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On the Mark, Episode 10: Her Name Was Marsene

June 9, 2009

Hi Everybody,

For this week I’m going to change things up and tell you a story. You're getting this edition two days early. I actually tossed and turned last night as my mind tried to write this story in my head, and it wouldn’t shut off until about 5:30 am. Darned that brain of mine, I wish I could just turn that thing off sometimes . . .

So with a couple of hours of sleep, and coffee pumping through my veins, I’ll attempt to write this story. I need to get it out of my head so I can think about something else and get my work done, lol. Please take a moment out of your busy day to read this story, or print it off to read later. I think there will be a payoff at the end -- I really hope that it is worth your time and attention. Thank you in advance for reading, and here goes:

She was a beautiful and happy baby. I’m not quite sure the reason why, but her mom and dad called her the rather uncommon name of Marsene. Her childhood was a happy one, and she had three brothers and a much-older sister. Tragically, her baby brother died when he was two. Marsene’s mother, the prime example of what it means to be a Christian woman, knew in her heart that it was all part of God’s plan.

As a girl, Marsene enjoyed tap dancing, and her mom and brothers were also musically and artistically talented. Marsene was blissfully unaware about a lot of the things of this world, as there were no violent or sexual TV programs on in her home. In fact, as a teenager she knew little about those things at all. She was too busy enjoying life and being Marsene.

One day, when she was a young teenager, she came running into the house, sopping wet from the rain. She was terrified, sobbing uncontrollably to her mother. After a great deal of effort, Marsene finally revealed to her mother that she was pregnant. In stunned disbelief, her mom tried to console her and get to the facts. Surely this could not be happening to her precious little girl.

Eventually it was revealed that Marsene’s aunt had told her a thing or two about the birds and the bees. And according to her aunt, girls get pregnant when they are having their period and are out in the rain! Thankfully, they got that matter straightened out, and there would be no teenage pregnancy in her life.

To the contrary, sometime later the doctors privately told her parents that Marsene would never be able to have any children at all.

High school was a great time for her, and after graduation she went to work in a factory. She also dated (and I think they were engaged) to a really great guy for three years. But somewhere along the line, their relationship cooled and Marsene met this bad-boy dude who was home from the military. His name was Max, and if you messed with him he’d knock you on your G.D.A. (hopefully you can figure out what that abbreviation stands for).

Like a lot of young women, she fell in love with the bad boy and married him after five dates (again, this is based on my recollection of how the story goes). You see, he had to go back to serve his country, and he told her it was now or never. And she knew that she couldn’t be without him.

At some point in time Marsene thought she was pregnant. Her parents didn’t believe her, based on what the doctors had told them about her inability to have children. In fact, they never really did believe her until she actually gave birth, to her first daughter. It was truly a miracle. Then she had two more daughters, and then finally a son. Miracles all. Sadly, another child was lost in a miscarriage.

There were happy times, but there were also painful ones. Max came home from the military with a lot of issues. Issues from things he had experienced in the military, but also issues from his childhood. He medicated his problems by spending a lot of time down at the local bar, if I am recalling the story correctly. And if anybody looked at him the wrong way, he'd threaten to knock them on their G.D.A.

And he would.

I don’t think he ever roughed her up (I heard nothing of the sort), but things were still difficult. He loved his wife and kids, that I believe, but he had a hard time dealing with life and its daily problems. Their one daughter mentioned recently about the time their dad got in the car and drove it around in circles in the yard, around their house – chasing their mom.

Some people surely thought Marsene should leave her husband. Her parents, though, saw the good in Max and counseled her to work on saving her marriage. Support from her family helped her through the troubling times. Deep down, despite the problems, Marsene knew Max was a good person, and that they loved each other. (In today’s times, people leave their spouses because they aren’t getting their needs met. I wish I had been lucky enough to meet a strong woman like this.)

