Group salutes Mary Jo’s list of life lessons
By Romi Herron For The Courier-News May 29, 2012 3:00PM
Registered nurse Mary Jo Sheehy receives the Elgin Cosmopolitan Club's 70th Distinguished Service Award. | Romi Herron photo
Updated: July 3, 2012 12:25PM
Don’t live life with a list of should-haves.
That advice, from registered nurse Mary Jo Sheehy, was one of several key insights the cancer survivor shared recently at the Elgin Cosmopolitan Club’s 70th Distinguished Service Award ceremony. Sheehy, the honoree, is a hospice volunteer whose family, friends and colleagues shared their perspectives at the event, held at the Elgin Country Club.
“She doesn’t volunteer for recognition ... she does it because she truly believes in it,” said Deanna Young, a friend of Sheehy’s for the past 40 years. “From (volunteering together at) everything from Little League, when we stood in the rain and cold while our sons played baseball, to Sherman Hospital, where we did the benefit ball, she is a dedicated volunteer.”
In addition, Young described her as “a stellar golfer, a caring nurse, a great friend, and a wonderful mother, sister and grandmother.”
Attesting to that was Sheehy’s son John. “I just want to add how proud we are of you, Mom,” said John Sheehy. “If (any of) you know my mom, it’s her boundless energy driven by one thing — her list.”
Sheehy’s key to managing her multiple commitments has long been her handwritten lists, which she keeps tucked in her clothing, he said.
Fran Channon, who studied with Sheehy in a nursing refresher course, recognized Sheehy’s willingness to step outside her own comfort level to help others.
“I don’t know anyone who has as much ambition and drive to help others as Mary Jo,” Channon said. “Even though she is a person who does not like to speak in front of groups, she has managed to become a wonderful advocate for hospice.”
Sheehy’s empathy for others reaches anyone in need of help, Channon continued.
“She does not need to know you well to know if there is anything she can do for you,” Channon said. “She is a true inspiration.”
Channon said she worked with Sheehy to develop the annual Garden Party benefit. In its first year, it had about 60 guests, Channon said.
“There were maybe 10 raffle baskets,” she said. “Now there are 850 who attend, and you need a truck to carry home the prize baskets.”
Channon also said Sheehy shares her nursing and her hospice skills daily, on and off duty.
“She’s always available to see what you can do,” Channon said. “To know Mary Jo is to know that you are loved and cared for. Mary Jo, you are our gift from God.”
In response, Sheehy said praise is difficult for her to accept.
“I feel very humbled to be here,” she said, before sharing a list of “life lessons” with the group of more than 150.
“Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote that you gain strength, courage and confidence from experiences when you look fear in the face,” Sheehy said. “Accept challenges in life. Go for it.”
Sheehy emphasized the importance of pursuing community-minded goals that are aligned with one’s passions.
“Pick a passion in your life. Give back to your community,” she said. “Don’t have a list of shoulds. Do the things you want to do, whether it’s theater and the arts, food pantries, church, women in crisis ... pick something you want to do and do it with passion.”
Also important is the art of listening, Sheehy said.
“Listening is the most basic and powerful way to connect,” she said. “A loving silence has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.”
She added that her health challenges also had a positive impact on her ability to relate to others.
“After my cancer diagnosis, I thought maybe God wanted me to be able to (relate to others),” she said. “I found that God didn’t always answer my prayers, but he put me in the right place at the right time.”
She explained that everyone is touched by cancer in some way, and showing concern makes a vital impact on those facing the disease.
“Tonight I leave you with this thought,” she said. “Make each day better for someone.”