My Mary Ann died last weekend. She was my father's wife, my stepmother for most of my life. But those labels don't do it for me. For me, she was my Mary Ann.
I didn't want to speak at her Celebration Service. I hate speaking in front of a lot of people and I knew I wouldn't be able to do it without crying. But after my sisters got up, I realized I wanted to say something too. I sputtered a bit, both with words and tears, and afterwards I kept thinking of more things I wanted to say. Here's my chance.
What I did say was that Mary Ann taught me a lot about not following rules and conventions. She never followed them. It's
funny, because in some ways, she seemed very conventional: she left her job when she became a mother, she did all the cooking and most of the cleaning, she was completely supportive of her husband. But if you looked further, you could see that she had a clear vision of how she thought the world should be and when it put obstacles in her path with silly rules, she simply went around them. She is famous for ignoring "No Trespassing" signs. I loved that about her. For someone like me who is so obsessed with rules, it was so liberating to know that even if you looked like a regular person who belonged to mainstream society (which I never did), you didn't necessarily have to follow all their rules. What mattered was having the internal vision of what was right and then being confident enough to follow that vision. Just think what a weirdo like I could do! I could spend my junior year abroad at UC Berkeley (even though both schools said I couldn't), I could go find a job in Spain (even though there was 20% unemployment). I could do anything I wanted to.
Another important thing I learned from her was generosity with people in difficult situations... the first time I saw my parents speak civilly together was when I graduated from high school. But Mary Ann never said anything mean about my mother. Instead, she always gave her the benefit of the doubt. That meant so much to me. Because I remember when I was little being so baffled at my parent's divorce. They had loved each other for a long time and then they stopped. Had they changed? Had one of them turned bad? By not piling on, she helped me understand that there was fault (and good) on all sides, and that it is by listening and giving the benefit of the doubt that we can get beyond the hurt.
Mary Ann was also generous when it wasn't so hard. She was the one who taught me to serve other people first, to take the smaller piece, to let things go when they didn't matter. She was always taking care of other people. I'm not nearly as thoughtful, but I've got time yet and something to aspire to.
And finally, I should add that Mary Ann was really fun. She never just watched life go by. As my sister described at the service, if you took your kids to the playground with Mary Ann, it was Mary Ann going down the slide. I remember her swimming with me as a kid for hours and hours and hours. I remember going on the longest car rides and singing songs and playing "I went on a picnic" and never being bored. And we never got tired of her great stories about her ex-boyfriends :)
My Mary Ann was a really special person. I'm better for having known her. She'll live on in many hearts, including my own.