The Beautiful Farewell of Nancy Cathcart

If I had to condense all of life into one activity, it would be this: embracing the present moment, and responding to it with all the beauty we can muster.

By beauty I mean that which draws us in the direction of oneness, unity, kinship.  The opposite of judgment.

To pull this off, of course, requires us to open one of life’s most precious gifts, the gift of choice.  We must define for ourselves what, in fact, is going on.  Then, we must determine what it means for us to respond in beauty.

These choices can be especially poignant when what we’ve determined is at hand is our death.

So it has been for Nancy Cathcart.  And the beauty with which she has responded, if my experience is any measure, is enriching the lives of that big tent full of fortunate souls she considers her tribe.

While Nancy and I have known of each other’s existence for at least a decade, we’ve never met in person, never had a phone conversation, never corresponded by email or snail mail.  Years ago, she subscribed to receive the essays I occasionally write.  She’d sometimes comment on and share them with friends, which I found illuminating and gratifying.  On one occasion a few months back via Facebook she requested any insight I might offer regarding something she was attempting to address.  That’s about it.

I mention this because I cannot speak for her.  But what I can do is share the gratefulness I feel for how she has orchestrated her farewell.

Her reaching out to me with a kind word has led to the unexpected pleasure of returning her gaze.  Death has blessed us both with the opportunity to reflect on who we are and what has contributed to our self-understanding.

Who could ask for more?

Here’s the heart of our interchange, via Facebook Message:

Nancy, Wednesday night: 

I am departing this place and time.  Ovarian cancer revisited and had stacked my bowels.  Given just enough time to be with loved ones and write to friends.  I hope my sons discover your writings because as their adult hearts burst open, I want them to discover grace, as you have so often, thank you.  It has been a privilege to learn from you.  Peace.  Nancy Cathcart.

Steve, Thursday morning:

A talisman I will carry with me for the rest of my life is the delightful anticipation that our paths would cross serendipitously some day, we would look at each other, laugh big, and hug.  What a blessing that one can have a good friend and never meet in person.  I hold you and your boys in my heart.  In gratitude, Steve.

What a rare commemoration Nancy has set in motion.  To so briefly and mutually “take stock” of a relationship as death approaches, and do so in a manner rooted solely in good will.  Recognizing the impulse to “wish things were different,” but not being distracted by it.  Honoring what is, joining with it, and celebrating the enormous opportunity to be present in the sacredness of existence.

Creating beauty, in other words.


  1. Steve,
    Your words are so beautiful and powerful. Nancy is a dear friend of mine. The beauty of her life will be with me forever. Thank you! JoAn

    • Death comes knocking from time to time,, the moment of Birth is also the moment of death.. time to live and experience Nature’s Blessings, the Universe gave us Life in a Body that has an expiration date unknown,,, we Live with Worry and Fear.. when those are distractions that take away our Good Cheer,,, Feel free to explore Life,, Learn from those who have been here longer,, Lessons are opportunity and should be treasured for the knowledge gleaned, and the Answers asked are Questions reversed,,, So Much to Live for,, yet to know death is at the door is also reason to learn more,,, Numbers are everywhere,, from dates to names, value is given and used for richness of experience,,, I read the Orbits for the pleasure of meeting people as they depart because I never met them in real time,, It is a Pleasure to learn of a Person who Lived for others as well as Self,,, Who respects Life,, and Trusts in what comes next,,, another experience somewhere in this Universe,,,

  2. This is so beautiful! The reflection of Nancy, The grace she has for all that she touches and holds dear to her heart. Blessings and love

  3. Some 40 years ago Nancy showered her grace, light and undaunted embrace of life on me. We were young mothers then, we practiced envisioning beauty through many difficult, dark days. Nancy is the essence of pure love. Fear has no place in her life, especially today. She laughs big, this godmother to two of my children.

    Yes Nancy, you are once again showing me the path of love. It’s one hell of a way to leave this place and time. Thank you, Noonie. I love you.

    Thank you Steve. Blessings.

  4. Thank you for this beautiful tribute to Nancy, and for these words to guide all of us as we negotiate a life without her….

  5. I knew Nancy many years ago when I lived in Bulimgton. How I loved her company, wisdom, joy and thoughtfulness. My heart breaks at our loss as it also celebrates the lessons she taught and will continue to teach us.

  6. A very long time ago, I had the pleasure and privilege to work at a Childcare Center and teach one of Nancy’s sons. I completely fell in love with the entire package: Hunter, Nancy & “Beave”, Hunter’s stuffed animal. For several years, I shared a friendship with Nancy and her family. And, as often happens, we became so busy in our lives and drifted apart. But Nancy never left my heart. I have followed her on social media for these last many years, and was so sad when I saw a post that she was heading to the Vermont Respite House. My heart goes out to her boys, her lovely new partner who I never met, her extended family, and all her many, many friends who loved her deeply.

  7. Nancy, you have lived your life well, brought joy, laughter and hope to so many of us.I will miss our unexpected “running into one another”and those moments where friends remember why they love one another . Johanna

  8. Dearest Nancy,

    Clem and I are blessed to have journeyed in the same orbit over the years. Find comfort in those you shine in, your family.

    Much love to you and yours.

    Kathy , Clem, Molly and Emma

  9. I too have never met either of you (or at least I do not believe so) and find this exchange amazing and eye opening. To find such peace within oneself and then to have the strength to share that with others, is quite something. My heart is filled with love and hope. Thank you for sharing this exchange between two incredible people.
    Carol Blattspieler

  10. A beautiful life led by a woman with a kind and lovely spirit. Gentle and thoughtful. Loving and goodhearted. A true friend and one that will be missed but not forgotten by everyone who was lucky enough to have said ” I knew her and she was my friend.”

    Carl Riden

  11. Thank you for sharing your amazing exchange and beautiful tribute to Nancy. Like many, I had the privilege of meeting Nancy first through our work, both in the field of child/family services, and then personally when I was so fortunate to have her share her wisdom, grace, experience, and words of encouragement to me as a struggling parent. Nancy has touched so very many people in profound ways. And now, she is sharing such grace and courage as she leaves this “place and time,” such that we all may continue to be enriched by her life and as you say, and be grateful for and learn from the amazing way she has “orchestrated her farewell.”
    With gratitude,

  12. This is exquisite, Steve, and such a testament to the person Nancy has always been: strong and kind and quick to find a smile and so very, very giving to the world in places where it was and continues to be needed. She is a mentor to so many of us, certainly including me. I send so much gratitude to you, Steve, for your lovely writing, and I additionally send much love to Nancy.

  13. Nancy came into my life 12 years ago. It did not take long to recognize the bright light of Nancy and the loving spirit she shares with those around her. I will carry her light in my heart forever. Thanks for making a positive impact on on so many lives. You will be missed. My heart is aching……

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The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth