Goodbye, Mary Nell

Mary Nell's Casket Spray

Mary Nell’s Casket Spray

Today, I attended the funeral of Mary Nell.

One of the many floral arrangements was this one:


When I first saw this arrangement, I was surprised to see seed packets and trowels. They implied there was still work to be done at a time when the focus was on one individual’s perpetual rest.

Upon further reflection, this was the perfect arrangement to marry a celebration of a life beautifully lived and the admonition that those of us who loved her must continue her legacy. One phrase Rev. Peterson used to describe that legacy was “she always remained exactly who she was no matter what was going on around her.”

My memories of being in her home when I was in high school coalesce into a blur of happy/family/poolside/laughter/plentiful food/togetherness all in one. Christmas, as Rev. Art Peterson said today, deserved its own category. There was truly nothing like the ramp up to Christmas at the Archer home, with mountains of wrapping paper, gift boxes galore, and music playing in the background, all tied up in curling ribbon and festivity. I loved being a part of it all. It felt like a second home to me, and being there fed my spirit in a way no other place did.

Now that I am a parent myself, I know the particular sting a parent feels when their child seeks out a “second home” somewhere else despite that parent’s best efforts to express their love. That may be why, despite her overwhelmingly gracious, fun loving, warm, open-armed welcome every single time in my high school years that I showed up, there was also a wisdom behind her eyes that went unspoken.

I don’t know how in all those years I didn’t realize how much she loved butterflies, but now that I do, I imagine her sailing weightlessly on the breeze, showing off her beautiful colors, free of the physical pain that came with the cancer she fought over the last two years and the emotional pain of leaving behind the family she loved so completely.

For her service, I wore this pin given to me by another wonderful woman, my mother-in-law Barb. For several years leading up to her sudden death from anphoto (3) aortic dissection, she gave away her treasures (such as this one). We would find them in our Christmas stockings. A particular piece would be given for a graduation. One by one she was divesting herself of items she loved, on the premise that a) she wanted to choose who some of these items went to and b) it would prevent us from having more work to do after she was gone (in truth, there might have been a hint of her needing to control the process (said lovingly of course!)). I’m honestly not sure if it’s a dragonfly or a butterfly (and I am sure someone will clue me in) but for today we’ll go “butterfly.”

I believe that Mary Nell, too, gave away treasures long before she left the earth. For me it was different than tangible items like this pin. It was the treasure of a home full of laughter, togetherness, generosity, sharing of meals, faith, and a spirit of looking adversity in the eye and saying “I will handle this.” It was a place to savor happiness and work through sadness. She planted seeds of love that took root and flourished far outside the walls of that house.

I am grateful to have been so welcomed in Mary Nell’s home, to have had the love and friendship of her mother-in-law, Lottie Lee, as well as Doyle, Jimmy, Duane, Rhonda, and the extended family. I am a better person, filled with perennial memories, for having been welcomed into this family.

I was telling my coach, Kristie, about Mary Nell last night and I happened to write, “if you see any butterflies they may be Mary Nell’s spirit.” She immediately wrote back: “Funny you should mention. We had a bunch in the front yard today. One landed on Ty’s [her son] nose. Would have given anything for a camera.”

I told Kristie that some moments in our lives (despite the ubiquitousness of cameras, selfies, and our tendency to share) are better spent not fumbling for a camera and being 110% present.

I don’t need pictures to remember the feeling I had being in Mary Nell’s home. I have the memories. Those memories are more than enough.



The Ultimate Martha

The "Martha" Seat

The “Martha” Seat

I cope with things in life, good and bad, by writing about them. I have used my writing to pay tribute to several friends and family members who have passed away, including Mama Del, “Big O,” and Jarrod. As I approach the six month anniversary of the death of my mother-in-law, Barb, I am still grasping at concepts, words, and images to convey what she meant to me. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing, it’s “start somewhere.” This may not be the only post about her; it may not do her justice, but it’s my “somewhere.”

One of the first groups I shared the news of Barb’s death with, outside of family and her priests, was my PRS Fit team. Our private team page has become a place for sharing so much more than workouts, advice, and fun race pictures. We support each other through so many of life’s ups and downs. I don’t think I am alone in saying it is one of the most important support systems in my life. When I started off my post sharing Barb’s death (which happened abruptly and unexpectedly on November 16, 2013, from an aortic dissection), I started off the post by explaining that I had “won the mother-in-law lottery” when Barb came into my life.

One thing we family members discovered as we scrambled to cope with our grief and shock while simultaneously planning a funeral and all of the myriad details surrounding a death was that she had already planned out her own funeral. Literally, I turned on her computer, typed in “funeral” in the search bar, and I knew what readings she wanted, what songs she wanted sung, and most of the way she envisioned her service going. This wasn’t actually a surprise to me, because we had talked many times about her wishes (no 23rd psalm, no Amazing Grace), but I suspect many people plan to have everything laid out whereas few actually do.

