Life changing moments often come when you least expect it.
There are times when life appears to be going along at a fairly controllable pace. Then something happens. In an instant, the fragility of life smacks you in the face and it becomes undeniably apparent that the control we seem to have is a complete illusion.
Several days after Christmas, our daughter-in-law's mom had a scheduled surgery to replace a heart valve. Liz's mom had no other health issues, was in an excellent hospital with an excellent doctor, and all expectations were for a successful, uncomplicated surgery with a full recovery. At first, everything supported those expectations. Patti went through the surgery with no problems. She spent a couple of days in the ICU as was planned and then went to a regular room on the cardiac floor. Patti was making great progress.
Until she wasn't.
The day her doctor talked about sending her home, Patti collapsed. Patti's recovery was hijacked by massive blood clots that traveled to her heart, lungs and brain. Instead of going home that day, Patti spent the next 10 days in the ICU as doctors tried to save her life. It was a nightmare rollercoaster ride for her family as each day would bring small moments of hopeful news followed by devastating realities as the damage to her heart and her brain continued to unfold. As more and more damage was discovered, it became obvious that Patti could not be healed this side of Heaven. Patti passed into Eternity on Saturday, January 14th surrounded by her loving husband and daughters, and several other members of her family that were so incredibly supportive during the entire devastating journey.
Patti was more than just my daughter-in-law's mom. Patti was also my friend. I've been blessed to know Patti for about 4 and a half years. Andrew and Liz had been dating for about 10 months when we got a chance to meet Patti, her husband, Chris, and Liz's sister, Tori. They came to Andrew's college graduation party and from the moment we met them, they felt like family. Liz's family is kind, faithful, and genuine. They fit right in with all our friends and it felt like we had known them for a long time, even though we had just met. When Andrew and Liz got engaged only a few months later, it truly felt that we were combining our whole families. It was an incredible blessing for all of us.
Those last ten days of Patti's life were incredibly painful for me. As a mom, my heart was just breaking for Liz and Tori and the grief they were carrying. As a wife, my heart ached for what Chris was facing. As a friend, I was grieving hard at the thought of Patti not being a part of my life.
Patti just had so much more life to live...especially with a little grandson that she DELIGHTED in and another grandbaby on the way. I cannot emphasize enough how much pure joy Patti felt at being a "Gramma". Patti lived her whole life for love of her family. You could see it in her body language, hear it in her voice, and feel it in the acts of love that she showed to all those she cared about. Patti loved with her whole heart and her family was everything. I saw it in the way she cared for her dying brother alongside her sisters. I saw it in the joy of being in the presence of her sisters and their love of each other. I heard it in the way she spoke with such love and happiness for her niece, all of her nephews and their wives and children. I saw it in the pure love and acceptance she had for her special needs nephew, Stephen. I saw it in the happiness she shared in at the weddings and receptions of my other son and daughter. Patti was just filled with life and joy. Everyone that knew her experienced it and were touched by it.
As the stress and bad news increased in the last week of Patti's life, I was blessed to be able to spend some extra time with Patti's family. I drove up to Patti and Chris' house a couple of times to spend part of the day with Xavier while everyone went to the hospital. As often happens in tragic situations, the desire to do something to help carry a loved one's burden was so strong. Just as strong was the helplessness of how little I could actually do. What I could do was be emotionally present-especially with the deep grief everyone was carrying, bring and prep food for dinner and for snacks when they had family and friends stop by, and do dishes and other simple tidying around the house.(Xavier was always enthusiastically encouraging me to vacuum the family room. Apparently that's his new favorite chore.:) It felt like so little, but it was a way to show how much I care for all of them and to lighten the burden they all carried in some very small way.
I was so grateful just be able to "do" something. I did find it really hard to be in Patti's home. There was a feeling of intruding in the sacred space of another woman's kitchen when I was rifling through drawers trying to find measuring spoons or a can opener. I know if she was there, any question would have been answered in seconds and the necessary tool pulled out of the proper place. Without that familiarity, I was left to search and apologize in my head to Patti for stepping into her domain. I know that Patti knows that I was just trying to love and care for her family as she would, but it still felt wrong.
The first day that I watched Xavier was the day that the family had a big meeting with all of Patti's different doctors who each gave a thorough report and their opinions on her prognosis. It was that day that the yo-yo of emotions started to settle as it became more apparent that, without a miracle, Patti was not going to survive. There was much grief, but there was a peace that descended on Patti's family that was completely missing when I arrived that morning. I held a sleeping Xavier when Chris texted me the details of that meeting. As they drove home, I sobbed. I cried for the loss they were all facing. I cried for the coming loss of my friend. I cried that I was sitting on Patti's couch, in her home, holding our precious, sleeping grandson. She should have been the one there enjoying that peaceful moment. I felt so much guilt over that. My heart was just breaking.
Even within all the grief and loss of those hard 10 days, there was even more love. There was an incredible outpouring of prayers from family and friends. There was a constant presence of support from family and friends at the hospital and at their home. Chris' sister, her husband, her daughter, one of her sons and his fiance were at the hospital multiple times. They all came to the house multiple times with food and the desire to spend time with Chris and the girls and show them as much support as they could. Two of Patti's sisters came to be with Liz's family as well, and many of her nephews and their families drove for hours to be at the wake and funeral of their beloved aunt. Chris' best friend, John, made many supportive visits. He and his wife, Nancy, even opened up their beautiful home to host the reception after the burial. The outpouring of love and generosity was awe inspiring. The support that carried Chris, Liz and Tori was faith in action. God's presence in the midst of heartache and tragedy was felt through the outpouring of love from so many family and friends. It reminded me of this quote from St. Teresa of Avila:
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks old
His compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours."
