Apri 1, 1936 - August 21, 1991
Even without considering August 21st, the date of her death, Mary had a rough 1991. In January, Mary underwent Carpal Tunnel surgery on her right hand. She had been harassed consistently before and during this ordeal because of her threats to organize Lloyd’s Food Products after it was bought up by IFM-USA (International Fish & Meat Group, located in Paris) in 1989. Industrial relations had hit a new low during 1990.
Mary and I were sitting in the Princeton, Minnesota VFW enjoying some chatter and beer—her right hand in a cast when the morally reprehensible Bushcapade began in the Persian Gulf on January 16. Her tears were barely subsiding when she received a telephone call bringing the news of her father’s death. Definitely a ruined day.
Mary was more vociferous than I against the arms build-up and eventual gulf war, but, because of my stand, I lost in the April elections of our local. By then I didn’t care much, because Mary had been diagnosed with cancer April 1st—our birthday.
She had been complaining for some time of food tasting bad. The doctors discovered a lump in her neck under her jaw and treated it as an abscess because the surrounding tissue was healthy. When antibiotics had no effect, a CAT Scan was ordered—the lump was a growth. A needle biopsy revealed cancer.
Not long before the bad taste had begun, Mary had been through a complete physical, and she was very happy with the results. Now her doctors went back to reanalyze her x-rays and found suspicious looking darknesses in her right lung. Perhaps the end would’ve been the same, but one wonders how often does the radiologist miss something as important as this.
Chemotherapy is a harsh treatment for a treacherous disease, and the second treatment nearly polished Mary off three months early with pneumonia. Mary elected to fight and I told her • that, as long as she was fighting, I’d be fighting, too. That may sound like an easy thing to say—I wasn’t the one immediately facing the uncertainty of death or the horror of chemotherapy. Mary elected to fight with the hope of a couple of years remission (to which I added, “and then we’ll fight for two more from there”). She was too active a woman ever to just lie down and die. She had to fight it. I would’ve felt the misery as much, if not more, had she not fought. (I hope you’re giving ’em Hell in Heaven, Mary!)
My Mary once told me she was an atheist. I accepted that. I’ve inherited the Bible she had when I met her—a Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha all tucked in (she was born Catholic). I don’t know that she ever read the Bible (Steven King was her cup of tea) but if she had, the letter of James to the twelve tribes would’ve held top billing for her (indeed, the first page of that book shows wear).
When she was in St. Joseph’s Hospital, I’d learned that she’d accepted last rites and was taking communion. One time, while Vicki (the middle child of five) and I were visiting, a nun came in offering communion. Vicki and I declined and stood aside while the holy business was done. Shortly thereafter, Vicki kissed us goodbye and I had the chance to ask Mary the burning question. Actually, it was a statement “I thought you told me you were an atheist” “I was young” was her reply.
Rejection and acceptance seem to me to be more the issue than age. Sickness unto death gives pause, but Mary was deeper than that. Rejection by her church caused her youthful reaction and acceptance, the last. Both truly human responses. Mary suffered much from the actions of the powerful but she left those she loved with her blessing.
by Dennis Jones
1 Diagnosed with cancer when she’d just turned 55;
There were many more before her but no one was more alive.
Yes, it happened on our birthday, we were both born natural fools
But this wasn’t any joke—I guess no one would be that cruel
2 And it’s funny how she’s with me as I amble down the street
Remembering the things we’d do, the people that we’d meet.
There’s hardly any place I go her ghost does not appear,
In the cafes for some coffee or the local bars for beer.
3 No more trips down to Chicago with the stops along the way,
No more plans to go out East to see the colors there some day.
No more talk about retirement—seems no use to me somehow
When the one I was to share it with won’t be there with me now.
4 While no one’s indispensable—no one can be replaced.
That goes for tears and laughter, the expressions of her face
That goes for fits of temper and much more her constant care.
However bad my memory, I’ll always find her there.
5 Now anyone who’s known her has known one of the best.
So I guess I’m only singing this to get it off my chest.
And I don’t know where she’s bound or if we’ll ever meet again.
But I know how much I miss her and I know she was my friend.
There was nothing I could do—Not much more that I could say—
It was hard to see her slow-ly slip a-way.
(After five months of straw-grasping, Mary slipped out of known existence at approximately 4:45 pm, August the 21st, 1991. This song was made during portions of those months, mainly to keep my trolley on track and with the fondest hope that I would be able to tear it up & throw it away. No such luck.)