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Remembering Mary

Author: Kayley Mendenhall, 3/6/2014 8:00:00 AM

Remembering Mary

About a year ago, a woman named Alison Corey contacted me and said she needed help. Her friend, Mary Hammond, a long-time St. Charles Bend nurse, had been diagnosed with ALS and she wanted to get the biggest team together possible to join Mary at the ALS walk in September.

Like all large organizations, St. Charles receives a lot of requests for sponsorships for various causes and we simply can’t support them all.

But this one was different.

Not only was Mary one of our own, her desire to raise funds for ALS support, awareness and research was genuinely selfless. She knew her time was limited and she was adamant about using every moment to make a difference in a disease that had seen little improvement in treatment since Lou Gehrig made it famous. He died from ALS more than 70 years ago.

I met with Alison and Mary for coffee. Mary told me about her family’s history with ALS, how she had enrolled in a genetic study after her mother died from the disease and how she had been diagnosed herself in December 2012. We talked about her son who is in his early 20s and doesn’t know yet if he is a carrier of the gene linked to ALS. She hoped that by speaking out and involving herself in research she might make a difference for him and for others diagnosed with ALS in the future.

Mostly, I remember how amazed I was by Mary’s sense of humor and her ability to cherish every moment. As we talked, Mary said she had given herself a certain amount of time to wallow after her diagnosis. Then she picked herself up and decided to make the most of the time she had left. She knew that every moment she spent with others was creating a memory they would carry forward of her after her death. "Right now," she said, "I’m making a memory for Alison of the day we sat in the deli and talked with Kayley."

She may not have realized that she made a memory for me that day as well, and that I have tried — sometimes succeeding better than others — to remember her words and live from her example. Because, as Mary said, we all have a guillotine hanging over our heads and the only difference between her and us was that, with her diagnosis, the light at the end of the tunnel had become crystal clear. It’s an excellent reminder of how we can all do more to live in the moment and treat each other well — no matter how long we have to live.

I am honored that Mary shared her story with me. That I was able to share it with others within St. Charles and that Bulletin reporter Lily Raff McCaulou was inspired to meet with Mary and share her story with the community at large.

Thanks in part to these efforts — and a great deal of work by Mary’s close friends — supporters surrounded her on a brilliantly sunny day for the ALS walk last fall.

"Thank you to my amazing St. Charles family for all of the love and support you have shown me," Mary wrote on the St. Charles Facebook page after the walk. "With you, we WILL find a cure for this horrible disease that affects so many. I will always be filled with gratitude for being a part of such a wonderful organization."

Mary passed away peacefully at home on Monday evening. Since her death, many caregivers have reached out and shared the impact she had on their lives. I can say, without doubt, that St. Charles is grateful to have had Mary as part of its team for more than 15 years.