Today my friend Patty Adelsberger would have been 44 years old. She died from ovarian cancer in 2010, the year we turned 40, and just a few years after her beloved mother died of the same disease. I met her at the Cambell Club Student Coop in Eugene the day I moved to Oregon in September 1990. Like me, she was from a large Catholic family, like my Dad she was from Massachusetts and was called to be a healer – Patty became an acupuncturist. I was lucky to backpack in beautiful places around the Northwest with her several times. She had a wicked sense of humor and an uncanny ability to mimic, more than once she made me so helpless with laughter that I couldn’t stand up. Patty had a huge heart and despite the burden of working herself through college, she always had a volunteer job somewhere- a habit she continued for the next 20 years we were friends, until illness prevented her from working at all.
From 2001 to 2011 I had ten people of significance pass through the veil to the mysterious other side. About half of them died of cancer. As I take my healing journey I often have mixed feelings about their deaths. Would Patty have lived longer if she had not still been grieving her mother when she was diagnosed? Once the cells of the body starts singing the cancer-ing song, I know that “Good Attitude” alone is not the only factor in whether or not someone survives. Though I am putting a lot of my eggs in the happiness-as-healer basket, it is not in judgment of those who have gone before, rather it is but one thing I can do, when so much is not within my control.
I think that those 10 funerals had impact on my health. Certainly the stress of grief and loss put me into an altered state. Their deaths changed my world. One way that my world changed is that I don’t fear death anymore. I think this is because I often feel the presence of my beloved dead around me- which is not new to this cancer-ing journey. The difference is that right now I have a little bit more room in my life to settle into awareness of them. It’s not like I see them, or have them talk to me- more just a strong sense of them at certain times, and coincidences that get my attention. For instance I believe that my dad, an osteopathic physician for 53 years, was near me the day Joe and I went into Portland for my Biopsy. The care, and loving support I received from the nurses that day was amazing. I feel like he was looking out for me, and giving me the message that I was going to be okay.
I don’t believe we can really know how the afterlife works- it is a bigger mystery than we can possibly understand with our human limitations. I am still planning on living to my 80’s. Perhaps I will, perhaps not. Whenever it all ends for me, I believe that by thinking of them often I keep my beloved dead close by as I go along, and I think in someway they will be there for me when I cross over. I love the thought expressed in this line from a Doc Watson song, Your long Journey:
“Fond memories I’ll keep of happy ways
That on earth we trod
And when I come we will walk hand in hand
As one in heaven in the family of god”
Happy Birthday Patty my dear, I have been thinking of you so often during this wild journey. Thank you for leading the way.