Nancy’s Eulogy: Be Grateful
(The Tibetian symbol for gratitude.)
I know this might seem unusual to write my own eulogy, but it is my memorial service, so I figure I get to do what I want, and I didn’t want the parts important to me left out. And I might mix up the tenses between past and present. I have always felt extremely fortunate and blessed for the life I lived. When I saw a penny on the ground, I’d leave it, because I thought other people needed more luck than I did.
I grew up in Littleton Colorado with two parents I loved dearly, and who I knew without a doubt loved me. My sisters were and continue to be close friends and my neighbors were my extended family. It was a sheltered life for sure, but it was my whole world.
And part of that world, from a very early age I wanted to be outside as much as possible. I used to get up earlier than the rest of my family and go swing on the swing-set. As I got older, I’d read or do cross stitch out the couch on the back patio in the early morning quiet hours. I wrote poems about the mountains, which I could see from my bedroom window, and I’m pretty sure I was the only one in my grade school class that knew the names for all the prominent peaks you can see from the Denver skyline.
When the job of mowing the yard got passed down to me I was thrilled because it was my version of taking a hike. In the summers, my sisters and I played a game we called “Outdoor Girls”, and in the winter, we made snowmen so big we had to use a ladder to get the middle and top balls on. One of the greatest gifts my Dad gave me was a star. He had each of us pick out a star (I never forgot where mine was) and said it was a gift from him.
My parents didn’t take us camping. My mom was so afraid of heights that while on her way from Lincoln, Nebraska to start her “adult life” in California, she stopped and stayed in Denver because the Eisenhower tower wouldn’t have been built yet and she was too afraid to drive over Loveland Pass. My Dad lost a lung to cancer when he was 50 and I was 10 and that was more or less the end of any mountain trips for us. But I l passionately loved being outside and so our back yard, our neighborhood was where that happened for me as a child.
My Dad’s cancer was especially formative for me. When he was diagnosed, he was given a 5% chance of living. Of course my parents didn’t say that exactly to us, but they conveyed it other ways and because of that, I cherished my Dad for the rest of our lives together After that diagnosis, he lived another 33 years, didn’t die of cancer and one of the things I was most proud of in my life was being able to take care of him the last seven years of his life.
My mom, however, did die of cancer when I was 21 and she was 52. The fact that I also died at 52 is not lost on me. If my Dad’s diagnosis taught me to cherish family, my mom’s death taughtme that life is short, and you have to do everything while you can, when you can. Postpone nothing. And so I started off my adult life with this lesson learned, albeit in a very sad way. I was determined to do all I could with the time I had and I’d like to think I lived up to that. In my mid 20’s I was inspired by my friend Laurell’s uncle to make a life’s goal list.
Climb 100 different mountains. Done.
Spend a year of my life doing volunteer work. Done.
Visit 100 countries and or states – only got to 55.
And it certainly wasn’t just checking things off a list that brought me so much joy, it was the actual “doing of the thing”. From 1995 to 1997 I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Romania. I was a teacher in their public school system and I absolutely loved it. I loved my students, my friends, my colleagues, my town. Due to social media in the years after I left Romania, I was able to keep in touch with many of the people I knew there, plus I travelled back there twice.
Back home in Colorado I was in the mountains as much I could be. Hiking mountains, winter hut trips, and Leadville weekends with close friends, rafting on the Rio Grande River. In 2000, postponing nothing, I decided to solo hike the Colorado Trail. A 500-mile trail between the Denver foothills and Durango. Friends joined me for some stretches and I made friends on the trail and it was six weeks of absolute sustained happiness.
A month after getting off the trail I flew to Antarctica for a six month job. Who was there just seemingly waiting to meet me? Lee Carpenter. I’d walk across the cafeteria and he’d wave to me with this goofy look in his eyes. A year and a half later, in his effort to woo me, he got me a job interview in the San Luis Valley, with the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust. The Land Trust turned out to be my life’s work and Lee turned out to be my life’s partner.
Regarding my work at the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust, I want to emphasize how meaningful this was to me personally and hopefully to the community. Sometimes when I felt sad about the loss of species and the loss of farm and ranch ground, I knew that I had done everything I could to protect habitat, farmers and ranchers and the beautiful San Luis Valley, especially along the Rio Grande river. What a year to go out on, with the river being so high and everything being so green. It was a wonderful summer for me. I’m going to be shameless here. Please donate to the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust, and for some of you who are already meaningful donors, please consider naming the land trust in your will or estate. We’ve got to keep that good work going!
Back to my husband, Lee Carpenter. When I wanted to postpone nothing and go to South America for my 40th birthday, in order to have been to all 7 continents by the time I was 40, he said, let’s go. When I took care of my Dad and went to Denver every other weekend for 7 years, he said “go do what you need to do”. When I said I wanted to be a foster parent, he said “sign me up”, and when I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer over 16 and a half years ago in 2003, he was right there by my side and stayed there until death did we part.
There are lyrics to a song by Mumford and Sons that go “Before you leave, you must know that you are beloved.” Lee always made me feel that way. To Lee, my family, my friends. You were beloved by me. Being diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer at the age of 35, cancer was nearly a constant presence in my adult life. There were only two years in the last 16 and a ½ that I wasn’t some type of treatment. And 171 chemotherapy infusions was a lot for my body to go through, but I always said tolerating chemotherapy was my super power. So while cancer did define me, I tried not to let it limit me. Being diagnosed young I was even more determined to “postpone nothing”. Lee and I traveled internationally – alot, were foster parents, built a house together, rafted the Grand Canyon and did everything we could.
Leading up to my own death, I wasn’t scared of it, and I didn’t worry about it, but I worried about Lee. What you all can do for me now is call him. Invite him hunting, fishing, looking for horns, looking for mushrooms. You don’t know have to know what to say, just say something. He will grieve in his own way and time frame, as many of you will depending on your relationship with me, but just call or text him. Don’t lose touch. Time heals all wounds and they will heal his and those of my family. And thank you to both my sisters so much for all the love “Before I Die, I Want To ”. In it the speaker acknowledges how easy it is to get caught up in the day to day of life and forget what really matters to you. “hold her one last time.”
With my passing, I want you each to take a second and answer this question for yourself. What do you really really want to do before you die? Think about it for a few seconds. It can be whimsical or serious (pause for about 10 seconds). I made up some cards at the back of the room that you can take and fill out to remember this pledge. The next step is to postpone nothing and make it happen – and that’s why I also made up magnets so you remember that too. One of my favorite quotes is “make the most of yourself, because that is all there is of you.” PLEASE carry this message with you into your day, week and life. It is one of the single most important things you can ever do for yourself.
My time is done, but yours isn’t. Be well. Postpone nothing and make sure that the important people in your lives know that they are beloved.