Missy Buchanan has visited ReadTheSpirit through the years to talk about her work in helping individuals and congregations reach out to the millions of Americans marginalized by advanced age and disability. Go to her personal website to learn about the full range of her writing and speaking. Missy got to know Robin Roberts, because Robin’s mother, Lucimarian Roberts, was a fan of Missy’s earlier book, Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults. Because of that connection with Missy’s writing, Lucimarian and Robin wanted Missy to co-author a collection of real-life stories by Lucimarian. Everyone was celebrating the good news in the Roberts family. Then, in June, Robin Roberts told the world: “Five years ago I beat breast cancer. I’ve always been a fighter, and with all of your prayers and support, a winner. Today, I want to let you know that I’ve been diagnosed with MDS or myelodysplastic syndrome. It’s a disease of the blood and bone marrow … My doctors tell me I’m going to beat this—and I know it’s true. …They say I’m younger and fitter than most people who confront this disease and will be cured. Bone marrow donors are scarce and particularly for African-American women. I am very fortunate to have a sister who is an excellent match, and this greatly improves my chances for a cure. … I encourage everyone to sign up on a donor registry like bethematch.org.”
Missy writes about the woman who is the spiritual helm of Robin Roberts’ family …
A spiritual matriarch still shapes
Robin Roberts’ battle to save her life
By MISSY BUCHANAN
When I read Robin’s email, my stomach churned. She hadn’t aired the news yet, but we are friends and co-authors of a new book about her mother, Lucimarian Roberts. So, she sent me the news to soften the blow before I saw it on Good Morning America (GMA), where she is co-host and ironically has just attained a major career goal: GMA has surpassed the Today Show in the ratings for the first time in 16 years.
From such a high to such a low! I tried to reel in my imagination—but I just couldn’t. All I could think about was the hard-fought battle she had waged with breast cancer five years earlier. I thought of the first time I met Robin in 2010. I had been invited to New York to tape a segment for GMA with Robin’s 86 year-old mother, Lucimarian Roberts, who was a fan of my first book, Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults. Robin had wanted me to meet Lucimarian and talk about the daily spiritual challenges millions of Americans are facing in old age—and the ways we all can help to meet those challenges.
Watching Robin enter the room that day, I was struck by how strikingly beautiful she was. Tall and fit with flawless skin, she flashed a smile that would light up any room. Even before we began taping, I remember breathing a sigh of relief that she was a celebrity who was as gracious behind the scenes as she was in front of the camera. Once the segment began, I watched Robin’s eyes fill with tears as she listened to her mother talk about difficulties of physical decline and loss of independence.
At that moment, Robin was no longer a celebrity to me. She was Lucimarian’s daughter. She was not unlike millions of other adult children who are also struggling with how to help an aging loved one.
In the summer of 2011, the opportunity came for me to co-author a new book with Robin and Lucimarian about the stories of Lucimarian’s long life. The plan was that I would listen to Lucimarian as she retold the stories, then organize the transcript into a memoir, “My Story, My Song: Mother-Daughter Reflections on Life and Faith.” Robin would add a personal reflection at the end of each chapter, and we would fill the center pages with vintage family photographs.
So in July 2011 I spent a stretch of days sitting across from Lucimarian in the living room of her home in Pass Christian, Mississippi, listening to tales of her life. She talked about being raised in Akron, Ohio, and growing up in a church founded by a grandfather who served as lay pastor. There were stories of how her faith helped her deal with racial injustice and moving 27 times as the wife of a Tuskegee Airmen and career military officer. She talked, too, about her husband’s sudden death and Robin’s bout with cancer.
One afternoon Lucimarian went to the piano to show me where she meets God each day. Her fingers took to the keys without opening any score. She played from memory, transitioning seamlessly from It Is Well with my Soul to We’re Marching to Zion. I was in awe of how the lyrics poured from her lips. Though I knew the first verse of most of the hymns and spirituals, she recalled several verses, all the while playing the piano effortlessly.
There was a moment when she turned from the piano bench and pointed toward the ceiling to show me how high the flood waters had come into her home during Hurricane Katrina. She told me the story of how she had turned to the hymns of her childhood faith to get through the frightening ordeal.
Working with both Lucimarian and Robin on “My Story, My Song,” I was able to witness the impact of Lucimarian’s strong spiritual foundation upon Robin’s life. In fact, now that I know other family members and friends, too, I can see that her faith-filled influence has rippled throughout several generations. Though we cannot ride the spiritual coattails of another person, the Roberts family reminded me that the faith of one person certainly can influence others through many years.
Like millions of GMA viewers, I listened with great interest to Robin’s announcement. Her voice tightened with emotion as she explained her diagnosis. She shared that she would need a bone marrow transplant but that her older sister, Sally-Ann, was a perfect match.
Almost every day now someone asks me about Robin. I always thank them for their prayers and explain her wonderful support system of family, friends and colleagues. Almost always they want to know how Robin is able to deal with the situation in such a public venue with so much grace and strength. I smile and tell them that if they know Lucimarian’s story, they will better understand Robin’s positive outlook and grace. I am confident that the two Roberts women would agree: Never underestimate one person’s spiritual influence.
Want more inspiring stories from Missy Buchanan & caregiving?
We included Missy Buchanan, rather than Robin or Lucimarian, in our list of 13 Stars—because the Roberts women are becoming ever more famous in their own right. Missy is more like most of our readers—a tireless compassionate force in her congregation and in her professional work. It was Missy’s catalytic work that finally brought Lucimarian’s story to the whole world. Click the My Story, My Song – Mother-Daughter Reflections on Life and Faith cover, above, to visit the Amazon page for that book.
ReadTheSpirit also publishes Dr. Benjamin Pratt’s Guide for Caregivers. With Missy Buchanan, Ben also is among our 13 American stars for the week of July 4, 2012.