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Friday, July 5, 2013

Nancy Reinsvold has a new address: in heaven


          The day a doctor told Nancy she had four months to live, she cried and cried. She was not ready to leave this earth. That was back in March of 2011, when she was 77 years old. She had a big free rummage for her friends that summer. I got several lawn ornaments. Eventually a doctor told her she’d make it to age 78 and beyond. He was right. She missed her lawn ornaments, so I gave them back. Nancy lived to 79 years and two days. Her room at Zilber Hospice was filled with people celebrating her birthday last week Friday.

          The nurses said they’d never seen a patient with so many friends. I can tell you why. Nancy was quick to love people, and we knew we were loved. She called us all "Sweetheart." She gave us smooches right on the lips. We hugged her skinny bones and she us hugged right back.

          Nancy loved to laugh. One time I visited her, she told me about a robber who drove his car through the glass windows of an Apple store, in order to steal a bunch of computers. Unknown to him, the license plate fell off his car in the process. The police were waiting for him when he got back home.

          Boy, did Nancy laugh at that story.

          She was proud of her ability to turn junk into beauty. When you visited Nancy, you might find her with fingers covered with green paint. She liked to turn second-hand vases and lawn decorations into fine art objects with her spray paint can.

          Before she broke her hip, she was down to 100 lbs. and wore a size zero jeans. She told me the story of how her pants fell off her one day. Her arms were full of non-alcoholic beers her son had given her, and all of a sudden she realized her pants were around her ankles. She looked back at her son and said, "I'm mooning you."

          She added that that the falling-down trousers were the red ones with the manufactured torn-up look – a tear here, a tear there, threadbare, like the ones worn by young people and Hollywood stars. Nancy liked to dress spiffy.

          The day she broke her hip, I visited her in the hospital. She had dirty fingernails and I knew why. She had surely been in her garden that morning before she fell. She loved to toil in her vegetable and flower gardens. Many times when I visited, her trousers had dirt-covered knees. One day she told me she had worked so hard that she had to come in and rest. She had already put in hours with her hands in the dirt. And it wasn’t even 8:00 a.m. yet. She used to wake up early and wait for the sun to rise so she could go work outside. I took a photo of Nancy last summer. It shows her holding an enormous tomato – one she grew. She was so proud of it that she called me to come see it and enjoy a BLT.

          She was tough. She tried to move a heavy lawn ornament one spring. It fell on her and afterward, her side "hurt a lot." But she never went to the doctor. Three months later, the doc looked at an MRI and said, "You broke your rib a while back." She had cancer but she still healed well.

          Sometimes Nancy talked about serious stuff like the terrorists and the stormy weather. She said, "I don't know what's gonna happen to our world. The killing and the taking God off our money and the hurricanes and the drought."  But Nancy didn’t talk about these things often. And she never complained about her own lot in life; more commonly she complained about silly annoyances, and laughed at them.

          She reminisced about being a single mother to three young boys, working in the factory full time for almost four decades to keep a roof over their heads, never having a car. "I had to take my baby in a stroller through the snow to the babysitter at 4:00 a.m.," she said. "I don't know how I did it…. But you do what you have to do."

          Nancy's husband abandoned her when they had two young sons and she was pregnant with their third. She always had a heart for single mothers. I met her when she became a volunteer for HOPE Network for Single Mothers. She was a hilarious volunteer, part of a team that sorted and folded donated clothing. She was the one to put funny donated hats on her head. Always the clown. She shared some donated clothing with Erik, her garbage man, for his grandchild. Erik was one of many people who had become a friend. He stopped every week and parked his big garbage truck in front of her house. She always had a treat for him.

          She volunteered for a lot of charities – all without having a car. She received a commendation for her volunteerism from the president. It hangs in a frame on her wall.

          Nancy's mother died when Nancy was an infant. In all her years, she never knew a mother's love. She raised her three sons without the support of a partner or a mom. She told me that she looked forward to meeting her mother someday in heaven. But right up until the last days in hospice, she talked about the flowers and vegetables she had planted in her yard. She still was not ready to leave this earth. Finally at the end, she became tired, very tired.

          In heaven, Nancy will surely have no more chemotherapy, needles, pills, Ensure, oatmeal, yogurt, pudding, or applesauce. If God needs a volunteer, Nancy will surely be there working and putting funny hats on her head. Meanwhile, she’s left some things behind: a yard full of flowers and vegetables...and lawn ornaments! 

          She also leaves behind many friends and family members who have hearts full of the love she spent so lavishly. We are her sweethearts.

Gail Grenier is the author of Calling All Horses, Dog Woman, and Don't Worry Baby, all available from

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