Jo Anne became a caregiver to her mom in 2014. She is also a publisher, coach, author, and member of the National Writers Union NY Chapter.
A sense of sadness, bursts of tears, and a desire to procrastinate hinder my writing flow of this final entry to my Caregiver Chronicles articles. In gathering the components of mom's homegoing journey, I found it easier to leave details of her transition and the activities that followed until I finished adding the photos, videos, and information from her memorial service program.
I document this journey to honor her memory and hopefully encourage someone else going through a similar process.
Mom’s Personal Care Aide awakened me with a phone call at 11 am on April 2, 2021, informing me that mom had not gotten up from her sleep since she had arrived at 8 am and was currently completely unresponsive when she tried to wake her. So I went downstairs to check on her. “Mommy, mommy, wake up, mommy,” I tearfully said as I rocked and shook her body to no avail. I then called mom’s provider, the Northwell Health’s House Calls Program; they have a private emergency and health care system. While we waited for their EMS team to arrive, a representative stayed on the line, instructing us to put her on the floor and take turns as needed to perform chest compressions.
It was heart-wrenching to do and watch, and neither the aide and I nor the EMS team was able to revive mom. Finally, the doctor on call gave the EMS men permission via phone consult to cease efforts and pronounced mom dead at 12:02 pm. It was surreal watching it all unfold. After the EMS guys gathered their equipment, they told me to call a funeral parlor to pick up the body.
The funeral director informed me that they could not pick up the body until we called 911 and went through the state process involving the Fire Department EMS, the police, detectives, and the Medical Examiner (ME). So I had to speak to all of them and get a report number as authorization for the funeral director to come.
I was glad I had the presence of mind to call my sister-friend Taaliba when I went to get dressed while the aide took her turn with the chest compressions. I knew that I couldn’t handle this alone nor fully process what was happening, and she showed up, asking questions for me, writing down information, and making phone calls.
Despite this traumatically tragic experience, I felt the favor and peace of God covering me like a warm blanket of love due to the following observations:
- God had allowed mom to come home from the hospital on March 23 after a 10-day stay.
- Mom had several mentally alert and energetic days with me, and Spirit had prompted me to videotape our conversation on Wednesday, March 31 when she responded she loved me and asked for some french fries and fruit juice.
- Mom transitioned on Good Friday at home asleep in her bed during Resurrection weekend.
- Everybody who showed up that day was so compassionate and pleasant in their interactions with me.
- Each group of professionals stayed around outside, available to answer any questions until the next group showed up, never leaving us alone in the process.
- The ME didn’t have to come because the cops took pictures, sent them to her, connected her to the House Calls Program doctor, and the ME called me back with the information the funeral director needed to proceed.
- When all was said and done, mom's body stayed in the house until about 5 pm that evening. It allowed me to spend more time with her, stroking her hair, kissing her, and talking to her.
- Funeral director John Hightower and his assistant wrapped mom up and wheeled her out in a beautiful regal red velvet covering. Mr. Hightower also provided me with the accurate information needed and interceded on my behalf with the appropriate parties to facilitate the process efficiently.
- The funeral parlor was closed on weekends, which gave me a couple of days before I had to call and schedule an appointment to deal with my new reality.
On Monday, April 5, I scheduled an appointment for Wednesday, April 7, 2021, at Foster J. Phillips Funeral Home, 179-24 Linden Blvd, Jamaica, NY 11434, and met with funeral director Ms. Tonya Hayes. My Bishop Marcus McKnight was with me throughout this phase every step of the way. Bishop picked me up for the appointment and counseled me in the midst.
Ms. Hayes was very professional and thorough in communicating my options, the pricing, available resources, scheduling the cremation date, and completing the necessary paperwork. I chose the Alls Souls Chapel and Crematory option in East Elmhurst because I could attend; however, because of COVID-19, only three people (the funeral director, clergyperson, and one family member) were allowed. We scheduled the cremation ceremony for Friday, April 9, 2021. Ms. Hayes also gave me the unexpected opportunity to view mom’s body before I left the funeral parlor when I didn’t think I would be able to see her again.
I assigned the insurance policy over to the funeral parlor for the cost of their services minus the cash or certified check advance I was required to bring in the next day. Doing this prevented me from coming out of pocket for the total amount, allowing the life insurance company to issue two checks, the balance of the funeral parlor’s expenses, and the remainder to me.
I never knew that people were allowed to witness cremations before and desired to make this experience as memorable as possible in the 10 minutes allowed. So I asked God to give me a scripture, song, and words for a poem, and He gave them to me in that order within an hour of Bishop picking me up to go to the funeral parlor. Mr. David Harvey was the funeral director that assisted us when we arrived. He gave us the funeral procession sign to place in the front car windshield and instructed us to follow the white hearse he and mom were riding in.
It sounded loud and noisy, like a factory in the area where they cremated the bodies. The furnace employees were friendly and accommodating and shocked me with the option to turn on the furnace when the time came. My initial thought was there’s no way I could do that. Bishop prayed, read the scripture, and gave the committal after I read my poem. I asked Mr. Harvey to videotape our brief ceremony and surprised myself when I walked over and turned the knobs when the time came. It seemed like the natural thing to do. Mom and I had been through so much in the past seven years, traveling this caregiver journey together. I felt it was an act of love to care for her and see her through to the very end. I played Patti Labelle’s song, Walk Around Heaven, as mom went through the fire, and Mr. Harvey gave closing remarks and gave me a tote bag with memorial cards, a guest book, and thank you cards inside. Bishop took me to pick up mom’s ashes the next day.