But tragedy struck her family again, when she got the call that her 29-year-old brother had dropped dead. It was a devastating loss for her and her entire family. She received another call a few years later that her father had dropped dead unexpectedly as well. It was only her faith and the love of her family that kept her going.

When Max was 39 (Marsene was two years older), he had a nervous breakdown. He was sent away to a mental institution for several months, leaving Marsene all alone to care for her children. Max received shock treatments and had a very bad time of it. And it was hard on Marsene and the kids, to be sure. Everyone was scared. Scared about what was happening, and scared about what the future would bring. When Max got home, things were bad. Marsene would go to work with him and stay with him all day, because he couldn’t deal with the voices inside his head.

At some point Max changed jobs and got a new purpose, and made a point to try to ignore those voices. But meanwhile, Marsene fought through a lot of serious medical problems, and at times it looked as though she would not live a long life. Her oldest grandchild remembers standing by her bedside and consoling her, telling her that someday he would grow up to be a doctor in order to take care of his grandma. Years later, he felt a bit guilty when he broke it to his grandma that he didn’t want to be a doctor anymore -- but she just smiled at the news. She hugged him and said that she would be proud no matter what he decided to do with his life.

So Marsene worked through her medical issues (and even had a third of her stomach removed), and learned to cope as best as she could with her ailments. She believed in prayer and healing, and some of her problems did disappear or improve. A miracle, just luck, or wishful thinking – you be the judge. But she still had a pill for every ailment, and it was so hard to keep them all straight. It was probably her four children, and then her entire flock of grandchildren, who gave her a purpose to live.

Yet through it all, she was quick to smile and eager to encourage. Her oldest grandson remembers that whenever he felt like the world was against him, he knew that he could always count on his grandma.

As time rolled by, a lot of those life’s struggles moved into the past, replaced with times of great joy -- but also more sorrow. Like before, sometimes those moments of great despair happened with the suddenness of a single phone call.

Sadly, on Max’s birthday, their youngest daughter’s husband died from a tragic car accident. Her daughter was left to raise three beautiful young children, alone. It shook everyone to their core -- but like most families, they did their best to pull together and gain strength through suffering. But at moments like that, life for the living will never be the same.

When she turned the proper age, Marsene went down to apply for Social Security. At times she had never thought she’d live long enough to see it. And to her surprise, when she went to get her birth certificate in order to apply, she found out that her name wasn’t even Marsene. It was actually Evelyn (with Marsene as her middle name). She never really did figure out if she was supposed to be Evelyn (but her family chose to call her by her middle name), or if some drunk doctor got the birth certificate wrong. It was another interesting twist that came throughout her life . . . but no matter what the birth certificate said, she would always be Marsene.

But as age started to creep in, Marsene started having more and more of those senior moments. These moments were laughed off as just a part of growing older. Much to her family’s amusement, they could almost always predict when she would be ready to quip, “Oh, I’m not with it today.”

Onetime one of her daughters had sat her glasses down in Marsene’s house, and couldn’t find them so she could leave. They searched high and low for those darned glasses. Finally, her daughter realized what happened to her glasses: They were on her mom’s face! And that’s not all, Marsene had her own glasses hanging from around her neck! Yep, there sure were some times were they all got a good laugh about those senior moments. And Marsene would be the first one to laugh about those times. That was just her way.

But as the years rolled by, she got more forgetful, and some of her behavior started to change. She would hum a lot. And for some reason, she’d crumple up Kleenex and put them in drawers. Although Max had mellowed some in age, Marsene would still get really ticked off at him at times. Out of character, one time she took her cup of hot coffee and poured it on him (for no obvious reason) why he was sleeping in bed. When asked why she did that, she defiantly said it was because she wanted to. And why were we asking her such a question?

Things in her mind started getting very confusing.

To cope, she started walking off to head back home. Home to where she had grown up. Onetime Max discovered that his wife wasn’t in the house, and called his nearby daughter’s house for help. Marsene’s oldest grandson happened to be there at the time, and jumped in his car and drove towards Grandma’s house. As he came up over a hill, luckily he was going slowly because he found his grandma walking down the middle of the usually-busy road. She was in her nightgown on a cold winter morning, and she was sobbing uncontrollably from great distress and fear.

