Over the past few years, I’ve written memorial posts about members of my family that have died, notably my mother and father. But I haven’t talked much about my sister Patricia, whom we called Pattie (or sometimes Patty). She died in her sleep in 1998 when she was only 44 years old. Medically, she died of heart failure. There was virtually no warning. Because she died at home alone, local law required an autopsy, and that report said her aorta and coronary arteries were almost completely clogged. She was a skinny woman, too, which shows that what’s on the inside isn’t always reflected on the outside.
My family doesn’t have a good set of genes. As best I can tell, we are genetically predisposed that our bodies start falling apart once we hit about 40. It’s like we get the smallest possible window to pass on our genes, and then that’s it. I think of it as Evolution saying “You had your chance, pal. Now get the hell out of the way!”
There were four kids in my family. First came two girls, then two boys. I’m the first boy, which means something in an Italian Catholic family. I was expected to “carry on the family name,” and in general make people proud as hell. I think with my writing career I managed the proud part. My choice in spouse, although excellent, precluded the family name part, though.
Pattie was the second girl in the family, and was only about 18 months younger than my eldest sister Marie, which inevitably led to unfair comparisons both inside and outside the family. Marie did well academically and socially all through school, and Pattie was always expected by family and teachers to measure up. Naturally, she rebelled. Marie graduated from high school, went to nursing school, and graduated as an RN. Pattie graduated from high school and went to work as a teller in a bank. She did well there; her social skills were excellent and over several years (and over the course of a variety of bank acquisitions) she ended up as a branch manager and eventually became the by-then Savings and Loan vice president of marketing. When the Savings and Loan crash of the 1980s and 1990s happened, her institution was purchased again by a much larger bank, and she was among the human casualties. Making the change from being a valued member of a tight management team that worked well together to looking for a job in the teeth of a industry-wide shakeup and recession was difficult for her. Losing such a long-familiar work and social situation hit her hard, and it took her some time to regain her balance. She bounced back and ended up at GE Capital, seeming to once again be in the kind of supportive environment in which she thrived.
Looking Out For Number Two
In her personal life, she tended to prioritize other people’s needs above her own. I was as close to her as anyone (we shared literary interests and I think we both felt kind of lost in our family), and along with the rest of the family, I was sad and felt keenly that she never found the supportive and committed relationship she always wanted. She ended up being one of those women who are consistently attracted to charming schmucks who were incapable of returning the wellsprings of love and caring she could bring to a relationship. She drifted from one of these losers to the next, never finding what she needed. As my brother-in-law recently said, “She was on a quest, but never had a clear destination.”
She was devoted to our father and our grandmother. We lost our mother a few years earlier to pancreatic cancer, and Pattie put aside her own grief in order to help our dad deal with his loss.
Community Work Leads to a Find
Perhaps to fill the missing part in her personal life, Pattie spent more than 20 years in community service and held leadership positions in many different organizations, including the March of Dimes (maybe as a reaction to me being born with spina bifida). She also spent time working for the City of Hope, an organization that saved my brother Robert’s life with a bone marrow transplant, at a time when it was still barely out of the experimental phase (and my sister Marie deserves a huge amount of credit for being the compatible donor).
Early this year, before my own medical situation took a big turn for the worse, I was cleaning out a nightstand drawer, and Dori reached in, plucked out a small silver spoon, and said, “I didn’t know you were big on coke when you were younger.”
“I wasn’t; that was my sister Pattie’s. She wasn’t a heavy coke user either, that’s an award pin she wore on her lapel. It’s called the Silver Spoon Award, and it commemorates her years of service with the Garden Grove Chamber of Commerce Women’s Division. See the engraving, and the pin on the back?”
“Yeah, and it’s too big to be a coke spoon, anyway.”
That inspired me to take a picture, have some talented friends change it for me, and write this post. Pattie had a good sense of humor; even though she died only a few years into the Web’s existence, I think she would have thought this commemoration to be a hoot. On the other hand, I can’t be sure that she wouldn’t have been an avid consumer of some fake news sites (especially the left-leaning ones).
I’ve been meaning to write this memorial post since March of this year. Sorry to be so late. Still, better late than never, and better to have it done before my own cancer prevented it. Writing it has made me feel closer to my sister I lost 18 years ago.
Pattie, here in my own twilight, I can practically see you sitting next to my hospital bed and feel you holding my hand. I know you would be here if you could.
I love you, sis.