Saturday, December 19, 2015

Death of a Friend

A blurry photo from
her Face Book page;
but this captures the
essence of Pam.
Once upon a time, when we lived in California, I took under my wing a woman – her name was Pam – who was slightly retarded, and who had two children. The two little girls were removed from her custody by Child Protective Services, and I was doing my best to help her get them back.  We remained friends even after the family was reunited (the little girls were in foster care for over 2 years!).

Even after we moved, I talked on the phone with Pam every couple of months, and visited her once when I was back to visit other friends in that area. She was functionally illiterate, but managed to figure out how to text me as well. Usually she simply asked for money, and always expressed her love for me after making the request. But I do think she loved me, even without the money.

I hadn’t heard from Pam since last May, when she had asked for money and I had sent some. She didn’t call at Thanksgiving time, and she has always called me then. I wondered if she’d lost my number. I texted the number I had for her, asking her to call or text and let me know if it was still her number; there was no response.

Today, December 19, is her birthday. I already knew that, which was one reason I was trying to contact her, but Face Book let me know as well. (It is surprising that Pam had a Face Book account; I’m sure her younger daughter set it up for her, and she never posted anything other than profile pictures.) I left a birthday greeting on her timeline, with a note to call or text me with her number.

A few hours later, her daughter left a comment on my birthday greeting, asking for my phone number. I sent her a private message, and she replied, “My mom was hit by a car last night, and she passed away.”

I was stunned. And then I wondered if it were true. The news sources my husband and I checked turned up nothing, but then, it’s the weekend. Then I noticed other posts on the daughter’s timeline that made it clear that she was letting everyone know that her mom had died.

I’m very sad. It’s not that Pam and I were best friends or talked a lot. But we shared an important and trying time in her life (more than one trying time, actually!), and I felt a bond with her. I felt that I should always help her if I could. There was always a tension for me around giving her money; what was too much? What was too little? She re-married a man she’d previously divorced, and who had been nothing but trouble to her when the girls had been taken. Should I continue to give her money when she’d taken up with him? He had a history of living with women who would take care of him so that he didn’t have to work, though he had some mental issues of his own.

Despite her constant pleas to me for money, Pam was a very giving person. It got her into trouble more than once, because she was more than willing to offer one “friend” or another a space on her living room floor if they’d been kicked out of their apartment. She was easily taken advantage of…by many.

She had health issues, too, and almost died once after some abdominal surgery to repair a large hernia. I know she almost died because they kept her in the hospital for 10 days, and she was NOT a paying customer; I doubt she’d have received that kind of care if they weren’t afraid of a wrongful death suit (I know, I’m very cynical about such things).  During that time, her ex-husband and his wife and several children moved into Pam’s apartment to “help” take care of her…except they didn’t help much, and ate all her food. And then they wouldn’t move out. We (me and the agency that helped her with such things) had to get the police involved to get the people to leave.

Pam did not have a happy childhood, having been sexually abused at the hands of her brother, along with other issues. She did not have a happy adulthood either: she married a young man who passed away within a year (I don’t remember what his malady was); her parents, on whom she was very dependent emotionally and for help with her infant daughter, both died in a car accident; she married and remarried the wrong man; she was dirt poor.

But she didn’t complain about any of it, really. She was pretty happy. I often thought about how she didn’t have much, but at least she didn’t have debt; and my husband and I had plenty of that! Pam just lived her life, taking what happiness came her way, and plugging along through the hard times.

Pam and her daughters, with my daughter in
the middle. The two girls were in foster care
at this time, and the only way Pam could
see them for Thanksgiving was if I would
bring them all to my house. Which I did.
One year, I went to her daughter’s birthday party. It was in the little yard of her duplex, which consisted of gravel and no grass. The house was small and not the best-kept; the other guests were very low-income down-and-outers. But everyone was real. There was no pretense about anything. And everyone had a good time. Later that same evening I went to a fund-raising event for a local Catholic school. The contrast was interesting. The conversation was aimed at impressing others, as were the bids on “silent auction” items; and the people were fake, not real, at least in this setting. I much preferred the party with the poor folks.

Pam wasn't Catholic. She considered herself a Christian, and was baptized. She suffered a lot in her life, and really didn't complain about any of it – not the way I would have, that's for sure! Do you suppose God will cut her a little slack since she was, after all, retarded?

I asked my spiritual director that question, and he replied, “Even without the pope’s Jubilee of Mercy, God exercises mercy in His judgment of our individual, final dispositions. Unlike us humans, He's able to take EVERYTHING into account, when rendering His judgment. So it's appropriate to hope in His mercy, while praying that He be merciful toward one of the deceased, since we know not the full circumstances of the individual.”

So, please, would you say a little prayer for the repose of the soul of my friend Pam? Thanks.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

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