Mary Eileen was special. Despite being dealt a difficult hand, she insisted life could be good. She worked hard not to let her chronic illness stand in the way of a meaningful existence. It was four years ago this month, in September of 2006, that Mary's earthly journey came to an end. She lived to be 57 years old, which was amazing in and of itself. Her zest for life was truly exceptional.
With bad lungs and an acute susceptibility to infection, sickness was Mary's constant companion. She learned—a lot sooner than anyone ever should—how to fight just to stay alive. Year after year, from one malady to the next, she went right on defying the odds, daring to soldier on in the face of adversity. Having to work so hard just to breathe in the air we all took for granted moved Mary to grapple with life all the more eagerly. The ups were triumphant; the downs were debilitating. Her laughter was captivating; her tears were abundant.
Mary also waged a brave battle against lifelong depression and anxiety, two creatures that often impose their iniquitous presence on those afflicted with chronic illness. It was a war of attrition; successes and failures came and went. But she held to her commitment of a better life, a healthier life, by searching tirelessly for the emotional insights she would need to find joy and accept her burdensome station.
As siblings, our relationship was a respectful one. Mary and I made allowances for each other whenever we met with disagreement. Our conflicts were usually modest and manageable. But sadly, such accommodations were difficult to achieve with everyone. Invariably, it was the pain many of us siblings were carrying that so often got in the way of our willingness to forgive and forget, and drawing lines in the sand—for some—became unavoidable. Mary loved those she didn't see eye to eye with, she just had a hard time saying so.
Mary Eileen died the way she lived, with grace and dignity. As the end drew near, she had the wherewithal to sense the inevitable and decided to take in—one last time—the company of those she claimed as her closest friends. They ate, they drank; they laughed, they cried; they loved, they said good-bye. By all accounts, it was the gathering of a lifetime.
Mary deserved that last joyful reunion with her friends. Her life was difficult. She gave us all the gift of herself. And when it was over, it was we who took a lesson from her about the preciousness—and brevity—of life. Thank you for being such a good sister. ▪