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Missing Maris

Suzanne Pollak

On September 2, Father Massoud, the interim minister of Grace Episcopal Church in Millbrook, New York, gave the best homily for Dean Manigault’s mother, Maris Van Alen,  that she has ever heard and many people felt the same way. Dean Manigault knows she is unique, of course, in having had a difficult relationship with her mother but perhaps one or two of you can relate.  Father Massoud pointed out that Maris had been no saint, but then asked the congregation what was a saint really? Isn’t a saint someone who lets God into his heart to improve himself? Don’t we all have the opportunity every day to do that? Isn’t a saint someone who uses major life changes to improve herself  and isn’t that just what Lee’s mother had done? She used her husband’s shocking death to turn inwards and grow spiritually. She continued to be challenging, but infinitely less so. She worked through her grief and over time became a woman who was admired by many. Just as she was emerging from her grief and enjoying herself again, she was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and given a life sentence of six months. During the last six months of her life Maris was more generous, thoughtful, interesting, and interested than she had ever been previously. Dean Manigault and her brother created a whole new relationship with her, and find now that she is not here, a real hole is left in their hearts. Father Massoud asked the congregation if Maris’ death wasn’t an opportunity for us to look inward and use her death as a growth opportunity. In the last eight years of her life Maris went from a person her children often avoided to a person they greatly admired. If that isn’t the work of God, then Father Massoud asked us, what is? 

Dean Manigault collecting flowers for her mother's funeral

Dean Manigault collecting flowers for her mother's funeral