"Project Hands: For the Stories We Hold" will be exhibited at the Alexander/Heath Contemporary Art Gallery from Dec. 4 to Jan. 9. Join me for opening night Dec. 4 from 5-10 p.m. Once again, proceeds will benefit the Roanoke Rescue Mission.
I was caught off-guard. Normally, I said, I refer to it as a "comprehensive shelter," alluding to the many back-on-your-feet programs it offers.
"Good," she said. "Because the Rescue Mission is my home."
Unlike the more than 200 people who stay at the Mission nightly, Joy was a hospice-care resident with stage IV ovarian cancer. Drained of financial resources, she and her caretaker Shirlene moved into the Mission in 2014.
"I'm here because I made a decision to be in a place where I would have peace," Joy told me during our first interview in December.
Since meeting Joy all those months ago, I have witnessed her inspire entire rooms of people, and I have seen her flood a sterile hospital room with laughter. Even in the face of death, she was a light. Cancer did not extinguish her spirit, her faith or her will to live.
The last time I saw Joy was Oct. 7 — 10 days before my wedding. Just as I was starting a new life, Joy was finishing hers, signing her name to final wishes.
Two weeks later, I returned home from my honeymoon to the news of Joy's passing.
"The staff knew it was coming soon, so many of our guests, program participants and staff were able to see her before she left us," the message read. "We got a few emails about how happy she was to see her Savior. The kids were able to sing to her and she prayed for them after."
So to honor Joy's memory, her fire and her intense encouragement of Project Hands (if it weren't for her urging, I would not have reached out to more galleries), this next show will be dedicated to her. I know she will be there in spirit.