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Niravi Bernice Payne

Apr 29, 2010

“I’m moving to Sanibel,” my mom announced to me on the phone one day about 12 years ago.

“You’re what?!” She had visited her friend, Edith Rood, only once and bought a condo within what seemed like days.

“How will I see you? How will I take care of you?”

“You’ll see more of me than you do now.” (We lived only five blocks apart in Brooklyn, but were often too busy with our lives to get together.)

Then, like a mistrusting parent whose child has been impulsive yet again, I took a trip down here to explore the damage. It was then that I understood. Sanibel was indeed overwhelmingly gorgeous and had no winter. What could be better? I helped her fix up her fixer-upper condo and watched it transform into a tastefully furnished, creatively designed space. She was happy. I was, too. I fell in love with the place and her new life and it became my home away from home. Our new home.

My mom was right about spending more time together. I came here often and we had fun. We photographed anhingas in “Ding” Darling, marveled over the beauty of Tarpon Bay, and I swam in that delicious warm gulf where, miraculously, around sunset every day, there appeared a group of dolphins on the horizon. We danced to steel bands at the art fair and ate great ice cream for a treat at The Bean. We drew closer and closer.

My mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer in October 1988, two weeks before my wedding. She struggled with this disease bitterly yet courageously for more than 20 years, choosing alternative treatments to help her. Sadly, she died on Tuesday, April 6, 2010. You will never meet anyone who loved life more than she or who fought so hard to stay alive.

Niravi Bernice Payne was a passionate woman in everything she did. She had been a civil rights leader, an anti-war activist and a feminist in the ’50s. Unheard of. I grew up in a home where we learned to question everything that was going on and we stood up against injustice. This was not easy in the ’50s. It made my childhood very different and, in retrospect, I thank her for it.

My mom’s profession was as a fertility expert, and she helped women to overcome their emotional blocks to conception. She was extremely successful in helping countless couples have babies. She wrote a book called “The Whole Person Fertility Solution,” which was later translated into German and Spanish.

Over the years, my mom and I discovered that there were so many things we had in common. We loved to photograph nature, dance to Motown, and watch sunsets. We travelled to England, Mexico and a spa. We both got book contracts at the same time, appeared on TV and had successful therapy practices. In later life, she showed real interest and happiness in my accomplishments as I became a playwright. She had a corner of her home dedicated to my drawings and hung my photos throughout her home next to hers. We loved each other dearly and gave each other all the support in the world.

I was right about one thing, the difficulty in taking care of her long distance. She would call me in the morning in an emergency and I’d be down here by the afternoon. While others were out riding bicycles, I helped her through all her illnesses, the hardest, her cancer. But taking care of someone you love also brings you closer.

Two years ago, when mom became very ill, my husband and I came down to Sanibel and stayed with her for 14 months to support her living in her own home. Finally, with tremendous sadness for us all, I had to take her with me up to New York so I could continue to care for her.

In the end, my mom realized her life as she loved it would never return and it saddened her. A bout of pneumonia weakened her and she never regained her strength. I am now bringing her back here as she wished. My mother lived a really good life and made a huge difference in so many people’s lives. She was my best friend and I will miss her dearly.

I am forever grateful to Sanibel and the wonderful gift of happiness it gave to her and to myself. I particularly want to thank her friends: Sara Jane, her home care nurse, Claire Lundgren, her hospice nurse, her aides, particularly Gina and Ester. Gina Campbell cared for my mom in Florida and New York. These people gave my mom, my husband and myself tremendous love and support particularly over the last two years. My special thanks to Dr.LaMotta (and his staff) who repeatedly raised our spirits and cared for my mother with warmth, respect and humor.

I will miss Sanibel but will come here to visit with mom over the years. I believe my mom is now in Sanibel heaven.

Those who wish may contact me may at 917-359-3744, meriwallace@aol.com or P. O. Box 728, Amagansett, NY 11930.