Lee’s Lantana

IMG_3461The down side of volunteering with older adults, and getting to know and love them, is that the chances are pretty high you will also have to say goodbye to them in this earthly life and be separated from them for a while. Such was my loss when Lee (short for Leora Jane), one of the residents of an assisted living facility who faithfully attended my weekly Bible study for over two years, died suddenly this month.

I was on vacation when Lee died, but a friend who was filling in for me for the summer called to let me know. I was so glad to find out about a memorial service that was to be held for Lee and to be able to attend when we returned. There I learned so much more about her life than just the last few years spent in assisted living.

Lee loved sitting outside the facility in her wheelchair. Every Wednesday when I arrived, except on the most blustery of days, she would be by the front door. She always greeted me warmly. With her gray pixie haircut, bright blue eyes, and big smile it was a greeting I grew to love. “I’ll be back to get you!” I’d say as I rushed inside to set up for our gathering.

Once our time was over, I knew Lee couldn’t wait to get back outside, so I’d push her back to claim her spot by the front door. One day I noticed a huge pot of beautiful yellow flowers near her spot. “Oh, Lee, those are gorgeous. I’ve never seen them before. Do you know what they are?”

“I don’t,” she replied, “but I’ll find out for you.”

The next week the flowers were still there. Lee still didn’t know what they were, but she’d found out who to ask, so together we learned that the bright, yellow blossoms we both enjoyed so much were lantana. Lee, lantana and laughter, three things that will forever go together for me. The laughter came when I tried to maneuver Lee back out through the heavy front doors and would forget from week to week that taking her over the threshold backwards was the best way to keep from dumping her out! Fortunately I never did dump her, but my awkward wheelchair piloting gave us both some laughs. And we never parted without a hug, after which she would pat my hand and say, “Thank you. I love you.” And I would say, “I love you, too.”

The chaplain who led Lee’s memorial service did a wonderful job. We all got to share our favorite memories. I learned from her family that she hated raisins and wondered how many times I’d served her oatmeal raisin cookies in class. She never complained. The chaplain said, “Lee would want all of us leaving here today with a smile on our faces and a smile in our hearts,” and I knew that was true. I also knew she was now embracing eternal life joyfully, and was with the husband and son she had lost and grieved. Still the tears spilled down my face. I wasn’t crying for Lee, but for my own loss.

After the service, I decided to stop by Home Depot for a couple of things we needed for Saturday chores, in spite of being overdressed and needing to keep my sunglasses on to hide my red eyes and mascara smears. As I walked into the garden area I stopped in awe. Right before me were two very long rows of hanging baskets, all yellow lantana. I know they weren’t there earlier in the season.

It didn’t take me long to put two of the baskets in my cart, justifying that they could replace two that hadn’t done well in the summer heat. Now I get to look at yellow lantana from my office window every day and thank the Lord for my friend, Lee. They not only remind me of her, they remind me that love is always worth the risk, even when it hurts.

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  1. Betty Van Liere says:

    Nancy, you put into words the same feelings I have for the ladies I play hymns for at an assisted living home here in Montrose. I appreciate so much that God is letting me do this since I am the same age or older than these ladies.

    • They are blessed to have you, Betty. No doubt about that! And your similar age may inspire them to continue doing the things they love, too. God bless.

  2. So sweet, Nancy. Brought tears to my eyes:) Thank you for honoring Lee… I feel blessed to have met this precious lady through your words.


  4. I love your stories, thank you for loving old folks!

  5. Karen E. says:

    This beautiful story made me smile. I can just picture you pushing sweet, little Lee in her wheel chair and the two of you laughing. Nancy, you are such a loving, joyful woman! You truly are a blessing to all who know you!

    • Thanks, Karen. You’ve certainly done your share of wheelchair pushing, I know! I’m blessed to know you.

  6. Lee, laughter, lantanas…and love. Four perfect L’s.
    Very special and lovely post, Nancy.

  7. Reminds me of my dear friend Millie from Buena Vista who ended up at Liberty Heights. He taught a Bible study at her assisted living for years until she was unable. We had lots of bumpy rides in her wheel chair too!

    • It’s a good thing they know we mean well and have forgiving hearts, huh!? Thanks for the comment, Lea Ann.

  8. I can relate to “piloting” wheelchairs! I almost let the elevator doors close on my dad’s feet when trying to maneuver his chair while I was trying to be helpful. We both laughed. Thanks for sharing your sweet memories of your friend. As always, your descriptive writing makes me think I must have met her!

    • I’ve had a few of those experiences over the years too, Shar. Maybe we should be licensed to “help” with wheelchairs!

  9. Bernice Herrold says:

    What a great story–you make it so real like she was our friend also! I also have a problem navigating a wheel chair with my husband–it is almost easier to let him come slowly turning the wheel himself.

  10. Nancy,
    THANK YOU for writing about lovely Lee. What a sweet and poignant tribute to her life and the life of serving others.
    Well done, my friend, well done. I think Lee is smiling about you right now.
    Much love,

  11. Jim Brummett says:

    What a beautiful tribute.

  12. Words cannot express how moved I was when I read this article about my Mother, there are no moments yet in my day that she is not in my thoughts or often in my tears. To know that she had such a dear friend warms my heart. I struggle from time to time about the decisions I made that July morning, knowing I was honoring her wishes and not my wants or needs, I would give anything to have her back in her greeting spot at the front door!

    • I’m so glad you saw it, Jean. It was my privilege to honor her in this way and I miss her still every time I drive up to The Residence and she isn’t sitting by the front door. I sent you a longer, more personal note via email but please rest assured that you did the very best you could for her in the end and more important, you were there for her when she needed you. She loved you and appreciated you so much. God bless.

  13. cassi knapp-olson says:

    This is such a beautiful remembrance of my mother -in- law Leora. Your touching recollections mean more than you can know. As you know we lost Mark, my husband nearly one year before Leora making this one of the hardest years I have known. Reading this brought not only smiles and tears to me but also a beautifully vivid mental image of Mark and Leora lovingly hugging and giggling like they so often did. This will be one of the many treasures that I will save to share with Harlie Leora Olson, her grand daughter. Keeping their memory alive is a task that seems impossible at times because she is only two. Having the beauty of Leora in print is a gem that holds unimaginable value and for this I thank you. So thank you for the smile and the tear that you gave to me today there is nothing more valuable than that of one’s memory. God Bless.
    Cassi Knapp – Olson

    • So good to hear from you, Cassi. I remember you and darling Harlie from the service. How sweet that Leora is her middle name. Of course I remember Lee telling me about losing Mark. I’m so sorry for your loss and pray it will get easier with time. Thanks so much for writing. God bless.

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