Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Final Words: Too Busy with Life's Joy to Think about Death

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Final Words: Too Busy with Life's Joy to Think about Death

Article excerpt

Mary Gilbride, 86

Room 208

Entered Villa Marie Claire on June 21

"Mom, are you worried about dying?"

It's a football Sunday and Mary Gilbride is in front of a Jets game and surrounded by people who love her.

She doesn't answer her daughter Jayne's question instantly. But she understands the words and the response comes just above a whisper.

"Whatever will be will be."

That Mary is here to reflect and remember is remarkable. Her 11 children and 26 grandchildren steeled themselves to say goodbye twice in the 10 1/2 months since their independent and energetic matriarch suffered a stroke a day after winning a golf trophy. Twice, Mary astounded everyone and rebounded.

She has been at Villa Marie Claire for more than six months, longer than any current patient. The deeply religious Mary, a handsome woman with neatly brushed silver hair, thinks she's in a convent -- hardly a stretch of the imagination, as the mansion formerly housed retired Catholic nuns. She calls Dr. Charles Vialotti, the hospice physician who dotes on her, "Father Charlie." And she is seldom alone. Loved ones visit at all hours, to stroke her face, to feed her, to watch the Jets with her, and to wheel her out to the patio overlooking the expansive lawn and occasional deer.

Mary, whose conversation is limited, stressed that family is the most important thing.

What made life so good?

"People. People. People. Caring."

"I feel it is a blessing to have had 11 children," she said, the words emerging slowly. "You know, it isn't something you say, Oh, I did this. It's a team effort. My husband was just wonderful. He cooperated in every way. He was a fabulous father and a wonderful husband. That's a combination that's hard to beat."

"I just love them so much, so dearly," she went on. "You know, it's funny, but I never knew I could love so much."

Would she have changed anything about her life?

"I think it's fine," she said.

Mary and Gerard Gilbride reared nine girls and two boys in Brooklyn on Gerard's salary as a law professor and dean, and after the kids were grown, Mary went back to college for a degree in English -- "I just wanted that degree," she said, leaving it at that. …

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