For Pat

Today, 4/28/21, marks the 2nd anniversary of Pat’s passing from complications due to Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC). As someone recently said, “yes, we should commemorate these events.” I agree.

Why? Well, for the living, it is more than marking the passage of time. It’s a way to measure our growth, our acceptance of nature’s rituals, and our reach for self-actualization.

Pat would be the first to agree with that. She was pragmatic. Life goes on and we should not dwell on the past. That doesn’t make the loss any less or the sadness go away. More than half my life was with Pat, her string of guide dogs, and those aspects of her world that weren’t mine but certainly included me, as mine included her.

I don’t dwell on the sadness, though. I feel it. I acknowledge it. I move forward. We truly were soulmates, each helping the other to dampen our worst instincts and bring out our better ones. Together, we achieved balance.

Yet I don’t feel out of balance without her because she is still with me, albeit in a different way. Her courage reminds me to speak up when I see injustices. Her advocacy reminds me to reach out and help others along the way. Her sense of humor blurts out of my mouth—sometimes quite unintended.

We’d discussed moving west many times over the 36 years we were together. Jobs, then, her cancer held us close to Boston. Looking at her odds in 2001, which were said to be 3-5 years, we worked together to fight this. Her first words to her oncologist were, “When we beat this . . .”

Not “if,” but “when.” That positive attitude helped her dig into research. She could discuss treatment protocols and upcoming drug trials with her doctor (Dr. Leslie Martin (retired) from St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, MA) on a level most people cannot. And Doc Martin, as we called her, recognized Pat’s bright mind and sometimes said, “Why am I even telling you this, you probably already know it!” She’d share news from oncology conferences and the two would discuss future options about treatments.

In 2004, Pat showed no evidence of disease (NED). Pat told Doc Martin that meant No Expiration Date. Another laugh, of which there were many over the years. As I intimated earlier, she had a wicked sense of humor.

In 2007, IBC reared its ugly head again. By now, Pat had named it Draco. She said if it ever got unmanageable, she’d add its last name, Malfoy. A huge Harry Potter fan, Pat had decided that if she named her disease, she could more easily dismiss it as something other and not her. She wasn’t a cancer patient or survivor; she was a person with cancer, surviving cancer.

I stopped working for myself in 2008 and took a job with a former client, as Pat could no longer work. We needed the stability and peace of mind of a steady paycheck now. From 2007 to 2019, we had a well-established routine. Every three weeks was a treatment day, with the occasional cycle off if it was too close to Thanksgiving or Christmas. That was our normal, along with knowing that our plans for outings or events were subject to change at the last minute if she was too tired to go out. She’d urge me to go without her, saying, “I’ll be playing at the computer, reading, or napping. Go to your event.” And so I did. Neither of us wanted to feel guilty about the other, and we each had our own lives along with our intertwined one.

Over the last year of her life, I saw Pat’s energy and patience decline. Still, she fought to have a normal life. She and Beacon, her latest guide dog, took almost daily walks along King’s Beach in Lynn, MA. Sometimes they’d walk the almost 2 miles to Stop ‘n’ Shop in Swampscott and take the bus back. I’d come home late from work and there’d be a fresh soup or stew for my dinner in the slow cooker. Her goal was to keep things normal.

I’m actually happy that I lost my job in March 2019 because I’d not have had the stamina to deal with work when she got sick in early April. After 12 years of treatments, there was only so much her body could take. An eye infection—caused by a dissolvable suture that hadn’t dissolved many years earlier— robbed her body of the strength to keep Draco at bay. At least, that’s how I look at it because, then, other issues cropped up and overwhelmed her defenses.

Pat’s concern, while she was still functional that month, was whether she would lose what little vision she had in that eye—her good eye. I fought to hold back the tears because I realized she didn’t know that losing her vision wasn’t going to be her only loss.

Beacon and I spent the month visiting her daily at the hospital, then rehab, then the hospital again, back to rehab, and finally—hospice. We’d set up in her room, me with a book and Beacon with his toys, and just be with her. I’d read to her when she wanted, take Beacon out for walks and potty breaks. After dinner, the two of us would say our goodbyes and go home. Our new normal.

