In Richmond over the weekend my family spent time with my mother- and father-in law. Nonie, as we call her, suffers in the final stages of pancreatic cancer. We visit whenever possible, doing whatever she feels up to doing, and leaving in tears, wondering if that was our last chance to see her. Nonie was diagnosed three years ago and responded remarkably well to chemo and radiation, which gave her an additional two and a half quality years. In that time she has managed to see all of her grandchildren, who are scattered across the country; she attended her youngest grandchild’s first communion, and her oldest grandchild’s wedding. She also enjoyed a few more trips to the beach and to Williamsburg, one of her favorite places.
But last August, the cancer began to grow, and now we try to keep her as comfortable as we can. Little things make her happy. Her eyes light up at the mention of ice cream or whiskers, a cookie she likes from a local bakery. Fresh daffodils brighten her space. Hot tea, prayer shawls, and her children bring comfort.
It’s difficult to witness a loved one transition through this stage of life, especially when she is suffering pain and unable to do the things she loves to do. But Nonie has still been busy, as I learned Sunday morning during a yearly task that I normally loathe: taxes.
Though my brain doesn’t process the numerical world as well as it processes the world of words, my husband and I volunteered Sunday to prepare the tax paperwork to send to his parent’s accountant. We found everything categorized already, and after going through the medical receipts I took on the charitable contributions.
When I do this for my own household, I find a spreadsheet to be helpful in detecting duplicates, so I decided to use that same method. (I have no idea how other people do this stuff – I probably do it the way dinosaurs did their taxes.) The first 12 contributions were monthly auto-debits, and they were very easy to track. Then I smiled, and for the rest of the stack, my heart softened, as I was given another glimpse into my quiet mother-in-law’s little daily ways. In her own hand, over and over throughout the stack of receipts, were lists of items she continued to purchase for her church’s food pantry, clothing pantry, and her favorite charity, Christmas Mothers. By entering the dates of her transactions I could see an outline of her regular weekly activities, which – even up to December when she was very sick – included shopping for the hungry and providing gifts for the nursing home gift shop, where she used to spend much of her energy. Nonie continued to think about those whose needs were great, and she continued to help others as best she could in her limited ability.
Perhaps that’s why Nonie has lived so long, and why she continues to wake up every day. She still thinks of others before herself, which gives purpose to her life.
I may never be a person who enjoys the tax process, but this year it was a blessing to view her life from that perspective. I knew she did these things; I did not know that she was still doing these things while so sick herself. All of those lists, written in her own neat cursive– and to think that people are wearing those coats she provided the clothing closet — do they know what remarkable woman purchased them and then gave them away? She’d never want them to know, it was just a part of Nonie’s life; her life of virtue.