We said good-bye to a fellow warrior Saturday afternoon. A quiet woman whose gentleness spoke volumes, with a lovely smile and the kindest eyes I have ever seen. We will miss you, Nancy Ross.
Our day of honoring our friend began before that, though. At 8:30 AM we rolled into the parking lot of Kimberly Berg’s Rebel Fit Club – a gym for people with Parkinson’s. Almost a second home for some of us, it’s where we all go for life-affirming workouts, motivational relationships with those who are walking this difficult road beside us, and the safety of a tightknit group of women who welcome strangers as if they were already sisters.
“For Nancy,” Cathy said quietly as we hugged our hello’s . The tears I knew would be a part of the entire day came to my eyes.
“For Nancy,” I whispered back.
It was a tough workout. They always are. But this time, there was a bit more push, a higher purpose behind the smiles of encouragement, the countdowns, callouts, dancing, and sweating.
This was the beginning of our goodbye. A recognition that in our small circle, Nancy’s quiet presence, which hid a backbone of steel, will be remembered.
Later in the afternoon, people from all walks of Nancy’s life began gathering at the funeral service. I was humbled to be with nine other boxers. We shared little stories about Nancy, breaking off as we were overcome with tears. Throats constricting as we tried to breathe through it all. Monitoring each other’s status – both physical and mental – making sure we checked our own medicine schedules. Stress does bad things to Parkinson’s symptoms.
After the celebrant finished her story of Nancy’s life, we watched a photo video that included pictures of Nancy from babyhood through what looked like just this past fall. We all smiled back at her face on the large screen. Commenting on how her eyes, while direct and never wavering, had always been so kind.
After the video, the celebrant asked for people willing to share stories of Nancy, and as our representative, all eyes went to Kimberly.
A deep breath, and the story unfolded of how Nancy’s life at the boxing gym began nine years ago. Kimberly, a natural storyteller, spoke about Nancy’s strength, her refusal to quit, her fighting spirit, her warrior attitude, all rolled into a beautiful, gentle soul.
We were all in tears when we went up to the casket to place a flower that would be laid graveside Some of us touched the casket, as if we could reach our hands through and squeeze Nancy’s fingers. Tell her how strong she still is, and how her life was a victory and an inspiration to us all.
Then it began, as if we’d practiced it. We hadn’t, but our hearts knew what to do. In hushed and whispered tones we said goodbye as we do after every workout. Yelling in our hearts as we completed the motions together, responding as Kimberly’s voice led the way –
I’m brave! (I’m BRAVE!)
I’m mighty! (I’m MIGHTY!)
I’m sexy! (I’m SEXY!)
I’m strong! (I’m STRONG!)
And falling silent after Kimberly added one more, just for the day,
I’m loved! (I’m LOVED!)
It has been such a hard year and a half as we have been forced to be apart. I think we all recognize that the connections to each other make us strong. Our lives are made fragile by Parkinson’s disease. But that does not mean we are frail. We are just stronger together. A sisterhood of fighters, warriors, healers, and survivors. And Nancy will always be a part of that.