Until I see her again

Renee Ann Smith —  February 18, 2011 — 57 Comments

Nancy at Relay for Life

A year ago this February I lost my best friend, Nancy Jean Clum, to breast cancer. She was an amazing woman whose light for Christ brightened our little corner of the world. She left behind a husband, children, grandchild, and friends from every walk of life, all of whom cherish her memory.

Two years ago, the Christian school I had worked at for nineteen years unexpectedly closed. (A sad time, but God used it in my life.) I was left without a job for a while and spent lots of time with Nancy. So I was also with her for almost every day of the last six months of her life (summer 2009 to February 2010).

I had the privilege of driving her to doctor’s appointments, keeping her company at home, and sitting by her side in waiting rooms for many hours. Those precious days made a big impact on me. Yes, I watched Nancy’s body waste away, but I also clearly saw her spirit grow stronger. She lived out the truth of II Corinthians 4:16 & 18,

Nancy and grandson Ethan

“Though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day . . . while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Nancy definitely kept her eyes on things eternal. Not that she didn’t suffer grief, doubts, pain, and tears. But as it became clear that God did not plan to bring healing on earth–even though she could barely speak at times–she would draw a Bible on a piece of paper, tap it with her pen, and whisper, “This is still true!

I’ve written about Nancy before but felt compelled to lift up her memory again during this memorial month. I know my posts tend to be long, but I hope some of you will take the time to read this and be inspired.

I miss Nancy. And I guess I’ll want to share stories about her and speak of her for as long as . . . well, until I see her again!

The story below is part of what I wrote about Nancy right after her death. I prefaced it with this quote: “A friend accepts us as we are, yet helps us to be what we should be.”

Nancy enjoying her family

On a sunny afternoon in September, I sat beside my best friend Nancy at a school board committee meeting. She gestured with characteristic enthusiasm, blue eyes alight, as she sounded forth on fundraising. Then the high school principal signaled that it was my turn to speak.

Nancy cut me off with a wave of her hand and said to him, “Let’s just save time here. Renee and I think the exact same thing.”

Even then, I knew it wasn’t true.

I had first met Nancy at the local Bible study she hosted for our women’s group. Initially, she did the talking, and I did the listening. But after she broke through my natural reticence, we discussed everything—our fears and problems and hopes and goals. I lent her my books. She actually appreciated that I underlined things and wrote in the margins. She read all my comments. She encouraged me in each undertaking of my life.

Nancy, Dave, daughter Jessica, son-in-law Jesse, and grandson Ethan

And she modeled Christian love in action as she reached out in tangible ways to every person God sent her way.

One dark January day, Nancy learned she had breast cancer. Her cancer journey began with a mastectomy. Several of us visited her a few hours after the momentous surgery. She lay in bed, weak, pale, obviously in pain, and encouraged us to minister to the other patients in the hospital.

“Don’t worry about me,” she whispered. “You should see the woman in the next bed. She really needs you.”

During the next months, I often sat beside my friend in the waiting room of the Cavell House, the center where she received radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Nancy quickly memorized the names and personal histories of all the workers. The Cavell staff told me that they could determine what kind of day Nancy was having by how she dressed.

Nancy and husband Dave during happier days

Even as a stay-at-home mom, Nancy had done her hair, applied makeup and eye shadow, and dressed for success each morning. She then felt ready to face whatever the day might hold.

In fact, I remember showing up at her house one Sunday when the basement had flooded, to find her sweeping out water in the pearls and high heels she’d worn to church, with a big smile on her face as she worked.

An approach to life that was just so . . . Nancy.

As time went on, Nancy found her favorite outfit—stylish jeans paired with stiletto heels and a jacket cut to fit a petite waist—too uncomfortable for the chemo chairs. Her thick, shiny black hair and eyebrows loosed from their holds and wore away. So she learned how to draw fake eyebrows, make beautiful turbans out of tie-dyed t-shirts, and wear stretchy sports pants with panache. On a good day, she would tip a jaunty felt hat over a penciled eyebrow, wrap some chains and a leopard-print scarf around the neck of a knit top, grab a shawl for the chemo chair, and off we would go.

Nancy and family at son Mat's wedding to daughter-in-law Sarah

I accompanied Nancy to countless doctor appointments and scans and treatments. And, except for the very worst days, she dressed up for every one.

Then came a second dark January day, two years after the initial diagnosis, when I sat beside my best friend Nancy in a stark white examining room.

She listened with characteristic calm while one of “the girls” explained to her that she had only a few weeks left to live. I saw the strength in her blue eyes as she digested the news. This time Nancy allowed me to speak, and I questioned Amy about what we could expect at the end.

Nancy, Renee ~2009~

The last time I sat beside Nancy was two nights before she died. She drifted in and out of awareness. We spoke of ordinary things among the silences. Before I left, she comforted me with these words, “I’m almost finished with this suffering. Two more days. Two more days, and I’ll be done.”

