Saturday, January 7, 2012

My friend Mary and her mom

I have a friend named Mary. I have known Mary for 11 years now. We met back in December of 2000 through an Arc sponsored mentoring program. The Arc used to stand for Association of Retarded Citizens, now its just the Arc. The program matched people like me with a special needs adult. It was a way to help people like Mary get some much needed socialization.

The program manager thought that Mary and I would be a good match. Mary was 40 years old and loved sports. We went to her home, where she lived with her parents, for an initial meeting. Kind of like a first date, to see if she liked me and I liked her.

I didn't know what to expect. When we arrived Mary was sitting at the table. Her mother, Tessie, let us in and offered us coffee. Mary was very quiet, but I could tell she was excited.

Tessie proceeded to interrogate me as if I had been arrested for murder. I was really surprised by her intensity. There was no friendly banter, no breaking the ice, she just jumped right in. She wanted to know why someone like me would want to spend time with someone like Mary. She told me all about Mary's issues, all her quirks and told me that if I had a problem with Mary, not to come to her - Mary was an adult and any issues should be addressed to her. I remember my response "I don't call my other friends' moms with problems, why would I do that with Mary". After that, Tessie seemed to relax a bit, at least as far as questioning my intentions.

What followed next was so comical and a prelude to every conversation I would have with her after. She wanted to know if I was married, why I wasn't, if I planned to get married, why I lived with Trevor if we weren't married, how did I vote, what did I think of the current President, did I think that the less fortunate deserved to be helped, did I go to church, why not, was I raised with religion, then back to Trevor, why weren't we married. It was like being in front of a firing squad. She took in all my answers, turned them over in her mind as if to inspect them, but never told me she thought I was right or wrong. She was truly interested in what I thought about things.

I survived the first meeting and shortly after that, Mary and I went to a basketball game together. That was the start of our friendship. I have talked to Mary just about every single day since then. She calls all the time, just to say hi, usually only for a minute or two. We go to lunch for birthdays and holidays. We've been to baseball games, the mall to shop, coffee, movies and her favorite - basketball games. Every time I went to pick up Mary, her mother would meet me at the door and it was always the same thing - she wanted to know if I had plans yet to marry, what were we waiting for and what did I think of whatever issue was most recently in the news.

About six months after I met Mary, she had a birthday party at her house. She invited me and wanted me to bring Trevor. Trevor had never met Mary and I was a bit concerned about what Tessie was going to say to him. I told him to be prepared.

It was a small party, mostly family, a few friends. Mary introduced us to everyone. Then, Mary's mom sat down next to Trevor. She said to him, "there's no small talk here. Why haven't you asked her to marry you? Don't you want to marry her?" and so the conversation began. I think Trevor talked with Tessie about this most important issue for an hour. After that, conversation moved on to other things - the family sat around the table talking about real issues, politics and religion. They didn't all agree and yet they were so respectful of each other's point of view. I have never seen such a thing.

When it was time to leave, Mary's mother had some parting words for us. She clapped her hands and said "I want a wedding". This conversation and scene would be replayed for several years - anytime Trevor and I went to Mary's house. And we loved it.

When Trevor and I got engaged, I called Mary and she said "My mom will be happy". And boy was she happy. Tessie and Mary took me to lunch as a "wedding shower". Mary, her mom and her dad attended our wedding and I think Tessie was as proud as my parents.

Mary and I have had lots of adventures over the years. We are just like any other friends, sometimes we are in touch more than others. Mary is emotionally detached, but can tell you the details like no one else I've ever met. She gives a great play by play of every situation. Her mom has been sick for several years. I often get calls where Mary says "my mom is in the hospital" or "my mom isn't doing too good". She had emphysema. The last few times I have been to pick up Mary, her mom has been laying in bed. She always calls me into her room and wants to know how I think President Obama is doing and what about that gay marriage. And always, always, she wants to know if I have changed my mind about having babies. She had 10 of them in a 12 year period and cannot understand why I don't even want one. She has always been immensely proud of her family. Mary keeps me posted on what everyone is doing - all her siblings, their spouses, their children. She gets that from her mom, she mirrors her moms pride and focus on the family.

I could write a hundred stories about my friendship with Mary. Its lasted way longer than I ever could have imagined that first day in her kitchen and it certainly evolved differently than I would have expected. She's my friend, I expect she always will be.

On New Year's Eve, Mary called me at 9 pm and said "My mom is going to die tonight". She told me her whole family was there and her mom was ready. She wanted to know if I would come to the funeral. "of course". The next day, Mary called to tell me that her mother had passed away at 2:10 am with the entire family around her. Mary said everyone was crying and then she repeated some phrases that I am sure she heard the rest of the family saying. Things like "she's at peace", "she's not in pain anymore", "we miss her so much". Mary never really expresses her feelings, she simple states the facts. Again, she asked me to come to the funeral and then, as she does probably half of the time we talk, she said "I love you".

Mary's mom was relentless when it came to advocating for Mary. She often told the story of how Mary wasn't supposed to live very long and the doctors wanted to put her in an institution, but she said "No, Mary will have a good life with us". And Mary has had a great life, a full life. I expect she'll have much more of that, but her mother is gone and I know she doesn't full understand what that will mean for her.

At Tessie's funeral, I heard so many stories about her that match my stories. She was the same with everyone. "No small talk here." And best of all - no judgement. I will miss talking with Mary's mom when I got to pick her up. The family had asked that in lieu of flowers, we do something nice for someone else. What a fitting legacy. Rest in peace Tessie Moreland, your life was well lived and I feel honored to have known you.

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