I have known Patty for only seven years. It seems like longer. She’s my best friend. I met her on INLV Forums and recognized a kindred spirit. I immediately loved and admired her bold assessments, her outspokenness, her friendliness, and her ability to say what she thinks without causing offense. All are traits I lack and have modeled from her. When we were together people used to think we were sisters. She said we were twins because we are the same age – only a few weeks apart. I’m the oldest.
I have not known Patty without health problems. The second time we got together it was so I could help her thru recovery from surgery. I went out to her place in the Arizona desert and camped in her yard. That was our way of living with our boundaries. I drove her to the hospital and back and forth for doctor appointments, took care of Dandi Dog and Mom the ancient cat, tried to cook for her. The cooking was something of a sacrifice on my part. At the time I was a vegetarian and Patty ate almost nothing but meat. We laughed a lot about that. There I was making her pate and omelets – soft foods, and trying not to touch/smell the meats. We did not discuss death that time. We didn’t know each other well enough yet.
Soon afterwards Patty faced her first heart surgery. She talked about death then. She was afraid - not ready. I said I would take care of Dandi Dog. Mom had already gone to kitty heaven. That surgery went well, a huge improvement for her. She had color in her cheeks; she took walks, enjoyed exercise, added vegetables to her diet.
We visited back and forth across the 500 miles between us often. We were both equally grateful to have a friend. We talked about her moving here once or twice but she was struggling with trying to insure the independence of her children. She stood at my side giving me courage when I went to the airport to add a daughter to my family. I tried to hold steady for her in the week she packed for her move from the safe loneliness of the Arizona to the unknown promise of Georgia. As she grew closer to Jared she talked about death again. She said she couldn’t promise him time, or a future, just the present. The present stretched to 4 years for them – without a doubt the happiest time in Patty’s life. She found her beloved.
For her 60 th birthday Patty was feeling she was facing death again – like this might be her last birthday. She wanted a party. She planned it herself and shared it with all her family and with me. I was so lucky, so honored. We all enjoyed each other and Patty’s party. Later she had her second heart surgery and was feeling better again so the party became just another birthday memory. In retrospect though, I see that it was one of her good-byes.
In the year and a quarter since then many loose ends came together in Patty’s life. She did get to see the maturity and independence of her children as her son plans his wedding and her daughter begins her career. She stayed with aging Dandi Dog as he left the world last month. Last week she had a grand visit with her grandchildren. Now she must be ready to go.
I’m not ready. I can’t ask any more of her but I want and need more of her. We knew each other’s vulnerabilities – kept each other’s secrets – respected differences – admired strengths – forgave lapses. I have only had one other friendship so rich. I am trying to count my blessings.
Who was Patty? What does she leave us? Patty was a fighter, not a scrappy fighter; she was a woman warrior. She had a contribution to make and she meant to do it. Nearly overwhelmed and at times brought to her knees by the obstacles and poor health in her life she nevertheless raved and taught and mentored. She meant for people to understand. Her contribution to autism is immeasurable. She studied, read everything for clues, tested them all against her understanding of herself, and those she found true she gave back to us in every way she could. She wrote and she spoke up to and beyond the very limits of her being. She showed us all that we can do it. We can be all that we are and never look back, never apologize, never quit reaching for the stars.
Goodbye precious friend.