When a special person in your life willingly, graciously and with good humor feeds you, bathes you and changes your diapers day after day, year after year, that's love.
Three dozen years ago that's what Lois Lucas did for little Sunny Paszkiewicz. She became the baby's de facto grandmother. And when Lucas' health failed about 12 years ago, she and the grown Sunny switched roles.
The women developed a powerful bond that is lasting beyond the grave.
"When she passed, I stopped crying because I knew her pain was gone and she was in a better place," Sunny said.
But the tears started again when Sunny learned that she had no say in what was to become of Lucas' remains, since they weren't legally related.
Apparently no one does. There is no next of kin and the careful plans Sunny made were suddenly moot.
Five years ago, after Lucas' health began to worsen, Sunny went to Inland Memorial Mortuary and Crematorium in Riverside and, with the older woman's permission, paid $845 in advance for Lucas' cremation. She also paid $150 for a necklace to hold the ashes.
Sunny's plan was simple: Grandma Lois had always loved the sea, so Sunny would put some of the ashes in the necklace, some in a small urn and the rest she would scatter at the seashore.
The depth of Sunny's love for Lois is astounding. She has two different photo-realistic tattoos of Lucas, one on the underside of each forearm. When she turns them up
there's grandma looking up at her.
Five years before she died, Lucas entered a home-care hospice program and Sunny became her caretaker. There was no question of Sunny's relationship to Lois when she was handling the older woman's care, including giving her pain medication and changing her diapers.
"I couldn't even take a vacation," Sunny said. "I was afraid something might happen while I was gone."
Entering hospice care usually means the end is near.
But Lucas fought to live. She died in her bed in Sunny's apartment about a month ago, on July 27.
Sunny began to worry that the San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner would bury Lucas in a pauper's grave.
The county's Public Administrator took over and started digging for information about Lucas' money, an estate, relatives. The case is in limbo until that office finishes its investigation.
Meanwhile, Lucas' body remains at the mortuary, awaiting a resolution.
An official at the mortuary, who declined to give her name, said there is a better alternative than a pauper's grave.
When Sunny was 10, Lucas married Sunny's widowed natural grandfather.
"I think she did it for me but maybe not. They really loved each other," Sunny remembered, as she told how "Grandma cared for my grandfather in the months leading up to his death."
He is buried at Riverside National Cemetery.
That doesn't bring Sunny any closer to being a relative but it opens another door. Because Lucas' late husband was a veteran and buried in the national cemetery, she is eligible to be buried there, too. Veterans' rights trump potter's field.
Sunny, of course, would prefer that to a pauper's grave but she still wants cremation so she can take Lucas with her wherever she goes. At 34, she wants to see the world.