Today I attended a memorial for my friend, Mary Jo Carper.  Mary Jo lived a full life during which she devoted much of her boundless energy to helping children.  I find it hard to think of anything more valuable–as valuable, sure; polio vaccine, world peace, etc.  But not more valuable.–  I know Mary Jo because she and I were both Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for children in the foster care system. Mary Jo had been a CASA for 13 years when she passed away.  At our monthly meetings, she occasionally reminded us that she was the oldest person in the room.  As I have been the youngest person in the room for most of my 5 years as a CASA, I always felt special when Mary Jo made a point of greeting me.  Over time, I noted that she did this for everyone; made a point of greeting each of us and did so with genuine  joy.  That each of us received that attention lessened the special feeling not at all for me.  I always intended to spend time with Mary Jo outside of our CASA activities because the bits and pieces of her life that she was able to share at the public events we attended were always so interesting I wanted to hear more.

A fellow CASA, Linda Buchanan, told the assembled friends and family of Mary Jo about some of her work for foster children.  She told the crowd about the time Mary Jo’s 10-year-old CASA case (the child, not the case) was in danger of being expelled from school.  A vice-principal stood before the school board and pounded away at the child’s behavior and prospects.  Finally, Mary Jo elbowed Linda and in a not-very-low whisper stated, “That son of a–son of a gun has delusions of adequacy.”  She later addressed the school board on the child’s behalf.  Her years as a teacher of special education probably added weight to her statements in their minds.  The child stayed in school.  Mary  Jo hung with that case for over seven years.  The child was finally adopted.  That adoption was one of the success stories Mary Jo would relate on occasion.

Linda also told us about a time that she sat in on a Foster Care Review Board meeting with Mary Jo for one of her cases.  The Board was going around and around about a service the child hadn’t received and probably should have.  The Board namby-pambied around about who and when and finally, Mary Jo’s voice cut quietly through,  “Right now would be a good time.”  Everyone agreed.  Linda suggested that we all take Mary Jo’s passing as a reminder that “Right now would be a good time.”

Mary Jo was happy and vital when I saw her a few weeks ago.  She died suddenly from an abdominal aneurism.  She was unwell for less than 24 hours.  She was able to speak to her sons and tell them she loved them before she died.  Although she probably would have chosen to stick around longer, I’m certain the quick passage would have been her choice.  I think most of us would choose her way out.

As I mentioned, I always wanted to get to know Mary Jo better, but clearly, I never made the opportunity.  But I will try to hold this motto in my heart and head as I move forward in this adventure we call life.  Mary Jo Carper, I salute you.  I know you rest with angels.  “Right now would be a good time.”

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