November 8, 2005: Headlines: COS - Nepal: Music: Death: Concord Monitor: Friends and Fellow Volunteers remember Nepal RPCV Beverly Leo

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Nepal: Peace Corps Nepal : The Peace Corps in Nepal: October 14, 2005: Headlines: COS - Nepal: Music: Death: Concord Monitor: Nepal RPCV Beverly Leo plans a musical memorial to her life : November 8, 2005: Headlines: COS - Nepal: Music: Death: Concord Monitor: Friends and Fellow Volunteers remember Nepal RPCV Beverly Leo

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Friends and Fellow Volunteers remember Nepal RPCV Beverly Leo

Friends and Fellow Volunteers remember Nepal RPCV Beverly Leo

She could recognize her husband's voice in the morning, and she squeezed his hand when he called her name. By noon, the nurses at Hospice House were giving her water through a small green sponge that looked like a lollipop. Her oldest son held one hand, her brother held the other.

Friends and Fellow Volunteers remember Nepal RPCV Beverly Leo

For friends, family,a last visit with Leo
At Hospice House, her life begins to slip away

Monitor staff
November 08. 2005 8:00AM

Caption: Beverly Leo served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal from 1966-1969. This is how her fellow volunteers remember her.

everly Leo stopped talking. Yesterday, her body was fighting to breathe, her arms and legs twitching and shuddering.

She could recognize her husband's voice in the morning, and she squeezed his hand when he called her name. By noon, the nurses at Hospice House were giving her water through a small green sponge that looked like a lollipop. Her oldest son held one hand, her brother held the other.

Leo, 61, formerly head of the Concord Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was diagnosed with a rare lung disease 12 years ago. Last July, doctors told her she had only a few months left.

Since then, Leo has tried to ready her family and herself for her death. Family and friends have visited her, but few thought she would decline so quickly. Some who came to see Leo didn't know it would be the last time.

'It's not about me'

It took Leo weeks to persuade her sister, Sue Frindt, to come see her this fall. Frindt, 60, works as a church administrator in Colorado, and she hadn't seen her sister in three years.

Frindt knew Leo was dying. She knew Leo's face was puffy from medication. She knew Leo had to wear a tube in her nose and a mask over her face to breathe, and she knew Leo's long braids had been cut off so the strap for the oxygen mask wouldn't get tangled in her hair.

Frindt talked frequently with her sister on the phone, but she didn't think she could handle seeing her.

"I'd much rather remember the image of my sister with her red braids and her smile and her thinness, than a gray-haired woman lying in bed," she said.

But Leo kept asking her to come, and church colleagues helped persuade Frindt to visit.

"It's not about me, it's about Bev," Frindt said. "And if this is what she wants at the end of her life, who am I not to do it?"

Frindt knitted a purple and green shawl for Leo, praying for her as she added each stitch. When she visited Leo at the end of October, she gave her the shawl along with a card.

"This wrap has been blessed by the hands and intentions of the knitter," the card read. "Let it be a sacred place where you can meet your God - all encompassing, non judging - where you can just be."

Leo, who spent several years in the Peace Corps in Nepal, isn't religious like her sister. She has said she doesn't expect to see God when she dies. But she has kept the shawl with her in bed.

Frindt used her visit to helpmake Leo comfortable. She brushed Leo's hair and dressed her. She brought Leo water and chocolate and interpreted for nurses who couldn't always understand what Leo was trying to say.

On the day Frindt was leaving, Leo was sitting up in bed, talkative. Frindt picked dead purple irises out of Leo's flowers and asked if she had been sleeping well. Frindt reminded Leo about who had come to visit in recent days and told her that she was leaving in an hour.

"Are you driving?" Leo asked her. When Frindt said no, Leo asked, "You want a drink?"

They toasted to celebrations and drank small glasses of Amarula, a sweet liquor from South Africa. Leo spilled her glass, and Frindt wiped it up.

When it was time to go, Leo told Frindt to have a good trip. Frindt started to cry and said, "I'm just a passenger."

Leo hugged her, wiping her own eyes, and reassured her sister that she was fine. "Take care, and keep your chin up," Leo told her. "I'm in good hands overall."

"You are in good hands later on, too," Frindt said, meaning God would take care of her.

"That's all right." Leo said. "I need all the help I can get."

Visions of the past

Last month, Roger Leo, Leo's ex-husband, went back to the house in Ashburnham, Mass., where he and Leo lived 30 years ago. He had just visited Leo, who could only get from her bed to her wheelchair. Roger Leo has known for many years that Leo was ill, but he had not seen her so incapacitated. When he looks at her, he said, he still sees the young girl with braids in her hair that he met in the Peace Corps in Nepal.

"I came up to see Beverly and was filled with thoughts of our life together when we were young,"Roger Leo said.

He returned to the house on the pond with a big metal swing that the neighborhood children loved. Back then, when he and Leo were in their 20s, Leo baked bread, painted and crocheted small horses and zebras, while he went off to try to make their fortune. One summer, he worked as a lobsterman in Florida, convinced he would return home flush with cash.

"The fishing was awful, and I barely had enough money to get back to New England," he said.

The second time Roger Leo came to visit, they reminisced about the early years with their children, Alan, now 30, and Ben, 27. Alan fussed and cried his first three weeks out of the womb, and Roger Leo was convinced that Alan wanted to go back. Ben was fearless and would walk under horses they kept, Beverly Leo said.

When the boys were 3 and 1, Roger and Beverly Leo divorced. "I guess love is complicated," he said. There was no real bitterness between them, and they stayed in touch.

Roger Leo, 58, is a former reporter for the Telegram and Gazette in Worcester, Mass. Three months ago, after reporting in Afghanistan and seeing Beverly Leo so close to death, he decided to retire.

Roger Leo was hoping to have a private moment with his ex-wife before she slipped into unconsciousness. He wanted to talk to her about how she really felt about death. But both times he came to see her, there were other visitors in the room.

He saw Beverly for about 20 minutes last week. He hugged her and said he would come again. He was shaken up by the visit, he said, so he called Alan and also stopped to see a friend on his way back to Massachusetts.

"What I tried to do is make my life normal and ordinary," he said, "and fill it with things that were not medical and didn't involve tubes, shots and oxygen."

A toast to siblings

Two weeks ago, Lee Spiller, Beverly's baby brother, brought his wife and daughter to come see Beverly. Spiller lives in Effingham and his wife, Deborah, is ill with lupus, so Leo hadn't seen much of him lately. Leo, Spiller and Frindt drank small cups of Bailey's Irish Cream, and Frindt proposed a toast to siblings.

Spiller, 52, is a large, muscular man with broad shoulders, big hands and a closely cut white beard. He looks like a fisherman. He once built boats and sailed them in the Atlantic, but when his wife got sick, he became a craftsman, making stone vases. He stayed with Leo at her Bradford home each summer, selling his work at the Mount Sunapee crafts fair.

Spiller didn't know how bad off his sister was when he opened the door to her room yesterday afternoon. He looked at the people gathered inside - Leo's friend Beth Rodd and his aunt, Dorothy Bischoff. Then he looked at Leo, her chest and stomach rising and falling unevenly, and he approached her bedside.

Spiller sat next to Leo and carefully took her hand, tiny in his, and gently rubbed the top of it. Every once in awhile, he turned around to take a tissue from a box and wiped his eyes.

------ End of article


Monitor staff

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