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Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Mary was loud and presumptuous. 

She thinks she owns the place!  I thought to myself as I walked by the nurse’s desk where Mary proudly perched daily, surrounded by nurses and physicians. She seemed to love being around other medical professionals, and to talk non-stop about the patients.
Mary was in her mid fifties, working as a Hospice Nurse. Although she was not part of the nursing home staff, she acted as though she belonged to our company. Mary had an air of entitlement to the extent that she would lead and often criticize our staff. 
“I can’t understand why she is so outspoken!” I complained to Doreen, the Assistant Director of Nursing.
“She means no harm,”  Doreen shrugged. “That’s just her personality.” 
One day, as we were holding a resident care meeting, Mary abruptly opened the conference room door, and lacking an apology I deemed appropriate, she inquisitively asked why she wasn’t invited to the meeting, given that she was the Hospice Nurse for that particular patient. I was unsure whether I forgot to notify Hospice of the meeting, or if there was an internal miscommunication at the Hospice agency.
In retrospect, I question myself whether I unconsciously failed to notify Hospice as a way to avoid Mary in the meeting.  In prior meetings where Mary had been invited, she essentially took control of the meeting and the agenda, making everyone else look like her subordinates.  Yet no one would confront Mary about her controlling behaviors. 
As responsible of setting the care plan meetings, I felt forced to apologize to Mary—now I was the one to apologize. My dislike for Mary grew stronger. Her presence gnawed at me. It tormented me having to devise ways to dodge her, her inquisitive eyes and loud tone of voice.
“This has to be a karma!” I told Norah, a family friend who had agreed to meet me for lunch, and to listen to my frustrations.
“I’ve never met Mary but I do know she is married to James Jones, a well-known businessman in this town.”  Norah said with calm voice. 
“Seriously?" I exclaimed. “That explains Mary’s feelings of empowerment.”
I reflected on Mary’s personality and the association with her respected husband. I started to understand and accept the way she was. Although I still kept the distance between us, I tried to minimize my exasperating opinion about Mary—my judgmental thoughts, I realized. 
Months later, on a cloudy morning of Spring, as I entered the nursing home, I noticed several members of the staff gathered around the nurse’s desk, talking with low voices, near whispering, with startled looks on their faces. I frowned, sensing that something unpleasant was brewing. My friend Lillian, the Admissions Coordinator, approached me quickly, delivering mortifying news:
“They found Mary dead this morning.” Lillian’s words sounded sad, and her face reflected a disturbed expression.
“Oh my God!” I covered my mouth, shocked.  
“What happened?” I asked, after taking a breath.
“They don’t know.” Lillian said. “Well, they don’t want to say anything because it appears that she committed suicide.”
That was appalling. Overwhelming emotions embraced me. I felt guilty and ashamed for my lack of compassion for Mary.  The unavoidable question arose on my mind. Why?
Mary’s death became a tragedy, not just for the facility and the Hospice staff, but also throughout the town. It was suspected that Mary ended her life with a prescribed drug overdose.
After her death, I learned about how miserable Mary’s life was. She and her husband were separated. Her husband was having an affair with a younger woman. Mary was devastated. The nursing home was the only place where Mary felt she did something valuable—and where she had some control. Every day, once her workday was over, Mary left the nursing home to face the reality of her failed marriage and the loneliness in a motel where she was temporarily staying. 
The nursing home was Mary’s workplace but also her home—during the day.  Beyond the facility walls, Mary felt near homeless. 
I have thought of Mary throughout these years, mourning her death. I deeply regretted not sharing a cup of coffee or a good laugh with her. I rued my narrow, antagonizing and prejudging thoughts about Mary, and not opening my heart, perhaps allowing me to be another of her many friends. I lamented not praising her for the passion she had for her patients, and the elderly. I wished I had told her how beautiful she was, as Mary always looked so fancily dressed, wearing fashionable jewelry and accessories.
I learned a painful lesson, and I pray that I may see beyond people’s façadas and open my arms to the “Marys” that may cross my path. May I have a cup of coffee ready for them, and help them feel welcomed—make them feel at home.


Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Doris,

What a touching story about LOTS of Marys in all of our lives. Maybe due to the lack of 'the luxury of' time we act mostly like you did. That's the easy way. But to find out how someone is ticking and for what reason takes quite some effort and time. As we get more and more pushed 'forward' in a hectic time, we might leave behind many more Marys.
This is a great post to make us reflect on this a bit more. Personally I've met several lonely people with miserable lives (all over the world) and the healing of some kind and personal words can perform miracles!
God bless you for wording this so well.

Lots of love,


Bica said...

Very touching story, Doris. It makes me think of my mother, and how she always seemed able to see things a little bit differently than I. I would probably have felt exactly the way you did, where she would have had an instinct, that maybe there was more than was obvious, for Mary's behavior.

Sandi said...

Thank you, Doris, for a posting everyone needs to read. I'm sure that most of us are guilty of wanting to minimize the impact that those like Mary intentionally or not, have on us. It is easy to be irritated by those who possess a sense of entitlement that grates on us. This post was a good lesson in remembering that there is always more under the surface of the story. When we are "put off" by certain individuals, we need to look deeply at what is going on below the surface, not only for that person, but inside ourselves that allows us to feel we can judge them.
I appreciate you sharing, and I'll remember this story about Mary.

Libby said...

powerful message! i so hope that nursing homes all over america put a copy of your book in the common room for residents to read, and post this story behind the front desk!

