On November 11th, I got a cryptic call from Elizabeth Cohen, a friend of Mary Hill's. Elizabeth asked if I could call her back. She said, "I don't know if you've heard news of Mary lately." The message left me uneasy and it took a while to call back. When I did call, Elizabeth let me know that Mary had decided to follow Berto Ortega by taking her own life. I went numb. For the rest of the day I searched the Internet for an obituary or any news of Mary. This couldn't be true.
A memorial was held for Mary on November 16th at Metro Life Church (910 Winter Park Drive Casselberry FL). Mary often spoke of Pastor Steve Horrell so it was appropriate that he officiated. The lobby of the church was crowded with the bright colors and activity of an arts and crafts fair. This was the type of small community event that Mary would have liked. Life went on.
At the front of the service hall, paintings of Mary done by Berto were on display. Elizabeth had arranged a board in the back of the hall with many of my sketches. I had sketched Mary and her mom 13 different times. Pastor Steve related stories of Mary's amazing ability to open herself to people and help them heal. He recited lyrics from "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" It is true that Mary was often a clown and always behind schedule. She also changed everyone she met and no one was ever a stranger to her. That is what made her decision so confounding. The only memories of Mary's life came from those that met her.
More people showed up than expected, and church staff rushed to get more service brochures xeroxed and folding chairs set in place. One of Mary's brothers was stuck in traffic twenty minutes late. People from all aspects of Mary's life got up to speak. One man with throat cancer related that he loved Mary like a daughter. It turned out that Mary did leave a suicide note. She said that no one should feel guilty for what she did. It was a decision between her and god. Those kind words however do not ease my guilt. I didn't speak to Mary after seeing her in Berto's studio. Crazy deadlines distracted me. I wasn't much of a friend or comfort when she needed it. Her friend Elizabeth did take Mary in, letting her stay in her house for two weeks after Berto's funeral. Mary's mood spiraled down. Elizabeth gave Mary a comforting massage on the last day of her stay and then Mary went back to her Winter Park home alone. Labels were pealed off of prescription bottles. She slipped gently away to find her god's eternal love. The next day friends went to Mary's house but she wouldn't answer the door. Police found Mary's body and investigated the scene. Her dog, was adopted by Pastor Steve.
Mary had survived the wreckage of a violent childhood and had just begun her own business. She had so much faith, so her decision to end her life makes no sense. Anger and confusion muffled the services prayers and commendations. The monotone group recitation of written prayers wasn't comforting. Not once during the service was suicide mentioned. I approached Mary's neighbor and she simply said "Not now." Her eyed were red and streaming. Afterwards people mingled and shared more stories. I stared at photos of Mary smiling on more time, finally realizing I would never see her again. Terry and I slipped quietly away.
A Place to Meet
by Mary J. Hill
Meet me…in the stillness of my touch
Allow me to feel your pain, it won’t hurt quite as much.
Meet me…in the safety of my soul
Tell me your stories, the ones you’ve dared, but never told.
Meet me…in the solitude of my heart
Lay down your sorrow, welcome healing’s start.
Meet me…in the center of the earth
Surrender to its wisdom, awaken to your rebirth
Meet me…far beyond the ageless universe
Bask in love’s perfection; nothing’s better, nothing’s worse.
Meet me when you’re willing, meet me when you can
It’s there I’ll give my best to you - my mind, my heart, my hands.