Our beloved friend and guest blogger, Grace Wenzel, died on Friday May 8 at the age of 23. Grace was initially diagnosed with Stage 1 melanoma at the age of 18, and by 22 her melanoma had metastasized to her distant organs and later to her brain.
Grace is one of the reasons WHY we continue to advocate for early detection and prevention of melanoma. Grace is one of the reasons WHY we support the advancement of melanoma research. Grace is at peace, her body no longer in pain. Her story and beautiful life will forever be written in the stars.
While cancer may have taken Grace’s time on this earth, cancer was no match for her beautiful and irrepressible spirit. We are sharing the message written by Grace’s family below since we believe that Grace continues to teach us so much about life and living.
The last two months have held the sweetest times for our family, and also some of the hardest, as we prepared to say goodbye to our Grace. The days, however, were not consumed with fearing that moment, they were instead filled with small joys, moments of togetherness, and as much time spent outside as possible. Grace was visited by dear friends and family (back in early March before stay-at-home orders became the new normal). We took a trip to her favorite place in DC, the US National Arboretum, and saw the magnolias in full bloom. We celebrated favorite holidays and cooked favorite meals. We had a concert in her bedroom where friends gathered to hear some jams played by one of her favorite DC bands. We did lots of group crossword puzzles, colored posters and pictures to hang on her walls, watched favorite movies, and played what feels like a million games of Seven Wonders (a family favorite nerdy card/board game). We went on many, many walks, got to see all the colors of spring surprise and delight us, stopped to smell many flowers, and hung out in the yard beside her apartment building. We played music (with a ukulele kindly gifted to us by our cousin Maggie). We looked through pictures of Grace throughout her life and laughed at what an adorable, spunky kid she was. We smiled and laughed. We cried. It is not lost on us, nor was it lost on Grace, how full that list is. We are deeply thankful for it all.
Last Friday, after a week of slipping further and further away, Grace quietly, peacefully took her last breaths. We miss her tremendously, but are comforted by the fact that she is no longer in pain and her spirit is free from her bruised and broken body. As you know from reading her own words, she was ready.
The last 48 hours have been a blur, full of just about every feeling we could have imagined, but the strongest of these has been our deep love for Grace. We have been sharing our favorite memories of her (how she used to make us laugh deep belly laughs and cry sweet tears with her powerful words). We have talked endlessly about how deeply we do and will miss her, discussed her amazing character, and considered all the ways in which we intend to honor her and carry her with us in our everyday lives. Grace’s life was too short, so we feel it’s our collective responsibility to bring her actively with us each day and keep her spirit here, living, within each of us. We want to share some of those thoughts with you all, as a way for you to consider how you might do the same.
BE A CARING SPIRIT
Grace was a great friend to so many. She was constantly balancing her needs with the needs of others, putting others’ feelings and needs first whenever she could. She smiled at those she passed and listened to others when they needed someone to hear them, often amidst many personal goings-on in her own life. She knew all too well that many people don’t look sick and don’t carry their hardships openly, so being kind to everyone is the only way to make sure people who are sick and are going through a rough season are met with a caring smile. Care deeply for those around you – family, friends and strangers alike.
LOVE YOUR WORK
Grace was passionate about her work as a labor and delivery nurse. She felt a deep sense of purpose in assisting mamas and families as they brought new life into this world. She assisted in the delivery of over 150 babies in her short time at Sibley Memorial Hospital. She was also dedicated to advancing the field of nursing through research; in fact, a research project she started in college with her dear friend will be published later this year. Find something you love and do it with your whole heart.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
As an extremely tidy, organized person, Grace certainly took joy in small tasks (we affectionately refer to this as “shuffling” in our family). She kept her space to her liking and made sure she was on top of whatever was next in work and life, but she didn’t let the tasks and to-dos get in the way of what she found truly meaningful in life – time with family and friends, purpose in work, caring for others. She let the small stuff roll off and often laughed at the absurd things that the rest of the world was getting worked up about. Make sure small inconveniences don’t distract you from what’s most important in your world.
After her diagnosis in October 2018, Grace made connections with so many extraordinary people in the Melanoma community. She became a tireless advocate of Melanoma research, prevention and detection – all crucial components to ending suffering associated with Melanoma. She was the patient advocate speaker at Melanoma Research Alliance’s Scientific Retreat back in February of this year despite an unexpected hospital visit that required pre-recording the speech from her hospital room so that her words could still inspire a room full of Melanoma researchers. Donate to one of the following organizations in Grace’s honor and/or practice and advocate for skin safety in your own family and community.
Melanoma Research Alliance
Polka Dot Mama Melanoma Foundation
MAINTAIN A SENSE OF HUMOR
Grace knew the power of a good laugh and a sincere smile. No obstacle was too large, no frustration too maddening to withstand a good joke. Countless clinic appointments and Emergency Room visits over the last year and a half have been dominated by reliving funny memories and moments to evoke a smile, even when they seemed impossible to conjure. Let love and laughter lead your days.
EAT ICE CREAM
Simply put, Grace loved ice cream. Some of her favorites were cookie dough, mint chocolate chip, cookie butter, and anything from Graeter’s. Enjoy the things that bring a smile to your face, sweet treats included.
VALUE YOUR PEOPLE
Grace was the youngest sibling and cousin on both sides of our family, a family that in recent years has grown through marriages, partnerships, and the birth of lots of new little ones. She was thrilled every time she learned that a new member of the family was on the way – some brightening her spirit as they came into the world within the last few months. She loved each of us uniquely and was always finding sweet ways to remind us of how much we meant to her. Grace’s love of family extended far beyond her blood relatives. She created family in so many communities of great friends including, Highland Presbyterian Church, the Ballard Soccer team, Georgetown School of Nursing, Georgetown Presbyterian Church, the Georgetown University Rugby Football Club, the Labor and Delivery team at Sibley Memorial Hospital, and all those in the Melanoma community. Hold your people close and make sure they know how much they mean to you.
Grace recognized joy in both simple, everyday occurrences and larger blessings. Every day of 2019 (the only full year of her life that Grace had cancer) she wrote down something she was thankful for and kept a record on the front of her refrigerator. Images of these notes are included at the end of this post. Actively acknowledge daily joys and be grateful for those joys in your life – write them down, share them around the dinner table, list them in your mind before bed.
Our immediate family will be remembering and celebrating Grace in a small intimate gathering here in DC until it is possible to have a larger memorial service and celebration of Grace’s life. We will post an update whenever plans are solidified for the larger service and celebration. Please consider joining us in one of the above ways (or one of your own ways) to honor Grace. We encourage you to leave a comment here or write us a note and let us know how you’ve chosen to carry Grace with you.
With love and gratitude for your continued support,