June 19, 2008

June 19, 2010

Thursday morning I woke up feeling sick and anxious. I hadn’t slept well and was having trouble doing simple tasks. My cellphone rang and it was Diana. It seems I could receive international calls but not place them. We spoke briefly. Somehow, I know Mariah has survived the night, and I can’t wait to get to her.

Enrique arrived as promised and drove us to the hospital. It was only a few minutes away. I tried to focus on the route but got disoriented.

We park across the street from the modest hospital and go in.  Up a short flight of stairs and around a corner is the locked entrance to the ICU. Several people are standing around. Enrique presses a buzzer and we join the other people waiting. A pleasant woman approaches and asks me if I am Mark. She is Gladys, my friend’s friend’s mother.

Flooded with gratitude I sense an abundance of support in Lima. Gladys, Enrique, and I talk quietly for a few minutes. Gladys is very concerned and I assure her that I will be fine in Enrique’s care. Admonishing me to call for anything, anytime, she leaves.

After an interminable quarter of an hour, the door to the ICU opens slightly and a nurse pokes her head out. Enrique identifies us and we are allowed in where we put on gowns and caps.

Barely able to contain myself, I step around the corner and at last see Mariah. I put my arms around her and she hugs me back, crying. Avoiding the tangle of tubes and wires, I hold her tightly and tell her I love her and how good it is to see her and how it’s going to be all right. We both cry.

Stepping back to look at her, I see a terrified, confused, and badly damaged young woman. My heart breaks. She speaks infrequently but clearly and so softly I have to lean closer to make out her words. “Dad, I want to go home NOW.”

Stroking her head, I said “I know, Sweetie. We’ll get you home as soon as possible.”

“I want to you stay with me.”

“I will. I promise.”

“Ok. Thanks, Dad.”

Enrique left to check in at his office which is only a block away. He said he’ll return later to take me to lunch. Someone kindly brings me a chair. I sit next Mariah and hold her hand, stroke her head and hands, and make small talk. Every few minutes she yawns a gigantic yawn. I tell her that her mighty brain is gulping oxygen to heal itself.

Alarmingly, two or three times an hour, she writhes, limbs twisting and hands and feet flexing at an impossible angle. She pulls her legs up to her chest and rolls from side to side in the bed. She strains against internal forces. After a few minutes her body suddenly  relaxes and she falls back, panting. The staff calls this “agitated”.

After one such episode, she pulls me close to her and says, “If I’m not better in four days, kill me.” Shocked, my fear surges. I’ve never known Mariah to not be up to a challenge. “Let’s see how things go, Bunny,” I reply. (Later that day when I was giving her a pep talk, I told her she had the toughest mission she had ever faced, and asked her to pour 100% into getting better for six months. She agreed, and in fact would give it 18.)

A  nurse gets my attention and indicates a telephone. I take the call. It’s Tri Care, the Army’s medical insurance carrier. They want a report which I try to give. They want to medivac Mariah back to the states ASAP. They claim the doctors in Lima don’t want her moved for several days, and they want my assessment. I agree with the docs for now but ask Tri Care to check back tomorrow for an update. They inform me I will not be able to accompany Mariah on the plane home. I cannot imagine letting Mariah out of my sight and push back. I tell them she’s terrified and begged me to stay with her, and that I promised her I would. They push back again and we let it drop.

Morning visiting hours over, Enrique returns to take me to lunch. We go first to his office where he generously makes a desk, phone and computer workstation available for the duration of my stay. Mariah’s luggage, an enormous backpack, is there as well which I’ll inspect later.

Anxious to get back to the hospital in time for afternoon visiting hours, I cut our lunch short. I stopped at the office where I pick up an email. Diana had sent me the text of “Goodnight, Moon,” one of Mariah’s favorite books from her childhood.

Back at the ICU, Doctor Prentiss, the neurologist on Mariah’s case, shows me the films of the MRI they took when she arrived at the hospital. He points out what appears to be a small, almost withered-looking artery at the base of her brain. It’s next to another vessel that is much thicker, straighter and more robust. His theory is that the narrow artery, one of a pair that feeds her brain, somehow became completely constricted or blocked, causing the stroke. He hands the large envelope of films to me with instructions to be sure they get into the hands of the docs in the states.

The afternoon is a blur of comforting Mariah, reading and singing to her, witnessing her awful spasms. I was wrenched back and forth between hope and despair. Stepping away from the bed to take a call, I noticed Mariah watching me from across the room. I made the “I love you” hand sign, and to my delight and great relief she offered one in return.

