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Letter to a Friend


Dear Mary,

Well, our kids are back at school already, I’m grumbling about how August is no longer a part of the summer vacation like I do every year and many of us in our wide circle are remembering what we did and how we felt that first day of school in 2008.

Hard to believe it’s a little over a year since that awful day last summer. Everything was going great up until that bout with appendicitis. The clinical trial was going well, we had plans to meet up for lunch and we both wanted to fill each other in on the vacations we took. I really thought I’d be paying you a hospital visit, not saying a final farewell on that beautifully bright, warm, summer day.

Everyone who could be there was. And at the elementary school you subbed at and where our children got their start, the faculty and staff were heartbroken to be facing the school year without you. It was shell-shock, disbelief and utter sadness.

Most passing milestones, whether they involve growing children or the loss of a loved one, are usually met with, “Has it really been that long?” or “It seems just like yesterday.” But I can’t say the same since that terrible day.

Perhaps it’s because that for at least the first six months, probably more, not a day went by that I didn’t think of you. Whether it was a car that looked like yours or a movie was playing that I knew we would have seen together, or the election; all those things and more made me burst into tears in the oddest places: the gas station, the supermarket aisle, at the end of yoga class, but most often while I was driving. There were never enough tissues.

It made for a long year. An entire year of not hearing you laugh. An entire year of not listening to you tell me about the latest achievements and comic doings in the lives of all your boys, sons Nick and Sam, and husband Bill. An entire year of not discussing politics with you (and what a year it was for that!) or what good books we wanted to read or where we were planning our next vacations.

Of all the things that happen to us as we age; the popping joints, the worsening eyesight and the thickening midsections, among other things, the absolute worst part of getting older is the loss of precious friends and family along the way. Particularly when they are as wonderful as you.

So many of us still fondly recall our times with you and still find it tough to accept. And you definitely had many friends – of all ages. Jill Hendon loved how you and her youngest son, Jake, connected.  She claims you two had a special friendship and were always good-naturedly teasing each other to see who could laugh the most. Your favorite was telling Jake that you were his girlfriend. That tickled him plenty and he laughed and laughed. Your way with him showed how much you really loved children and why choosing to teach was natural for you.

Jill remembers too the fun you both used to have at the local water park each summer. While the boys tried to outdo each other on all the rides you two spent many hot afternoons people watching behind mirrored sunglasses.

You inspired others to reach their goals, perhaps without even knowing it. Robin Swarts was just starting to train for a triathlon when you were diagnosed. She knew how much you loved running and that was the part of her training she loathed the most. But every time she went out there and began to feel like giving up, she thought of you and how much you would want to be out there running with her. But you couldn’t because of your chemo. Those thoughts and her regard for you made her finish, and since then she runs every week.

She channeled you recently on an early morning run. In an email she wrote, “I finally managed to drag myself out from under the covers and I put on my white t-shirt with grey shorts combo to get Mary in my head and motivate me out the door. It worked. I was heading down the sidewalk thinking of her and looked up to see a man running towards me wearing the exact same thing. I smiled and said thanks to her. Maybe it’s coincidence but I think her spirit was with me this morning. It’s nice to know that she’s still my friend who’s there when I need her.”

The one thing you taught me I think you may have learned during your youngest son’s battle with cancer when he was barely a toddler. It was basically to live and let live. It doesn’t matter how big your house is or what kind of car you drive, all that counts is that you and the ones you love are well, and to treat everyone with respect and compassion because you never know what burdens they may be shouldering. You always had a kind word and never hesitated to offer a hand whenever anyone needed help.

I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to see the pictures and hear the details of your vacation in the Caymans, spend a last leisurely lunch with you or ever tell you how much your encouraging words over the years meant to me. You were so generous in your praise and enthusiasm, no matter what. Anything I ever did or tried to do, you were always my biggest booster. And of course, you were like that with your boys, always there to give them support and guidance whenever they needed it. Even if they thought they didn’t.

It’s hard, going forward, to not be consumed with sadness when I think of you. But I am beyond grateful knowing that we were friends. And I know without a doubt there are many others who feel the same. Last year, the most distraught of your friends was your neighbor, Marjorie McKenna. When I talked to her recently, I could tell she found peace in the fact that she had the honor and privilege of your friendship and she will carry that with her the rest of her life.

You were the kindest woman I’ve ever known – fun to be with and talk to and missed more than my feeble attempt at language could ever convey. It’s still going to be awhile before I really get used to your absence but I’m buying my tissues at Costco now, so at the very least, I’ll always be prepared. ;-)

Miss you always,

Editor’s note: This post may be off topic but with ownership comes a few privileges. Mary Guzak was a close personal friend and her life stands as an inspiration for living every day to the fullest, thankfully and with kindness and absolutely no regrets. If you think about it, today is all we really have, so go out there and make the most of it.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Marjorie McKenna August 20, 2009 at 3:59 pm


A beautiful tribute to our dear friend. Thanks for writing it.

I wish Mary were here to see Nick get his Academic Letter this coming Monday. If she were here we would be sitting together cheering for our sons as we used to.

I love that picture too. I’m going to copy it and put it with the collection of other pictures I have of her. (always smiling of course.)

Thanks again,
Marjorie McKenna

William Guzak August 20, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Thanks Stacey for this post. Mary taught me so much about life and did not let me and the boys idly watch life go by. She brought joy to me, my boys, and everyone she knew. She so much enjoyed planning our family vacations and spending that time together as a family. The picture in the article was taken by our oldest son, Nick while driving on a trip and was one of Nick and my favorite pictures of Mary. She will never be forgotten and I think of her often as I watch our sons become men.

William Guzak

Kathryn & Jim Harrison August 21, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Dear Stacey & Marjorie & Bill,
We agree that Mary was a most unusual person. She could be bowling you over with laughter one minute and yet could openly cry with you when things weren’t going great. She definitely found her soul-mate in Bill and he in her….even though they initially seemed such opposites. It was Jim’s great privilege to perform their wedding ceremony in Huntsville and stand back and watch them bloom into a beautiful- FUN YET SERIOUS WHEN NECESSARY- family. We feel Mary would read all of this and come up with some hilarious reply; however, all we can do is nod our heads and cry. Thanks for sharing.

Barbara Curry August 21, 2009 at 9:43 pm

What a loving tribute to Mary! You have given a special gift to Bill, Nick, Sam, and to her mother, Callie.

Susan Allen August 24, 2009 at 11:12 am

What a beautiful tribute to Mary! We have known her since she was in high school and she and Bill were my daughters’ first Sunday School teachers. She always had a smile and was ready to make you laugh. She was a free spirit in her own way and when she did something out of the ordinary, we just shook our heads and said,”That’s just Mary!” I know this tribute means so much to her mother, Callie, as it does to all her family and friends!

Julie Valderrama August 26, 2009 at 4:38 pm

You captured Mary so well in your letter, Stacy. She was a true friend and the person I called my guardian angel. Whenever I was struggling with something, Mary was there with the answer. When I was looking for a 1/2 day kindergarten for my son eight years ago, she knew the perfect school for him (he was the last student they would take before being full). How did she know? She never judged anyone and was always there. Our children went to different schools and our lives became full with work, etc.; so, often it was difficult to get together as much as I wanted to. I loved Mary and always will. She’s in my thoughts and my heart daily. Thanks for the beautiful picture and tribute. What a long year it has been without her.

Joan Napp August 26, 2009 at 9:11 pm

Mary and I shared the same birthdate tho separated by many years. She was special in every sense of the word! Mary had a beautiful heart that reflected the love of God in all she did. Mary lived her faith.

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