Field Notes

Mourning daughter: “I just want to make sure she is at peace.”

Look around and chances are that you will catch a glimpse of someone like Fayetta Dancer of Gresham.

The 21-year-old is one of the countless people who we see every day without noticing. These are people going about living their lives. They live. They work. They raise families. And they die.

For those who don’t know them they are simply the blurry backdrop of life.

Dancer is at home in her apartment with her five-year-old son and twin baby girls. The father of her children is at his job as a caregiver for people with developmental disabilities.

She is struggling on several levels, a fact brought in to sharp relief by the recent death of her grandmother. For all practical purposes, the woman – Lela Kanfield – was her mother.

“She was everything,” says Dancer. “She raised me. She kept me going. She taught me so much.”

Dancer never knew her father and her mother was gravely injured in an accident when she was just months old.

Kanfield was a registered nurse for 36 years – first in Klamath Falls and then in places like Salem and Woodburn. She raised ten children of her own and then Dancer and her brothers.

It’s not that Kanfield had all the answers. Dancer says many of her aunts and uncles are now dead or are in jail.

“The thing is, she never stopped believing, never stopped trying,” says Dancer. “She got me through high school, she told me how important it was to finish, to find a career, a way to support myself.”

It was a lesson lost on Dancer after high school.

“I made mistakes,” she says. “I lost my way. I know I let her down.”

When Kanfield got sick – she was diagnosed with cancer – Dancer started to realize that she had gone astray.

“It wasn’t quick but as she got sicker things became clearer,” she says. “I could see that I had done things wrong, that I had made decisions that I shouldn’t. I don’t think there was ever time that she didn’t love me.

“But there were times I know she wasn’t proud.”

Dancer knew that none of her mistakes were irreparable – she had been reckless, irresponsible. But never criminal.

She knew that spending  as much time with Kanfield as possible – making sure to expose Kanfield to her grandchildren or great-grandchildren, depending on how you wanted to do the math would help make things better.

“And if I didn’t see her, I called,” says Dancer. “I wanted to talk to her, to hear. And the more I heard her, the more I realized about where I had gone wrong and what I needed to do.”

Dancer is working on getting enrolled in community college.

“I know it’s not going to be easy, raising three kids and balancing classes,” she says. “But she did so much more that I know I can do it. It won’t happen overnight but I’m going to honor her and be a nurse like she was.

“She believed in me and I know I can do it.”

In the meantime, Dancer has a much more immediate problem.

“There is nothing that my mom wouldn’t do for someone and now I can’t seem to figure out how to do the simplest thing for her.”

That simple thing is something we all have to deal with at some point but the majority of us probably don’t spend much time thinking about – burying a loved one.

Since Kanfield died on August 6th in the Vancouver home of one of her daughters, she has been in a funeral home. The family can’t afford to bury her.

“None of us have money,” says Dancer. “We have enough to live but no savings. It’s paycheck to paycheck and with kids that’s often not enough. A funeral costs money and it’s money we don’t have.”

Dancer has called around to churches and other groups looking for help without much success.

The funeral home where Kanfield is says that the family is far from alone – many of their customers are unprepared.

Dancer has no ill will toward the funeral home.

“They have been very patient and supportive,” she says. “I know they are a business. I just wish I knew what the answer was.

“My mom tried to teach me all the time. Sometimes I listened and I guess other times it didn’t sink in. She wanted to make sure that I grew up to be someone like her.”

 Dancer says it’s not too late for that to happen.

“So much of what she said to me has been coming back,” she says. “I wish it hadn’t taken her getting sick and dying for that to happen but I can’t change it.

“I have my kids and I’m going to try and teach them like she taught me.”

Dancer and her aunts continue to go to friends and people they know – and don’t – looking to raise money to bury Kanfield.

“We need to make sure she’s at peace,” says Dancer. “And I need to honor her every day by doing things that would make her proud.

“I just want to make sure she is at peace.”