Immortality and Legacy

14 01 2012

Immortality on this earth would be something I would gladly choose if I could stay the way I looked at 25 years old forever with the wisdom of who I am now. It would be sad to see family and loved ones die, but despite my incredibly dysfunctional first half of my life, it’s been a blast. There was so much more I want to do. So many careers that take many years to learn. So many arts to master. So many places to visit. So many people to meet.

Me around age 27

Hilda at age 25

Knowing this was unrealistic in at least my lifetime, I had the next best plan. I was on my way in my youth to becoming the first Air Force woman combat fighter jet pilot, who was also a medical doctor, who then applied to the space program and became the first woman astronaut who flew the Mars mission or lived on the moon base. Then I would work in third-world countries where I would spend the rest of my years eradicating the diseases of the world, of body, mind and spirit, where in my spare time I would learn about people’s religions and cultures as I moved from village to village all over the world. I had no desire to get married. The children of the world I would informally adopt. I had a strategic plan to achieve all that. I wanted to find a way to eliminate poverty, to free the world of prejudice and hate. I wanted to be a blazing comet that set the world on fire, a world that would remember me for leaving it a better place before I departed. But as a teenager with a strict plan, you don’t plan on curveballs.

Hilda at age 25

In 2011, I had an unusual number of friends pass away. In October, after one of them passed away, I became more acutely aware of the need to be more proactive in some of my friendships I had neglected. Although we were in contact by email, phone and Facebook, my friend, Diane, had become unable to drive. Since 2009, I have wanted to drive over to Channelview to meet her for lunch, but my health was not good and I found myself too busy fighting with school districts to take what seemed like a very long drive (I thought it was closer to Beaumont for some reason) to see her. I knew the holidays were coming. I barely had time to schedule a kidney biopsy in the month of December before the year ran out. I promised her that after the holiday madness was over, we would pull out the calendar and figure out which weekend she was on call and which weekend I was on call and get make a date for the one of the other two weekends (we both worked for the same company, her since 1993, but I had known her since at least 1989 or 1990).

She celebrated her birthday on Thursday, January 5. Although I knew that she loved Hoops & Yo-yo from Hallmark, I wanted to surprise her with something else and got her a Darth Vader card. Then it occurred to me that I did not know if she had even WATCHED the Star Wars movies. Having confirmed she saw the first one that was all she needed to know to understand the card. Thursday night I became unwell. Saturday an email awaited me. I was in bed until Monday afternoon. At 3:20 p.m., I scanned through my emails upon which time I saw the email that let me know my friend, Diane had died on Saturday.

Diane was a star in the sky. She lived in this area all of her life. She had a huge family. She was many things to many people–mentor, educator, teacher, sister, daughter, aunt, great aunt, and friend. She talked about her nieces and nephews and then great nieces and nephews with such love and pride. There were so many of them, it was so hard to keep them straight. I knew Diane before I got married to my husband. She was there when I got married, when I got pregnant and miscarried, when I got pregnant and had Patrick, when Patrick was diagnosed with autism, my journey with that. She was my ear, a person I vented to, my cheerleader, Patrick’s cheerleader. Once she got on Facebook, I talked to her more than my own sisters. In the past 2 years with Patrick at his new private school and the huge progress he was making, she “liked” every comment, and on some left “woo-hoo’s” and some beautiful notes that would make my heart either swell with pride or my eyes swell with tears of joy.

Brandy & Diane

She had a fierce sense of humor. As diabetes kept claiming more parts of her slowly, there came a point where a toe had to be amputated. She made jokes about it. She said, “Asked the podiatrist to trim my toenails but also asked him if he’d give me a discount since I now have only 9 toes. Actually he didn’t charge me anything as I’m still considered seeing him for surgical followup. Anyway, thanks for thinking of me and for the beautiful plant and for just being you.”

She knew, too, that my birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day. However, on February 17th, 2010 I received a birthday card (I think it was an e-card). I emailed her at 1:12 p.m. and said, “Thanks for the birthday card. The words I need to remember because in 20 minutes I’ll be at Patrick’s school. Just one teeny, tiny thing. It’s not until March 17. St. Patrick’s Day. But I will take it as a divine-inspired intervention that I need to be polite to these people today, don’t necessarily have to cave-in, but they aren’t to blame for the director being a bully. They are going to unfortunately be her victim as well if no one can get control of his individual. Think good thoughts. My stomach is in knots. I feel like I want to puke. I imagine I’ll be shaking uncontrollably by the time I come home.” At 1:34 p.m., an email arrived that said, “After I sent it, I realized it wasn’t St. Patrick’s Day yet! Maybe I just needed to tell you I was thinking of you?? Love, Diane.” We had many letters of correspondence like this.

