Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Friend Passes

A dear long time friend of Gregory and mine, as well as a co-worker of Gregory's during his Threshold Days, passed last Tuesday. Her husband and best friend Robert sent me this e-mail. His loving comments about how my Alzheimer's blog supported him made me feel good. I am sad at Mary Ellen's passing and for Robert but I am happy for both of them now that Mary Ellen and Robert can both move on to what is next in their life! Rest in Peace Mary Ellen!

Dear Michael,
Mary Ellen passed away Tuesday, Dec. 12th at about 5:30 pm.  Your blog about your & Greg’s journey was an insightful, helpful & much appreciated prep for me as I faced Mary Ellen’s slow decline. Here are the details of her passing:

She’d been transferred for inpatient rehab nearby our house on Saturday from Mitchell hospital after fracturing her pelvis from a fall the previous Wednesday morning. Obviously, this was complicated by her aphasia and dementia.

That afternoon she’d became progressively listless and sleepy since the evening before. I thought it was exhaustion due to her physical therapy session in late morning. After helping her eat lunch and going to the bathroom, we put her on the bed to nap. At 5:15 pm  they brought in her supper tray; I could not get her to come out of her sleep. We both have a DNR order, so there was no attempt to revive her.  She never showed any obvious signs of crisis. It seems like her brain shut down during the afternoon and she just faded away without suffering.

I’m happy that she left us so peacefully and without distress. So quickly. We have been spared the misery of months, if not years of declining existence that many Alzheimer’s patients and their families experience.

Her obit is in the Tribune  and Sun Times today thru Tuesday. I’ve inserted the obit below in case the link doesn’t work. We will have a memorial celebration near her birthday in late April. Hope you can come.  I’ll have her Lyric Opera tickets to share in 2018. 
Let’s remember her for her smile and cheerfulness. Bob

O’Connor, Mary Ellen

Mary Ellen, 83, died peacefully in her sleep on Dec. 12 in Chicago with her husband and soulmate of 37 years, Robert Heitsch, at her side.  Her five-year journey with Alzheimer’s was a remarkable triumph of living cheerfully “in the moment.”  She is also survived by her older sister, Barbara, of Hyde Park, and was beloved by scores of friends and relatives.

Mary Ellen’s life was devoted to the service of others.  First, as an elementary teacher and later in the Peace Corps in Belize, just after a devastating hurricane.  Next, she did fundraising for the Hospital Ship Hope.  She returned to Chicago to work for the City as a social worker, for the Council on Jewish Elderly, and earned a Masters in Social Work from the University of Chicago.  Finally, she devoted 25 years at Thresholds, assisting people with mental illnesses reclaim their lives.  She was an advocate for civil rights and campaigned for many independent candidates.

Always a lover of the outdoors and the arts, Mary Ellen was a downhill skier well into her seventies, took bicycling tours abroad, and faithfully went to the same exercise class for over 40 years.  She was a patron of the Symphony, Grant Park Music Festival, Giordano Dance Chicago, the Art Institute, the Outsiders Art Fair and several theatre groups.  A loyal Lyric Opera fan, she enjoyed a performance just days before her death.

A celebration of her life will be held in the spring.

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