This has not been a very happy year hereabouts, that’s for sure.
In terms of rottenness, it would have been quite enough if the “only” thing that happened was my husband’s death. But last week, my very old and very dear friend Marie died.
Several years ago, Marie was diagnosed with lymphoma, likely brought on by all of the decades worth of drugs she’d taken for her lupus.
Last fall, right about the time we were learning that Jim was nearing the end of his road, we learned that Marie’s lymphoma had recurred.
The good news on that front was that, for most people, a stem cell transplant and its accompanying dire chemo did the trick and obliterated the cancer.
But Marie was not most people, and she never recovered from the treatment.
I was fortunate to have a number of good visits with Marie over the last several months, although all were tinged with sadness. I came home from each trip to Providence hoping against hope that there would be some sort of miracle turnaround. Sadly, this was not the case.
So on Saturday, I found myself giving the eulogy at her funeral mass, some of which is excerpted here:
I don’t remember exactly how and when I met Marie. When we started high school, we weren’t allowed to talk between classes, so it must have been at lunch.
Maybe our first conversation was about how boring Silas Marner was. Or the craziness that was Sister Josephine. Maybe it was about JFK or the Beatles. I do know that it was freshman year at Notre Dame Academy. And I know I liked her because she was smart, she was funny, she was generous, and she was kind – all of which has held true over the past 50 years – and so we were friends.
We didn’t do much that was exciting. We went to mixers at St. John’s where no one would dance with us. We slathered ourselves with baby oil and got terrible sunburns at Hampton Beach. We went to Fenway Park to watch the Sox lose. We drove around Worcester in our dad-mobiles, invariably ending up at Friendly’s and/or our friend Kathy’s house. Mostly we talked.
Mostly, we were friends.
As everyone here today knows, Marie’s genius, her gift, was for relationships, for connections, for friendship.
Marie was truly, deeply, and genuinely interested in people, in the lives of others.
As a friend, she was like a great novelist. No character, no detail, no event, no feeling, was too trivial, too small for her to ask about, think about, talk about, remember.
If you were her friend, she wanted to know all about you, your life, your story, and, by extension, the lives and stories of those you cared about, whether she’d ever met them or not.
Marie was also truly, deeply and genuinely interested in sharing the lives and stories of her family and friends with you.
Oh, sure, Marie and I also talked politics (violent agreement), sports (violent agreement), books (violent agreement – mostly; I liked The Marriage Plot a lot more than she did). But mostly we talked about the stuff of our lives: our friends, our families, our histories, our hopes, ourselves. (And by the way, I want to point out that, with Marie, talking about people was never gossipy or mean-spirited. Sure, she liked a good juicy story – who doesn’t?
And her wit was often sardonic and occasionally caustic, and she was no one’s glad-sufferer of fools. But it was people’s lives, with all the simple, complex, snarled up, glorious, joyful, and sorrowful stuff that life is made up of that Marie loved. Getting to really know people. That’s what all the talk was after.
What Marie spoke precious little about was her health.
Although for decades she had ample reason to, she never complained, whined, pitied herself, or moaned about the lousy health hand she’d been dealt. Nor was she ever a martyr.
Marie’s motto was “suck it up.” Which, time and again, she did. And if she could suck it up, she damned well expected you to suck it up, too.
Having Marie’s friendship and love is one of the things I have cherished most in my life. And that life has been made immeasurably richer for having known her. I will be bereft without her. Looking around, I suspect this is true for most everyone here today.
Who will care in quite the same way to hear about the glorious, joyful, and sorrowful stuff of our lives? Who will care in quite the same way about us?
When I first knew Marie, she was called Marie Alanna by her family. This was to distinguish her from her Aunt Marie, who was known as Marieshea – as if it were one word. Early on, the nuns at NDA called her Marie Alanna, as well. I think that the name Marie was a bit too French for them. Alanna Irish-ized things nicely.
I had never known what Alanna meant. I suppose I thought it was the female version of Alan. But I looked it up the other day, and it means “darling child.” Now “darling” is not a word that Marie would have used for herself. She would have said she was too tall, too smart, too old, too tough to be a “darling”. But she was a darling person, beloved of all of us here.
Her middle name could just as easily been Cara, the Irish word for friend. For being a friend was Marie’s genius, her gift to us all. Kind, thoughtful, generous, warm, funny, wise, and almost ridiculously focused on others. Some people have the word “friend” written all over them. Marie was one of them.
Farewell, Marie Alanna, dear cara. We are all going to miss you, so very, very much.
What’s taken out of this eulogy are the stories, stories that would mean something to her husband, their kids, her sister, and her many, many friends.
But I will tell one story that didn’t make it into the eulogy, but which says a lot about my friend Marie.
The Saturday before she died, I was able to visit with Marie, who was by then in hospice, semi-with-it, semi-out-of-it. But telling us all that she wasn’t afraid, she wasn’t in pain, that she was ready, and that now she was just waiting.
Shortly after I left, Kim, another one of our high school friends, stopped by. Marie wanted to know whether Kim thought that she, Marie, would get well enough to come with me on the trip to bring some of Jim’s ashes to Ireland.
To me, at least, it’s pretty telling that, in one of the last conversations of her life – the next morning, they started palliative sedation, and she was fully under – Marie was, on however unconscious a level, worried about helping out a friend.
Some say that bad things come in threes.
Then there’s Shakespeare: When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.
No thanks. Two sorrows in short order is battalion enough.
Somewhere along the line I came across a Polish saying: misery comes in pairs.