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Mary & Me: Discussion Questions


The thing about real life is that important events don’t announce themselves. Trumpets don’t blow, drums don’t beat to let you know you are going to meet the most important person you’ve ever met, or read the most important thing you are ever going to read, or have the most important conversation you are ever going to have, or spend the most important week you are ever going to spend. Usually something that is going to change your whole life is a memory before you can stop and be impressed about it. You don’t usually have a chance to get excited about that sort of thing . . . ahead of time.

—Edith Schaeffer

Meeting Mary H. was a momentous occasion for Mary K.—finally, the kindred spirit she’d yearned for. For Mary H., the encounter was just another in a series of first      meetings. When you meet a prospective friend, which of the Marys are you most like?

Mary K. put strict requirements on who she would accept as a friend, essentially limiting potential friendships. Have you ever done this?

Do you think Mary K. would have even liked the “clone” she desired if she’d ever discovered her? If such a thing were possible, would you like yours?

Can you remember a time when a casual introduction turned into a deep friendship?

Letter writing deepened the authors’ friendship after Mary K.’s move. Have you had a friend move? If so, what happened to your friendship? Discuss activities or events that might deepen a long-distance friendship.

Neighbors. Coworkers. Organization and club members. These situational friendships sometimes don’t last once the situation has changed. Has this happened to you? Or did the situational friendship remain?


But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.
—Mitch Albom, For One More Day

Mary K.’s mother had not been an example in regards to adult female friendships. How important do you think it is to be a role model to your daughters in this aspect?

Both Mary K. and her mother struggled to balance a tight budget with raising babies. Do you think it is harder for a mother who is struggling to make ends meet to develop friendships? Why or why not?

Mary K.’s mother was afraid to tell her friend about her cancer, worrying that she would tell her “I told you so” about her smoking. Are there any friends you would hesitate to share a cancer diagnosis with?

Mary H. enjoyed interviewing her mom about her friendships. What questions would you ask your mom about friendship? What other questions might you like to ask her

Mary H. had never heard about Nancy, her mom’s friend who had tragically died in a fire. Have you ever learned anything about or from your mother that surprised you?

What do you remember about your mother’s friends?


I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be.
—Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

Meeting a former classmate’s sister at a hair appointment thrust Mary K. back in time. Have you ever had something similar happen when meeting someone from your past?

Do you think the clothes children wear can make them a target for bullies?

Mary K. believed a single friend made a difference in how she was treated when she entered junior high. Have you had a similar experience?

Has a single comment like “Gee, you’re fat” eaten at you? Has something someone said recently hurt your feelings?

How did you make friends when you were younger? Did your friend-making skills change as you grew older?

What qualities do you value in a friend today?


The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother, you are no longer the center of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children.
—Jessica Lange

Are you familiar with attachment-style parenting? What does that term mean to you?

Do you have sisters? If so, do you consider them friends, as the authors do? Do you think women need friends outside of their own families, or can sisters or sisters-in-law be enough?

Do you agree that isolation can contribute to a sense of paranoia? Have you ever felt isolated?

What stressors did (or do) you experience as a mother of young children? What were (or are) your coping methods?

Did you latch onto a support group like Mary H. did with her playgroup? Explain why you did or didn’t need it.

What can mothers with young children do to carve out time for themselves?


It’s a fallacy that writers have to shut themselves up in their ivory towers to write. I have all these interruptions, three of which I gave birth to. If I was thrown for a loop every time I was distracted I could never get anything done.
—Jodi Picoult

Do you find yourself saying you “don’t have time” for an activity you’d like to pursue? Mary K. found time for writing, even while raising eight children. Does her experience encourage you or discourage you from pursuing your own passion?

Mary K.’s husband didn’t support her writing in the early years, though he redeemed himself later on. Why might a spouse fail to encourage the hobby or interest of their partner?

Mary K. considered her mother a muse of sorts, and her husband the “wind beneath her wings.” Do you have people in your life that have influenced your pursuits?

Writing was one way the Marys’ friendship was cemented. What activities solidify your friendships?

Writing for publication is a rollercoaster of emotions. If you’re a writer (or know one well), explain why this is true or not true.

Both friends find journaling important in their life. Do you?


Armed with my positive attitude and inherent stubborn nature, I keep my mind focused and my life moving forward. I stop to rest, pout, and even cry sometimes, but always, I get back up. Life is giving me this challenge and I will plow through it, out of breath with my heart racing if I have to.
—Amy B. Scher

Both authors experienced a “mystery illness” within months of each other, at a time when there was little known about immune system disorders. Do you have a friend or a family member that suffers with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or a related condition? After reading this chapter, did you gain a little more understanding of what they might deal with on a day-to-day basis?

Both Marys had a difficult time getting a diagnosis for their illness. Have you ever experienced the frustration of seeking medical help and not finding answers? Do you know someone who has?

It’s difficult enough to be chronically ill, but having young children when experiencing illness adds another dimension. How do you think having a chronically ill mother affects a child?

Have health issues ever affected one of your friendships? If so, in what ways? How did you and your friend handle the medical issues? Or didn’t you? Have you ever had a friendship end because of illness?

