Georgia was crowned Prom Queen during her senior year of high school. After graduation she went on to college and won local beauty pageants that helped finance her college education. Georgia was tall, graceful and beautiful. During her final year of college she married George who was an electrical engineer and “plain looking” by his words. George and Georgia settled down and raised a beautiful family of 4 girls. All the girls acquired Georgia’s beauty and grace and their father’s mental acuity and wit. They adored each other and lived a life that was full of devotion to family along with a commitment to hard work.
Georgia’s good looks remained throughout her adult life until the age of 53 when she noticed a small red mark on her left cheek. She thought little of it and simply applied extra foundation in the morning. At night when she’d wash away the makeup she noticed that the mark got a little bigger each day. At some point, her makeup could no longer conceal it and she began to worry.
George drove Georgia to the doctor a few weeks after the mark first appeared. They performed a series of tests and 30 days later Georgia was diagnosed with an aggressive malignant melanoma. The mark that started out as a small pin point had now made its way across the lower half of her left cheek.
I first met Georgia and her wonderful family 2 months after the diagnosis. She had undergone an operation that removed the left lower side of her face and then three rounds of chemotherapy that nearly took her life. The wound on her face revealed a huge gaping hole that required a special wound packing twice a day to keep the purulent drainage at bay. The smell of infection permeated the room. The beautiful woman that I saw photos of throughout the home was now sitting in a corner displaying a mask of horror and despair.
Georgia kept her head down as I did my initial assessment. The room was dark and her eyes never met mine. When I asked specific questions like how she was feeling she would defer to her eldest daughter to answer. It was if the spirit of Georgia had already departed. When I asked how she wanted to live out her final days she simply stated “hidden away.” I decided to leave my more probing questions for another day.
As I finished my assessment I spoke with her two eldest daughters and George. George was completely despondent and didn’t know what to do. He was losing the love of his life and he referred to Georgia as “his Beauty Queen.” “What made Georgia beautiful?” I asked. The family proceeded to reflect and reminisce on all the beauty pageants, awards and heads she turned throughout her life, even up to a few months prior. “She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen” George continued, “inside and out.”
“Well it is time to discuss all the beauty she has inside” I stated. “Georgia’s external good looks have been eroded by the cancer but her inner beauty needs some attending and acknowledgement.” It was obvious that Georgia had created a wonderful, caring family and home. I suggested that they create a list of all the beautiful attributes and lessons that Georgia had contributed to their lives. I encouraged them to be creative and list everything that came to mind. The only restriction was that it could not be based on anything that had to do with her physical appearance or her accomplishments based on her looks. They immediately went to work.
I visited Georgia a week later. During that time, I was in frequent conversations with her social worker and the care counselors. We had arranged a wound specialist to reassess her wound and new orders were established that cut down on the frequency of her dressing changes.
When I arrived to the home I was immediately struck by the sounds of laughter and the number of people in attendance. Georgia was in a hospital bed in the middle of the living room area. The pictures and awards that lined the walls a week prior were replaced with banners and posters of love letters and good wishes to Georgia. Flowers filled the room as well as music and the smell of lavender.
As I greeted Georgia she looked up and gave me a weak smile of acknowledgement. She soon drifted back to sleep. She appeared comfortable, relaxed and at peace. She looked “beautiful.”
I spoke with the family and friends present and they shared a multitude of stories of how Georgia had touched their lives. They all shared how Georgia’s physical beauty was dwarfed by the heart and soul she had inside. Their stories provided those present with strength and support as they maintained the ongoing vigil. I left feeling much more confident that Georgia would die in peace.
The next morning I heard the news that Georgia had passed. The nurse in attendance reported that the family was grieving but Georgia died peacefully in her sleep. Prior to the mortuary taking Georgia’s body away George placed her homecoming Queen’s crown on her head. He kissed her gently on her disfigured cheek and whispered, “You will always be my Beauty Queen.”