What Survives of Us

Pam and me at my book launch party, September 2010

“What will survive of us is love.” -Philip Larkin

Pam broke the news on December 9th, over dinner at our house for an early Christmas celebration. She had stopped all her cancer treatment because her oncologist, who cried breaking the news, told Pam there was nothing more they could do for her. She was calm when she told us how she could feel her body shutting down. My brother-in-law Jeff, his partner Eddie and I cried. Bruce, my husband, did not, but he got a huge lump in his throat.

And then Pam did something I will never forget. She talked about how grateful she was for the life she had and for everything she had been able to do in 40 years. She talked about what a wonderful vacation we had together in Napa in October and about how much fun we were going to have that weekend.

And we did have fun. We went to the Old Market the next day and watched the Dickens carolers. We had lunch in our favorite French bistro. We sipped chocolate martinis in our favorite bar. We toasted being there, in that moment. Our standard toast two years earlier was “Here’s to getting to.” We had started counting toasts in Napa with ridiculous numbers; toast 4,205 or 5,622. We kept that going now.

In the breast cancer Twitter community we talk about being fearless friends. I am so far from fearless. I was scared for Pam all the time, and so was Bruce. We were afraid of what might go wrong when we were traveling together or she was visiting. Jeff was driving her somewhere one day toward the end and she suddenly went “Oh! Oh!” and scared the daylights out of him, but she had seen some fast food drive through she wanted to stop at for iced tea or a shake or something. What allowed us to be there for her was her incredible strength and steadfast refusal to let that thief cancer rob her of her joy in life. If she was tough enough to handle it, so were we.

She never stopped being interested in life. She wanted to know everything about our lives. She wanted to hear about school and work and food and wine. Bruce and I spent the weekend with her in her Kansas City home in early March, a month before she died. She said if you want to come, you should probably come sooner than later. 

She took us shopping and to lunches, to a speakeasy and dinner with her parents. We got pedicures and she brought champagne in her tote bag. She cooked. She drove–like a bat out of hell. She hugged me so hard when we left it was like being hugged by my cowgirl cousin, who throws hay bales. I could feel her spine. When we called to let her know we got back to Omaha, she was at her son’s baseball scrimmage, in spite of pain that had kept her on the couch. None of us will ever know what all that effort cost her. When the hospice nurse started coming to her house, she told Pam she wasn’t taking enough pain medication, but Pam had to do this her way. She put off the shrinking of her world as long as she could.

After she went to hospice, she was talking to my sister-in-law Anita about something Anita had made for dinner and said, “I want that recipe.” She knew she was never leaving the hospice; she was tough enough to make the choice to go there. You need to know this isn’t denial. This is insistence on being alive.

One of my favorite stories about Pam was from the night of my book launch two years ago. She bought a carrot cake at the restaurant where we had dinner because I mentioned I liked it. (She was like that. If you liked something, she remembered it and you ended up getting it as a gift.) We brought it home after the party and she set it on the kitchen counter. Jeff and Bruce and Eddie and I were all dithering–too late, too many calories, blah blah blah. Pam didn’t say a word. She pulled five forks out of the silverware drawer, came back to the cake and stabbed all the forks into it. We mauled that cake.

That was how Pam lived her life, and how she faced death. Straight on, no dithering, no excuses. If I can be half the woman she was when my time comes, it will be because she taught me how to live with joy and light and love, and how to face death with grace.

Here’s to you, Pam. Toast 10,373 and counting. I’ll raise my glass to you for as long as I live.

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25 thoughts on “What Survives of Us

  1. Oh, Jackie, what a beautiful tribute to your friend. Thank you for sharing about the wonderful friendship you and Pam had. In my mind being a fearless friends doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t ever afraid, it means you stand by your friend anyway. You never back away. You, my dear, were and are a fearless friend. I’m so sorry for your loss. And of course, “What will survive us is love.” And the memories. Thanks again for sharing.

