True friends are rare, valuable, and irreplaceable. I know because I lost one this September.
Patsy was 73 when she passed away of a sudden heart attack in the hospital on Monday, September 10th. I had just visited her in the hospital the Saturday before, when she was talkative, energetic, and didn't seem at all ready to die. The doctors weren't sure what was wrong, and she'd been in the hospital for kidney problems several times before. Last year when I visited her in the same hospital, she looked so pale and tired I'd thought I was going to lose her then. I knew she was hurting, and she told me she didn't know why God still had her on this earth. But she had recovered, slowly, and seemed to be feeling better until her most recent hospitalization.
Patsy had lived in chronic pain for years, with a variety of different medical problems that kept her from doing a lot of her favorite things. Her pain sometimes made her seem older than her years, because she hurt so much. Patsy was beautiful, stylish, and an unabashed feminist. She had intense blue eyes and beautiful shiny hair, which had turned completely white in her 30's.
Patsy had lived a difficult life. She fled her first marriage as a younger woman to escape her husband's abuses, only to spend the next decade fighting to get her sons back after he took them away from her. I never got all the details on these events, but she often spoke about what it felt like to be so demeaned for so many years. Her experiences made her a compassionate advocate for women.
Patsy was a giver. Part of her sickness in her later years meant she couldn't have any kinds of tight clothes on her body, and that she was constantly cold, and couldn't eat most of her favorite foods. But Patsy loved to shop, and she bought very nice clothes. The way Patsy dealt with not being able to enjoy the things she used to love, such as clothes and her favorite foods, was not by becoming bitter or angry- instead, she gave these things away to other people. She gave away her clothes, bought treats to watch other people eat them, and gave small checks to family and friends for a variety of different things she would find out they wanted or needed.
I don't really know why Patsy picked me out for her love. She was a member of our church and from the time my husband began as the youth minister there, she started loving me. I could tell by the way she hugged me and talked to me that she was being more than polite. She told me later that she "loved me as soon as she met me."
After being at the church for about a year, I was going through a lot at work and I didn't know what to do or how to handle it. I desperately prayed for help, and Wanza, one of the other older women in our church, spontaneously invited me to join a new Bible study they were starting up on Tuesday nights. I think they must have been a little surprised that I took them up on it, as the other youngest woman there was in her 60's. But I needed help, and as I have so often found, women of grand-mothering age are some of the most supportive people around. A person can never have enough grandmothers. So I began attending the Bible Study, which lasted for the next two years. Patsy was one of the women in the study, and that's where I really got to know her. I loved her vim and vigor. I loved how she dressed so stylishly and always had her clothes perfectly coordinated. I loved how her eyes sparkled and how she told stories. I just loved everything about her. And she loved me.
Patsy ministered to me personally in dozens of different ways. I wasn't the only one she showered with love, but I got a very liberal dose. She prayed for me consistently and purposefully. She literally gave me bags and bags and bags of clothes, purses, and shoes that had only been worn once or not at all. She told me to pick what I liked, and give the rest away. She slipped me cash sometimes “for whatever you might need” and gave me lots of hugs.
But most meaningful of all, she really cared what happened in my life. Having been a career woman for most of her life, I think she felt like she could relate to a lot of the struggles I was going through. I could say all sorts of shocking things to her and she never judged me for them, because she had some shocking things to say, too. She seemed to see in me how she would have liked to have been in her 20’s, if she had been raised differently and been given more opportunities. Every time I succeeded, she seemed to feel like she succeeded, too, and whenever I struggled, she acted just as concerned as if it was happening to her.
One Sunday at church in the beginning of May, I felt overwhelmed, fatigued, helpless, and sad. I excused myself to gain my composure in the restroom during the sermon, and ended up crying silently in a corner of the church library. I felt like my whole world was crashing down on me and I couldn't stop sobbing. I prayed for some help. A few minutes later (I had been out of service for at least 15 minutes by this time); I heard Patsy's voice calling my name from the foyer. She had seen me leave the sanctuary and had gotten concerned when I hadn't come back. I came out of the library, and she sat with me on the steps while I cried. I kept telling her, "I don't really know why I'm crying, “and she just nodded and put her arm around me and sat with me while I struggled to explain the deep wells of emotion I was feeling. She prayed with me, and hugged me tight, until I began to calm down. She asked me if I was pregnant, and I said that I didn't think so, but I just couldn't seem to stop feeling tired and sick. When I got my positive pregnancy results back a week later, she was one of the first people I wanted to tell.
