Mary Tyler Moore, My Patron Saint of Hope

“You’re gonna make it after all.”  

I am writing these words through tears, a full 24 hours (now almost 48, as the words did not coming easily) after hearing the news of Mary Tyler Moore’s death.  The death of an 80 year old should never surprise, but the death of this particular 80 year old during this particular week feels especially crushing.  Mary Tyler Moore, you see, was my patron saint of hope.

I never wrote before my daughter was diagnosed with cancer.  My husband was the writer in the family.  Days after we got the devastating news, we started an online journal that quickly became our lifeline in the two and a half years we lived in Cancerville with Donna.  After she died, I never stopped writing.  Words, and the connection they provided, had become too essential to me.

Making the decision to start my own blog resulted in needing to name said blog.  At the time, I was adamant that it would not be about grief.  I wanted a fresh start where I wasn’t solely identified by the gaping hole in my life and in my heart.  Foolishly, I thought I could write a parenting blog without mentioning that pesky little detail that one of my children was dead.

“Mary Tyler Mom” was born while I was driving with my husband.  We were throwing out names, much as couples do when they are expecting a little one.  The moment it came to me, I knew it was perfect.  Mary Tyler Moore was an icon of my youth, an unapologetic feminist who was full of self-effacing spunk.  She was as vulnerable as she was strong.  She was accessible without being intimidating. She was gonna make it after all, while wearing a stylish pantsuit.

Naming my blog after my childhood icon, a symbol of possibility and perseverance, was a nod to my grief, a wink to that part of myself that knew I, too, was gonna make it after all.  Not all folks might make an immediate connection between the character of Mary Richards and hope, but as a little girl in 1970s America, she was one of my first teachers of what was possible when you dared to hope.


The image of the original opening sequence, Mary Richards driving in a car alone, heading to the big city after leaving behind everything that was familiar to her (can we all just agree to forget about the fur she was wearing during that opening?).  “How will you make it on your own?  This world is awfully big, girl this time you’re all alone.  It’s time you started living.  It’s time you let someone else do some giving.  Love is all around, no need to waste it. You can have the town, why don’t you take it?  You’re gonna make it after all.”  Those lyrics were the soundtrack to my girlhood, and now, my grief.

It’s incredible, really, to think about the impact this show had on my generation.  Premiering just before my first birthday, and ending as I was finishing second grade, Mary Tyler Moore shaped the woman I wanted to be, I imagined I could be.  You always hear the narrative of little girls wanting to grow up to be brides or moms or princesses.  Nope.  I wanted to grow up to be Mary Tyler Moore. Even as a young girl, I imagined myself strong, independent, living in the city, working some type of fabulous and exciting job, alone (no man required), and wearing some kind of amazing outfit that featured knee high boots.

A lot of that came true for me.

As a grieving mom, I was reminded of the importance of imagining what was possible.  Might it be possible for me to know joy again? Might it be possible for me to be interested in my work again?  Might it be possible to still produce, still contribute, still participate in this world of ours, despite my sorrow?  Because of Mary Tyler Moore, I knew I could.

Mary, my patron saint of hope, reminded me what was possible in a time I felt so incredibly lost and vulnerable.  Her joy, her passion, her competence, her moxie, her humor, her spunk, was all still possible.  For me.  Even in my grief.  Even as a forty year old gal that was married.  Even as someone who had no earthly idea of what I wanted anymore.

I am so grateful to Mary Tyler Moore, the woman and the show.  They have guided me and provided so much inspiration as a girl, as a young woman on my own in a big city for the first time, and now, as a middle aged grieving mom.  We are all gonna make it after all.

Well, except maybe Chuckles.

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