Her sisters joined me every day in hospice and one even stayed overnight, sleeping in the chair, while I took Beacon home. I returned early the next morning after a bath and morning walk with Beacon. After only two days in hospice, Pat passed away quietly with her family there. The way it should be.

When I drove across country last summer to live with one of my sisters in Phoenix, Pat was with me in spirit and in a box (her ashes, anyway). We’re setting up a garden area on the back patio here and I’ll have a place to put her urn and keep her close. But she’s always close anyway—in my heart.

This Post Has 46 Comments

  1. Joan

    Beautifully written as usual. Even though I know it’s part of life, I’ve never been one to handle death well. Your words have been helpful. Pat fought for so long and bravely with never a complaint. I keep you and Pat in my thoughts and prayers. You were so devoted to each other. I’m glad Pat had
    you to help her through her battle with Draco Malfoy. You’ll always have a special place in my heart sis.

    1. Clamo88

      Joan, you always bring tears to my eyes, and you’ve done it again. Thank you for your kind words and for your always-there support through thick and thin.

  2. Betty

    I had the privilege of knowing Pat for several years. Pat was the type of person that always said what was on her mind and that is a trait that I so admired in her. The fact that she loved all of her guide dogs was a bonus. Claire and Pat had the kind of relationship that not everyone has the good fortune to experience. Rest in peace,, my friend. Please give a big hug to Saxe and Jack for me.

    1. Clamo88

      Thank you, Betty. Yes, we were very fortunate in the depth and quality of our relationship. And I’m sure she’s hugging all her four-footers, and many others. I thought of her as a dog whisperer or maybe someone who was a dog in another life. She understood and managed them so well.

  3. Judy Alter

    A lovely tribute, Claire. She must have been a truly strong person.

    1. Clamo88

      Indeed she was, Judy. I gained so much from her.

  4. Vicki Batman

    I felt your sorrow, Claire. I appreciate you sharing yours and hers story. Losing a loved one is never easy. VB

    1. Clamo88

      Thank you, Vicki. You are so right, it’s not easy. And when it isn’t, it tells you much about the person.

  5. Josh Pachter

    A lovely tribute to someone who was obviously a lovely and extraordinarily special person.

    1. Clamo88

      Yes, Josh. She was both of those and more. Thank you.

  6. A beautiful tribute that shows the love you two had and the meaning you gave each other.

    1. Clamo88

      Thank you, Debra. Yes, we did give meaning to each other. Astute of you to pick up on that.

  7. Leanne Berk

    Claire – The two of you always shared many laughs and so much love. Thank you for allowing me to be part of a few special occasions with you.

    1. Clamo88

      Leanne, you were there for one of the most special ones–you married us! Thank you for that gift.

  8. Loretta

    Claire,

    Thank you for sharing this moving and fitting tribute to Pat, a special person, and your special relationship.

    1. Clamo88

      Thank you, Loretta. Pat thought the world of you, and any time I came home and said you were disappointed in me for being behind or cutting it too close to a deadline, I’d get that look. She didn’t let me get away with a thing and neither did you!

  9. Nancy Trzcinski

    I carry Pat in my heart and there are very few days that go by where something does not remind me of her, whether it be a daily email talking about the mundane, to chatting about our dogs’ antics and later what treatment she was undergoing . Pat was part of my life for almost 50 years and I miss her. But I have so many wonderful memories that will sometimes make me laugh spontaneously. Thank you for sharing this tribute. Admittedly it made me cry but it also made me smile and remember so many things, many of which you were part of. Love you!

    1. Clamo88

      You were her best friend, Nancy, yet I was never jealous of your relationship. She knew she had someone she could talk with if we were out of sorts with each other, and that is so important. You opened your home and heart to us many times and we always felt welcomed. I’m glad a part of her is still with you, too.

