Lucky Girl

My last post alluded to dealing with some writer’s block.
Well, it comes and goes.
I’m just going to tell myself if I’m writing it’s all good, even if isn’t on my novel. 

Today’s brew is Closure, an over-used word that I like because it means everything is neatly tidied up. Which happens in reality, like, never. Oh well. We can dream condition like this exists, anyway. 

Today is also the day my mother in law Mary passed away due to cancer two years ago, and this hardly seems possible. Thinking about her passing, and my parents’, is like what they tell you about raising kids: the days seem long, but the years pass so quickly.

I suppose it’s true that when people die, they become sanitized and lionized by those left. But when I write that Mary was as a pure a soul as I have ever known, this isn’t exaggeration borne of grief. She did have that heart of gold that stopped beating too soon, the line that is in all of the memorial cards. 

One of my earliest memories of her graciousness was when I became unexpectedly pregnant, unmarried, with her grandchild. Both she and my father in law were head over heels in love with their new little red headed addition to the family, but it was a stressful time. I was trying to work a new job with a newborn, living at home, and trying to make a relationship with their son all at the same time. 

She never once said to either of us, “how could you let  this happen?” Or gave one hint of disapproval, ever, although to a strict Catholic family I’m sure this wasnt a high point in their lives. Instead, she did everything she could to encourage us to stay together. Not just then, but always. 

Many times, she would pick our infant son up from day care so he didn’t have to stay there all day. After I picked him up and took him home, I would find forty, fifty dollars tucked into the pocket of where his bottle was, and I would call her. “Thank you so much, but you don’t have to do that,” I would tell her, even though I desperately needed the money for diapers and everything else a baby entails. “Oh yes I do. Anything for little Seanie.” The nickname that had been christened upon this little angel of hers, who brought endless joy to their lives. 

And that is how it went for all of her precious grandsons. Anything for them, because they were truly the jewels in her life. In particular, when she lost her mate and the light went out in her beautiful eyes temporarily. They were a salve to her loneliness, and they were with her almost as many nights they were at home.

She was not a mother in law that intruded and gave unwanted advice, unless asked. She was not one to call and whine that her son never did anything for her. Indeed, she never asked for anything, ever. In fact, I used to lecture her that she did too much for people, that they took advantage of her. And, it happened. We used to call her a bum magnet, but she’d laugh it off. “Oh,” she’d say. “So and so is harmless, or so and so just needs a friend.” They certainly found a good one in her. As did I. 

She hated being a widow and being without a partner, and dipped her toes into the dating scene at midlife. Which takes a fair amount of courage, because here’s a news flash: it doesn’t get any easier after high school. ” It’s still all about the looks,” she would tell me. “They all want the tiny belly, even if you have horrible wrinkles.” Well, she didn’t have a tiny belly, (does anyone, after twenty five?) but she had beautiful skin, and she did attract her share of suitors. Oh, the stories she would tell me. We would laugh and laugh at the junior high antics of these middle aged men, and then she’d have a crush on one and they would break her heart. And that was hard to hear, because I wanted her to be happy and find someone worthy.

For Mary, family would always come first, and most of the men she met couldn’t handle that. So as time went by she just enjoyed her line dancing and hoped to maybe find a companion. And never stopped cheering on her kids and her grandkids, no matter what the endeavor. 

She began having symptoms that something was very wrong the summer before her death, but anyone who knew her well, knew that she and medical procedures did not mix. The only doctor she trusted was our hometown hero, Doc Rambo, and I think the main reason she liked him is because an exam would last approximately three minutes. “Whaddya think is wrong with ya?” he’d ask. You could self diagnose yourself, even probably ask for the drugs you think you needed. The best part? “He doesn’t tell you to get on the scale,” she’d say. “Why the hell do these other doctors have to know what you weigh, when you go in to see them for a cold? They just want to lecture you.” 

I laughed, but she may have been right. 

In any case, Doc convinced her to see a gynecologist for her symptoms. Told her it was serious…and we began to worry.

Tests confirmed she had a rare uterine carcinoma, and this is when things got really scary. I asked him for the exact name and scribbled it on paper to look it up online, later.   She really only wanted to know how long she had, in order to make whatever time she had count. 

And nobody, except for that gynecologist, would be straight up with her. Even he was vague, but at least had the decency to tell her to have her daughter come home and to do the things she wanted to do. 

Meanwhile, I discovered the diagnosis was as lethal as they come, but I said nothing. Mary knew I had looked it up, but she said she didn’t want to know. It’s in God’s hands, she said. And her faith was as deep and true as her heart was good, and it carried her through the following months. 

I wished I  had even a quarter of her faith, but I was busy being angry that the doctors would not tell her the truth. It was all, ” Well, nobody can predict the future,” blah blah blah, and since nobody can predict I might as well earn a few hundred thousand dollars by recommending a surgery that won’t give you a chance in hell at living one bit longer.”

Ah, yes. Cynical was I but I kept my mouth shut because these things had to be her decision. But it was very difficult seeing someone so doctor-phobic, suffer, even though it was relatively short in duration. 

And I still get angry at the unfairness of it all. Why her? Why so young, because when you’re staring down fifty, seventy is young. 

I’m not so angry anymore. No, I feel lucky. I feel so blessed to have known this kind, generous, funny, loving soul. I thank her a thousand times over (and I think I did while she was still here), for loving my boys unconditionally, for the way she cherished them every minute of the day, for being there when we parents just didn’t cut it. I feel lucky that we were never the picture our culture gives of mother and daughter in laws, that of being catty and interfering.

How I do miss the talking to her, though. So do a lot of people who knew her gentle listening ear. 

But I miss laughing with her the most, because I never knew anyone who could poke fun at herself the way she could, and take the pokes from others too. She used to laugh at something one of us would say about her mannerisms or such, and she’d say, “I don’t know what you’re all going to laugh about after I die,” and laugh some more.

And, she was right. 

Because when we gather for family functions, her absence is still so painfully evident. We do reminisce, and laugh about some story about her, but the gap in our lives seems unfillable at times. They say that one’s grief for someone is made all the stronger by the love that was felt, and I believe that. I also believe that God puts certain people in our lives for many a reason. 

Whatever that reason was for me, I am a lucky, lucky girl to have had Mary Cassidy in mine. 

Cheers to whatever is lucky in your life, friends. 





2 thoughts on “Lucky Girl

  1. Ellen,
    You continue to bring me to attention with your words. There is nothing more powerful!
    I find myself wishing your Mother in law was my Mother in law.
    What a beautiful honor to one of the most influential people of your life.
    PLEASE take this one to publish!!!!!


  2. Big Sis says:

    Oh Ellen, what a heartfelt and beautiful tribute to Mary! Your words created vivid memories of her for me. All good!


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