EASTHAMPTON-Ann Sheridan St. Marie, 70, died on May 27, 2019 at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA, surrounded by loved ones, after a long period of declining health. Throughout her life, she saw the best, brought out the best, and was, quite simply, the very best of people. Her family is unmoored by her death, and friends are devastated, but all are steadied by their certainty in the abiding impact of her fierce, unconditional love.
Ann was born on January 11, 1949 in Springfield, MA, and raised in Chicopee Falls, MA, the youngest of Anna M. (Fox) and Charles Joseph Sheridan, Sr.’s seven children. Her position as baby of the family would eventually invert itself as she assumed the role of matriarch “Auntie Ann,” sustaining strong family ties after all six of her siblings, Michael, Honora “Betty,” Charles Jr., Barbara, Edward, and Lillian “Shirley,” predeceased her. Her commitment to family was instilled by her mother, who one day threw her own wedding ring in the trash, saying to her shocked, grown children, “Now you can’t fight over it when I’m gone,” in order to drive home the point that family ties are worth more than any material possession ever could be. “She was a pip!” Ann would say with admiration whenever she shared this story.
Something else Ann liked to say is that “a family is a circle of love,” evoking not a ring of gold to be worn or tossed away, but an imagined ring forged of love around which family members could see themselves positioned to behold shared history. Ann fortified that circle, that ring of familial love, by effusively welcoming newcomers into it, enthusiastically hosting annual Sheridan family Christmas gatherings, and “Bo-LOG-na Fests” (the latter, a summertime gathering named as an in-joke after her mother-in-law, Irene Bilodeau St. Marie’s, phonetic mispronunciation of the word), and by using gifts, phone calls, cards and notes, and visits as opportunities to make every single person in that ever-expanding circle feel unreservedly accepted, cherished, and beloved.
She, in turn, was beloved, especially by her husband of over 50 years, Terry Leon St. Marie. They met in 1963 while still in high school—he attended Chicopee High, while she would graduate from Holyoke Catholic in 1967—and wed shortly before his deployment to Vietnam on August 17, 1968 at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Chicopee, MA. Theirs was what a marriage should be: a partnership grounded in love, respect, and friendship, and defined by devotion to their children, Christina (Chrissy), Sean, and Brian. They loved their daughter and sons for exactly the people they were, and that’s how Ann and Terry loved each other, too. The certainty and generosity at the foundation of their union modeled what friend and surrogate-granddaughter, Brianna, called “the epitome of true love, and friendship, and relationship goals.” Later in life, Ann jokingly called Terry “Grumpa” when his curmudgeonly side showed, but she, more than anyone, knew and revealed the truth of his soft heart. Terry never stopped wooing his bride. He gifted Ann heart-shaped stones he found as talismans of his love and once photographed a heart-shaped cloud because it made him think of her. “I think I’ll keep him,” she often said with a wink, and she loved her husband and kept him well.
Ann and Terry liked to say that Chrissy (born on their second anniversary) was their anniversary present, Brian (born right before Christmas, just over two years later) was their Christmas gift, and middle child, Sean (a late-November baby) was the turkey. Such a joke is representative of Ann’s sense of humor. A natural storyteller, she loved to laugh and regaled family and friends with side-splitting reminiscences about her kids’ growing-up years. She punctuated these stories with colorful idioms: “I about had a duck egg,” she’d remark, for example, when recounting a gray-hair-inducing ordeal, such as the time when neighborhood friends, the Wheelers, noticed that her young sons had hung a sign reading “HELP! We’re being held hostage!” in their bedroom window after she sent them to tidy up, or when she found Chrissy sitting atop the refrigerator, having climbed it in an impressive feat of toddler derring-do.
Ann had lots of such material gleaned from her years as a homemaker, and she gloried in the role of Mom. She was a Cub Scout den-mother when her sons were little, and she delighted in attending her children’s sporting events and other activities. A gifted, self-taught seamstress, she made countless Halloween costumes, tailored wedding attire and prom gowns, and sewed reams of curtains and bedding for family members’ homes. But most of all, Ann devoted herself to raising her children to be what she called “A+ people,” explaining, “I wanted them to do well in school, but it was most important to me that they be A+ people in terms of how they treated others.” Ann was, herself, an A+ person. Unfailingly generous, spirited, and just plain fun, she was an expert in taking joy and spreading it, too. Her friends in Massachusetts, and later in Florida when she and Terry began wintering there after his retirement, knew her as a good neighbor, a terrific card player, an exuberant Red Hat Society member, and a person whose storytelling prowess was rivaled only by her empathetic listening skills.
