For Glenna

My heart grieves again for the loss of a loved one so dear to me, my stepmother Glenna, so, I dedicate this post to her. Glenna passed away in early June. Her memorial was held last month. I was honored to give her eulogy and as she would’ve wanted, I’m writing about her here for family and friends.

When I started my publishing journey in 2011 after my mother died, Glenna was a big supporter of my writing. She validated the importance of my voice and encouraged me to speak God’s truth and healing through this blog. We spent hours on the phone sharing our hearts about faith and family. Our talks often trickled over to my writing as she helped me to piece together parts of my past, heal my inner wounds, face my failings, and learn to love myself.

Prior to this post, the only piece I wrote directly about Glenna was on my publisher’s site. It is a beautiful piece about her role in the healing of my mother wound called “A Journey to Stepmother Love.”

The Bad News

When I got word that Glenna was ill, I was on a trip back to Illinois to care for my uncle and cousin. I was riding in the car on my way out to dinner with a friend. I was surprised to see Glenna’s name display on my cell phone and answered the call. My niece was on the line and she told me that Glenna wanted to talk to me. She transferred the phone to Glenna.

“Is everything ok?” I quickly asked. It was not like Glenna to have someone else call for her and we normally talked on weekend afternoons.

“It’s not good,” she said. “And I knew you’d be pissed at me if I didn’t call you.” She was referring to previous conversations I had with her about learning of a health crisis after the fact, sometimes weeks or months later. I knew she didn’t want to bother or burden me, but she also knew if nothing else, I wanted to know so I could pray for her.

Glenna and my father’s wedding vows, 1974.

My heart immediately sank and tears rolled down my face as she told me that her doctors found a large mass in her lungs. I was stunned and barely knew what to say. She continued to tell me (and each family member she spoke to) that she would not be seeking treatment and was at peace with the decision. She was ready to go home to Jesus. As I let the shock subside and try to gain my composure, I prayed with her—for her, for all of us to face this time with grace, strength and courage.

My friend and I continued on with our dinner plans at a tapas restaurant in St. Louis. The purpose of our dinner was to show appreciation to my friend and all she had done for my Illinois relatives. However, Glenna’s words were at the forefront of my mind. I introduced my friend to Spanish food as planned, but our conversation was more about Glenna and her role in my life. It was surreal to also acknowledge that Glenna was now going to face a life-ending battle with cancer.

The next day I called my brother and sister-in-law who live close to Glenna in Washington State. I already had my flight to return home to Seattle in a few days, but decided to divert my flight to Portland so I could see Glenna. My husband and sons made plans to join me there as well for the weekend.

Our Last Visit

Glenna’s cancer diagnosis led her family to surround her that weekend with our physical presence and with our love. It was a reunion of sorts with family from both sides—blood and step-relatives connecting, re-connecting or meeting for the first time—all in unity of love for Glenna.

I was able to spend some quality time with her—just the two of us. We talked about family and she asked me to read her “A Journey to Stepmother Love“. She was so proud of that piece and what it represented to her—the transformation of our relationship—from rejection of her as a stepmother to embracing her and forming our own mother/daughter bond. Glenna gave me permission to share it however I wanted as part of her memorial.

My last visit with Glenna, April 2021.

During my visit, I also read her some of my memoir manuscript. No one had read it before, but I wanted her to hear it, especially the parts that included her or that she could provide more input to. Although she was weak and tired, she eagerly shared stories about my father and me, or other family members. She wanted me to know and was pouring her love back into me more in the process.

I didn’t know it then, but this would be my last time to physically be with her.  

Over the next month, Glenna was in and out of the hospital and a skilled nursing facility for treatment of a bone infection and the eventual amputation of her big toe. Her pain was excruciating. Her daughter, Roni, my stepsister, was by her side constantly and kept in communication with family on her mother’s condition. This time was filled with so much uncertainty and lots of prayer.

It seemed that our prayers were being answered and Glenna was making great progress. By this time, Glenna had seen the oncologist and the doctor gave her lots of hope about a new type of immunotherapy to treat her cancer. I even received a text from Roni that Glenna was almost back to normal and was coming home soon. So she changed her mind and decided to get treatment.

