This was written days after Maureen had passed, wondering if I would have the strength to stand in front of the crowd and read it, without becoming an emotional mess. As I read this now, almost two years later, it is a thoughtful tribute to my lovely wife, but not as deep as some other material I have written. It was very fitting for the celebration of a wonderful woman.
Earlier in the week, I was asked if Maureen had any special things that I wanted to bring and put on display tonight for the Celebration of Life. I looked around the house, and I asked the kids what they thought moms special things around the house were. My modest child, Audrey, said, “dad, I thought we were moms special things”? I stopped and looked at her for a second, and said, you are right, you are her most special things. So they are here tonight, Aidan, Liam, Audrey and Hazel. Maureen’s most precious things.
As a family, we’ve never really been very materialistic, so when I looked around the house for what else I could bring, I found two other items:
- A blanket that was given to her prior to the March surgery with signatures and well wishes from most people that are here tonight. You all are part of what she valued most in life and you are now also on display as some of her special things.
- I also found a yearbook from Wells Junior High School, signed by many of her students. Her students were such a huge part of her life. She worked tireously for those kids, and believed in each and every one of them. Her students loved her and she will be sorely missed.
- A final item I thought of, was this place. Maureen loved spending time here in the sunshine, salt air and positive vibe. I think she was happiest when she was here, acting as a mentor and coach and serving as a positive role model to all.
I met Maureen in August of 1998. It was on a blind date, but I have to clarify. Her obituary stated that we met on a blind date then got married. There were actually a few years in between that first date and the date we were married, even though Maureen always insisted she knew on our first date that she wanted to marry me. We married two years later in August of 2000. It was one of the happiest days of my life. (imagine how many kids we would have had if had gotten married right away)
I remember a lot about those first few dates that made me realize Maureen was someone special:
She was easy to talk to. Even though she liked to embellish just a little bit, she had a lot of stories that would bring a smile to my face.
She told me that when they were young they used to walk back and forth to the neighborhood school and that they would sometimes be encountered by the neighborhood bullies. Maureen said that she used to protect her brother and sister from the bullies. I know that she was tough, but I’m picturing this pint sized little, fiery redhead trying to scare off boys twice her size (picture Ralphie and Randy from the Christmas Story). We all know Maureen was tough and that she was not afraid to stand up for what she believed in, no matter how scary the battle.
What Maureen lacked in height, she made up for with attitude. I was surprised to find out on our first date that she ran men’s hurdles while she was in high school. This skill has been passed down to Audrey and Hazel as well, who are blessed with long legs. While Maureen’s legs were a little shorter, she was blessed with strength and athletic ability and received a college scholarship for hurdles.
On our honeymoon, we went to Portugal. We had only booked a hotel for the first night and figured we would see where we would up for the rest of the stay. Our flight was delayed and by the time we made it to our hotel, they had sold our room. We ended up sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a garage at a house next to the beach and it was perfect. Little did we know that this would be a signal of how the rest of our married life would be. There always seemed to be some type of diversity to overcome, but we both agreed that except for that cancer part, our life was perfect.
After Liam was born we decided that we wanted to move out of the neighborhood we had settled in. We found a piece of land in West Kennebunk that we could build a house on. Sitting on this piece of land was a vintage 1970’s single wide trailer, complete with classic shag carpeting throughout. Maureen (always the practical one) decided that we did not need to rent and that we could just live in the trailer with the two boys through the winter while the house was being built (by the way, she was pregnant again).
At the time, Maureen was working at York adult education. I came home one early winter evening to find her on hands and knees curled up in pain on that lovely shag carpeting in the bathroom. It was obvious to me that she was in severe pain, so I asked what I could do to help. I think she managed to ask me if I could feed the kids so she could get ready to go to work. Maureen was one of the most dedicated and hardworking people I have ever met, but I was not going to let it happen on this night. I made her call in sick and went off on one of our many adventures to ER.
