But when a friend dies and others know, they may say “I’m sorry” (and mean it) but the magnitude of that death to you doesn’t quite sink in.
Hanging on the door of my linen closet is a large wooden ornament with a cat on it. It was a gift from my friend Patricia, who died nine years ago last month. A number of months ago in a post related to a “Write on Wednesday” prompt, I spoke of Patricia and several of you said you would like to hear more.
In light of my “quest” to honor those who had a profound influence in my life, I honor Patricia!
Patricia Maloney handled education services for the station, and we would later work on projects together. But I first knew her as Jeff’s friend, who would stop by to talk politics, the arts, or about what they saw on “CBS Sunday Morning” or heard on NPR.
Don’t laugh – I didn’t know much about NPR then. I certainly didn’t know about “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.” But if Jeff and Patricia were talking about these, I thought I should find out what it was all about. And I became hooked.
Patricia and I became great friends, and in many ways she was my mentor and a teacher -- an interesting role for someone only a few months apart in age. This tall woman, who reminded me of a colt on the edge of achieving race-horse status – all legs, long hair, elegant (but in an unpretentious way) – was just what I wanted to be.
She was confident. Self-assured. Brilliant. Articulate. She had style and grace. Because Patricia knew about NPR, I started listening to NPR – and I loved it. I developed a life-long habit I not only continue today, but one that would serve me professionally as well.
She introduced me to “My Brilliant Career” and to “The New Yorker.” Her cat Shandy had a fine gallery of cartoons by his bowl. When Shandy died, we got on the phone and we both cried.
And we’d talk about books, the theatre, art, politics. For a person working and studying in a university community, I knew surprisingly few people with whom I could have these conversations. And we'd talk shop, too -- the TV Auction, a new educational project. It was all there.out for breakfast, too, on Sundays and share the New York Times. Neither of us relished giving up the book or theatre section, but over omelettes and tea, it always seemed to work out. Our discussions were long and involved, and often they would center on hopes, dreams and family.
We shared our career dreams. And we shared every sorrow. The ups and downs of our romantic lives were dissected and examined. In person – and later in letters and phone calls – we helped each other through heartbreak and celebrated joy. We supported one another unconditionally and in full.
That sounds silly. But Patricia had been places. She’d grown up in Chicago, then lived in Boston before coming to Michigan. She had a confidence, the assuredness that comes with different experiences. Mine had been “the same.” I had lived in the same town forever (partly by choice) and didn’t have siblings to teach me how to fight or compete. And while I didn’t mind that – totally, just a little – I still needed to learn that surefootedness that she possessed.
When Patricia lived in Michigan, we’d share salmon mousse and mulligatawney soup. We’d talk books. I didn’t know many people here who did that. Most had long moved away.
But Patricia was never happy in Lansing. Think about it. Chicago. Boston. Lansing. It doesn’t compute. And she desperately wanted to return to Chicago.
And so, one day, she did. With a smile on her face and joy in her heart, she returned to the windy city, with a big new job (not in broadcasting) and new worlds to conquer.
We kept in touch through regular phone calls and letters. Those were the days of letters, and Patricia wrote the best.
“I suspect (smile) your new spacious apartment is all full! “ she wrote, shortly after I moved.
And in another, after seeing a movie: “I got very sad, I think because the movie reminded me of falling in love – and I truly wonder f I’ll ever fall in love again. Lonesomeness seems such a way of life. Singularity so strong by now. And the possibility of loving (with or without romance) seems quite remote. It’s not that life isn’t good and rich. It is, and with health restored, so sweet. But lonesome. Yes.”
Her health restored. This was after we learned that Patricia had breast cancer. Our mothers' disease. The disease we both feared. But they got her cancer; she was treated. She was home free. “Our mother’s prognoses don’t have to be ours,” she reminded me. And she was right. I think about that every time I have a mammogram.
And then, one day I received this – “One interesting, complex event – lunch with an old college boyfriend, Paul, who lost his wife last year. Very sad story – two kids, Nora, 5, and Jimmy, 8. Cancer – side effects of chemo caused congestive heart failure. Although we hadn’t spoken in 12 years, we had a great three-hour lunch. Maybe we’ll get together again.”
Paul turned out to be the love of her life, and when they married, she also married his children, Nora and Jim.
After that, letters talked about Jim doing this and Nora doing that. She had found her family and was ebullient.
One day, Patricia called. Her cancer was back. And this time it was worse – for different reasons.
Paul knew, when he met Patricia, that cancer was part of her story. But it was still agonizing for her to contemplate telling these children who had already lost one mother that their beloved stepmom had the same disease that took their mother away.
Through it all, she did the family vacations, the PTA, the school activities. One-on-one vacations with Paul while the kids were with their grandparents. And when she had a cancer recurrence, that involvement didn’t change.
One time I visited her – it was shortly before a surgery. She said, “I got a wig like my hair and I’m having this done while the kids are with their grandparents. They don’t need to know about this right now. When it’s time, OK. Not now.”
Rick and I were headed to a bike trade show in Chicago in February 2000. I called Patricia to see if she’d be up for lunch or dinner. But she declined.
“I haven’t been feeling well, and I’m not sure I can really get out right now,” she said – which made sense to me. It was late February and the Windy City can be brutal at that time of year. Her home was far from the trade show and we thought it unlikely we’d get together this time.
We had a fabulous talk, though, as I told her of this new guy who had stolen my heart, who – like Paul – shared his children with me, and who for whatever reason, loved bicycles almost more than life itself.
It was a wonderful conversation.
And the last.
When she died two months later, I was shocked. I had no idea it was so serious at the time, and if she knew (and I think she probably did), I’m sure that’s what Patricia wanted.
I really don’t think any death – except possibly my parents, and in some ways, not even theirs – has affected me so.
Patricia died almost 10 years ago. My world is entirely different. Yet, like the others who die too young – Diana, JFK, James Dean, to name a few – she is frozen in time.
This beautiful colt of woman who introduced me to so much. She helped craft the person I am today and that friendship lives on as vibrantly as it did when she was alive.
In a letter I wrote to Paul and her step-children after she died, I said “My life and my world was a better, richer, more inspired world because I knew Patricia. It was brighter, it was more beautiful. I’m a better person because of her. She was the most courageous, well balanced, good humored woman I’ve ever known, a role model in every way.
And I like to think that the words she wrote below showed that she felt I, too, was a person worth knowing.
I'm delighted to say I was the winner of Bree’s blog drawing for a copy of "The Notables." Thanks, Bree!
Time is running out to enter my drawing for a lovely crystal, donated by my friend Richard (not to be confused with Rick, because I know some of you do!), whose story of the Food Bank Crystal Project I mentioned in my May post titled "A Puzzle." If you would like to enter, please leave a comment here and on other posts up to midnight on May 31.