Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Bittersweet Farewell

I have known for weeks that this day would, on my 64th birthday, we, along with many other people who loved this precious woman, placed her in her final resting place.  For three weeks, I have been telling my sweet companion that I just knew her funeral would occur on my birthday!  Let me tell you about the experience of this friendship that has changed my life!

Imelda Natividad was born on September 12, 1966 [three months after I graduated from high school] in San Manuel, Isabela, Philippines.  At the time, she had two older sisters, one older brother and shortly after her birth, the family added another brother.  Imelda never married but spent many years working abroad..a custom in this country for young women and a way to help the family earn additional income.  She worked in Malasia, Hong Kong, and recently in Dubai.  It is tradition for the young woman to work for a family as a house maid, nanny, etc. for many years, coming home only once a year for a couple of weeks.  During her experiences in these countries, she met many wonderful people, had many opportunities and enjoyed the families who employed her.  A few years ago, Imelda was home for a visit and through a miracle, was taught and baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  She LOVED her new church and told everyone she saw about it, bearing her testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel frequently.  

A year ago, while working in Dubai, she found a lump in her right breast.  After going to a local doctor there, she followed his advice and traveled home for treatment.  A mastectomy followed as well as chemo and radiation.  I first met Imelda halfway through her second round of chemo when she joined my District Choir for our District Conference.  We became friends immediately!  I fell in love with her positive attitude, her bottomless ability to love and lift those around her and her contagious smile and giggle.  

On April 13th of this year [a Friday..] she found a small leak around her surgery incision and went to see the doctor.  At that appointment, she was told she had stage four liver cancer and without treatment, would possibly live six months.  She lived seven weeks and one day...she decided not to have treatment because of the expense [they are not a wealthy family and she didn't want to be a financial burden on her brothers and sisters again] so with the most positive attitude, she fought her hardest and finally succumbed to her disease last Saturday.

The Sunday after her diagnosis, she met with our wonderful Mission President, Rudolfo Carlos for a temple recommend interview.  She had never been to the temple and wanted to go, receive her endowments and give the opportunity for her parents and grandparents to also receive their temple blessings through her efforts.  He interviewed her [the plan was for her to go with her Branch in May] and found her very worthy to enter the Lord's house but instead of waiting until May, he INSISTED she pack a bag and after he had made some calls to receive approval from the Area Presidency, put her and some of the members of her branch in a private van.  On Tuesday, they headed for Manila where she spent a glorious week serving in the house of the Lord.  When she returned, she told me she was feeling fine and was fine waiting until May but President Carlos [this GREAT inspired man!!] insisted she go that week.  If he would have allowed her to wait, she never would have gotten the chance to attend the temple in this life...that man is a man of God!!

During the past five weeks, Randy and I have visited her everyday.  She did not live far from us and because it was in the direct path to our beloved Roxas, it was a simple thing to stop and visit.  We took her yummies, fresh fruit, veggies, flowers but mostly, we took her our love.  At every visit, we always shared a prayer, a scripture or other message and if it was a Sunday, Elder Shaner often blessed and gave her the sacrament.  On Sundays, we would share the messages of the meetings she missed.  She attended church until the last four weeks when she had become too weak to withstand the trip to church or the time involved.  Her faith never waivered...she knew the Lord loved her and all of her trials were a part of His plan.

Last Saturday, her battle ended.  I had the precious opportunity to stop earlier on Saturday and visit with her for about 45 minutes before going to an activity in San Pedro with their Relief Society.  She hugged me, [actually just about strangled me..] and kept trying to whisper in my ear messages for other people.  She was so weak, her voice so faint that I could not understand everything she said but I just let her cling to me and talk.  She was in such pain, I rubbed her back and tried to help her.  When I left, I kissed her and told her I would be back in a bit...when I returned with Randy at 12:30, she was in the final stages of leaving this mortal existence.  As Randy and I stood at the foot of her bed, we watched her face and together, we actually think we saw the moment her spirit left her body-we looked at each other and we eyes found the upper corner of the room, I gave her a quick wink and it was over.

This woman was an amazing example to me of a choice daughter of our Father in Heaven...she knew who she was, she lived every day with vigor and enthusiasm, she LOVED her family and served all mankind.  She will be missed and remembered by many people.

Imelda with Sister inactive sister who connected with her and has returned to church as
 a result of their friendship...

Two weeks before her death, Imelda asked Randy..'you are always asking me what
you can do for me Elder...could you find me a rocking chair because I cannot
sleep in the bed..I need to sit up.'  We went immediately to Roxas and bought
the only one in the city.

When someone dies, the family and friends gather in a tented area close to the
house and remember...

She did not have a huge hearse, only a car to carry her the 2 miles to her final resting place..
the mourners walk behind the entire way.  I walked for quite a bit then rode with Randy
who was following behind in our truck.

It was a sight to see the umbrella parade of mourners..

This is the vault that was built for her casket.  It will remain above ground and after
the casket is placed in the vault, it will be sealed.  People here don't visit the
cemeteries like we do in the US.

All cemetaries are above ground-if the family is wealthy, they will have a separate
crypt where their entire family will be buried. From the highway, the
cemetery looks like a housing development.

Elder Coleman and Elder Rocaberte also attended.  They were assigned to
her branch and had become acquainted with her while they served her.

The direct family wore white lace wrapped around their head like an Indian

After the casket is placed in the vault, family and friends placed flowers
in with the casket and when they were finished,  all of her earthly
possessions, which had been loaded into cloth bags, were placed in
with her...
Life is so fragile...our time here on earth is but a nanosecond in the scope of eternity.  It is our responsibility to find our purpose and do the very best we can to fulfill it...we will be accountable to our Father in Heaven for the stewardship he has given us.  How have we done?  Have we been good daughters and sons?  How did we do in our parenting?  Have we taught our family about Christ and instilled in them a firm testimony of His divinity?  Have we tried to serve our fellowmen?  Have we kept His commandments?  Have we succored the weak and lifted the downtrodden?  The questions are endless but each of us will have the opportunity, when we meet Christ, to account for the time He gave us here to learn the eternal lessons He needed us to learn...

It is the sunset of MY life and while I have been on this mission, I have had time to reflect on my life.  I am not sure if I have done everything He needs me to do, have learned everything He needs me to learn, served everyone He needs me to serve but I know one thing...each day is a new opportunity to start again and He needs us to keep on keeping on until He calls us home.  


  1. Cyndi Austin commented on your link.
    Cyndi wrote: "So sorry to read this about your good friend Cheri...she is no longer suffering though...I lost my mother to breast cancer that metastisized to her liver and bone at age 51, so it struck home some. "

  2. Kris Purcell commented on your link.
    Kris wrote: "This is beautiful, Cheri!"

  3. What a beautiful tribute to your dear friend. I think it is a special experience to be with someone when they pass away. I was with Kevin's family when his grandpa passed away and I was also able to go see my grandpa as he was making his way to Heaven. I wasn't actually there for his last breath, but he was not conscious at all when I was there. I just think there is a special spirit there. I am glad you and Randy could be there with her and to let her have hugs and love. That rocking chair looks so cool. How amazing to have such a depth of relationship with her in a short amount of time. I love those people in our lives that just touch is immediately.

  4. Such a sweet experience. What a great mission you are having.

  5. Karen Ludlow commented on your link.
    Karen wrote: "Inspiring - thanks"