Stories

Jeff and Mary’s Story: Lives of Purpose

Mary shares her husband Jeff's journey with pancreatic cancer.

“I didn’t let cancer destroy me and we didn’t let cancer destroy our family. In some way he is living through this new life.” – Mary

A Journey Based in Love

Mary is full of life. She’s vivacious, spunky and some would even say feisty. But this story is not just about Mary – it’s about Jeff too – and a whole community of people who have better lives because of them. This is a small bit of their story:

Mary and Jeff met at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. and married in 1980.

“We started this journey based in love, but also based on our passion to leave the world a better place than we found it.”

The couple followed this passion around the U.S., building communities along the way. When they settled back in Minnesota in 1997, their lives centered on their two children and investing in the world around them. Through Jeff’s time as a minister, he and Mary connected members of the community with those in need and focused on helping resettle refugee families. Life was busy with passion and purpose.

Sharing Their Health Story

In 2012 Jeff was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. From the connections in their small town to the global network they’d built, the job of communicating updates to their vast network overwhelmed them.

Mary had heard of CaringBridge before, but planned to manage communication through email. Then a close friend told her she needed to start a CaringBridge website for the communication benefits–and moreover for their young grandson.

“My friend told me I would be writing for him to be able to go back and see what our family and faith was like. That’s when I started.”

It quickly became more than a communication tool. It became her way of honoring Jeff and who they were as a couple.

Jeff passed away from pancreatic cancer in October 2014 after a tremendous fight. Now, more than ever, Mary needed her community to show up. While some people seemed to disappear, she said, a small group showed up when she needed it most. It was the same group who had pulled together to bring Jeff and Mary through some of the darkest of days.

“They were the ones who stood shoulder to shoulder with us through the muck of cancer.”

Mary now knows the importance of showing up when others need it. “Even if it’s hard, just show up,” she says.

The Next Chapter

Mary continues to journal. Her CaringBridge website has taken on a new role in this next chapter of her life. It serves as a space for her to say, “I’m doing ok. I can share the pain. I can get the support I need from the people who knew and loved us both. It’s a way to educate people on the grieving process and that life has to go on – and that is ok.”

Jeff lives on through the work that Mary continues to do – work that they started together 35 years ago.

The Story Continues

A recent conversation Mary had with an 80-year-old woman at church highlighted a new way to look at her rebirth into this life without Jeff. “She said to me, ‘You know I call that refiring.’ I had to refire! I had to find out what the new fire in my belly was, because I still have a fire for life in my belly.”

“We started this journey as a mission and that hasn’t changed for me. It doesn’t take away the loneliness and the sadness that he’s not with me, but what it does help me do is know that I’m still honoring him and us, and myself. I didn’t let cancer destroy me and we didn’t let cancer destroy our family. In some way he is living through this new life.”

How to Show Up and Bring a Community Together

Is someone in your life going through a health journey? There’s no better way to show up for someone during a difficult time than by giving them a way to bring their community together. Start a CaringBridge website to rally a community of support.

Comments (2)

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karen meyerson Sep 11, 2015 8:53am
Mary and Jeff are two of the most wonderful, caring, giving, strong people I have ever known. Honored and humbled to be their friend!
Alisa Heart Sep 02, 2015 10:37pm
Very inspiring story. Showing up when others need it encourage people more to become strong.