SEMINOLE — Sometime before Christmas last year, 64-year-old Judy Dunberger's heart went bad and she spent her favorite holiday in the hospital.
This year was going to be extra special.
Weeks before her annual Christmas Eve dinner party, Dunberger scrubbed the kitchen and cleaned glassware. She put up a 10-foot artificial Christmas tree and decorated it, placing an angel at the top. She dusted off the angel figurines dotting her condominium.
Just before 1 a.m. Sunday, a fire erupted in the bedroom of her condominium at 9695 86th Ave. She was severely burned and doctors gave her a 1 percent chance of survival, so the family decided to take her off life support later that day.
"It's tough because you don't ever want to let go, but it's what she would have wanted," said Dunberger's only child, Lisa Joaquin, also of Seminole. "I don't know if I could have put her through that."
Fire investigators said the fire was accidental but had not determined the cause. Dunberger's beloved cat, Spunky, described by family as "a 38-pound bowling ball with legs,'' was killed in the fire.
On Monday, Joaquin remembered her mother as the woman who would drop everything to take care of family. She was a doting grandmother, the life of the party, a retiree who was enjoying life and a person who made Christmas feel like Christmas.
"She was my best friend," said Joaquin, who turns 45 today. "She filled the hearts of a lot of people with her love."
Dunberger stayed close with her ex-husband, Tom, who suffers from ALS, an incurable disease that destroys motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord, eventually killing its victims.
"It was still a close family," said Tom's father, 87-year-old Dick Dunberger. "She was a very nice lady — just a caring person. A very good mother."
He and his son were always invited for Christmas Eve dinner.
She helped raise her three grandchildren — Joshua, 18, and 16-year-old twins Jordyn and Cody, who knew their grandmother by a different title: Nummie.
She took them to school and dropped them off afterward. She took them shopping.
"Nummie will always have a special place in my heart," Jordyn said.
Christmas, the family says, will never be the same again.