This year has not been an easy one for me.
As many of you know, my sister Mary passed away in January this year.
Her death from breast cancer was both shocking and devastating. She was not only my sister, she was a daughter, mother, wife and friend to many.
I write this on the day of the fifth birthday of Lola, Mary and Sam’s daughter. My niece will have very few, if any, real memories of her mother. Of course, Lola, and her brother, Ned (6) both have no idea of the extent of their loss and only as they grow older will they really come to understand how different life has been, and is, without their mother in it.
The support from friends, family and many InSight/blog readers has been much appreciated, not only at the time of Mary’s death, but throughout the year. The most common question to me being; ‘How are you coping?’
The real answer has been and still is; ‘not very well’.
This was brought home to me when I flew to Hobart a couple of weeks ago to be with my mother, father and two sisters and our respective families, for Saturday 8 December, the day Mary should have been celebrating her 45th birthday.
Instead, we gathered to share our grief and mourn the passing of Mary. A number of relatives, as well as some of Mary’s friends, either dropped by my parents’ house or phoned to speak to us. It was very comforting to know other people were sharing our grief and sense of loss.
Over the weekend, as I remembered my sister, I tried to define exactly what it was that I had lost with her death. What I concluded was that Mary was the constant witness to various significant milestones in my life; my first school leadership role, the first job, my only overseas adventure as a child (living in Fiji) and my only experience of living and working overseas (London). These were all experiences that Mary had witnessed firsthand.
Those were all periods of my life where I grew up just that little bit faster and had experiences that significantly shaped the person I have become.
More than any other person, Mary knew the person I was and how I grew to be the person that I am now. She was never anything other than a supportive and loving sister who always maintained regular, meaningful contact, even though she lived on the other side of the world, and had done so for more than 20 years.
Mary was not one to talk about herself, so her professional and personal life in the UK was one that that we rarely got to see through the eyes of another person.
We all experienced just a little of that other life when Mary’s ex-boss, Sue, flew to Hobart with her husband, Ed, to be with us at Mary’s Celebration of Life in late February.
This is part of what Sue shared about Mary’s life as an ICT Project Manager at Sue’s business, an educational consultancy:
The role of Project manager was vital for the success of the project and we knew that it would be difficult to find someone with a good education track record who was also passionate about ICT. They don’t hang together because normally people who in 1999 loved ICT didn’t have the right background or personality to do this job.
However once Mary came into the room we knew immediately that she was the person we were looking for and the interview quickly turned into a real discussion about how she would do the job and what she saw as the key objectives for the future success of the project. She had it all. An excellent background as a teacher, a passion for ICT and a personality which we knew would win the hearts and minds of not only her team of tutors but also and most importantly the confidence of the Head teachers who in England at least, we knew would look upon this project with concern.
Mary was like a ray of sunshine amongst the gloom, with an infectious energy and positivity which ensured that she took people along with her and motivated them to succeed and more importantly to want to succeed. Mary managed a team of 25 tutors who were required to go into schools, and offer training and support to the teaching staff to enable them to deliver the curriculum, whatever the subject area, using the medium of ICT. This was a new and very innovative approach but with Mary in charge we had no worries at all.
Once the project got underway in 2000 it was obvious that Mary was going to be a great Project Manager. She managed her team exceptionally well and I can say that some of them were a bit difficult and in some cases a bit nerdy! She smoothed over the difficulties and stepped in when necessary but never ever undermined her staff team. She never came to me with problems without a solution. She was an absolute joy to work with – she worked so hard!
Sue finished her eulogy with these words:
Mary had a love of life, a positivity and an ability to shine in all circumstances. I feel proud to have been given the opportunity to work alongside her. We had such fun and really enjoyed ourselves; you just couldn’t be miserable with Mary around. She wouldn’t allow it.
She was focussed on what she wanted to achieve and had the ability to take people along with her. All our colleagues in the company have told me over the last few weeks how much they will miss her and how important she was to them. They all loved and respected her.
I have been thinking a lot about her since that day when Sam’s e mail arrived and told me the terrible news.
I have concluded that there are some people in life who you know and work alongside who when they pass on you feel sad but then you get on with your life.
However there are those like Mary who you meet, get to know and enjoy their company; who when they are no longer there leave a huge gap in your life which cannot be filled.
It all seems unbelievable.
All you have left are precious memories.
After I posted my blog about Mary’s death there were numerous comments including this one by Mina Waters:
I was one of the “ICT Teacher Training team” you mentioned. Mary was a great inspiration to me both personally and professionally. She was a wonderful caring person with rare human qualities; compassion insight and leadership.
And this one by Emily Gray:
I am so sorry to hear of this terrible loss, Mary taught me in primary school and she was such a vivacious and interesting lady, who always had time for her pupils. All of us who were taught by her at Icknield Walk in Royston, near Ashwell, are grieved to have heard this news.
This holiday season, as we all gather with family and friends to enjoy the festive season, please take the time to acknowledge and appreciate those people in your life who have contributed to you.
There’s no guarantee that you will ever see that person again.