Greeting by Nichole Torbitzky
I am tempted to give you a long explanation of why this poem meant so much to Mary and what she wanted to say about life in general, her life and specifically her life with each of you. I will give you the short version. She believes that this end that we mourn together is also a beginning. One for her and one for us. From this end, we start and yet continue a dance that when it is right, has an end and a beginning where the words fall into their proper places and support one another to make sense for the next sentence. We are never separated from what came before us, from what is no longer with us. It is the foundation upon which we continue to make sense for ourselves and other people. Mary was proud to be part of that foundation. She hopes you will take the best of her with you as you build your next phrase and help others build theirs.
Good afternoon, friends. On this day, this space is made sacred with the warm spirit of love and caring. For we, the best beloved of Mary Herczog, have gathered to celebrate her life, to hold her up in human memory and divine mystery, to mourn our loss and to say goodbye.
We come here first to remember Mary; to remember her at her times of breathtaking wit and creativity as well as her times of illness; to remember her as writer, theologian; to remember her as one at the front of the fight for women with cancer like hers, standing for humor and sanity and we remember her as she was in her more vulnerable moments, relying on others to care for her.
We have come to remember.
We have come also to mourn-to mourn the silent spaces that she once filled with her sharp wit and quick laughter; to mourn the empty places she once filled with her commanding presence; to mourn for the loss of love growing into tomorrow, deepening and maturing more through years of joy and conflict; to mourn for the words she might have spoken or written.
Our tears of sadness for the loss of life, full and blossoming and beautiful, mingle with tears of sadness for the loss of possibilities yet to be met.
We are here to mourn.
We are also here to grow through an end into a beginning, to let go of Mary and, with memories gathered for the journey, gain strength for moving through the days ahead without her.
It is true that Mary would be just a tich unhappy with that-us going on without her. She loved oh so much to be at the center of things. She had more living, more loving, more writing, more traveling, more jazz and more food to do. I can hear her now, as she watches, as she surely is, from whatever it is that she has gone onto, wondering why more people aren't crying and fussing over the details of our gathering. Maybe she wasn't ready to go, although she was ready to end the suffering. Maybe we weren't ready to let her go, although we're glad her pain has passed. Do we pause here today to celebrate her life and how she touched us, to mourn her death, to let go of her, and to gain strength for meeting tomorrow.
Memorial Portrait by Nichole Torbitzky
If we loose our ability to mourn, to feel grief at a loss, we loose our ability to value life. Take this time to value Mary's life by mourning her loss. We do celebrate all that she was, good and funny, true and kind in the act of grieving the loss of all she was to each of us, of all she added to the world, of all she will be unable to add. I might at times, have to ask you to bear with me, as it is not easy to lead the funeral service of one you held so dear, whose loss I feel so keenly.
Mary gave me two strict instructions as we discussed what she wanted to have happen here today. Her first and firm request was that I do not talk about Jesus. She knows I'm a Christian minister and that she wanted me to lead you all today, and she knows that most of you would rather not get a perfectly good funeral mucked-up with all that Jesus stuff. So, after I said, "None at all" and she firmly replied, "None," I quickly agreed and I assure you there here-to-fore said-person will not be discussed. Rick has been instructed to tackle me if I slip up!
The second instruction she gave me in no uncertain terms is that if I hear anyone say, "God needed her more," I am to punch that person in the nose. When I quietly objected that I wouldn't possibly be able to punch anyone in the nose literally, but would try to give them the tongue lashing of their life, she flat out refused to accept it. Instead I was to punch them and then tongue lash them...the opposite order would be acceptable, but skipping the nose and punching part was right out! So, I implore you, please don't utter this phrase in my presence, or, out of respect for our Mary, I will be forced to punch you in the nose.
Most of you are not surprised to hear that Mary would feel strongly about something. And most of you are probably not surprised to hear that Mary would feel strongly about a horrible piece of theology about God. Even though Mary wasn't too churchy, didn't really have anything to do with him-who-shall-not-be-named, Mary loved God. To think that God could be so horrible and so selfish as to willfully take her away from us is a belief about God that she could not support. God doesn't take people away. God doesn't cause cancer. Mary believed, and I fully agree, that God is love. And love allows for freedom and choice and therefore the free workings of a sometimes all too painful world. Mary believed that cancer is free to do what cancer does. It is no respector of age, or gender, race, or religion. It doesn't care if Mary was one of the most brilliant and funny and talented and caring people we ever knew. Mary knew that cancer will do, what cancer will do. God never meddled with her freedom, she expected God do the same even for cancer. Even if it meant that she could fight the good fight and loose.
