Thursday, April 26, 2012

Patricia -- A Mentor, a Friend

As they say, "I'm curling up for a nap...or something." I'll catch up with you soon, but until then, a few of my favorite posts, honoring people who have made a difference in my life. If you're new to The Marmelade Gypsy, I hope you'll take a few minutes to meet some people who mean a good deal to me -- and may inspire you, too.

My friend Patricia died in April 2000. In her memory I wanted to again share a memory piece written in Patricia's honor
* * * * * *

May 2009

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. It seems silly, now. Not then. Then, we were sharing our pasts, our presents, our dreams for the future, our interests and passions. 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 program, a new educational project. It was all there.

We'd go 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.

(Update: I have since had the opportunity to talk with someone who knows Patricia's stepson, Jim. She said he has grown into a fine young man. I'm not surprised. But that also made me happy.)


Maggie said...

I'm writing this with a lump in my throat whilst thinking about Ann, my pal, who also passed away from cancer way too soon!
Beautiful post, and a wonderful tribute to your friend.

Luna und Luzie said...

Jeanie, I´m sorry that you lost your friend so young.
This is a wonderful tribute post to rembember your friend Patricia!

hugs from Germany

Deb said...

This is so beautifully written, Jeannie. What a wonderful memory you have of your dear friend. I lost my good friend of 15 years 2 years ago to ovarian cancer. Life does seem so different without her in it. We shared many interests as you and Patricia did. More than I realized at the time. I will always be happy that I had her in my life for as long as I did. Deb

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

This is such a powerful and beautiful post, Jeanie. It shows so wonderfully the impact of very special friends on our lives. Like you, I've lost way too many dear friends far too soon -- and have tears in my eyes thinking of your great loss. You're so right: there is no way in the world for others to know how profoundly the loss of a friend can affect us and there are some of these losses that can be more devastating than the loss of a family member.

Sally Wessely said...

This beautiful tribute just broke my heart to read. She was such a lovely person, and so dear to you. I love that you called her a "colt of woman." I am so sorry you lost this friend, and that her adopted family and family lost her also. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story with us. The photos were wonderful also.

Ruth said...

I am touched by your story of Patricia. Such a person, such a friend. To share this much and become interlaced in each other's lives is a rare treasure. The parallels of your lives is really something. You have done her great honor here, sharing her with us. I am so sorry you had to lose her, that all in her life had to lose her. But you carry her still, it's so apparent.

And none of it sounded "silly." Quite the opposite, it is deep and affecting. What better tribute than to show what you learned from someone?

By the way, Peter in Paris tells me you gave him my greetings. Thank you for that! I hope I can meet him one day, and I hope you had a marvelous trip.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

This gave me chills. What a beautiful person and how tragic to have lost her. :( I love her comment on loneliness - that totally resonates with me.

Such a touching post... You write so well and really captured her spirit and charm.

Annie Jeffries said...

I think we all privately hope that we know someone who will remember us as fully as you remember your beloved friend.

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