  2. You are a fearless friend, Jackie. Being apprehensive, sad, and fearful about what Pam was experiencing isn’t cowardly, it’s human. Fearless Friends like you are strong in the way they return their love in every single way, by sharing life, toasts, laughs, and tears.

    I feel like I know her, through you. And if I miss her, I can begin to comprehend your loss. Thank you for your strength and courage to write about her. No dithering:)

    Jody

  3. An incredible post, Jackie – you may not have been fearless, but you were most certainly devoted. We can only be so lucky to have these sorts of relationships in our lives. Thank you for sharing Pam’s story here with us. I love that she insisted upon living as fully as possible.

    Catherine

  4. Dear Jackie,
    Well, this just set off a flood of tears. I’m an emotional ball of mush whenever I see things like this… so eloquent and poignant and funny and heart wrenching … and written with such obvious love.

    I, too, am so sorry and I even begin to understand the enormity of the loss you felt and the void in your life now that Pam is gone.

    I’m with Jody… You are a fearless friend. Part of what makes you fearless is you willingness to say you AREN’T but you do it anyway.

    I want that “some fear” T shirt, too. If I find them, you will be the first to know….. We all have fear. It’s what we do with the fear that makes us fearful or fearless. You, my dear friend, are an example of fearless…. and this recounting of your time with Pam stands as a perfect example of that fearlessness.

    Proud to know you, Jackie.

    Much love,

    AnneMarie

  5. Jackie, this is a moving and honest tribute to Pam. I think being a fearless friend does not require us to never feel fear, but to experience it and love our friends anyway. You clearly did that for Pam when she was alive and are doing it now by sharing her beautiful story with the rest of us. Hugs to you.

  6. Oh Jackie, thank you so much for this! Your words make me feel I know Pam and the void she leaves behind. I agree with others that #fearlessfriends are those who don’t fear and walk away from the friendship despite their fear of the loss. Sometimes what I find I need most from my #fearleasfriends is to be ABLE to talk about the loss…You and Pam were so blessed to have each other. Thank you for sharing a bit.of your love with all of us.

  7. Jackie, what joyous memories, and what a gift that Pam allowed you to have them by choosing to wring as much joy out of life while she still had it. A moving, beautiful lesson to us all. I’ve got more than a lump in my throat now…

    Thank you so much for writing this.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this story and your friend’s inspirational approach to her life and death. I am reminded of the question in the lyrics to one of Pink’s songs “Have you ever looked fear in the face and said ‘I just don’t care'”?
    Sounds like that’s how Pam lived and died. May we all be inspired by her example to live fully up through our last moments even in the face of fear.

    • Annette, it’s so funny you mention that because Pam LOVED Pink and I bet she loved that line. One of her favorite songs was “Raise Your Glass” and the end of my post was a bit of a private tribute to her in using that line, I knew she’d get a kick out of it. I was going to mention that was one of her favorite songs but I could tell I was trying to cram too much into this post. So much more I’d love to say. Thank you so much for your comments.

  9. What a beautiful tribute to your friend and I love the Larkin quote. It’s moved me so much. I lost a friend to breast cancer over 10 years ago and I think of her often and indeed miss her still. I share that not to depress you but too say these bonds remain part of you. She is part of why I do what I do now. Thank you for the tribute to her and to friendship.

  10. Oh my gosh, Jackie! I have goosebumps, as well as tears. What a beautiful, moving tribute to such a special person. I agree with what the others are saying: you are a fearless friend, a great friend. You can be a fearless friend and still be scared. I’m glad I got to know your friend through you.

  11. I have no words. I dunno, maybe I do? Stunned by the beauty of your tribute. Envious that I, too, didn’t get to meet Pam the Wonder Friend & experience her special brand of awesome. Throat scrunch at the loss of another amazing soul coupled with that constant slow burn in my gut- the anger at the thief who doesn’t even bother with the dark. My condolences to all of you. May you all find peace in the love she gave you.

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