Maybe it sounds a little like it, but this isn't an abstract God, some Jedi force that balances the universe. Mary knew that she wasn't alone. Not only was she surrounded by her friends and family, she was also cherished by God. She believed that we were never promised that life would be easy, but that we were promised that we would never be alone on our journey. She knew that every fiber of her being, every beat of her heart, every breath in her lungs was cherished by God as a mother looks on her sleeping newborn...wondering at every detail, starting at every cough. She knew that God was with her, fighting with her and her doctor, suffering with her, calling her to the novel and the best possible. She loved her life to the very last moment. She lost her hair, the use of her right arm, and a lot of her energy, but cancer could never take away what was best and truest about Mary. She never lost her sense of humor, she never lost her passion. She never lost her wit, her sense of wonder about the world, her ability to care or her love of play.
And when it came to be that cancer will do what cancer does too well, Mary was still not alone and is not now. The God who fought at her side, who marveled at her very being, now takes her in wholly and sustains her perfectly. God mourns her loss with us. This world is just a little less for the loss of our Mary. Even though we knew it was coming, it was too soon. But now she knows...all of the things you wanted to say to her, but never did. In God she knows all of the ways you loved her but never saw, now she sees. In God, all of the beauty and intensity, novelty and good that came out of even the worst moments in her life, are saved, purified and magnified. All the rest, like so much chaff, is burned away into the triviality of nothingness. She knows completely how very much you love her and how much she means to you. She is not lost, but is now perfectly saved, and I believe, waiting and watching until that sweet someday when each of us will know completely too. This is, basically, what Mary believed about what happens after we are gone from this earth. That, she said, or, there is nothing, and then, what do I care? I think I laughed through my tears, at Mary, so practical and funny even when it was hard for her to get out of bed.
In the midst of that conversation about what will happen to her after this, she brought up this poem. It is a portion of the Little Gidding section of Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot.
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an ends and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone" and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
Then she told me a quote from the great American author and literary critic, Henry James, that helped her to sum up what she hoped she had offered to each of you with her life. James says, "Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second, is to be kind. And the third, is to be kind." I am quoting Mary when she said, "I didn't always get there, but I tried." She hopes that she dealt with each of you with kindness. She asks your forgiveness for those times when she didn't. She asks each of you to try to lead your lives with kindness too. Because she said, in the end, it is only your kindness that truly remains.
It was really kindness that she practiced with her Cancer Chick, newspaper articles and blog. Her goal with all of that was to show the kindness that only a fellow-sufferer can show. She wanted to let other scared and confused women know that this is gonna be "icky" but it will be OK. She wanted them and you to know, that even if the battle is lost, it will still be OK. She gave me another poem to read to you all to explain what she felt doing her Cancer Chick thing. It is the poem "Prayer to Persephone" by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Be to her, Persephone,
I almost didn't read it to you, because it took me a minute to understand that Mary considered herself to be filling the role of Persephone. Her goal was to take those women who were walking through the Hell of cancer like a little lonely child and assure them, "My dear, my dear, its not so dreadful here." But, she also wanted to assure you, those of you who mourn her loss, that where she is now, is not so dreadful. She wanted you to know that you too will be OK. Just like Mary, her concern for her eulogy was not that I make sure you all heard the great achievements in her life, her concern was for you. Her kindness still astounds me.
All the things I might not be:
Take her head upon your knee.
She that was so proud and wild,
Flippant, arrogant and free,
She that had no need of me,
Is a little lonely child
Lost in Hell, -Persephone,
Take her head upon your knee:
Say to hear, "My dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here."
Remembrances: Friends from Marymount High School
Hello, I'm Debi Hoffmann, and standing up here with me are Michele Ahern, Caroline Kallas and Jean Wagoner. We are the "Marymount Girls."
Our story begins 33 years ago, in the fall of 1977, when we met Mary at Marymount High School. Mary was the bookish girl with big glasses, and we were... not. By all outward appearances, we were opposites. But we soon learned we shared many interests: books, art, music, sports (yes gymnastics & figure skating are sports!) and a deep, deep love of chocolate.
Mary made us feel special, loved, wanted and important. She kept us together with annual slumber parties from Napa to New Orleans and points in between. She took us to Italy for her 40th birthday so that we could all share in seeing Pope John Paul II in front on St. Peter's Basilica. A couple of years ago we all went to Paris, and shopped and dined our way through the city of lights, until we declared this the best trip ever!
Mary gave me my first trip to Europe and taught me to love travel. Because of her, that beautiful dress in a Paris shop window, the one I just knew would never fit me, is hanging in my closet - true proof of Mary's magical powers.
One of Michele's favorite memories of Mary from high school is when we were all at Jean's house for a slumber party. We sat on the edge of the fireplace, arm in arm, singing "Fleetwood Mac's "Chain Keep Us Together." There were also the many holidays when Mary would come over to the house, walk right in, grab a glass of milk, sit down with the adults and make herself comfortable. Mary's confidence and ease with the world were very admirable.
