Absolutely Sweet Marie

By on October 10th, 2016 Categories: The Breast Cancer Journey

I wore red cowboy boots and a Pabst Blue Ribbon bowling shirt to my friend Marie’s memorial service. Another friend wore a thrift store skirt with cat faces printed all over it. Another wore a Twangfest music festival t-shirt.

It was fitting, not flip. Marie had given me the PBR shirt. At one point we had bonded over our hatred of beers “with too much flavor” and our love of music and bowling. PBR and Miller High Life suited us just fine.

Another friend said, “Marie would kick all our collective asses if we wore boring black to her memorial.”

And she would have.

Marie died of metastatic breast cancer on August 10 at her home in St. Louis, surrounded by her loving husband and family and her adored cats. She was 53. A year younger than I am.

I recorded a podcast for Breastcancer.org with Marie in 2015 in which she talked about how she felt marginalized during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In her mind, October was all about pinkwashing and awareness when what she and thousands of other metastatic patients needed was a cure.

“You know,” she told me after we stopped recording, “I’m really very aware of breast cancer.”

Marie was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 at age 36. In 2007, the cancer returned in her liver and bones. She sent me an email: “You may have heard. It’s back.”

Marie was like that. Sharp, to the point, sarcastic, but fiercely loyal. Everyone was mocked with razor-sharp wit, but it was because she loved them. Marie’s nickname was “Edgy,” which was perfect. Her anger could flare quickly, but it flamed out just as quickly.

Marie was a person who got things done but who always had time to talk to you, who cared about what was important to you.

I remember complimenting her on the beautiful basement renovation she had overseen. “Well, I had a plan,” she said with a huge laugh. Marie always had a plan. She was organized and disciplined. Repeat: She got things done.

Marie loved her husband, her family, music, all cats, and her friends.

She, more than anyone else, is responsible for me having friends in just about every state. In the early 1990s, a bunch of us who liked what was called alternative country music were part of an Internet discussion group called Postcard 2. Since so many musicians were part of the group, a small “festival” happened in St. Louis. It was classic Little Rascals, “Hey-kids-let’s-put-on-a-show”-type thing, but it allowed a bunch of Internet nerds from around the country to meet each other in person, hang out, and debate the meaning of obscure alt country band lyrics ad nauseum.

Everyone had fun and bonded over the music and DIY aspect of it all and wanted to do it again. Marie took the reins and turned the ragtag gathering into Twangfest, an annual music festival that brought in acts and attendees from around the world.

We were strangers with music as a common thread, and Marie wove us into a group that became a family. We went to each others’ weddings and holiday celebrations, checked in on people that hadn’t been heard from in a while, and were always were there for each other.

Twangfest grew exponentially, but Marie made sure that those of us who helped birth it still felt welcome and special each year. She was a connector, a person who introduced people to others, who made sure that any Postcard 2 out-of-towner who was coming to his/her first Twangfest alone soon had a group of people to hang with.

Marie could handle just about anything, except for a failure to rawk. Her throaty yell often boomed from the back of a venue: “BRING THE RAWK!”, sometimes followed by an affectionate expletive.

June 2016 was the 20th anniversary of Twangfest. I went, sort of for the music, but mostly to see Marie. Off-mic, after we recorded the podcast last year, she told me about the lesions in her knee that were going to require knee replacement surgery, about how it was hard for her to walk, how she missed going out to shows. I think a lot of us felt that this Twangfest was a chance to say goodbye to Marie on her terms, surrounded by music and friends.

She texted another friend in early August, “I don’t feel on the edge of dying at all. My hope and fighting spirit are firmly in place.” But her body just couldn’t keep up anymore.

Her memorial was cathartic. Folks converged on St. Louis from Boston, Seattle, Chicago, New Jersey, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Baltimore, Texas, Ohio, and other far-flung places. Her husband, John, delivered a wonderfully beautiful, sad, and funny eulogy that captured her humor, her spirit, and her compassion. After weeks of teary texts and Facebook posts, actually seeing, hugging, and crying with my extended musical family that Marie helped create tempered some of the sadness and reminded me that Marie would want us to celebrate her, her life, her spirit, and find joy in everyday things.

A St. Louis friend read a Conrad Aiken poem, “Bread and Music,” at the memorial — it sums up so much about Marie:

Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;
Now that I am without you, all is desolate;
All that was once so beautiful is dead.

Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
And I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, beloved,
And yet your touch upon them will not pass.

For it was in my heart you moved among them,
And blessed them with your hands and with your eyes;
And in my heart they will remember always,—
They knew you once, O beautiful and wise.

Jamie DePolo is senior editor at Breastcancer.org. She's been writing science stories for non-scientists for 20 years. Her spare time is devoted to spoiling her assorted canines and felines and cheering for the Detroit Red Wings.

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