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Loving memories of a strong friend

Ellie

Ellie Stevens was such a bright soul. She just seemed to radiate joy and love. Her beautiful soprano voice would soar as she sang in the choir of a local church.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she seemed to keep that joy or maybe it was even intensified. She used to say, “I may have cancer, but it doesn’t have me.”

One day, we were having coffee in one of those atmospheric waterholes in Ashland. We talked about her life and the cancer. She was telling me that she was living her life to the fullest. As we got up to leave, a lady came up to our table saying, “Oh, thank you. You don’t know how much help you were to me. I was diagnosed with cancer yesterday. Your attitude and joy brought me out of a very dark place and let me know I could still live in a bright place of hope and acceptance.” She hugged Ellie and wept.

Ellie had lots of friends since her joy was very attractive. Even though she had a large support group, for some reason she wanted me there with her as her death approached. I think it was because she felt she could be very honest with me and felt no need to always put on a cheerful front. We would matter-of-factly discuss our ideas of death and afterlife. She would often ask me, “How am I doing?” and I could honestly answer, “Wonderfully. You seem to be facing each challenge with grace, beauty, and courage.”

I used to try to think of things that might delight her. Once I brought glitter and we painted her face and arms with sparkle. We would also share memories of our travels. She was especially fascinated with stories of my time in Mongolia. We always laughed because I remembered that when I was misbehaving as a child, my mother would threaten to send me to “outer Mongolia.” As an adult I actually went there to do some teaching.

As we neared Valentine’s Day she was bedridden and I knew if she had been mobile she would have gone out to get a Valentine’s card for her husband. They were still very much in love. I brought her some cards to choose from and she signed and wrote loving words to him.

She used to want to hear me play my flute and I would play requests at her bedside. She loved the old hymns and classical pieces such as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” I was thankful that all of these songs seemed to be in my head and I could play them from memory. Since it was almost Valentine’s Day I asked if she and Rod had a special song. She said, “Oh yes. Our song is ‘Our Love is Here to Stay.’

Ellie was in a weakened state and her voice had grown soft. As I got into the song, I suddenly heard her voice miraculously rise up strong and clear as she sang their song. It was thrilling. When I looked over to the door, there stood her husband, Rod, weeping.

Esther Halvorson-Hill is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

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