A tribute to Miss Maggie

UPDATE: Margaret Bunson -- "Miss Maggie" to those who knew her -- passed away on Monday, May 7, at her home in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She will be missed by all. In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem. 

I recently came across a quote from a poem called “Dirge Without Music” by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

I am not resigned to the fact that Margaret Bunson, Miss Maggie to the many, many people who have the privilege of knowing her, is drawing to the end of a most remarkable, heroic, brave and intelligent life. I do not approve that we will soon be without her incandescent presence. 

Maggie Bunson is 81 years old and has had her own life of Job. She is currently fighting stage four lung cancer, and the Big C seems to be winning. At least for now. 

She nearly died before she was one year old, an experience to which she attributes her lack of fear about death. 

She cared for and buried a husband who died from one of the most terrible of genetic illnesses, Huntington’s disease, and then she cared for and buried one of her two sons, who had the same disease. 

Perhaps because she has been a caretaker in death’s antechamber for nearly half a century, she has no great fears and no need for illusions. 

As she holds court in her bedroom, her face is as magnificently expressive as always, her laugh full-throated and generous, even while marvelling over the most recent political inanities she takes such delight in skewering. 

If ever there is a woman who could stare down the scythe-bearing escort to the Other Side, it will be Maggie. She has had every reason to complain about the lot God gave her, and instead has been all the more remarkable for never seeming to give those burdens any heed.  

She often advises those who worry and fret about some possible pitfall or setback that they should pull up their “big girl” or “big boy” pants. 

She has a heart full of empathy for others, but hers is the original “no whine” zone. 

Maggie has worked in the vineyards of the Lord since running away from her parents to convert to Catholicism — a religion they abhorred — when she was 18. 

She has lived and worked for the Church in many cities and many states. 

She is an accomplished artist, a historian, and the author of numerous books, including an Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt and an Encyclopedia of Mesoamerica, as well as co-authoring and illustrating several books for Our Sunday Visitor with her son and sole heir, Matthew, including the Encyclopedia of Saints and John Paul II’s Book of Saints, as well as biographies of St. Damien of Molokai and soon to be St. Kateri Tekakwitha. 

You may think it inappropriate to eulogize someone before she has “passed over,” and I answer that this is no eulogy, it is an overdue tribute: I want her to know how much I love and admire her, and I want all those who have ever known her to be able to do the same. 

I once heard an oncology nurse say that the blessing of cancer is that it gives us a chance to say goodbye. Now seems the perfect time to tell Maggie how much she means to me. 

Soon she will, I trust, be greeted in paradise as a good and faithful servant. 

Soon she will set herself down in front of the beatific vision, finally able to rest from a lifetime of writing and painting and caring for others. 

Soon we will inhabit a world a bit less bright, in every sense of that word. 

Soon enough, I’ll hear her telling me to pull up my big boy pants and deal with it. 

But right now, I am not resigned. 

Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.