Tomorrow I will join many others in honoring the life of my friend Minerva who made an impact on this world before leaving us all too soon on March 10, 2018. Minerva had a daughter who is - and always will be - her proudest achievement.
The last time Minerva and I spoke, she told me she wanted her story to be told. Admittedly, Minerva's life is much bigger than my one small piece of her story, but I wanted to do my best to honor her request by sharing about my friendship with Minerva, and our last visit together. I hope it gives you get a glimpse into who Minerva was. As you'll read further down, I also hope that Joe Biden will also get a chance to learn about one of his biggest supporters.
We met through work, at the Texas Council on Family Violence and the National Domestic Violence Hotline | Austin, Texas
“You both live in the same neighborhood!" said my director at the time. Minerva and I both worked for the same non-profit organization, and that singular connection was all it took before we struck up a friendship that spanned many neighborhood walks and going out to eat. Our talks would cover a wide range of topics on life, work and whatever else we felt like discussing at the time.
That first connection happened about fourteen or so years ago. In 2013, Minerva was diagnosed with stage 4 Glioblastoma, which is a form of brain cancer. They had given her two years to live but she lived over four years.
Around 2014, my husband and I moved out of the neighborhood and across town so Minerva and I stayed connected via the occasional meet up, phone call, Facebook and texts. Minerva not only defied her doctors’ prognosis but she had real moments of triumph. As friends, family and even strangers can attest, she inspired so many people along the way.
Minerva wanted people to know how special it was for her to help people when she worked at NDVH
Although Minerva and I worked at the same non-profit, our work was very different. I was in Communications but Minerva worked on the frontline taking calls from people in need of help. She was the voice on the other end of the line for countless people who phoned in from all over the country in search of a lifeline to help them deal with the emotional and physical abuse happening in their relationships. The calls could range drastically, from a request for more information to someone seeking shelter for themselves and their children living in fear for their lives. Suffice to say it was (and is) life-changing work, and I'm certain there are many people who are alive today thanks to Minerva's support. I knew that work mattered to her, but it wasn't until our last talk together that I truly understood just how special that work was to her, when she told me it's something she wanted people to know.
As a nod to the work Minerva did and cared about, if you or someone you know need help from an abusive relationship: http://www.thehotline.org/ or 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224.
Minerva's hero was Joe Biden: "Tell him about me".
If you're familiar with the efforts to end domestic violence, you may have heard of VAWA (Violence Against Women Act). Given our work at the non-profit, we knew how much Joe Biden had done for the movement to end domestic violence. The then Senator later turned Vice President was considered the ‘father of VAWA’, having played a key role in not only bringing the Act to fruition but also by providing ongoing support for survivors and raising awareness.
The night of our last visit, Minerva told me how Joe Biden was her hero, and talked about how he cares about the same two topics she did: domestic violence and brain cancer. She went on to say that if I were to meet him (again) one day, to tell him about her. (I'm working on it, Minerva)
Minerva lived life her way
There are some people in this life who defy words. Minerva is one of those neat people who is hard to describe because she was unique. I always admired her down to earth personality, combined with her dedication to living life her way. She didn't follow a textbook path but rather dove fully into a variety of projects, jobs and efforts over the course of the time I knew her. She was a very real person, with a 'get it done' personality. She was constantly connected – whether it was juggling between meeting up with friends, helping with events, you name it -- to this day, I can still visualize her on her cell phone getting texts and calls about this or that. She was an avid user of tech and stayed tuned into what was happening in the world.
Minerva did not know a stranger
I didn't realize it when I first met her, but I'm now convinced Minerva did not know a stranger. She had friends from all walks of life and various chapters of her life journey. I still recall arriving at a birthday party for her and being in awe at how ‘packed to the brim’ the home was with people from all times in her life – friends from childhood.. to extended family.. to coworkers. I later teased her that Kevin Bacon has nothing on her - as far as I am concerned, it’s 6 degrees to Minerva as I’m convinced most people are connected through her.
They gave her two years, but that didn’t stop her
If you were to read through the posts on Minerva's Facebook page, you'd realize a few things quickly -- Minerva was nothing short of amazing in how she dealt with the diagnosis. She stared many tough challenges in the face and kept going. She would get knocked down and rise back up against all opposition. Minerva fought, talked and walked against all the odds she faced, showing more strength and tenacity than most think possible. She inspired so many in her time, and I later learned, has given hope to others who are fighting their own challenges. I truly believe the reason she wants you to know her story is to understand what the human spirit is capable of when you get determined.
Our last conversation together
I was up at work late when I got a text from Minerva to 'come over when I can'. I’d just stepped into a new role and my days were running together a bit as I worked to ramp up. I’d visited with Minerva just a couple weeks prior, after she returned home from the hospital under the care of hospice. I knew it was a gift to get another opportunity to visit with Minerva so I phoned to confirm, and soon shut down my computer to drive across town.
When I arrived at her home, Minerva had MSNBC on in the background. We talked about the world and the state of our country. She also used some of the time to call her daughter. Minerva was so proud of her daughter. She talked about how she’d wanted to see her daughter graduate from MIT and pointed out the diploma her daughter had brought her. Knowing graduation was still months away, her daughter had arranged for her mom to get her diploma early so she would get to see it. To this day, thinking about that loving act touches my heart.
There are certain moments in life where you can feel the significance of the moment. That night felt that way, which is what compelled me to ask Minerva what mattered to her most. She told me how she had been working with someone to capture notes from her life, and she wanted her story to be told.
Admittedly, there are many other family members and friends that know Minerva's life story far better than I do and could tell the fuller story. Still, I wanted to find a way to honor her wish, but also her life. If there is one thing I learned from getting to have a friendship with Minerva, it’s that people come in and out of our lives for a reason.. We lead bigger, better, fuller lives thanks to the people in them and the journeys they each have.
I think of Minerva often, and hope you one day get to know her fuller story. If you’d like to learn more about Minerva, you can visit her Facebook page: Minerva Ming Chiu.