I’m glad Mary was the flower girl

Mary was one of the first people I remember loving in my mother’s family.

Her brother, Joe, was the first grandchild in our generation of this big Catholic family.

Then came me.

Then came Mary.

We were followed by dozens more, of course . . . I won’t list them all because that would surely expend my allotted Thursday space.

Mary and I were nearly the same age . . . I’m not sure how many months older I was, but it wasn’t enough to count.

From the time I was aware of my surroundings, Mary was my counterpart.

I remember us falling on the impeccably slick wooden floors in our grandma’s house.

I remember us making snowmen in the winter, jumping on leaf piles in the fall and sweating like her dad’s pigs in the summer.

Our mothers were sisters . . . our parents were really good friends.

So we had the opportunity to spend a pretty good amount of time together.

My first bout of jealousy was over Mary’s room – or many rooms, as was the case. Her family lived in this beautiful, historic farmhouse with so many bedrooms none of the kids in her family had to share.

Oh, how I envied her privacy . . . while I bunked with at least two siblings at all times.

When we got older, I told her how I had been so jealous of her spacious living quarters and the ability to be alone sometimes. She just giggled and said she was sometimes jealous of all the fun we seemed to have in our little trailer house.

As we grew older, toward school age, there seemed to be a lot weddings. I suppose it was the generational cycle and we were just the right maturity to be flower girls.

It was with great envy that I watched Mary walk down the aisle, time and again, as the flower girl while I sat in the pews with the folks.

I was so incredibly jealous when she’d repeatedly show me the next flower girl dress she was going to wear in the upcoming round of nuptials. All I had to show for my little glamorous life was a homemade something or other – no beautiful store-bought princess fantasies were coming my way.

When we got older, I told her how jealous I had been, as a little tyke, when she was always the flower girl and I was just a kid in the back of the church. She just giggled and said she had sometimes wished she didn’t have to be the flower girl because she got nervous parading down the aisle with so many eyes watching.

I’m not sure how old I was . . . maybe a first grader . . . when I overhead the adults talking over cards one night. It was through that conversation that I pieced together enough clues to realize something was wrong with Mary.

They used a word I had never heard before . . . diabetes.

I quickly deduced that this wasn’t like having the stomach flu.

I heard terms like “serious,” and “no way to cure it,” and “will see some doctors.”

I was a worry wart already at that age . . . so it was completely natural that I would lay awake for hours, every night, for two weeks or so, and agonize over the thought of Mary dying.

I think it was the first time that I realized maybe kids could die . . . not just old people when it was their time to go to heaven.

I didn’t speak a word of my crazy thoughts, I kept it to myself until I literally had a stomach ache.

We had a family gathering of some sort and I was terrified to see Mary because I didn’t know what I was going to encounter.

Was she going to be in bed?

Was she going to look different?

What was I supposed to say?

But when I saw Mary that day, she looked exactly the same as before. The only difference was that her mom, Linda, was being overly conscious of what Mary was eating and I swore I saw them go into the bathroom with syringes so she could have dreaded shots.

Later, when we were playing outside, I asked if she should be running so fast, because she was sick and all.

“Oh, I’m not sick,” she said, laughing off the idea. “I just have to have shots now, all the time. And I guess if I start suddenly falling asleep or something, you are supposed to tell your mom.”

Huh. That seemed simple enough.

I sighed with relief because Mary wasn’t going to die.

But I felt terrible because she had to undergo shots every day and I only had to endure it every few years when Mom surprised us with vaccinations.

When we got older, I told her how worried I had been that she was going to die. She giggled and told me she was never worried, it was just something God gave her to live with. And she also scolded me for not asking an adult to explain it, adding, “You will probably die before me because of all the worrying you do.”

Mary went on to live a happy life. Our times together grew fewer apart, as often happens . . . but when we did see each other, she always greeted me with a massive hug that left me breathless.

She had a joyful personality and great affection for everyone she loved.

Despite her health issues, so many trips to the hospital and repeated doctor visits, she still maintained a zest for each day.

When we got older, I told her I admired her strength and what seemed to be endless positivity . . . I wouldn’t have had that in me. She giggled and said everyone has their crosses to bear and it wasn’t a big deal.

Last night, Mary went to bed and sometime between closing her eyes and the 2 o’clock hour, God came to visit. She quietly moved from this world into the next, in the blissful state of sleep. I picture Him reaching out his hand and her happily stepping into the light.

Well, we got older. If she was still here, I’d tell her so many people loved her. And she would probably giggle and say she knew it all along.

I’d tell her I admired her bubbly persona and gel-like ability within her family. And she would probably giggle and say there’s no point in living your life any other way.

And there’s one last thing I would tell Mary . . . she was beautiful, special and I’m glad she got to be the flower girl.



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