Courage, Gratitude and Hope
Life has a way of reminding me about what’s important. My dear friend, Nancy Wolford died on October 7, 2017. Her life, and particularly her last months were lived with spectacular courage. I am so grateful to have known her, and, in particular, to have experienced the way she faced death with calm courage, strength and persistent determination to continue doing what she wanted to do. Her greatest gift taught me to face fear with grace and great courage. The example of her life gives me hope.
I talked to her on the phone last January. I happened to be at Fort De Soto Park in Florida and she was in her home in Pleasant Ridge, Michigan. I sat at a picnic table, looking out at the blue water of Gulf of Mexico as we talked. She told me she was considering a decision to stop all treatment for her lung cancer and enter hospice. She also planned to gather a small group of friends to be her support group for this ultimate journey. I was pleased and honored to be included in that group.
At her suggestion, we chose as our theme Stephen Levine’s book, “A Year to Live: How to live this year as if it were your last.” The book is really about living consciously. My copy has many tags, little yellow post-it notes, that mark special quotes that resonated with me. My first tag at the very beginning reads in part, “…natural wisdom inspires them to open more profoundly to life.” The author is talking about people who have been given a terminal diagnosis. In this book, he asks the reader to experiment, and live as if this year will be your last.
We met on pleasant spring and summer days in the backyard of Nancy’s home, surrounded by greenery and bird song. On days when the weather goddess intervened with rain or uncomfortable heat and humidity, we met in a small shelter at a park a short block away from her home. In June we celebrated Nancy’s birthday and celebrated other birthdays as they came up. As the weeks went on each of us revealed our deepest thoughts and feelings and it became, for me, one of the most profound events of my life. We had relaxed moments of humor and laughter. I told about learning to do Laughter Yoga from my friend, Rosa, and we practiced a few of the exercises. I am still processing all that occurred during those weeks. Our last meeting happened on October 4th, just a few days before she died. I’ll always remember saying goodbye to her that day. I didn’t consciously think that it would be the last time I’d see her. I laid my check against hers, and said, “I love you Nancy.” She answered with “I love you too.” I will always remember the coolness of her soft cheek.
That day, she sat up very straight in her chair and spoke in a clear, strong voice about all that she planned to do. She was putting the finishing touches on plans for her memorial celebration. At the end, she gave a little laugh, slapped her knee, and said, “Dam, and I won’t be there.” She was still writing, talking and engaged until the end and said she didn’t like beginning her day in bed.
Her six children and twelve grandchildren and great grandchildren were an integral part of her journey during the months that she was in Hospice, as they were throughout her whole life. She loved them dearly and they loved her.
Her life began in Eastern Kentucky where she grew up a coal miner’s daughter. She married her childhood sweetheart at 19 and was widowed at age 30 with six children. She persevered and with determination raised her family, and gained an education. She had a long, successful career as a psychotherapist and worked with some of her long-term clients until the last month of her life. Nancy had wide ranging interests and passion for life. Her’s truly was, a life well lived.