Editor’s note: Michelle Longhini, owner of Nails by Michelle in West Palm Beach, Fla., shared this true story in January 1995. She says she hopes it makes other nail technicians aware of the great impact they have on their clients’ lives, as well as the effect their clients have on their own lives.

I know sometimes we attend angels unaware because it happened to me. Several years ago, a very sweet lady came into my nail salon in need of a manicure. She was recuperating from a stroke and unable to polish her own nails. Marty was “40-some-thing” and long past trying to impress others. She really enjoyed having fun and always arrived for each appointment with a new joke or funny story.

My salon has more than 13,000 samples of nail art on display, featuring designs from “mild to wild.” Well, Marty was always ready to try something new. Once she even wore a 3-D bouquet of roses on one nail. We soon planned nail appointments to coincide with our lunch hours. We would eat and play with nail art — we both agreed this was our favorite service.

Later that year, Marty went into the hospital for heart surgery. At about that same time she was diagnosed as having cancer. Years of tests, treatments, and check-ups followed. Bless her heart, no matter how badly she was feeling, she always came in for her appointments. I remember vividly when she said her appointments with me were a painless bright spot.

My admiration for Marty grew over the years. She was a loving, selfless person. I remember one time right before my vacation in the spring of 1994. Marty was my last appointment and she showed up with a small bottle of wine and a batch of triple-chocolate cookies. She said she wanted to start my vacation with food, fun, and a friend! That night, knowing how much I loved to play with nail art, she gave me total freedom to do anything I wanted to her nails. As usual, she loved the results!

Marty loved to amaze the countless doctors, nurses, and technicians she had to visit through those years with her nails. I believe it made a lot of tough times bearable — it gave her something else to concentrate on, rather than the medications, diagnoses, and tests. In fact, once she arrived at a doctor’s office she had not visited before, and there were three employees waiting to look at her “wild” nails! She said she felt like a celebrity.

Two months later, during one of Marty’s regular appointments, she asked if I would do her nails after she passed away. We had never really discussed much about her cancer or its progression, so her question took me by surprise. She asked me to think about it for two weeks, until her next appointment. She assured me she was not giving up, she was simply making all the necessary arrangements in advance.

The next two weeks were very profound for me. Many things I had never even considered came to mind. I am in my mid-30s and have been fortunate enough to never have anyone really close to me die. However, because I specialize in nail art I have many clients who have been coming in every other week for three or more years. I have been through weddings, births, divorces, and other joyful and not-so-joyful events with my clients. The friendship that develops after years of appointments cannot be described; my clients are my extended family. I low would I handle a client’s death? How would I be able to go to a funeral home and do her nails?

Over the next two weeks, many special clients shared their experiences with loved ones’ deaths. One client, Beverly, had lost her daughter the previous year. She continues to help other families through grief counseling and was able to give me valuable insight. She offered a shoulder and an ear anytime, day or night. At that time I didn’t realize how important she was going to become.

Marty arrived for her next appointment with her sister, Joyce, who had visited several times earlier that year. She often shared appointments with Marty, getting her own nails decorated, and then they would be off to lunch somewhere special. This time, however, Joyce was visiting to assist Marty with some of her final arrangements. It was at this time I told Marty I would be honored to do her nails. I told her honestly that, having never done this before, I didn’t know if I could, but I said I would try. She said that Joyce would be there if I needed her, and Joyce would take care of whatever I might require.

Marty and I discussed the artwork and colors she wanted at her next appointment. She said she couldn’t wait to be the first one to introduce my artwork to heaven and told me that she was reserving my first appointment when I get to heaven, so to be sure to bring all my toys. What a wonderful spirit!

After that, we never mentioned that “final appointment” again. Several mouths passed, then I received a phone call from her husband, Joe. He told me she would not be at her next appointment because she was in the hospital. A few days later, Marty passed away. Joyce stopped by the salon to coordinate arrangements between me and the funeral home. I then shared with Joyce what Marty wanted on her nails.

Marty and Joe had been married for 26 years. They had no children. They were very much in love. Her favorite flowers were white roses. Marty knew the medication toward the end would make her incoherent, but she desperately wanted to tell Joe one last time how much she loved him, and I was going to help her do it. I was to paint a white rosebud on each of nine nails; on her left ring finger I was to paint a white rose in full bloom with Joe’s name along its stem.

Joyce and I planned to meet the next day at the funeral home. I asked for permission to bring Bev along for moral support. Bev drove me, for which I was grateful because I was very nervous. With Bev’s and Joyce’s encouragement and support, I was able to manicure my friend’s nails one last time.

The next evening I attended Marty’s services. The reception and thanks I received from her family and friends was unbelievable. They appreciated the spirit of Marty in her last wishes and knew how much it meant to Joe in his time of sorrow. Many times I’ve felt stereotyped as just a nail technician, unimportant, second class; however, I have never been so proud of my profession as I was that evening. I was only giving back to her a small portion of what she gave to me. Her strength, love, and friendship will forever be in my heart. Sometimes it was her encouragement alone that kept me pressing on toward the publication of my nail art idea books.

Two days before this past Christmas, Joe stopped by my salon with a Christmas present in hand. I gave him a Christmas hug and said, “You shouldn’t have gotten me a gift.” He replied, “I didn’t, Marty did, earlier this year.” Like I said, sometimes we attend angels unaware, and I know Marty’s wings are covered with glitter and rhinestones!

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