Tuesday, April 17, 2007
I met Mary in the fall of 2000 when our husbands began graduate school together. We were both expecting a second child at the time. The families at this particular school relied upon one another in much the same way I imagine military families support and encourage one another through hard times. So, though each of us had closer friends, Mary and I became good friends over the next three years.
We continued to have children at the same pace and while our husbands studied through evenings and weekends, we met up together and with other mothers at the park, at mass, at the gym. We went to pick-your-own fruit fields, met at the children's museum, the library, the pool. We went to a farm in September, trick-or-treating in October, to the lights show in December, a crowning in May and pic-nics in June. I saw Mary at least three times a week, sometimes more.
Mary was always cheerful--she had the loveliest smile; it was her most natural expression. You could hear it in her voice when she spoke. She was gentle and patient and kind. Her faith and her family were her greatest treasures. It was Mary who first introduced me to (then) Blessed Gianna Berretta Molla--she kept a framed photograph of her as one might display a photograph of one's grandmother. In fact, the picture looked enough like Mary that I had thought for some time that she was somehow a relative.
When I learned the story of St. Gianna's life from Mary's own lips, I could see--already then-- that while there was no blood relation, there was a certain spiritual kinship between these two.
Mary was always cheerful, but it was easy for Mary to be cheerful. The sun seemed to shine on her path and the grace of God bless her with every good thing. Why does everything always go so right for Mary? many of us asked one another. But it was hard to begrudge her. How can you envy someone who shares with you her every blessing, as Mary did?
Mary and I had our third child at the same time and the two babies were baptized together in the school chapel. Our family spent Christmas with their family that last year of graduate school, and Easter Sunday--at a larger gathering-- as well. Soon after, graduation came with its purple hoods and golden tassels, ceremony, Pomp and Circumstance. We were happy to move on, but sad to see one another go. So many friends-- real friends--going, godspeed, each their own way. Mary moved to the Midwest while I headed to the Northeast. We were each expecting a fourth child.
The transition proved difficult for our family; we had a hard time buying a house. I was pleased at long last to find this house, but the day before closing I learned from a mutual friend that Mary had been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer and that it had already metastasized. Mary was in the hospital and would undergo more thorough testing in the morning to see just how far the cancer had spread.
The next morning I awoke early--disturbed from the news and anxious about the house closing that day. I remained in my bed and kept my eyes closed a moment. I imagined that I was Mary waking up in a hospital bed. Our lives were so similar; it could just as easily have been me. After imagining Mary's concern for her children-- not the least of whom was the child growing under her heart-- my own heart swelled with grief. Unable to bear it, I woke myself fully and drowned my sadness in the business of the day.
Over the next few months we heard news of Mary through different sources. She had begun treatment that would be safe for her baby, but postponed aggressive treatments until after the baby would be born. I was ever anxious to hear news of her; I thought about her and her family and I prayed for them daily.
Months later, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy at about the same time our Zachary was born. I wanted to call her. After all, I would have called her if she hadn't been ill. I called a mutual friend who had always been closer to Mary and asked her to find out if a call from me would be welcome. Sure enough, this friend assured me, Mary had said that she would love to hear from me.
I called her that very day. "Suzanne!" Mary answered the phone with enthusiasm and I could hardly speak or even breathe because there--in that voice-- was her unmistakable smile. It had not left her, or rather, she had not left it when things had become so hard. She was as cheerful as ever, perhaps more. "It's OK," she reassured me more than once in that phone call. "I enjoy every moment now," she had said. "He's just the most beautiful baby. He's a miracle. I've never been so happy. You know, for one whole week after he was born, I completely forgot I had cancer."
Mary joined her sister in Christ, St. Gianna Berreta Molla, to be counted among the saints on this day last year at the age of thirty--just one week before her birthday. She was survived by her loving husband and four young children, as well as a large extended family. Those who were close to her say that Mary exemplified rare courage, selflessness, and an unwavering faith to the very end.
Please pray with me today for Mary and her family.