After being diagnosed with advanced adenoid cystic carcinoma that had metastasized to multiple major organs at age 68, Diane McCabe had three weeks. She asked her only daughter, Jennifer McCabe, for a notepad and pen.
On it, she left instructions for Jennifer, instructions of all the ways she wanted to let others know how much they meant to her.
At the top of the list of charitable donations to organizations and people she cared about, Diane instructed Jennifer to give back to the workplace Diane had called home for 35 years. The senior medical secretary for Finney Trimble Surgical Associates at GBMC designated a large gift to surgery, specifically to the patient assistance fund where – as she had in life – she could continue to help patients with the financial cost of surgery.
She also wanted to do something special for her colleagues. Before the holidays, Jennifer carried out her mother's specific request to cater a hot breakfast for the Finney Trimble staff.
"I can't even tell you how much she respected these doctors she worked for," Jennifer said. "She said, 'I just want to give some kind of gift in their name to honor them and let them know – the ones that have retired and the ones that are still active.' And I said, 'That seems like the right thing to do.'"
Diane's family is small, but mighty. In addition to Jennifer, she had a close relationship with her younger brother, James, who had passed away just months earlier from a massive stroke. So, when her terminal cancer was diagnosed, it was Jennifer who sat by her bedside for her mothers' final few weeks.
Jennifer, a psychology professor at Goucher College, was able to be away from her husband, Frank, and two young daughters, Chloe and Paige, thanks to the generosity of friends and colleagues of her own, and Diane didn't forget that sacrifice. Referring to her mother's copious notes, Jennifer purchased special holiday gifts for friends who provided support in many ways, including meals for her family. She is also planning a lunch for the psychology faculty at Goucher for those who covered her classes.
"The thing that gave her peace was thinking about the many ways she could make people's lives better, show them that she cared, and she valued their relationship," Jennifer said. "Just the fact that those people she named were on her mind in those last couple of weeks just gave them such a warm feeling that they were thought about and appreciated."
In addition to being kind-hearted and thoughtful, Diane was also fiercely independent and determined. Raising Jennifer as a single mother, Diane was outgoing, positive and a true Italian. Jennifer remembers "a lot of joy and a lot of fun," an attitude Diane continued with her granddaughters, whom she absolutely adored, never missing an opportunity to buy them special ornaments for Christmas, sell Girl Scout cookies or just spend time with them.
A social worker by training, Diane put her career on the backburner when she became a mom but went back to work part-time when Jennifer was in elementary school. Through a friend-of-a-friend, she landed a job with Finney Trimble and, according to the doctors, pretty quickly became indispensable in the office and the managing of their books.
"She just loved working with the patients, loved helping them navigate a stressful piece of the medical journey. She always said she found it connected to her social work background," Jennifer said.
Any employee at GBMC knows, the time when the Thanksgiving holiday rolls around is a big deal because every employee is generously gifted a turkey. Even though Diane knew she wouldn't be around for Thanksgiving, she was set on getting that turkey for her family.
"There were two things that she was so determined about while she was sick. First, to get her absentee ballot in to vote. She said, 'I've been voting since I was 21 years old and I'm not going to stop now.' She wanted to be a participant in the civic process. And the other thing was the GBMC turkey," Jennifer said. "She was determined to get this turkey so we could have it for Thanksgiving. She would say, 'Have you heard about the turkey yet? I don't care if I'm dead, get that turkey!' So we did! We got a picture with the GBMC turkey with my kids. A little remembrance of Grammy, I told my kids, she wanted you to have this turkey."
Dr. Laddie Ross offered his assistance if anyone gave them any trouble during the turkey retrieval process. Luckily the general surgeon who worked with Diane for many years, didn't need to get involved.
"Dr. Ross was fantastic when my mother was sick," Jennifer said. "He came to visit. He came to hospice a couple of times and offered anything to me that could be helpful. I think they had a very special relationship. She was with us long enough that people got to express those things to her, and I got to see some of that."
As Jennifer navigates life without her mom, she takes comfort in the fact that these moments and the gracious acts her mom requested in hospice allow Jennifer to be reminded of the wonderful person her mother was. As she says to her daughters, "Grammy's still giving to us." Diane's selflessness and thoughtfulness, even in the face of grave illness, is a lesson anyone can learn from.
"It is a model," Jennifer said. "She gave this gift of showing people what real generosity looks like and this great perspective on life. You can't take it with you."
Long-time, Thoughtful GBMC Employee Remembered
Greater Living - GBMC HealthCarehttps:/www.gbmc.org/greater-living
June 17, 2019