognized that sound, as well. It was the sound of Hubby’s final breath on earth.

There are so many deaths that aren’t sweet and holy and family-centered as was my mother-in-law’s. As was my husband’s.

So many deaths occur suddenly tragically unexpectedly. So many take place entirely alone or are self-inflicted. So many happen heroically as military and first responders put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf.

I wonder the percentage of deaths that occur with family gathered around a bedside at home, where stories are told and tears well up and laughter bubbles over between people who are connected by blood and marriage.

How blessed is that family when this is how life and death are experienced and celebrated.

The use of the word celebrate is appropriate here because Ivalene lived a long and good and influential life. We—her kids and kids-in-law and grands and great-grands and siblings and nieces and nephews—were loved and influenced by an extraordinary woman. And we all loved this extraordinary woman.


Ivalene and Niece Heidi, just two days before mom-in-law died


I spoke with family members who, for reasons beyond their control and because we didn’t know mom-in-law was passing so soon, weren’t able to be here.

One of my nephews said something to this effect: “Grandma knew they all loved her. All of their last visits with her were good ones.”

What an astonishing statement. Who among us can say that about the people we’re most closely related to?

Even if the last interchange was a year or two ago because of distance or because life got in the way—my daughter from New Jersey, busy pastor’s wife and mother of six children was one of those who expressed her regrets—all of Ivalene’s last interactions with all of her kids and grandkids and great-grands were positive ones.

I took a niece to the airport yesterday morning before pointing my car toward Oregon. She made this comment: “It’s been a good week. A hard week, but a good week.”

My sentiments exactly.

I’m thinking this is how death should be — this sweetly sorrowful family-centered story-telling laughter-filled sacred time together.


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  1. sally slick

    Oh Marlys – dear Marlys – I am so terribly sorry…..hugs and heart-felt condolences to you and your family.

  2. So so sorry for your great loss at this time Marlys. God be with your family. She sounds like an amazing woman and I know you all feel so blessed to carry her on in your lives.

  3. Kathi Denton

    Dear Marlys – I am so sorry for your loss of your Mother-in-Law. You definitely have a way with words and a beautiful way of conveying sorrow and loss. I am so blessed to call you my friend. I hope to see you again soon. Love, Kathi

    • I’m blessed to call you my friend, Kathi. I’ll be back in Boise as soon as all the far-flung family can make it for a Celebration of Life service. Let’s plan to catch up over coffee/Chai tea.

  4. Marlys,
    I am so sorry to hear about your mother-in-law. How good that you were there for her.
    My love and prayers go out to you.

  5. Leslie

    Sorry to hear of MIL passing and grateful you were with Gary’s family.
    Hope your feeling better…no more flu bugs.

  6. Toni

    I’m so sorry for the loss of your mother in law . I was with Randy when his father and mother died 5 weeks apart and the love of his family was so great that they could pass so peaceful. I have a friend here her husband has cancer and he might not last to long I have shared some of your stories to help her she told me she has been reading them for some time her pastor is your nephew what a small world! If you have time the next time you are here all of us girls around here should get together for coffee and chai. Stay well.

    • Wow, Toni. Yes, a small world that your friend attends my nephew’s church there. And yes, the next time I’m in Boise, all of us girls need to get together for coffee/chai. It’s a date!

  7. Mary

    May many happy memories of your loved ones fill your heart and song as you travel safely home.
    Ivalene and Gary now celebrate life everlasting. I am so sorry for the loss in your life.
    A chai latte and cup of hot soup are always available, just down the hill…….❤️

    • I will take you up on the chai latte and hot soup soon, Mary! I’m recuperating from the stomach flu … yes, I brought stomach flu home with me. How smart was that?

  8. Peter Howe B.E.M.

    Get well soon so that you are stronger physically and able to deal with your great loss. Though we are so far away, none the less we think of you with prayers. May all your family members gain strength from all the special memories in celebration of your dear mother in laws passing and no more pain. God Bless, Barbara & Peter.

  9. Dawn Parent

    I was so glad I was able to be with mom (Ivalene) when she passed. Even though it so painful I know she is rejoicing and celebrating on the streets of glory. I will miss her love and her infectious laugh! I was so thankful to hear fun stories with everyone and I know the laughter would have been exactly what she would have wanted.

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