There's Something About Mary
There are a few things you should know about my sister, Mary:
She looks like Reese Witherspoon. She’s that beautiful. When she walks into a room, it brightens, and people turn just to see the sunshine.
My sister, Susie, and I both call her “Mar-Mar,” but she’s “Aunt Mimi” to our children.
Whenever she laughs really hard, her nose turns yellow. Susie and I always stare so we can make fun of her. This, of course, makes Mary laugh harder. We can play this game for hours.
She was born with Situs Inversis, meaning her organs mirror yours and mine. Her appendix, for example, is on her left side. Doctors like to freak out their residents by having them check her heart since it's on her right instead of her left. Susie and I like to tell Mary that her first steps were taken backwards. Although the harmless condition is genetic, my mom often tells people that she suspects it occurred when mom rode a Tilt-O-Whirl pregnant. Seriously.
Mary’s a child of the 80s and has the big hair pictures to prove it.
A former gymnast, she performed the county’s best side aerial (a no-handed cartwheel) on the balance beam. At large meets, the entire gym would pause during her beam routine just to watch her fly.
She’s our family’s youngest child, but she often acts like the oldest, taking on the role of caregiver. Her love is unmatched in both passion and practicality.
She adores Dave, her true gem of a husband. (The picture above is from their 2010 carnival wedding.) They’ve been married one-and-a-half years and are proving that the second time around really can be the charm.
A devoted mom, she’d do anything for her daughter, Alyson, a high school senior, along with her two stepsons, who are both deeply affected by Friedreich’s Ataxia. To combat the disease, Mary is a grassroots fundraiser, event planner and social media expert for the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA). She and Dave have a network of incredible people who battle the disease with hope, humor and strength.
She’s a camping and wine enthusiast whose idea of a good time is sitting around a fire, holding cheese and crackers in one hand and a glass of Merlot in the other.
Ask her who’s running for president and she’ll give you a blank stare that asks, “Who cares?” I like to tease her about the fact that she thought John McCain was the sitting vice president in the 2008 election.
And yet, she’s a big time smarty pants who is great at problem solving and is a technological whiz. At Monroe Community College in Rochester, she’s an Instructional Designer and Training Specialist who teaches professors how to teach their online classes. In their eyes, she’s “Dr. Mary,” expert in all things technological.
While she’s a social media expert, she can be intensely private. In fact, she may not like this post, although I’m hoping she won’t mind all that much.
Finally, Mary has breast cancer. Since her diagnosis less than a month ago, she has faced the beast head on. Last Thursday, she endured a seven-hour radical surgery. She gains strength daily, surrounded by friends and family who would do anything in the world for her. For some, it’s no doubt payback time. She’s done so much for so many for so long, people are literally tripping over themselves to now help her.
Mary may have breast cancer, but she’s made it clear from the start that it does not define her. Watching her tackle it—with pragmatism, determination and clarity of mind and spirit—has inspired our entire family. “We need to take notes, Eileen,” Susie said. “If this ever happens to us, I want to respond just like Mary has.”
Indeed, I do, too.
These days, she is the magnet for my thoughts and emotions. I find it impossible to make dinner, take a shower, drive to work, get a cavity filled, teach class, write emails, check Facebook, etc., without thinking of her. In the last few weeks, I’ve had to make lists to myself just so that I could complete the most basic of tasks:
Pick up kids from school
Check on status of book proposal
Balance checkbook Grade papers
Respond to emails
Buy milk, bread, eggs
Not all things have been accomplished. Life has been recalibrated. Many things that formerly filled my heart and occupied my thoughts seem silly now. Superfluous. My soul is drawn to those things that truly matter: family, health, laughter, love, healing, faith and friendship.
Mary is many things to many people. She is mom, stepmom, daughter and wife. She is an employee, a “techie,” a hard worker and a patient.
She is a woman of grace, courage and strength to all who know her.
To me, she is my baby sister. She is also my hero.