— St. Teresa of Ávila
Through these very hard moments, I got to see the kind of man my son, Andrew, has become. The care and attention that he showed to his wife, his son, and his in-laws made both Jay and I so proud. Andrew and Liz temporarily moved into Chris and Patti's home to be as supportive as they could for Chris and Tori. Andrew was driving all of them back and forth to the hospital every, emotionally filled day. Most days, Andrew had Xavier with him and kept him occupied while everyone spent time with Patti and met with the doctors for updates. (And Xavier was such a source of consolation for his grandpa and auntie. At 18 months old, Xavier doesn't understand what's going on, so his happy smiles and hugs were a much needed balm to hurting hearts.) Andrew made sure everyone was drinking water and eating meals...especially his pregnant wife. But most importantly, he was incredibly emotionally present and supportive, not only to Liz, but also to both Chris and Tori. In one of the hardest moments of his young adult life, Andrew leaned in to his faith and that Grace helped him to support his family throughout the entire difficult time. Seeing his care for all of them just touched my heart. #proudmamamoment
I feel like I got to share in a "highlight reel" of Patti's life in some ways. I know that she certainly had crosses to carry in the time I have known her, but we got to share so many amazing memories. Watching the beautiful video that Chris and Tori put together for Patti's wake, I was brought back to one of the most joy-filled moments of both of our lives as Liz walked out of the bedroom in her wedding dress for the first time. I also saw the picture of us from the night Andrew and Liz announced that Xavier was on the way. I will never forget Patti's hands as she hurriedly tried to rip the wrapper off of the special fortune cookies Liz and Andrew had ordered or her voice as she asked/exclaimed to Liz, "Are you pregnant!?!?" as it slowly dawned on all of us that something really special was being announced. I will never forget the night that Liz went into labor and Patti and I spent the entire night going back and forth with Andrew and each other as we waited for the news that our grandchild had arrived and mama and baby were both ok.
I found myself feeling incredibly grateful to God for the gift that Patti was. I'm grateful that she and Chris were open to life and brought two beautiful, loving daughters into the world. I'm grateful that God chose their daughter and our son for each other and brought both of our families together. I'm grateful for all the wonderful moments we shared. I'm just so tremendously sad that there won't be more.
Patti's wake and funeral Mass were truly a celebration of a beautiful life filled with love. Though wrapped in deep grief, there were moments of just pure beauty that I will carry with me for a long time. I wish it wouldn't have been a completely inappropriate moment to take a picture, because watching Liz, Andrew and Liz's dad and sister walking up the church aisle behind the casket holding each other's hands linked in support for strength and love was just incredibly touching and beautiful. Their hearts were broken and hurting but their love for Patti and each other, while being lifted by the prayers of everyone present (and even those who weren't), gave them the strength to endure the hardest day of their lives.
Patti's pastor knew Patti and her family well. Fr. Larry gave a beautiful, tear inducing homily about the faithful, loving wife and mother Patti was. You could see that Patti's unexpected call home had really affected him. Three and a half years ago, Fr. Larry had concelebrated Andrew and Liz's wedding. He has an amazing voice, and I remember how excited Patti was that he agreed to sing the Ave Maria during the wedding ceremony. At the end of the funeral Mass, Fr. Larry walked off of the alter, stood right in front of Patti's casket, and sang that beautiful song just for her. I don't think there was a dry eye in the church, but it was so touching. It was just another example of how the love that Patti exuded in her life inspired everyone around her to love in return.
It seems so surreal that Patti is really gone. How can a person that was so full of life and love not be with us anymore? How can a person that is still so needed by her family not survive? Sometimes life just doesn't make sense.
Patti's death has affected me greatly. I know I'm blessed to have lived this long without facing the grief of losing a friend, but it's still really hard. Everything feels different. I feel like my perspective has shifted. How can you not be affected when someone close to you passes away and it highlights the finiteness of our existence in this life?
Patti's death has triggered a good amount of fear and anxiety that I've had to work through.(and am still working through...) Her death has also brought up a lot of questions to ponder; such as, How can I live my life more intentionally? What do I want to focus on at this point in my life? Are there things in different areas of my life that need to be changed or tweaked in order to live more intentionally? Do I have any real goals for this season of my life? What are steps I need to take to reach those goals?
Can you tell that I'm in the "mid-life crisis" zone of life? Or, as Matthew Kelly calls it, "mid-life opportunity."
Life is passing by so quickly. I don't want to waste it. The path is changing as we get older and our kids grow up and start lives of their own...I haven't figured out exactly which way my new path is heading. It's hard to feel lost...and it's uncomfortable. It's an opportunity to grow and to stretch, but it feels pretty torturous when you're stuck in the messy middle of change.
Though the path certainly doesn't feel very clear right now, my ultimate life goal is summed up in John 13:1.
having loved his own who were in the world,
he loved them to the end."
Love our own in this world and love them to the end....that's certainly what Patti did.
|This is Tori, Chris, Patti and Liz celebrating with us at Sarah's wedding in August.|
I can't believe we had to say goodbye to her just five months later....
I'm so grateful that Patti was a part of our lives.