When her children were older, Ann briefly worked as a paraprofessional in the Easthampton public schools, and she also ran an in-demand home-daycare. She took pride in making her charges feel like family. No birthday went uncelebrated, no milestone unmarked. “Missy” is what these children called her, and they adored her. “Mommy, you have to have another baby so we can still go to Missy’s house!” the youngest in a family of five exclaimed when she headed off to preschool and realized there’d be no more daycare days at the St. Maries’.
It’s safe to say that Ann’s greatest joy in life arrived when she moved from being called Ann, Auntie Ann, Mom, and Missy to assuming the title, Nana. Her first grandchild, Bradyn, was born to Brian and his wife Laurie in 1993. Grandson, Liam, and granddaughter, Sienna, soon followed, giving the St. Maries a second-generation trio of children to love. They hosted them at their wintertime home in Vero Beach, FL, treating them to unforgettable adventures at Universal Studios, with Nana riding roller coasters right alongside the kids. They also spent many summer beach days in Maine at their camp in Wells. It may seem obvious to note a grandmother’s love; but something as commonplace as water is crucial to life itself, after all, and Ann’s specific, grandmotherly love created her most essential, indelible legacy. “I know my kids turned out as well as they have, in part, because of how Nana always made them feel so very wanted,” Laurie often says, a sentiment reflecting the fact that Ann didn’t just love her grandchildren, she delighted in them. “I’m gonna put bricks on your head!” she’d mock-threaten them with a loving mix of pride and alarm at the rapidity of their growth.
And, when those first three grandchildren were teenagers, Ann joyously welcomed new children into the family when Sean married and became stepfather to Rory, Natayja, Emilia, Stevie, and Caroline, and then brought two more sons, Jesse and Zachary, into the world with his loving wife, Megan. “How are all the troops?” she’d ask when checking in on them, taking genuine interest in each child. Each of those “troops” now overflows with memories of craft projects and cookie decorating around Nana’s dining-room table, taco-nights and galumpke dinners, storytimes, movie nights, and pajama days.
Ann danced with Sean at his wedding to the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” a sentiment that pretty well encapsulates her basic life philosophy and that was on full display last year when the St. Maries’ children and daughters-in-law hosted a 50th Anniversary party for the couple with over 70 guests in attendance. The couple then embarked on a dream-come-true trip to Ann’s ancestral homeland of Ireland, which Terry planned as a surprise. The only thing that marred this special celebration was that Brian wasn’t present to toast his parents and bid them bon voyage since he tragically passed away in 2016. His loss was unfathomable to Ann, and she came to regard cardinals as symbols of his vibrant, enduring presence in her heart. She found comfort each time they appeared with a flash of red plumage to brighten her days with memories of him.
Those lucky enough to love and be loved by Ann now search for such comfort in the wake of her loss. Survivors, including her husband Terry St. Marie of Easthampton, MA and Vero Beach, FL; daughter Christina St. Marie, and her daughter Sienna of Easthampton, MA; son Sean St. Marie, his wife Megan, and children Rory, Natayja, Emilia, Steven, Caroline, Jesse, and Zachary of Amherst, MA; daughter-in-law Laurie St. Marie, and her son Liam of Chicopee, MA, and her daughter Bradyn and her partner Peyton of Madison, WI; many nieces, nephews, and cousins; and cherished friends, including Brianna Lawlor, of Chicopee, MA, the Wheeler Family of Granville, MA, and the Tessier family of Chicopee, MA, will be looking for cardinals to soothe our heartbreak as symbols of the everlasting, bright presence of Ann’s love in our lives. We also encourage anyone reading this tribute to join us in doing all we can to follow Ann’s example of loving and delighting in children, sharing in stories from elders, and laughing until our sides ache, and then laughing some more.
A Celebration of Ann's life will be held on Monday, June 3, 2019 from 4:00-7:00 p.m. at Tylunas Funeral Home, 159 Broadway, Chicopee Falls, MA 01020. On Tuesday June 4, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. Committal services will be held at the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemetery, 1390 Main St, Agawam, MA 01001. (Please arrive promptly by 9:45 a.m.) A memorial Mass will be at the convenience of the family at a later date.
Committed to cherishing Ann’s memory and carrying on her legacy, in lieu of flowers, please consider supporting children’s charities such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital or Shriners Hospitals for Children, or perhaps give to the same charities loved ones supported in honor of Brian, such as NAMI and Bring Change to Mind.
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
501 St. Jude Place, Memphis TN 38105
Shriners Hospital c/o Springfield unit
516 Carew Street, Springfield MA 01104