Near the end of the day, Mariah said suddenly, “Goodbye, Dad.” Confused, I asked whether she wanted me to leave. “No,” she replied. “Me.” With that, she closed her eyes and lay back on the bed. Fearing that she might be dying or willing herself to die, I stood frozen. Silently, I begged her to live. I stared at the monitors, watching the numbers and traces for a sign of decline. Minutes passed. None appeared. Score one for life.

When visiting hours ended for the day, I told Mariah I would be back first thing in the morning and that I loved her. She said “Ok, Dad. I love you, too.” That would be last time I heard her speak clearly, and the last sentence she would utter for two months.

– Mark

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June 18, 2008

June 18, 2010

(I’m recording  my memories of the events of this week two years ago as therapy for myself. These thoughts and memories keep bubbling up. They distract and sometime trouble me. Maybe by taking the time to tell the story carefully and  honestly, I can feel the memories more acutely and begin moving them out of me and myself back into the flow of life.)

After a few hours of fitful sleep, I awoke to a gut-wrenching sense of dread and determination. We know the experience of waking from a dream with powerful feelings. Feelings that stick with us for hours as we slowly re-enter “reality”. That Wednesday morning the nightmare feelings were present. But there would be no re-entry to a familiar reality to help to dissipate the anxiety of the night before.

Though experienced with international travel, I was unable to focus on what lay ahead and what I might need. I checked and double checked passport, flight information, credit cards, weather in Lima, notes from phone calls the night before. I tried to not think about Mariah.

Finally at the door with bags in hand, Diana and I held each other tightly and kissed teary goodbyes. Then I stepped through the door and into a world that looked familiar but felt entirely alien, and headed for the Newtonville train station.

I tried to observe the details of the neighborhood as I walked, but I was elsewhere. Shock provided a haze that both shielded me from crippling horror and isolated me from the familiar. Shock that would be ignited again and again for at least the next two years of my life.

At the office, I hurried to tell my bosses about Mariah’s scary but mild stroke. And to reassure them that after checking on her in Peru I would join them at General Assembly in Florida. I tried to project confidence, but my shaking hands betrayed me. My friend Javier gave me the name and phone number of his friend in Lima, Gladys, with clear instructions to call her for anything.

Shoe leather to the Government Center T stop, blue line to the airport stop, shuttle bus to the terminal, plane to Newark, plane to Lima. Twelve uncomfortable, lonely, anxious hours. I tried to not think about Mariah.

At 10:00 in the evening, the terminal in Lima wasn’t crowded. A good thing as I don’t speak or read Spanish, and being exhausted from worry and travel, I needed to go slowly to get oriented.

I tried to call Diana on my cell but hadn’t thought to enable international service before leaving Boston, and instead got a recording in Spanish. After clearing customs, I exchanged the few dollars I had for Peruvian nuevo sol at a kiosk, worried it might not be enough to pay for the ride.

In spite of it being a large airport, it wasn’t hard to find the driver holding a sign with my name. Grateful, I handed my bag over and climbed aboard. Driving through the darkened streets of the city, I felt myself getting closer to Mariah. “I’m coming, Sweetie,” I muttered under my breath. Out the windows, another foreign capital flowed by, both strange and familiar.

We arrived at a modern little hotel in a residential district. The tour rep had assured me it was close to the hospital and in a reasonably safe neighborhood. The fare and tip took nearly all my cash, but I had made it. I checked in, went to my room, and after deciphering the international calling instructions, finally reached Diana.

Her voice gave me the first moment of calm since leaving home. But she had bad news. She asked whether I wanted to hear, whether I thought I could handle it. I told her I needed to know everything. During the day, the tour group rep had called and told her that Mariah was in very serious condition in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit and was breathing with the aid of a ventilator.

Slam! I burst into tears. The hope I had allowed myself because the stroke was very mild evaporated in an instant. Shocked, I fell onto the bed. The truth was that Mariah was in mortal danger a few miles away. I feared that she would not live through the night. I wanted to go to her right then. But it was midnight, I had no money, didn’t know Spanish, didn’t know where the hospital was, and I was exhausted and sick with terror.

I called the number for the tour group rep and got the father of the young man we had been working with. He exlpained that his son had to leave town on business, and that he, the owner of the agency, would take care of me during my stay. He explained that we would not be admitted to the ICU at that hour, and he promised to pick me up early in the morning to take me to her.

Unconvinced but defeated, I agreed and thanked him. I called Diana back to update her and we shared a cry before I tried to get some sleep.

Mariah was in huge trouble, and I was inches away but unable to reach her. Thus the model of much of my life for the next two years was in  place. Hope nurtured but shattered by an endless series of shocking blows, and the nightmare of helplessly watching my girl suffer on the other side of an impenetrable barrier.

