A Happy Life Alone


I came back alone to our beloved Mayo Clinic in July 2009, and it was hard. When I walked into the Mayo building lobby and looked around, tears streamed down my face. I called my son, Jim, with my voice trembling, hardly able to speak. “Don’t worry, Mom, Dad is with you I know, and you need to do this so you’ll go on living”, Jim consoled. We spoke a little longer, I hung up, dried the tears, collected myself and walked purposefully to the welcoming elevators.

I was at Mayo Clinic to check on my own health, but it didn’t seem right not to have my darling husband by my side. Not to have his health needs be my first concern. Without his hand to hold while I began my own health journey, it made me feel very alone. My husband, Marshall, had Inclusion Body Myositis and, in the final months, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Michael, the Archangel, escorted him to heaven Sept. 8, 2006.

Memories of our happy times together here at Mayo Clinic returned to me the day I came down alone. Over a six year period, we made many trips to Rochester from our home in Minneapolis. We told our friends not to feel sorry for us because we treated those times like mini vacations. We always drove down the day before a series of appointments for Marshall so we could settle in and relax away from the stress that surrounded our life in the cities. Driving to Rochester was pleasant. We loved the bucolic farm scenes. We stopped at the hidden away Lake Byllesby Park to drink our thermos of coffee and enjoy a brought-along sweet.

The shuttle from our hotel was a chance to renew friendships with our familiar drivers. We got to know the drivers and each trip would catch up on their lives. They were careful not to ask how Marshall was doing. But as he grew weaker, they gently increased helping him navigate the shuttle stairs. Eventually he was wheelchair bound but once again, without a word, they opened the wheelchair lift, joking with him about the weather (he was a retired meteorologist) and up he’d go into the shuttle.

As we approached the circle drive in front of the Mayo building, our first taste of welcome was waiting for us. An army of blue suited, smiling greeters approached with outstretched arms, helpful hands and happy talk. Immediately you felt at home and very important in this world. We could feel it was the right place at the right time. There was the promise of whatever was discovered or treated here, it would surely help us cope and keep us happy.

As we came into the Mayo building lobby and even looked slightly puzzled, another welcoming greeter would ask if he/she could help find our destination. When we looked around, we were immediately enveloped in the intriguing magnificent art objects and sculptures, the awesome Chihuly blown glass billowing from the ceilings, the real live piano music wafting through the halls and, surrounding it all, the gardens and flowers for every season wishing us well.

There was always so much to see each time we visited with exhibits changing periodically. Everything helped ease whatever news we were about to hear. As we walked down the halls from one appointment to the next, there were soft and inviting groupings of sofas and chairs with handy end tables to hold our big bags of necessary take-along material. And at every turn, expansive window views of the Plaza below. Our favorite spot to while away the hours between appointments was on the subway level with the seasonal blooming gardens and outdoor patio. Experiencing the sunny relaxation, we could escape into a personal world feeling secure with the best care and caring awaiting us.

Because this was our mini vacation, of course, we had favorite restaurants too! We enjoyed the Tavern at the Kahler Hotel for lunch, Michaels for dinner. From memory we ordered our comfort food and soaked up the attention and atmosphere. To end the day I would always swim a few laps in the hotel pool while my darling sat and watched and read his ever present Louis L’Amour novel.

Now it’s my turn, and I’m alone. I do not have nearly as serious a health concern but going through the motions alone is hard. Calling on pray for inner strength and courage, I will begin to overcome the initial shock of being alone. I will start to settle in and enjoy my mini vacations here. I am awed again viewing the Chihulys hanging gracefully from the ceiling. I begin to feel at peace with the lovely flowers, the relaxing sun-drenched patio. I enjoy a quiet lunch alone at the Tavern.

That night in July 2009, I wrote to him in my journal as I have every day since he passed. “We’re here again my darling. You are watching over me, and I have these smiling blue suited angels all to take care of me. I’ll be ok. I’ll carry on.”

Thanks, Mayo, for putting your caring, beautiful arms around me. Thanks for easing the change in my life with your steady, safe harbor. Thanks for helping me learn how to live a happy life alone.

Submitted by Rochester Mayo Clinic patient, Margaret Goff from Edina, MN

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5 Responses to “A Happy Life Alone”

  1. TINA KOBS Says:

    Thanks for your touching message. Tears fell while I read your article. My husband was treated at Mayo in Jacksonville, FL from October,2008 through January, 2009 doing a clinical trial for advanced prostate cancer. We were truly amazed by the care, concern that we received there. There’s no other place like it. I cried my eyes out the day we left that place. It really touched our lives and hearts. We would go back there in a heartbeat and realize that we can anytime if we have to.The oncology clinic there is wonderful, the laboratory personnel, and I miss them all so much. They have been very good about obtaining updates on my husband who is now undergoing Taxotere treatment and doing good with it. I pray that there will be further trials that we can do after completion of the Taxotere. I sincerely wish you well with your health and I, too, know that your husband is there right beside you as you were with him.

  2. Sharmalee Pauling Says:

    What a wonderful story about a truly caring relationship that made the
    Mayo trips a chance to reconnect and face the challenges of a long-term disease. My husband was recently treated at Mayo so I can relate to the wonderful atmosphere…it is really overwhelming when you first see it!
    I spend time exploring and found many of the beautiful art objects and displays you talked about. My brother-in-law also faced the challenge of cancer and was a patient in the last few years and lost his battle last Christmas Day.
    Going it along to face your own health issues is certainly not easy at first but sounds like you are gaining strength thru your family and your husband’s memory. Good luck!

  3. Linda Says:

    What a beautiful story from Mrs. Goff. It’s nice to hear how much it means to our patients that our designers put so much thought into the patient areas and our congenial staff is always there to meet and greet them. That’s only a couple of things that I, as an employee and a patient like about Mayo. The willingness of the entire staff to assist patients at all times no matter where they are on the campus, is inspiring, even if they are there as a patient themselves. I see it all the time and it makes me smile. Our patients are the best in the world too! They are so appreciative and relieved to know the staff is always there to help. Thanks to all.

  4. Deb Says:

    Thank you, Margaret, for sharing such a personal and touching story. As I reply with tears streaming down my cheeks, I can imagine your marriage must have been a great partnership. It makes me so proud to be an employee here and to know that you found both the people and the surroundings something to look forward to, despite the difficult circumstances. I just know your husband must be with you in spirit.

  5. Jacquelyne Green Says:

    Truly inspirational! Your words enveloped such emotion while reading your story that I was able to feel and see everything you where going through. Marshall was a lucky man!

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