She showed us the way: Reflections on Mary Tyler Moore

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 08: Actress Mary Tyler Moore attends NBC's taping of 'Betty White's 90th Birthday: A Tribute to America's Golden Girl' at Millennium Biltmore Hotel on January 8, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 08: Actress Mary Tyler Moore attends NBC’s taping of ‘Betty White’s 90th Birthday: (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images)

A few days ago we lost Mary Tyler Moore, not only an icon from the entertainment world, but a remarkable human being blessed with talent, beauty,  and an infectious smile.  Endowed with relentless fortitude, she survived for so long the debilitating carnage diabetes often inflicts upon its victims.

She wasn’t just a talented actor (seven Emmys and an Academy Award nomination), but a real-life hero, setting an example for all us.

You’d never have surmised from her TV dominance in the 60s and 70s (The Dick Van Dyke Show) and (Mary Tyler Moore Show) her raging battle with diabetes, which ultimately would take her life.

Diabetes can occur as Type I or Type 2. In the former, your pancreas doesn’t produce insulin and you have to resort to insulin injections several times daily to survive. In type 2, your pancreas produces insulin, but either not enough or the body just can’t utilize it efficiently.

Both kinds are progressive and incurable, though with weight control, healthy diet, medication, and frequent exercise, you may be able to manage it, forestalling its many potential complications such as heart and kidney disease, blindness, infections, amputations, and even dementia.

Moore was diagnosed with diabetes Type 1 at age 33 in the course of blood work connected with a miscarriage. In her 2009 memoir, Growing Up Again, she would detail her forty year struggle against this insidious illness, donating the book’s proceeds to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), which she served as International Chair for many years. “I want others to learn how I fell down and how I picked myself up.”

The truth is she had been doing this her whole life. We never really know what life has in store for us, as Oedipus learned in Sophocles’ monumental play of 2500 years ago. For some of us, our fate can seem especially unfair in its harshness and singularity, raising the perpetual inquiry, “Why do good people suffer?”

Moore’s mother was an alcoholic, and so was Mary until she overcame it, prescient of her valiant struggle against a much bigger adversary.

Sometimes we find consolation in another parent, but Dad proved both distant and unloving.

Then, in what breaks a mother’s heart, her 23 year old son, Ritchie, died from an accidental gun shot to the head.

She would have two unhappy marriages, until finally striking happiness in her 33 year marriage to cardiologist, Robert Levine.

In 2011, she underwent brain surgery.

Though she lived to age 80, she might well have lived longer, and happier years, had she been free of this debilitating disease. In her last several years, she suffered from declining vision, kidney and heart issues, and Alzheimer’s.

In her final days, she had come down with pneumonia, a frequent consequence of a diminished immune system, and was on a respirator for a week.  Ultimately, she was removed from life support.

 

With Bernadette Peters

With Bernadette Peters

Short in stature and slight in build, ever humble and always compassionate, she fiercely loved both people and animals, practiced vegetarianism, and gave time to both diabetes and animal advocacy.

Just how did she manage to cope so long and so bravely against her antagonist”? What lay behind her heroism?

In mindfulness therapy, there’s an acronym known as RAIN that may explain how she did it, giving hope to all of us in life’s hard places:

R—Recognition
A—Acceptance
I— Investigation
N—Non-identification

R:  Initially, Moore hid her illness.  Later, she  made it known.

A:  She allowed it to be what it is with all its dissonance in both mind and body.  Mindfulness doesn’t contend; it listens.

I:   She explored methods of ameliorating it through diet, exercise, and medication and ways of nurturing others with like illness.

N:  We are not the sum of our emotions and thoughts.  Our  real Self lies beyond and can provide cognitive catharsis.  Acknowledging her fate, she lived outside the parameters of self-absorption in unstinting, compassionate activism, promoting awareness and hope for her fellow sufferers.

Thank you Mary, for the nobility of your life, its example and inspiration; its quiet dignity, yet marshaled bravery in the darkness of the night.

—rj

About RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.
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