By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 4/5/2020
Occurred: 11/23/2014
Topics/Keywords: #MaryAnnSteinbergCilwa
Milestone: #Death
Page Views: 2457
I say goodbye to my oldest friend.

Mary Ann Steinberg Cilwa, my ex-wife and oldest friend, passed away this morning around 5 AM, after a lengthy bout with cancer. Her death was peaceful; she was surrounded by her children and family, as she had wanted. She is survived by her children, Dorothy Elizabeth Kinder, Karen Hope Cilwa, Jennifer Ann Rizzo, and John David Cilwa; her grandchildren, Zachary and Gianna Rizzo, Cailey Kinder, and Maximos Cilwa Johnsson; myself, her ex-husband, and countless friends and others who were touched by her kindness and sweet humor.

Mary with her adoptive father, Herbert Steinberg.

Mary was born September 27, 1948, in New Orleans, Louisiana, to a waitress and her married, truck driver boyfriend. She was named "Jackie" and put into an orphanage but apparently her mother was reluctant to actually make her available for adoption until Mary was 7 or 8 years old. Her primary caregiver was one Sister Mercedes, with whom Mary kept up contact until the nun's death in the late 1970s. But at 8 years old, permission finally went through, and she was adopted by Herbert and Agnes Elizabeth Steinberg, an older couple who had already adopted three boys. Mary was the youngest.

I first met Mary when she appeared in my living room, playing with my sisters. I was about 14, she a couple years older but in my grade at school. She was very pretty, though, sadly, her parents were the type who withheld compliments so she had no idea and, in fact, was very insecure about her looks.

Mary, my sisters and I, and other neighborhood kids played through the next few years in our St. Augustine Beach neighborhood, which included "jungle" through which we regularly traipsed, usually pretending we were Star Trek astronauts exploring strange, new worlds. By the time Mary and I were high school seniors, though, we began dating. It wasn't until the night Mary's father called his buddies in the sheriff's department (he had been a deputy) to flag us down when we were five minutes late coming home (within a block of her house, in point of fact), that I realized that, much as I cared for Mary, I couldn't deal with her dad, and we broke up.

But two years later, Herbert asked me to come by to fix a broken closet shelf. Mary was there, perfumed and dressed to the teeth; and, before I left, I had invited her to go as my guest to the junior college I attended. That was two days later; and, by the time the day was over, I had asked her to marry me, and she accepted. On February 12, 1972, I promised to care for her, until death did we part.

However, 20 years later, after our kids were either in or out of high school, she asked for a divorce, which was finalized in 1994.

That wasn't the last I saw of her, however. On two occasions she moved back in with me (as a roommate) in New Hampshire; and then, after I had moved to Arizona with my husband, Michael, she moved in with us both and lived (with varying numbers of our children and their children) for several years, before moving into an apartment of her own, her first ever.

That was where Mary discovered, after at least a year complaining that "something's wrong", that she had Stage 4 colon cancer. I moved in with her to be her caregiver while she went through chemotherapy, a process we expected would take about six months. In addition to the chemo, Mary also began taking an alternative treatment, hydrogen peroxide therapy. The blood test for the CEA enzyme showed that the H2O2 was actually more effective than the chemo, and Mary was declared cancer-free after the six months. However, when Mary's oncologist found she had been using a "quack treatment" and insisted that she stop this "dangerous" treatment (dangerous to the cancer industry?), she obediently did. Immediately, her CEA count began rising, and despite a late-stage, half-hearted attempt to get back on the H2O2, it never went down. Mary entered hospice just 20 days ago.

Mary's mom had been hard-of-hearing and when Mary, as a child, would mispronounce a common cliché, she wasn't corrected, thus leading to a type of malapropism our friend John Griffith dubbed "Maryisms". For example, once when arriving at a friend's house to visit, she had to run to the bathroom as soon as we arrived. After a few minutes she left the bathroom, exclaiming, "What a release!"

Her family was everything to Mary. When I married Michael Manion, she attended the wedding and accepted him as a brother. Michael, in turn, earned that position by his devotion to our family as well. During one of the periods she was living with us, Michael encouraged her to start trying to locate her birth family, as well as to have eye surgery that she wanted but was afraid of. When I started dating Keith, she accepted him as well, telling me that I deserved to have someone to love.

She hugged everyone, especially doctors and health care workers but also, on occasion, floorwalkers in department stores. On the other hand, she feared policemen and would argue if one ever stopped her for anything (probably from her father's association with the Sheriff's Office).

Over the past year, as it began to seem less and less likely that she would recover, Mary and I had many conversations on metaphysics. She took great comfort from the idea that she would be able to watch over her family after death.

The children gathered from where they were: Virginia, Texas, and Arizona. Dottie had to return today, and I am convinced Mary timed her passing so that Dottie would still be here, as she was. And so was I, keeping my promise to care for her until "death do we part."

The memorial will be held on the 5th of December, at St. Stephen's Catholic Church, Chandler, AZ at 10 am.