– Mark

June 17, 2008

June 17, 2010

(Strokes, if treated within an hour or so, can easily be survived. It was over six hours before Mariah was able to reach any professional medical care, and nearly two days before an accurate diagnosis would be made. Ironically, of all the medical professionals involved in the first 48 hours of her ordeal, only one suggested the correct diagnosis. Only Mariah figured out what was wrong, and she wasn’t in charge.)

Two years ago on Tuesday evening, June 17, Diana and I were in our living room in Newton, Massachusetts. We were watching the Celtics on TV as they fought in the deciding game for the 2008 NBA championship game against the Lakers.

It was late when the phone rang in the next room. Irritated at the interruption and keeping an eye on the TV,  I took the call. It was Mariah’s best friend, Suzanna Strasburg (now Fitzpatrick). Distracted, I asked what was up. Then I heard worry in her voice as she said, “I got a call from the tour group in Peru. Mariah’s had an accident.”

In the beat of a heart there was no game and no sound but Suzanna’s voice. My stomach plunged and I saw Mariah slipping from the side of the mountain. Before she could fall, I heard my quavering voice ask, “What happened?”

“Mariah had a stroke.”

Unable to make any sense of the message, my racing mind tried to fit it together with a fall. “What?” I asked, thinking, “But, but what about the fall? How could a fall..? A stroke? Mariah had a stroke?”

“She had a stroke, but it’s a very mild one. They think she’ll recover almost 100%.”

Panic made room for disbelief. Stomach churning I put my hand over the mouthpiece and looked into the living room at Diana watching the game. I gestured wildly to get her attention. When our eyes met, pleading I said, “Mariah had a stroke. She had a stroke!!”

Diana rushed to my side and handed me a pad and paper. Suzanna gave me contact info for the hospital, doctor and tour operator’s office all in Lima, Peru, as well as the phone number of the insurance company that covers Army personnel. Hand shaking, I tried to write carefully knowing this information was the only link to my poor daughter thousands of miles away.

I thanked Suzanna. She said, “They said she’ll be ok. I’m so sorry, Mark.” I didn’t know that would be  the first of thousands of expressions of sympathy over the next two years.

Making international calls always stumps me, but I finally got the dialing prefixes right. I don’t speak Spanish, and at that hour, the hospital staff didn’t speak English. The doctor wasn’t available, but the tour group representative in Peru answered and spoke English. He reiterated what Suzanna had said, that the stroke appeared to be very mild.

When the calls ended, I paced the room in shock asking over and over, “How could this happen? She’s a kid. A stroke?”

Diana was back on the sofa with her laptop, looking up flights to Lima. She called Continental and explained the situation. The sympathetic ticket agent offered a reduced emergency fare, about $800, for a flight the next morning. “When do you think you’re going to come back?” Diana asked me.

I couldn’t focus, couldn’t find an answer to the question. Somehow I  recalled a flight to Florida the next Sunday for my work’s annual meeting. “Sunday,” I said.

With flight arrangements connecting through New Jersey and arriving in Lima late Wednesday night, I called the tour group rep back. He said he’d have a driver at the airport in Lima and would make reservations at a hotel near the hospital for me. He said the hospital ICU would be closed at that hour, but offered to pick me up at the hotel early Thursday morning to accompany me to where Mariah was being cared for.

Shaking and numb, I thanked him and rang off. Still unable to focus, the idea of packing for an emergency international flight was completely beyond me. Diana helped me upstairs where I moved slowly, robot-like in a daze of terror and disbelief to pack for the next day’s journey. I tried but couldn’t even imagine what might lay ahead.

– Mark

June 15, 2008

June 15, 2010

Too late! The clock is chiming 6:00 pm, and now it’s too late.

I kept thinking I could, but I couldn’t. All day I watched the time, kept trying to figure out a way. I tried. I tried to reach her to tell her to skip the hike. I tried to tell her to not go up the mountain. To stay safely at home and away from Peru. I tried to warn her about her awful headache, and the altitude, and the narrowed vertebral artery in her neck, and the birth control hormones in her body; about all the risk factors, but she couldn’t hear me. Didn’t get the message. Now it’s too late; I’ll never be able to save her.

That’s a father’s first job, to protect their children. It’s a primal, physical job. Teach them about danger, then keep it at bay. If it gets too close anyway, destroy it or grab the children and flee. But keep the children safe.

Now it’s too late. The clock is striking 6 and the stroke is beginning, a change in a blood vessel near the base of her brain. The blood has been struggling to pass through the constricted artery for some time, but now for reasons that will never be explained, it’s blocked altogether. Lacking precious oxygen, the cells of her mighty brain begin to die. First one, then many in the tightly packed bundle that enters the base of her brain from the thousand tributaries branching throughout her body.

Defeated, she collapses on the bed. It’s about 6:00 pm on June 15, 2008. It’s Father’s Day.

