Mary’s Valentine

I lost a good friend last Tuesday.

We attended Learn and Play  Kindergarten together, a thousand years ago, long before kindergarten became the expected thing for kids. Every day we poured down the stairs to the basement of that old church, Mary and I, along with Ed Wold and Pat Passmore and a dozen other island kids. I remember the basement had one toilet, and at break, we lined up, one after another and watched while our fellow students did their business. I didn’t know until kindergarten that boys could pee standing up. I haven’t gotten over my jealousy. I don’t think that was the kind of  learning our teacher had in mind!

That kindergarten adventure paved the way for a life-long friendship with roots so deep they stood the test of different colleges, the demands of young families  and years of separation. Our friendship even withstood the cruel disease that first took Mary’s coordination, and then her strength, and after that her voice, her swallowing and finally her life.

A good friendship will do that. It lasts — even when you can’t talk.

I have so many wonderful memories of Mary, and of her family, which became mine. Of many letters written over the years the US Navy moved her away from Oak Harbor. Of my complete delight when she returned, time after time, back to the same house out on Chamber’s road. Of Slack and Camera day, of horrid red, one-piece PE uniforms in Junior High, of her daily lunch. (Mary was always on a diet, even at the ripe age of twelve). She carried thinly sliced salami, crackers and cheese for lunch, every day, day after day after day. I remember endless slumber parties. At one, we snuck out to go to a bowling alley and ended up laughing until we fell into a drainage ditch on the way back. Incontinence with laughter is not restricted to the post-childbirth years!

I remember her  hysterical laughter after a particularly foolish tantrum given by our PE teacher, Miss Williams. Even in junior high, Mary understood that some level of professionalism had been breached. In those days, Mary and I shared school lockers; Mary was always dismayed by my sloppiness. Once Morgan and Chris and I took Mary skiing with us, via school bus and our local sport’s shop ski school. She had never been on skis; we took her to the top of the  chair lift at Steven’s Pass and let her go. I followed behind, watching her bottom bounce off the back of her skis as she screamed all the way down.

Mary forgave us. But, in PE the next day, her entire butt was black and blue.

Undaunted, the next year, she took the ski bus every week. On those three-hour trips to and from the mountain, Mary introduced me to iced animal crackers, which are still one of my favorite indulgences.

At the end of Junior High, her dad was assigned to Pearl Harbor, and she moved again. We were heart broken. But Morgan Fick and I saved our berry picking money, and at the end of our Junior Year in High school, we flew to Hawaii, where her mom hosted us for one long, wonderful week. We spent a few days at Barbour’s Point. We played in the waves, suffered through sand fleas, ate like we were ready to hibernate, and did all the giggling and gossiping and craziness that you might expect from sixteen-year-old girls. We rode on the front of Pam Hawley’s dad’s boat, through Honolulu harbor. Mary was wise enough to stay out of the sun. Morgan and I burned so badly we could hardly walk. I couldn’t sleep for the pain.

When Mary came home again, in late summer, I had my first migraine. I’d been in bed for several days. But when the phone call came that Mary was back, I crawled out of bed and got in the car and drove out to the party. Five close friends, all together since Junior High, celebrated with a slumber party. As our honored guest, and triumphant returnee, we gave Mary the couch!

In our senior year, the slumber parties continued. But something had changed. Mary was unhappy, I think. She had returned, but we had moved on. We had boyfriends, goals, sports, school politics. She was trying to find her way with friends who had moved on without her. I saw her loneliness, but I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t do anything about it. I had a boyfriend to keep happy, after all. I wanted to go to State in Gymnastics. I did, placing last in tumbling.

I haven’t spoken to that boyfriend since 1985, at our ten year reunion.

Mary and the gang had one last slumber party. We gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seattle for a weekend together. All of us made it. We shared adjoining rooms, but we each had a real bed! We enjoyed dinner out, wine, a long evening of truth and revelations. We talked honestly about our kids and our marriages. Mary was happier than I’d ever seen her. She spoke of her husband with the kind of divine reverence you’d expect of Cinderella and Prince Charming. She called her husband more than once from our hotel suite. They whispered sweet nothings over the phone. I know, because I listened in.

I was jealous.

We girls promised that we wouldn’t wait to do it again. But we did wait. I sent Mary Christmas cards and Christmas letters. I chided Mary for not contacting me. In fact, one of the messages must have been particularly pointed because her husband wrote me via e-mail. Mary had been diagnosed with MS.

By the time I knew, she was unable to speak or walk. She spent her days in a recliner, under the care of a full time nurse. I visited her once. For that I am eternally grateful. I wanted to visit her more, but found the trip, and the time, and the difficulty overwhelming. I did not go back.

I will say that Mary was never far from my mind. I prayed for her constantly. I prayed for her husband, my hero, Jeff Mero. Just two weeks ago, I bought a bird feeder like the one Jeff had hung in the window by her chair. I thought, “Mary would love to know that I’d bought the same feeder.” Birds don’t come to my feeder like they do to Mary’s. I think I know why.

I think God knew that Mary needed that. Her world had been reduced to those birds and the supernatural love of her family. Jeff tells me that most of Mary’s friends found it too hard to visit her. Perhaps that was part of my problem.

I’m writing today for a couple of reasons. I want to share the things I’ve learned, the things I wish I could un-do. Unfortunately, life doesn’t give us “do-overs.” Most of us get one chance. Let’s make it count.

