In Tribute to my Mom

Two years ago I lost one of the most important women in my life to pancreatic cancer. My Mother. Susan Degn McPeck was one great woman! She wasn’t perfect. None of us are. She had her faults. Some things she did used to drive me crazy! I would love to be driven crazy again. She was funny and the life of the party. Everyone was her friend. She once told me that she made it her mission in life to make everyone laugh. Her spirit was larger than life. She loved her children with fierce devotion. She once told me that if anything ever happened to one of her children she would lay down and die, because she wouldn’t be able to handle the pain. She adored her grandchildren. She prayed them all into existence years before any of them were ever conceived! She was brave. She was an example of how to face cancer with courage. When she had breast cancer 20+ years ago she faced it head on. Two weeks after her double mastectomy she was out on her 6 mile morning walk. She face that situation with humor and grace. Twenty years later she looked pancreatic cancer in the face and said, “you will not beat me.” Unfortunately pancreatic cancer beats everyone. But she put up a helluva fight.

November is National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Patrick Swayze brought a lot of attention to this disease. The reality is it’s the 4th leading cause of cancer death (over 35,000 Americans will die of this year) and it is the least understood, least researched, and least funded of all cancers. Often people aren’t diagnosed until it is too late. In order to do something, please donate at

Two years ago today I got up that morning with incredible morning sickness. I was very newly pregnant. I dropped my daughter off at the elementary school and then took my son to pre-school. I stopped by The Hole, which has the best donuts in the world, and ordered a dozen sugary treats. Knowing that my Dad probably hadn’t left my Mom’s side since she went on Hospice and was taken home from the hospital, I stopped by Starbucks and got him a very large cup of black coffee. I then headed to my parent’s house. I remember thinking that the smell of the coffee really helped quell my morning sickness. When I handed my Dad the coffee he called me a Saint. My brother was asleep downstairs. He had dropped out of college that semester because the stress of my Mom’s illness was too much for him to handle with his school demands. In the three weeks leading up to my Mom’s return home from the hospital, we had spent many hours together in the hospital waiting room watching funny movies trying to take our minds off reality, yet not wanting to venture too far from my mother’s side.
It was election day. My Dad asked me if I would please stay with my mother so that he could go vote. The man deserved a break. Of course I would stay with my mother. I remember him giving me instructions on how to give her more morphine if she sounded like she was in pain and that if she passed not to do anything. I didn’t think she was going to die that day. I knew she was going to, just not that day.
I laid in bed next to my mother. I tried to watch TV but everything on every channel was meaningless to me. I held her hand. I listened to her breath. I had been listening to the soundtrack to Les Mis a lot in those days. It was one of my coping mechanisms. As I held her hand, I started to sing to her the lines Val Jean sings to God as he is nearing death. “God on high/ Hear my prayer/ Take me now/ To thy care/ Where You are/ Let me be/ Take me now/ Take me there/ Bring me home/ Bring me home.” It was peaceful in that room. Spiritual. I wonder if angels were filling the room waiting to bring her home.
My Dad got home from voting and I had to leave to go pick up my son from pre-school. After I picked him up, we went to the library. I checked out some books, thinking I would be at my mother’s side for days and would need books to read. We came home and I made him lunch. I was surfing the web, chatting with the hubs on I.M., trying to take my mind off things, when my Dad called saying he was pretty sure my Mom had just passed and he was calling the Hospice nurse to verify it. I told him I would be right over.
Of course after I got off the phone with him the hubs wasn’t answering my I.M.s I called his office phone. No answer either. Desperate I called my mother-in-law. I squeaked out that my Dad had called and my Mom died. After that all I got out was, “will you…” and she said “I’ll be right over.” I was trying to ask her if she would pick up my daughter from school and take my son for the day. I didn’t even have to ask. She already knew. That’s why she’s wonderful. Finally I got a hold of Casey. I swear I rather articulately told him that my Dad had called and my Mom had died. He swears all he heard was sobbing and new immediately he had to come home. He drove home faster from work probably than he ever had before. My mother-in-law came. The minute she saw me she grabbed me and hugged me tighter, harder, and longer than she ever had before. I dissolved into tears and sobbed and sobbed.
I don’t remember the drive over to my parent’s house. I know the hubs drove. Knowing myself I was probably talking non-stop. When we got to the house the Hospice nurse had confirmed that my Mom had stopped breathing and her heart had stopped beating. She was crying. That was weird. It was our loss. Not hers. The hubs and I went into my parent’s bedroom. I dropped to my knees, laid my head on my Mom’s chest, cried, told her I loved her, and goodbye for now. I remember sitting in the living room with my brother and the hubs shell shocked while my Dad made a lot of phone calls. One of them was to my sister. She was in the middle of a phone hearing. She had to hear the news in the middle of it. I feel bad for that. We waited until my sister could drive up from Salt Lake to say goodbye. And then the hubs called a man in our ward who worked at a local mortuary. He was aware of our situation and gave the hubs his cell phone number and told him that when the time came to call him and he would take care of everything. Watching the two men from the mortuary, my Dad, the hubs, and my brother carry my Mom’s body out to the hearse was the worst moment in my life.
It seemed like hours and we were all starving. We decided to go to Sizzler. It’s our family’s go-to place in happy and sad events. Cheese toast is comfort food. My sister called my mom’s brother in Hawaii to tell him the news. I know it was hard. On the way to Sizzler, my sister and I stopped at my mom’s other brother’s house and gave him the news. At that point I was in a daze. We must have been a sight at Sizzler. We were all in a daze. I don’t even know if I tasted the steak. I do remember the hubs spilling Mountain Dew all over my purse.
After that we went back to my parent’s house where my Dad made more phone calls. My sister and I tried to get a hold of more relatives. After a while she had to go back home to her family. My brother sought comfort with his friends. I sought comfort by writing my Mom’s obituary. I couldn’t let anyone else do it. After a few revisions, the whole family approved of it. I don’t remember going home that night, but I know I did. The next day my Dad, the hubs, and I went to the mortuary and made funeral plans for my Mom.
Every day after November 6, 2007 I’ve had to live without my Mom. It sucks. Many wonderful things have happened since her death. The birth of my son, my saving grave, who is her little namesake. She would have adored him. The college graduation of my brother. And most definitely the marriage of my brother and his new wife. I know life goes on and good things continue to happen. But all of life’s wonderful events for me are bittersweet because she’s not there in the flesh to enjoy them. It’s not enough to feel her spirit. I want to hug her, to kiss her on both cheeks (our tradition), and watch the happiness in her eyes. It’s hard going from seeing your Mom every day to missing her every day.
This morning I was looking on my cousin’s blog. Today is a sad day for them as well. They lost their son on this day 4 years ago. They have a song list and one song stuck out for me. It’s a song I’ve heard before. It is the song one of my adoptive couples dedicated to their baby long before she came into their lives. Today I heard it for the first time in the context of what my Mom wants for me. What she wants for my Dad. What she wants for my siblings. What she wants for her grandchildren.
My Wish

