Mary Gehr, my mother-in-law, was a lover of life and laughing, parties and planning them. She loved going to Las Vegas, playing video poker, Bridge, and Words with Friends. She loved Budweiser, murder mysteries, giving hugs, eating great food, cooking for others, Thanksgiving Day, and being with family.
Mary Gehr was a strong woman, an amazing mother, the rock of her family, the epitome of hospitality, a peacekeeper, devoted wife, and bad-ass grandma. She was spirited, full of joy, selfless, generous beyond measure, supportive, spontaneous, positive and funny. She welcomed everyone as family, would talk to anyone, was so darn lucky in video poker and keno and never worried about what others thought of her. She had dimples and a smile that lit up every room she entered.
We never know how long we have, life can change or end in a minute, but Mary Gehr was just as shocked as her friends and family that life took a turn for her on July 24, 2015, the day before her 78th birthday and the day of our daughter, Jessica’s 21st birthday. The last words she said before having a surgery to repair a perforated colon were, “I don’t want to die on Jessica’s birthday. I don’t want to die on my birthday.” She didn’t. The few weeks she was kept alive on life support, she couldn’t talk, but she could nod her head and she could smile. When my husband asked Mary if she wanted to keep fighting, she nodded yes. She gave the fight of her life to stay with us.
Mary had just started to live a new life of independence, finding her voice and making her own choices. It’s not that she didn’t have that with her husband, Marv, but she came into her own in a different sort of way after Marv passed. She was just as happy, even though she was sad. She was just as strong, even though she was lonely. She loved being around people, even though she could be alone. She got to know herself better and we got to know her in just a Mary-way, without Marv. She was a feisty lady and so proud of the name “bad-ass grandma” she earned from Jessica.
Jessica’s birthday party was Grandma’s idea. She loves a party–loves to host, loves to go, loves to have fun. But instead, she is lying in a hospital bed getting life support from a ventilator. After an eight-week stay alternating between the hospital and rehabilitation center, Mary’s colon perforated, poisoning her from the inside. Without emergency surgery, she would have died within hours. But surgery to remove most of her colon and repair damages left her weakened even more than before, fighting infections, kidney impairment, and many other critical issues. Because Grandma Gehr loves to have fun, we went forward with the birthday party…and we had a blast. Our friends and family are so supportive, praying for Mary’s recovery but also celebrating with Jessica. *Written the weekend after Mary’s surgery and Jessica’s party.
Mary lived long enough to smile again, to hold a hand, to hear our good-byes. Mary died two years ago today on August 10, 2015.
My husband, Joe, summed up his mom’s zest for life in her eulogy: “One of our good friends offered sympathy at Marv’s funeral, gave Mary a hug and said, “You will be with Marv again.” Mary’s response: “I hope not too soon!” Rather than feeling sorry for herself, she took what life gave her and began to live every day like it was her last. She had so much fun and joy these last couple of years. Of course, she missed my dad, we all have. I think she cried a tear every day for him and every conversation we had, we talked about him in some way.”
Joe also shared these words about his mother, “We were taught the meaning of selflessness, caring, patience and compassion for humankind. We were taught to see people for who they were, not for who the world tells us they are. My mother’s arms were always open and welcoming to anyone, it didn’t matter who you were, where you came from or what you wanted, for my mom, it was about what she could do to help…Whenever you saw Mary, you would see a big smile on her face. It never mattered what kind of mood she was in; she was always happy to see you. If you didn’t want a hug, you were going to get one anyway. Sometimes I think she should have gone into politics. I think if she was the Secretary of State, a lot of countries would end their conflicts and hug each other instead. If you only met Mary for a few minutes, she would make an impression on you that would last a lifetime.” He closed with, “Couldn’t our country use a few more Mary Gehrs right now?”
The world could use a lot more Marys, but we were pretty darn happy to have our Mary. She was a one-of-a-kind-lover-of-life and it is with great joy we remember her today and always.