By Victor Flores
Marie Beget has not had a birthday quite like this one. As the airplane door opens, a gust of wind nearly knocks her over. Her heart rate, already high, increases exponentially. She is about to skydive for the first time in her life. Some might find this frightening, but Beget wouldn’t be here if she was scared. She goes over her routine with her instructor, grabs his hands, counts down, and the two jump. In her 70 years of life, Beget has never experienced a greater high than the first moment of this dive.
It is now 2013, more than 24 years after Beget’s 70th birthday. With the aid of a walker, she strolls over to the refrigerator in her room at Spring Valley Assisted Living Residence in Springfield, Ore. She is wearing a red sweater, a sky blue shirt with identically-colored socks, brown Mary Jane shoes, and pants she sewed herself that have pictures of squirrels, bears, fish, and deer. Around her neck is a beeper meant to alert a Spring Valley nurse for help, along with a Guatemalan Quasar necklace. Her eyes, hard to see behind the thick frames of her green-temple glasses, light up when she discusses skydiving. “I would’ve always regretted it if I wouldn’t have done it,” she says. Beget went skydiving in Modesto, California for both her 70th and 80th birthdays. She wanted to do it at 90, but doctors wouldn’t sign off, citing her osteoporosis and the rough Oregon conditions (she moved to the Springfield area in 2004) as reasons. Her words are supportive of the doctors’ decision but her body language expresses displeasure.
In 1932, Beget met her husband, Roy, in Denair, CA when she was a freshman in high school (Roy was a senior). They got married in 1939. More than forty years later, Roy was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, passing away in 1985. Beget doesn’t cry when she talks about Roy, but her typically cheerful tone disappears.
As hard as his death was on her, Beget is incredibly thankful that their marriage lasted even five years. Roy was a radio operator for the United States Army in World War II. On June 6, 1944 (D-Day) he was part of the fourth division that stormed the beaches of Normandy, France. Like thousands of soldiers in Normandy that day, Roy was shot. “He lay on the ground and bled and prayed for about two hours before [help came],” Beget says. Roy knew that if the German soldiers saw him lying there, he’d either be taken as a prisoner or killed. “To this day, I shiver when I think of that time,” Beget says.
Roy was discharged from the Army in 1945, almost at the exact same time Beget gave birth to their second son, Van (their first son, Barry, was born in 1943). Roy was home for good and worked at a radio and television repair store in Modesto. Beget was a housewife for the duration of their marriage.
In 1958, Beget became pregnant with her only daughter, Julie Anne. However, Julie Anne was born without a diaphragm and only lived for one hour. The next year, Beget became pregnant with another child. This one was a boy, named Mark, and he did not have any issues at birth. But 40 years later, Mark died of a disease Beget had been affected by before: ALS. (Beget thinks ALS might be hereditary. According to the ALS Association, about 10% of patients diagnosed with adult-onset ALS have some family history with the disease.) Barry is currently suffering from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson’s disease. He currently resides in Eugene, Ore., a town right next to Springfield. Beget says his condition was one of the main reasons she moved in 2004.
Despite all of this, Beget has been able to maintain a positive outlook. Her Christian faith, she says, is the main reason. She believes God has a plan greater than any plan she herself could ever make. “There is a reason for things being the way they are,” she says.
Lumie Lynch, the activities director at Spring Valley, is well aware of Beget’s faith, noting that she never misses the weekly masses held at Spring Valley. Lynch has also been struck by Beget’s kindness. “She’s very friendly to the staff,” Lynch says. “Everyone loves her.”
Beget goes to mass every week, exercises at least once a week, and visits Barry often. In her free time, she’ll knit, read a book, or listen to a Christian motivational CD. Even though three family members have deceased, she isn’t disappointed with how her life has turned out. She looks forward to seeing Roy, Julie Anne, Mark, and God soon. She doubts even the thrill of skydiving could match that feeling.