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Embrace everything life has to offer
Mildred Marquis (Sister Patricia Anne) (1909-1965)
My father’s sister, Mildred, also known as Sister Patricia Anne, OP (Order of Preachers), was a member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters and the first person I knew who died. I was ten years old at the time. A year or two earlier, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer that later metastasized to her brain. I’ll never forget the nun friend of hers who secreted my awkward ten-year-old frame—too young to be on the approved visitor list—underneath her long, black cloak, so I could visit my aunt in the hospital. Aunt Millie was so happy to see me. “What a big girl you are!” she exclaimed, smiling down at me from her hospital bed. I was a little intimated by all the hospital paraphernalia—I had never been in a place with all the beeping and IV bags--but I smiled back doing my best to act big for her.
I didn’t know Aunt Millie well, but I knew that she was another strong woman, much like Sister Stephen. I admired that, and it’s why, six years after she died, I convinced my parents to send me to St. Joseph Academy, an all-girls Catholic boarding school run by her order, for my last two years of high school. I knew nothing about the school. What I did know is that I couldn’t imagine surviving two more years at Rogers High School, where the only role encouraged for girls was to cheerlead the football-playing boys to victory. I wanted to surround myself with strong women like Sister Stephen and my Aunt Millie, and I believed St. Joe’s was a place I could do that.
The year before Aunt Millie died, a family whose lives she had touched gave her a gift of a trip around the world—a gift she accepted with delight. She sent us postcards from many of the cities she visited. The only one I remember was from New York City, where she reveled in telling us that she went to Radio City Music Hall and saw “the girls that kick.” I wish I still had those postcards.
I think of Aunt Millie when I think about how I will greet my death. Having survived three brushes with cancer myself, I wonder if I’m as willing to welcome adventure, to suck life dry to the end as Aunt Millie did. She challenges me even these fifty-eight years later to embrace everything life offers, right up until the end.
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