A neighbor and long-time family friend passed away on Sunday, August 24, 2008 at fifty-five years young. She’s known me since I was a baby. Pat was more like family. I still can’t believe she’s gone.
I think about the last time we spoke, a few weeks ago when she called me because our mailman had mixed up our mail once again. We were both expecting something important, and Pat said she would call the mailman’s supervisor to complain.
“How’s your grandmother doing,” she asked.
“She’s alright. She’s sitting here watching TV. You wanna speak to her?” I said as granny looked up at me expectantly.
“Uh uh, no she’s gonna keep me on the phone too long and I’m ready to go to sleep. Give her a hug for me.”
“Granny, Pat said hi and that she’ll talk to you later,” I told granny before she could ask, Why didn’t you give me the phone?
Pat was what one might call brutally honest. And she was right. Granny is rather long-winded, and I often find myself saying, Granny, not tonight. Tomorrow is another day!
I can’t get Pat’s image out of my mind. At a BBQ earlier this summer, she was a jaundiced, thinner, weaker, more subdued, and almost incoherent shell of her former raucous self. She seemed and sounded like someone heavily sedated with anti-psychotics. With her eyes opened wide, she talked slowly and with great effort – as if she couldn’t hear herself speaking. What happened to her, and how did it happen so quickly? Still, I thought she’d get better. She always got better before. When will I ever learn?
As her youngest son broke down and wept over her dead body while rubbing her forehead and silky hair, I let my own tears fall freely as I stifled my sobs and blindly exited her hospital room. I cried for him – a motherless child. A son who would never get to hear his mother harangue him about his dating choices; would never again beg her for money so he could buy a soda or Chinese food. I cried for Pat: a mother who would never again get to harass her baby son about his poor grades; would never again see her oldest son who is in prison; who spent the last year of her life in court fighting for his life while neglecting her own; who would never again see her sons walk down the aisle – any aisle; who would never see her baby son, whose college education she saved for, graduate; who would never see her yet unborn grandchildren. Her life seems unfinished. Someone needs to utter “I’m sorry” and “I love you” just one more time. There are past hurts yet to be released and forgiven. But, conventional wisdom says we all have a limited time on earth and that God doesn’t take anyone before it’s their time to go.
I regret having procrastinated about going next door to visit her. To sit on her stoop one last time and people-watch as we gossiped about our dysfunctional neighbors, families and my dating life. To sit on her stoop as she cussed and smoked, and sent her brother to the store to buy her a beer. I remember the time she and her nephew answered my cell phone and threatened one of my prospective love interests – a guy who just couldn’t understand why I chose not to date gay men like himself (baby, we ain’t the McGreeveys or Terry McMillan!). I remember all the times she offered to show me how to cook at her family’s BBQs. She said she learned to cook by reading cook books. I scrunched my nose up at the idea, slept in late while she and her sisters cooked, and then showed up late when all the food was done. “Ohhh dern Pat, I overslept! Maybe you can show me next time!” I’d say to her when she asked what happened to me. Getting up early to cook on a Saturday morning just didn’t appeal to my sensibilities.
I remember her calling to tell me that my granny was so afraid of the invisible people in our house that she left and went to hang out with the drug dealers down the block – a minor event that my granny neglected to tell me about. I cherish the fact that Pat and her family are like family to me, that my granny loved and trusted her enough to call her, and that Pat loved my granny enough to listen to my granny’s fears, reassure her and then call me.
Pat often reminded me how supportive my granny was to her family during her parents’ sicknesses and deaths. How my granny prayed with them. Spoke at their funerals. Came over and gave them pep talks in the form of mini-sermons. How my granny went to the police station after her youngest son called the police because she gave him a behind wuppin.’ My granny and I have been present at almost every major life event in Pat’s family, and her family has been equally supportive of us. Pat was more than a neighbor and a friend. She was family.
Pat’s death made me appreciate how fragile life is, and made me appreciate it more. Made me appreciate my friends and family more. Made me respect my body more. Made me research doctors and follow up on medical issues I’ve been ignoring. Made me appreciate the power of just letting “stuff” go. Made me realize that in the grand scheme of our short lives, getting revenge and being right are not all that important. When you’re lying in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of you, I doubt that you’ll be thinking I’m sure glad I was right, cus it was the principle of the matter! In the end, you will want family and friends around. You will want to know that you were loved and not alone. That is what will matter.