It would be tempting to say that when she passed on April 30th of 2012 at a mere 50 years old, the world lost a gifted artist, musician, teacher, servant, friend and Lupus advocate. As I look through my mother's daily gratitude journals, or 'Grace Notes,' I know better. Those who were blessed enough to know her could already tell you that her inappropriate happiness had the ability to change lives. That remarkable perspective is what we loved most about her, and now we each have the opportunity to embrace her inexplicable joy and share it to others.
|One of Nancy Asbell's serene Florida landscape paintings|
Nancy Asbell vowed to treat her painful disease as a blessing, using it to help others in their own everyday struggles. In July of 2008, she gave thanks in her journal for her "disfigured body from disease." and elaborated with "My body isn't pretty by the world's standards. In fact, it puts some people off, especially the sores and scars and bruises on my forearms. But I can use them in a positive way as an advocacy for Lupus awareness."
Here my mom sings the "Lupus Blues" she wrote to uplift her fellow lupies. She was an amazing music teacher.
Every morning that she could muster the strength, my mother took her powerchair to the garden to spend time alone with God and gave thanks for every little detail, be it the opportunity to show love to a grocery store bagger, or the gift of a lizard or butterfly greeting her through the hospital window. She even thanked God for the painful and disfiguring chronic disease of Lupus that ravaged her body because only by her own suffering could she truly understand the suffering of others. These 'Grace Notes' eventually became a constant stream of blog posts and Facebook updates. She reached out to strangers by sending them hand painted notecards and loving words, even when the very act of typing was excruciating and her gaping cellulitis wounds made it hard to compose a coherent thought. She never bragged about it, but she loved to volunteer at nursing homes, and even in poverty she donated ten percent of her profits to promote Lupus research and awareness.
|Before lupus with her sister Michele, when they were young.|
|"Inappropriately happy" to have my help writing illustrated notecards to the hospital's nurses and housekeeping.|
Nancy's great commission was to love each and every one of her neighbors, and she hoped that every struggle that she endured would help others to do the same. After she started taking massive amounts of steroids to fight her disease, she slowly became acclimated to her round swollen face and misshapen beanbag-like abdomen and still gave thanks. She then understood what it felt like to judged for her obesity and glared at in grocery stores, and she saw that hurtful insight as a gift. For this and other physical shortcomings she was judged by so many, yet she rarely judged anyone. It was as if she wore a 'fat suit,' except this was no costume. The papery thin skin that tenuously contained her bulging belly became painted with bruises, open wounds and stretch marks. Her arms and legs shifted between hues of ghastly gray, black and blue, and a grotesquely swollen furious red. After her intestine ruptured, she constantly dealt with failed ostomy appliances that couldn't keep up with her ballooning proportions.
Yet she marveled at her body's delicate dance between life and death. She asked the doctors so many questions about her health, but more often than not she asked out of fascination so that she could better educate others. When she was faced with foreclosure, she once blurted out "Now I can help others more because I understand the threat of homelessness!"
This was the last thing that her friends read before her final hospitalization:
"THURSDAY'S GRACE NOTES. PLEASE READ! This is the most important Grace Notes that I have ever written.
After falling out of my wheel chair on Monday left with even more wounds and a damaged and wounded left eye I was given the facts of my diagnosis for the rest of my life due to my chronic wounds. I can not go to large populated events ever. My main heart breaker is church. In my powered wheel chair I can go to a large store, like Publix as long as I do not get close to many other people at the time. No body can visit me at my home if they are sick or have a family member that is sick. I will be losing my house and, my car has been repossessed.
But this is when the weird thing comes in. I am still "inappropriately happy" and still look forward to the next fun day. I still have my art , music, and marketing "job" and totally "work" from home.and I still have people (yes even you) and Jesus will never ever leave my side. The most "horrible" things that I go through the more I can help others because I have gone through them myself.
So I no longer celebrate the day I celebrate each minute. So let's go out there and let's rock our world!
I love you all.
|Nancy just a week before she passed, after writing her last grace notes. Clearly she's celebrating the day.|
A few days before she gracefully passed, I brought her some edible food and had her write up what would become her final grace notes so that I could share them with the world.
"Hello friends that I miss so much. I am in a rehab center getting stronger every day. It's nice to look out my window every day and it fills my mind with grace notes: Take time to stop and smell the jasmine, do it again. [grateful for] rain pounding in the night, blue and white china and bright yellow sunflowers make me want to paint... my picture of Steve and I at his wedding, finding peace in my own paintings, and my new quilt from Jennifer and her mom, and my 'go to' tote from Steven. It has everything I need, paperwork, and of course, art supplies."
|Even her watercolor notecards were drenched in jubilation.|
She wasn't without fear, anger and doubt, but her convictions remained strong. "I am angered about Lupus patients' suffering due to lack of friends, education and faith in themselves and God. I am aware that God may call me to return to poor health to minister to others - I would not strive towards it but would honor it if it is God's will. I want Lupus sufferers freed. I am willing to risk my neck for what I believe. I am authorized to work miracles."
When my mother wrote that she was authorized to work miracles, I think that this is what she meant: When she was in a nursing/rehabilitation center, she saw a drooling and vacant looking stroke victim and recalled the paralysis following her own brain stem stroke. She looked the woman square in the eyes and said "I know you are in there. I've been there. I understand" and then watched the emotion well up in her eyes. She was invisible and forgotten, hearing what may have been the only kind words spoken to her in years.
That brave and unabashed decision to reach out and love someone despite the fear of discomfort or rejection was a miracle that we can all perform in our own lives. Miracles are not what you'd expect. They're more than temporary magic tricks, and raising the dead is a pretty weak feat compared to the universal power of compassion. Love is the one true miracle with any lasting power, and we're all capable of doing it. We can all be miracle workers.
Other posts about Nancy:
My Mother is Living...
The Garden is in the Bag
The World is Your Garden
What Our Mothers Taught Us About Gardening And Life (Guest post)