Jean fondly remembers the summer she spent in England... something she would not have done if Mary had not been able to convince her to attend summer school together at Cambridge University in 1983. She watched as Mary wowed her professors and fellow students alike with her knowledge of Henry James and all things British, just as she impressed her friends with her distinct handle on a range of topics from the intellectual to pop culture.
Some of Caroline's fondest memories are traveling with Mary to help do research for the travel guides to Las Vegas, New Orleans and parts of Southern California. Mary was fearless in her ability to approach anybody and ask questions... like the dancer at a Vegas strip club "How do those tassels stay on?" Or the customer at the next table in a restaurant... "Oh that looks good, I'm writing a review, do you mind if I try a bite?" Mary had an abundance of curiosity about the world that was irresistible.
Mary's family was also important to her, and they came to mean so much to us as well. Debbie... you opened your home to us that first year at Marymount for a memorable birthday slumber party in the wilds of Malibu. Rich... you comped us tickets to the UCLA girls gymnastics meets, and opened your cabin home to us for an overnighter in Lake Arrowhead. The irrepressible Dick Herczog, who lived up to the "let joy reign supreme" slogan his family espoused, always made us feel welcome and loved. And Claudia Herczog, the ying to Mr. Herczog's enthusiastic yang, you always show great interest in our travels and travails. You are a remarkable family - thank you for allowing us to be a part of it.
And of course, Steve, an honorary "Marymount Girl," (the highest honor we give to a civilian), thank you for being so wonderful on our trips, showing infinite patience traveling with 5 strong-willed women, holding handbags and taking pictures of us. Thank you for loving our friend.
It's hard to imagine a world without Mary in it. She filled a room with her incredible brain power, her humor and her conviction that she thought you were an amazing person to be smothered with as much love as she could give you... and she had plenty of love to give. This was her greatest gift. She taught us to eat well (and often!), to live life, and to laugh, laugh, laugh. She believed in us and showed us our worth. All of us Marymount Girls share a deep and abiding bond, a sisterhood... a chain that will keep us together.
Thank you, Mary.
She's Feeling Fine, Really
From the Los Angeles Times Series
April 13, 1998
People have wondered whether I asked, "Why me?" The answer is no. Instead, all along I've said, "Why not me?" Women do get breast cancer, after all--118,000 a year in the United States. Though I do sometimes muse, why not me and, say, Courtney Love? Or those girls on "Friends," with their perfect hair. Actually, haven't you noticed how infrequently this seems to happen to the shiny happy people?
Statistics are, however, something I avoid, because they are never good when talking about women under 40 who have invasive breast cancer--which would be, of course, me. My serenity in the face of all this is helped tremendously by ignorance of numbers.
Something that has helped immeasurably has been the support I've gotten. For example, I throw an annual party to watch the Oscars. This year, people were flying in from around the country to come--and I know it wasn't because it's that fine a fete. When people will pay money, or give up frequent flier miles, just to come look at you (even if they use a party as an excuse), how can you help but feel better?
To employ a graceless, but serviceable analogy, consider life as a sort of card game. Everyone is dealt hands, some good, some bad. We all know people who have been dealt very bad hands, indeed, and in some cases have played them brilliantly. We also know those who have been given great hands only to squander them. The trick is to play your cards as well as you can, bluffing if you must. Just don't fold.
Some people may say that [this] attitude--this is bad, but it's not that bad, and it will be better, and it will be--is denial. But I read somewhere recently that what we now call denial is what we used to call hope. Or faith.
Remembrances: Friends from the Claremont School of Theology
This is just a little note to tell you how much you mean to me. I am so glad I went to Claremont School of Theology and that we became friends.
I always tell people how awesome and everywhere you are, and how I want to be you when I grow up. The reason I say that is because I want to have written a novel and articles and guidebooks. I want to have traveled and enjoyed each place I went. I want to know interesting people and do interesting things. I want to have a lot of friends who love me. I want to have a zest for life like you do. These are all the things I think about when I think of you. Of course, there are others, too.
When I think of bacon or chocolate or cupcakes, I think of you. When I think of New Orleans, or India, or Bali, I think of you. When I think of naps, I think of you (and Shannon).
I think the most important thing you have taught me is talk to people. Talk to anyone and everyone, learn their stories, be kind to them. When I talk to strangers, I think of you.
Another thing you taught me, back on our Plucky Survivors roadtrip, when I was contemplating whether to take the Greyhound bus back to Birmingham or to have my sister pick me up, was to do the thing that will give me the best story to tell at the end of it all.
