After a wildfire demolished their Ramona home in October 2007, Mary Odgers and one of her sons briefly took refuge in a Del Mar hotel room.
The family moved into a small La Jolla Village condo, where she, her husband and all three grown children celebrated Christmas that year in a moment of respite and return to normalcy. It was the last Christmas all five of them ever spent together.
Mary’s husband, Bruce Odgers, died by suicide in October 2008, almost exactly one year after the fire. Six weeks later, her father died. Her youngest son, Patrick, 20, died by suicide a week after that.
“It was kind of like getting hit, and barely getting up and getting hit,” said Mary, now a Solana Beach resident, whose upcoming memoir recounts her experiences of loss, grief and rebuilding.
The book, “Six Funerals and a Wedding,” will be released March 17 and is available for preorder.
Mary, an acute-care nurse, and Bruce, a naval aviator and then pilot for Delta Airlines, had been married for almost 30 years. The family moved from Texas in 1992 into their Ramona dream house, which they built on 9.3 acres of land by the Santa Maria Valley.
Though they had the outward appearance of a happy family in an idyllic Southern California home, Bruce’s struggle with depression and moodiness had long caused a rift in their relationship. In the book, Mary wrote that it worsened after he retired from Delta and became a private pilot. The work was less frequent, and he often filled the time brooding in their condo while the family continued to rebound from losing their house.
“Mental health is not given enough attention,” Mary said. “We kind of don’t know what to do with it.”
Patrick, she said, was different. He never showed any of the symptoms his father had. In a journal entry he wrote after Bruce died, which Mary included in her memoir, Patrick said he liked to wear his father’s clothes to feel connected to him, and that his “heart just ached” when he learned the details of his father’s death. Patrick’s death, she added, was likely the result of an ill-fated attempt to try to understand Bruce’s final moments.
Referring to a line in the journal entry where Patrick wrote that he couldn’t wait to see his dad in heaven, Mary wrote in her memoir, “I knew in my heart, after everything else he’d expressed in that entry, that he meant it for the far distant future.”
Including the house and subsequent deaths of her mother and brother, Mary experienced six devastating losses over the course of a few years. Throughout those personal tragedies, she said she was comforted and inspired by friends, family and others who offered condolences and support.
Mary’s father was a Marine Corps general and her mother a Navy nurse, so she and her five siblings moved frequently. Though she never expected to, she embarked on yet another new beginning.
She began writing the memoir in 2016, part of the effort to forge ahead. She is still a registered nurse and also started a life-coaching business.
“I wanted to repaint the canvas of my life and have it reflect what is good,” Mary said.
Part of that has been her new relationship with Pierre, an anesthesiologist whom she had worked with for years. But, Mary recounts in the book, the two had rarely spoken until she remodeled her new condo in Solana Beach and needed a place to store her furniture. Pierre offered his garage. The two didn’t legally marry, but commemorated their love in a Fourth of July ceremony in 2017.
Mary added that she wants the book to “inspire hope in other people.”
“Six Funerals and a Wedding” can be preordered on Amazon. For more information, visit sixfuneralsandawedding.com.