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Thursday, March 09, 2006


Service of Remembrance: what Rohan Jayasekera said

Mary Lee was my good friend for 22 years. There seemed to be a special bond between us, but really the fact was that I was only one of many friends with a special bond, something it pains me to accept. I believe this was because Mary Lee could add tremendous intensity to anything she was interested in. Friendships, ballet, playing in a steel band, going to Trinidad for Carnival 12 times. And when she became unhappy with how the condo building in which she lived was being treated by the developer and management company, she ran for and became the president of the condominium corporation.

Mary Lee would spend huge amounts of time to make a new dress for an occasion and have it be absolutely flawless, down to the last stitch, even on the inside that you couldn’t see. She’d look spectacular. And then she’d never wear it again, because on future occasions she didn’t want to repeat herself.

Things like that often misled those who didn’t know her well. I'm afraid she was often taken to be a person not particularly suited to serious matters. Which was completely untrue. At I.P. Sharp Associates and Reuters, where she worked for over 20 years, she eventually became one of the best project managers. And in recent times, when she followed current events very closely, more so than anyone else I know, we had long discussions about things like federal childcare policy — and neither of us has ever had kids.

In the late 90s Mary Lee became disillusioned with both her job and the relationship she was in, and to me she was never the same afterward. The old spark wasn't gone, but it was much less frequent. She had some ideas, like making spectacular wedding dresses for a living, or opening a bed-and-breakfast in Trinidad. I was hoping that she would hit on something that would reinvigorate her spirit. But then she was diagnosed with leukemia, and had no way of knowing how long she was going to live, which put a further damper on any plans. In addition, knowing that she should start eating healthy food, not just cheese and crackers, wasn’t really consistent with her spirit. A careful and regimented life might suit some people, but not Mary Lee.

Which brings me to her experience with the disease PML. As savage as PML is, I believe that it saved her from a much worse fate later on at the hands of leukemia. Even though PML attacks the brain and tends to affect its victims’ ability to think, as long as Mary Lee was conscious and able to communicate in any way, her mind seemed as sharp as always. Which is exactly how she wanted it. She even made it clear that she didn’t want medication that would dull her mind, even if it meant enduring pain.

Shortly before Mary Lee went into the hospital she showed me two winter coats she’d bought: she was having trouble deciding which one to keep and which one to return. She asked my opinion, so I told her which coat I thought was the better choice, and why. She said she agreed and would keep that one. Well, at the hospital I noticed which coat was hanging in the closet: it was the other one. In a way I’m glad. Mary Lee lived her life her way. It wasn’t always easy, because to be exceptional you have to endure being an exception. And Mary Lee was nothing if not exceptional.

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