Neither author mentions support groups, although Mary H. attended one meeting after having thyroid cancer. Have you ever sought a support group? If so, did it help you?

How can you help an ill friend? Brainstorm and try to put into practice one of these ideas for someone you know who is dealing with an illness.


You can only be jealous of someone who has something you think you ought to have yourself.
—Margaret Atwood, The Handmaiden’s Tale

Mary K. rationalizes that all relationships inevitably include some envy. Do you agree?

What do you think Mary K. means when she states that “the face of envy is not becoming on anyone.”?

Do you agree that jealousy is an uncomfortable emotion?

Has jealousy ever threatened one of your friendships? How did you handle it?

What are the types of things that make you jealous of your friends?

Can jealousy between friends ever be a good thing?


Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.
—Corrie Ten Boom

Have you ever experienced the “monkey mind” that Mary K. describes? Did her description help you understand anxiety?

What do you think about taking medication for anxiety?D

Do you think a propensity for anxiety can be inherited, or is it more of a situational factor?

Both authors deal with anxiety and try to help each other with its challenges. How can you help a friend dealing with anxiety?

What makes you anxious? If you have anxiety issues, have you ever shared that with a friend? Why or why not?

Healing from anxiety can’t be measured like healing from a broken bone can. How does this challenge a person with anxiety?


The English language has about 450,000 commonly used words, but more may be needed. What do you call someone who has lost a sibling or had a miscarriage? Or a gay person whose partner has died? Or an elderly person who has lost every friend and relative? So many heartaches can’t be found in the dictionary.
—Jeffrey Zaslow, in The Wall Street Journal

Have you experienced the loss of a friend through death? Or through other circumstances? How did you handle that loss?

Would you describe your spouse as your best friend?

Have you hesitated befriending someone older than you?

What are some of the deepest losses you’ve experienced? How did you get through the hardest times?

Mary H. helped Mary K. through the concurrent losses of her mother, husband, and grandson. How can you help others get through loss?

Do you think there is a difference between a sudden death and one that causes lingering suffering and pain? How can you help a friend in either situation?


Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
—Martin Luther King Jr.

Mary K.’s original idea of what constituted a person of faith seems closed minded, and more about church doctrine and rules than Bible edicts. Do you know people like this?

Mary K. didn’t think she could be a good Christian unless she followed her mother’s faith walk. Why do you think that is?

Have you experienced some type of turning point in your own journey of faith?

Are your friends mostly from the same faith or belief system that you hold?

Do you feel comfortable sharing your faith when you don’t know where someone stands in that area?

Has faith ever been a divisive issue in a friendship? If so, how did you handle it?


I hadn’t realized how much I’d been needing to meet someone I might be able to say everything to.
—Elizabeth Berg

The authors hadn’t talked much about politics in three decades of letter writing. Do you talk politics with your friends?

Mary K. hesitated to discuss her worries about educational choices her family had made with Mary H. Why do you think she feared judgment on that issue?

The two friends never broached the subject of sex until after one friend lost her husband. Is this a topic you avoid discussing with your friends? Do you know someone who overshares in that area?

What topics have you refrained from sharing with friends?

How important is confidentiality when discussing sensitive issues? Have you ever had a friend betray your confidences? How did it make you feel? How did that affect your friendship?

What are some topics you would never share with a friend? Are you surprised by some of the topics never discussed by the two Marys?


I don’t want the words to be naked the way they are in faxes or on the computer. I want them to be covered by an envelope that you have to rip open in order to get at. I want there to be waiting time—a pause between the writing and the reading. I want us to be careful about what we say to each other. I want the miles between us to be real and long. This will be our law—that we write our dailiness and our suffering very, very carefully.
—Siri Hustvedt, What I Loved

Mary K. seems to have strong feelings about what kind of paper or pens she prefers. Do you share this foible, or understand it?

Does Mary K.’s penchant for stationery seem perfectly rational, or does there seem to be a problem bordering on hoarding going on?

If you are a writer (of letters or otherwise), do you have a favorite spot for the craft?

When you write letters, what utensils and equipment do you prefer to use? Why?

Do you find letter writing a chore? Or a joy?

In this age of social media, how do you feel about snail mail?


To me, reading through old letters and journals is like treasure hunting. Somewhere in those faded, handwritten lines there is a story that has been packed away in a dusty old box for years.
—Sara Sheridan

Mary K. discovered many things about her friend through the process of writing a book together. Were you surprised at how much she didn’t know about Mary H., considering those eight thousand letters that passed between them?

Both Mary K.’s maternal grandmother and her own daughter Elizabeth met their prospective spouses through the mail. Do you think you can get to know people well through the mail, or, for that matter, through dates, when obviously they might only show the best of themselves either way?

Is there a friend close to you that you could imagine living with someday?

In a perfect world where all things are possible, which friend would you like to co-write a book with?

What are some questions you could ask your dear friend that might enhance your friendship?

What was the most important takeaway lesson you received by reading this book?


Like the article? We bet you’ll love this book:

Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink explores a thirty-year friendship between two women: one who had never learned to cultivate female friendships, and the other who had managed to gather a…

Mary & Me

Mary Potter Kenyon

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