Things we learned through our adventures at ER:
- A leg cast will cause more harm than good when you misdiagnose rheumatoid Arthritis.
- When you’re told that your daughters shattered elbow will never be the same, don’t believe them.
- Letting your 4 year old son tell the doctor how he cracked his head open can be incriminating.
- An ER doctor may tell you that you’re going to die soon. It probably is not true.
- When they tell you your baby has four legs and four arms. It’s probably twins.
The second most amazing thing I’ve seen Maureen do, was give birth to the twins. It was in the early morning hours of an Easter Sunday. The hospital was short staffed and there was no time to help with any of the pain. Audrey was born very shortly after we arrived at the hospital, and Hazel took her time, enjoying all the extra space for an extra few hours. Neither of the girl’s lungs were fully developed yet and they were rushed off, in separate ambulances, to Maine Med. About an hour after birth, the doctor came in and told Maureen, “I know that you want to be with your girls, I will release you whenever you are ready”. About 2 hours after giving birth to Hazel, we were back home eating breakfast before heading up to see our precious girls.
The most amazing thing that I have ever seen Maureen do, was just a few weeks ago. I believe the words she used were, “Grace and dignity”. Accepting her fate and putting the needs of her children and myself before her own, was one of bravest and most amazing acts I have ever witnessed, from anyone.
As we started down this road a few years back, we both agreed that our time as a family was most precious and we needed to continue to raise happy, healthy, strong children.
Speaking of children; If you look around at the pictures and the slide show, you’ve probably noticed a red headed boy in most of those pictures with a devilish look in his eye, looking like he is up to no good. That is Aidan, and he gets that from Maureen. Like his mom, he’s mellowed a little bit with old age and he can usually be found now with a book in front of his face. Maureen actually considered herself an introvert. She used to tell me of her childhood days reading books in bed with a flashlight until the wee hours of the morning. In college, when she went to parties, she told me that she could usually be found sitting in a corner, snuggled up with a delightful book (I think she told me that we were dating though, probably trying to make a good impression). All that reading has also given him another one of Maureen’s characteristics, a superb vocabulary. Go ahead and feel free challenge him.
And then there is Liam. Take a look at that face – need I say anymore? Many of you may not know that Liam has had juvenile arthritis since he was about 4. He used to be in a lot of pain with severe joint swelling. There are still some days that his knees and hips ache, he can’t use his fingers, but I bet that no one here has ever heard him complain. He has the strength and determination of his mom, and never lets pain get in his way of what he wants to do. He is also a good friend, a defender of the underdog, and will stand up for what he thinks is right, sometimes to his own detriment (sound familiar). He can sometimes be a little moody, but I think that’s on me.
Maureen had a deep, jolly laugh that could fill a room. Hardly seemed to fit her petite frame. Go ahead and tell Audrey a joke, and you’ll see that she has inherited that jovial laugh. Being in Maureen’s presence always felt very calming to me. Very rarely did you see her overreact to a situation. I watch Audrey and the world could be exploding around her, while she calmly surveys the situation and nonchalantly chooses her course of action. Always easy to smile, just like her mom.
Hazel always seems to come last. I guess that’s what happens when you are the youngest, even if it is only by 2 hours. But do not underestimate her and let her quiet, sweet nature fool you. She has the mental toughness of her mom and then some. If you ever want to challenge Hazel, tell her that you don’t think she can do something, then stand back and watch. Like her mom, she is a generous soul and always making everyone feel welcome. She has inherited Maureen’s love of learning, and can often be found doing “extra homework” for fun.
I have had an odd feeling of satisfaction lately, seeing how Maureen’s life and death have caused many people to reevaluate their life and relationships with loved ones. She would be happy to know that her spirit is still alive and exist in us all, and most definitely in the hearts and souls of her children. So whenever you find yourself missing her, just open your eyes and look around, she is everywhere.
A version of this post was previously published on LossandLearning and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: Mike McEnaney