I need to get as close as possible to her confusion, her pain and terror. I need to be with her as her vision blurred, words escaped her, and her sense of touch slipped away. I can’t do that yet, but one day I will. No one could save her, but I can remember and feel what she felt.

The story of her experience on the mountain in Peru as told by her traveling companion, Molly Harrington, is recorded elsewhere in this blog. Over the next several days, I’ll recall here what happened from the moment I received the horrible news in Boston until Mariah was medevaced from Lima, Peru to Washington, DC.

– Mark

“Each day, every tiny victory mattered.”
– Janet Hayes, UUA colleague.

Well, I don’t do this every night.  However, since I withdrew from school two plus weeks ago, a lot of my nights I do quite a bit of late-night grieving and connecting with other sibling suicide survivors (my apologies to family members who do not wish the nature of Mariahs’ death to be broadcast).  No specifics of death should ever be taboo, as it is merely the other side of life.   I decided , since this blog is still frequented by loved ones, that I would post a bit about my grieving process.  It is unique to my life experiences so far.  Here is what I just posted on the sibling suicide survivor site a few minutes ago:

I found myself in my own bedroom closet an hour ago. Tonight that is where I found more comfort than anywhere else in the last handful of weeks. I will try it again if I am blue tomorrow. The first thought that came to mind while i curled up in there was the memory of my first night staying by my sister’s bedside at the hospital. It took me two weeks after her stroke to make it there (I am a working musician and I struggled to afford the ticket to travel to her) The first night I curled up in a ball on the chair next to her hospital bed and slept there… I just wanted to be near her. The next several visits I spent a lot of time moving her about transferring her from bed to wheelchair and tilting her back in the sun outside and playing guitar and singing to her. She couldn’t speak or swallow or move except for toes, so we had “yes” and “no” written on her socks. I would ask if she wanted me to keep singing, or if she wanted to be in the shade, etc…
Mariah I miss you soo much!!! I need my sidekick. I need my big sister. I need a hero again. I am so discouraged and lonely without you! I am so mad at God for letting you take your life. I needed you so much. I would have taken care of you forever. You only needed a little help at the end of it all. You were getting so well again. I need help letting go of you every day. Every night. I miss your encouragement and your faith in me. I miss your laughter. Your friend, Eric, wrote to tell me he wanted to name a daughter after you one day. ….Not if I beat him to it first! This sucks, I am hurting unbearably without you. Only God understands. I know that I don’t. Sometimes I am too angry with Him to even want to spend time with Him. Its been 3 and a half months since you left. It hurts like yesterday. Bless you, my angel.

Part of my grieving process is based upon my personal belief that no feeling I have is unhealthy or wrong or suspect.  No feeling or mood necessitates therapy or scrutiny or “fixing” any more or less than another.  Easier said than done, however.  Anger, anxiety, and insecurity are some of the most difficult emotions for me to deal with.  I have beaten the sapling tree in my backyard to death, spent countless baths screaming under water in the middle of the night, sobbed through the pain on my floor, in the arms of friends, or in the supermarket while purchasing a few items to accomplish my daily goal of eating three meals, and I have laughed and loved and been loved deeply through and between all of it.  Also, envy confounds me.  Some would call me crazy to say it, but suicide has many times been a logical “option” to me.  I am a recovering drug addict, and insane thinking is one of the most obvious characteristics of the addict mind.  I can’t help it.  It is out of my control.  I can go from serene to suicidal myself in a matter of minutes.  This is why I make life choices that go against the grain.  This is why I perform for a living.  It is why I just left school to take care of my insides.  It is why I need encouragement, help, and positive people.  It is why I have not spent one day in over two years without spending time consciously with the God whom I serve.  It is why my spiritual life is everything and the material: school, relationships, finances, achievements, MUST take a backseat.  All things come and go, so more can always be had.  Time is the only thing already measured and slipping away one day at a time.  Mariah’s days were measured before her birth, as are my own.  I have been cheated by addiction, disease, and wrong perceptions afforded me by misinformed people so many times now that the only place for me to truly live is with my heart in Gods hands and my eyes on Gods wisdom.

I am very joyful to say tonight, after another one of the particularly difficult evenings, that I am very grateful to have been endowed over time with the courage to stand and face the wind.  I am grateful for the hope in tomorrow, the pain that spiritual growth necessitates, and the friends I have who have been with me through the storms.  May 3rd I will celebrate, sadly without Mariah, my Fourth Year Clean and Recovering from the horrors of life in active addiction.  This year it is in honor of one of my biggest heros and greatest inspirations:  my big sister and best friend, Captain K

So it’s April 1st once again and time to celebrate the occasion of your birth and the rich tapestry that is your life.

