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.
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Iris — I’m amazed and inspired by the way you replace fear with equanimity and a hopeful vision of living a lot longer. Whatever comes after, which I think is totally beyond our ability to comprehend, you have a lot of folks hoping along with you for much more of your presence with us. David Bennett
Lovely essay,Iris, On this crazy, car-clogged California day I saw the first bearded iris of the year–at the gardens of the Mission of San Juan Capistrano, which doesn’t have swallows anymore, since they scrape the nests off for purposes of ‘historical preservation’ of the buildings. But, the swallow festival gets bigger and gaudier every year. Isn’t that the way it always goes? Sigh.
I lit a candle for you beneath the stunning Virgin Of Guadelupe, at the beautiful old mission chapel with fluffy, Mediterranean blue flowers painted on the white wooden slat ceiling.
When I was in my mid-twenties, three of my friends became ill with ovarian cancer and died within a couple of years. Two of them attended the same Gestalt therapy group I did, organized by the fabulous Clatsop Mental Health Department, precursor of the erratic CCBH organization that exists now. I also discovered around the same time that my mother had taken diethystilbesterol(DES)l while she was pregnant with me, and at one point was led to believe I had vaginal cancer which would require exenterative surgery. I was certain I was going to die before age 30 and I was very scared and obsessed, especially since my three friends did. Fortunately, I lucked out and came across another doctor who knew a bit about DES cervical appearance, and talk of surgery was stopped, for a while.
That Gestalt group helped so much to sort out the fear from the unknowing. I so wish there were a local therapist who had the skills Debbie Park did, cause I’d still be going, and I’d be recommending her to everyone .It was important practice for me to literally sit my fear down in a chair across from me and talk to it.
You are a very gifted writer, and I hope you publish this journal in some form, not just because it’s a pleasure to read(which it is) but because it has power to quell fear and provide comfort.
What a beautiful tribute to your friend. I do believe those that have left us continue to watch over us & help us through the hard times.
Hi Iris! Claire from chemo here again…..just wanted to share with you my good news. My chemo at Compass worked so well that I was “downgraded” from a mastectomy to a lumpectomy which was performed yesterday. Over the last four months Dr. Andersen did not think a lumpectomy was in the cards, but the chemo did! Hope this gives you hope.
I wasn’t sure of your email so I’m sending a reply . Our minds must be working together. I just realized that the check we send had not been cashed so I drop you a note about today ago to checked if you had gotten it. We had been spending the winter in Texas so our mail go around about way. So we just got your thank you note today. By the sound of things we will be going back to a new house! We are fine and hope you are getting along well. It just makes me sick to think our little Annette has to go through all of this. Love to you and your family U Bill & A Phyllis
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Precious insight, Iris, I have the same feelings of my supportive deceased loved ones. They move forward into my conscious ness right when I need them; time after time I feel them and their love.
Love from Joan
I have no doubt Dad was near you because he would want to help. Loss is hard and it makes me sad. I know, that isn’t actually upbeat is it? Love ya.
Thinking of Patty makes me so sad. I’m so glad you are still on this planet! I only wish we didn’t live so far away. Please come to Boston and I’ll come to Oregon. Being human is getting me down. Climate change and all that. Wishing we could be birds and fly together to see Patty and reminisce about that great trip to Glacier. So cool to see that photo of the waterfall. Sending all my love — Rachele