  10. Gigi Pandian

    What a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Clamo88

      Thank you, Gigi. Pat deserves every kind word.

  11. Wendy Harrison

    It’s a difficult challenge, focusing on the joyful memories through the haze of grief. Your lovely tribute to your partner is a testament to the lasting strength of love. It was a pleasure to get to know Pat through your words.

    1. Clamo88

      Wendy, your words are so true. Thank you.

  12. Nancy Haynes

    Beautiful written Claire. In my role as minister/chaplain it is not unusual for me to say death does not end a relationship the nature of the relationship changes. You articulate that so well. I have found memories of Pat at one or another events. May your memories sustain you.

    1. Clamo88

      Thank you, Nancy. I’m sure you must have to comfort many in your role. My peace is that we both knew the other could go on without the other one day and that we’d carry something special within us.

  13. Rox'E

    Hi Claire, Pat and I were friends for many years over email and I miss her bright spirit, funny stories and keen observations. Thank you so much for writing this and for sharing a bit of your life together with us.
    I am thinking of you.

    1. Clamo88

      RoxE, she mentioned you many times. You’re welcome and thank you, too.

  14. Karen Keeley

    Such a beacon of love, hope and the indomitable spirit. Thanks for sharing some of your journey, Claire, it can’t have been easy to write but you have touched our hearts. You and Pat were certainly meant to find each other and give each other strength and love. Such a blessing, both of you.

    1. Clamo88

      Indeed, Karen, I would not be the person I am today without her.

  15. Roxanne Reddington-Wilde

    Thank you for keeping Pat and your love for her alive for us to with your words.

    1. Clamo88

      Thanks Roxanne. She was a special lady.

  16. Edith Maxwell

    Claire, what a beautiful tribute. You both were blessed to have each other. I’m glad I got to meet Pat a couple of times. Sending hugs to you on this anniversary.

    1. Clamo88

      Thank you, Edith. Pat was so grateful that you mentored me early on and encouraged my writing.

  17. Shari Held

    A beautiful, heartfelt tribute to your partner. I am privileged to see her lovely, spunky spirit through your eyes. Remember to take care of yourself during this time of remembrance.

    1. Clamo88

      Shari, spunky is so much the right word for Pat’s nature. She’d try things even when people said, “but you can’t …” Thank you, and know that yours and the responses from so many others have touched me and are part of caring for myself.

  18. Marilyn Levinson

    Claire,
    What a beautiful tribute to Pat. You were both so lucky to have each other in your lives.

    1. Clamo88

      Indeed, Marilyn, we were. Thank you.

  19. Dawn Dixon

    Such a lovely tribute, Claire. From everyone’s comments, she was a very special person. She’d be so proud of your heartfelt words. Take care of yourself.

    1. Clamo88

      Thank you, Dawn. She’d be blushing but in her heart she’d know it was all true.

  20. Kaye George

    I’ve been out of town for a few days, and see this, catching up. I’m glad I read it. Beautifully done. You’re so right to commemorate her life and the life you had together this way, IMO. Hugs, Kaye.

    1. Clamo88

      Kaye, thank you so much. I know you have felt the same loss in your life. Looking forward to seeing you again at some writer’s conference down the road. Stay well.

  21. lynn

    Ginny introduced me to Pat and you. I loved when she would come with us to do an event and explain all about her guides. I also loved her famous trick of walking straight for the front of the stage and look like she was going to walk right off until Big Ray would back up and keep her from falling. Her wit and intelligence was so amazing. I am so glad that Ginny introduced me to both of you. She will always be with you in spirit because her spirit was so big. Hugs for you Claire.

    1. Clamo88

      Lynn, what a great memory. She loved going to schools and helping 3rd and 4th graders understand what a service dog was and introducing her “big boys” to them. They were always so amazed that such big dogs were so gentle. She’d get a big kick out of walking down the street and when a parent with a young child began to speak to or make noises at her guide, the child would say, “Mom, that’s a working dog. You aren’t supposed to distract them.” She smile and thank the child and keep going.

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