And, amazingly, she was right.

On a frigid February day, we buried her. I dressed for the cold in a heavy sweater set, tights, and wool skirt. My outfit was appropriately somber yet somehow incomplete. Inspiration struck, and I ransacked my closet for a scarf my sister had sent from the sunny south. It was boldly patterned in orange, fuchsia, yellow, black and white. It was an odd choice for a funeral. But when I wound it around my neck and surveyed the results, I knew I’d chosen well.

Then I walked out the door, ready to face whatever the day might hold, confident that that my best friend Nancy would definitely have approved!

Now, for any of you who have read this far, I have a Special Giveaway. I sometimes purchase items from The Pink Ribbon Store, which is part of the Greater Good Network. This way, a portion of whatever I buy goes to funding mammograms.

This weekend I’m giving away a $10 gift certificate to the Greater Good Network. This giveaway is open to anyone, but I won’t automatically include you in the drawing unless you let me know that you wish to be–because if you win, you’ll most likely be tempted to spend over the gift certificate amount in support of this worthy cause! I’ll announce the winner Monday morning (late Sunday night for some of you), when I share Nancy’s daughter Jessica’s story.

Perhaps you’d like to shop now, without waiting to win the gift certificate. If so, follow this to the link to The Pink Ribbon Store.

And as always, wishing you many blessings, friends!

Renee Ann Smith

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I teach literature in a Christian high school by day and write inspirational fiction by night. I love to share heart-touching quotes and stories here on my blog. So glad you stopped by!

57 responses to Until I see her again

  1. Oh Renee, what precious memories! God hand picked you to spend so many countless hours with Nancy, sharing a special bond between two sisters. You were an amazing “nurse”, comforter, fashion consultant, companion, chauffeur, etc., etc., and most importantly a constant, trusted, and loving friend. “Until I see her again . . . ” is so appropriate! I’m sure once we get to heaven, this time on earth without Nancy will seem short, but till then . . . Will we ever stop missing her? Thanks for using your gift of writing and photography to once again, honor Nancy Jean.
    Love, Marilyn

    • Your family always meant so much to Nancy. She loved your boys like they were family. And you played no small part in making her last days a comfort, Marilyn! Thanks for leaving this sweet note!

  2. Hi, can I just say that I have never been to your blog before..I just opened it up and started reading, and I couldn’t stop. What a beautfiul, touching post. You left me in tears this morning. The way you write really lets me feel the emotion in your relationship. What a beautiful friendship you had. Thank you for sharing her story.

  3. I am so glad to have gotten to know Nancy. She has ever made an impression on my heart. I am glad I will see her in heaven someday. Thanks Renee for sharing your stories with us. Amen!

  4. Thanks Renee…. Great writing of a wonderful memory.

  5. What a beautiful tribute to your dear friends memory.

  6. Wow. So sad. Too young.
    My mother won her battle with breast cancer a couple of years ago. I thank God for that every time I remember.
    Thanks for sharing your story with us.
    (not an entry)

    • So glad your mother won her battle, Juju. That kind of experience definitely helps teach us to cherish every day. And I know you read part of this before so thanks for taking the time to read and encourage. You’re a great bloggy pal!

  7. I found you on the blog hop and now Im following you! Please check out my blog and follow me, http://toesthattwinkle.blogspot.com/ I also wanted to say how much I love your blog and reading the posts!

  8. Thanks for sharing Renee. Such wonderful memories of an amazing woman. God planned for you to be there for Nancy, what a precious gift for you, and for Nancy! It is such a comfort that there will be a “seeing her again”!

    • Nancy so enjoyed your family, Barb! Remember when she was practically ready to claim Jamie as a future bride for Mat? LOL! . . . That will be a great day when we all meet again–even better than the reunion we had at Jodie’s, right?!

  9. I’m so sorry for the loss of your best friend. Very touching post. What an incredible testimony of your love and friendship.

  10. I am here for the first time and loved your story; I had breast cancer 2 yrs. ago and they say I am in remission. My Mom lost her battle with breast cancer 8 yrs. ago.

    I would love to be entered for the drawing; I check out that store many times.
    I sure wish that someone would/could say things like that about me.


    • I’m so glad you’re in remission, Robyn! May it last for your lifetime. So sorry to hear about your mom. You can relate to how Nancy’s daughter Jessica feels. I’ll enter you for the drawing. Be sure to check back to see if you’re a winner! Blessings!

  11. What a precious post, Renee Ann. Nancy really is an inspiration as she finished her race well. You were/are such a faithful friend. Little did you know that being w/o work would open up a whole new ministry for you when you were needed most. That’s such a testament to God’s faithfulness! Love your post title. Yes, you will see her again!

    • Nancy had the same outlook as what you’ve pointed out, Laura. Once she said to me, “Listen, God’s not going to give you a job until I’m healed or in heaven. So don’t worry about it.” And she was right! Thanks for your many encouraging comments over these past months! Blessings!

