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Faced with terminal diagnosis, woman holds ‘FUN-eral’ with her favorite people

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Nashville, Tennessee (WSMV) — There were balloons and cake, but the guests say this party was unlike anything they’ve ever attended. It was an invitation to celebrate courage.

“Wait! We need one that does this too,” Barbara Dorris laughed to a photographer, combing hair over her face. “We had these lovely pictures from a couple years ago where the hair was blowing in our faces. There we go.”

Saturday, dozens came out to Centennial Park for Barbara.

“Here I am with my crown,” she laughed, propping a hat on her head to shield her eyes from the sun.

Barbara’s been a singer/songwriter, a publicist and an improv comedian. She’s also a mom. Saturday was for her to see the people who mattered most through all those avenues, some she hasn’t seen in 20 to 30 years.

“We are Alpha Delta Pi sisters from Tennessee Tech University!” said a friend, rushing into a sorority reunion picture.

“There’s a lot of college friends and a lot of high school friends, old boyfriends,” Barbara laughed.

She said she’s been planning this since a day late last year.

“I went into the hospital because I had pain,” she said. “I’d been coughing. I’d torn my diaphragm. I had these seven Vanderbilt angels standing over me, and they said, ‘ma’am, were you aware you have a four-inch tumor under your right rib cage?’ I said, ‘no.'”

Barbara said she has inoperable cancer and was told back then she had six months to live.

“That would be two weeks from now,” she said. “As I came home from the hospital, and as I was lying there, I was like, ‘what now?’ I started to laugh. I thought, ‘I’ll throw a party in six months, and I’ll invite everybody now, and I’ll either be there or I won’t.’ It’s a FUN-eral! Plus, it’s cheaper than a funeral. $150 for a shelter. BAM! You’re done! I knew that people would want to see me if they could, so I thought I should plan an event where I get to give everyone a hug in the event things do go south.”

Crowded around groups of friends, Barbara called it a visitation.

“I was hoping I’d catch you for a big ole hug and kiss,” said a man, pulling up a seat next to Barbara.

“This is what Barbara’s all about,” said friend April Hudson. “I guess we all process things in our own way, and I’m going to embrace her way.”

Barbara said no matter how much time she really has left, that strength comes from the people surrounding her.

“I don’t feel alone in this, not for a second,” she said. “I never felt more cared for or protected or watched over. I’m just grateful to be alive.”

“We come to you with bowed heads and humble hearts,” said friend Kelly Buchanan, gathering a group for a prayer. “We know you’re going to keep our loving friend here as long as you want her here, and when you feel ready for her, you’re going to bring her on home, Lord. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Everyone say Amen!”

“I just could not be afraid, I don’t know how else to put it,” said Barbara. “I’ve been in good hands from the very second I started. If you love somebody, hug them and let them know because you never know how much time you have left.”

Friends of Barbara said they’re taking donations for her family.