I have often said that blood may be thicker than water – but love is even thicker than blood.
Today I Am grateful for the amazing fortune I have had by having my beloved step-mother Mary Ann in my life.
I had known her for about five years before she became my parent. To me, she was my friend Allan’s mom. Cub Scout den mother. Active on the school board and then local politics. An activist who led the charge protesting the toxic waste dump in our area. A strong, confident woman who wouldn’t take any shit from anyone, and fought long, hard and passionately for what she believed in. She was a local hero, and I thought it was cool to know her.
Times were very tough before my parents split up when I was at the age of thirteen. There was a lot of anger, struggle and downright anxiety in my house. My childhood was a product of all of that. When my father announced that he and Mary Ann were getting married, my sister Karen and my then friends Allan and Lorelei were hit with a barrage of emotions – probably mostly shock – until my then 18-month old sister Katie raised her arms in her walker and let out an emphatic “YAAAAYYYY!!!” It was then that I was able to realize that the course of my entire life was about to change for the better. My friends Allan (who was just three days younger than me) and Lorelei were about to become my siblings, and I was going to have a third parent.
Mary Ann was able to provide a sense of stability where there was once chaos. Very often she was the one parent I could turn to when I could not turn to either of my biological parents for one reason or another. She ran our family the way she ran everything else in her life – with a sense of fairness, willing to listen and weigh the options, and never backing down in her resolve to fight for what she believed in. She taught my sister Karen to believe in herself in a way that no one had before. She raised Katie as if she were her own – and treated us like her own. She was able to let me know when my mild-mannered, soft-spoken father was feeling something I couldn’t pick up on. She taught me what to do if Allan or Lorelei went into a diabetic shock from low blood sugar. She gave me the guidance through my teenage years that I could never have gotten from anywhere else – advice about school, relationships and the world at large. And she disciplined us appropriately – like the time Allan set Lori’s Barbie Star Traveler MotorHome on fire in the basement and we all tried to cover up for it by opening up all the windows and turning on the fans… in the middle of winter…
On January 2, 1989, she was there when we discovered that our dear friend – Allan’s best friend – Michael Drinkwater had taken his own life shortly after the new year began. We had hosted a group of friends who had gathered at the house, ordered some pizza, and wondered why we were all laughing and having a good time when we had just discovered the news. Mary Ann gave us the space to realize that it was okay to grieve how we needed to grieve, and that meant acknowledging the truly good times. She guided us through that time and counseled us on our feelings.
The weekend after Michael’s funeral, she had a long talk with Allan. He told her all about what he didn’t like about the funeral – that Michael wasn’t dressed the way would normally dress, that he would have hated the music they played, etc. He told her that if he had ever died, he’d want to look the way people would remember him, play the music he loved, and then have a big celebration for him after. He told her about his dreams of going to art school (he was an amazing artist) and wanting to design a revolutionary sound system for stadium concerts. She affirmed for Allan that he could be anything he wanted to be – a message that she instilled in all of us.
A few days after that, on January 10, the grief we had all experienced hit even closer to home, when Allan lost control of his car while turning onto our street and hit a tree. This was the only time in my life where I can recall her ever breaking down. The grief expressed by an extremely strong woman who had no preparation for this experience was equally strong. Allan wore a black fingerless glove – which was covered in blood the day he died. Mary Ann wore it and refused to take it off, refused to wash the blood off of her own hands, insisting, “That’s all I have left of him.” But she gave him the funeral he wanted, as well as the celebration. And together, as a family, we grieved, and grew even closer than we had before.
When I went off to college, she continued to have the same strong influence in my life, even though family visits became less frequent. She started the “monthly birthday cycle” on May 1, as from May through December there was always at least one birthday a month for which we gathered, in addition to the holidays. This was a tradition which lasted even after I got married.
Mary Ann’s passion shifted from politics to pot-bellied pigs, as my dad bought her one for Christmas one year. A few months later, she got two more. Then a few more. Soon she turned her back yard into a pig sanctuary, rescuing pigs from owners who could no longer keep them from one reason or another. I believe the number of pigs for which she cared piqued at 72… People would ask her, “What do you do with 72 pigs???” Her answer – “Feed ’em!”
It was exceptionally hard on us when my father and Mary Ann split up – far more difficult that when he and my mother did. It was a great challenge to accept the fact that my father had his reasons, and that they outweighed our reasons for wanting them to stay together, but it was what it was. But I knew that it wouldn’t stop us from being a family. Eventually she and Lorelei and the family Lorelei now had – and yes, the pigs – moved to Virginia, about a half hour south of Charlottesville. The visits to see her became understandably less frequent, and keeping the pigs prevented her from having time for much else.
When Mary Ann was diagnosed with breast cancer over a year and a half ago, my sisters and my cousin Allyson and I all drove down to see her. She was down, but far from out. About six months later I drove down there with the boys to see her – after the effects of both the cancer and the chemo had changed her appearance drastically, but she kept on fighting the good fight, going in and out of the hospital from time to time.
Three days ago Lorelei told me that they had kept finding fluid in her lungs… and cancer in the fluid. They were making arrangements for her to stay with friends, but they all understood that her getting out of the hospital was questionable. I told Lorelei, “Well, one of two things is going to happen. She’ll either stick it out for the next twenty years or so because that’s what she wants to do, or she’ll decide that enough is enough… because that’s what she wants to do. Either way, it will be on her own terms, like everything else in her life.”
This morning Lori told me that her choice was the latter. Mary Ann got to be with her son once again.
I will be going down there next weekend for her memorial service.
Finally I Am grateful for seeing evidence of what I discovered in that painful month of January, 1989 – that the strongest bridges in the world are equipped with the greatest amount of support. Literally hundreds of people have reached out to me – via Facebook comments, texts, phone calls and in person to offer love, hugs and support. Yes, this is a rough day for me, but I am feeling quite well comforted and cared for by the wonderful, amazing people in my life. Thank you for being who you are.
I Am grateful for NOW, the only moment there is, metaphysically speaking, knowing everything I could possibly want is in existence NOW and is in my grasp NOW. In respect to this physical plane in which we use “clock time” to measure the Eternal Now, I Am looking forward to an amazing tomorrow, filled with love and joy, prosperity and abundance, creation and completion, new possibilities and new realities. I anticipate ending the day in complete satisfaction, knowing that only good comes to me, always. It is going to be the best day of my life, and I Am grateful for tomorrow today!
And So It Is.