Inspiration for the Park

Written by Carol Ernst, neighbor to the McAuley family

Our family was lucky enough to live behind the McAuley family for over a decade. Getting to know Mary and watch how their family raised her was a blessing. Their family motto was “where we go, she goes”. Often people want to turn away from children in her shape because they feel guilty for having healthy children, but Mary’s smile drew you in. Her smile said what she couldn’t. It was captivating, magical.

On the day Mary passed away, I walked through my backyard trying to find words to express how terribly bad I felt for them. I had been grieving myself, for my daughter going off to college eleven hours away, but this loss made that seem so small. What do you say to someone who has just lost a child? Shortly into my visit, Tommy (Mary’s father) began to ask about my children’s transition into college and high school. On their worst day of their lives, this father was asking about others. Everyone who knows the McAuleys know how thoughtful and gracious they are. This was just one more example. I doubt I would have been so thoughtful. Tommy was going through pictures preparing for Mary’s service. He held up an old picture of my children playing with their older boys and other neighborhood kids. They were on the playset behind my house. Immediately, I noticed Mary was missing from the picture. I began to wonder if she ever had the opportunity to feel the air rush toward her face while swinging. Our playset was not equipped for a child with her needs. This is where the seed for Mary’s Magical Place was planted.

The thought immediately came to me that we needed a playground in our area for children with needs like Mary’s and others. A few days later, at Mary’s Celebration of Life, I watched the video montage of events Mary had participated in, such as triathlons with Tommy (yes I said triathlons), beach trips, school, tea parties, Halloween, camping etc. Again, I noticed something missing…pictures of Mary at a playground. Ideas began to flood my mind how we could make this happen. It had been my experience, when you suggest something, you become in charge of that project. I didn’t know anything about raising a special needs child. Over the next few days, thoughts of this playground consumed me so I picked up the phone and called Rachel (Mary’s mom). I only told her I had an idea of how we could memorialize Mary, but wanted to tell them in person, sometime in the next few days. I let the next few days pass by, then some more. I was afraid to say it aloud to the McAuleys for fear of not wanting to spearhead a project I felt very unknowledgeable about. However, I knew the need was there.

Over the next couple of weeks, I had begun some research online. Ideas of how we could complete such a project kept me awake at night. The fear was still there and I tried to press the idea out of my mind. One day, I was shopping and there on a table near the cash register was a shirt that said “make it happen”. God could not have made it any more clear what he wanted me to do. My fears were gone. I picked up the phone and called Rachel and here we are. Mary’s Magical Place…we will make it happen.