Today would have been the 79th birthday of my sister-in-law, Mary Ellen Miller. She made her transition in 2015 after living many years with Alzheimer's disease. It was a very sad life ending for a magnificent woman with an incredibly good heart.
Mary Ellen came into our family at a young age. She grew up in New York, and came each summer as a young child to live with my aunt and uncle through the Fresh Air program. Via Google, I see that this program, founded in 1877, still operates today. The program slogan is "Because a summer can last a lifetime." That certainly proved true for Mary Ellen. It was through these summertime visits that she met my brother Ken. They married in 1965 when I was nine years old. I was thrilled with my new sister-in-law. The marriage was not smooth and easy, however, as Mary Ellen was Catholic and my family was Lutheran. This was such a "bone of contention" back then that Mary Ellen agreed to become a Lutheran to keep the peace.
Soon my nephew Kevin was born, followed by three sisters, Cheryl, Judith and Kelly, over the course of seven years. Their family lived at most 12 miles from us, so I spent a lot of time with them, helping Mary Ellen with the kids, and thus beginning my mothering training. With my own home life deteriorating for myriad reasons, being with Mary Ellen and the children was an enormously welcome respite. I could talk with Mary Ellen about things that I didn't feel I could discuss with my parents. I trusted her. She was a saint in my eyes, especially being able to put up with my nasty, volatile and demanding brother.
When the children were quite young, Mary Ellen loaded all four into their VW Beetle and drove from central Pennsylvania to Oklahoma to visit her sister. That they all returned home alive is proof of her sainthood.
As a young child, I had a favorite blanket, a pale green, quilted, baby-size, satin thing that I slept with covering my pillow. It grew full of holes with time, but I loved it no less. My mom, frustrated at its ugly condition, threw it away several times, and each time I rescued it from the trash. It was a security blanket that I desperately needed given my deteriorating home life. Determined to get it away from me, my mom finally burned it. Trust me--all hell broke loose. Mary Ellen, good heart that she was, recognized my need for some sort of replacement, and gave me Ted Bear (photo below). He is a stuffed koala bear who has been with me ever since, more than five decades. He's a little worn, but still full of love. Every time I look at him, I think of Mary Ellen. Given that my mother died when I was only 23, Mary Ellen filled the role of mother for me for many years to come. What a saving grace, teacher and friend she was!
I dearly hope you have someone with such a good heart in your life. Please let them know how much you appreciate him or her!