Saturday, January 18, 2014

a 50-year friendship: goodbye, Pat

Only today did I realize it's been 50 years. I was nine years old in early 1964 when our family moved to #1 Fernwood Drive in Simsbury, Connecticut. Straight across the street lived the Powers. And so it was that a 50-year friendship began with a wonderful family, John and Pat Power and their three children. Chilly, unfriendly New Englanders? Not a chance!

I received a text message late last night from Pat's daughter Jan. "Mom's had a massive stroke; outlook not good." Pat died this morning in a hospital in New London, Connecticut.  I called on her 80th birthday last Monday. She was so tickled that all three of her children had shown up at her door last Saturday as a surprise for her birthday. Yes, just one week before her passing, Pat was a happy lady, at home with her husband and grown kids. I pray for the love of her life, John, and their 3 children and families.

I wrote this essay, which ran in the Columbus Dispatch in May 2007. It will give you an idea of what this precious lady meant to me.

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Only the most precious of mothers adopts the children of an absent mother.

I know such a woman. And she has made it her business to know me. Her name is Pat. She lived across the street from us in Connecticut and befriended my mother, who was born and raised in the Deep South.

No matter to this Boston-bred Irish Catholic: Pat might not have fully understood the “foreigner” who arrived in small-town New England, but she embraced her.

In those days, our families lived on shoestrings, and Mom carpooled with Pat and her preschoolers to the grocery store each week. They were riotous outings lasting several hours, with fidgety toddlers wedged between grocery sacks in the back of our station wagon.

The two spoke on the phone daily as they washed breakfast dishes or folded a load of towels. They cackled hysterically over who-knows-what.

Sharing first days of kindergarten, child psychology and recipes, Mom and Pat forged a sisterly friendship - one that lasted 15 years, well past our family's move in 1971 to Tennessee.

But when my mother died eight years later, she couldn't have imagined the extent to which Pat would honor their friendship. She slid unobtrusively into the roles of mother, mentor and grandmother for my three siblings and me and the 11 grandchildren my mother would never know.

Pat wasted no time demonstrating her devotion: The morning of Mom’s death, she dropped what she was doing to make arrangements for her two high schoolers, tend unfinished household details and book a flight to Memphis. Once there, she comforted us in small but memorable ways, like helping my sister and me clean out mom's closet.

Through the years, postcards from “Gramma Pat” arrived in our mailbox as she lovingly related a travel adventure to my children. Boston Globe articles were carefully clipped and mailed as only a mother does -- articles often about the Red Sox because Pat and her husband John share a love of baseball with our son David.

Birthdays, Christmases, graduations, and even the occasion of a new driver’s license – Pat remembers them all. She and her husband John have attended both my sons' weddings.

I treasure the phone calls and notes in which Pat still encourages and guides me by sharing wisdom from her seasons as a mother and grandmother. Even with a sizable family of her own, she has taken on another. Pat has doubled her love-output for over 30 years.

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It's almost unthinkable that a woman would fulfill her best friend's role for almost 35 years. But that was Pat. She loved my mom and our family and to her, (I can see her shrugging) it was no big deal. For that, and for her, I am grateful. How I will miss her loving, selfless ways. I love you, Pat.

Pat, with me, my brother Mark and sister Anne, and Pat's husband John
at my son Mark's wedding in 2009.

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