In early November 2005 my mom began a journey that changed us both. She got into her little car and began to drive to Denver International Airport, 60 miles from her home, a route she had driven thousands of times during her 69 years. But this time she faced a particular challenge. She told me after the fact, “I realized that I was having vision problems. I did some experiments at home and figured out that what I thought I saw, like a book on a table, wasn’t actually in that spot on the table. It was really six inches to my left.  So, I figured if I drove down what I thought was the median on I-25, I would actually be in the middle of my lane.”  

Just telling that story makes me shake. Still.

I have often wondered what would have happened if my mother, on that November day, had confided in a friend or family member that she had significant vision issues and needed help. What kept her from doing that?

Deep-down, I know. I am my mother’s daughter. My internal dialogue often goes like this: I can do this. Chin up, Girl. Figure it out. No need to bother anyone. Me and Jesus. We’re a good team. We’ve got this.

Thankfully, my mother did get to the airport and eventually to my brother’s house in Albany, New York, that Thanksgiving. There she met a neurologist who recognized her significant vision issues as a symptom of a rare, always fatal disease: Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).  The disease affects about one in one million people per year worldwide. It acts like Alzheimer’s on steroids with a life expectancy of only months.

Despite this grim diagnosis, Mom determined to fight the disease. She assured us that once she returned home to Colorado, she would be fine. When I asked her how she would do things like cook and clean she said simply, “My friends will help.” I wondered.  

I knew Mom quickly rushed to help her friends, but I suspected she had not told any of them about her sight issues. I found out later that indeed she had not.

Well, Mom was right about her friends. They came.  

They sat with Mom as she wept about her crazy brain. They listened to me as I struggled to know how to help Mom. They brought tea for her visitors. They fed Mom when she could no longer feed herself.

As I watched these women, I gained courage—courage to stay, courage to do what I did not think I could do—sit with a dying woman, my beloved mother.

And my mother gained courage toocourage to accept help and courage to let go of her fierce independence.

Because of these dear women (I call them Storm Sisters—women who don’t run when storms hit their friends’ lives), I was with my mother late in the afternoon on January 23, 2006, when her breathing slowed to almost nothing. A beautiful smile took over her face, a face that had been frozen and silent for a week. She began to hum along with the hymn I had playing on a CD player for her, “Thine is the glory, risen conquering son! Endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won.” I kissed her and said, “Jesus is waiting. You can go. Jesus is waiting.” And then Mom took one last, raspy breath and entered heaven. What a moment! I could almost touch Jesus. And almost see heaven.  

Oh, the gift my mother’s friends gave me! These Storm Sisters. They helped me stay.

Afton Rorvik
Afton Rorvik has been a part of the publishing industry since 1987, editing a myriad of adult nonfiction books for the CBA market, while working with both first-time authors and best-selling authors. Her articles have appeared in Discipleship Journal, Guideposts, NAB Today, and Wheaton. Her book, Storm Sisters (Worthy Publishing), debuted in 2014. Afton graduated from Wheaton College with a degree in literature as well as a teaching certificate in secondary education. She and her husband John are the parents of two adult children.

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  1. What a moving testimony, Afton. Thank you for sharing. Indeed, much courage was required on both sides. I’m so sorry for your loss, and yet grateful that you were granted the strength to stay, and the blessing of togetherness till the very end. May the Lord continue to comfort and sustain you in the midst of your grief.

  2. What kind, comforting words! Thank you for reading and commenting. My hope is that my book Storm Sisters will help others find courage to stay. Guess it is my way of paying it forward. 🙂

  3. Both beautiful and sad. What a gift to know your mom went into the arms of our loving Heavenly Father.

    A friend of mine has been reminding me that we are knit together. When difficulties come, the whole fabric works together to keep us intact. Yet, the “can do” attitude is still a tough one to shake.

  4. What a learning time that was for all of us, Afton. It is hard to believe that 10 years have gone by since Nancy left us.
    I still miss her wonderful insights and conversations with her, all the while her hands busy knitting something extraordinary. I feel so blessed to have had her-and you-as a part of my life.

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