Walking Our Mother Home

Just when we thought things were looking up for Glenna, a few days after her first immunotherapy treatment, her health took a grave turn and she was back at the hospital. The doctors diagnosed Glenna with pneumonia. Within days Glenna’s body started shutting down and she was put on hospice care.

Roni and her daughters stand vigil during Glenna’s final days.

Shock and grief permeated our bodies as the family began preparing for Glenna’s death. Unfortunately, visitors were limited due to Covid restrictions. Roni and her daughters (Glenna’s granddaughters) stood vigil with Glenna round the clock on those final days. Roni facilitated our calls and video messages of love, farewell wishes, singing of hymns, and prayer with her mother. It was a great gift for Roni to hear each of our calls and to witness the outpouring of love for her mother.

As much as I personally wanted to be there for Glenna’s passing, steps were already in place to move my uncle and cousin from Illinois to Washington then too. Glenna’s condition turned so quickly there wasn’t enough time to make another trip to see her.

After I heard the news she passed away, I posted the following on social media: 

“My stepmother passed away on Sunday while I was flying to Illinois. Although the last few days have been heartbreaking, I sensed her presence and release while on the plane. I was writing about her, listening to “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me, and fighting back the tears. This picture taken from the plane reminds me that her spirit is free and she is in God’s loving embrace. Like the song says, I  can only imagine what it will be like…”

Sensing her presence in the clouds at 30,000 feet.

Glenna faced death and dying with grace and an abiding love for Christ. She knew where she was going and didn’t fear death.

Roni and her daughters were with Glenna to help her transition to Heaven. Just like Roni and me did for my father (her stepfather) 9 years earlier, Roni helped her mother to finish well. They walked our mother home with grace and courage while holding Glenna’s hand and loving on her.

The family gathered at her memorial the next month. Roni handled all of the arrangements. She prepared a special slideshow of Glenna’s life. It was accompanied by a beautiful instrumental song that Pedro dedicated to her, called “For Glenna”. (When my father died, Pedro wrote “Van’s Requiem”. It was used at his memorial.)

“For Glenna” © 2021 Pedro González Arbona

Roni and me worked together to create the program as well, just like Glenna would’ve wanted. It included a lovely poem written by one of Roni’s daughters.

On my last visit with Glenna in April, I asked her about her health and prognosis. She said: “I’m at peace. And I want you kids to be at peace. I want you to be at peace when I leave.”

The memorial was a beautiful tribute to Glenna with family and friends from near and far. We celebrated her life and gave Glenna her final wish, for us to be at peace.

At Glenna’s memorial service, July 2021.

A Dedication

In tribute to Glenna, as my final gift to her, I’ve decided to dedicate my memoir to her. Whether or not it ever gets published, her spirit knows.

“To Glenna, my stepmother, although I never called you mom, your name, has always meant mom to me. It took me years to realize that what I called you never had any bearing on my love for you or who you were to me.

Glenna’s signed copy of “Journeys to Mother Love”

I know you never intended or desired to replace my birth mom. I never knew how to have a mother or what that looked like. You let me figure it out. Once I got my own healing, I was able to see how much I needed you and started to nurture our mother daughter relationship. I will miss that and knowing that you were always there for me when I needed a long-distance hug.

I’m very grateful that you took in this angry teen as your daughter, forgiving me along the way, and giving me tough love. Thank you for investing in me. Miss you and love you. Ardis”

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2 Comments

  1. Ardis, Your precious heart is so lovely. I’m so sorry to hear of Glenna’s passing. Blessings to you and your family. I loved hearing that Pedro was so kind to write another piece. Marveling at how love is so abundantly around you and how much you’ve shared your journey. Much love always.

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    • Thank you Susan for your kind words. Unfortunately the grief of such a loss is what touched me to write. I definitely felt comforted and loved through it. And Pedro’s song was a kiss from Above in my grief. Hugs and love to you!

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  • WELCOME to my site!

    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

    I am thankful to God for Making Me Bold in the process. Now I use my writing and speaking voice to help others on their journey to turn healing into hope.

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