Near the Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy (May, 2007)

As today approached, I thought about ways to  honor you. Maybe a big bouquet of beautiful spring flowers for the kitchen table. Certainly a call to Clay, and maybe to Grandma.

I planned to go to work today and pretty much stick to my routine. With the exception of spending some time walking in the Boston Common and the Garden, where I would have come upon the statue of George Washington astride his horse. That’s where you were sworn in to the Army as a lieutenant on May 12, 2003. It was a warm spring evening, and we celebrated at a great Italian restaurant on Charles Street afterward.

(The Big Apple Circus is back in town. Remember when we went together about this time in 2008, just before you went to Peru? On the same visit, you and I and Diana went to a Sox game at Fenway. The Yankees are coming for the season opener this Sunday. I know you’re not a baseball fan, but we all had fun together, and you did enjoy a big fat sausage with grilled onions and peppers. Maybe I should get some tickets. And a napkin.)

By last night, though, I was having second thoughts about my plan. Especially after a chat with Clay. He had (brilliantly) asked his group of surviving brothers and sisters what they did on their sib’s first birthday after death, and their responses inspired me to reach a little higher than “business as usual”.

About 2:00 am I awoke from some powerful dreams, thought about you for a couple of hours (mostly happy and wistful stuff, but some real regrets, too), and went downstairs for a workout. That usually helps me think more clearly, and that’s when I realized I needed to start the day not responding to email but rather to your gentle spirit.

We spoke and I cried while grinding out crunches. I sang to you, and you urged me to not be so worried about my back as I prepared for push ups. (My goal has been 50 since I watched you do that at one of your martial arts graduations, but 40 is the best I’ve managed in all the years since.)

I wish there had been more time to get to know you better, Mariah. That scarcity is chalked up to nature. And I wish I’d used the time I did have to get to know you better. For that, I am responsible. If only I had learned how to text sooner. 🙂

Normally, I’d be thinking about what to give you on your special day. This year I’m thinking about what you’ve given me. An appreciation for sincere humility, dignity, grace, and generosity. A reminder of the importance of action when the time is ripe and of patience when it is not. Awareness deep in my soul of how amazing, mysterious, and lovely are the great events of birth and death and all that comes before and after. And awe and gratitude for each moment of life and light and love that lies between.

Happy Birthday, Mariah. You are truly a miracle. I love you to pieces.

– Dad

P.S. Here’s part of a note I received last night from your step-sister, Nicole. It was hand-written on beautiful paper.

Dear Mark,

This is a piece of stationery that Mariah created and gave to me in a set for Christmas many years ago. The set also included bookmarks and small note paper. I’m so glad I still have some left; now I have a bit of connection to the adolescent Mariah (I think she was probably about 12 when she made this.).

She was always so inventive, with a special way of blending creativity and practicality. She used her talents to come up with things that were imaginative and beautiful, and often with a useful purpose as well.

I will never forget watching her walk away from the last time Sarah and I saw her before her trip to Peru. She was wearing a summer dress and the warm afternoon sunlight was shining on her as she walked to her car with a bold, direct, confident bounce in her step.

She did so many amazing things with her life, including her feats in recovery. I feel lucky to have been a part of her family and to have watched her grow up from a little girl into such a proud, accomplished, intelligent and creative woman.

Love, Coli

**************************************************************

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DUDE,  from CLAY

I went to the local shopping mart and got three pink balloons with helium today. One popped, which was ok, cuz I was left with two by the time I biked down to the river with a note attached to the balloons. I said my prayer, cried my tears, and let the balloons go and lay in the grass watching until they turned into one balloon… and then it looked like a star way up there… and then I couldn’t see anything but sky.  I want to extend my gratitude to the other sibling survivors who graciously lent their suggestions and experiences with honoring their lost brothers and sisters.  This suggestion of balloons and a note was simple and meaningful, which suits Mariah.  I spent the rest of the afternoon walking my dog, Sky, by the river and blowing bubbles. The spring is bittersweet indeed. God bless the survivors.   Happy Birthday my beloved Bunny.  I struggle everyday to let you go.

Love and Light,

Clay

Mariah will be buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday, March 18. The service will commence at 11:00 am at the Old Post Chapel at Fort Myer, immediately adjacent to the Cemetery. After a ceremony lasting about 20 minutes, the funeral party will proceed from the chapel to the graveside where we will bid Mariah our final farewell.

If you’d like to attend, you should plan on being at the Old Post Chapel by 10:30 am. Heightened security at the gates will increase the time needed to gain entrance, so the Army suggests arriving as early as 9:30 am.

Here’s a Google map of the Fort Myer gates and Old Post Chapel. Below are directions to Fort Myer.

