My mother, Benita Garner, was witty, loving, and courageous. My mother never knew a stranger. She would open her home to anyone in need. She would also help wherever she could. And to put it plainly, she was quite the talker! She could talk to you for hours on end and be filled with quirky facts that no one else would ever have known. She was also a true bookworm and music lover. She liked all genres of music and raised me to have an appreciation for it. Her love for music has even been instilled in her oldest grandson Josiah. She would spend hours upon hours playing her old favorites and egging him on to sing and dance. What a legacy! What three-year-old loves Michael Jackson, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and Stevie Wonder as my Josiah does! She loved her grandsons dearly, and was the best “NeNe” as she was affectionately called, on the planet!
During her battle with cancer, she maintained a full time class load as a student at the University of Phoenix where she was a member of the National Honor Society. It was not unusual to find her studying or writing a paper after a round of chemo. She stayed active throughout her “battle” and was a member of the board of directors of the American Cancer Society in Hamilton, OH. After developing neuropathy in her feet, and unable to walk to her doctors’ appointments, she saw the need for others in her situation. She immediately campaigned for public transportation and was asked to serve on the board for the implementation of public transportation in Kokomo, IN. She was very proud of that endeavor. She enjoyed volunteering for the Indiana Black Expo and was a Secretary of the Relay For Life Committee in Holland, OH and Kokomo, IN.
She was a fun, energetic and lovable person. She was one of the strongest people I knew. She never used her battle with colon cancer as a crutch. She always found a positive out of everything. In fact, although she was never afraid to talk about the disease, from the first diagnosis, until literally the day she died, she was determined to “beat” the disease, and was always totally optimistic about the “next” procedure, and even encouraging to those she loved. I remember the days prior to her death when she would not sleep. Many loved ones surrounding her consistently asked her if she was in pain, or afraid and encouraged, almost bulling her to sleep as we could tell she was beyond exhaustion. Finally, her reply was that “she just didn’t want to lose any time with us.” She said she understood what was happening, but “just didn’t want to lose any time.” She encouraged us to have “have a party,” which we did, in her honor. That night, she smiled, laughed, and even toasted us, while we listened to her favorite tunes. That in itself, was an example of who she was and hard she fought to not let the disease define who she was, but rather face the inevitable on her terms… She found that adding ” sugar” to the “lemon” called cancer, created a river of lemonade of networking and encouraging others that the fight is not theirs alone.
My mother passed away on November 16, 2012 after a four-year battle with colon cancer. She will be missed by many, especially by me, my husband Monell Kennedy, and our children Josiah and Elijah who although may not see her as they grow up, will forever have her legacy of music, humor, and selfless love. I will make sure of that. I remember after my youngest Elijah was born and during chemo, and sometimes in pain, she would insist that in order for “ME” to rest in order to return to work the next morning, that he be brought to her in the middle of the night, where she would tuck him in beside her and ironically, he would sleep peacefully for the remainder of the night.
I was blessed to have had my mother for 31 years. I believe that I am a strong independent woman because of who she was and how she raised me. I now know the depth of that strength and because of how she fought this disease with optimism, humor, love and determination. Cancer may have taken her life, but the legacy she left for me, my sons, my family and her friends will keep her here with us forever.