Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Paula’s book, Signs of Life After Death: A True Story. This is part one of four.

One of life’s great mysteries is what really happens when we die. No one has been able to give me a definitive answer. If it’s true that we go to heaven-those of us who have lived a deserving life-then why is the number one fear among the masses the fear of death? My fear of death has been dispelled since spending two months with my mother who was suffering with end-stage cancer. What happened in those two months and especially the last three days of her life has proven to me that we don’t just die – and that’s it. We do make the transition into a better world-a world of light and wonder, of beauty and peace. A world where we can have all that we imagine.

My mother was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer that had spread into her lymph nodes. She followed the doctor’s advice and had the grueling chemotherapy, radiation and a mastectomy but two years after the first diagnosis it was discovered that the cancer had spread to her liver.

In November 2006, I drove her to the hospital because she was getting jaundiced. I thought perhaps she had a gallstone but we found out a large tumor had engulfed her liver. She spent weeks in the hospital as they did what they thought would relieve the jaundice, but after four endoscopies they realized it was the tumor causing the problem, not the bile ducts. She began complaining of headaches and occasional horrific hallucinations.

Finally at the family’s urging the doctor ordered an MRI of the brain and a bone scan which showed the cancer had spread everywhere. They began radiation on the brain to shrink a tumor they found. Even though we all knew it was too late to reverse the ultimate outcome they felt it would ease her symptoms if they could shrink the tumor.

One day during her time in the hospital, as we waited outside the CT scan room, she told me that she was experiencing this for God. I rolled my eyes at that one. What kind of God wants us to experience this kind of pain and torture? I don’t get it. I admitted that I had my doubts that a God existed. Especially at that moment. She said, “Never question it, Paula, it’s true.”

“It’s not fair,” I told her later that day as I sat on the edge of her hospital bed crying and trying not to scream. “You shouldn’t have to suffer like this and be taken from us so early.” A peacefulness had swept over my mother at this point. “Everyone has to go at some time, honey,” she said. “You need to take care of your family and go home now. I remember when my mother was ill, they kept telling me that I was spending too much time at the hospital and I needed to concentrate on caring for my children-just like you.”

She was consoling me.

“Nobody likes the fact that we have to go through this, it just happens,” she said. More than anything she wanted me to remember, “Love comes first.” She said it with such emotion that it has become a mantra for me. It was one of the last pieces of advice she had given. Sleepy from the painkillers, her whisper barely audible, she said, “Never forget, love comes first.”

Love comes first? I thought. What exactly did she mean? I pondered on her statement for days. I understand now. Family is love, being kind to others is love, a life should be filled with love first, all else second. That is what she meant. Little did I know at this point, I would learn so much more from her journey.

Contact Paula at paulaparisot@gmail.com.