I like thinking about you and the choices you would make if you were in my shoes. And from that moment on the side of the road in Montgomery until I die, I will think about you when I make choices. Whether it's about a cute new purse or a major life decision, I'll think about you. Though I don't know what-all choices I will make from here on out, I know one thing: Because I have known you, because you have been my friend and I have been yours, I have a better story to tell.
And that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.
I love you,
As Mike Nichols Used to Say...
From Merry Maladies
November 13, 2009
..."The champagne is flat and the caviar has run out--will it never end?"
I really don't have anything to complain about.
Right now, that is. Really. I'm not saying that to impress anyone with my stoicism. I'm certain I will have lots to complain about in the future, and believe me, Beloveds, I will. I'm saving up whinges and cuss words! But I might as well save it; there's only so many different ways to say the same thing. Right now, I might as well talk about food. What I'm eating now (pate and bread), what I plan to eat this weekend (bacon-wrapped hot dogs), that incredible sounding mole place the Times wrote up a couple of days ago (Wouldn't that be a fun place to have Thanksgiving dinner?)
Okay, has she lost her mind? Is she heavily in denial? Is she that shallow?
But also this: It's been twelve years. (The anniversary swooshed past us this year.) We have, and are doing what we can, within reason. We still will. The outcome may or may not be written already. So I could spend time brooding, or I could spend it living. What, exactly, does it mean, to be a fighter? I really don't know, but to me, it feels like a hearty dose of shrugging is involved. That's why I'm not going out of my way to have an existential crisis; it feels like a waste of precious time. Like having a generic Thanksgiving dinner.
My name is Patrick Horn. I am a professor at Claremont Graduate University and Mary was my teaching assistant. I'll let you guess who assisted whom.
I'll be reading from one of Mary's "Merry Maladies."
Stay Me, Oh Comfort Me
From Merry Maladies
January 6, 2010
So far, this is just a day like any other day. I feel pretty good, Diana's coming over, we are all going to the fabulous sashimi place, and then there is the Elizabeth Gilbert book. I may be in heavy, heavy denial, but it keeps me from feeling ghastly dread, and look at it this way; either there's just a whole lot of unavoidable bad coming at me, in which case I don't see the need to rush up and greet it, or I feel pretty swell, psychically and physically, and roll out with cookies and good books. Perhaps this latter course of action is unbearably shallow, or ungrateful, but I don't think so; if we can all agree our time is finite, then I might as well celebrate/take ruthless advantage of the goodness of this time, rather than fret about the unknown ahead.
My title above, Stay Me, Comfort Me, in the King James version, reads in its fullest "Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick." It seemed appropriate. Actually, I just lied; it really reads "for I am sick of love." (Never trust anyone using the Bible for their own purposes.) Which is part of why we love but can't use the King James Version as the linguistically dated narrator really means "I am sick with love." Full of love. That's a luscious kind of sick.
I am, I am sorry to say, Beloveds, sick, but I assure you that in addition to a clinical way also in that voluptuous way as well, that kind that comes smothered with love. And cookies.
Three days before she passed away, Mary received a Master of Arts in Religion from Claremont Graduate University. Her professor and dean came to her house in cap and gown to confer the degree. Everyone, including Mary, felt the pain of knowing she would never receive her doctorate and tears streamed down Mary's beautiful face. But it was an incredibly important moment to her, and seems to have brought her tremendous closure. She surprised us all, in true Mary fashion, by giving a powerful and indescribably gracious speech after the ceremony about how much it all meant to her and then came upstairs to join in on her own cupcake reception and to visit with friends.
Even so, talk of degrees seems so small in light of Mary's stunning intellect. We all know that Mary was absolutely brilliant. In school she was always a step ahead of us all, but the thing about Mary was that her brilliance was eternally delightful to those around her. She loved learning, loved teaching, and to be taught something from Mary was wonderful.
I won't read from her academic writing - her master's thesis will be bound and available at the Claremont Colleges library in a few months and published with the Center for Process Studies. So I'll just share two snippets from her letters that teach what Mary was always so good at teaching us: the kinds of things we need to appreciate.
Mary and I first connected over our love of Anne of Green Gables. In a letter she once wrote: You know, an interesting thing about LM Montgomery is that bad things happen in her books. People die, babies die, lovers break vows, girls are left pregnant and unmarried, beloved places are destroyed, people are sometimes just mean and they don't change. Yet the world is full of poetry. This is a good lesson.
Mary even wrote me what to do when we miss her: She writes,
"Just watch the LIVE STREAMING FEED OF A LITTER OF PUPPIES. Time flies by. I have learned this to my sorrow. Seriously, I can't leave. I leave and I think "what are they doing now?" and I go back to my computer. Steve had to literally shake himself last night to get back into writing head space, he was so hypnotized by them. I want to write and thank the people who put that camera up, what a generous thing to do, to share this with us all, to help our hearts.
