The main thing I remember about meeting Maggie in 1990 was her beautiful smile and sparkling eyes. She had a laughing spirit that was contagious. Most of the times when I would run into her on the airplane or in the airport, she was always laughing. She found joy in everything and never felt sorry for herself even when she knew she was dying.
She was a wonderful friend and always found time to listen to me when I would call with my problems. I think because her illness lasted so long before it took her that I was in denial. I didn’t see her at all after her cancer came back because she mainly stayed inside. She was having weekly chemo but also taking care of her ill mother. She had a brother and sister but they did not want to help her or their Mother. But she never complained. Maggie did not complain.
Maggie and I were both flight attendants for United Airlines. We both lived in Louisville, Kentucky but commuted to Chicago. We met one day on a flight to Chicago and bonded right away. We were both redheads. We both were single Moms with one daughter and we were almost the same age. It had been awhile since I had found such a good friend. With a career as a flight attendant, it is difficult to make friends as the other flight attendants that you work with usually live in another state or half way across the country. So when I met Maggie and learned that we both lived in the same city, I was so happy.
Maggie and I had been flying for quite a while and we both talked about early retirement. I knew I wanted to retire at 50 because I had a daughter soon to be a teen-ager and I knew she would need me home and not flying all around the world. Maggie wanted to go back to nursing.
Maggie retired about a year before I did and went back into nursing as a Hospice nurse. I am not sure why she chose to be with terminal patients and one day I asked her why? She told me it was not as depressing as I would think and that sometimes it was even “beautiful and inspiring.” I really did not understand until later what that statement really meant.
I finally retired. However, I retired because I was injured on the airplane and after two years on medical leave, I turned in my request to retire. I was not as happy as I thought I would be. With my injured arm, I was in pain for about a year and in and out of casts and splints and I felt sorry for myself. I missed my flying life and the money I had become accustomed to having. My daughter was just entering her teens and she and I seemed to always clash with one another. It was a difficult time for me, but all through these frustrating times, Maggie was there for me. We talked almost every day and she never complained as cancer slowly spread through her body.
Maggie kept her sense of humor and was always supporting me in my trials of life. I would tell her that I thought the doctors were wrong. She could not be that ill as she never talked about her pain, physical or emotional. But she would tell me that it was true. She was dying.
Maggie sold her house and moved in with her daughter and her two young grandsons. They were 3 and 5 years old. She would lie on the sofa during the day and spend all her time with her grandchildren. That is how she chose to spend the last year of her life. One of the last times I spoke with her, Maggie told me that the past year with her grandsons had been the “best and the worst year of her life.” The best because she had become so close to them and the worst because she knew she would not be there to see them grow up.
Suddenly, I remembered what Maggie had said to me years before about the beauty and the inspiration of her nursing in Hospice. How she talked about the peace she saw in many of her patients when they realized that the end was near. I saw all of that in Maggie. I told her how her brave acceptance of her fate would always be an inspiration to me. I told her I would never forget her and that I was so grateful that she had been a part of my life.
Maggie died on August 30, 1999. I still miss her and our talks and her never-ending positive attitude. Never once did she feel sorry for herself. Never once did she ask why she was unlucky enough to have cancer. She accepted it and made the best of it. There are not many people like Maggie in this world. Many of us take the most precious parts of our lives for granted. I often wonder what I would do if I knew the end was coming? I hope I would remember Maggie and make her proud.