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L is for Living life and loving large

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
September 26, 2002


"Don't Grieve. Anything you lose comes around in another form. The child weaned from mother's milk now drinks wine and honey mixed." — RUMI

There was a death in the family last week. On Wednesday, September 18, 2002, at 7:22 in the evening, Mary Shillington made the transition to what comes next. Having experienced the fading of the light for the last time at our home on Leucadia Scenic Court, Mary slipped away after a valiant fight against cancer. Tears marked her passing as our family of friends came together to give comfort to her remaining son, and to remark on the grace of this coal-miners daughter from Northumberland.

Mary a was slight woman with a warrior's spirit. Shaped by British resolve, and forged by the rumbling of war, Mary survived the bombing of London perched on an anti-aircraft gun. Giving what she got, her life was of unfaltering loyalty to all she held dear. Even after leaving war torn England she refused to give up her citizenship, for that would have meant denying her heritage, and that was not even an option.

Coming to America, with little more than a husband and a small baby, Mary was determined to make the most of the opportunities America provided, and to raise a family free of the brutalities she had recently experienced. And succeed she did. Making a life with her husband Dennis in the Bay Area, Mary raised two doting sons who called her "mummy" even as accomplished professionals. Mary's lust for life was the greatest gift she had to give.

The reason I mention this is because even as death visited our home, we were compelled to celebrate life, because that was how Mary operated. After coming to terms with her husband's diagnosis with Alzheimer's Mary decided she needed a change of scenery, so with her son in tow Mary once again set out to see the world. A cruise to Alaska, Korea, Japan, and Russia, did the trick. Upon returning home, she was diagnosed with the cancer that would end her life. After the initial round of chemotherapy and radiation, Mary was once again planning her next adventure, this time a trip around the world. Not that she hadn't already done this piecemeal, a few times over, she still needed to she Northern England on more time.

Mary lived life to its utmost, even in the face of daunting obstacles. Witnessing her resolve, all who met her were immediately won over. Present to her ultimate passing, although at times it seems Mary was not, we found the strength to meet our own challenges, because Mary showed that life was a precious thing not to be squandered with worries of "what if" or "why me." Mary lived large, and brought everyone a t-shirt to prove it.

Loving Mary was easy, and as her son marked her passing he made it clear not only had he lost his mother, he had also lost his best friend, traveling companion, and chief protector. And not the momma's boy sort of protection, but the mother lioness sort of protection that taught her sons to never back down from a fight or obstacle, because if they did they would have to answer to her.

Losing a parent is never easy, thankfully mine are still with me. But being present to Mary's dignified exit, close to the son who would move mountains to bring them into view, I was compelled to reflect on my own relationships. Now because of Mary I am better equipped to show my parents the love and gratitude they so rightly deserve. No longer will I miss the opportunity to say thank you for the phone call, or the heads up on a nephew's birthday. Nor will I miss the chance to tell them I love them just because I can.

Mary requested no fuss be made about her passing. No funeral, no memorial service or wake. She wanted her ashes to be scattered at sea, in the same location her eldest son's ashes were set in motion. The men who performed the same ritual for their brother and father will perform this simple ceremony.

To show my respect I will plant a Japanese maple in her honor, so that it will be seen from the window that provided her a last glimpse of the world she loved so much. I also dedicate this column to a lovely lady who lived life to its fullest, and left a legacy of love that will linger forever.

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