A family celebrates a life | PostIndependent.com

A family celebrates a life

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Death is a difficult topic for many people to talk about, let alone face. But it’s a whole lot easier with family.

Loretta “Cissy” Johnson and her family embraced the inevitable by celebrating her life Thursday evening before she passes on, replacing the sadness of loss with the happiness of life.

“For one thing, she gets to know how many people care about her and how deeply they care about her,” said Phil Jensen, one of Cissy’s nephews.

Members of the O’Banion, Hayes, Hughes, Harris, Haddon, Miller, Jensen and Johnson families came to visit Cissy on Thursday.

A large conference room in the new addition of Valley View Hospital was filled with laughter and the buzz of conversation. The reunion-like setting overshadowed the severity of the situation and was softened by Cissy’s infectious laughter.

Stories of Cissy’s impact on the more than 50 family members and friends that showed up at her Life Celebration emphasized Cissy’s outlook on life, that it should ” and will ” be cherished until the final moment.

“I’m stuck here and I can’t walk away,” Cissy said.

“But everyone is so happy,” she said reclining in a chair as family members took turns hugging and posing for photos with her. More memories in the making.

“She’s always trying to find a way to get us together,” said her brother Albert Harris. “And she finally did it.”

Cissy, the second youngest of 11 siblings, grew up in New Castle. Life has scattered the Harris family from Oregon to Kentucky, and they’ve gone years without the whole family getting together. But they were all in the same room, besides a brother who died as a child, once again Thursday night after word spread just a few days earlier that Cissy had suffered a heart attack and would probably not last much longer.

They’ve had these scares before, but this one was different.

Cissy’s been dealing with scleroderma for close to 15 years It’s a disease where the skin, connective tissue, and internal organs can be affected by chronic hardening and contractions.

“She’s had three close calls over the years,” Albert said as he spoke to the quiet crowd.

“They keep kicking me out of heaven,” Cissy responded without missing a beat.

And as usual, everyone in the room smiled from her wit.

“But, she will make it,” Albert continued. “For us left here, we wish that we would have had more time.”

That is what Thursday was all about, more time.

But this family, through the suggestion of one and the efforts of all, chose not to mourn her inevitable passing. But rather chose to celebrate the woman that has made them smile for a lifetime.

“Our family doesn’t have much of a chance to get together unless it’s a crisis,” Phil said. “It’s cool. It’s kind of a crazy thought, but why not? This is better than a fricken’ funeral.”

Albert said the last time the family all got together was for a family reunion about four years ago. Before that it was for their mother’s funeral, the same reason most of them thought they were returning to the valley this time.

“We thought that we were coming here to, um…” Albert’s emotions choked his words.

After a quick breath, he continued.

“But we are not mourning her death,” he said. “We are celebrating her life.”

Photos of Cissy and the family posted on a wall board illustrated the full life she’s lived and what’s most important to her ” family.

At only 52 years old, Cissy has been married to her husband Steve Johnson for 29 years. Her two daughters, Bobbi Flynn and Torri Kaufman have also given her four grandchildren.

Thursday evening, Cissy even got to see the newest addition to the family, her 22-day-old great-great grand niece Nyalli Hernendez, for the first time.

How much time Cissy has left, no one really knew, but what’s important is that they were all there celebrating the person she is before she is gone.

“If it were a funeral it would be tears and sadness, but this way everybody’s happy and smiling,” Phil said. “It’s a good thing.”

Cissy’s smiles illustrated that she couldn’t have agreed more.

“This is great, isn’t it?” Cissy said. Her tender smile sincere.

“It’s so much better than just dying and going to heaven.”

Contact John Gardner: 384-9114


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