Carla McGuire threw a spectacular party, and it’s no wonder — the planning began months ago. The menu. The décor. The invite list.

The baking continued right up until showtime on a beautiful Saturday afternoon this month. Passed cocktail shrimp with buttermilk dressing. Savory pulled chicken for 200. Homemade cornbread and beans.

And the cakes! Lemon raspberry cake. Dark chocolate bacon cake. All made by Carla, who was both the mastermind behind the party and the guest of honor.

It wasn’t Carla’s birthday or retirement party — this was Carla’s going-away party. Carla is dying from cancer.

When she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, we all thought she had it beat. After a double mastectomy and the removal of 24 lymph nodes, we thought she’d won. She’s got an impressive lifetime record of beating the odds. Raising her son as a single mom. Selling advertising for the Kennebec Journal for 15 years (and always beating her goal). She tackled everything head-on.

But when it was clear this cancer was not going to be beat, Carla embraced her remaining time and showed us you can control how you face leaving this world. People often struggle with what to say to someone who is fighting a horrible disease or facing death. Carla disarmed people by being open about her prognosis and making it easy for them to approach her. (OK, she didn’t love the “but you don’t look sick” comments.) Her ability to make people feel comfortable and able to talk with her about death and dying is remarkable. No one likes to talk about it and think about it, yet we all know it’s coming.

With so much to do and so little time to do it, she lived life like she was dying (to paraphrase Tim McGraw). She went to Italy with her son Anthony and her best friends, Matt and Jeff. She visited often with friends. She held court on her rowhouse patio in Hallowell. She asked her son to put sticky notes on the things in her house that he wanted. At first, he bristled at the idea, but one Sharpie and a pack of sticky notes later, he secured the heirlooms. She made it all OK.

She feels her approach to death is her purpose — to show everyone that dying can be done on your own terms. Rumor has it that folks in Hallowell are opening their therapy sessions with, “I’d like to talk to you about my friend Carla.” Carla has so many people talking about death — it’s healthy and inspiring.

Have you been to a wake or memorial service and wished the departed could have been there to see who turned out and hear the wonderful, funny, touching things said about them? Carla got that rare opportunity by hosting her own farewell.

At the party, the tributes to Carla kept coming. Cindy Stevens, the longtime sales director at the Kennebec Journal, read the nomination letter she wrote before Carla was named the Maine Press Association’s Sales Person of the Year in 2017. Tenacity. Grit. Will. Creativity. All words that continue to describe Carla.

Then Carla had her opportunity to share her farewell with her son, her colleagues, her closest friends, and her wonderful network of neighbors and besties in Hallowell. Not a deeply religious person but a deeply spiritual person, Carla told us she has plans for when she leaves this world. She intends to be busy. She promised to look out for all of us. There’ll be no casket for people to stand over and say, “Doesn’t she look good?” Carla won’t have that.

In that emotional, impromptu speech, she told how she wanted to be famous but wasn’t cut out to be a ballerina. But she threw a party we will never forget. For years to come, everyone will remember Carla and the way she lived and died.

And her final act of the night, at the party of a lifetime, was to open the dance floor. And she danced.

Lisa DeSisto is CEO and publisher of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Central Maine Sunday.

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