[Naperville, Ill.] When my mother died, years and years ago, a family friend gave me a book by Harold Kushner called, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” It was first published in 1981, with subsequent editions coming as recently as 2004. Kushner, a rabbi, wrote the book after dealing with his own personal tragedy involving his son’s illness. The book’s jacket offers it as a “…straightforward, elegant contemplation of the doubts and fears that arise when tragedy strikes. Kushner shares his wisdom as a rabbi, a parent, a reader, and a human being.”
Perhaps one of the best things the book has to offer is the affirmation found in the title. Bad things do sometimes happen to good people. Sometimes they are really bad things. And sometimes they happen to really good people. People like our friend, Patricia Maddi Doane.
We buried Patti today. She died this past Sunday at the much-too-young age of 51. She leaves behind three great kids, Jimmy (17), Maddi (16) and Patrick (14) in addition to her husband of 18 years, Jim.
Patti lost her own father when she was in high school, and lost her mother several years ago as well. Both her parents died of cancer. Since she was considered at risk for breast cancer given family history, she took the unusual step three years ago to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy. It proved to be a wise move, since biopsy work found two different types of cancer in the removed tissue. Doctors were confident they got it all.
A year or so later, it was discovered the doctors were wrong. And at this point, the cancer had already been doing what cancer does… spreading. Patti underwent various kinds of treatment over the past few years. There were good periods and not so good periods. A few months ago it became apparent the cancer was winning, and winning big.
When I would refer to Patti, I would say she was my partner Tom’s bestest best friend… and that if things were different (if he liked girls... in that way) he’d have married Patti long, long ago. She was, indeed, his closest friend. They shared a relationship that spanned decades, and was that rare type of friendship so few of us ever get to experience. I suppose I could have been jealous, but I loved Patti way too much for that. She became one of my best friends too.
As friends and family gathered for her funeral services this morning, I was reminded that she wasn’t the only good person to have something really bad happen when she got sick… when she died. Her children, her husband, her siblings, extended family and her freinds all had a really bad thing happen to them too. They lost a wonderful, huge part of their lives.
To know Patti was to know she was a planner… an organizer… a doer. She was very good about making and preserving memories. She thought ahead. One of the things she did early this year was to sit down with a few of us with some recording equipment to read children’s books for the grandchildren she knew she would never see. As part of the eulogy he delivered, Tom drew wisdom from one of those books…
“One of Patti’s favorite books was The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. This is the story of a toy given as a Christmas gift to a young boy. The Velveteen Rabbit lives in the nursery with all of the other toys, waiting for the day when the boy will choose him as a playmate. In time, the shy rabbit befriends the tattered Skin Horse, the wisest resident of the nursery, who reveals the goal of all nursery toys: to be made real through the love of a human. 'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
“As Patti progressed through the stages of her dreadful sickness, we talked about what her fears were about the disease. She told us that she was not afraid to die – she had actually always pictured herself dying early. What she feared most was what would happen to those she left behind, especially her children who she loved so much. Sometimes in classic literature we can find messages through metaphor and philosophy. Sometimes though the meaning may be right in front of you. As the wise tattered skin horse told us, when someone REALLY loves you, then you become REAL. Then if that is the case, Patti will remain as real in all our lives in her death, as she did in her life.”
Listening to Tom work hard to maintain his composure made my heart ache. To lose his best friend is a huge tragedy. To take this loss less than two months after losing his mother has been simply horrible. Yet he perseveres.
Bad things happen to good people. Cancer sucks. For those of us who remain, of course, life goes on.
Do me a favor, if you will. Set this aside, go to someone who you care about, and give him or her a hug. Do it for Patti. Do it for Tom. Do it for all of us.