I could kind of posit that she wrote her own version of this blog post. I kept a note she had drafted for her church women’s guild, in which she encouraged women who tend to be “Marys” not to feel that they weren’t welcome or were looked down upon by the parish’s “Marthas.” I remember sitting with her at her computer, looking over the piece as she had asked me to do, and asking what she meant by that. Here’s what she had said:

To Our Associate Members,

Thank you for your support of the Blessed Sacrament Women’s Guild Council of Catholic Women.  Though you have chosen not to be an active participant of one of our five Circles: Mother Seton, Mother of Perpetual Help, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St Catherine and St Therese, feel free to join us in any of our Circle activities such as the Parish Ministry Showcase, the Christmas Wreath Sale, The Guild Mini-Retreat, Hugs for the Homeless, Ladies Luncheon as well as the Eastern Deanery Day of Reconciliation and the Pensacola-Tallahassee Annual Convention.

It takes both Marthas and Marys to make an organization a success.  You are our Marys.  Please, keep us in your prayers.

May the Holy Spirit bless each of you, Barb Kiger

President Blessed Sacrament Women’s Guild Council of Catholic Women

Everything about this encapsulates what made Barb the leader, woman, family member, and human that she was. She felt compelled to lead (in a VERY methodical, organized, some would say compulsive way!). But she also felt compelled to support each and every woman of the parish. This is sort of an echo of what my sister in law Mary always says about her: “She made you feel supported without criticizing whoever it was that was aggravating you.”

I know the picture at the top of this post just looks like any other pew in any other church, but it’s the seat Barb has sat in at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church here in Tallahassee for as long as I have known her (1987). I always feel a little nervous snapping pictures at Blessed Sacrament so this one was taken on the fly but take my word for it: it’s the seat. The one three rows back from the front, right by the aisle, the one where you inevitably make eye contact with the priest and each acolyte. Parishioners Dot and Rose have begun sitting in the seat (having moved there from the fourth row where they used to sit). I join them there when I can. (When Barb passed away in November, I decided to keep sitting in her seat through her January 30 birthday. It’s May and I’m still there most Sundays. I can’t explain it, and I certainly don’t like making people crawl over my Episcopalian self on their way to communion, but it’s where I need to be for now.)

I have yet to have any big breakdown over Barb’s death, and I can’t figure that out except that something about the alignment of karma that placed me in her hospital room at the moment she passed away gave me such a peaceful sense of transition. When I called Father Tim to tell him she had passed away (and thank you Fr. Tim for answering the rectory phone at 4:23 a.m. — can’t ever figure out that one …), the main thing I said after making sure everything had been done that needed to be related to last rites was, “She was truly God’s servant.”

She was our “Martha” …

…when she led so many fellow Catholic women through meeting after meeting and task after task

…when she held, nurtured, fed, counseled, soothed, admonished (oh yes there was that too!) children, in-laws, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, spouses, siblings, and friends through so many twists and turns of life

…when she insisted on quality, from the patients she cared for as a nurse to the font that was used in her books to the color of her Visions cookware…for demonstrating that care of small things mattered

…when she was the shoulder I cried on when I wasn’t given flowers after the birth of my son (I know that may sound superficial but she acknowledged that it mattered and for some reason she was literally the only person I could tell)

…when she delighted in every jete’, fouette’, kip, song, line spoken in a play, homerun, and whatever other endeavor her grandchildren engaged in, despite not being able to see them the traditional way and having to endure my feeble attempts to explain the hundredth ballet costume (let’s face it, there are only so many ways to say “lame'” or “multicolored tulle”)!

…when she decided that a 7 year old in Guatemala named Silvia needed the support of a family in America (and set Tenley and me on a course to meet her)

…when she lost two of her children and showed us all how to keep going through a haze of grief and difficulty in understanding

…when she faced her personal demons and turned the life after that turning point with grace, vigor, and unwavering faith.

All I know is I am better for having known her; more confident for having been loved by her, and more determined to make a “dent in the universe” (nod to Steve Jobs here) having known someone who refused to settle for mediocrity, despite many life events, including becoming blind in her fifties) that would have given her the excuse to do so.

Thank you, Barb.

With love …

Mother’s Day 2014

Dining in the Dark 2008 (?)

Dining in the Dark
2008 (?)

I have added this post to a “link-up” from Midlife Boulevard. It is a linkup of our favorite posts of 2014. I chose my post that was a tribute to Barb because a) it has never gotten any comments and she definitely deserves comments! and b) because it is one of my 2014 posts into which I put my most heart and candor (even though she kind of “wrote” part of it!). Please visit these other fine bloggers and treat yourself to excellent writing!