Grace is my sister

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

Jen, left, and my sister Britt

Jen, left, and my sister Britt

Grace is my sister.  No, that’s not her name.  My sister’s name is actually Britt.  But for the past several months, and especially the last two weeks, I have been literally awestruck by my sister.  To me, Britt has come to personify the very essence of grace.

Let me tell you why.  Britt’s best friend, Jen, died a little over a week ago.  Jen lived with inflammatory breast cancer (a particularly aggressive and vicious type of the disease) for over six years.  Six years.  And for almost every day of those six years, she endured chemotherapy, radiation, and every single experimental treatment out there.  Yet despite how those treatments made her feel (and for the most part, they made her feel pretty miserable), Jen continued to be an adoring wife, a devoted mother to two sons, a hilarious friend, and a champion for others suffering her same fate.

See, Jen and her husband Joe realized they were blessed.  While they themselves were able to make ends meet, they knew that there were many women and men who did not have the resources to pay for the everyday costs of life while also trying to pay for treatment and medication.  So they created a foundation called Go Jen Go.  The foundation provides financial assistance to those struggling families and, for many, that help is literally life-saving.  It is an organization making a profound impact within the Charlotte community.

So you can understand why my sister loved Jen, right?  Jen was a glorious, dazzling light and all of us who knew her were like moths fluttering around her brightness, trying to soak up some of that exceptional energy.  Throughout all the difficulties (and there were many), Jen never lost her spirit.  Yes, she had terrible, rotten, no-good days, but she knew each one was a gift and she chose to embrace whatever came her way.

Unfortunately a few weeks ago, what came her way was the spread of the cancer to her lungs.  And she embraced that too.  She opted for hospice care so that she could leave the unbearable treatments behind and focus on her family and her foundation.

My sister Britt was with Jen almost constantly for her last few weeks.  She knew the ins and outs of the medication Jen needed.  She knew how to get Jen comfortable when just lying in the bed made her hurt.  Britt talked to the hospice nurse, she arranged visits of close friends, she slept at Jen’s house many nights.  She was a rock of support for Jen’s husband Joe whose grief was sharply and painfully overwhelming once he realized that the loss of his wife was more imminent than he had ever imagined.

Britt never left Jen’s side for the last 48 hours of her life.  My sister was one of a small team of people (a dream team, for sure) who stayed in Jen’s room that last night, giving medication when needed, listening to her breathing, holding her hand, and comforting her when they could.  I can only imagine how excruciating those hours were, waiting and hoping for an end to Jen’s suffering while at the same time dreading the desperate sorrow that would set in once the end finally came.

The end came.  And Britt’s caregiving efforts continued, even though she could have lain weeping on her couch, feeling sad and lifeless.  She helped Joe make decisions about the funeral.  She met with the minister.  She gave input to the talented women who organized the breathtakingly gorgeous celebration of life that occurred after the service.  She talked to family members and friends, offering whatever comfort she could.  And she spoke at Jen’s funeral, giving one of the most beautiful, personal, and inspirational reflections I have heard, and will most likely ever hear, in my lifetime.

Like I said, I am in awe of my sister.  You just never know how you’ll react when faced with the news that a loved one is dying.  Some people tuck their tails and run.  But some step up; they embrace the caregiver role.  They go all in, doing whatever is needed regardless of how it makes them feel.  They make sacrifices, they show their love through their actions, not just their words.  They gain strength because their love is far greater than their fear of loss.  To these unbelievable human beings, the choice is achingly simple.

My sister is unconditional love.  She is kindness.  Beauty.  She is compassion and strength.  My sister is grace.

Explore posts in the same categories: advocacy, awareness, caregiving, end of life, hospice

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20 Comments on “Grace is my sister”

  1. Lawler, Carol Says:

    Oh, Andrea, your blog was truly marvelous – inspired! Thank you so much for sharing from your own vulnerability and from your heart.

    God Bless you and your sister, especially, today ~ Carol Anne


  2. Michelle Seymour Says:

    Yay!!! So freakin’ beautiful. Nice job my friend…I am beyond happy to know you both. 🙂 Date: Tue, 11 Feb 2014 19:09:54 +0000 To:

  3. anngie williams Says:

    What a beautiful account of Grace! We never know the strength God gives us when there is a great need and it comes. I pray for this family and your sister as they settle in to the reality that their loved one is gone.

  4. Elise Hurst Says:

    Beautifully written! Thank you for sharing more of Jen’s story- what an inspiring, wonderful woman! I am signed up to honor her on March 1!

  5. Beaver, Teri Says:

    Whoa…this is beautifully written for the amazing and beautiful two women you write about!

    Teri Beaver
    Executive Assistant to Pete Brunnick, President & CEO
    Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region
    My Phone: 704-335-3502

  6. Samantha Says:

    This is your best one ever Andrea!

  7. PJ Brunson Says:

    To beautiful hearts, all of you. Well done.

  8. Trip Howe Says:

    Andrea – Thanks so much for sharing this story. What a beautiful way to honor two people who have exemplified what it means to love and give oneself to others unconditionally. I am sad to hear of the passing of Jen. I am quite honored to know both you and Britt. God bless all of you. Trip

  9. Nancy Cole Says:

    Andrea, as a fan of your blogs, this one tops them all. You truly have a gift of words, and the knack of putting them on paper for all to read…and feel. I had the honor of meeting Jen at the first Run Jen Run 5K last year, and even tho we talked for only a minute, she was radiant. Gracious. Grateful. I felt like I had just met a celebrity. And then there is Britt, your sister. Another amazing gift. That was how I felt after meeting her, she is a gift to anyone lucky enouigh to have her as a friend. But your gift is the ability to call her “sister.” And your feelings towards Britt are the same feelings I have about my sister. I think you know why.Thanks Andrea.

  10. Andrea, stumbled upon your commentary about your loving sister & her courageous friend…written so eloquently with so so much love! With deep gratitude – thank you for sharing this poignant & precious story….Val (Kurtzhalts) Beebe

  11. Uma Shankar Says:

    Andrea – what an honor to read this about Britt! A truly inspiring story, and your telling of it is a beautiful tribute to a wonderful friendship.

    Many thanks –

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