Our hearts are all bigger and tenderer and wiser because we've known Mary. Thank you, Mary. We all love you.
Remembrances: Dr. James Waisman
I am Doctor Jim Waisman. I was privileged to be Mary's medical oncologist for 13 years.
I am very grateful to have been invited to speak. Actually I have quite a bit to say.
To say Mary, Steve and I spent "quality time" together is sort of like saying that Mary thought New Orleans was a nice town. I won't do justice to the hours in my office... but I did turn to Alfred North Whitehead because it was clear to me that somehow Mary's breast cancer moved her towards Whitehead.
I looked for what had compelled Mary - where was the breast cancer connection? He said: "We think in generalities, we live in detail". Mary was one of the brightest people that I ever knew - she certainly could have waxed eloquently about existential truths; life's meaning, etc.
But she chose to focus on detail: Humorous notes, movies, food, her trips, her German, her hair, her tumor markers, her websites - life with Mary was always engaged in the center of daily life.
And... it isn't easy to do with the haunting presence of metastatic breast cancer.
So, out of my desire to bear witness to what it is to live in the detail of breast cancer, I will speak to it as Mary and Steve lived, walked their dogs, ate their meals, traveled the world - lived inside life.
There was, of course, the detail of the breast cancer and from those details, for me, come my chance to honor the life and spirit of this good and great person.
Mary taught me about living IN life and WITH life.
And then the "detail" of life and breast cancer is always portrayed in the media as a "generality:. When you think about your daily life routine, think about adding the following:
- 13 years since first diagnosis of breast cancer
- 9 years since metastatic cancer to the liver where the average life expectancy is 18 months
- 7 relapses, 7 remissions
- 10 different chemotherapy regimens lasting several weeks to many months
- 47 different CT scan visits
- 87 chemotherapy visits
- 118 lab blood draws
- 207 appointments with me
A lot of time waiting anxiously for tests, waiting anxiously for test results - sometimes with hair, often, without it.
I know just a little about Mary's day to day life. Steve knows so much more. Steve can teach so much about the word HUSBAND, the word SUPPORT
In the end, I thanked Mary for letting me be her physician on this journey - she didn't like the words journey or struggle - so when I asked her what would best describe her feelings she said, "TRIBULATION".
She grasped the detail. She lived it - Bravely.
So Mary, forgive this generality... You were a wonderful teacher and an extraordinary human being. I was honored to be your doctor.
Remembrances: The Fat Pack
Nettie DeAugustine; Audrey Fusco; Rick Garman; John & Fiona Hoskins; LeeAnn Lambright; Steve Mirkin; Wesly Moore; Diana Schwam; Robin Sherwin; Chuck Taggart; Suzanne Zumbrunnen
From Frommer's New Orleans
New Orleans should come with a warning label.
No, no, not about hurricanes. Forget that. That's like solely identifying San Francisco and Los Angeles with earthquakes. No, this is about the city itself. See, there's this group of residents whom locals call the "never lefts." They are the people who came to New Orleans as tourists: came for Mardi Gras, came for Jazz Fest, or just came. And the city worked its magic on them. They listened to street musicians around Jackson Square. They danced to brass bands in clubs at night. They gazed at lush tropical courtyards hidden behind unassuming building fronts. They strolled down streets time seemed to have forgotten. They kissed beneath flickering gas lamps. They ate incredible meals and topped them off with beignets at 3am at the Cafe du Monde while watching the passing human parade. They found themselves perusing newspaper ads for houses and apartments, because as their trip's scheduled end date came and went, they were still in New Orleans. They came for Mardi Gras, came for Jazz Fest, just came -- and never left.
New Orleans does that to people.
Mary did that to people, too.
We have just a few minutes to say what can’t aptly be conveyed in hours or days – but in our feeble attempt to prepare some words for today, we all agreed on one simple expression that became manifest:
FAT PACK: THIS. JUST. SUCKS.
Our stunningly brilliant, brilliantly stunning Mary is gone. And as we were upon first knowing her, we are inexorably, unconveyably altered.
It was New Orleans that initially brought the core group of us together, but it was Mary who kept us together.
Several of us knew each other peripherally, but the original Fat Pack (so named after a lurid tour of Vegas fine dining and grinding, establishments instigated by – surprise! – Mary) actually coalesced on a Trailways bus.
We sat across the aisles, scattered rows apart. But after three days of touring swamps and prairies of the west Louisiana, the aisles were crossed, a new confederacy was created, and we had formed the rudiments of our treasured family of friends – since expanded – but with Mary at the crux, then as now as always.
