Her affliction constricted her to a single room and it would have become a prison for someone with a smaller heart. The room, cluttered with things within arm's reach and eye's view, was and still is, a testament to the beauty love creates and the expansive power it holds. Balls of yarn, family photos, adoring and self-sacrificing husband... A room transformed and bursting with all that she was--the embodiment of all that is good and wonderful and generous in the world.
ALS (Lou Gerhig's Disease), a degenerative nerve issue, is a nasty strange thing. Stranger still, the multiplicity of it in her family line. She watched her own mother shrink as it ate at muscle function. She watched as her mother slowly hollowed out until the voice was a whisper. She watched as her mother struggled first to walk, then to swallow, then to breathe. She watched as her mother evaporated... and she cried. So... she knew the outcome...
She watched the clock and checked the calendar and did everything she could to help and care for others because there was no definitive end. ALS is sneaky mean thief. She knitted furiously, arthritic fingers creating hats, mittens, caps, sweaters for those in need, soldiers, loved ones. One ball of yarn at a time, she shared her heart.
But she was oh so much more than that. Anyone who knew her could tell you that. She was the warm comforting center in a cold and disinterested world. Quick to send kindness, comfort, support or whatever else she could think of to ease some else's pain, regardless of how well she knew them. She always gave more than she took. She always listened more than she spoke. But the love... always the love... that went both ways. Perhaps that was her greatest gift--the ability multiply that precious commodity until everything was shiny and warm throughout.
Her last days went quickly, taking her family by surprise. Hospice, and its wonderous staff of compassionate, comforting, drop-everything-to-help souls, swept in to ease the discomfort of a woman who did not deserve what had befallen her. Their soft touches also brushed the tears from the cheeks of those helpless to administer relief.
Her absence is a river, swollen and vicious, tearing at the banks, eroding the ground beneath the feet of those who loved her best. Her absence is the north wind, cold fingers finding the gaps between the boards, under the doors, around the windows, chilling to the bone. Her absence is the darkest time of night, a black hole greedily swallowing starlight, planets, anything in its gravitational pull. But since nature abhores a vacuum, there must be balance. That balance is her legacy. Her example, the doing the best you can for others, is the best way to honor her.
Mary was born Aug. 28, 1940, in Rolla, ND, the daughter of Nicholas and Frances Bishop. She attended Pleasant Valley #4, the same one-room school house her father attended. She graduated from Rolla High School and attended Minot State Teachers College. She worked at Behm's Propane in Devils Lake and later Citizen's Community Credit Union. A family memorial service will be held in the spring.
She is survived by loving husband, Donald Helland; daughters Jamie (Swanson) and Danielle (Marchand-Hurd) both of Minneapolis, MN; sisters, Carol (Charles) Bursinger of Bisbee, Judy (Jim) Hudson of Mustang, OK and Linda (John) Keller of Fargo. Many nieces and nephews also survive.
She is preceded in death by infant daughter, Michelle, infant son Ryan; parents, Nicholas and Frances; nephews, Kelly and Travis Bursinger and brother-in-law Charles Bursinger.
An Open House celebration of Mary Ann’s life will be held on Saturday, February 12, 2022 at the Gilbertson Funeral Home, Devils Lake from 3:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the ALS Foundation: donate.als.org.