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Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Miracle That Was Mary: 1924-2016

Mary Hepner Wert
Mary Hepner Wert, married to my wife's oldest brother Harold, was a marvel and a miracle. Child number eight of eleven children born to Samuel and Sally (Snyder) Hepner of Juniata County, Pennsylvania, Mary Fianna wasn't expected to survive to even middle age, much less to 92. But she managed to outlive her husband by three years and leave behind five children, fourteen grandchildren and seventeen great-grandchildren, all of whom sang her praises at the memorial service Alma Jean and I attended Thursday.

Mary was born with Sturge-Weber syndrome, a rare congenital/neurological and skin disorder often associated with the port-wine stain she wore without any sign of self-consciousness. She was never one to feel a bit sorry for herself, but lived with the kind of zest and a spirit of gratitude that was truly contagious. She epitomized hospitality, always ready to open her heart and extend her table to take people in, including some non-family members she and Harold kept in their home for months at a time.

Over thirty years ago, she began to have painful and frequent seizures which interfered significantly with her active life. Her doctors, who had done everything they knew to do medically, saw this as an inevitable progression of her condition and reminded her that she had already lived much longer and better than anyone ever expected. 

Mary wasn't satisfied with their conclusions, however, and asked her pastors at the Erisman Mennonite Church for a service of prayer and anointing of oil for healing. From that point on, and for the next fifteen years she was miraculously free of all seizure activity. At age 75, however, she did have one more, a serious grand mal everyone feared would take her life, or at the very least leave her permanently impaired. But she not only completely recovered, but went on to live another seventeen good years.

Denison Witmer, one of Mary's grandsons, a singer-songwriter who inherited her love of music, sang the following piece at her memorial service, something he had composed some years before:


Grandma Mary

Mary, you are the bird inside the hand
Of St. Francis, in the garden where he stands
Handwriting, a birth mark and a quilt
Mother to my mother and to me and to me

Mary, you are the mason jars in spring
The kitchen with the view across a hill
First memory is a Bible verse in song
The organ while my family sings along
We sing along

And on the calendar when I leave
A little note for you, so you see
When I'm gone, I never go too far
Your heart is my heart
Your blood, my blood
When I'm gone, I never get too far

Mother to my mother and to me

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