We were moths to her flame, mere chips in her cookie, and need we say, pigs at her trough. But oh, what a trough – of intellect and inspiration, gastronomy and guffaws. Deep, soul-rocking guffaws.
To take the food metaphor well beyond where it ought to go yet again, she was – our gluten. Oh yes, she and Steve plied us with copious chocolate, bacon and grace. But that was gravy. She was our passionate, pure-hearted, chewy nougat center.
As Miss Maudie said to Scout, “Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. Oh Mary, Our Mockingbird, you sang your heart our for us, and we love you
You have left this world and become a dream, and there is a gaping, unfillable hole in the fabric of our lives. Know that, like those enduringly seduced by New Orleans’ charms – of whom you wrote so eloquently, we are your own never lefts, and you are, forever, ours.
Remembrances: The Hochman Family
In her last paper, "On 'Wide Sense Agnosticism' and Process Theism," Mary tells us,
Having contemplated the problem of God in an age of skepticism, an age of scientific advancement, of myth dissolving, of disenchantment, I have come to my own belief conclusion. I do not believe God exists. However, I also do not believe that God does not exist.
The many conversations that I had with Mary at various family events, in many ways, revolved around that very question: is it reasonable to believe in God, or spirit, or divinity? While "I" approached the question from an experiential and observational viewpoint, Mary always grounded the conversation back to the study of philosophy and theology. Her approach was academic and thoughtful.
We debated with passion and fervor, with full commitment. I think that was Mary's general approach to life. Play with intensity and steadfastness. Always strive, and always seek the truth.
I enjoyed discussing the nature of existence and the constructs of Spirituality with Mary. She inspired me to hone my viewpoint, she encouraged perfection of argument and she motivated me to gain a deeper understanding of myself and my beliefs. I will miss those conversations, for in pondering the unanswerables, we strove together on the quest towards truth.
Karen Hochman Brown:
Spending time with ones own family can be challenging enough, but in-laws? It's a bit like participatory theater. You enter the scene mid action and without a script. So how you interact with this lot speaks quite literally to character.
Daniel just spoke of his more recent exchanges with Mary. Charged conversations encompassing one of the biggest questions of all, the nature of God.
But it was Auntie Mary, with a few well placed words, that altered Heather's self concept, helping her mature into the beautiful young woman she is today.
Auntie Mary was also responsible for putting a dog in our lives. She found it impossible think that children could grow up in a home without a dog. So with her expert guidance, we rescued Dexter, our first.
A role I have been comfortable with over the years is as menu planner and caterer. So of course, my Sister-in-law Mary was able to slip right in next to me as coconspirator - spicing things up with adventurous twists on traditional spreads. Quite often involving bacon. And more recently embracing our co-Sis-in-law Mandy's culture adding dim sum alongside chicken soup.
My mother Ruelene, always wanted to travel with family but found the arrangements complicated with a large group as she didn't like flying, preferring the leisurely pace of the train. So on the event of her 75th birthday, the entire clan traveled to San Francisco via Amtrak. Now Mary suffered from severe motion sickness and the northbound trip nearly did her in. That, combined with the home-bound train clocking in at 10 or more hours late, Mary did the near impossible, she got our mother on an airplane for the first time in over 50 years.
When my husband Neil came into this same meshugah family, he charmed them through helping out with menial tasks. Washing dishes, moving furniture. What Neil most loved and admired in Mary was her ability to come to these in-law family gatherings and actually engage each and every member in meaningful conversation. Not just at the dinner table, but one-on-one in such a way that when Mary was focused on you, it was if there were only the two of you in the room. And as our elder members grew older and more frail, Mary lavished tenderness and compassion, talking softly or just sitting quietly, holding hands.
Mary only recently sat down with Sean and his fiancee Caress for a quick session of marriage counselling. After being rejected on her suggestion to just run off, get married and have the big to-do some time later - something that worked for her and Steve, she recommended they take some time after the ceremony, before being tossed around by photographers, friends and family, to go off to a quite place alone and reflect on what they have just done. To experience the first moments of being married.
And isn't this exactly what Mary would have hoped for us all. To be able to take time out from the overwhelming and the mundane - to experience now. All the flavors, the people, the dogs.
Remembrances: The Herczog Family
I met Mary when I was 11 years old. We watched Grease, and she pointed out Danny and Sandy's crow's feet. I was thrilled - no one had ever showed me anything like that before! And from that moment, I was hooked on her.
I read the books she loved, wore the clothes she let me have, and started a fascination with cemetaries. I don't remember who I thought I was before that summer I spent with my new family in LA, but by the time I left, I wanted to be Mary. I had found my first real-life idol, and what's better was she liked me too, and wanted to share everything she knew with me.
