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'She just embodies so much strength' | Bernice's Room: Hospice patient's legacy sewn into daughter's nonprofit

Bernice's room was where Traci Allen remembered her mother sewing. She's using that as a nonprofit name to honor her mom's legacy.

SAN ANTONIO — Bernice Allen defied the medical odds. Her two daughters, son, grandchildren, and extended family count that as a gift every day.

"This has gave me a new understanding to faith. And I'm going to hold on to it," Traci Allen said. "I'll run with it because God is working."

Traci is a nurse in Bexar County. Her mother, a former seamstress, came to San Antonio from Honduras.

The 73-year-old is living with the aftermath of a debilitating stroke from 2012. Bernice's children said she was fine until 2018, and doctors said they had no medical recourse for her. 

Her daughter, Deborah Murphy, had difficulty accepting that because she thought it was the end.

"Initially, when they wanted to place her in hospice, I refused," Murphy said. "I fought it because that's what I thought hospice means---you're just preparing them for death."

Murphy was not entirely wrong. She found out hospice also opens up care for their family. Bernice lives with Murphy, where she has a first-floor room under the watch of a surveillance camera.

"I'm here for a reason," Bernice said.

In her hospital bed, the former East San Antonio seamstress remembers the days where a room in her home was a hotspot for business.

"It's something I love doing," she said.

Bernice and family members said her customers ranged from average citizens who had sewing needs to San Antonio notables.

"George Gervin's wife. The Lakers, I did for them," Bernice said.

A family friend recalls a displeased bride getting her dress on the day of her wedding but didn't like how it looked on her. Bernice gave the dress a makeover just in time for the wedding.

On many occasions, that room with a sewing table and backup sewing machines became a therapist's office. Bernice was also known to give sage advice-- cooking and gathering resources to help those in need.

Traci ran into one of her mother's customers in H.E.B., who confirmed that.

"And she was telling me how my mom really helped her out of her situation," Traci said. "That it was a domestic violence situation, and she helped her and her kids." 

The elderly matriarch said the room was for anyone who needed her--a space ambient with affection.

"More than that. A lot of love," Bernice said.

The thought of losing their mother pushes tears to the tips of her children's eyes. But Bernice has lived three years beyond her entry into hospice.

"I'm here for a reason," she said.

One of those reasons could be living to see Traci launch a nonprofit in her mother's honor: Bernice's Room.

"We go out and help the homeless, but we also help anyone in need," Traci said. "And then I became a nurse, and one of my focuses was HIV. So, I also wanted to focus on providing HIV care."

She said her mother cried at the news. Bernice was a bit more humorous and modest when asked if she'd heard about her namesake.

"That's what I heard--which is very nice," Bernice said.

Traci is trying to buy a dedicated vehicle for Bernice's Room. Her garage is filled with clothing to give to homeless people in need.

"I'm just so proud of my sister that she has decided to embody what my mother's spirit is in this nonprofit," Murphy said. "Everything my mom did, the cooking, the sharing, the listening, finding resources for people, I mean, just helping in general. That's exactly what her nonprofit is about."

Traci was able to keep everything going as she fought off the early stages of breast cancer. The wife and mother said she's cancer-free.

Meantime, they concentrate on making Christmas as memorable as possible for their mother with decorations, music, and family recipes.

"Every Christmas is very important because we don't know if it's going to be the last one," Traci said.

Bernice said she hopes to live to see another one.

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