Big Mark 243 said...

"Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." -Plato

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

This is such a touching post with an important lesson for all of us. We've all had Marys in our lives and have been quick to create distance. And some of us may have even been Marys at some difficult point in life. Your post is a valuable reminder that we need to look deeper, to think before judging. Thanks so much, Doris!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Doris .. so true - we never know what's going on behind the facade .. sometimes we can work it out - sometimes we as individuals need to ask for help too ...

Interesting and very informative post - definitely food for thought - very sad ... but a lesson for us all .. thanks Hilary

Ann said...

I have stuggled with feelings of this sort only to discover later the pain the person was in. I too try to keep an open mind and heart. I came across a saying a few years ago that I now keep posted over my desk. "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." I have tried to live by this. xxx

Arkansas Patti said...

I think you have unearthed the Marys most of us have had in our lives and how we deeply regret our reactions to them.
Thanks for the reminder to be more patient and to look a little deeper.
Wonderful post.


I think there are lots of Mary's around and your post has put quite a few issues into perspective.
Thank you you have helped solved one of my problems without knowing it,

dr.antony said...

My dearest friend,
That is a painful lesson. Things are always not the same as they appear to be.All the more true about people.Many of us carry burdens which others do not see.The work place is the only relief for many women I have seen,because at home,they are desperate,neglected and often,unwelcome.Many do not have a place to call home.They just eat and sleep there as strangers.

You are sentimental and kind hearted and that is why such events move you.Being able to respond to others problems,can make life difficult for ourselves.Doesn't matter,that is life all about!

Tina said...

Thanks for sharing such a painful memory with us. I hope it brings you peace to "talk" about. It's a reminder that we all need to consider another's point of view before passing judgment.
Tina @ Life is Good

Linda said...

Wonderful post, easy to forget how complicated people are!

Jules said...

So often we are fooled by what is outwardly projected that we fail to look for what is inwardly reflected. Or as mom would say, "Never judge until you have walked in their shoes."

You know Mary gave you a gift? Never again will you look at the human facade the same. A wonderful gift if you ask me.
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Frances Garrood said...

Doris, I'm sure something like this has happened to nearly all of us. Guilt is a part of death, isn't it, and while we try to learn, I at least would hesitate to say that I really have. The lonely great-aunt I never visited so many years ago; the friend who committed suicide, and whom I felt so powerless to help...They will always stay with me.

A powerful post.

Mary Aalgaard said...

I imagine Mary had so much pain that she didn't know how to make friends. She felt powerless in most of her life, and craved power where she could find it. It's natural to be repelled by people with overbearing personalities. Would she have accepted your coffee and friendship? Who knows? She might not have been able to trust you or herself.
Peace to you, Doris. You are not responsible for her or her death.

A Plain Observer said...

It's a beautiful reflection on your part. People's actions are many times a cry for help,sadly those actions are represented in such a way that a wall builds between them and the ones who might be inclined to help making communication difficult.
She learned to hide her misery well. If a lesson is to be learned it is not only to see beyond people's facades, but more so for us not to ever hide behind one.

MunirGhiasuddin said...

We often do that. I mean judge people by their looks. When my PC heard that I got a book self published she asked "You?!" I was not insulted because she saw me as a woman from India not some one who can write English.

Anonymous said...

Reading this gave me the chills. We never know what is beneath the words and actions of others. We do all have 'Marys' in our lives, thanks for reminding us of this.

Ricardo Miñana said...

Muy bonito el escrito, es un grato placer pasar a leerte.
te deseo una feliz semana.
un abrazo.

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SM said...

touching story

K. Tree said...

Thank you for the reminder to not stick a label on someone without looking to see what's inside first.

Have Myelin? said...

A very powerful post.

Rinkly Rimes said...

I am sure your 'case histories' must be fascinating, since you told this one story so well.

Arooj said...

hard coated stuff usually have soft insides.

Linda Myers said...

There's always a story, even with the very difficult ones.

Cynthia said...

This is a great post. It makes me think about people who have annoyed me with their overbearing ways and attitudes. Eventually, I have found that they are hurting inside and that I need to practice what I preach: tolerance and acceptance. This can be a real challenge for me, at times! Every time, I visit your blog, I come away with a bookmark idea and place in my Etsy and Ebay shops! I think this bookmark should be about pain and loneliness, but in a lifting-up way....unsure. I believe the last time I visited, I came away with an idea from the story of the nurse/social worker who had to quit because she fell in-love with a patient--long time ago. The bookmark housed a Scripture about compassion and covering one another. Blessings!

Unknown said...

A very moving story. I tend to be judgmental too, and stories like this teach us the hard way not to be prejudiced against people. Thank you for sharing this.

Thanks also for visiting my blog (s), and your words of encouragement. Really appreciate it.

Unknown said...

Wonderful advice!

Deb Shucka said...

What a wonderful lesson for us all about judgement and assumptions. I appreciate your courage sharing this, and always so love reading your words.

John Going Gently said...

nicely written

Vilisi said...

Hi Doris, 'sandpaper' people are such a challenge for they rub us off the wrong way. I often don't have much patience for the 'Marys', I tend to think there is no excuse for bad manners but your story has made me pause to reconsider my attitude towards such people. Yes, I believe the Lord would want us to show mercy - just as others have shown me mercy on occasions when I have been a 'Mary'.

Mind Of Mine said...

Its a story like this which puts the diffcult relationships we have with people, work, family and friends, into perspective.