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Friends rally to support a Maine caregiver who is losing her sight

Val Lovelace is a retired 20-year Navy vet, a longtime end-of-life caregiver, and an interfaith chaplain. She needs a renovated home as a disease claims her sight.

WESTPORT ISLAND, Maine — Valerie Lovelace — Val, as her friends call her — is better equipped for change than many.

She has spent nearly 20 years in the Navy, nearly 10 providing end-of-life care, and now has served one year as a certified interfaith chaplain. In this second act of her life, Val advocates for others to age and to die with dignity at home.

"When you're sitting with someone who's dying, there's no time for [expletive]," Val said, weeping as she sat in her Westport Island home. "Those are some of the most tender, raw, authentic conversations I've ever had."

Now, caring eyes turn toward her.

She lives in a coastal Maine paradise, with a tidal river just steps from her apartment — well deserved, her friends believe, after a life of helping others.

But soon, her home, her world, will go dark.

Diagnosed with pathologic myopia, Val has lost vision in her left eye, and her right is fading.

Friends are rushing to her aid.

Elia Lawatsch and Molly Graziano have worked with Val on end-of-life care and are firmly in her corner, despite living across the country. Molly has never even met Val in person.

"I get choked up just talking about how she speaks with people," Lawatsch said.

"I wouldn't say I'm angry. I'm sad for her, but she doesn't let you be sad for her very long," Graziano remarked.

The long-distance pair started a GoFundme to help build the addition Val needs.

Val currently lives in an upstairs apartment, but her friends and family are working to add to her son's home across the state in Mechanic Falls, so she can live on in comfort.

"She has spent her entire life serving others," Lawatsch said. "Now it's her turn."

With all the beautiful things to see around her, the things Val wants to see most while she still can are not things at all.

"This is really hard to say. I have two grandkids, and what will it be like when I can't see them?" Her eyes welled with tears. "And I know I'll remember them, and I'll touch their faces and feel their hugs. But that part is hard."

If there is a silver lining, she'll be moving to the same address as her grandkids. And Val finds silver linings. She said she might be losing her eyesight, but she's not losing her vision.

"The way I view the world ... and the way I live my life is not something I'm going to lose," she explained. "I'm just gonna have to learn to navigate differently."

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