Rachel’s “symbolic ride to eternity” with her family

  By Joe Aliling

  As sequel to a previous story, following the admonition by the late NVM Gonzales for us to write our own ethnic and family history, here is part of my family history worth telling to my posterity:

It was early Sunday morning of August 31, 1997.  Princess Diana’s fatal car accident on CNN woke me up.  It was very unusual for Rachel to watch TV early morning, unless she left it on the night before.  I reached out for Rachel’s hands on the other side of our bed, but they were gone already.  Reclined on her La-Z-Boy chair, Rachel’s eyes were glued to the TV.  I asked her how she was doing, but she motioned her hands for me not to distract her attention from the breaking news.

Two weeks earlier, Rachel was confined at the ICU (intensive care unit) of UCSF (University of California in San Francisco) hospital.  Since then, she had seen her oncology doctors, Dr. Alan Venook and Dr. Emily Bergsland, twice already at the UCSF outpatient clinic located at 400 Parnassus Street and toweringly overlooked the world renown Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

During those visits, intravenous liquid was injected into her veins through her blood port and replenish the chemicals she had lost from her body.  They were treating Rachel’s terminal pancreatic cancer that had metastasized already into her liver when they discovered it.  For the last six years, they had successfully arrested its spread into her lymph nodes, spleen, kidneys, lungs and breasts.

At the ICU, while our sons were blessing the Sacrament bread and water, Rachel and I realized that the Lord had granted her righteous desire, i.e., for God to sustain her life long enough for her to witness each son cross certain milestones in his youth.  Rachel wished to see her sons, Joe and Joey, to 1) receive their high school diploma, 2) receive their Eagle Scout rank, 3) receive their Melchizedek Priesthood, 4) receive their individual temple endowment, 5) receive their call to serve a two-year full time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  All had come to pass.

Rachel’s unwavering faith in God had sustained her, and she already had accepted graciously the will of the Lord.   Rachel always appreciated the dawn of a new day in her life.  As a gesture of her gratitude, she heeded the Lord’s admonition that “if you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)  At the end of each day, Rachel would kneel down and honestly give an accounting of her stewardship as a wife, a mother and a help-maid of God.  In response, the Lord blessed her with another day to live.

In her last visit, her doctors informed Rachel “it was the end of the line” for her.  They were offering Rachel a choice on where to die -- at home or at the hospital.  While they were numbered amongst the best oncologists on the West Coast, Rachel apparently had reached the limits of their medical knowledge and expertise.  At this time, they had ruled out pancreatic and/or liver transplant.  She was “on deck” some time ago, waiting for a donor that would give a good match for her organs.  Now, her heart and body could no longer sustain a transplant operation and good recovery.

Rachel rejected their proposition.  She told them that she had heard them say what she’s hearing now from them six years ago.  And, yet, she lived simply because of her faith in God and in the miracle of modern science.

Through prayer, her doctors had listened to some of her ideas on how to treat her during times when experimental medical procedures had failed on her.  Rachel’s doctors had the great intelligence to understand her knowledge in food science and enough humility to experiment on her ideas on how to treat her terminal cancer.  The good teamwork between Rachel and her doctors sustained her life beyond everybody’s expectations.

Her doctors asked me to arrange a meeting with our bishop, Cliff Brower, and our ward Relief Society president, Mavis Odom, a professional nurse.  The purpose of the meeting was to agree on a plan on how to make it very comfortable for Rachel to die either at home or at the hospital, depending on her choice.

Every Sabbath morning, like clockwork, Rachel was prepared to teach her gospel doctrine class and renew her baptismal covenant with the Lord.  This time, however, Rachel did not have the strength that she always had every Sunday.  Rachel knew it was time.

With the Melchizedek Priesthood that we hold, our sons and I gathered in a circle around Rachel and bestowed her a blessing of comfort.  As always, Rachel was beautiful in Sunday dress.  Rachel managed to walk to our car parked on the driveway.

Bishop Brower dropped in to check on Rachel.  Seeing Rachel in the front passenger seat, Bishop Brower asked “Rachel, are you ready to go?”  Rachel replied “Yes, Bishop.”  The bishop asked again, “Rachel, are you really ready to go?”  Rachel replied, “Yes, Bishop.”  The bishop asked for the third time, “Rachel, do you understand my question?  Are you ready to go?”  Rachel replied again, “Yes, Bishop, I do understand your question.  I’m really ready to go.”

Rachel instructed Joe to start the car and drive across town in Fremont.  She asked Joey and me to take the backseat.  The beautiful scenery on our broadside silently and buoyantly floated along.  Soon after, we were on the freeway headed toward Sacramento.  This was our family’s “symbolic ride to eternity.”  At about 4:30 p.m., Rachel fell asleep.  Shortly thereafter, the “911 paramedic” pronounced her dead in Sacramento.

Rachel had her way.  She “died with her boots on” and dressed in her Sunday best.  She chose not to die in her bedroom at home or in a hospital bed.  She had her final “symbolic ride to eternity” with her family.