The day before her Christmas in July party, Shirley Moss, third from left, is surrounded by loved ones, including, sitting in front, family friend Hailey Mason, and back from left, daughter-in-law Dondra Moss, son Rocky Moss, daughter Star Carnes and grandson Mike Morris.
Shirley Moss is dying from brain cancer, but instead of planning an elaborate memorial service in preparation for her passing, the 67-year-old mother of two chose to say her goodbyes in person. Last weekend, she and her family hosted a Christmas in July party at her home in the Hi Roc neighborhood of Rockdale County.
Several hundred people attended, greeting Moss on her front porch where she sat next to an air conditioner which provided some relief from the summer heat.
"There was such an outpouring of love," Moss said.
The family decorated the house for the holidays, complete with a Christmas tree and a display of Moss' nutcracker collection, which she gave away to visitors.
Party-goers gathered under huge tents in the front yard, and enjoyed food -- 40 pounds of Honey Baked ham, 500 bottles of water, 20 cases of soda -- paid for in part by a donation from Kicks 101.5 radio station. Snow machines added to the festivities.
The guest list included neighbors, former co-workers, the mail carrier, doctors, nurses, friends and family, some from as far away as Texas and Louisiana. The first guest arrived at noon and the last left at 10 p.m.
"There were no strangers here. It was just wonderful. We had a ball," said Moss.
Born in DeKalb County on Dec. 26, 1944, Moss moved to Rockdale in 1974 and still lives in the home where she settled and raised her two children, Rocky and Star.
"It's been a wonderful ride. I've been so blessed. It's been so lovely," said Moss, sitting on her sofa in her living room.
After a divorce left Moss a single mother, she began working as a 911 dispatcher for the city of Conyers and kept that job for 20 years, retiring in 2007. She worked the night shift, which allowed her to come home in the morning and get her children off to school.
Moss felt she played a vital role in the community by sending law enforcement and emergency workers to assist the public. Not only did she enjoy the job, but she adored the people with whom she worked.
"For the first 10 years, I would have worked for nothing, I loved it that much," said Moss.
Moss said that at her party, law enforcement came from all over the state to visit her, and some even provided their services to direct traffic the day of the event, as cars lined the narrow streets of her subdivision.
Moss' battle with cancer began in 2009 when doctors diagnosed her with lung cancer. They removed 80 percent of one lung, but the cancer spread to the other lung, and then to her hip and spine. In June, doctors discovered cancer in her brain.
When family members learned of her terminal diagnosis, they offered to fulfill any final requests. Having celebrated many Christmases in July with her daughter Star, with a modest gift exchange, Moss said she'd like to share that tradition with all her friends and family.
"We said 'We'll take you any place you want to go or do anything you want to do,' and this is what she came up with. That was what she wanted and by gosh, that's what she got," said her son Rocky Moss.
Rocky Moss said his mother's acceptance of her disease and her peace with God has slightly eased the pain of losing her.
"She's just a great person ... She touches anybody that comes in contact with her," said Rocky Moss, who lives with his mother so that he can care for her. "With her spirit, you would not even know she is sick. She's such a daggone trooper."
Moss received dozens of Christmas cards in the mail from well-wishers.
Another friend gave her a small pin of Dorothy's Ruby slippers, that she has pinned to her bed pillow. A small card, which accompanied the pin, describes how the red shoes symbolize being cleansed in the blood of Jesus as she embarks on the journey home to Heaven.
"I'm not ready to go, but I'm not going to fight it," said Moss. "God has looked after me since day one. God is good, and He has blessed me in so many ways."