As the years progressed, that never changed. Mary took my education seriously, and I gobbled up anything she would teach me. From clubbing out in Hollywood years before I was legal to my first Sephora make-over to my first sushi dinner, Mary showed me life was for trying new things and taking chances.
Last year at my first Jazz Fest, Mary continued to tutor me. Cochon de lait, yes. Ducking into the tents purely for a reprieve from the heat, yes. Leaving a John Boutte set before he's finished, never. Life's too short to miss a note of John Boutte. More than anything, I'm happy I learned Fest from it's reverent mistress.
I know, forevermore, if I want some Mary I can find her in my Viva Glam lipstick and in every cemetary I pass. She's in Zankou Chicken, Central Market muffalettas, chocolate donuts, fried pickles, and Cadbury Creme Eggs. She's in my dark purple nail polish, the word "plucky", and every Golden Retriever I see. Mostly though, she's in me - I wouldn't be the person I am today without her guidance, love, and inspiration.
See ya at Jazz Fest, Mary.
So Thirty-something years ago, Mary had a sign posted on her bedroom door that said simply... "Collie Lovers Only". Right next door, a similar sign said: "Collie Exterminators only." I wish I could tell you I was only steering her toward Golden Retrievers, rather than being a bratty older brother.
Good morning everyone... I'm Mary's very PROUD older brother, and on behalf of Mary's immediate family, I'd like to first thank everyone for coming out today, it means a lot to us. Also, a lot has been said about the dedication of two prominent men in her life, Steve and Rick. As far as I'm concerned, it CANNOT be enough, and it was a great comfort to know Mary was always well cared for. And to Dr. W, I must thank you so much for giving us an extra 13 years.
I must also give special recognition to Mary's high school and lifetime friends. Not many people can say they are still close with the same group of friends for 30 years, since high school. A long time ago I noticed that Mary sometimes had trouble looking people directly into their eyes to express her inner feelings, even though her writing did that so well... so please let me channel her still living spirit to look directly into the beautiful souls of Caroline, Debbie, Jeanne and Michelle, and say on her behalf: I LOVE YOU ALL.
One of Mary's first moments in the public eye was when she danced on stage with Bruce Springsteen in the early 80s. You could say she's been on stage ever since, but it seems to me they gave the nickname THE BOSS to the wrong person. But it took that kind of person to battle cancer before a large audience for as long as she did, and there are a lot of newspaper and Internet readers out there that drew strength and inspiration from that.
Lastly, though it wasn't Mary's specific goal to receive a Master's Degree in Philosophy of Religion and Theology---- we all knew that if she were healthy she could have written her Doctoral Thesis in her sleep. I hope she's writing it now. But I'm comforted to know I was able to tell her recently that she had already completed several Doctorates in my eyes:
Her Doctorates strength and courage... pretty obvious to everyone. OK let's be fair... I suppose she did minor at one time in monopolizing dinner time conversations... BUT... she also earned a Doctorate for her sense of humor in the face of extreme adversity, and it never ceases to amaze many of us that this child who refused to eat anything but cream cheese in a bun when she was two years old somehow aced food appreciation (more specifically chocolate appreciation). I lost count of how many times I wanted to jump on a plane to fly to wherever she was at the time and order whatever thing she was describing so well.
But for now I'll just sum it up by saying she deserves a Doctorate for living life to its absolute fullest.
I decided to close with a quote from To Kill a Mockingbird, because that book meant a lot to Mary, who read more books in a week than most people would in a year, and because I gave her her first copy of the book many years ago:
Atticus Finch said something that seems very appropriate here today;
I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.
Here's to you, Dr. Herczog.
As many longtime family & friends know, when I was 12 and my brother was 10, our parents took us on a mini-vacation to the mountains near Lake Arrowhead to tell us in a special way the exciting news that they were pregnant.
That night I went to bed and was silently saying my secret good night prayers, which I had said habitually for as long as I could remember: "God bless Mommy & Daddy & Dickie & Debbie, and God please send us a baby".
I jumped out of bed, ran downstairs, reported my very private longterm wish come true to our parents. Dad paused, cleared his throat and said "that's ok, but don't EVER do it again!"
I wrote to Mary a few weeks before her death to make sure she knew that I didn't really want a baby, I wanted a SISTER. Our parents let me choose her name, but I will remain forever serendipitously stunned that she was so intelligent, talented, quick witted, funny, with an unbelievable zest for life, the Merry (Mary) of Merry Maladies.
Her favorite cereal as a little girl and ever since, was "LIFE" cereal. Isn't that just ironically & happily telling?
Our Dad used to always say "Let Joy Reign Supreme!"
How right he was and how well she did that almost everyday.
My sister, my inspiration, I love you, we love you, & thank you.
