In memory of Mary who died

This early September afternoon, just after our Michigan schools have opened their doors to laughing and shouting students for another school year, I would like to share a blog post I wrote way back in May, 2009.  Mary was the principal at our small school–someone I truly loved and admired.  She died four months after I wrote this post. Thank you for remembering her with me.

Beautiful death by frost

Beautiful death by frost

Mary is going to die.
She’s opening her heavily-lashed eyelids this morning in a cheap hotel near Mayo Clinic.  Are the birds chirping so sweetly outside her window, their high-pitched trills cascading the scale of life’s melodies, up and down, singing out an indecipherable pattern perhaps only known to the birch trees, the sloping hills, the good garden soil back home eager for spring seeds?
I want to roll over and return to sleep’s forgetting.  Mary is going to die.  Where is that voice rising from?  Shouldn’t it be qualified by hope?  Shouldn’t it be radiated and chemotherapied before you utter those words even in the privacy of your own head?
Tuning in

Tuning in

Mary is going to die.  Sweet Mary.  Calm Mary. Peaceful Mary. The minister’s wife snapping her wrists as the bell-caroled songs fill the church.  The principal of our tiny school, softly scenting the hallways with her unflappable peace that you feel down below your own churning heart, way down between your ribs, way down into the marrow of yourself–
While her marrow dances with cancer cells, multiplying endlessly in rhythmic frenzy, fearlessly, over-running and over-spilling the vessel that takes everything in like an embracing hug, like Jesus feeding bread and fish to the multitude.

The cycle of life...and death...

The cycle of life…and death…

Did she take on too much?  What was her flaw?  Why did the cancer blossom in her?
I flush with shame remembering too many years in my own life when it seemed utterly possible to read energy like an open book, definitively pronouncing utter proclamations of why this energy pattern contributed to this disease.
You peered a the victim of this illness or that and knew what rigidity, what tension, what stress, what closing down translated into a mathematical equation like: “the tension caused by railing against childhood trauma = heart attack” or “being too nice and always giving to others rather than self = breast cancer.”
Who’s to say there aren’t shards of truth in energy diagnosis?  Who’s to say stress doesn’t contribute to illness?  I still think it does.
Apples frame the back of our school

Apples frame the back of our school

Yet who among us holds no tension in their shoulders?  Who among us flows easily like water without stones or boulders tripping us, sending our canoes flying?  Who among us knows no friction?
Friction may even be the necessary vitamin destined to keep us alive, growing, expanding, moving Jericho’s walls, writing stories, proclaiming words like “good” and “evil” in an effort to ease our ragged hearts.
Mary is going to die, to die.


How I have grown to love this soft eyed doe in the past year.  Although we’ve worked together, how many years now?  Three?  She’s a person whom I’ve had difficulty reading energetically since her hire.
Everyone lapped love words around her back then, but I didn’t feel it.  Strange, as I usually love folks unconditionally in the beginning until their tar oozes out and you see where the roads need blacktopping.  That’s not an accurate sentence either.  But I love folks sometimes for the essence they seem to exude, like perfume.  Ahhh, another scent…
Driftwood and friends

Driftwood and friends

But Mary didn’t meet my eyes back in those days as she furrowed her brow to learn this new procedure or organize the classroom just so and we didn’t bond but slowly slowly the wide smile tilted from her mouth and the kind inquiries sprouted and the lilting laughter burst and soon our friendship grew new buds and the birds and butterflies lingered near our hugs.
Our love grew braided tight together with the song of children at recess, spiritual stories, shared cups of tea, changing the copier toner.
Reflections of life and death

Reflections of life and death

This year, especially, as she’s moved up the ladder of administration and now consults with me daily about forms, grants, budgets and pupil counts we’ve melted into each other’s appreciation and kindness, the way spring suns melt the heavy snows.
This year I dreamed of five more years of peaceful hallways, grinning students, happy forms after which god-willing-the-creek-don’t-rise we could both retire and live happily ever after on our respective retirement crumbs.
The creek rose swiftly in her body and we now wonder–if it can rise in Mary–can’t it rise in all of us as well?  Maybe it’s rising now and we don’t even know.
Doe eyes