– Mark

Fort Myer, Virginia, is located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. Fort Myer has three gates:

  • Hatfield Gate on Washington Blvd. at South 2nd Street — Main gate, open at all times
  • Wright Gate on Marshall Dr. at Meade St. just off Rte 110 — Open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week
  • Henry Gate on Arlington Blvd. (U.S. Rt. 50) at North Pershing Dr. — For Outbound Vehicular Traffic and Pedestrian Traffic, open Monday-Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

FROM THE SOUTH ON INTERSTATE 95:

Inside the Capital Beltway, 1-95 becomes 1-395. Proceed north toward Washington. Take Exit 8A (7 miles inside the Beltway), marked “Washington Blvd., Route 27.” Bear left on the ramp, following the signs. Exit Washington Blvd. to the right at the exit marked “Fort Myer Only.”

FROM THE WEST ON INTERSTATE 66:

Proceed on 1-66 inside the Capital Beltway. Take exit 26 (7 miles inside the Beltway) marked “Route 110 South, Pentagon, Alexandria.”
Pass the Iwo Jima Memorial on your right, then immediately turn right onto Marshall Drive and continue 3/4 miles to Fort Myer gate.

FROM THE NORTH ON THE CAPITAL BELTWAY (I-495):

Immediately after crossing the American Legion Bridge into Virginia, exit to the right onto the George Washington Memorial Parkway, toward Washington, Exit 43-44. Merge onto the Parkway, then take exit toward US-50. Merge onto Arlington Blvd/US-50. Proceed west in the right lane to a ramp for Ft. Myer Drive/Meade Street. Make a left turn, pass by the Iwo Jima Memorial on your left, proceed to the stop sign and turn right into Ft. Myer.

FROM D.C.:

Take 1-395 out of the city and into Virginia. Pass the Pentagon and take Exit 8A for Washington Blvd. Proceed on Washington Blvd and take exit marked “Fort Myer Only” on the right.

Memorial Minute – 1/16/2010

February 14, 2010

Below is the text and cover photo of the Memorial Minute written by family friend and journalist Frank Greve. It was read aloud at the Memorial Meeting for Worship held in Mariah’s honor at the Bethesda Friends (Quaker) Meeting on Saturday, January 16, 2010. Over 200 people were in attendance; several stood in the aisles and the hall outside the meeting room. More than a dozen spoke lovingly about their memories of Mariah.

—————————————-

Mariah at Fort Myer Riding Program, 2009

Mariah King Steinwinter Kochavi, an Army veterinarian, was born in Washington on April 1, 1980 to Mary Oren King and Mark Steinwinter. Along with her brother, Clayton King Steinwinter, Mariah grew up in the care of Bethesda Friends Meeting, thrived at Catoctin Quaker Camp, and graduated from Sidwell Friends School. She and Clay, who’s two years younger, were lifelong friends and teammates.

Mariah brought an almost regal presence to Meeting, with her long neck and dancer’s posture. She never spoke and, though close to many in the Meeting, did not join it. Nonetheless, her life’s witness shows Mariah as a practicing Quaker with much to teach us.

Pam Benson, her sixth-grade teacher, described Mariah at the time as “respected by her classmates for her intelligence, her kindness to others, her seriousness of purpose, her wonderful attention to detail and her artistic ability.” She said Mariah was “frank and often disarmingly truthful–and also very strong.” Another teacher recalled Mariah’s intense concentration at age nine as she perfected the lines of beak and claw in her drawing of a bird.

Actually, Mariah showed lots of veterinary tendencies in middle school: She rescued two baby robins who’d fallen to the ground in a storm, fed them minced catfood, and ultimately returned them to their mother. Not long afterward, she rescued from a cat’s mouth a mouse who came to live in her blouse pocket and sleep in her hair.

She also showed disciplined physical audacity, dancing with the Maryland Youth Ballet as a young teen and earning a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. When the strains proved too much for her body, Mariah took a summer off to work with horses and muck out stables at Little Brook Farm, a place of refuge for neglected animals, located in Old Chatham, New York.

Suzanna Strasburg Fitzpatrick, her classmate, oldest friend, and ultimately adopter of Mariah’s beloved dog, Chai, recognized two exquisite traits in Mariah: In a highly competitive school, Susanna recalled, “Mariah never wanted to stand out. She wanted to do her best without ever drawing attention to herself.” The second thing was, “Mariah was relaxed and easy, soothing, caring and nonjudgmental, and it was contagious. She was the happiest person I’ve met in my entire life.”

Mariah entered Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., in 1998. She majored in German studies and art, intending to become a scientific illustrator. As a sophomore, she met her future husband, Ramon Kochavi of Eilat, Israel, in a dorm lounge popular with Pomona’s foreign students and language majors. Over dinner at a Pasadena Denny’s a few months later, Ramon made a ring out of a straw wrapper and proposed. They married in January 2001. By then, Mariah was cramming into her schedule the science courses she’d need for veterinary school.

