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:

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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.

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