A Case of Need: Amid Sadness, Husband Still Grateful

Humming first, then singing, walking around and looking for pictures of him with his wife, Rich Chace came back to that first line of the chorus in "Eleanor Rigby," the haunting Beatles song: "Ah, look at all the lonely people."

It'd be tough to blame Chace - a man whose wife, Mary McGrath, is sick in the hospital with cancer and a bleak prognosis - for thinking the words apply to him. But lonely he's not.

There's Paula Ballou, his wife's best friend, who's on the phone with him from the hospital, holding Mary's hand. Neighbors have been stopping by, and a guidance counselor at his son's school, whom he's never even met, is calling around and asking what he can do.

Last weekend, his neighbor Margaret Moran and a few friends sat for a few hours outside his union meeting, the regular powwow for Local 223, and collected two grand.

"I want this to be about the neighborhood, about the community," Chace says, sitting in his Minot Street dining room.

Even the guys at the Old Dorchester Post, where he used to go until Mary got sick, understand and will take him back. Heck, they donated the hall for what Margaret and a few friends are arranging, a February 12 fundraiser to help the family defray the health care costs and time Richie's had to take off work.

Meanwhile, their oldest boy, Timothy, is a Navy medic at Camp Lejune in North Carolina, waiting to head back to the Middle East. Last time, he was on a submarine. This time, as a full-fledged medic, he'll be in the middle of things, expecting to ship out soon. He's 21.

The other three - 20-year-old Patrick, 15-year-old Matthew, and 13-year-old Bridget - are closer to home, and have been up to see their mom at the hospital, where the small-cell cancer she's got is taking its toll.

"She drifts," says Chace. He stares hard at the shamrocks on the tablecloth. "They know she's better off at the hospital right now, that she's getting better care there than she would here."

Mary was diagnosed in March, listed as terminal right off, but told the cancer could be treated. All summer she went through chemotherapy. She'd let her real estate license lapse when she got sick, but was scattering a few days a week down at Sullivan Real Estate in Adams Corner.

She's a former nurse, and letting some wretched tumors and vile chemicals keep her off her game wasn't happening. Rich says, "Mary has been always working, always. She never misses a beat."

At the end of August, Rich got a few days off from the Shawmut Station job he was working as part of the laborers union, and they went up to Weirs Beach on Lake Winnipesaukee, outside Laconia. The family's been going for years, renting the same cottage, and they'll fit 20 or 30 in there with all her cousins - "like her brothers," Rich says - and their wives and kids.

Then they came back, after the chemo, and went out to dinner in Quincy. "It was looking real good," Rich remembers.

"And wasn't that the next day that the doctor called, told us she was borderline anemic, her kidneys were failing."

She went into radiation in October and November, then had a brain scan in mid-December and it showed lesions on her brain, and things haven't gotten better, and Rich says the doctors don't think they will. She waited until after New Year's to go in because she'd been in over Thanksgiving and was in last Easter and wanted a holiday at home.

They took a break, Mary and Rich did, back many years ago, two kids from St. Margaret's who needed some time away from each other. She came back with Matthew and Bridget who still see their own dad, but Rich talks about them and their grades like they were his own. "Things have been absolutely perfect since we've been back together," he says. "And I've never felt so good about myself.

So no loneliness, then. Margaret Moran says the fundraiser, with disc-spinning services donated by DJ Duka Skinna, is taking off. Sonny's Pub is donating food. Since Margaret and her friends started making calls last week, they can't return them fast enough.

"People are just calling me up on my cellphone all the time, which is awesome," Margaret says. "It's the best feeling."

Rich loves it here. He loves living near cops and firemen, loves the feeling that it's like the old neighborhood, where people left their doors unlocked and looked out for one another.

Timothy's pictures in uniform and with the other guys in his class hang on the living room wall, and there's one of Patrick graduating from high school. He's going to go to school for accounting, but better hurry because Matthew's nipping on his heels ("This boy is on his way") now at TechBoston Academy, the old Dot High, and picking up a few bucks after school at UMass-Boston in the Urban Scholars program. His mom saw the report card: all As and one B. And Bridget, the Boston Latin girl, Rich calls her "my all-A wonder, takes right after her mother."

The fundraiser, Rich says, will help with the tuition and the mortgage while he's off the job. And the spirit behind it, the neighbors he thanks again and again, like the chorus of a happier song, will keep helping after that.