Doe eyes

Mary is not going to die, says the teacher’s aide who lost her own husband of three years to the hungry disease a couple July summers ago.  On my birthday, in fact, he gasped his last ragged breath and now tiptoes through our dreams.
Mary is not going to die, the teacher’s aide says and tosses out at least one concrete example of a fellow with Stage 4 aggressive cancer–same as her husband–who survived, who lived, who beat the odds.  It’s not necessarily a death sentence, even when the cancer gets so aggressive and tortured it bites the innocent cells just standing around minding their own business on a groovy Saturday morning in early May.
Christmas cactus

Christmas cactus

The radiating light seeks out the bad guys and guns ‘em down instantly and if that doesn’t work you follow up with Hiroshima and nuclear bomb all the cells, good and bad, in hopes that leveling the playing field will start things brand new and spotless and spanking clean.
How does one choose these weapons of mass destruction in a precious grab for days of feeling the sun hot on your cheeks, the grasses tickling between bare toes, the sky that eggshell blue breaking your heart just because you’re breathing in and out, in and out, and the unknown bird trills its unrecorded song so sweet that all life’s cages simply fall open leaving all of us free?
Life is a run-on sentence; if you break it into parts the feelings stay limited and categorized.  The more you run on the more likely you are to get all the feelings mixed together simmering its own stew, feeding the multitudes.
Building blocks of friendship

Building blocks of friendship

Mary may die and Mary may live.  I think that sentence and its uncertainly feels like an unexpected gift when the giver holds no motive except appreciation maybe overlapping the shore of its pond.  Someone leans forward and offers a gift.  Your fingers tremble as you unwrap it, not knowing what the package holds.  Someone takes your photograph just as your fingers fuss with the ribbon and wrapping paper.  Will we like it?  Will we hate it?
This moment, frozen forever in infinite possible scrapbooks as the paper flutters helplessly to the ground, the tape unsticks itself and we begin to pry open the box.
Who will live and who will die?
Who knows?

Who knows?

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
This entry was posted in 2014 and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to In memory of Mary who died

  1. Elisa says:

    remembering mary…
    also thinking how much this post is useful for me today
    wondering if i ought to keep my mouth shut
    I think that expressing gratitude and joy for that wrapped gift might be more important than figuring it out first.

    “Will we like it? Will we hate it?
    This moment, frozen forever in infinite possible scrapbooks as the paper flutters helplessly to the ground, the tape unsticks itself and we begin to pry open the box.”

  2. Lori D says:

    No one gets out of here alive … at least not in the way in which we are accustomed to here on this plain. May you find comfort in memories of Mary on this day, and may you both feel the embrace of your Oneness in Love. Hugs.

  3. rehill56 says:

    This very week I have lost a friend back in Arizona to the ravages of cancer….and the aftermath of the attempt to fight it…feeling so sad and depleted. Love your words….beauty in our struggles…and memories.

  4. Susan D says:

    What a lovely repost about our beloved Mary, Kathy. It’s incredible to read it again, these years later, and witness new thoughts arise along with memories. I hear Mary’s soulful, joyful laugh as if she’s sitting with us now, having tea and telling stories. How loved she is, and how she loved. Heartfelt thanks to you for this today, an amazing tribute to a dear friend.

  5. Barb says:

    Wow, this really touched my heart and soul today, as I have just learned today that I may soon be saying these very scary words and having these same thoughts, in the very near future. I am sorry for your loss of a dear friend, Kathy. And sincerely hope I do not have to make the journey again at this time. But we all get to love someone through it in our days here. You just really touched my heart.

  6. Deeply personal; heartbreaking, yet joyful…to have had such a friend and coworker; a gift from the Universe. Because you remember her, as do others, she lives still through those memories.

    Having been there, I understand and traveling that path again, I feel both the pain of impending loss, maybe, or impeding joy….who knows who will live.

  7. rita kowats says:

    I honor your Mary, Kathy. You seem to have captured her essence so well that she feels like my friend too.

    My sister Mary, also a teacher, died suddenly and unexpectedly two years ago at this time and the descriptions of your Mary are soothing to me.

    Thank you.

  8. sybil says:

    We want the world to make sense. We want there to be a reason and in knowing the reason we can avoid the cause, and it will never be us. Like frightened children we WANT the world to make sense.

    Kathy, your words are so well chosen and the images you choose compliment the message perfectly.

    Reading your blog is like opening a gift for me …

  9. dorannrule says:

    No I never met Mary but I was “remembering her” with you through your beautiful tribute to a very special friend.

  10. john k says:

    I can remember the day when I put two and two together and realized that your Mary was the departed pastor’s wife from that little stone church on the opposite corner of our block. God bless her and you for remembering her.

