There were eight of us. Mary Ann left and there were seven. Now there are six. Today Marlene ended her journey here with us. The eight of us met in 1972 when we moved to Prairie Village, Kansas, and a male child was born in each household. Each of us also had an older girl. We spent the next fifteen years in the same congregation with lots of folks who became friends. Three couples had pretty much grown up together and all became fast friends at college. As time went by, Mary Ann and I were sort of adopted into the group. A couple of times we vacationed together, even after we had move to Oklahoma City. The relationship continued through the nine years in Oklahoma and the last fifteen years here.
While Charlie and their Daughter and Son and families are the hardest hit and own the grief at Marlene’s departure, we were close enough, like family, that the place where the grief and sadness live in me has stirred. Bad planning on my part combined with Friday afternoon traffic resulted in my missing the time at the hospital when the life support was removed. I did make it to the house to spend just a few minutes with Charlie, his Daughter and Son-in-Law.
Marlene and Charlie went to Mayo Clinic fourteen years ago and heard the diagnosis and prognosis, “Go home and get relationships in order, make peace with God. Marlene will live two to five years before the ALS takes her.” That was fourteen years ago! She died today. Charlie and I observed today that we both had married people with powerful strength of will. From our vantage point it sometimes seemed like stubbornness. Both of them defied the odds and lived with dignity far beyond reason given the ravages of their diseases.
A little over two years ago, I decided to retire to take care of Mary Ann full time. In the letter to the Congregation, I quoted an email Charlie sent me when I first announced my decision. About two years earlier, Charlie had retired to part time work to take care of Marlene. Charlie wrote:
“I’m pleased to hear that you have reached your decision. The decision you faced was not “if” but “when”. Now that you have come to the conclusion that June 30 will be the date, you will have time to acclimate and I’m confident that over time you will become more comfortable with your decision to put family first. Keep in mind that serving as a full time caretaker for Mary Ann is not only a duty, but an honor – no one else knows her as well as you and no one else could do a better job. We pray that you will find your new role fulfilling.”
As Charlie predicted, I did find that role fulfilling. It was truly an honor. I have no doubt that it is so for Charlie, as it is for me, we would chose to do it again without a moment’s hesitation.
I discovered decades ago that when a loss comes, it is compounded by any earlier significant losses. The losses accumulate. As I drove over in hopes of making it to the hospital in time, the feelings stirred and the deep sadness was exposed. At some level, I will be dealing with my own grief as Charlie and his family deal with theirs.
All of us who have known Marlene recognize what a remarkable person she has been. Not only did she deal with her disease without complaint, but she continued to focus on others. She always voiced much concern for Mary Ann and me in any interaction. She turned away from herself and toward others. As Charlie noted in our conversation, it is probably one reason that she stayed so strong so long.
Mary Ann and Marlene shared a perception of their respective realities. Neither of them accepted the fact that they were sick. They lived as if there was nothing wrong with them. Now they are both done with their battle here. They are fine. We are not.
Monday morning will be the funeral. It will be a hard day for all of us.