Remembering Maura.

With August already upon us, I have more than a few times already thought about last August, when I was lucky enough to attend the most life-changing event of my life as of yet.
On August 7th of last year, my Aunt Maura swam in an event called SWIM Across The Sound. It's a fundraiser run by St. Vincent's hospital, and it raises money for cancer patients to cover costs of treatments.
What set Maura apart from all of the other inspirational swimmers involved in the 15.5 mile fundraiser swim relay, was that Maura was dying of cancer when she did the swim.

The irony is that Maura never would have described herself as "dying", even up until her last day. She was full of life and passion and a desire to raise money for other people suffering from cancer. I truly think in all of her training and effort before and during the swim, she was never doing it for herself, always for others.
Her teammates were very fittingly her three sons, my cousins, David, Danny & Bart and her doctor.
As you can see from the photos, she was very weak at the time when she completed the race. So weak most cancer patients would very rightfully so be in bed, already resigned to their time ending soon. But Maura got out there and showed her guts, both physically and mentally. She was a lifelong marathon runner and swimmer, and was passionate about fitness and health. So although she was very frail and incredibly sick from the disease and the treatments, she still got out there and completed three fifteen minute legs, a feat simply unimaginable to most---that is most who didn't know Maura.

Maura was a fighter. She fought a breast cancer diagnosis in 2007, and then she fought a Leukemia diagnosis in 2008, but after a bone marrow transplant, her body just couldn't seem to keep up with her spirit.
But the pride on Maura's face, almost a year ago today---the pride she had in herself and in her sons, was the most inspirational thing I've ever experienced. With her entire family on the sidelines in bright green shirts cheering, she emerged from the water with her sons looking like she'd just won the lottery. Nothing but gratitude and spirit and love on her face.
I was lucky enough the evening after the race to get to spend some precious time with Maura at her home with her amazing husband Bill and all her closest friends and family. She walked from person to person, embracing them with warmth and love, and all she could do was profusely thank people for being there and talk about how happy she was. Of course she was cracking jokes too, because that was one of the things she was best at.
I can still hear her husky voice saying to all her friends, "This is Jen, the cute cousin!" She kept teasing me about why I didn't have a boyfriend and asking me if the guys in New York City are crazy. She was certainly my biggest fan, and I hers. I know we knew that about each other, and that was part of what made our relationship very special.
I didn't know when seeing Maura that amazing weekend that it would be the last time I would see her, or hear her voice or feel her amazing presence. But it was. Less than 2 months later, I grew worried when Maura hadn't returned an email I'd written her earlier in the week. We were great email buddies and she was always so good about getting back to me. When I got an email from her husband through her email account asking me to call him as soon as possible, I crumbled. I can still picture it perfectly. I was at my desk, after school, at work and I could feel the tears spring to my eyes from the moment I read that email. I literally crumbled. I knew it was time.
Maura died on Monday September 27th, 2010 in the company of her dear husband Bill. She was 53 years old.
And let me be clear, as much as I miss Maura and mourn for her children losing their incredible mother, and Bill losing the love of his life, and the whole planet for losing such an inspiration, Maura would want me to plug the race. Not promote her. :)
So I will. I'll let you know that although Maura is gone, the SWIM Across The Sound continues to raise money for cancer patients who desperately need it. This cause was such a passion for Maura that she was willing to push her body beyond its own limits to be a part of it.
So very fittingly, this year the race is dedicated to Maura, in her memory. If you're near Westport, Connecticut on August 6th, you should consider going and watching this wonderful event. And if you can't be there, please consider supporting a swimmer here.
Although I'm again wiping tears from my cheeks when rehashing these memories of My Sweet Aunt Maura, I think it's best to end by showing you a video taken at the race last year. My favorite part is at the end, where in her greatest accomplishment, she won't walk up the ramp without her boys. And she finishes that race the same way she finished life, with her head up and cheering.

1 comment:

  1. A very moving post. What an inspirational Aunt. So glad you reconnected with her & her family.