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Ode to Mary: Lover and Giver of Life

Four years ago we lost Mary Gehr, lover and giver of life. I was blessed to have her as a mother-in-law. My husband, Joe, said in her eulogy, “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.

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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.

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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. Couldn’t our country use a few more Mary Gehrs right now?”

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.

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Mary Gehr was a strong woman, an amazing mother, the rock of her family, a giver of life, 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.

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Mary made friends wherever she went. Here, she’s getting to know some bikers in a restroom line at Branched Oak restaurant.

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 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. 217477_10201067686839796_754692611_n

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 on August 10, 2015.IMG_8620

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.”

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Yes, indeed, the world could use a lot more Marys, but we were pretty darn happy to have had our Mary. She was a one-of-a-kind-lover-of-life and it is with great joy we remember her today and always.

 

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Humor is the Hand of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 6

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Hospitality can look different from one situation to another. It can be opening one’s home to another or serving a meal, but it can also be cracking a joke to break the ice or ease some tension. Humor is the hand of hospitality. Today I get my chance to practice.

Wednesday, June 19—This day begins with a trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, located in the Franconia region of Bavaria, Germany. It is a well-known medieval old town, having survived the Thirty Years War and World War II (limited damage that was repaired). Rothenburg, a walled village with many towers, is part of the popular Romantic Road through southern Germany.

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In Rothenburg, there were many sites to see—churches, garden walks, spectacular views, quaint shops, many Christmas stores, a part Gothic/part Renaissance Town Hall, and beautiful fountains.

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Continue reading “Humor is the Hand of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 6”

Pilgrims Are Not Just Tourists: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 5

“A tourist has new experiences, but remains the same person. A pilgrim experiences new places and is transformed by them.” —Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within

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Photo: Bamberg Cathedral

Being a tourist is a lot different than being a pilgrim. We even prayed about it in our opening Mass. Being a pilgrim has some responsibility that goes with it—to extend hospitality and to practice humility and patience. We have been duly warned.

This experience is not just about sight-seeing. We don’t experience events and then move on. There is a river flowing beneath our lived experience, where we are feeling, processing, and reflecting. What we feel about or interpret an experience today may change tomorrow. This pilgrimage—the visiting of churches, monasteries, and historical sights—is just one level, but the pilgrimage within is the real experience.

The momentum of the inner pilgrimage, the current of the river beneath, moves in its own time. The outer pilgrimage is on a schedule. The inner pilgrimage is our spiritual experience; we process what has happened with people and places, looking through the lens of the Divine. The lens through which we see is the decisive factor in how the outer pilgrimage impacts our life. Evidence: I thought I would whip out a four-part blog series about the pilgrimage, but it’s taken longer than I expected. I’m on kairos time that cannot be rushed.

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Bamberg Cathedral

But here we go…the first FULL day! (and it is full!)

Tuesday, June 18We celebrate Mass in the morning at Kloster Banz, a former Benedictine monastery founded in 1070, now known as Banz Castle. In the second half of the 18th century, Banz Abbey was known throughout the Holy Roman Empire as a place of Catholic enlightenment and for the scholarship of its monks. This did not save it from secularization and dissolution in 1803. Today it serves as a parish church. The Abbey is not what it once was, but it continues in another way.

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Continue reading “Pilgrims Are Not Just Tourists: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 5”

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