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,
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!