A Sweet Memento

I can still hear my mom’s wavering voice when she called me on a Monday night, close to 8:30pm. “Ellen, there’s been some sad news”.  I couldn’t believe it. My aunt had taken her own life. What??? What??? Are you serious?!! These were my initial reactions, followed by a racing heart. I drove over to my parents house right away. My mom’s sister Bev was at the house. She was in town for Easter weekend, and leaving the next morning. She was by my grandmother’s side, embracing her. When I saw my grandmother, I burst into tears. A 90-year old woman in pure shock at the sudden loss of a child. It was heartbreaking.

My sister, brother, aunts and cousins filtered in. We all gathered around my grandmother and consoled one another in our state of shock.

Mary Beth was my dad’s younger sister, the youngest of six. She chose to take her own life, leaving behind her husband and two sons. Mary Beth was battling a slew of health issues; B12 deficiency, anemia, depression, and hormonal imbalances. Being such a strong-willed person and not sharing her feelings with her siblings, not even with her own mother, none of us really knew what was going on.

It’s funny how when after someone passes whom you loved and thought you knew so well, you learn even more about who that person was and how many lives they touched. It’s been overwhelming how many friends and people in the community have reached out to our family during this difficult time. And we are so thankful for each and every one.

Not one day has gone by that I haven’t thought about Mary Beth. Unfortunately, my thought sometimes drift to the dark side of her death, but I’m trying to think about the times when I saw her at her happiest; at family celebrations, holidays, Southampton swim meets, and seeing her do what I think was one of her favorite pastimes; walk her chocolate labs along the James River with her husband, Mark.

It’s been particularly hard because her family lives so close to my parents and my childhood home, that I can’t help but think about her when I go for walks in the neighborhood, especially when I muster up the courage to walk by her house. I don’t think I will cycle through all the stages of grief with this particular loss, but I have found myself wondering on days when the skies are the brightest blue and the sun is shining , why would Mary Beth want to leave this beautiful world? Why did she decide to leave her precious family?!!

We will never really know the answer of why she chose to leave us,  and that’s the hardest part. Good grief is it all so very weird and unsettling. I miss her. We miss her.

I started writing this post about two weeks after Mary Beth died, because I wanted to release all of those feelings somewhere, but I found myself only getting a few sentences out. It was just too soon.

About a month after everything happened, I received a message from Anne Blackwell Thompson, of Blackwell Botanicals. Anne and I worked briefly together at Anthropologie way back when, and she had remembered me there. She had fond memories of Mary Beth at Southampton pool and seeing their boys swim together. Anne wanted to so generously give me a piece of her work as a memento of Mary Beth.

So one day, Anne invited me into her studio, and while I was transfixed on her beautiful pressed botanicals, she insisted that I pick the best one that reminded me of my aunt.

It was hard for me to accept a beautiful gesture such as this, so Anne helped me come to my decision, by showing me a batch of bots she had harvested around the James River area.

This beautiful pressed Queen Anne’s Lace reminded me most of Mary Beth. Not because of any particular memory I had of her involving the wild flower, it just sort of looked like her. And oddly enough, Anne had picked and harvested the Queen Anne’s Lace near the very spot where I last saw Mary Beth; walking her chocolate lab, Penny.


When I look at this pressed flower, I will think of Mary Beth fondly. I will think of her as a lover of nature, an avid walker, a natural care-taker, and most of all, a compassionate mother and wife. I will think of her fondly.





2 thoughts on “A Sweet Memento

  1. Anne Blackwell Thompson says:

    What a lovely tribute to your Aunt Mary Beth! Ellen, your writing is absolutely beautiful! While reading, I was transported back to SRA swim meets and standing next to Mary Beth watching our boys struggle to make it to the end of the pool when they were little mites. She was one of the first friends I met at SRA and her welcoming nature was so sincere and sweet. Mary Beth’s kind nature was much like the Queen Anne’s Lace – the seeds spread easily and quickly in the wind, leaving many new flowers next to roads and throughout fields. I was one of many who were fortunate to have crossed paths with Mary Beth. Many hugs to you!


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