Janesville woman plans, will attend her own funeral

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Marcia Nelesen
Thursday, December 12, 2013

JANESVILLE--Diana Purdy Brown, 52, has chosen the place for her funeral.

She has written her memorial card.

She is deciding what to wear.

But she will be very much alive when she greets family and friends Sunday, telling them she loves them, sharing memories of good times and saying goodbye—to some for the last time.

Diana was diagnosed with an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer Sept. 11. It has spread to her liver and stomach. Surgery is not an option.

The doctors told her to go home and get her things in order. They gave her six to nine months to live, but she doesn't think she'll last that long.

Diana quit her job. She took her children on a cruise. She and her mom, Joan, visited an aunt in Las Vegas. They had clay sculptures made of their faces.

The families have taken more pictures in the last six months than in years previous. The children have laughed over old school stuff their mom saved.

They squeeze in all the hugs and kisses they can into the time remaining. Diana takes the time to remember things she has long forgotten, such as the days of her youth spent rafting and building dams in the Rock River.

Diana's daughter Janelle, 23, convinced Diana to get a tattoo of Diana's mom and dad, something Diana always wanted to do.

Diana, a single mom from Janesville, is grateful to have time to plan for death, to write a will, to decide the fate of her beloved Trans Am, to prepare Janelle for keeping a home for herself and younger brother Brandon, 15.

Diana has two other children, Shawna Lowe, 34, and Brent Lowe, 33. She's also been a foster mom. Diana worries most about her youngest son after she's gone.

“I didn't think bodies could shed as many tears,” Diana said.

Diana started chemotherapy last week to extend what time she has left but has been so sick she's not sure she'll continue.

Is it worth it with so little time left? she wonders.

Diana opted not to have a traditional funeral to save her family the anguish.

Janelle didn't think she could weather a visitation line.

Diana's brothers didn't want to see her in a casket.

Diana didn't want others, especially her grandchildren, to remember her that way.

She'll instead throw a party to see everyone one last time and tell them how much they mean to her.

“You find out how many people just really do care,” Diana said Wednesday with family members  in her cozy home on Janesville's south side.

Joan, who has been a rock for her daughter, hopes the Sunday event will be more happy than sad.

“We need some happy days,” Joan said.

“It will be the last time that I see a lot of people,” Diana said. “You can't be happy about that,” she added, wiping away a single tear.

Sunday's event—she wanted it sooner, while she still feels and looks OK, rather than later—will include photos, music and food. A friend will sing. Others will share memories. The girls are writing letters to their mom that Janelle will read.

Diana has written a goodbye to friends titled, “My Path of Life.” It includes a picture of her with long, shiny hair. It declares, “Life's a Beach” because she's always been an ocean person.

“It's very important that anyone who ever knew her just stop in and say 'Hi,' ” Janelle said.

“Even a little bit of their time, that's what important to her. Seeing everybody and having a little bit of everybody's time.”

“Sharing a little time with them,” Diana echoed. “Because time is …”

“Precious,” her mother finished.

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