Today I received the news that my old friend Mary died after years of being in a nursing home with a diagnosis of Alzheimers.
I first met Mary back in the late 1990's. She was involved the three spheres in which I lived and loved: Cats, St. Michael's Church and Theater.
Mary had a cat, Treadwell, who was a patient at the vet clinic where I worked. He was a holy terror, red stickered caution cat! He hated all of us and let us know it. But his tiny white haired human loved him. She sang to him a song she wrote: Pink nose, pink toes, who's the best cat? Treadwell knows!" and it calmed him. As he grew older, he calmed down to the point he was very sweet. We called him "an old cat trying to get into Heaven".
After Tready died, Mary longed for a cat and we found one for her. Maggie was a little black and white tuxedo and very spoiled by Mary. She would often call us and tell us Maggie had escaped. I would go over to help her hunt for her and inevitably found the little cat curled up asleep in the house. When Mary came to the clinic to get food she began to ramble on and on. She started to get confused and a bit cranky and rude. Looking back I realize now it was the Alzheimers starting to kick in.
Her husband had died a few years before I met her. She would talk about how angry she was at Bill for "dying too soon". But then she would talk about all their travels and joys. I would visit her and we would go to lunch or sometimes to the theater. She had lived in Chicago and loved to talk about all the theater she had grown up with in the 1950's. She would regale me with stories of growing up with her dashing father "Black Jack" who had wooed and won her Southern Belle mother. They were obviously head over heels in love to the point that they didn't really raise Little Mary, but left her in the care of her Grandmother. Mary would talk about what a wonderful seamstress her grandmother had been, making her own patterns and sewing custom designed dresses.
Mary would talk with bitterness about how her mother at age 90+ "just took to her bed and never got up again". Unfortunately that was Mary's fate in the end.
She was funny and sassy and generous to a fault. I will never forget this tiny woman, maybe 4 feet 6 inches tall, dragging a huge leaf blower through the church lobby to donate, like a Santa's elf! She was a snazzy dresser too. She had a flair about her, pinning an enameled butterfly brooch on her shoulder, turning her charm bracelet into a necklace, sporting bright scarves...
She started to give things away. She gave me her china & her silverware, refusing to let me turn it down. I invited her to my house several times to dinner and used it. She told me she enjoyed those meals, using her china and silver but best of all not having to wash and dry it!
We once went to lunch at Irish Acres, a large antique store in Nonesuch KY which also had a restaurant, The Glitz. Along with Mary and me was my sister and mother in law. We got a little lost and Mary kept us laughing by calling out: "There's those damn cows again!" every time we turned around and passed a field of cattle. We enjoyed that trip so much, she was very knowledgeable about antiques and books and kept us enthralled.
I spent many a time just sitting at her house listening to her stories, watching her quilt. She was a fine needleworker too and I have a sampler she stitched. I am so honored she shared so many gifts with me. She always said she wanted someone to have them who would use them and enjoy them. She had no family remaining and never had children of her own but was close to her best friend's children with whom she shared treasures too. I often thought it was a shame she didn't have children as she was so creative and would have raised extraordinary kiddos.
I did visit Mary for awhile in the nursing home, but the last two visits she didn't recognize me and grew agitated, confused and angry. I stopped visiting her but she was in my heart so often. Every time I saw Maggie or used the dishes or even drove her car which I bought, I would think of her and remember our times together. I would often say a little prayer for her and wish peace upon her.
Over the years her friend Pat or her daughter kept me posted on Mary's condition. Pat and she had been lifelong friends and were founding families of St. Michael's Episcopal church. Getting to know the women who were among the first members, Mary, Pat and Lois Flege, was one of the seminal events of my life. They were smart, strong women, all widows who were well read, caring and nurturing of me during some difficult times in my life. They loved animals and trusted me with the care of their cats, a high honor indeed!
Mary had once asked me if anything ever happened to her would I take care of Maggie, her little tuxedo cat. I agreed thinking that Mary would outlive Maggie! And Mary did but she was not able to keep her once the dementia hit and she had to move into an assisted living apartment, then soon after, a nursing home. Maggie came to live with me, and like Mary she was tiny and sassy and funny. I grew to love Maggie deeply and when she died last winter I felt as if another part of Mary had slipped away.
And really, I felt like Mary left quite some time ago, that she receded into a place where none of us could go along. I hope that she drifted back to rest in a fog of memories of happier times; of remembrances of Treadwell; of her beloved husband Bill, of her old English Sheepdog which she said she used to rock in a rocking chair, buried beneath the dog's fluffy coat. She was a wonderful conversationist, always with a funny story or a magical memory. She was such a dear sweet little lady taken by such an ugly, horrible, cruel disease.
I imagine her pets and Bill waiting to escort her into Heaven, which just got a sassy spirited saint today!
I am so blessed for having known her. God bless, Mary, may light perpetual shine upon you.