Missing Maura: Everyday Magic, Day 191

As soon as I heard Jane’s voice say my name on the phone this morning, I knew it was bad news, and what I knew was true: Maura had died Monday evening just after brushing her teeth. I sat on my bed and stared at the blankets for a long time. In these posts, I tend to praise life’s mystery, surprise and imagination, but at moments like this, I felt those qualities drained out of reality. You see, Maura was herself such an embodiment of praise, mystery, surprise and imagination.

Born in Ireland about 78 years ago, when Maura called out your name — and she usually did it repeatedly with great wonder in her voice — you felt like you were the precious gem of the universe. Both larger than life and fully aware of life’s struggles, she brought to every environment where I saw her sparkle and music. Maybe part of it was the Irish lilt, but most of it came surely from her open heart. She also makes you feel like you’ve always known her, which is why I can’t remember when exactly I did meet her, only that whenever I would meet her at the Merc, Hanukkah parties at my house or downtown for Cuban sandwiches, we would simply continue the long conversation we were having.

In the past four years, I’ve gotten to know Maura a different way. From writing Needle in the Bone, the book I’ve been working on about her husband, Jarek, a Polish resistance fighter, and his long friendship with Lou Frydman, a Holocaust survivor, I’ve been given the gift of holding some of her story too. I’ve gotten to sit at her dining room table and hear how, when she was a child during WWII, her father would lead her and her brother in praying for the Jews and the Poles (he would say, according to Maura, “Poor Poland. She suffers again”). When she was older, she threw herself into the adventure of nursing although she was most drawn to tropical health — “I was fascinated in bugs and creepy crawlers,” she told me.

In fact, she loved and was fascinated by many things (and not all of it creepy crawlers), most of all, her family and the large circle of friends she made after settling in Lawrence. For years I’ve heard extraordinary Maura stories from people: how she went to any length for people suffering heartbreak or depression, to encourage someone in the arts, or just to celebrate an ordinary moment in an extraordinary way. While those stories belong to the recipients of Maura’s attentions, my stories with her are a tad quieter: how she showed up for dinner at my house once with an elegantly wrapped assortment of chocolate truffles because she knew I didn’t drink, and she wanted me to have a treat; how, when I told her I needed to reschedule an interview with Jarek because of a little headache, she called out to him, “Jarek, Caryn has a terrible migraine!,” making us both laugh; how we delighted in good meals, serendipitous meetings, the wonders of latkes, and lamented the Kansas winters, the Kansas summers, ailments and sadnesses, and friends who died too young.

Now she is a friend who died too young, not just because of her age, but because of her vital voice, passion and passions, and outrageously interesting ways of seeing the world. I’m missing her already, but my heart goes out most to her family — her two children and six grandchildren, and especially her husband, Jarek, who she told me was “my first and only great love.”

10 thoughts on “Missing Maura: Everyday Magic, Day 191

  1. What a beautiful remembering of your friend. I didn’t know her, but feel sadness and little missing of her because your writing about Maura is so heartfelt that my heart openly feels the loss of such a special soul. Thinking of you!

  2. I did not have the good fortune of knowing Maura. I love her just the same … after reading your remembrances of her. I am deeply sorry for your loss, Caryn.

  3. Thank you Caryn. I was blessed to know Maura for almost 20 years and you have captured her essence wholly and with words she would love. Since learning of her death I have, in my mind, heard her call my name with the gusto only she could exude and it makes me smile. There are so many things about Maura that make me smile and in her honor I shall keep smiling and raise a toast of Irish whiskey as we liked to do from time to time. Indeed she died too young. I miss you Maura.

  4. Thank you so much, everyone! Catherine, I know you were a very important person to her heart, and yes, I know exactly what you mean in all you say. Thank you everyone for recognizing her legacy, taking the time to share that recognition and also honor her more (and it means a lot to me that you would write even if you didn’t know her). The memorial service is Sat. at 1 p.m. at Lawrence Chapel at 3821 W. 6th. See some of you there!

  5. i have goosebumps reading this lovely, heartfelt tribute to a woman i wish i could’ve known. at least i know her through your words, and i can tell the world is emptier without her hearty spirit.

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