What has been a long hard battle against cancer for 68-year-old Shirley Moss now comes down to a few precious months left to spend with her family and friends.
When her two children Rocky Moss and Star Carnes offered to fulfill any final wishes she may have when she was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in early July, she could have chosen a number of things to do or places to go.
Instead, she chose to have a final celebration with those she loved. She chose to have Christmas in July.
On Saturday, July 21, hundreds of people showed up to Shirley's home to pour out their love and support for a woman who had played an important role in the community for 27 years working as a dispatcher for the Conyers Police Department. Family, friends and fellow officers came from across the state and country to say their final goodbyes in person.
"It was absolutely wonderful," Shirley said. "It was a madhouse, but it was a wonderful madhouse full of love."
Christmas in July was a previous tradition between Shirley and Star for many years when they would exchange one gift every year. When they found out that Shirley wasn't going to live through Christmas, they decided it was time to open it up for the rest of the family.
"It was something she always loved to do," Star said. "Usually it was because she found me something she couldn't wait six months to give me, but this year, she decided she wanted to do all the giving."
Shirley's family and friends decorated her home to get everyone in the Christmas spirit. As the community began to get word of the celebration, support poured in from people across the state. Kicks 101.5 heard about the celebration and came to her home to celebrate with her the Friday before the party.
"They were amazing," Star said. "They didn't come in and then leave. They sat down with her and visited with all of us. Conyers and Marietta's Honey Baked Ham stores donated one ham each to the family while the Morning Crew donated a $500 dollar gift card along with two Nutcrackers."
The story of how Kicks 101.5 heard about the celebration is some early Christmas magic in itself.
"My aunt had been trying to get in contact with them ever since Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer is 2008, but her emails would always come back undeliverable," Star said. "When we got the news that Mom was going to pass away soon, she tried again. This time the email went through. I believe it was just God's perfect timing."
When Kicks 101.5 shared Shirley's story on their "Make Your Monday" special, people began to call and donate all sorts of things for Saturday's big spectacular.
"A&R Rentals in Monroe donated tents and chairs for 100 percent free," Rocky said. "Then they asked us if they could come inside and meet Mom. They proceeded to sit down and visit with her for 30 minutes to an hour."
Star wasn't surprised by this.
"To meet Shirley is to love her," she said. "When they walked away, I saw tears in their eyes."
Shirley was excited about another thing the family was able to get for her as well.
"They were able to get me a snow machine," Shirley said. "I had a white Christmas in July."
A popular saying in Shirley's home is a quote that is displayed outside of her home: "No Tears Beyond This Point." Tears developed in Shirley's eyes as she continued to reflect on her Christmas celebration.
"I'm breaking my rule," she said. "I'm not ready to go, but I've decided I won't fight it. Being with my family and friends made me realize how fortunate I have been in my life. Sometimes life gets in the way, but God is still good to us. He's been good to me through it all."
The party did not end on July 21. Family and friends continue to come to Shirley's home to spend more time with her.
"It's taken a lot of weight off of us," Rocky said. "It's been a constant family reunion as we reconnect with old family members we haven't seen in more than 40 years. It's been amazing seeing how many people love my mom."
Shirley's teenage great-nephew Andrew Born spoke highly of his aunt.
"One can't help but love my Aunt Shirley," he said.
Shirley has received Christmas cards from those who weren't able to make the journey to see her in person.
"It blew my mind," she said. "I still don't know where they could have possibly found them, but it was special to me they took the time to find them."
Shirley said this was the best Christmas, because she was the one who was able to do the giving in the end.
"Some people didn't listen, but I told everyone not to come with anything," she said. "Everyone left with something personal from me. They got to choose something sentimental to always have to think about me when I'm gone whether it be an ornament from my tree or one of my nutcrackers from Kicks. I just wanted them to always remember me."
The family agrees their Christmas in July celebration was far better than any regular Christmas they've had before.
"It was a full-blown Christmas," Shirley said. "It was as real of a Christmas as Christmas could be. I had a house full of people who loved me and I loved too. I'll never forget it."