I hope the days come easy and the moments pass slow
And each road leads you where you want to go
And if you’re faced with the choice and you have to choose
I hope you choose the one that means the most to you

And if one door opens to another door closed
I hope you keep on walkin’ til you find the window
If it’s cold outside, show the world the warmth of your smile
But more than anything, more than anything

My wish for you
Is that this life becomes all that you want it to
Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small
You never need to carry more than you can hold

And while you’re out there gettin’ where you’re gettin’ to
I hope you know somebody loves you
And wants the same things too
Yeah, this is my wish

I hope you never look back but you never forget
All the ones who love you and the place you left
I hope you always forgive and you never regret
And you help somebody every chance you get

Oh, you’d find God’s grace in every mistake
And always give more than you take
But more than anything, yeah more than anything

My wish for you
Is that this life becomes all that you want it to
Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small
You never need to carry more than you can hold

And while you’re out there gettin’ where you’re gettin’ to
I hope you know somebody loves you
And wants the same things too
Yeah, this is my wish


9 thoughts on “In Tribute to my Mom

  1. Wow. That is an amazing story. Its funny how day to day stuff is completely forgotten in our minds, but days like this, even the most minuet of details is so vivid. The smell of the coffee helping your nausea, the TV shows that were uninteresting, etc. Your mother seems like an amazing woman and it shows through you! I am grateful that she did such an amazing job and had such an impact because the world is definitely benefiting big time!

  2. Thank you for sharing this Marisa. Your mom was a much loved woman. Over our A-day Josh and I watched our wedding video and there was Sue lovingly lighthearted as ever we both cried. We miss her very much. Thank you for this tribute. That is a beautiful song and it fits perfectly if you need a copy I have the CD. 80)

  3. Watching another human die is never easy. Watching you wife 36+ years can't be described. Minni our dog jumped up on the bed with me, sniffed Sue's breath, and would not get down until Sue stopped breathing. Sue and I reminded the Nurse of her own parents was part of the reason she was so upset. When Men from my Men's Group came into the viewing I went to greet them and if they hadn't in circled me I would have fallen down. Vic asked if they were special friends of mine. Yes they are very special friends. One sent me a message remembering the day Sue died. While I have since remarried a very wonderful women I have known since I was 4, the years, memories, and love for Sue I have has not changed.Thanks to everyone, and it's a very big group, that helped my family and me during a very hard time for us.Love and Thanks,Dan McPeck

  4. I love your Mom very much! She was a second mom to me growing up! I love you family, they always have (and still do) take me for what I am, good or bad! And mostly, I LOVE you! Thank you for always being my friend, especially when I was showing my own imperfections! You are the greatest! This world is a better place for having had Sue live in it!I've heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason. Bringing something we must learn, And we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them, and we help them in return. Well I don't know if I believe that's true. But I know I'm who am today, because I knew you. Like a comet pulled from orbit as it passes a sun, Like a stream that meets a boulder halfway through a wood. Who can say if I've been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I have been changed for good! It well may be that we will never meet again in this lifetime, so let me say before we part, So much of me is made of what I learned from you. You'll be with me, Like a handprint on my heart. And now whatever way our stories end, I know you have re-written mine, by being my friend! Like a ship blown from its mooring by a wind off the sea, Like a seed dropped by a skybird in distant wood. Who can say if I've been changed for the better? But Because I knew you, I have been changed for Better!

  5. This really hugged at my heart Riss. This is the first time you've ever went into detail about that day, thanks for sharing 🙂 My mouse pad has wet spots from crying over it. We all adored Sue- familes are forever, I love you Marisa!

  6. Riss thank you for sharing this with us all. I didn't know your mom but from knowing you and what everyone has said about her she must have been amazing person. I started to cry right from the start. I love you Marisa, you are such a strong and an amazing person.

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