The cancer, I was told, was as rare as teeth on a chicken. When discovered, Patricia was told she would not have more than six months of life left to her. I hadn’t heard from her in 25 years, and we were best friends. It was Mothers Day evening when Doug emailed me.
“I wanted to let you know that Patricia is not expected to make it through the night.”
“What?” I screamed at the email bringing me down from a beautiful day with my family. What was he saying to me, and why did he wait 25 years to contact me? He knew I loved her, was a sister to her, and missed her deeply. Or, maybe he didn’t. She had “moods”, real highs and very low lows. Maybe she never told him she’d shut me out.
“I know she can hear you.” I replied to his emai. “Hold her close and whisper into her ear that I love her very much. I always have and I always will.” Then I started to cry.
My husband looked over at me from the TV program we were watching.
“Patricia is dying.”
His reaction was the same as mine was.
Patricia and I grew up together, went to school together and lived with each other off and on for many years prior to our adulthood. She was in my wedding: I was not invited to hers. But for the first twenty years of marriage we got together quite often with our families. I ignored her moods, knowing she always contacted me once they passed. Sometimes that meant a month, sometimes it meant a year. But she always called me. After all, we were best friends.
We kept in constant email contact with Doug in that first year after her death, renewing our friendship, sharing family photos and telling so many stories of our lives not shared together. Email was easy, no face to face, no seeing each other’s pain, and not hearing the grief in our voices, but feeling that in black words on white background.
So after a year we took the two day drive from our house to the island up north where Doug and Patricia lived, and the house they had built there.
Patricia worked with the contractor, getting everything exactly the way she wanted it. That was seven years earlier, when they’d retired and life couldn’t have been happier for them.
And now we were going to meet again, for the first time. I told my husband I was afraid I was going to cry when I saw Doug.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure he’s going to do the same when he sees us.” And that’s how it went. Doug and I held each other and cried, and cried.
Their son Brandon was with him, he was just ten years old last time I saw them at our house. He looked like his mother, reddish-blond hair and gentle features. I held him and cried some more.
“Do you remember me, Honey?”
“Of course I do, Auntie Mona. I could never forget you.” We stared at each other’s faces for a long time. “You look a lot like your mom.”
“Yes, that’s what I’m told.” We smiled and hugged again.
Once settled in, Doug showed us around their beautiful home and spectacular yard overlooking the serene lake below. I knew the house would be beautiful, she had great taste in minimalism. Everything was exactly right, in the right place and made for the spot it was in. But I never knew she had such talent in the yard. She had researched and designed the gardens herself. And together they did everything from pulling out hundreds of wild berry plants, to moving rocks, building paths, and planting many trees, shrubs and flowers. I was amazed, and proud of her, but mostly saddened by the fact that she wasn’t the one sharing this with me. I began to cry, again.
“I never knew this about her.” I sobbed. “She was amazing.” Doug just nodded.
“She wanted a totally green burial, too.”
“She wanted to become one with the earth. She’s buried in her favorite garden clothes: denim overalls and shirt, Crock garden shoes, and a big floppy hat. That was her uniform when working in the yard. They were worn, ragged and she loved them more than any outfit she owned.” There was a slight smile on his face remembering her this way.
Patricia was brave, courageous, strong, fearless and full of fight, even though she knew the outcome and end were near. She kept a big binder of everything Doug needed to know about running the house, caring for the cat, doing laundry, when to feed and prune each part of the garden. The binder had absolutely everything he’d need to know about everything little thing she did. She was well organized, and he was about to be.
Patricia wrote her obituary which was printed in the local paper: a wonderful farewell to her family and grateful thanks to the hospice group and the doctors in charge of her care. She’d chosen a clear pine box to be buried in and the site was next to trees and close to the side of the road.
I asked to see her grave site during one of the many island tours Doug had taken us on. The cemetery was lush and green, rugged and remote and one of the most beautiful spots on the island we’d seen. All the grave sites were naturally grassy with random flowers and shrubs everywhere. Flowering pots plants dotted hidden graves, worn paths led to the various grave sites, and the sun tried to peek through the morning fog. It was beautiful.
Doug had placed a simple brass marker at her site. Dark green ferns were mixed with in the bushes. And all around her were incredible tall trees with long, arm-like branches that seemed to be reaching all the way to Heaven. I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful resting place for the best friend I’d never known.