This summer, before we took the youth to
for a week
for camp, she donated money to get all of them matching sweatshirts. They still
wear their sweatshirts proudly- one of the boys wore his for weeks in a row,
even though it was the middle of summer. She said she had the idea in a dream,
and she wanted to see it fulfilled. That was no more than two months before
she died. New Mexico
When she went back into the hospital in September, I almost forgot to visit her. I praise God for reminding me. My husband was out of town and I was at an all day training that Saturday. I was planning on going home and then go to the gym to go swimming. As I was driving toward my freeway exit, I saw the exit to the
where Patsy was staying. Patsy! I meant to visit her. So I got off
at the next exit instead and went and spent about an hour with her. Even though
she was the one in the hospital, all she wanted to talk about was my new baby
and how excited she was for my husband and I. She told me she was praying for
me and so happy for me. On my way out, I hesitated and thought, I need to pray
with her. So I turned and prayed a short prayer with her, asking God to heal her
body and help the doctors figure out what was wrong so she could feel better.
Then we hugged, told each other that we loved each other, and I left.I never expected that
that goodbye would be our last. Heart Hospital
I was pretty stunned when I got the email the following Monday from the church that she had died. She seemed so upbeat and energetic when I'd seen her Saturday. Her husband's family asked me to sing a song at her memorial service. That was the hardest solo I've ever done. I sang Chris Rice's Untitled Hymn, and as I looked over at her casket, and I knew that was the last time I'd see her for a long, long time. I began crying and my voice began to crack as I sang the last stanza:
"And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Then go in peace, and laugh on Glory's side, and
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live!"
Then go in peace, and laugh on Glory's side, and
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live!"
Although that was my last gift to her, it wasn't the end of her generosity to me. Her husband asked me if I'd be willing to go through her clothes and take what I wanted, because he knew she would have wanted me to have first pick. I've never gone through a dead friend's closet before. I bagged up everything into two piles- One pile of things I thought would work for myself or my twin sister, and another to take to the church's clothing ministry. I gave some of her pairs of shoes to a co-worker who wore her size.I gave some of her purses to other family members who I thought would like them, which they did. I gave some of her purses to other family members who I thought would like them, which they did. I didn't find a single well-worn item in her closet, nothing seemed to have been worn more than once or twice.This confirmed the suspicion I had that she gave things away almost as soon as she bought them.
That was in September. Then we got a call just this last week from her son, who said there were a few large household items she had left behind that he thought she would have wanted us to have. I started crying when I realized I was still receiving gifts from my friend two months after her death. We'll look through the items, keep what we need, and then find another family that can use the rest.
What did I learn from my friend? I learned a lot about kindness. I still don't know how she managed to take care of so many people at once! I found out at her funeral that there was a young woman from our church who had moved away that she had written letters to weekly for years. I also know from first hand experience that she took the time to get to know the names of lives of each of the youth in our youth group, whether they knew her or not. The youth also have no idea how many monetary donations Patsy made for them to be able to go to camp and other events every year. The first time I'd visited her in the hospital, the year before she died, she pressed me into service for one of our girls who was about to go into the hospital herself. She gave me an envelope with money in it, asking me to make sure the girl got it so she could get herself a stuffed animal to take to the hospital with her to hold when she was scared. She prayed compassionately for each of our youth, especially the girls, and was a listening ear to many of the women in our church.
Patsy also taught me about love. Patsy was not perfect. She had a lifetime of choices behind her, some she would make again, and others that I know she deeply regretted. She carried around the pain of her past with her, and in many ways it hurt her more than the physical pain she experienced every day. But she loved people, and she loved God. She taught me that people don't need to be around people who are perfect, we need to be around people who are loving. She taught me that a little compassion and kindness can reach out and extend to the most unexpected places.
I'm not like my friend Patsy. I'm not overly generous or thoughtful toward others- I've always been much better at receiving gifts than at giving them. I have prayed to be able to have some of her generosity and kindness to be able to share. I don't think I'll ever be as good at caring for people as Patsy was, but I hope to be able to a little. If I am given a tenth of her compassion and generosity, I will consider myself blessed.
I miss you, Patsy. You were an amazing friend to me. I'm so glad I got to know you. Thank you for considering me worthy of your love. I wish you could have seen my baby girl when she's born, but at least you got to know about her before you died. I look forward to seeing you again, and I hope I live my life in a way you would be proud of. I will try to fill in the gap you have left, but I'll never be able to fill your shoes. I love you, my friend. I'm so glad you aren't hurting anymore.