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Jessica Stewart | St. Joseph News-Press

If before you died you had the opportunity to sit down and have folks tell you exactly what they thought of you, would you do it? Would you be so confident in your kindness that you would show up to that event with excitement, because you knew this was going to be a great celebration? I am going to go out on a limb and say, ain’t no way in the world I would, but I know a gal who did just that.

For those of you who have attended the Josephine Expo in the past, I’m sure you met Carol Dupree. She was a woman who was small in stature, but whose personality was larger than life. For years, she gave away smiles and hugs as she worked her Avon booth.

A few years ago, something unfortunate happened, and Carol shared with everyone she had been diagnosed with cancer. Being a strong woman, she fought it with everything she had, and despite her physical body being ravaged by the disease, she was still the life of the party, full of joy, optimism and sweetness.

Just when she thought she had it beat, the cancer came back with a vengeance and she got the report she had been praying against for months. Her time was drawing near.

Most of us would lay down, give up and just wait for the Grim Reaper to come take us away. But not Carol. She loved people so much she wanted to say goodbye to everyone, and there was only one way to do that: With a party she called a “celebration of life.”

I went to the event that was held on a Sunday afternoon following church services, which seemed perfect since Carol had devoted her life to faith. I walked in to see her comfortably seated in a recliner that had been placed at the front of the room. Always concerned about fashion and beauty, she wore a very stylish little hat to cover her head, which was now hairless because of chemo.

The room was full of well-wishers, and everyone tried to hide their tears because Carol wasn’t sad and full of self-pity. She was full of joy, using every last ounce of her energy to give hugs, and her limited breaths gave words of encouragement to those who were deeply grieved.

I waited my turn, and when I got up to her, I knelt down and took her tiny hand in mine. We had a couple laughs, which was a lot of effort for her frail body. We shared our faith and she smiled with expectation of what was waiting for her on the other side. She looked at me and said, “This isn’t goodbye. It’s just I’ll see you later.” I patted her on the hand and walked away. Less than 48 hours later, I found out she had made her transition to heaven.

I learned so much from her and her final days. I learned not only to finish my race strong, but live a life that would warrant a celebratory “going away.”

If I’m being honest, it made me wonder. If I had a going away party, would anybody show up? And if they did, would people come armed with rotten tomatoes to throw at me? Would the room be full of people saying things like, “Glad that nasty woman is gone. She did nothing but take up good air.”

Having that type of party is a real gamble. You hope people are going to be there saying nice things and giving you love to take with you during your departure, but what if it backfires? What if people have been building up resentment all those years and use the party as their opportunity to blow, saying, “Hey, you’re dying anyway, so I might as will tell you how I really feel, you old hag!”

As I said goodbye to my friend that day, I was challenged by the way she lived her life. She was kind to everyone and I never saw her without a smile, even when she was going through such awful treatment. She warmed this earth with her kindness and love. She was brave and had no doubts that people would come to her celebration, because she never gave them a reason not to. She never had to worry about being pelted with tomatoes, a real concern for me.