In my childhood, I became close to Marion Ritz and her family. Marion was a friend of my mother. My mother came to know Marion through Pee Wee Football, which my parents were heavily involved in during our youth. My brother played football and my sister and I were cheerleaders. Marion’s children, John and Linda, were likewise involved in the Pee Wee Football league extravaganza. As is true in so many of these types of kids’ sports leagues, it becomes a family of sorts. The mothers coached the cheerleaders, made their outfits, did the books, brought the snacks at games, etc. and the fathers coached, did field prep, and kept score – it was a lifestyle.
At any rate, long after Pee Wee Football had come and gone my mother maintained a friendship with Marion. Marion was a lovely lady who always had her hair and makeup nicely done and presented herself with good cheer. She was fun to be around. Marion laughed a lot and I always saw her in my childhood as a source of constant positivity.
Marion’s life was not easy. Her husband was a hard drinking man who often made poor choices about the family finances that left the family struggling. Marion’s place in the household was very much relegated to the traditional housewife stereotype – holding down the home-front with very little power when her husband got home. I don’t know if there was physical abuse in the home, but there certainly was some emotional abuse. In passing moments when they were together you could see she had a broken spirit. But Marion soldiered on in the marriage for her children and never really outwardly spoke ill of her husband. She was always a well-coiffed portrait of making the best of her lot in life.
My mother never thought highly of Marion’s husband. I think that made my mother that much more committed to maintaining a close friendship with Marion. Marion would be over our house often having coffee and chatting with my mother for hours on end. Marion was always one to encourage my mother to let me and my siblings do whatever we were requesting permission to do in the face of my mother’s hesitation. She was a welcome ally that increased our odds of success. Marion very much bought into the mantra that one should not sweat the small stuff. Through my mother’s friendship with Marion she learned how to better weather the challenges of parenting three very different children. Marion provided my mother a sense of zen. As a kid I loved the effect Marion had on my mother and did not spend much time thinking about it, but as an adult I came to more fully realize that it was the reality of Marion’s hardships that gave credibility to her input on what was small stuff.
Marion’s health was never good. She was a diabetic. It was a source of struggle for her all of her life. Her volatile financial situation always caused her to cut corners and put others before herself. I retain so many memories of my mother fretting over Marion’s well-being and being frustrated with what she perceived to be a disregard for Marion’s health by her husband. When Marion passed away in 1986 at far too young an age of 49, it weighed on my mother. Marion put everyone before herself – her husband, her children – and they let her. This bothered my mother to no end, but ultimately it was Marion’s way and her choice to make. So when Marion died because of a lifetime of putting herself last and shortchanging her own needed care, it wasn’t as much a surprise as it was a sad conclusion.
I thought of Marion today when I read Robin Huebner’s article in The Forum about one family’s heartbreak with two stillborn children. Jason and Tandy Pratt shared their story with the hope that by doing so it will help others dealing with the same type of loss. Although I have known others over the years who have experienced this type of tragic loss, my first orientation to stillbirth remains the face of this sorrow for me – and that orientation came from Marion Ritz.
I still hold in my mind the visual image of Marion sitting on a couch recounting to me all the children she lost with somber recognition. It is the only memory I have of her when she was not happy or lighthearted. As best I can recall it, Marion recounted the loss of five tiny souls. At the time – as a teenager, long before my own foray into parenthood – I could not fully appreciate the depth of grief such losses inevitably left on her soul. I do remember thinking in the moment though that at least she had John and Linda – as if that in some way made the losses less consequential. Now I know her heart was probably always heavy because of those losses as there is no replacement for a lost child. The children she lost were intermixed with her live births. I remember her going through all the names and birth dates of her children as she sat there on the couch. The imprint of the moment I retained in my psyche was the feeling that in speaking their name and birth dates she honored their lives and the magnitude of the loss.
I understand so much more about Marion now that I am older and have more life experiences. I now realize the weight she carried all those years and the ways that it shaped her choices. She lived for the family she had and she died sooner than she should have because she put primacy on them instead of herself. She chose to give everything she had to her family while she was here with us and now she is giving it to her babies in heaven.
Take the time to read Robin’s article on the Pratts. The Pratts shared their private grief in order to help others. In their experience lies the potential to help other parents who have had a similar experience and guidance on ways in which pregnant women can more aggressively monitor their own pregnancy. I know the face of this sorrow – I know the weight it levies on a soul. I can see it as I reflect back on Marion Ritz’s life. I wish I could tell her that I understand so much more now. I wish I had better understood then the amount of courage and strength it took all those years for her to live outwardly in positivity. Rest in peace Marion and know that I remember you fondly for all that you were and all that you taught me about the price of carrying a private burden.
Day one thousand three hundred and fifty-five of the new forty – obla di obla da