This is a difficult but important entry to write, and New Year’s Eve seems as perfect a time as any to sit down and face it, putting “pen to paper” here to bring a close to this beautiful experiment.
Annette (Nettie) Thompson Benak has died.
Annette was one of my big sisters. She was the middle daughter, and the 3 of us were tight. When one of her doctors or maybe it was her physical therapist suggested she keep a journal after her brain surgery, she took that to mean a BLOG, which is when this blog was born. Annette was a terrific storyteller but not a fast typist, so I became her transcriptionist. She would talk – saying whatever she wanted to write in this blog – and I would type. Sometimes she got on a roll and got way ahead of my fingers, and the last couple of times we took on this project she was finding it harder and harder to find words. I had planned on working with her to write one final entry here, but that proved too difficult for my spirit and her mind. She was so brave in acknowledging and accepting her impeding death, but I just could not find the courage to ask her to compose her final blog entry. It is for that reason that I find myself here – typing my own thoughts instead of transcribing hers.
Annette passed away at Josie Harper Hospice House in Omaha, Nebraska on December 16, 2019. Just as she had hoped would happen, she was surrounded by her entire family as she took her last breath. Her death was peaceful and she did not appear to be in pain. That is what we all had wished for – that when it was time, she would be comfortable. She was ready to go – she had told several family members that she was not SCARED to die, she was just SAD that she had to go. She had also been saying that she didn’t think she would make it til Christmas, and I’ll be darn if she wasn’t right on that account.
She had been in hospice a little over 3 weeks before she died. She made the most of that time – visiting with MANY, many friends and family who came to visit and say goodbye, being the model patient and causing nurses and staff to befriend her, making amends with people she needed to do so with, and even busting out of hospice on 2 occasions, which by staff reaction seemed to be very unusual. The first time she left hospice was to come to a Thompson family Thanksgiving in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, which we lovingly titled “Jamagiving” because Annette was wearing pajamas full-time by then. So, if she was in jammies, we would ALL be in jammies! We hired a wheelchair accessible cab and off we went to eat turkey, laugh, and even have an impromptu “fashion show”. Her 2ndouting was a couple of days later when a large group of her friends and family went to a concert of her favorite Omaha band, “Yesterday and Today” by the McGuigan Brothers. A friend loaned us a wheelchair accessible van and off we went. The band gave us a private concert after their soundcheck and let us request any Beatles songs we wanted. Annette asked for “Here Comes The Sun” and it was spectacularly beautiful and gut wrenching all at the same time.
She had expressed that one of her biggest fears was dying alone. To help combat that fear, family and friends visited her often at hospice and she never spent a night alone. We took turns sleeping next to her on a cot. It’s funny, her snoring all night used to bother me, but after she got sick, her snoring brought such a sense of COMFORT to me. Hearing those snores meant my sister was still there, still by my side. I never thought I could say I would miss a snore, but I will definitely miss hers.
My partner David was very honored to be asked by Annette to give the eulogy at her celebration of life event. He has performed several weddings, and last November spoke at our dad’s funeral. Annette knew he is a slacker and slow to get anything done, so several times during her illness she checked in with he and I, making sure he was working on her service. He was, and it turned out perfectly. She asked her friend Steve to sing a song at the service, too, and also hounded him to make sure he was practicing. He was – the song was beautiful. The entire celebration of her life is just like she would have wanted it – rock painting, good food, laughs (along with tears), “shopping” from her shoes and jewelry collections, and loads of loads of toys donated to give to kids in need.
