As a pastor’s family, we are often given the honor of being involved in the different passages of life that affect various members of our congregation.
Ten days ago, one of those passages came in the form of a memorial service for a church member’s daughter, Allison, who died of brain cancer at the age of forty-seven. She left behind a daughter in her teens and a son in his twenties.
We’ve been to numerous funerals and memorial services in our almost thirty years of ministry but this one will stand out in our hearts as being one of the most meaningful. (The following pictures are being shared with the family’s permission.)
After a church service that was packed to the walls and resonate with robust singing (Allison had requested a non-somber funeral), we went with Allison’s family and a few friends to a nearby beach for the scattering of Allison’s ashes.
Allison was an avid horsewoman and the family had arranged for one of her best friends to carry her ashes along the beach on horseback.
Steve and another pastor read Scripture and prayed . . .
. . . while Allison’s friend and Allison’s ashes kept watch.
After Sarah had completed her sad and beautiful task, she walked over to stand near me. As she and I glimpsed each other’s tears, we both came to the realization that we were not just there as a mother and a daughter; instead, we were present in that moment as two cancer sisters who’d come to the sea to honor a third sister, whose beautiful life was cut short by an enemy that each one of us had done battle with.
Sarah and I stood and embraced for a long time, crying and praying and remembering. The cleansing air, the grief on the wind, the eternal waves—it was a moment she and I will not soon forget.
My tears continued as I saw Allison’s son say his final good bye. As I looked at him I imagined my own dear Nathan—so near his age—and I could only imagine what his feelings would be if breast cancer had taken me the way brain cancer had taken Allison.
As we all finally turned to go, I looked back and noticed one single rose.
Representing one single life.
The Rest of the Story
Just to give you a bit of the “story behind the story,” here is a little background about Allison and a very special mission in her life.
The following article about Allison’s Mission is from the
CHES Toy Drive in in Cape Hatteras, NC.
Many families have special Christmas traditions that are passed down and enjoyed year after year. Certainly one of the more enjoyable traditions the CHEC family enjoys is the annual CHEC toy drive. Every year, the CHEC lobby is filled with toys to be given to little ones on Hatteras Island. And every year, there seem to be more toys than the last, thanks in large part to another tradition started by a very special person.
Allison Fagley taught the children at her day care, Friendship Bridge, the importance of giving and they began their own Christmas tradition. Each year, the children would have bake sales to raise money that they would then spend on gifts for others. To the delight of CHEC employees, each year Allison and the Friendship Bridge van would pull up to the office. A seemingly endless line of young children would file in, with gifts they purchased for others their own age to add to the collection. Emails would fly out, “the children are here!” and employees would come to the lobby to see the kids and help them bring in the
toys that they had collected.
Something has been different the last two years. Though the CHEC lobby still fills with toys, there is no van, no parade of children with gifts. Allison was diagnosed with brain cancer and has been in that battle for years now. She had to give up the day care she ran for 20 years and move away from Hatteras Island to be closer to family.
However Allison’s tradition of giving continues. Parents of past Friendship Bridge students and friends of Allison still have the bake sales, still buy the gifts and still bring them to the CHEC lobby. Like many family traditions, the people and places change but the tradition itself remains.
Allison shown with her day care students after delivering toys in 2008
And finally, here are a few pictures from before and during Allison’s cancer journey. The picture in the bottom left corner is especially meaningful because her family told us that in the last few days of her life, Allison used a large wooden cross as a “telephone” with which to talk to Jesus. (You can’t see the cross in the picture but it’s what she’s holding in her hand.)
They said she would sometimes talk for thirty minutes at a time and always seemed so peaceful when she was done. It’s inspiring for me to think that even in the midst of her suffering and the muddling of her mind from the advancing cancer, she was still aware of God’s presence in her life and was able to talk to Him and find His comfort and peace.
But now? She has no cancer, she has no pain and she is finally able to talk to Him face to face.
And here on earth, our hearts have been made forever rich by the memories we will always treasure—memories of ashes and roses and tears by the sea.