By Jenny Neyman
When Linda Cooper told her daughters what she wanted for her funeral service and burial, the three gave really the only acceptable response possible when a loved one with a terminal illness makes requests about final wishes.
“When she would tell us this I know all of us, at least me in particular, would kind of laugh and say, ‘Yeah, right.’ We’d tell her, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do it,’ but none of us actually thought we were going to,” said Christina Cramer, of Soldotna, the youngest of Cooper’s daughters.
As her six-year battle with multiple sclerosis and a neuropathic condition progressed, Cooper, of Soldotna, started talking more frequently about her final arrangements with her husband, Tom Cooper, and her three, 30-something daughters. Despite their mom’s deteriorating condition, her daughters said the comments and conversations still seemed hypothetical. The family sifted through symptoms and setbacks looking for flashes of hope like a miner sluicing for flakes of gold. Each glimmer, like being released from the hospital, could be plucked up and polished into the possibility of a brighter future.
Even though, realistically, they knew it would come, Cooper’s death on April 17 at age 54 still came as a surprise.
“You’re ready for it, but you’re never really ready for it,” Tom Cooper said.
Diana Long, of Anchorage, joined her sisters, Cramer and Sharon Jackson, of Soldotna. As they faced their grief, they also faced their mother’s requests.
Cooper had discussed her end-of-life wishes with Tom and each of her girls, but the sisters had never really discussed the matter with each other, much less decided whether they wanted to go through with it or made plans for how to do so.
“We just kind of blew it off. We didn’t think it would really happen. It didn’t sink in or anything,” Jackson said. “But when she died it was like, ‘Alright, now we know what we’ve got to do, let’s go do it.’”
Cooper liked uniqueness and personality.
“My mom, she’s original,” Jackson said.
She didn’t want “just any old plain burial,” Cramer said. She wanted the reception to be a celebration of life, with photos and stories and as much of the entire, blended, extended family together as possible. She wanted to be buried in the cemetery in Cooper Landing, tucked among the trees and surrounded by streams and mountains, rather than acres of neatly manicured, orderly cemetery grounds. And she wanted the arrangements to be handled by her family as much as possible.
Tom and family members dug the hole for her burial. Her brother, Bill Peace, of Soldotna, drove her casket to the cemetery in his big blue van. Her daughters did her hair and makeup and dressed her for burial in her “good ol’ blue jeans,” Cramer said, with a pack of cigarettes in one pocket and a lighter in the other, letting her indulge a habit Tom wished she’d give up, but wasn’t going to try to deprive her of now.
As arrangements progressed and the funeral date neared, the girls had one other duty to perform to fulfill a request they didn’t expect to come due.
“I honestly didn’t think it would ever happen,” Cramer said. “And then when she died we were all sitting there and it’s like, ‘Well, I guess we’ve got a coffin to build.’” Continue reading