Annette packed more into the 17 months of life after her glioblastoma diagnosis than many people do in a lifetime. When preparing for the eulogy, David and I thought back through the months and all of the things she checked off her literal BUCKET LIST. They included:
- Saw the cherry blossoms in DC one last time
- Got her first tattoo
- Rode in 2 fancy antique cars
- Went on 2 or 3 dolphin cruises
- Swam with the dolphins
- Walked an entire 5K for a Cure for Brain Cancer
- Took her whole family on a Hawaain vacation
- Went to KC to see David’s circus show
- Had movie nights and sleepovers with friends
- Cheered her grandkids on at their sporting events
- Had a family fish-off
- Went to the Grand Canyon
- Sat in Senator John McCain’s office (he had GBM, the same type of cancer she had)
- Visited the Outer Banks
- Took her friends and family for a private VIP pre-concert of “Yesterday and Today”
- Flew in a helicopter
- Established the world’s cutest Little Free Library
- Helped plan and attended her high school’s 40 year reunion
- Rode on a pontoon boat
- Went zip lining and...
- Went tubing down a river
And ALL OF THOSE THINGS were after she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
Annette bravely helped make the final arrangements for her cremation and inurnment. Before diagnosis, she was never one to want to make big decisions. Post diagnosis, she was so strong and brave in helping her family so that her final wishes could be carried out exactly as she wanted. Some of her ashes are inurned at Westlawn Hillcrest Cemetery in Omaha, Nebraska, and her family members have her ashes as well. My sister Sherry and I plan to spread some in Ormond Beach, Florida, where the 3 of us had so many fun times and laughed so loud.
Annette will be missed by so many. Her wit. Her stories. Her friendship. Her hugs. Her love. Her smile and her laugh.
And she will be REMEMBERED. She touched so many lives. Everyone who knew her – either in real life or virtually via this blog or Facebook – loved her. She was easy to love and I am proud to be her little sister.
I will try to finish out this blog entry as she finished all of the others, with her infamous “I Can” and “I Can’t”s. They always brought tears to my eyes every time we worked on this blog, and writing them without her next to me is making me sob. But it seems only fitting to finish this out the way she would.
- Believe that my sister is gone
- Be more proud of the way she lived her last year
- Imagine going on sister trips without her
- Replace her for her grandchildren and children who she was so sad to leave behind
- Keep her memory alive forever
- Lean on her/my friends and family for support
- Learn from her courage
- Be grateful for the time we had together
- Remember her entire life - the fun we had together for so many years, and no fixate on her illness
Here is a copy of her obituary: Thompson, Annette "Nettie" Lynn May 15, 1961 - December 16, 2019 Annette (Nettie) Lynn Thompson, 58, of Omaha, NE, passed away on 16 December 2019. She was born to parents John C. and Mary E. (Lee) Thompson, on 15 May 1961 in Omaha, NE. Annette is survived by daughter, Ashlee; son-in-law, Pete; grandchildren, Kemper and Tallis Englund; son, Nate, daughter-in-law, Lyndsey; grandchildren, Ryker and Keegan Benak; sister, Sherry and brother-in-law Jim Harrold; sister, Susan (Thompson) and brother-in-law, David Gaines; many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, daycare kids, students, countless friends, classmates (Go Bryan Bears) and her loving dog Tate. She was preceded in death by parents, John C. and Mary E. (Lee) Thompson. The hearts and souls she touched cannot be counted. The love and compassion for all the kids she helped raise cannot be measured. Nettie was a small business owner running her own in-home daycare for 25+ years. She lived life to the fullest and battled GBM with style and grace. Her infectious laughter will be remembered forever and ever. A CELEBRATION OF LIFE is scheduled for Friday, December 20, 2019, from 12-3pm, at Disabled Veterans of America located at 4515 F Street Omaha, NE. Unwrapped children's toys will be welcomed at the Celebration of Life in lieu of flowers or gifts.
For those who wish to visit the cemetery, she is at Westlawn-Hillcrest, 5701 Center St., Omaha, NE 68106. Her plot number is C1414. The plaque with her name on it will not be up for a month or two, but you can find her gray headstone at the top of the main hill of the cemetery by the tall tower. There are remains in a wall nearby, hers are in the ground not the wall. Her stone is in front of that. It is in front of a headstone for “Holmes” and is the first gray headstone near a bush.