  11. What lovely writing, Kathy, and an outstanding tribute to your friend, Mary. I wonder, too, when I hear people distance themselves from the illness or death (as if, then, it can’t happen to them) by attributing it to lifestyle or stress levels or negative thoughts. It seems almost like blaming the victim. You put that phenomenon into words perfectly, something I have never quite been able to do. Thanks!

  12. Bonnie says:

    A beautiful post Kathy, and a lovely lady now gone. It is so sad watching a friend lose the argument with death, knowing our life will be less full because of their going. I take comfort in the thought that these ‘lost’ friends may walk through our dreams.

  13. The big C- a bitch from hell. Beating cancer is comparable to the luck of a draw or a toss of the dice.

    Mary sounds as if she were one of those near perfect people who are/were too nice for their own good. I know she would be pleased to know about this loving tribute written especially for her.

  14. Kathy – This is what the beautiful friendship you had with Mary is about:

    “Our love grew braided tight together with the song of children at recess, spiritual stories, shared cups of tea, changing the copier toner.”

  15. Brenda says:

    Kathy—I had to wait before I commented on this post. You wrote such beautiful words in honor of the friendship you had with Mary. The words triggered memories of my Mom’s last week in the hospital. We had to face the horrible task of deciding whether to keep her on life support. She had no written papers with instructions. It was a devastating time for my Dad, my sister and for me. Eventually, we all realized that Mom had spoke to each of us individually about her end of life desires. So, when we each shared this information (all the while crying and sobbing with broken hearts) the decision came to us. The machines were removed and she was lovingly cared for by the sweetest nurse and we waited. And waited. And finally during the night of the 3rd day without machines—her time had come. The entire scene was conflicting—she looked so peaceful and comfortable, despite the raging infection throughout her body, causing the life giving and sustaining organs to give up their fight. But, even knowing this—we felt a serenity as we gathered around Mom. We stayed with Mom through the transition from this world to the next and spoke to her and touched her. She had always told us that in her nursing experiences (as a home nurse for the terminally ill) that the spirit of the person can continue to feel and hear for a little while after death. She never left a patient alone and stayed to pray and lovingly talk until she felt in her heart it was time to go. The families of her patients loved and admired Mom for the tender care she gave to the patients and for the guidance and comfort she gave to the families. We held onto her teaching and gave her the same love and attention. But it was still so painful for us to let go.

    Perhaps your friend, Mary and my Mom are together now and looking down on us with love and comfort. And gratitude. May Mary and my Mom be resting in peace and Kathy, may you find comfort in the memories of your friend.

    Sending hugs to you, dear friend ❤

  16. Robin says:

    This is such a lovely post about your friend, about life, about death. I remember reading it (perhaps when I was reading about your year of stepping outside? Maybe after that? Have we known each other that long already?). Remembering Mary with you… *Hugs*

  17. Janet says:

    Your words…..WOW. What a wonderful post.

  18. me2013 says:

    I am lost for words as the tears run down my face for your lost and my own.

  19. Stacy says:

    How fortunate you are to have had your life cross paths with Mary – a person who radiated peace in your life, and perhaps many others as well.

    I think the answer to your question is this: some of will live; all of us will die. (Except for me, I’ve decided not to die.)

    Funny you should instantly love people until their potholes form and need to be repaired. I’m the opposite. I see the potholes first and only start to love someone when I see them repair the holes.

    Lovely post, Kathy. xo

  20. tbocklund says:

    A tribute, a psalm, a meditation. Thank you Kathy.

  21. This was my first reading of this, Kathy. Beautiful prose!

  22. Your words have captured so well the agony of uncertainty and loss, the wonder of friendship and love. What a blessing you had to have Mary in your life, how much you miss her. I love your first picture because nature does find a way to remind us that death is natural, a necessary part of the circle of life.

    Many years ago when I was in my thirties and my mother was dying of cancer I felt like I had boarded a roller-coaster ride with high points of hope and terrifying plunges into despair. And nothing I did could make the ride stop. There was no way to get off. Sometimes I wonder if I would experience the loss differently now that I much am older. I still think of her every day.

  23. Heather says:

    I’m so glad I read this today instead of when you wrote it. Just discovered a dearly loved family member has lymphoma. Don’t know anything else. I am a forever-optimist and am just wishing, hoping, pleading with reality to bend my way on this one.

Thank you for reading. May you be blessed in your life...may you find joy in the simple things...

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