I arranged a memorial service at my church and had a repast at my house with a small gathering of family and close friends on Saturday, April 17, 2021. In preparation for the service, Ms. Hayes provided me with a template to create the program. I used canva.com to design the memory poster, uploaded it to Staples.com to print, and bought the poster frame from Amazon. Bishop took me to Staples to pick up the poster and to check out three flower shops for a bleeding heart arrangement. I ended up ordering from Flowers by David & Dorothy, located in the Jamaica Farmers Market.
NOTE: I found it helpful and less overwhelming to mail out thank you cards as I received donations and cards instead of waiting till everything was over.
I’ll always love you, my dear sweet mommy,
And I’m sad you’re no longer here.
But I know that you’ve been ready
to transition into God’s precious care.
I’ll forever cherish our moment’s together,
It was my privilege to take care of you.
During your 7-year journey of health decline,
It was God’s grace that saw us through.
You have traveled through the valley,
And have reached the mountain peak.
No more sickness, frustrations, or pain for you,
You are at rest in eternal peace.
To be absent from the body
is to be present with the Lord.
We’ll meet again on the other side,
And rejoice in one accord.
Written in love and honor of my mom,
Phyllis Bynum © 4/9/21 Jo Anne Meekins
2 Corinthians 5:1-8, AMP – The Temporal and Eternal
5 For we know that if the earthly tent [our physical body] which is our house is torn down [through death], we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our [immortal, eternal] celestial dwelling, 3 so that by putting it on we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened [often weighed down, oppressed], not that we want to be unclothed [separated by death from the body], but to be clothed, so that what is mortal [the body] will be swallowed up by life [after the resurrection]. 5 Now He who has made us and prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the [Holy] Spirit as a pledge [a guarantee, a down payment on the fulfillment of His promise].
6 So then, being always filled with good courage and confident hope, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight [living our lives in a manner consistent with our confident belief in God’s promises]— 8 we are [as I was saying] of good courage and confident hope, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
Phyllis Bynum was born on August 10, 1940, in the Bronx, NY, to the late James and Bernice Bynum. Phyllis was the third oldest and only daughter of their seven children. She was indeed a daddy’s girl, and in 1963, when her parents bought a home in Queens, NY, she and her two daughters, Renee and Jo Anne, moved in right along with them and her late youngest brother Michael.
Phyllis adjusted well to the move and built life-long relationships with her neighbors in the pleasantly warm and friendly Springfield Gardens community. She was a generous, down-to-earth, straight-talking, free-spirit with an enormous personality and a silly sense of humor. During her years of employment, Phyllis worked for the Post Office, the Salvation Army, and a State Correctional Facility.
Phyllis had a lioness heart for children and was passionately protective of her own and those in the neighborhood. She was well-loved and played a significant role in the upbringing of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Phyllis suffered from health challenges for many years, and at the tender age of 80, on Good Friday, April 2, 2021, she transitioned to her heavenly resting place while asleep at home. On Friday, April 9, 2021, a brief cremation ceremony was performed at All Souls Chapel and Crematory in East Elmhurst, NY. Today, Saturday, April 17, 2021, we gather to celebrate our beloved Phyllis Bynum’s life.
Phyllis leaves to mourn her brother Lawrence Bynum (Mona); Daughters: Renee McEachern (Lydell) and Jo Anne Meekins; Grandchildren: Shaqwana Jackson (Cliff), Iesha Jackson-Rivera (Mike), Reginald Jackson (Jillian), Antwan McEachern, and Danielle McEachern; Great-Grandchildren: Derrell Jones, Shayla, Shardae, and Cartier Rivera, Breanna Jackson, and Antwan McEachern Jr.; Great-Great Grandchildren: Gabrielle, Derrell Jr, and Ny’lee Jones; Childhood Sister-Friend Albertha Knight; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends.
I feel so sleepy and hungry as I repeatedly yawn while finishing up this last section at 5:48 am on May 10, 2021, the day after the first Mother’s Day without my mom. I’ve been moving in slow motion, on auto-pilot, and grace power throughout my new reality, pressing forward to handle the business at hand and get the next chapter of my life in order.
I miss my mom and have been triggered to tears by the simplest things at the darndest moments, like writing this article or while in the hair salon the other day or watching a movie yesterday. But I press forward, one day at a time, at peace and comforted by the love we shared, sweet memories, and the knowledge that I will see her again one day.
I press forward in deep heartfelt gratitude and take this time to sincerely thank all of the precious people who checked in on me in person, called, texted, sent cards and donations. I have felt well-loved, strongly supported, and highly encouraged through the outpouring of compassion and kindness showered on me during this grief-filled stressful time. I pray bountiful blessings of increase, good health, peace, and love saturate your lives and the lives of those you love.
Jo Anne Meekins
Inspired 4 U.
The Homegoing Services
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Jo Anne Meekins
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 10, 2021:
You are lucky to have those precious memories of your mother. May God bless you during this time of grieving the loss of your mother. Your faith will help you in the days to come.