I have had the privilege and honor of knowing Mary Anne Ruddis for a very short amount of time. But we are fast becoming friends and sharing our work and sharing our writing and in the process, I am amazed at her grace, at her candor, but most of all by her wit, wisdom and love for life.
As so often happens in Spokane, where I live, my life crossed with Mary Anne's about five years ago when we were both presenting at a conference, but it wasn't until just last month, that we were able to really sit down, talk and share our stories. And now, we meet weekly as part of a writer's studio.
If you were walking down the street and you saw Mary Anne and you met her 20-year-old son and you chatted with them casually, you would not know the whole story. You might walk away thinking that Mary Anne is single; Mary Anne has one son; Mary Anne works for a nonprofit organization. But if you stuck around, if you stopped and listened and watched and heard, you could meet Mary Anne's daughter Nikki, who at 16 months old, was diagnosed with cancer and after surgery and aggressive chemotherapy, the cancer disappeared only to reappear again six years later in the form of leukemia resulting from her previous chemotherapy.
And if you peered closer, you would meet Mary Anne's husband, Kerry, who had the courage and grace to tell Mary Anne about his cancer over dinner one night when they were alone. During this time, Mary Anne and Kerry fought his cancer aggressively too. And during his treatment is when Nikki was diagnosed a second time.
Fifteen years ago, on Easter Sunday, Kerry died. And four months later, Nikki died.
There isn't one person who wouldn't agree that Mary Anne had had her lifetime's share of grief. There is no one who could deny that Mary Anne above all else deserved the "no more trauma for life" cards. Don't we all yearn for one of those. The card that says, "You are done. You have had enough trauma, enough grief in your life. And now you get to walk freely without fear or worry."
But that, as we know, is a fiction that doesn't exist.
And so just as Mary Anne and her two sons, Michael and Matthew, were piecing their lives back together, the absolute unthinkable happened. A teacher called Mary Ann in to say that her once very bright son, Michael, was struggling in school. After a brain tumor was found and treatment was attempted, Michael died at the age of 12.
And so, young Mary Ann, by the age of 42, when most of us are re-evaluating our careers and celebrating our children's milestones, had buried her 9 year old daughter, Nikki, her 35 year old husband, Kerry, and her 12 year old son Michael.
This would be the undoing of any person.
But Mary Anne has taken the unbeaten path, and instead of treading carefully, instead of losing hope, she has chosen to embrace life. And that is not to say that Mary Anne denied her grief. Certainly, there were days and there are days, that I am certain when Mary Anne questions and rages and wonders.
But on most days of any given year, you will find Mary Anne, Executive Director of Candlelighters of the Inland Northwest, providing support for families whose children are diagnosed with and dealing with cancer. You will find her counseling parents and offering hope and giving out 'hope bags' and most importantly offering her kindness and her grace and her belief in embracing life.
And so take a moment, visit their Web site, make a donation, say a prayer because somewhere out in the world, for the very first time, a family is hearing the words, "I'm sorry. You child has cancer."