I wish I could have been wise enough, at seventeen, to have made a different choice. Boyfriends pass. Popularity fades. Heaven only knows where my gymnastics ability went. I can hardly bend over to tie my own shoes these days. But I could have made a difference in Mary’s life. And I was too busy, too selfish, too self-involved to do it. How I wish I could do that again. How I wish. . .

And, I wish too that I could have found my way past my own agenda to stay in touch while Mary and I were raising our children. How hard might that have been? But I thought I had time. I thought, once these kids are out and on their way, THEN, I’ll have time. THEN, we can meet for coffee, THEN we can re-kindle the deep affection we’ve always shared.

But we didn’t have time. We just didn’t know it.

I went to Mary’s service this past weekend. It was wonderful. The truth of the gospel was clearly declared. The funeral mass was conducted with as much love and grace and hope as any service I’ve ever attended. The place was packed. How could one woman in a wheel chair so deeply influence so many people? I don’t know. She influenced me.

I have many regrets. Mary’s death is not one of them. She is free. She is well. She is on to a kind of life and happiness that I can only imagine. She is with the Savior she so deeply loved. Mary is fine.

I share with you our love and relationship so that you might decide today, that when it comes to someone YOU love, you will live in a way that leaves you without regret. That is my valentine’s wish for you.

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6 Responses to “Mary’s Valentine”

  1. Jeannine (Fick) Smith Says:

    Dear Betty,
    Morgan sent me your tribute to Mary. I did not know that she had died, though I knew of her tragic illness through Morgan.
    Through tears and several difficuties in trying to read on, I must write to you, to let you know I have never read a more touching tribute to ANYONE.
    How much her husband and family will treasure your sharing your memories of her, to again know how loved their Mary was, by so many. As one who believes we never die, as long as we are remembered by others, your tribute will show up in Mary’s decendents’ archives, for many generations.
    Remembering your Oak Harbor years myself, with tears and lots of Joy, too,
    Morgan’s Mom, Jeannine
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

  2. jeff mero Says:

    Bette–
    Thanks for this beautiful epistle on the value of love and friendship. I know Mary likes it, too. I spoke with Morgan this evening; I think she might forgive me, someday, for not finding her before the service. I pray so.

    Morgan and I plan to get together in the not too distant future. I think I’ll talk to her about bringing Mary’s Oak Harbor friends together. Do you think that’s a good idea? Would you come to such a gathering at our house and talk to each other and let me listen?

    Is it okay to ask this kind of question in response to a blog?
    hope so!
    Feeling your love–
    jeff

  3. Susan J. Reinhardt Says:

    Hi Bette –

    I popped over here from Facebook. What a wonderful tribute to your friend!

    Blessings,
    Susan

  4. Pam Hawley Marriott Says:

    Dear Bette~ I am so moved by your tribute, right now. It was perfectly poignant. Mary was the kindest friend to me. She was the kind of friend I needed when I was in Hawaii; we were so disconnected from all we knew and loved, here. No bridges on THAT island. We enjoyed our time together with lots of sandy snacks, sandy cards as we played Gin-Rummy to 5000! And she did get sunburned a time or two before you got there. She was sweet to me and I depended on her for the time I managed to stay put. I was a selfish girl. I related to how she felt when we returned. I, too, could’ve reached out but I burned a lot of bridges when I returned. She made it just fine without me. But I know my life would’ve been richer with her in it. It’s taken me years to rebulid some of the bridges in my life. Hers was one that I’d have liked to walk over, again, now that my youngest is married. We were all doing what we needed to do. We’ve all got each other as part of ourselves for the important roles which we filled in one another’s lives and the experiences that defined us in so many ways. I am grateful for the part of me that Mary is. I had just told Morgan a couple of weeks ago that we needed to go see her…imagine our shock when Linda called to tell us about having read her obituary the day of the funeral. I’d have gone had I known. Morgan and I will be there if Jeff has a get together and I have some pictures, somewhere, probably packed with sand. Funny, that. Thank you, Bette. Love always, Pam

  5. Mary Malphrus Lauwereins Says:

    Bette,

    I can’t believe that, after all these years, I find you through the passing of our beautiful friend, Mary.

    I picture a sunset when I think of Mary. Not just any sunset, but one where the light is reflected off of different shaped clouds in the sky. We all know that those are the most stunning. Like life without challenges, a sunset without clouds is nice but not nearly as appreciated as one with a few flaws to magnify the light.

    I have never met anyone who did not describe Mary as “sweet”. Ironically, I still give up sweets every year for Lent. And, as I am writing this on Ash Wednesday, it makes Mary’s passing even more poignant.

    But, Mary was so much more than sweet. She was beautiful both inside and out, with a voice like classical music and soft, golden hair that spewed envy from even the most confident among us.

    We will all miss Mary but know she has moved on to a place where she can once again run, sing and laugh out loud.

    Thank you for being her friend.

    Love, Mary

  6. Mary Malphrus Lauwereins Says:

    Dear Bette,

    So, it took the passing of our sweet friend, Mary, for me to find you.

    When I think of Mary, I see a gorgeous sunset. The kind where there are a variety of clouds in the sky defracting and reflecting the last of the sun’s rays. Much like life without adversity, a sunset without clouds is nice but not amazing.

    Mary’s soft, warm voice and laugh will be with us forever. I will never forget her outer and inner beauty, and of course the gorgeous hair that inspired envy in even the most confident among us.

    Thank you for your rememberence of her. I know she is now in a better place where she can once again run, sing, and laugh.

    Love,

    Mary

    PS I tried sending a response this morning but don’t think it went through. If it did, I apologize for sending this again.

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