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The True Beauty of Faye Ellen Himelhoch Valencia

My cousin, the indomitable Faye Ellen Himelhoch Valencia, died this morning at age 48. She is exactly nine months younger than I am, and we grew up together.

We both played the flute, but she was the better flutist. We went to Hebrew class together, but she was way better at Hebrew. We worked on the Sunday school newspaper together, but I wound up being the journalist. We both were raised to be strong women, but she exhibited a strength that leaves me in awe.

Faye had so much courage as she battled the Multiple Sclerosis that first appeared when she was 36. She spent her last several years in a nursing home near her family in Michigan. When I saw her last summer, she had the softest, most perfect skin, and she radiated warmth and love. She was always model beautiful and had a heart that told all of us what it meant to mix true beauty with true grit. She was strong beyond description.

Last week, things spun out of control — at first there was an infection, then a seizure, then heart problems, and now this. I know she is alive again, and new. Her sister Gail told me that she knows Faye is “Flying around up there, finally free of that body.”

My heart hurts. I am thinking of my Aunt Sandy, who has coped with so much grief — losing my larger-than-life  Uncle Bob and her own mother so close together. She visited Faye every day. I can’t imagine how hard it was for her to watch her daughter suffer so, but Aunt Sandy was there. My heart goes to my cousins, Alan and Gail. And to their spouses and children. Their family is in pain, which means all of the families connected to the Himelhoch clan are in pain.

My sadness is especially real for Faye’s two daughters, Alex and Monica, who had to cope with more than any young girls should ever have to face. Now young women, they are their mother’s legacy. She would want them to live rich and vibrant lives, filled with adventure and hope. I wish for them a much easier road than their sweet mother traveled. More than that, I wish them her courage, stamina and determination.

Hours before she died, she took a final look at her beautiful granddaughter and her girls.

What a heroic woman. God bless you, Faye Ellen. I love you and miss you.

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