Helen “Noelani” McCluskey, or Aunty Noe as she’s called by most, sits in her wheelchair with an album in her lap. Several others are open and strewn over the table, mementos of memories past. Having just turned 99 this year, you can imagine she has quite a few. Stunning in a classically feminine cream muumuu, painted pink nails, and delicate pikake lei, she’s clearly ready for her close-up.

“Big smile!” instructs the photographer. She looks up, beaming into the lens. At 67 pounds, the woman who was once dubbed “Maui’s Best Dressed” has become fragile and lost much of her strength. Colorful outfits and accessories had to be traded in for t-shirts, heels for warm socks, rouge for natural skin.

To celebrate her life, Hospice Hawaii chose to pay homage to her claim to fame and create a new memento to add to her albums. With the perfect dress picked, lipstick and blush applied, and an array of fine jewelry displayed for her choosing, she’s now a vision in front of the camera, and she looks quite at home.

Born in Hilo Hospital as Helen Shaw, the second of four sisters, Noe always had a keen eye for aesthetics which later grew into a love for fashion. One would often see her corralling the delivery man at a nearby dress shop so she could catch next season’s trends before anyone else. Her son, Lee, remembers that even as a mother, she was always perfectly poised, graceful, and always taking great care to show the world her best. This sensibility, which she has carried with her
throughout the decades, is a sophistication that has all but disappeared in the modern world that exists now.

“Girls nowadays are always in a rush,” she chides before breaking out in laughter. No matter when they were taken, in her photographs she always has that same beautiful smile.

At Hospice Hawaii, it’s about living your end-of-life journey with dignity and comfort, but above all it’s about being able to live how you choose to. We are thankful we had the opportunity to help Aunty Noe continue to live the way she wanted to.