Sunday, May 31, 2009

Patricia -- An Indelible Friendship

Recently I have had several occasions to think about how when someone dies who is a direct relative, your friends and neighbors shower your with condolences, treat you gently, respect your mourning.

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!

I was an older grad student – not quite 30 – working as a promotion student at WKAR when I into the office I shared with my boss. I found Jeff having a deep conversation with a female colleague, to whom I was introduced.

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 taught me about how delicious it was to put granola or bran flakes in your yogurt and I remember walking to her duplex not far from the station at lunch where we’d enjoy yogurt and cereal and talk for eons. Silly, now. Not then. We’d talk movies – not just the popular ones, either.

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.

Both of us had mothers who had died of breast cancer, and in Patricia’s case, both of her parents had died. We talked about our mothers who left us far too early. Who left us young, unformed, never seeing the women we knew we would become, the families we hoped would be parts of our lives.

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.
And every minute I spent with Patricia, I learned more and more about growing up.

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.


BONNIE K said...

What a beautiful post! She sounds like an amazing woman. So sad, for all of you.

Crafty Green Poet said...

that's a beautiful tribute

Annie said...

Jeanie, what a wonderful tribute to your friend. It leaves me feeling very reminded of Bob who so recently died. Some people you can just never forget. Patricia is clearly one of those people.

Joanne Huffman said...

Thank you for sharing Patricia with us.


...... Bobbi said...

What a wonderful and heartfelt tribute to your special friend! Sounds like she was a great lady.

Jane Rosemont said...

There is nothing silly about any of the things you're written. This whole post is about how powerful friendship can be, every last bit of it.

Isn't it wonderful that we can share these stories in our blogs? Another way to honor those we have passed.

Beth said...

Awh,,that was a great but sad story. I miss your friend for you now too. She sounds like she was an incredible woman. I love the whole story!

joyce said...

A special friendship..I got goosebumps as I read your post. You were lucky to have each other.
(PS, I have no idea what NPR is either)

Kris said...

Jeanie- this is such a moving tribute to your friend. It sounds like you and she had a beautiful friendship. As I read I thought about the special places we reserve for people who have touched our lives. Thank you for sharing your Patricia story with us.

Susie Q said...

Jeanie...what an amazing tribute to an incredible woman FROM another incredible woman. yes, you ARE someone worth knowing as was she. She gave you so much as I know you gave to her. I fel honored to have been able to read this and to *know* her just a little bit. She truly loived life to the fullest and that is a lesson for all of us.


Bree said...

What a lovely tribute to your friend. THANK YOU so much for the card and gift. You really are the most thoughtful person!

I posted a picture here.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jeanie, this was beautiful to read. How fortunate to have had such a friend. One who is always there for you in some way. What a deeply moving tribute. And the pictures! Here's to Patricia. Hugs, Oh

Judy Winter said...

Simply beautiful. xo

Karen Owen said...

This was such a lovely tribute to your friend. Thanks for sharing. I agree with you about losing a friend. It's almost as if our society doesn't allow time for that mourning when in some cases that loss is more intense than the loss of a relative.

anno said...

What a wonderful friend, and a beautiful friendship. There are some people in our lives whose loss we never really "get over"; nor should we. Reading this story you two shared makes me hope for & appreciate the rich possibilities in my own life. Thank you!

shoreacres said...

What a touching post, and what a wonderful description of your friend - I feel as though I know her, and I like her very much.

Thank you so much for sharing this part of your journey with us.

Becca said...

Oh, this was beautiful, and made me want to hug my friends :)

How lucky you both were to have found each other.

Anonymous said...

Oh Jeanie, what a beautiful post - that brought tears to my eyes. How hard it must have been to lose such a precious, inspirational friend. I am sad for you, and for her family.
Thanks for sharing so generously with us.

robin-bird said...

i love you jeanie. this post made me tear up and know how devastated i would be to lose one of my friends. i think about it sometimes but i am fortunate to have not had to experience this grief. i hear your sorrow so clearly in this beautiful post. i am sorry for you...and sorry for patricia. my friends are like sisters to me but not like sisters at all. it will sound very, very odd for me to describe it this way but losing a friend to death would cause me to react similar to the way i did when my dog angel died. somehow the usual boundaries or constraints on loving too much just don't apply. i have thought so much about you these past weeks. I've thought about you and your dad. and you and your mom. you are always and forever a comfort to me jeanie. you give so much of yourself in your posts and i know you give even more in your life.

Beth Leintz said...

You were lucky to have such a wonderful friendship, and I have tears in my eyes thinking about how you must still miss Patricia. said...

I'm glad you had such a great friend in your life. And what a moving story you told about her.

paris parfait said...

What a fantastic tribute to your friendship with Patricia! Your account brought tears to my eyes. How very lucky you both were to be a part of each other's lives. xo

Anonymous said...

you don't know me from Adam, but ILY and am hugging you in my heart - that was so well done

now not only will you never forget her, nor shall we

Laura said...

Oh, your friend was such a lovely person. She sounds like someone I would have wanted to know. I am feeling her loss acutely after reading your words. My heart is entwined with your right now. Sending love.

Popular Posts