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Mary Jo

"Sadly, we have confirmed that Mom is in a 'persistent vegetative state.' As she made her will to state that life support should cease if/when this happens, we will fulfill her wish on Monday morning (1/17/2011) so that she may finally share 'a cup of coffee with God' as she had always wanted. Further updates to follow."

I stared at the words haunting my computer screen. I found myself confused, not knowing what they meant. I read them again. And again.

Persistent vegetative state? Cease life support? This just could not be happening. Not to Mary Jo.

14 years ago I met Mary Jo. I was 21 years old and knew nothing about taking care of the baby I was now responsible for. Finding a babysitter to watch her while I worked full time was a necessity. Finding someone who would love my child more than I did was a blessing.

Mary Jo was a legend in the babysitting world. My aunt swore that this was the only person she ever trusted with her children, and that was the best recommendation I could ask for. So I went to meet her and see if she would 'pass the test' (if I had such a test).

Mary Jo lived in a quaint, little house on the top of a hill; a hill used for sledding in the wintertime. A play set sat on the edge of a grove of trees, hidden within the low hanging limbs was a fort waiting to be discovered. There was a field where countless races would be run. It reminded me of how I grew up and I decided then and there it was exactly where I wanted my child to be when I was at work.

Mary Jo met me at the door with a smile and a hand shake and quickly got down to business. It was obvious from the start I would not be interviewing her. Instead, she would be asking me questions to see if my child and I would fit into her world. "I expect my parents to follow through. If I discipline a child and tell them no treats for the rest of the day, I expect you to support that at home. Can you do that?" I nodded my head up and down furiously, more out of fear at that moment than anything. I was young. What did I know about the importance of withholding a cookie after dinner?

Mary Jo was no nonsense, but so full of love. Unconditional love. She never once judged me. She never treated me like the insecure, anxiety-filled, single mother I was. She treated me with kindness and respect. And she gave nothing but love and respect to my child.

Mary Jo "expected." She expected her children to be helpful and respectful and kind. She expected her parents to pay every Friday. And we all happily delivered.

Mary Jo was this sort of Betty Crocker/Martha Stewart/Drill Sergeant mix. She was super woman without the cape. Every single moment was a learning moment for her children. They learned about baking, setting the table, and making sandwiches. They learned how to breathe from their diaphragm when singing. They learned all about photosynthesis.

One of my favorite moments was when I was greeted at the door by a polite, excited 3-year old boy, who pointed to his knee cap and announced, "This is my patella!" Mary Jo casually offered an explanation: "We're learning anatomy." Of course you are, I thought. Why wouldn't you teach a bunch of three year olds anatomy?

Mary Jo knew her children were smart and intelligent and treated them as such. She accepted no excuses. She taught them about growing food in the garden and taught them how to take the fruit and make it into jam, or pickle the beans, which Mary Jo graciously gave away at Christmas time.

Halloween was always a special time at Mary Jo's. There was witch's brew and bobbing for apples and pictures taken of the costumed children by the pumpkins.

When I had my second child I knew right away Mary Jo would be their caregiver. And there was never any doubt when I gave birth to my third.

Mary Jo not only became a mother to my children, but a mother to me. She offered her opinion (whether I had asked for it or not) and always she would end up being right. She was enthusiastic and supportive of all my creative endeavors and came to every play I ever performed in. This winter, when she came to watch me in the play I co-wrote, she proudly asked for my autograph on the playbill. She never talked in matters of "wouldn't that be neat if..." it was always "When." When you become famous. When you publish your book.

Mary Jo believed in all her children - and also in me. She sees strength where sometimes I see none. More times than I can count I heard her exclaim, "Do not be a victim!" She has always believed we carry the strength and courage within ourselves to change the course of our destiny. "Do not be a victim." Do not allow anyone other than yourself to have control of your life. Do not allow yourself to sit in a corner crying because a friend made you feel bad by taking your toy. Pick yourself up and get on with life.

In the past 14 years of having Mary Jo in my life daily she has never called in the morning and cancelled last minute. I should have known something was wrong.

