By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
On Tuesday, Marion Stone saw her grandchildren for the first time in many years. It likely will be the last time. The 84-year-old Joplin resident was diagnosed with colon cancer in June.
It was a difficult prognosis for her to share with others.
“It was hard to tell people, to really put into words,” Stone said Tuesday morning.
She was helped in that task by Ginger Brown, a Freeman Cancer Institute social worker who worked with Stone and her husband, Clay, to arrange for end-of-life care. Brown also helped Stone’s last wish come true: to see those grandchildren, now adults and living in Washington state, one last time.
Brown set out to make the family reunion possible. She was successful with the help of the Dream Foundation, a national organization that strives to grant adults suffering from life-limiting illnesses their final wishes. With the foundation’s assistance, Brown connected with two of Stone’s four grandchildren and arranged for them to travel, all expenses paid, to Joplin from their homes near Seattle.
A third, Christopher, 36, is serving in South Korea with the U.S. Air Force, and the fourth, Zachary, 25, who also lives in Washington, was unable to make the trip.
On Tuesday at the Residence Inn, Stone sat with Jeremy Cook, 38, and Ashley Cook, 28, and joked and laughed and reminisced as she turned the pages of a carefully kept photo album. It chronicles her life beginning as a baby in Los Angeles, Calif., to her life as a Joplin resident.
“My parents were championship ballroom dancers in L.A.,” Stone noted as she pointed to a black-and-white photograph of them holding her as a baby. “They brought home big band members.
“And here’s one of me as a high school graduate.
“Here’s another of my great-grandchildren. There’s Ashley’s son right there.”
Stone had not seen Jeremy since a trip to Arizona three years ago, and she last saw Ashley 12 years ago at the funeral of their mother, Linda, who was Stone’s daughter. Stone lost her other child, Dennis, who had no children of his own, in January. Her sister, Sue Bynum, a Neosho resident, died eight years ago.
But despite the sorrows in her life, Stone said it has been a full one. She chooses to concentrate not on how many days she has left, but on reflecting on her accomplishments and her happy memories.
Like the preschool she owned and taught at for 25 years.
“I learned something every day from those children,” she said.
And when she and Clay got married in Reno, Nev.
And when Stone got the idea to form a band and dance troupe while living in California.
“Do you like Dixieland jazz?” read the ad she placed in a newspaper. “Call Marion or Jackie.”
She got quite a response, so the then-60-some-year-old woman strapped on her tap shoes, assembled some costumes and began making the rounds with the Yosemite Dixieland Jazz Band and Marion’s Jazzabels at local pizza parlors and other joints.
Many of her fellow troupe members are gone now, and soon, Stone said, she will join them.
“I’ll be up there dancing with them,” she said.
Jeremy and Ashley said they will be left with vivid memories of their grandmother’s show days.
“She’s awesome,” Jeremy said, noting that she was never the kind of grandmother who made them sit still on a sofa or wait quietly while adults conversed.
“Between her and our mom, there was never a dull moment,” Ashley added. “She’s a hoot.”
The two are in town through Thursday, and Stone said the family and friends will use the time to “share love, laughter, look at photos, remember treasured memories.”
She already has planned out to the last detail her memorial service.
“It will be held at Community Chapel on 26th Street, with pastor Jeff Jones officiating, and there will be songs and photos I’ve chosen,” she said. “One of Clay and I playing to ‘Wind Beneath My Wings,’ and another of a sunset playing to ‘Beyond the Sunset.’ There will be pictures of friends, and the music, ‘That’s What Friends Are For.’”
The last song, she said, will be Dixieland jazz.
“It will be ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’” she said.
With that arduous task checked off her list, when the grandchildren return home, she and her husband will take a trip to Branson to see their favorite music shows, like Red, Hot and Blue, and to take a ride on the Branson Belle.
“And just enjoy each day,” her husband added. “Live for today and let tomorrow take care of itself.”
He said he is grateful for Brown’s assistance in recent months.
And before closing the photo album, Stone, too, thanked Brown for her companionship, support and assistance during her journey — but most of all, she said, for the gift of time she was given with her grandchildren.
“Definitely my wish has been fulfilled,” she said.
MARION STONE is the third individual Freeman Health System has connected with the Dream Foundation to improve the patients’ quality of life in ways beyond what medicine can provide. Freeman is working with two additional patients in hopes of making their dreams become a reality.