Marian Owens Heom was my mother-in-law. She died September 1, 2016, after battling breast cancer for more than nine years. There are so many positive stories and memories shared of her by those who knew her as “Smarian”, a nickname she had been given by her father after she refused to change out of the coat she was wearing for a heavier coat more suited for the cold winter night in New York City. According to her siblings, Henry and Susan, the nickname started as Stubborn Ass, then progressed to Stinky Marian, and finally Smarian, or Smar.
In her obituary, we wrote about her being a Brown graduate, one of the first women to earn a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1975. She met her husband, Jim, in Boston where they worked, and in 1986 they moved back to New Jersey with their two kids, Diana & Andy to be closer to their families.
Marian continued to work as a software engineer, eventually advancing to a position in management, all while adjusting her schedule so she could be home with the kids after school as much as possible. She was an integral member of Temple Har Shalom for 30 years, singing in the choir, teaching Hebrew to young students, and volunteering for a stint as Treasurer.
She loved playing Mahjong, casino trips with her friends, and baseball. She was the kind of person people gravitated toward. She was passionate about politics and would have many intense discussions as a staunch Democrat amidst many fiscal Republicans in her affluent community. One of Diana’s earliest memories is from the presidential election in 1988, where Marian took seven-year-old Di to the polling booth to learn about the importance of voting. She instructed her daughter, “You must always vote Democrat”.
I first met her in 2009, after Diana and I had been dating for six months. She called me a peepee maker because I went to the restroom twice during our meal. I immediately loved her and we became close over the years, going on family trips she always planned to spend more quality time with her kids. She always said, “Quality over quantity”, but I know she wished her kids didn’t live so far away.
She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, electing to have a lumpectomy and chemotherapy at the recommendation of her doctors. She ended up in remission for a number of years, until it came back and never went away. She endured multiple surgeries, chemo, radiation, and the myriad side effects that come with it. She was eventually put on an experimental treatment that worked for almost a year until it just didn’t. The cancer slowly over nine years built up a resistance, then chipped away at her healthy cells, growing and spreading despite Marian’s strong spirit.
She was able to enjoy many moments over those nine years, and I am grateful for that. I think she was as well, especially because she was able to be there at her daughter’s wedding. She was as radiant and full of joy as Diana and I were, and she was thrilled to have so many people who loved her there to witness such a special and happy event.
She advised me to give myself a break. “You’re too hard on yourself, Katie!” she said to me when I asked for her advice on why it was difficult for me to do certain things that seemed to be easier for other people. It was like a weight was lifted off my chest. Getting permission to relax and stop beating myself up from someone I respected and admired and wanted to think the best of me was just what I needed to feel a bit better and thus more able to push through my insecurities.
Watching her deteriorate over her last months, and finally last days, was excruciating. A few days before she died, in one of her clearer moments, she asked for me to come say goodnight. I leaned in close to kiss her and to hear her voice that had become weakened from the tumors in her lungs, and the morphine that made it easier for her to breathe. “I’m sorry I won’t be there,” she said. I told her, “You will always be here with us.”
I miss her deeply, and there is a huge gaping hole left behind in her absence. I believe she is with us, though, and that brings me comfort. I am beyond grateful to have had her in my life, even if it was too short. I will love you always, Marian Smarian.