The switch was hardly a surprise for a couple that was pet-mad. Their 722-square-foot apartment was home, Ramon recalled recently, to a 60-gallon aquarium containing schools of fish; love birds named Sweetie and Rory, who was a biter; two female ferrets, Orit and yafit; two sugar gliders (Australian flying squirrels) named Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Lee; an iguana named Abigail, a bunny named Dirty Paws, and an umbrella cockatoo named Shooki. “It was a zoo,” said Ramon. “And we loved it.”

Mariah’s career-goal shift proved a brilliant decision for her and for the U.S. Army, which paid most of her way through Tufts University’s School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass. While there, several faculty noticed that Mariah drew well. “I just doodle a little,” she told Prof. Mary Anna Labato, who, after viewing Mariah’s work, asked her to illustrate a journal article. “Her work was remarkably precise and professional” said Dr. Labato, which is how Mariah came to contribute a drawing as well to the definitive Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine. At graduation she looked embarrassed when named among the top ten in her class.

In return for the Army’s support, Capt. Kochavi in 2006 reported to Fort Meade, Md., where she was vet to all of the roughly 150 security, explosive- and bomb-sniffing dogs that work for government agencies in the Greater Washington area.  In addition, Mariah and the 27 military and 11 civilian personnel who reported to her delivered veterinary care to active duty and retired military personnel at bases throughout the region. They included Forts Detrick and Meade, Andrews and Bolling Air Force bases, Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle, Pa., the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Forest Glenn Army Medical Annex in Silver Spring, and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Mariah also served as food inspector for those bases.

On the Veterinary Command’s books, it was work of three officers and initially, at 26, with a Quaker’s uneasiness about command and authority, Mariah worried that she wasn’t up to it. First, she had to win the respect of working-dog handlers. They’re the most demanding clients a veterinarian will ever meet, according to Mariah’s colleague and successor, Capt. Shara Chance. She also had to win over career personnel made cynical by the constant turnover of inexperienced officers.

Mariah needn’t have worried, say those she worked with, including Capt. Chance, then a subordinate. “A lot of people don’t love officers, but a lot of those people loved Mariah,” said Capt. Chance. The secret, she thought, was that “Mariah respected everybody and what they did, and, while she didn’t talk a lot, when she spoke, everyone wanted to listen.” For that, and for her eternal gusto, “Everybody looked up to Mariah and after her,” said Thomas Arvey, the Veterinary Command’s human resources specialist. “She was the sister that everybody wanted to have.”

It helped that Mariah was cheerful about the split lip, dislocated shoulder and black eye that martial arts practices at Fort Meade left her with. It helped, too, that she was buff to the point of awesome, scoring 291 points out of a possible 300 on her Army fitness test. The feat included 81 push-ups and 103 sit-ups performed in two, two-minute sets.

In Mariah’s clinic, it mattered more that she was a superb diagnostician and a confident one, said Cpl. Wayne Butler, a working-dog handler recently retired from the Maryland Transit Authority Police. Coupled with Mariah’s intellectual skills, Cpl. Butler added, was generous and deep caring: “Mariah was adamant that if you had a problem with your dog, you needed to call her. She’d come in on her day off, the weekend, whatever. And when she saw you and your dog, you felt like you were the only ones in the world who mattered.” Said another working-dog handler, Emory Williams: “Mariah went out of her way for people she didn’t even know.”

Mariah was looking forward to deployment in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in the summer of 2008. She saw it as part of the adventure the Army had promised. It was also as a career step toward her long-term goal of becoming head veterinarian at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology on the Walter Reed campus. But first she wanted to hike in the mountains around Machu Picchu in Peru.

A blood clot grew slowly at the back of Mariah’s neck over two mid-June days in which she hiked at the front of a small pack of climbers put together by REI. When headaches, dizziness, blurry vision, slurred speech and failing memory sidelined her, local doctors misdiagnosed the symptoms as salmonella, then spinal meningitis, rather than the stroke that eventually shut down nearly all of Mariah’s neurological functions.

The life reviewed thus far ended there. A life lifted mainly by others’ love began. The Army promptly med-evaced Mariah from Peru by Lear jet to Walter Reed. Doctors, nurses and therapists there and at Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Hospital in Richmond, Va., provided the finest medical care.