Last week she called Wednesday. She wasn't feeling good.

On Thursday she said her knee was swollen.

On Friday I glanced at the display on my phone: 6:13am. "I'm sorry, I just can't watch the kids today," whispered her voice on the other end. I didn't like how she sounded. Mary Jo was the epitome of strength... her voice did not sound strong at all. "It's okay," I reassured her. "Just get some rest and take it easy."

Nothing could prepare me for what was about to happen.

Someone said "critical ICU" and then "airlifted" and then "comatose." Each day brought more frustratingly sad news. "Non responsive." "Hemorrhage." "Infection." "Stroke." "Brain activity."

And then those words. Those awful, horrible words.

"Sadly, we have confirmed that Mom is in a 'persistent vegetative state.' As she made her will to state that life support should cease if/when this happens, we will fulfill her wish on Monday morning (1/17/2011) so that she may finally share 'a cup of coffee with God' as she had always wanted. Further updates to follow."

I sobbed. Not Mary Jo. Not Mary Jo.

I told my 15-year old. "Mary Jo can't die! She's supposed to live forever!" I know. I know.

I told my 9-year old. She cried and cried, harsh, heaving sobs wrecking her innocent body. "It's okay to cry," I whispered. "It's okay to feel sad and scared." And finally the crying quieted. She looked up at me: "Mary Jo will probably tell God where to sit." Oh, probably! I thought, as I squeezed my little girl. Yes, probably.

Such a hard lesson to be taught by someone as unprepared as myself.

I called my mom. "It doesn't look good."

I rambled on about how Mary Jo had wanted a reunion of all "her children" and it shouldn't be at her funeral. She would want to see everyone. I rambled on about how she always said, "don't be a victim" and I just couldn't stand to think of her as one. She wouldn't want to be a victim. I rambled on about something I had overheard a few days prior, that miracles happened because people believed they could. That people could see after being blind because they believed they would be able to see. That people were healed after being sick because they believed they could be healed.

If anyone believed in God and miracles it would be Mary Jo. She taught the children to pray diligently. I think they prayed for the same hamster every day for the past seven years. "God," I whispered. "Mary Jo believes in you."

How do you walk through your day when you know you're going to take your mother off life support on Monday? How do you get in your car and fill up your tank with gas? How do you play catch with a toddler or sign a permission slip to the zoo or discuss dinner options when you have this hanging over your head?

Mary Jo has a daughter, Lisa, who is the light of her world. Lisa is a couple years younger than me, with two small children of her own. How is she capable of putting one foot in front of the other? How is she capable of wiping her son's chin or cutting her daughter's food up small enough so she could eat it? Probably because she heard her mother's words telling her not to be a victim. Come on, let's get to it; there's work to do.

And then last night....

Last night... mere hours before the most unwelcome of Monday mornings.... my phone started going crazy. Did you hear?  Have you heard?

And I stared once again at words on my computer screen: 

We may actually have a miracle in our midst! The doctors relayed to Dad today that they feel 100% she is primed for RECOVERY! Her vitals are stable, her stroke - first thought to be critical enough for the end of life support - is now being deemed recoverable to such an extent that she could possibly return to almost normal functioning with therapy. She is moving her arms, turning her head slightly, and breathing on her own, but is still being heavily monitored for any negative changes. Lungs are clear, but she is not opening up her eyes ...yet. We are "cautiously optimistic" and TRULY need your prayers, support, and positive energy!

While we are not completely out of the woods yet, this is amazing progress and far exceeds anything we could have hoped for just two days ago. Thank you all for your support, love, and encouragement - keep her in your hearts and prayers! If ANYONE can do this, Mom/Nana/MaryJo CAN!

An hour later ....

NEWEST UPDATE: She is now opening her eyes and responding slowly to verbal commands...will keep everyone posted! ♥

The updates cannot come fast enough. Neither can my prayers.


Greg said…
Truly a miracle!
I found out this latest and most miraculous news from reading this post. I was about to send you a message saying that you MUST read those beautiful words at the funeral and then... what a WONDERFUL shock.
Brenna said…
Amazing. How is she today?

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