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Life Without Mary

November 08, 1994|AL MARTINEZ

In a county of 9 million people, we're lucky if we have one or two we can always depend on. Bob Abrams had one. Her name was Mary.

She was the element in his life that made everything work; words that made sense and laughter when he needed it.

Mary brought music and energy into their small Westside home, and a sense of order that transcended even the knowledge that she was dying.

She cooked for her husband and young son Josh as long as she could, and dinner was always a formal affair. There were cloth napkins on the table when Mary served, and never a bottle of ketchup.

She was, as wives so often are, Bob's best friend, but no docile little woman willing to tolerate his bombast with submission. Holler she could and holler she did, and the silence in their house is deepest in the rooms she once filled with the sound of her voice.

Her vitality lasted into the final few weeks of her life, and even then it burst through the pain and finality of cancer like shards of glass in sunlight, sinking back into darkness and silence with reluctance.

"I'm terminal," she said to me one day in a glowing period of lucidity. "It's a funny feeling."

Abrams is a familiar figure in L.A., a publicist I've known for as long as I've been a columnist. Mary worked as his secretary, and was a voice of casual good humor on the telephone.

He called one day, as he often did, but not to pitch an idea. His tone was edged with sorrow and incredulity. He said, "Mary's dying."


At 48, she had been given only a few months to live, but clung to the threads of her life for almost two years. They took a delayed trip to Europe and, later, Mary went on a hot-air balloon ride with Josh.

She wanted a long, last look at the world before she left it, a view from the heights at an existence that was fading. She saw it not through tears, but with characteristic gusto. She waved and winked and that was that.

Mary died last May 27th, shortly after noon, the sizzling energy of her life silenced at last. Her ashes lie in a niche at the Pierce Brothers Mortuary in Westwood.

I met Bob there to talk about her. A light rain was falling as we sat in a sheltered cove. The weather seemed appropriate to the moment. Autumn has its own way of dealing with grief.

I wrote about Mary in 1992, a few weeks after she'd been told she had terminal cancer. If my job is to put a face on the city, I wanted to reveal a face that wasn't smiling. Death is a walk we take alone, and it's important to know that among us are those who take it with remarkable aplomb.

But the story doesn't end there. Bob and Josh, now 18, continue on in the house Mary once filled with her presence.

"She's everywhere," Bob said that day at the mortuary, his voice breaking slightly.

He meant it. Her clothes still hang in the closet, her costume jewelry still has its place on a night stand, her books still jam shelves in their bedroom. A whiff of her cologne lingers in the air, like the scent of roses in the wind.


Mary is an abiding presence in sound and image.

Bob sees her lying on the couch reading, and hears the clatter of her typewriter in the hours past midnight. She worked while others slept.

Mary studied the violin, and bits of classical music, played as an amateur, embrace her memory, the way ribbons embrace love letters from the past.

"She wore her hair long and tied back," Bob said, seeing her even as he spoke. "I'll never stop remembering her that way."

When Mary died, Bob wanted to die with her. "She was too good and too young," he said, as we watched rain turn green patches of the cemetery into emeralds. "I can't think of her without crying."

Their house, damaged by the January earthquake, is still a wreck. His public relations business is all but nonexistent. But for his son's sake, he has begun therapy to emerge from the depression left by Mary's death.

"Life goes on," he said, reaching for sunlight. "But she'll always be there."

I can't imagine, and don't want to imagine, what life would be like without my Cinelli. But I can, at least, try to empathize with his loss and the need to emerge from a devastating emptiness.

In moments of sorrow, we need the assistance of others to keep us from drowning in our own tears. A hand reaching out to those who grieve is one worth grasping. For what help it brings, Bob Abrams, . . . here's mine.

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