Just the other day, I slipped the car into park and took a deep breath. As I shut off the engine I reached across the seat for the flowers I had picked up on the way. My heels clacked on the concrete as I walked across the road and up the few steps, then across the soft grass still damp from the mornings rain. I knelt down, gently placing the flowers on the stone, my fingers lightly tracing the carved out 2007. I didn't try to hold back my tears, the dam of emotion that had built up inside of me was at once broken. I sat down, not caring if my pants ended up muddy. After a few minutes the tears subsided, I wiped the remaining few with the back of my sweater sleeve. Then I started telling her about my friends grandfather and about our friendship, about applying to graduate school and how I hope to take a few online courses, about a few other things going on in life that I knew she would appreciate. I apologized for not being there in so long and that I knew it was time for a visit. I told her how much I missed her and how I wished she were still here to help me make sense of things, as she had when she was living.
It may sound crazy, but after sitting there talking out loud, I felt better and more calmed than when I had first arrived.
Sister Mary first tried to help me make sense of the French language. A well-learned woman fluent in three languages, she painstakingly repeated phrases until I could pronounce them correctly and gently, but firmly corrected me when I used the wrong tense. After four semesters, in addition to learning to appreciate her dry wit and sarcastic sense of humor, I came to greatly admire her. After our french lessons (by the third semester I was the only student in the program), we would drink coffee and slowly walk the grounds of the convent she had called home for over 40 years. She would tell me stories of her early days as a girl in Tennessee, being arrested on Embassy Row in DC for protesting the arrest of Nelson Mandela, of her years teaching and the few students she considered to be almost like the grandchildren she never had. I would tell her about my life --both past and present, as well as what I hoped for the future. We developed an incredible bond, she became my mentor as well as my friend.
She helped me navigate life after college, gently steering me in the right direction when I was sure I was lost. Every few weeks my phone would ring, " Mandy, I need some really good coffee and a piece of pie. I'll see you tomorrow," she would say. She never asked if I was free or if I had other plans. I was always the one with the questions and she the one with the answers. Without fail I would show up with the requested items and we would spend the next few hours talking about books, current events, and life in general. When I wasn't able to make sense of my own life, she could. When I needed a new book to read, she always had one to recommend. When I needed a kick in the ass, she was always happy to provide it. She challenged me to think and question things I had never considered. She pushed me learn, explore and develop my own beliefs based on what was right for me. She encouraged me when very few others did and brought me back down to reality when I needed it. Over the course of six or seven years, she gave me the guidance and knowledge to become I person I am today, as cliche as it sounds.
During her last few days, I would go visit her in the hospital and take lunch to the other Sisters who kept a vigil over her so she was never alone. One evening they called me saying that I needed to come then to say my goodbyes, even though she was doing better. As so many times before I didn't question, I just went. As I told Sister Mary all that she had meant to me, I held her hand and cried. I told her I loved her and kissed her cheek. One of the other sisters hugged me and told me that she had loved me too, speaking on behalf of my mentor as she quickly slipped away from this world.
Looking back, Sister Mary was always the wise teacher and I the eager student. Even now that she's gone, I still go to visit on occasion without question and continue to learn.