The loss of a beloved friend, without warning, rips a gaping hole in the memory-rich fabric of life.
Mary Murphy Hamann, my college roommate, longtime friend, and one of the most cheerful people I’ve ever met, died on Good Friday in a remote village in Paraguay.
Her plan? To attend her daughter’s wedding there and meet the Paraguayan in-laws. But God planned otherwise. Mary hemorrhaged unexpectedly from a hidden, life-threatening tumor, just one day before her daughter’s wedding.
Nothing could have saved her. Even if she’d been stateside, the end result would have been the same. Her close-knit family – husband, four adult children, seven surviving siblings, in-laws, and dozens of nieces and nephews – reeled from the blow, in shock and grief.
But the days that followed found them steadied by the mercy of God’s grace and the hope born of faith.
It was her time.
I remember once, thirty years earlier, when Mary told me, “It’s time.”
Only then it was “time” to marry her high school sweetheart, Mike – a decision that seemed as ill-timed (to others) as her death now thirty years later. Just 19 when Mike slipped the engagement ring on her finger, Mary married at 20. No shotguns involved, just a young couple in love and ready to team up for life.
“He’s the one,” Mary told me, “It’s time.”
So she married and left school, taking a job that would support them both while Mike spent his last two years at Notre Dame.
The young feminists in our dorm sizzled with outrage. Clearly appalled, one driven engineer-to-be expressed her indignation – on Mary’s behalf – to me. “She’s got a 3.9! Why is she leaving school? Why doesn’t he leave school so she can finish?”
Mary’s decision made no sense to the career-oriented, high-achievers of the 80s. Forget the balancing act. Marriage and motherhood were obstacles to career success.
Some imagined a he-versus-she wrestling match over dominance and ambition, with Mary finally yielding. Others carped that Mary’s conservative beliefs and traditional Catholicism must be at fault. “What a waste.” They lamented their friend’s all-but-certain future: talents undeveloped and opportunities lost, all sacrificed at the altar of marriage and motherhood.
“Poor Mary” never looked back. Her sureness emerged from a prayerful heart intent on one question: ”What is the Lord’s will for me?”
The answer didn’t come instantly. She prayed for months, her rosary often slipping from her sleeping hand, down from her top bunk onto mine below. The Lourdes Grotto at Notre Dame held dozens of candle stubs lit by a young woman in search of God’s will. And her commitment to daily Mass – at noon or 5 pm – often meant the ultimate sacrifice for a college student: settling for the dregs of cafeteria food. Limp lettuce and rubbery burgers, at best. (One long-winded homily and she’d miss the meal entirely!)
God must have been tickled to see a young heart madly in love, but so willing to ask what He wanted. And Mary delighted in His answer – yes, marry Mike.
It was time.
More importantly, her question, “What’s your will for me, Lord?” wasn’t a one-timer. It was the recurring theme of her life. (Mike’s life too, for that matter.)
And indeed, it’s interesting how life turned out.
Mary’s first job gave way to full-time motherhood, with one girl and three boys in quick succession. Unfazed by muddy feet and shoes gone AWOL, Mary’s contagious laughter bubbled over in daily life. As her peers got big jobs and even bigger signing bonuses, Mary changed diapers, hugged toddlers, and shrugged off thoughts of what-might-have-been.
Then, supplementing Mike’s teaching job, she resumed part-time work, often from home, with stints in copywriting, advertising, and political campaigns. In short order, resourcefulness paired with economic necessity and gave birth to a successful family business in marketing and communications.
Funny how God works. As Mary followed the thread of God’s will, woven among family needs and life’s opportunities, her creative talents flourished, her professional skills sharpened, and her entrepreneurial spirit grew. She picked up the classes she needed, then came full circle, landing back at Notre Dame in a job she loved – Director of Communications in the Mendoza College of Business. For ten years, as her children moved into adulthood, she edited an award-winning magazine and played a central role in her husband’s successful entry into politics.
Even by feminist standards, it was a quality resume for a mom of four.
But her accomplishments aren’t the real story.
When Mary died, God didn’t read her obituary. He read her heart.
That’s the story too easily missed. Her heart had grown more in love with Him over the years, not by adding up achievements but by asking that question, “What’s your will for me, Lord?”
It’s a question that I, for one, ought to ask more often.
Because that simple question – “What’s your will for me, Lord?” – purifies the heart. And our sincere (though surely imperfect) response to that question, over and over, defines a life well lived.
In hindsight, Mary’s life was not only well lived, but perfectly timed.
And so was her death. It was her time, because it was God’s time. It’s the only way Mary would have wanted it.
© 2011 Mary Rice Hasson