A little over a year ago, my cousin Nancy gave me this aloe plant from her collection. I needed a good hair-do for this plant holder person and, by some miracle, it has stayed alive.
Nancy & Benny came for supper that night with my dad. It was the spring of 2019, just months after my mom died when we were all rallying around him, worried that he was sinking into loneliness.
In the last week of mom’s life, with no hospice beds available anywhere, Nancy had dropped everything – including being able to care for her own frail, 90-something mom, who is my mom’s sister – to stay with my parents around the clock and take care of mom’s every need. She slept next to her, helped my dad with the many tasks of the dying and to step into the real and final grief, and tended to her needs through the night so my dad could finally get some rest.
In the end, she gave my mom the immeasurable gift of dying well. She laid in bed with her those nights, when mom still had the strength to talk, and they laughed about old times and Nancy calmed her about what was to come. She died with dignity, surrounded by the kind of love and prayer and faith that only Nancy could deliver. In the final minute or two of mom’s life, I looked up from my where I was kneeling next to her on the bed to see Nancy bending over her, laying her hands on mom’s shoulder, her eyes closed and lips moving in prayer. She gave me certainty that death is only a rebirth.
A week or two after my mom died, Nancy caught a bad cold that she just couldn’t shake. The cough lingered for months and she was in and out of the doctor’s office for it. By the fall we learned that it was lung cancer. The cancer was aggressive and swift. It was clear that Nancy wouldn’t have the same years my mom was able to claw back from cancer’s wicked grip. She died in hospice, far too young, in December of 2019, just a week before Christmas. And, just 11 months after my mom.
It seemed unimaginable then. And still does today – which happens to be her first heavenly birthday.
Only because of Nancy’s selflessness were we able to give mom her wish of dying at home. As she so expertly navigated the days when everything about life seemed to be clouded by death, Nancy also unwittingly gave me the clearest vision of what it means to have a deep, abiding faith in The Next. And, the clearest understanding of the power of human love and generosity that I may ever know.
When she was alive, Nancy loved to read whatever I would write. Sadly, my best story of her – the one I would most want her to see – comes now, only months after her death. This is the real story, and the real human goodness, that no templated obituary notice could ever impart. But, like those of you who knew her well understand, this is really who she was.
It’s her birthday and it just felt like the right time to tell the rest of the story. And maybe, by compelling me to write it down today, she wanted to see what I might have to say about her and that crazy journey we took together to the end of my mom’s life.
Only the best, of course. She was an angel we could see. And I’m sure she walks among us even now. Especially now.
Miss you, Nance. Happy birthday.