Saturday, May 04, 2024

Rest in Peace, Mary Kay

I've spent a lot of time lately in the hospital. First in the oncology ward, and then, for the past week and a half, in an ICU unit. Not for my own health reasons, but to accompany my sister Mary as she dealt with a cancer that only showed up on anyone's radar after she went to work on Monday, March 18, feeling a little off her usual bouncy stride.

It was already far advanced and far more aggressive than the oncologist even guessed. Although surgery was just two weeks after the diagnosis, she was already weak. Chemo was hastened, but it was more than her previously robust system could handle. Just eleven days later, on the first Saturday of May, we surrounded her with love and prayer to accompany her passage to the Father.

As we surrounded her hospital bed in that final hour, her husband of 43 years put his hand tenderly on her brow while tears streamed down his face (and ours). Please pray for him. He had (and has) so many health issues, it was a given that Mary would be taking care of him. Life sure does not go according to plan, does it?

I was the firstborn in my family; Mary came right after me, so she was the person I knew the longest on this earth. After my mother's death, I would spend my vacation time at Mary's house, and once transferred to New Orleans, I would go there on my free Sundays to sit at the kitchen table with her, talking about which recipe to try out next. That's what I did the day before her diagnosis: we prepared sourdough cinnamon rolls together from her amazing starter. (I have her sourdough starter and will attempt to keep it alive.)

Mary was an operating room nurse who started out as a 19 year old surgical tech and worked her way up to R.N. First Assistant (boss of the OR) for the transplant team. She mentored untold numbers of nurses and doctors in the ways of the OR. While she was in the ICU we learned that she had been nominated for the hospital's "Nurse of the Year" commendation. (Evidently, a decision has already been made, and we have no idea if it was for Mary, though you know who I think utterly deserved it.)

Mary (right) with an anatomically correct liver cake.
Red velvet, of course. 
When not saving lives in the operating room, she was baking fancy cakes for coworkers' events, healthcare charities, or birthdays; running a monthly "salad club" (with her signature balsamic dressing (25-year aged balsamic vinegar and dried shallots) to encourage healthy eating (her own, first of all!) or giving fun cooking classes in her home. 

Having just turned 65, Mary was looking forward to retiring at the end of summer so she could do more such things, as well as putter in her garden, where the fig tree is already loaded with baby figs, and the pomegranate tree downed by Hurricane Ida has come back from the roots and is loaded with new fruits. Instead, she has been granted a better retirement, though one that leaves the rest of us out for the time being. 

If you have followed this blog for any number of years, you might recall that my sisters and I usually made a road trip together every summer; we started doing this with Mom, and often included Mary's granddaughter (until she became a teenager, and her grandmother and great-aunts became unbelievable fuddy-duddies). This year's trip was to have been to Austin in April, to share the experience of the eclipse. Instead, Mary's surgery was that week, and the sisters' trip ended up being an intense shared experience of seeing one of our number off on the ultimate journey, to the destination we all aim for. 

Mary kept in her locker a printout of the famous prayer (or meditation) of St. John Henry Newman, whose "Tiny Saint" image she kept on her key ring; when someone was in need of encouragement or hope, she would share it with them, and pass along a copy. She was a remarkable woman with a zest for life and a gift for communicating her faith. Please pray for the eternal repose of the soul of Mary Kay Harvey, and for the consolation of her husband, children, grandchildren, siblings, and scores of co-workers and friends. 

Mary's favorite reflection from Cardinal-Saint John Henry Newman:

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work;
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore I will trust Him.
Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; 

in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him;
if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.
My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us.
He does nothing in vain;
He may prolong my life, He may shorten it;
He knows what He is about.
He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers,
He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me
still He knows what He is about.


Anonymous said...

May she rest in peace. Beautifully written.

Anonymous said...

Sister, the love and admiration that you have for your sister is palpable. Thank you for sharing your memories. I know that this loss is felt deeply by you and her family. She is at peace now, no more suffering; undoubtedly resting in the Lord, bathing in the Living Water and sing a song of joy.

Anonymous said...

Really beautiful and heartfelt tribute to your sister. May eternal light shine on her and may she rest in peace. 🙏🏻

Brian H. Gill said...

Good memories. Good legacies. Good meditation. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Such a beautiful reflection on your sister’s life. Prayers of peace and comfort for you and your family. May she rest in eternal peace.

Anonymous said...

RIP Mary Kay. Condolences to you Sr. Anne and all the family. This is the great conundrum isn’t it…? We say “yet not my will but thine be done” … and sometimes his will is difficult to accept. Thoughts and prayers for you all 🥰

Maryann Toth said...

What a beautiful legacy Mary Kay has left her family, although way too soon. May she now rest in the arms of Jesus and Mary. Losing a sibling is so difficult. You are close in prayer, Sr. Anne.