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But it was Mary, Mary
Long before the fashions came
And there is something there that sounds so square
It’s a grand old name….

Cohan George M. – Mary’s A Grand Old Name, 1906

Ralph, a volunteer for a hospice in-patient unit sat in the metal chair by the bedside of 97 year old Mary. Her wisps of white hair blended in perfectly with the assortment of pillows that supported her frail head and body. Ralph was holding her gaze, his brown eyes searching her blue eyes for clues. Her eyes were magnified in their sharpness by the lined and hollow face they stared out from and Ralph was determined to connect with her.

“Should I hold her hand?” he thought internally and was afraid. A strange man touching a woman might be perceived improper. “I want to stroke her head,” he thought but pulled his hand back. That was too forward.

He stared harder, drawn into her being and thought of her life. At 97, alone and childless, her husband long dead, what gave her life meaning? She was born almost a century ago, forty years before he took his first breath. What was her world then, and if she was going in and out of that era as the staff told him, what was she thinking about now?

Suddenly he remembered a song his father would sing to his mother, who was also named Mary and he began to quietly sing, tentatively at first, the lyrics gliding over and under his gaze. “For it is Mary, Mary, plain as any name can be.”

Those blue eyes widened and recognition rushed back to meet him. Ralph sang on softly, “But it was Mary, Mary, long before the fashions came…” Now, caution gone, he held her hand and thought he felt the murmur of a squeeze. Mary’s lips stirred, trying to sing with him. It didn’t matter to Ralph that he had always been told his singing was awful. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t remember all the lyrics correctly, he sang on, to her, to his beloved Mother, to all the Mary’s that ever lived.

Tears shimmered over the blue eyes in a pool of kinship. For a brief moment he imagined he could see his mother’s eyes looking back at him.

Then the eyes grew weary and closed. Mary’s slight frame relaxed into a peaceful sleep. Ralph let go of her hand and tiptoed out from the room. A nurse was standing in the doorway, wiping tears from her cheek.

Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said. Ralph nodded at the nurse and left her to attend to Mary. He gathered his things and left the in-patient unit. He had errands to run. As he walked out the door, he sang softly, under his breath, “and there is something there, that sounds so square, it’s a grand old name.”