ONE MOTHER'S STORY
By: Tara M. Kerrigan Hayes
Mother’s Day is a time to praise mother’s everywhere, but before we celebrate the day with mimosas and flowers, we’d like to celebrate one woman in particular by sharing her story. Because while every mother’s story is unique, the common theme of overcoming hardship through love is universal.
This is a familiar sounding story of an Irish immigrant, which begins in1949, when Mary Elizabeth Kennedy was born in a tiny town called Loughanboy, in County Galway Ireland. She grew up on a small farm, in a one room concrete thatch roof cottage like you’d see on a quintessential post card of the green fields of Ireland. She was the apple of her daddy’s eye, until he passed away when Mary was just a little girl. His death resulted in tough times for the family, yet if you asked her about her childhood, her eyes would glisten with love and nostalgia. Even though her attire was her brother’s hand-me-down clothes. Even though she often went hungry. Even though her tiny family unit was forced to disperse, and at thirteen years old, she would find herself alone.
As a teenager, she moved for a short time to England where she worked in a shoe factory, but feeling lost, she would eventually migrate to the States to reunite with her mother and sister. Shortly after, the love she had left behind in Ireland followed her to America and she was married at the young age of 21. Mary finally found happiness when she became a mom in 1972 to a baby girl, followed by another baby girl in ’73. But her marriage was tumultuous and despite her best efforts, soon she would find herself a young, struggling, single mother.
Like so many single mothers from humble beginnings, she did the best she could with limited skills, and lack of transportation. She worked for a short time as a telephone operator. She scrubbed floors. She tended bar. With striking blue eyes like Elizabeth Taylor, velvety black lashes and long dark shimmering hair, she could have graced the cover of every fashion magazine in America. But instead she would spend her years tending bar in her local town. And in the course of those years she would come to be loved and adored by her community, because aside from her stunning physical beauty that could silence a room, it was her vibrant personality and compassionate soul that captivated hearts. She had a generosity of spirit that touched every person that ever crossed her path, and within minutes of meeting someone, she could make a complete stranger feel like a lifelong friend. She was every person’s best friend, confidant and therapist.
In fact, Mary couldn’t bear for anyone to be lonely, so on most holidays her home became haven for a diverse hodgepodge of random guests from every background, including stray patrons from the bar with nowhere else to go. Having taught herself to cook, she would make elaborate feasts, and her modest home would spring to life with music, cocktails, and her infectious laughter that would spread through the apartment like wildfire. Her vivacious laugh became Mary’s trademark. In true Irish fashion, her sense of humor helped her endure all types of hardships, of which, there were many. But also in Irish fashion, when possessions were few and money was tight, Mary found a way to give, through love.
Eventually, the sun would shine in Mary’s direction when after 20 years she would reconcile with her husband, and her grown daughters would marry and make Mary a grandmother, giving her a second chance to enjoy motherhood in a new way. These were meant to be the best days of her life, but just as she began to feel settled, adversity would find her again. Stage 4 Peritoneal Cancer, the doctors said. Inoperable, they said. Six to eleven months to live, they said. But they didn’t know Mary’s spirit. With three small granddaughters and a two year old grandson that might never remember her, Mary she wasn’t going down without a fight.
And fight she did. Anyone who knew Mary knew she was a strong woman from the misfortunes she’d faced throughout her life, but no one could have foreseen the warrior she was about to become. She braved the pain of numerous surgeries, endured endless needles and procedures, suffered through countless chemos that ravaged her body. She continually ailed from side effects both physically and psychologically and over the course of 5+ years, this beast of a cancer gave her a million reasons to give up. But she had four little reasons she didn’t. Her four young grandchildren.
This woman became known as a medical miracle, outliving her prognosis time and time again. This woman was the embodiment of the tenacity of the human spirit, fueled by her love of family. This woman was my mother, and she died on April 25th 2018, just a couple weeks shy of Mother’s Day. She was the face of every mother everywhere who does the best they can, even when life deals them a difficult hand. So today I toast to her, to her struggles, her triumphs, and to all mothers who strive to leave behind a legacy of love and strength, as my mother did for me.