It must be

Since Mary K. died on Monday, I have been thinking of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16, the last major work he composed before he died. I have been asking the question he wrote on the manuscript, a childish question, I know, but an honest one – “Muss es sein?” (Must it be?) And I have heard her speaking in my mind, in that unmistakable voice, the answer – “Es muss sein.” (It must be!)   

I can just barely accept this. And my problem is that she was the one who could and would explain to me – someone so given to doubt – why this fits into God’s plan. Like so many of us, she had to comfort me last fall after she said quietly, “I am not long for this world.” 

We all know that her spirit lives on. And we cherish her spirit. But we also loved her face, especially her dear smile. We loved her small, strong hands which she often perched just above the flames of the gas burner in the kitchen. Her deep laugh … her “Oh my.” … her birthday cards. We loved her white ponytail hair, her eyeglass holder always around her neck, the way she made her tea like it was prayer. We loved her blue jeans and her Birkenstock sandals. And no one can promise these things to us except our memories.

It’s almost not good enough.

This might seem like a strange protest. She lived her 76 years like life was meant to be lived. She traveled the world, always for a cause. She loved in great quality and quantity, the “barren woman with many sons.” She had more close friends than anyone could have dared to pray for. She helped thousands of people better understand Christ by simply being herself. She came so close to her goal to “die with my sandals on.” Just a week before, she was downstairs amongst her sons, those eyes weary but still blazing. She fought injustice, but her own life was just and complete – she told us so. 

Mary K. once gave me a gift, a sign that simply reads, “Try Thanksgiving.” And we are thankful. That she did not suffer, that she died peacefully at Shalom House as she wished. That her sheer strength and will to live gave us all another 18 months to be with her after the first critical illness. That her cancer did not stop her life, but created, as Marie de Paul Combo put it, a time of harvest of those who loved her. We are thankful for the gift of faith, a gift from God, nurtured by her example. We are thankful for the gift of life, for her life. Thank you God, and thank you Mary K.

But still. Must it be?

I sat next to Mary K. two Sundays ago and she took my hand. I was amazed by the strength of her embrace. She squeezed tighter still, to say without words, I’ll let go now. But I wasn’t ready. So she held on. Then she squeezed again, but I wasn’t ready yet. So she held on. Then she squeezed with resolution and I understood. She let go.

So many people shared the weight of their joys and hopes and fears with her – rich and poor, of many faiths and colors – she bore them all with us. But God or fate or simply cancer asked her to let go, and she finally did. Now we must lift in this present world without her smile, her laugh, her sweet and good eyes. And I know we can, but oh my, Ms. Meyer, I for one don’t want to. Can we really, I mean really, do well without you?





  1. Kathleen Dolan Seipel said

    Dear Mike,
    You need to know that, by putting this tribute together you have given those of us in the “diaspora,” who have been touched by Mary Kay’s love and grace and the community of Shalom, a phenomenal gift. I will not be able to travel the miles to Our Lady and St. Rose for the celebration of Mary K.’s life, but through this site, I am able to share in the grieving, the joy, and the challenge that Mary K.’s life and death have left us with.
    This is so important to me, and I know I am not alone. You are not alone. We are part of this amazing community, spread far and wide, who try our best to carry Mary K.’s wisdom and peace and love with us.
    I am so deeply grateful to you.

  2. Kathleen,

    Thank you so much for your kind words. You were a part of the “harvest” — the people Mary K. loved who returned to be with her during her final months. And we were both so happy you came back. You are a member of a family of which I am just beginning to understand the size and scope. We are blessed.


  3. Linda Becker said

    Mike….thank you, thank you for saying exactly what is on my heart now and has been for the past several months. I remember every minute of the day Mary K told me about her cancer. I, too, was a complete mess, and she had to comfort me. I was no comfort to her. Each time I walked into Shalom House after that day, I completely fell apart. I prayed mightily (as Mary K would say) for God to stop me from crying. Eventually, it worked for that one day.

    I was with her all day Saturday before she died on Monday. She was unable to move or speak, but I felt so at peace just being with her in that room. As you mentioned, I cannot imagine life without her. I thought of something yesterday that I wanted to talk with her about, but then realized I could not.

    She was my spiritual guide and mentor, and I love her deeply as so many did. So, once again, thank you for this special tribute to her. Also, I wanted to say how much I enjoy being with you and Lori (I hope I spelled her name correctly) in our book group. It’s wonderful to be with someone (in fact most of us in the group) who knew and loved Mary K and to share our experiences of her with each other.

    With love In Christ,

    Linda Becker

  4. Peter Stauffacher said

    I guess, because of the comments, that this is your writing Mike. Thank you for the conversational open-heart approach/style. She became a jewel, as God wishes for all of us, if We DARE let Him! Breathe Deep… When we think we cannot without her, we must go Deeper, and in humbly turning to God and the angels, she will lead us to where ALL hearts seek to be, yet few seem to Dare to go- beyond the physically rich experiences God granted us in this Life, (they are fleeting due to some laws of relativeness) to the Eternal, the Priceless, the Holy….the Heart in God.
    Thank you for all of this Mike, Peter Stauffacher

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