Getting By With a Little Help From Her Friends

This isn’t my story, and I hope it will never be your story, either. This is Mary’s story; a story that has only just begun.

When a spouse suddenly passes away, their partner must face an empty page and rewrite their lives one chapter at a time. They have to force themselves to do the little things, the everyday things: earning a living, walking the dog, making a meal, balancing the checkbook. The new chapters are written over the course of many years, as well as in the moment-by-moment slow acceptance that the survivor must endure. Mary is looking at the blank pages of those chapters that she now must write. She wants to start by saying thank you.

Marybeth Carlsen is a daycare provider. We call her “our Mary” to help distinguish her from others who share the name. The years have slipped by since she took care of my granddaughter. We did not stay in regular contact. But whenever we reminisced about those first years of our little girl’s life, Mary factored in as a major figure. The loving professional care Mary gave our granddaughter was a cornerstone in her early social and academic foundation.

One day recently, as I read letters to the editor in The Wanderer, I noticed one that was signed by a “Mary.” I reread it to make sure I understood the content of the letter and who the author might be. It was from our Mary. She was thanking people who had helped her during a crisis. Mary’s husband, Dan, after not feeling well for 24 hours, suffered a fatal heart attack. We were devastated for her and her daughter. All we could think about was how stunned and traumatized they must be.

In her letter, she purposefully thanked the first responders, family and friends. As the weeks have gone by, the help has continued to flow toward Mary. There were various projects that needed completion now that Dan wouldn’t be there to do them. Mary frets that she is forgetting to recognize all those whose selfless giving has pulled her through thus far. It is so important to her that everyone knows how much she appreciates them; what their giving has meant to her.

Mary’s new world order has been shored up since the moment she placed that 9-1-1 call. People from the Tri-Town area have lent their time and talents to help with her load. The Rochester first responders are high on her thank you list. Her gratitude is further extended to all the people whose hands-on assistance built a new fence and dog yard for Dan’s big chocolate lab Lucy, repaired the stone walls, installed A/C units, cleaned out and organized the shed, and even replaced light bulbs in the house. Putting their shoulders to these efforts were Loretta and Robert Sherman, Sadro and Robin Grignetti, Rich McCue, Katherine Kang, Jorge Fiqueirdo, Sophie and Kevin Amfield, Mark and Kathy Savino, Tom and Jen Jones, Tammy Desnoyers and Robin Martin (who provided homemade foods). And last but not least, beside Mary were Janet and Scott Govin and their son, Bret. The Govins not only assisted with yard chores; they rented equipment and other tools that were necessary to get the job done.

While Mary got her sea legs under her, taking care of final arrangements and a myriad of details, the daycare had to remain open for the families who depend on her to care of their children while they work. Emily and Chris Savino, Bea and Alley Amfield, Geneviene and Brianna Grignetti, and Hanil and Kathy Kang all helped with the children in the daycare program. There was also Evan Costa, who helped with the daycare kids and the yard work. Some of the younger volunteers are Mary’s former charges who came back willingly to help their Mary.

As I spoke to her about Dan’s early symptoms, it occurred to me that I would not recognize some of the heart attack signs. We all think about chest pain and arm pain but clearly there are other warning signs we need to be aware of. Dan’s symptoms mimicked the flu: nausea and vomiting. That is what they suspected. Even though Mary’s first aid training impressed upon her all the symptoms of a heart attack, she has since concluded that Dan may not have shared the full extent of his not feeling well with her. And surprisingly, shortly before Dan succumbed to the heart attack, he told Mary he was actually feeling better. With confidence, she left the house to take care of errands after making sure he had a refreshing drink at hand. When she returned, Dan was gone.

The American Heart Association’s website details the following (

Most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. The signs that can mean a heart attack is happening are:

Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Hindsight is always painfully 20/20. Unfortunately, many people ignore the signs and symptoms of heart attack. Or maybe it is simply fear. My own mother-in-law ignored her heart attack symptoms with tragic results. Mary relives those moments when maybe if she had, if Dan had, if they had considered it wasn’t the flu after all … but then she shakes her head. It is done. For those of us who know this woman, we know she is strong and won’t burden others with her pain. She’s built with a good dose of true grit. Bit by bit, her heart, mind and soul are adjusting to this new reality.

It is conjecture on my part, but I suspect with each day Mary resolves anew to stand tall, get busy with the work at hand, pray for strength, and call on Dan to help her get through it all. She is comforted in her belief that Dan is with their son Kyle and her Father. Our Mary – she’ll be all right, but forever changed. She’ll get by with a little help from her friends, and Mary has plenty of them in the Tri-Town.

By Marilou Newell


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