Soon after Stacy Oliver was diagnosed with a rare disorder that would disrupt most every function in her body, she decided to write her own obituary.
The comedian, actress, singer, writer and avid dancer wanted the world to know she had never done anything the “normal” way, so she vowed the last word about her wouldn’t be just a list of people she was related to.
At a time filled with so much stress and worry, it’s worth pausing to read Oliver’s life philosophy.
The lifelong Chicagoan, who passed away on October 4 at the age of 52 in Skokie, Illinois, had this advice to share with others:
“I'm not telling you what to do, but I am telling you what to do. Stop worrying about your weight, go live, be, do. Smile, people don't get to feel them enough. Enjoy the moment, it might not come again,” she wrote in the poignant obituary.
“If you want to do it, give something a try, try it, taste it, go there. Take it from me, I'm dead. Eat the Danish, go to the show, laugh out loud. Love one another and you'll never know what you'll find.”
Oliver had a journalism degree and worked at Northwestern University for 21 years, where she was assistant director at the school’s Center for the Writing Arts. She also sang in clubs and cabarets, and performed improv comedy.
She died about two years after being diagnosed with multiple system atrophy — cerebellar type, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that “takes away everything” and is so rare that it’s like “winning the lottery kind of in reverse,” said Jeff Oliver, her husband.
The cause is unknown and most cases of the disease occur at random, according to the National Institutes of Health. In MSA, different types of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord lose function or die, which can impact a patient’s movement and balance, and disrupt body functions like digestion or the regulation of blood pressure.
Stacy — who loved to belly dance and hula dance — had to start using a walker, then a wheelchair, and was ultimately confined to her bed 10 months ago.
“When she was active, she had the energy of three people. She was a force of nature,” Jeff Oliver told TODAY. “I’m a lucky guy.”
In her obituary, Stacy described her husband as kind, handsome and “truly my best friend and the love of my life.” She was real with him and “forever grateful that he shared his life with me,” she wrote.
Stacy kept her sense of humor during her illness even as it took away her ability to speak. For a while, she communicated with a speech generating device controlled with her eyes provided by Team Gleason, a non-profit organization founded by football player Steve Gleason who was diagnosed with ALS.
One of her favorite phrases to direct at Jeff through the device was: “You’re fired!”
The couple would have celebrated their 21st wedding anniversary five days after she died.
Stacy had other health problems in 2008, right around the time Jeff lost his IT job during the Great Recession. So he went back to college and got a nursing degree to be able to help her better. He took care of her the last two years of her life.
Stacy was determined to write her own obituary because she wanted to say the things that were important to her, her husband said. She wanted others to stop worrying about their weight because she herself had struggled with the issue, he added.
“To me what that’s focusing on is: Believe in other people and believe in yourself… and once in a while, enjoy yourself. Eat something that you love, that gives you a little bit of joy. Smile at other people,” Jeff Oliver said.
“This is Stacy. When you read that, you hear her voice loud and clear.”