Fortunately, he found her in time before an unsuspecting driver could come up over the hill and hit her. For some strange reason, traffic was unusually light that morning.

For her grandson, it is an image that is forever burned into his mind, something that he will never forget. It makes him still pitifully sad. Like the young girl crying, trying to get in out of the rain, she was trying to get away from the emotions and images that were raining down in her mind.

She was a terrified child again.

Her family and husband were in denial about it for a long time, but they finally realized that she could not be kept at home anymore. They placed her in a nursing home with an Alzheimer’s unit, and they visited her frequently. She would be very happy to see her family at first when they came to visit, but when it was time to leave she would plead for them to take her home. And she would cry and just look at them with great fear. It was hard on everyone, and her kids and grandkids would have to trick her so that they could leave. Feeling terribly guilty, one time her grandson made the slip and quickly went outside and peered into the window to see how she had responded. With great sadness, but on the other hand some relief, she had walked over to the other side of the room and had forgotten that he had just been there.

Then there was a time Max (and I think her son, if I remember correctly) took her from the nursing home and brought her back to her house for visit. She had pleaded to go back home, so they decided to let her visit it again. From my understanding, she got agitated when she was there, and demanded that they take her home.

When she passed away, she was greatly missed by her family. But in some ways, it wasn’t a shock. Because they had been losing her a piece at a time for a number of years. That wonderful lady with the twinkle in her eye, that chuckle at marveling at something her grandkids did which amused her, had been diminishing for some time. But whenever her family thought it might be gone, she would surprise them all. Her face would light up when they walked into the room. The last time her grandson saw her, he remembers that it was on Mother’s Day. And his grandma was smiling, and was having a nice time with he and other family members.

Four years later, Marsene’s husband Max passed away. Shortly before his death, he had fallen and hit his head. The brain specialists looked at his scan and were shocked at what they saw. Parts of his brain had been deformed since birth -- patterns were seen that indicated that he was someone who should have suffered severe mental handicaps and could have easily been institutionalized his whole life. They were totally shocked that he was ever able to hold a job, or even have or support a family. Only though the grace of God, the love of his wife and family, and a stubborn determination to knock any obstacle down on its G.D.A., was he able to lead a decent life.

Marsene is still in her family’s memories, as is their father and grandfather Max. They are part of them, and their influence and spirit keep those family members going. Sometimes it's easy to forget about them, to be sure. Time is like that. But at other times, Marsene's grandson says he misses them terribly. He told me so, just now.

When times have gotten tough in his life, he really wishes they were still there to talk to him. Because that was when he felt the most loved, and when he believed in himself the most -- because they believed in him. Without them, his life still doesn’t feel quite the same, he says. Sure, he gains strength from his parents, his kids, and his friends. But there is something magical about a loving grandparent. Something that can't be replaced.

But like Marsene, he must learn to grow from those moments, and move on. He has two beautiful young girls to protect and nurture. And who knows, maybe grandkids someday. But he can be a worry-wart at times like Marsene, and bullheaded as all get out like Max. Sometimes, he wishes he had the courage like his grandpa, to knock somebody who deserves it on their G.D.A.

But enough about him.

But with all of his grandparents (and great grandparents) being gone now, he takes comfort in knowing that they helped him become the person that he is. And that he can honor them by being the best dad and person that he can be. And even when he fails, they would still love and understand him.

So this was a story about family, about love, and about sticking by each other. You have your own version of such a story, with your family members as the characters in the story. Share it with others.

And for a video, this is one of my Grandma’s favorite songs – one that she specifically requested to be played at her funeral. Maybe today it will touch you in the same way it touched her. As how the song's message – and my Grandma – touched me.


Thank you for allowing me to share this story, and God Bless,


Your friend,




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