  12. This was absolutely beautiful and heart-wrenching! I wish I hadn’t worn mascara because it is running down my face. What an awesome tribute to your dear friend.

    You can include me in the drawing. Thanks!

  13. What a beautifully written, poignant post. Sounds like God brought you two together for a definite purpose. This one brought tears to my eyes!! Thank you for sharing it. 🙂

  14. Thanks for sharing your friend with us. It just brings tears to my eyes! What a lovely lady she was!

  15. Cried for you as I read this story, because your loss of this godly friend. But I cry not for her as she is in a much better place. Thank you for sharing about her life…

  16. Oh Renee Ann, what a beautiful tribute to your friend.

    My grandmother died in while in the hospital. A few days before she died she kept telling everyone she was “going home this weekend.” And she did. Gives me goose bumps to think maybe the Lord was giving her some comfort there right at the end. Sounds like He did the same for Nancy.

  17. Renee, this is a beautiful tribute, to a wonderful friend. I am so happy that you chose to share it with us. She sounds like an amazing woman and I am sorry that I did not know her in this life.

  18. What a beautiful post. ((HUGS)) to you. Cancer is such a horrible thing.

    Visiting from Serenity Now.

  19. I hung on your every word. Nancy was blessed to have you, and obviously you were blessed to have Nancy. In 1997, the year we were supposed to graduate from college together, my best-friend died of renal failure. I spent every moment I could beside her hospital bed. Through it all Joann ministered to me every bit as much as I ministered to her. Her faith and trust in God grew stronger as her body grew weaker. This retelling of your experience with Nancy blessed me with sweet memories of a dear and precious friend. Thank you.

    • Your friend sounds like she was the same kind of strong woman after God’s own heart as my friend. So we’ve both been blessed by God in that way. Thanks for sharing about your friend here, Quilly!

  20. beautiful!
    with tears ~
    thank you for blessing us today…
    i’m so glad you chose to add the scarf!
    yes, thankyou Renee, i’d like to be entered ~

  21. What a beautiful tribute to your friend. The post was not too long, and I enjoyed it immensely. Thank you for sharing it. God bless Renee Ann!

  22. Hi Renee Ann,
    A beautiful post indeed! Nancy sounds like a remarkable woman of faith, hope, and prayer! I came over after your post about her daughter. Thank you for sharing about another angel on earth that is no longer suffering as she lays in the arms of Mary and Jesus!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Tracy! I know you have your own story with your sweet sister-in-law. I appreciate your taking the time to keep up with all of us from NOBH in spite of your busy schedule 🙂

  23. That was beautiful. She sounds like an amazing woman and an amazing friend. I think it’s difficult to overcome the fear and sadness that comes with a cancer diagnoses and treatment, so to tackle it with such grace and strength is even more remarkable. But what’s even better is that through it all she had great faith and that faith carried her through. Thank you for sharing her story.

  24. You’re so right about her, Elysia! And I just wanted her story to be appreciated, so thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  25. What a beautiful testimony to your friend.

  26. Thank you for this beautiful writing about your friend. I would have liked to have known her. Thank God for memories and the hope we have in Christ to see our loved ones again.

  27. Wow… what faith! These women are the true heroes… living out their faith in Jesus. Thanks for sharing this.

    Also, thanks for visiting me at A Season for All Things. I’m your newest follower! ~ Ellen

  28. Janet @ KY Klips March 9, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    Renee Ann,
    After reading your comments about our similarities on my blog, I decided to drop back by tonight to read some of your older posts.
    What a wonderful tribute to your friend and also to the love and support you provided for her in a very difficult time. My Mom battled Colon Cancer for several years before receiving her ultimate healing on 3/20/2007. She knew that heaven awaited and although she hated to leave her family, it was time for her suffering to end.
    Thanks for sharing your story and reminding all of us to cherish every day.

    • I appreciate your comments here so much, Janet! It’s always great to find others out there in the bloggy world we can relate to and share our stories with. I’m sure your time with your mom was precious, and I love thinking about where she–and my friend–are now!

  29. So glad you were able to spend time with your friend. Cancer has taken several family members and I have a Aunt who is fighting it right now. Seeing the damage this horrible disease does to a persons body is heart wrenching. But everyone I know who has had this terrible burden has shown me how strong the human spirit is as they fight to stay alive Thanks for sharing on the NOBH and I will say a special prayer for your friend and her family tonight.

  30. Your storytelling knack is moving so much so that I felt a glimmer of the chill on that February morning. I think that shared understanding or transcending empathy is so bonding for the human soul. I am deeply sorry for the pain and that you lost your friend. The redemptive aspect of this story seems to be what you are living and walking in at this very moment. Many people (as am I) are deeply grateful for your influence.

    • I’m so glad you found this post, Sandra. Not many read it these days. I had fun stopping by your blog and hope you return in the future. I appreciate all the good and kind words you left for me to find today. Blessings!

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