Tonight, my heart is heavy as I learn of the passing of a woman who was so much a part of my formative years. Though we rarely saw eye to eye, she always had my best interest in mind. She and her family are present in nearly all of my teenage memories, as both of her children were a big part of my adolescence. She played many roles in my young life.
As my math teacher, Mrs. Taylor wasn't very successful in helping math make sense to me, though she tried her hardest. She was a determined and relentless teacher, always pushing her students to strive for excellence. The image of her slight body perched on the edge of a stool and curled around her ELMO projector is burned forever in my mind.
As a BETA sponsor, she helped us prepare and perfect presentations, chaperoned our outings, and mentored us. I spent many days, evenings, weekends and miles of road with her in this role.
As my best friend's mother, Mary Jane was sometimes infuriating to me. She was a fiercely protective mother, and I can remember more than a few times trying to talk her into allowing some adolescent shenanigans, like driving ourselves the thirty (curvy mountain road) minutes to the movies mere months after getting our driver's licenses. I spent many evenings snuggled on Mary Jane's couch, watching Buffy, Dawson's Creek, and more. I can remember her imparting little morsels of wisdom upon us with fair frequency. She would glance up from her spot in front of JT's Blocks, flick her cigarette, and just drop a pearl of knowledge to blow your mind. Like the night we were talking about how big boobs were over rated (or some discussion about boobs, in any case), and she glanced up long enough to interject, "All you need is a mouthful. For nursing babies, you know."
As my boyfriend's mother, she was... not-quite-but-almost-fear-inspiring. She raised a son who was sweet and respectful, always made you feel loved, and was highly intelligent and well rounded, able to hold a conversation about most anything. Again, she was very protective, and when that relationship ended, it changed my relationship with Mary Jane as well.
One of my most recent memories of Mary Jane happened several months ago when I ran into her at the coffee shop. Her disease had already progressed to such a point that she was using a motorized chair, and she sat my curious little man in her lap and took him for a spin in her chair.
Mary Jane was opinionated and strong willed, just as I am. She was intense in everything she did. She had a strong belief in her church, her God, the sanctity of marriage. Her philosophies were often very different from my own, and she was always ready to defend her views. She taught me a lot about believing in yourself, and standing up for what you believe in. (As I wrote that sentence, I remembered that ending a sentence in a preposition was a pet peeve of hers. To this day I can't listen to someone ask, "Where's that at?" without biting back the reply, "Between the 'a' and the 't'.") It was hard to watch her fall victim to a disease that limited her physically, and though my heart is aching for her family and all those who knew and love her, I'm joyful to know that she is out from under the weight of that disease, and her suffering has ended. She will be very missed by all of us, but her spirit was strong, and lives on in our memories forever.