One of my college roommates, Tom Nash, recently had his sister Mary pass away. Mary had Down syndrome and Tom offered this remembrance at the funeral Mass on July 3. He sent it to me and graciously gave me permission to share it with you.
Friends and Family,
We rightly mourn so loving a daughter, sister, niece, aunt and friend … as Mary Nash.
While we are thankful that she suffers no more, we feel the great void of her absence.
And why such a great void?
In speaking about those with Down’s Syndrome, many people say they feel only pity … and basically speak about mercifully saving such children from a life not worth living. Indeed, almost 90 percent of unborn children diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome are aborted.
We pray for their parents, that they may be reconciled with God and ultimately be reunited with their children in heaven.
In a column last fall, Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom repeated the 90 percent figure, but he did so while writing about a young man with Down’s Syndrome who had touched so many lives at a Metro Detroit high school, including through helping with the school’s football team that had made the state playoffs. And the young man touched many more lives through Mitch Albom’s much-read column (online link no longer available; Albom is also the author of “Tuesdays with Morrie” and other bestselling books).
Mary Nash also touched many lives, as we see from the many people who attended the wake last night and/or are here at the funeral today; from those who couldn’t attend but sent condolences; and from the many people she impacted growing up in Detroit, such as at St. Mary of Redford, our parish.
Amidst her great infirmities, Mary taught us so much about joy, humility, not holding grudges—so much, in a word, about love.
Mary had much to give and she desired to give it. For example, she was very perceptive to those in need, always ready with an affirming smile, or a hug, or a kiss. Or all three.
Mary had an indomitable spirit, whether looking forward to going to school for so many years, or participating in “Just Us” more recently, or spending time with her family in various ways.
Yes, Mary was always looking forward to life, not wanting to pull back, let alone, quit living.
Her favorite questions were, “What are we going to do” after this or that event? Or “What are we going to do tomorrow?” Or simply, and often, “And then what?”
Amidst Mary’s infirmities, God preserved her and others who have Down’s Syndrome from turning away from Him.
Hardly the actions of a person who felt her life was not worth living, or someone who was not actively engaged in living her life.
People will understandably ask … Why does God allow the suffering that Mary and others have endured and continue to endure? Speaking briefly about the mystery of Original Sin and the fallout from that may not seem too comforting at this moment.
And yet we need look no further than the Cross to see that Our Lord’s greatest triumph … was borne out of great suffering. Indeed, the greatest suffering.
And, amidst Mary’s infirmities, God preserved her and others who have Down’s Syndrome from turning away from Him. No small matter when we consider the context of everlasting life … and how short a time we all have here on this earth.
And we also have the quite tangible evidence of Mary’s life and others who have Down’s Syndrome. If you’ve spent any length of time with them, and you have eyes to see and ears to hear, as well as that important “open heart” that Father Chas spoke so well about in his homily, you can’t help but be humbled by their great joy and love.
They don’t have the mental capacity of quote-unquote “normal people,” and they often have physical impairments as well. And yet they have that joy … that love, despite their handicaps.
It reminds me of the “Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” or rather the Grinch who thought he had stolen Christmas. The Grinch realized that the most important things that the people of Whoville possessed … were not the things that he could take away.
And remember how the Grinch had a profound conversion when he finally realized that.
Similarly, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, and that important open heart as well, we will realize that Down’s Syndrome does not deprive a person of what’s most important in being human.
Ironically, and seemingly improbably, God’s love shines all the more through them. As St. Paul reminds us, “There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these … is love.” Mary loved … and she loved well. Last night at the wake I saw Jessica of Just Us. And we embraced and we were both in tears. And I thanked her and her Just Us colleagues for all they had done for Mary.
And Jessica responded simply, “She did more for us.”
Kneeling next to her bed, I would rediscover that indomitable, joyful spirit … as she would hold my hand, and give me a kiss on the forehead and say, “I love you.”
No doubt Mary’s advancing illnesses took their toll, and she undoubtedly had her difficult times.
But I’ll always cherish such times as when I’d drive home on the weekends from Ohio. Mary was already tucked in bed, but she’d wait up for me. She would be on oxygen, as usual, happily enjoying her rest after another long day.
And kneeling next to her bed, I would rediscover that indomitable, joyful spirit … as she would hold my hand, and give me a kiss on the forehead and say, “I love you.” And how she could communicate with her beautiful eyes and her playful, dancing eyebrows, and her radiant smile.
Oh yes, Mary could say so much, without ever uttering one word.
And even if she was semi-asleep, I would say, “I love you, Mary.” And she would respond with her eyes closed, “I love you,” and hold my hand.
I will miss that greatly, although I’m glad we got to share some of that one final time, over the phone, less than 24 hours before she died. Amidst her sufferings, the love, the laughter and the joy … came through as always, praise God.
In summary, quite frankly, Mary taught us how to love better, not only in her witness but in allowing us to help her.
And for all of this, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mom and Dad, who said “yes” to the gift of Mary, right from the beginning.
There is a line from the old Catholic marriage rite, the rite by which Mom and Dad were married, that says,
“Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome.
Only love can make it easy.
Perfect love can make it a joy.”
Mom and Dad, you have given us such a great witness to true love. You have shown that we can do all things in the Good Lord who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). That all things work to the good of those who love the Lord (Rom. 8:28); that God’s power reaches perfection in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10) … if we but say “yes” to Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church on a daily basis.
When we give that “yes,” we can be assured that God will sustain us in his incomparable peace, a peace which the world cannot give (cf. Jn. 14:27).
Mom and Dad, we commend you for your saintly witness. You were there loving Mary when she came into this world ... and you were there loving her when she departed. How fitting.
And your witness is ours to take forward in a world that is much in need of it.
When questions come up about choosing life … or not choosing life, tell people about your Aunt Mary and her love and joy amidst her struggles.
I particularly encourage Mary’s nieces and nephews, the younger generation, in this regard. When questions come up about choosing life … or not choosing life, tell people about your Aunt Mary and her love and joy amidst her struggles; tell them about your Grandma and Grandpa, Mary’s loving parents; and tell them about what’s possible with the Good Lord’s help. You’ve seen it all … firsthand.
In so doing, you and all of us will honor Mary Nash. We will also honor Mary by turning daily to the Lord Jesus and His Church whom she loved and who loved her so much. In the process, ask the help of Our Lady and the other saints, which now include our own Mary, for Jesus reminds us that he is the God of the living and not of the dead (Mt. 22:32). And any friend of God’s is a friend of ours … or should be.
In providing such a witness, in responding to Our Lord’s invitation, we hope and pray that one day, when we leave this world, we can all join Mary in that wonderful Heavenly Reunion, where Mary, freed from all her earthly infirmities, will shine forth magnificently in full bloom … forever.
Let us long for that day.
God bless you.
May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Thank you, Tom.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons. Photo is in the public domain.
- downseyes.jpg: Wikimedia Commons | Copyright by owner. Used under Fair Use doctrine