Farewell, Mary Kelly

I want to say a little about a woman I counted as a dear friend, Mary Kelly, of Scotts Valley, California, formerly of Ben Lomond in the San Lorenzo Valley. Mary took her leave of this world on 11 August 2023. According to her family, she was able to die at home, having finished her dance with ovarian cancer.

At least in part due to my own long dance, I of course take it personally every damned time cancer punches someone’s ticket. But that’s far from the most important thing I need to say about what Mary has meant to me.

It was in September of 1981 that I first found myself in the rooms of recovery, taking that last available shot at doing something other than drinking myself to death. And Mary was one of the people who warmly welcomed me. She did all she could to make this fairly desperate, marginal character who had emerged from the hills with long, stringy hair, cutoff Levi’s, a chainsaw and a dog understand that there was acceptance, understanding, and support on offer. That he was no longer alone and lost.

We came from radically different lives. She’d been raised a Good Irish Catholic Girl, married a handsome and charismatic Irish-American fella, and done her damnedest to fulfill the wife-mother-homemaker role(s).

I was a hippie kid from the Bay Area who had somehow followed his addictions through the music business into the bar business, eventually washing up on the shoulder of a ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains telling myself lies until I couldn’t any more about my forthcoming career as a freelance writer.

None of that matters here except to illustrate that when we met I presented a lot more like someone she would cross the street to avoid than a man she would befriend and encourage. But that’s what she did.

It’s a common practice for many folks in recovery to do that; to reach out and support new folks just trying to find their way to a stable life. And I found more than a few people who offered me acceptance without judgement before I even understood how to live my life without alcohol and drugs.

I am grateful to each and every one of them. I owe them my life. Over the years, I’ve lost contact with many of those who were there early days. Many have moved away due to life changes, by now a lot have died.

And that was one of my first thoughts when I heard the news yesterday. Mary was one of  the last of that community that was there for me when I was ready to change my life. So many are gone now. But with Mary Kelly, it’s more than that. We weren’t “close” in a traditional sense. Didn’t see each other often.

But we would periodically run into one another, whether it was at a a celebratory gathering for a holiday, or mutual friend’s birthday, or something as mundane as a chance meeting in the grocery store. And always, every time, Mary made it clear she was genuinely glad to see me and interesting in how I was doing. That was reciprocated from me. Didn’t have to think about it. My day was just made brighter by her presence.

Now, here’s the thing. That doesn’t make me any kind of “special.” I’d be willing to bet just about everyone who knew Mary will tell you the same. As another friend describes it, she was one who “open carries her heart.” You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who knew Mary who did not love her.

I loved her. No, strike that. I LOVE her. My world is a little less bright tonight because Mary Kelly is no longer part of it.

Farewell, sister. I wish you fair winds and following seas on your journey. I will look for you in the stars, in the mountains, in the sea.
And save me a seat, won’t you?

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