Sunday, July 31, 2016


In Memory
Donna Simpson Baker


On July 1 my sister Donna Simpson Baker was diagnosed with A-Plastic Thyroid Cancer. It is the most aggressive form of thyroid cancer of which, according to her oncologist only one percent of those diagnosed with thyroid cancer receive. Her oncologist gave her, from her experience six months to live. As you can only imagine this was both a shock to her and to our family. My sister, after that initial jolt faced her diagnosis and prognosis with grace, peace and dignity. “I fully accept this diagnosis and prognosis” she said to me. “It is my time and I now enter this final portion of my journey with peace.” As difficult as that was to hear, I too knew I must accede to this with pain and sorrow and in so doing, accompany her on her journey to her last breath. I called her daily for a while until she no longer had the strength to speak but for a few minutes. Fortunately other family members were by her bedside day and night and served her in love, unity and humility. 

A week and a half after her diagnoses she returned to the oncologist and in that meeting it was discovered my sister’s cancer had spread to her breastbone, chest and lungs and her prognosis went from six months to “any day and no longer than three weeks.” Again she received the news with grace and went to her daughter Daniela’s house to prepare for hospice and for her final days on this side of eternity. She was greeted with open arms by Wayne and Paula, family members who assisted her in all things with affection and devotion in her remaining days. Her daughter and four grand daughters although grieving, poured out their love, stayed by her side and did everything to make her comfortable, appreciated and bathed in their love which was like no others. My brother Jim and his partner stood steadfastly with her and he was so close to her all through the years. His quiet presence resonated throughout the room in its stillness and tranquility. 

I was in California for these days where my sister instructed me to remain “until things calm down a little.” I made my reservation for the following Sunday believing I would be with her in her final days. Tindara, a lifelong friend of my niece Daniela is an RN Case Manager and who also has a close relationship with my sister. Tindara affectionately and respectfully managed all of her care and took care of every detail. This comforted me tremendously as I too am an RN Case Manager and I spoke with her daily and she was so attentive and efficient with every detail.

On the Wednesday before my flight, July 20, I received a telephone call at 12:40 p.m. Pacific Time letting me know my sister Donna had transitioned from this side of the thin veil to the next. It had become a reality and interiorly I took a pause, full of grief but also grateful for God’s mercy in that this portion of her journey was expedited. This was something she desired and those of us who loved her also desired so she would not experience the tremendous and lengthy suffering that so often afflicts those in their final months with cancer.

The night before my sister departed she received communion from the priest and he administered the Sacrament of The Last Rites, which my sister desired. After administering them he encouraged Donna to be attentive and to listen to the whisper of Jesus as he invited her to come home to him.

Our cousin Betsy had arrived from Boston the next day and she is the expressive one of the family. Betsy exudes comfort, compassion and mercy. Betsy has always been very close to our family and we and my sister share many fond memories with her. Betsy went to my sister’s side and she knew my sister was longing to have passage to the eternal. Betsy spoke softly and lovingly with Donna and comforted her and she invited my brother Jim, who was in the room to join her in praying with Donna. They held hands with her and stood on each side of her bed and Betsy let my sister know that I was in the room in my heart and in my spirit, that the family had spoken with one another and we wanted to give her permission to transition through the thin veil of eternity to complete her journey. She let her know that our parents, her Uncles and Aunts, her brother Ed and other family members would be there to welcome her. Twenty minutes later, Donna listened to that voice and without doubt fell into the loving arms of Jesus.

(Always in our hearts)

I had the privilege of delivering my sister’s eulogy at her funeral mass after two of her grand daughters shared about their love and memories of their grand mother, better known as “Nana.” They were filled with depth mixed with amusing story telling.

As I gazed out into the pews of people, in the Catholic church we attended as children it was filled with those who had a heart connection with my sister; family, friends, colleagues. I could not help but be moved by this and it was here that I began her eulogy. 

I greeted the Simpsons, Flynns, Ryans and Bakers as well as many others who were in attendance. I spoke of my sister’s gift of hospitality, inclusion and having the ability to welcome all into her home and other places where she hosted. It simply was a family gift of which she expressed most beautifully. She connected with people from the heart and it was that heart (connection) that brought us together this day.

I saw Jason, the son of her best friend in life who had also made her passage many years ago, also from cancer. My sister and she were like sisters. They lived next door to one another, upstairs/downstairs, had children about the same age and they laughed together. There he was a pallbearer whom my sister requested to be at her side, personally. Our cousin Rosemary who was her Godmother and her sister Kathleen who remembered when she lived with my grandparents after a fire that destroyed her home at the age of eighteen and recalled my mother Margaret, pregnant with my sister. Wayne, my sisters former husband and father of their daughter who had, through the years become close friends, his wife Paula who also was a friend of my sister and together with Wayne served Donna with compassion in her final week. There amongst those attending were my cousins Bob, Jim, Sandy, Bunny with their spouses, also known as “The Simpson Clan”  whom although we may not see them as much as when we were children the heart connection runs deep as they and their parents were always there for us. Our cousin Carolyn Flynn who always checked in with us through the years when I would be in from California and open her heart and home. What a family, what love!

Then as I viewed to the left, there was my sister’s daughter Daniela and her four grand daughters, Marissa, Julianna, Katelynn and her fourth and oldest grand daughter Chelsea with her husband Rocky and my sister’s great grandson, Johnathan. It was then I was not only struck with the heart connection but my sister’s legacy. 


I remember a number of years ago when my brother Jim asked me, “When did Donna become Mom?” I inquired what he meant by that and he said, “Donna prays the Daily Office and says her rosary three and four times per day.” This did not surprise me as I remember my grandmother Mary Ryan Flynn and my mother Margaret Flynn Simpson doing the same. In fact I was told that even my great grandmother Anna Murphy did the same. I realized it is from generation to generation that God’s Holy Spirit is passed down and on another note……wow, our family must really need this, not to mention the world! So many mornings I would call my sister and she would gently remind me, “I am saying my prayers now, could you call me back in about an hour?” Another time, when I was very ill with kidney disease and before my transplant I asked my sister if she would pray for me, there was a pause and she answered, “I do…….morning, noon and night.” I was so moved, I cried because I knew she meant it. Her prayers were also demonstrated through the years with the compassion she exhibited for her family, friends and strangers. She poured her heart into her daughter and grand daughters. I particularly recall her friend Kathy whom she served and cared for in her last days. These were all prayers in action.

As I looked at her daughter Daniela and grand daughters I knew, I sensed my sister’s presence. There before my eyes she was watching them, praying for them, encircling them with her love and perhaps saying, “I live in your memories, your hearts and I will not ever leave you.” Exhibited in them is her life that formed them, has a remarkable influence on them and in one another she will be reflected not only in their eyes but as they serve their Creator and humanity.

As we said our final goodbyes, on this side of eternity we took a moment of silence to remember. To remember as individuals who she was, how she influenced and what in her life invites us to be closer to God and to one another. We then extended our right hands towards where she was laid and I led us corporately in a prayer of blessing for her, to release her to Christ, to her loved ones who waited for her and requested she wait for us in hope of the resurrection.

 Donna Simpson Baker, pray with us.


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