Thursday, November 24, 2005

Remembering Patricia

"Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generation.” ~ Deuteronomy 32:7a (KJV)

“Grief is a real wound, a mutilation, a gaping hole in the human spirit. Some beloved person has been wrested, torn bodily from one’s life. Yet it is God alone who can finally heal the brokenhearted ....”

~ To Live Again
, by Catherine Marshall

This Saturday, November 26th, would have been my sister Patricia’s 55th birthday. Those of us who knew and loved Patricia miss her more than words can say, and we will never fully heal from the heartache of losing her or the void her passing left in all of our lives.

“She is missed – she is deeply and widely missed.”

~ Letter from Patricia’s friend, Jenifer

Patricia’s life partner, Nikki, remains close to our hearts and will always be a cherished member of the Van Kirk family. After Patricia’s untimely death last spring, Nikki and many of her friends combined their efforts, energies, and talents to host a memorial in Patricia’s honor. As I shared in an earlier column, the Celebration of Life on Whidbey Island was attended by approximately 200 people. It was such a beautiful and fitting tribute to Patricia’s all-too-short life.

Patricia and Nikki

Nikki and her loving circle of friends/family will be remembering and celebrating Patricia’s life once again over Thanksgiving weekend. Here is an excerpt from an email Nikki sent us about their plans:

“It is with much love and gratitude that I/we in Seattle and Whidbey will include all of Patricia's family for our special celebration of Patricia on the 26th of November. We invite you to join us in your own way through prayer, song, dance, laughter, silence... any way the spirit moves you to celebrate Patricia. I envision all of us lighting a candle for Patricia and sending her a blessing from our heart. Maybe we can come up with a time where we can all light our candles at the same time.

It will be a day where many of us from Seattle and Whidbey and maybe Martha from Alaska will come together to remember Patricia. We'll spend time throughout the day sharing stories, taking walks, talking, singing and creating a mural, painting a rock.... writing a poem, something to honor Patricia. I will light a 24-hour candle in the morning and we will light 55 candles in the late afternoon or early evening. Diana and Sylvia will be singing and leading us in songs . . .”

Sylvia & Diana singing at the Celebration of Life for Patricia

During the time my sisters and I spent on Whidbey Island, we formed deep and lasting friendships with the members of Patricia’s extended family. This week, I’d like to share some correspondence I’ve received from two of our new friends.

This first letter is from Martha, who described Patricia as “my dearest friend of the heart.” After the service, Martha and I cried and shared memories together on the deck of Patricia and Nikki’s home, overlooking their beautiful yard and view – a view that will never look quite the same without Patricia.

Dear Eileen,

Well, as you may have considered, I am a terrible procrastinator and not that easy with words as both you and Jenifer have been blessed to be. Nonetheless, I have thought of you often and have appreciated your card and e-mails very much.

I still cannot believe that our dear Patricia won’t be answering the phone when I call her house. I miss her every day. Sometimes grieving seems so selfish – I so much want to see her again and just then, when it feels overwhelming, Jenifer tells me of a dream she had. It’s a party and Patricia is there with all her friends. She is dead, but just the same there and enjoying being with her dear ones. She looks radiantly happy. She and Jen talk – no one else can see her (it is, after all, Jenifer’s dream); she tells Jenifer that everything is wonderful. Jenifer asks if she knows the meaning and purpose of life now. Patricia laughs that wonderful Patricia laugh and says, “Oh, I can’t tell you that!” Jenifer replies that she doesn’t want her to tell her what the meaning and purpose of life is, just if Patricia knows what it is, and with another laugh she says, “Well, of course!” Anyway, there was certainly more detail Jen could say, but I like to remember the story, hear that laugh in my heart and choose to believe that she is radiantly happy and watching over us and right here with us when we need her.

I must tell you it was wonderful to spend that time with you and your sisters in April, to laugh and cry and tell stories together. It’s my belief that friends become friends through shared experiences and I now do feel blessed to count you all as my friends and hope to have many more times to share of ourselves.

With much love,

Patricia with Martha, Jenifer & their two boys, Denali (left) and Rogelio

I received this next letter from Shawn shortly after returning from the memorial on Whidbey Island. Shawn and her daughter Lucy shared the house that Nikki and Patricia lived in, and they continue to share it now with Nikki.

Shawn & Lucy at the Celebration of Life

Hey Eileen,

Thank you for the pictures. It was an extraordinary weekend. We were so glad to meet the four of you and have a greater context to Patricia's life. There was not a day that I can remember in living with Patricia that the Van Kirk influence was not spoken of. She would sing a song to Lucy or tell a family story or mention one of you. Out of sight was definitely not out of mind and heart.

Lucy is doing well. We broke off of the bottle last weekend and that has been the BIG transition. She does not like this getting to be a big girl and all of the burdens that growth carries.

Lucy does still think of “Pisha.” She has 3 coasters with coffee cup prints on them. She makes "hoffee" for Nikki, Pisha and herself. I am not included in the hoffee parties because she only has 3 coasters. The other night when she was taking a bath, she asked me where Pisha is now. I told her that Pisha is in Heaven and can't come back like she used to and see us but she is now with us in our hearts and thoughts. Lucy took that in and contemplated it for awhile. Then, she asked me, "Mama, what is thinking? What are thoughts?" So, I said that thoughts are what she is having when she asks me if we are going to Jody's (her babysitter) and she can picture Jody in her mind and see Jody's house but we are at home so she can't see Jody. Then, the next day, we go to Jody's house and she sees Jody and sees the house and it looks just like it did in her mind's eye. Pisha can only come back to us through our hearts and thoughts and we can see her that way but we won't ever see her like we used to when she could come home in her body. Lucy thought about it for a minute and then shrugged that satisfied way that toddlers have. Sometimes she says goodbye to Pisha as we leave the house so I know Patricia is still hanging around. I like to believe Lucy has the best Auntie Guardian Angel ever.

Nikki is struggling her way through it all. Her pain is immense and we just try and help her make it from one day to the next. Some days are better than others. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." Nikki mourns in a good way and finds comfort in it and from her loving circle. She really is good at letting people help hold her up right now. That is a gift for everyone.

Well, I am finishing up work and heading for the ferry. I wanted to respond right away. I will leave you with one more bit of prose. It is from the Mass card from my aunt's funeral, and I think it holds true for Patricia, too.

Your gentle face and patient smile
With sadness we recall.
You had a kindly word for each
And died beloved by all.

The voice is mute and stilled the heart
That loved us well and true.
Ah, but bitter was the trial to part
From one so good as you.

You are not forgotten loved one
Nor will you ever be.
As long as life and memory last
We will remember thee.

We miss you now, our hearts are sore,
As time goes on, we miss you more,
Your loving smile, your gentle face
No one can fill your vacant place.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes . . . .” ~ Revelation 21:4

“She is missed – she is deeply and widely missed.”