Among staff and friends, there was exultation that Mariah could communicate by moving her big right toe. There was new faith in miracles when Mariah rediscovered speech, an event captured on video on her father Mark’s loving chronicle, a blog called Mariah’s Reemergence. Mark and Mary-O moved in by turns as Mariah’s resident care-givers and Clay  came up from North Carolina regularly to spell them. When Mariah asked him to live with her at Walter Reed, Clay gave up his apartment, stored his belongings and looked after her. “We really looked out for each other,” Clay recalled recently. “She showed me it’s possible to find an abundance of courage in the face of overwhelming internal fear.”

Ramon, separated from Mariah before her accident, came to her bedside, too. One nurse brought Mariah her favorite movies to watch. A soldier’s mother made Mariah the floral quilt that she slept under. Many friends brought Mariah chocolates, her only known vice. Dog handlers showed how tough they weren’t. And Quakers who knew military bases mainly from picketing outside their gates discovered the awesome depth of heart in the words “Army family”.

There is as much reason to celebrate the love that people showed when Mariah most needed it, as there is to celebrate her remarkable, loving life. She ended what she described as her endless nightmare on Dec. 24, 2009. Mariah rests in peace. May her spirit live on in those who knew her and loved her.

Memorial Services Update

January 12, 2010

Mariah walking with her mom, Mary-O King, at Fort Myer

Mariah and Mom, Mary-O King, at the Ft. Myer Therapeutic Riding Program (2009)

Saturday, January 16, at 2:30 pm, a Quaker Memorial Meeting for Worship service will be conducted at Bethesda Friends Meeting in Bethesda, Maryland. The service will be in the fashion of Quakers, featuring an hour or more of respectful silence punctuated by brief, spontaneous spoken messages that help us recall and feel connected to Mariah and to one another. A reception on the grounds will follow the meeting for worship. All are welcome, but seating is limited to about 200. Child care will be provided.

The meeting house is on the campus of the Sidwell Friends Lower School located in a residential neighborhood. There is some parking on the grounds, but if you are able-bodied, please park on a street in the surrounding neighborhood so that those less abled may park close by.

The meeting house address is 5100 Edgemoor Ln, Bethesda, MD 20814. You can get directions and a Google map at http://www.bethesdafriends.org/directions.html.

Please do not send flowers or gifts. If you wish to make a charitable donation in Mariah’s name, consider contributing to Little Brook Farm. See https://mariahsreemergence.com/2010/01/03/mariah-kochavi-memorial-contributions/ for instructions on how to do that.

Mariah with her dog, ChaiLast Wednesday, January 6, a Moment of Remembrance for Mariah was observed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC., where Mariah resided and worked on rehab for the last year. Attending were dozens, perhaps hundreds, of her fellow soldiers from the Warrior Transition Brigade, her commanders, doctors, therapists, caregivers and family. A poster-sized photo of Captain Kochavi gazing lovingly at us (left) was on display at the front of the assembly during the ceremony. Mariah’s presence in the hall was so real I half expected her to stride in quietly and take a seat.

The outpouring of condolences is so heartening. Mail, email, comments on this blog, and phone calls expressing sympathy and offering support pour in from around the country. Please continue to hold Mariah’s family in your hearts and prayers.

– Mark

Mariah loved, cared for, and saved many animals. She especially loved horses and horseback riding. As a young girl and a teen, she spent many a pleasant summer day with the wonderful horses and people at Little Brook Farm in Old Chatham, NY.

The farm was founded in 1977 by Lynn Cross to house and care for horses and other animals that were rescued from neglect, abuse, or danger of destruction. In 1986, Lynn established a non-profit program called “Balanced Innovative Teaching Strategies”, or B.I.T.S., a therapeutic riding program for the benefit of children and adults with physical and/or developmental challenges.

Little Brook FarmToday there are over 60 rescued horses at the farm. In addition to Lynn Cross, there are 8 full time volunteers. You can learn more about the farm and B.I.T.S. at the farm’s website at http://littlebrookfarm.org. (Lynn apologizes that the site is out of date. She apparently spends more time rescuing and rehabilitating horses and generously helping people in need than keeping her electronic house in order.) And visit http://www.timesunion.com/ASPStories/story.asp?StoryID=865915 to view a recent article in the Albany, NY, Times Union about the farm’s involvement in a program to link needy children with adoptive parents.

If you would like to contribute to a worthy cause in Mariah’s name, we ask that you consider making a tax-deductible donation to B.I.T.S.. There is a page on the website for making online donations, but Lynn says there are problems with that, so please send checks only. Gifts will be used for general operations.

Make your check payable to Balanced Innovative Teaching Strategies, Inc. and mail it to:

Little Brook Farm – B.I.T.S. Program
PO Box 127
548 County Route 13
Old Chatham, NY 12136

Be sure to clearly indicate on your check that it’s in memory of Mariah Kochavi, and please include your name and address so your gift can be acknowledged.

– Mark