Tribute by Steve Hochman
Thanks Rick and Diana. This day could not have gone on without all the work you did. And thanks Nichole - wonderful, just wonderful.
This is Sarah Mehaffey. Mary knew Sarah since, well, before Sarah was born.
This is Rebecca Glade. She's one of a group of New Orleans friends who Mary took under her wings back when the girls were, what 11? 8?
I know there are a number of other women and girls here who were still children or teens when they first met Mary. Would all of you stand up and come join me here.
To me, Mary was the most MARY when she spotted - and saw a chance to nourish - a kindred spirit in one of these people. She reveled, thrived in the role of friend, mentor, confidante - an adult these young girls could tell anything and know that they'd get supportive responses, if not always exactly what they wanted to hear. And of course there would be books exchanged and discussed, issues both social and personal detailed and food consumed, whether exotic fare that Mary would encourage her young friends to at least give a try - you can always spit it out. Just take a bite, you can spit it out! And of course the bags of junk food fueling the lively gab-fests they had.
Mary would joke that she cultivated these relationships so that we'd have someone to take care of us when we got old. You're not off the hook!
But she really did it because she saw herself in each and everyone of these women. She saw something that she could draw out, help flourish and bloom, help them find their paths and see their possibilities. And seeing that in them, watching them grow, helped her see more in herself. Yes, she inspired them. But they inspired her - and that's not just a platitude. I saw it happen, time after time.
Some of them wrote Mary letters in the last weeks and days, words that moved both her and me. I'd like to ask Sarah and Becca to read some of what they wrote.
Sarah wrote this note in January, after Mary let people know that there was to be no more treatment:
I was so sorry to read your last email. I am just so sad that you and Steve have to go through this. I'm so glad that I got to see you this summer. Seeing you is certainly the highlight of my summer, in turn, making the summers the highlight of my year. What I'm trying to tell you is you are a truly important person in my life and even 3,000 miles away, you knew when to be there for me and when I needed it. I have always felt that you understand me more than most of my immediate relatives, and I have always, and will always consider you family. Friends are the family you choose, and thank you for always being my friend, and not just because you're a friend of my parents. Thank you for being in my life. You have taught me more than you know. You, alone, encompass more positive human qualities than any other single person that I know. I don't know how you can do that, but it's really amazing. I love you Mary, I have loved you so much since I was a little girl. I hope we can come out to see you in March.
And Becca wrote her letter just days before Mary passed.
First: Congratulations on getting your masters in theology! It sounds like it was a great ceremony, and the work you've done on it is amazing. I still remember you sending me theology books right after Katrina. Your studies have always blown me away.
I love you. You already know that, which is good, but isn't enough. You've always lived pretty far away, so when I was younger, everything about you was made of legend. This was particularly easy, since you're interesting, and we always did exciting things. I still love the time that we went into the projects to follow the Mardi Gras Indians. And the time you gave Yasmin, Caitlyn, Rachel, and me money to buy junk food and we stayed up late talking and goofing off. And every crawfish boil at the Abbyads. When I was younger though, it was even more than that. When we would chat on AIM--that really mattered. You were this amazing adult who seemed to know basically everything and who encouraged me to read new things and apply for programs that would help me. You were one of the major reasons I applied to volunteer at both the zoo and to study creative writing at NOCCA.
More importantly, you shaped my ideas on so many things, particularly right and wrong. When I'm not sure what to do or nervous about something, I try to think of what you would approve of or what I'd want to be be able to tell you later. I don't always do that thing, but when I don't do it, I feel like I'm doing the wrong thing. Please don't think I'm exaggerating. Most of my important decisions are made that way.
I still pretty much think you're magical, or at least more interesting, energetic, and knowledgeable than basically every other person I've met (which is basically the closest thing you can be to magical until someone is able to fly). The fact that you spent time with me when I was younger, and that you still do today really makes me feel special.
I'm not really good at affectionate statements most of the time. It's a big deal for me that you are so good at them, because they're simple but are really really brave. I try to imitate you in that way these days.
I love you,
In her last days, as her incredible brain and amazing mind - and in the course of her philosophy studies we had some arguments, well, discussions about the difference between brain and mind - anyway, it they to betray her and she increasingly couldn't put together the right words to express herself, she'd sometimes when wanting to show pleasure or agreement just give a little smile, eyes sparkling and say, "Yay." That's really the essence of so much she did and said anyway, that it was enough. So I ask all of you who knew her, all who were touched by her, to for a fraction of a second put aside your sorrow and for my amazing, loving, embracing Mary join me in saying a simple, "Yay!"
Second Line Parade Photographs
Photo Courtesy Iris Schneider
Photo Courtesy Iris Schneider
Photo Courtesy Iris Schneider
Photo Courtesy Iris Schneider
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