For 45 minutes on Wednesday, people got up and shared perhaps 1 story they had about Diane. Or just stories in general. I didn’t realize we were going to do this so I was ill-prepared. For most people, they had people laughing. After 4 days of rain and flooding, Wednesday was 70 degrees and beautiful; the next day would usher in below freezing temperatures. If you were going to have to say goodbye to a treasured loved one, Wednesday was the best day to do it.

Diane’s niece Brandy did not recognize me until I said Patrick on Diane’s Facebook page, and then knew immediately who I was. Of course! That is why I am PBMom. I’m Patrick Bowen’s mom. (People always think it is Peanut Butter Mom).  But we immediately recognized each other when I entered the funeral home.

The entire drive home, I thought about my own inevitable death, what people might take the time to actually come to a service, what would be said about me. After Jeff returned home, I sobbed in his arms, saying that I felt like I had failed in this life because I did not become what I had set out to be. Some things I let go of by choice; some things because there was no choice.

A fan rendering of a concert performance.

He did not understand what I was saying. He said he spent his whole life caring too much about what other people thought of him that he could care less what people thought of him when he died. And I sat there not understanding how you could NOT care. Isn’t that what our purpose here is? Aren’t we supposed to make the world better while we are here (and I’m not talking about political differences, but the benefit of humanity in the interest of humanity, like elimination of hunger, poverty, homelessness, illness, etc., not the ideologies of how to achieve that)? Aren’t we supposed to want to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Louis Pasteur or Marie Curie? With our blood line ending with Patrick, and unless autism is cured, he is unlikely to become a father since he is unable to take care of himself, we have no one to remember the stories of us to pass down to future generations so we have to find other ways.

Hamman Hall, Rice University, 1986-1987? during my "steroid" days that gave me Cushing's disease.

I know what Patrick’s purpose in this life is. He has changed the hearts of so many. He has inspired at least 2 young people to want to be teachers. He was the reason why I started the first special needs ministry ever in The Woodlands in 1998-2005 at St. Anthony of Padua and because of that ministry and the people who came forward to help, so many people who needed help were helped. I often felt like I was being Patrick’s conduit but also a conduit of hooking up those people who needed help with those people who could help.

The next day, Brandy posted on my Facebook page that she was going through Diane’s things and found a picture of Patrick and a picture of Jeff and me. I misread the note thinking it was a picture of all three of us in the same picture, something that rarely occurs. She responded: “It was a picture of your son when he was younger. It looked like he was playing in the yard and then there was a separate picture of you and your husband that she had beside the picture of Patrick. I knew immediately who it was but, to make sure I flipped it over because she always wrote who was in the picture on the back and the age of the kids or the year that it was taken. She had it in her family album. It was in amongst pictures of her great nieces and nephews. 🙂 “I honestly felt Patrick had been invited to Jesus’ table for dinner because I knew how she felt about her nieces and nephews. I responded: “I knew Patrick was special to her, but I never knew that. And knowing the immense love and pride she had for all of you, that she loved him so much to place him among you all. Wow. I miss her SO much. Thank you for telling me that. My love and thoughts are with you all today. It must be so difficult going through her things.”

And I burst into tears.

Is being Patrick’s conduit, being known as PBMom, such a bad thing? No, it’s not. But I would rather be the one who figures out the puzzle that is autism and/or cures it so not one more family has to go through this. Or perhaps stumbles upon the fountain of youth where I can become immortal and go back and do all the things I originally planned on doing.

Patrick-- The PB in the PBMom

What do you hope people will say about you when you pass beyond your earthly bonds?


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7 responses

14 01 2012
Anth

I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your friend, Hilda. I don’t think I would want to have immortality but a very long life without the effects of aging to explore our planet. You seemed to have a visionary mind when you’re a young woman, you’re still the same visionary with a remarkable yet insightful mind.

14 01 2012
PBMom

…who has a wonderful friend like you to support her during these times of self-exploration. I really need to get up to Vancouver soon.

14 01 2012
JulieAloha

We have never met in person, we’ve only corresponded through Twitter, our and Joe’s Blogs, but you have become one of my very favorite people and I count you among my closest friends. I have seen your sweet words encourage and influence many others, have laughed with you and your great humor and wit, have mourned and grieved with you during your battle for Patrick’s rights, your health issues and more recently your friend’s passing – and what a beautiful testament you have written honoring her memory here! I want to make it clear that, while you may feel that you have not yet fulfilled the dreams of your youth, you and your works and spirit have done great things in this world – you are so important to so many people, you have so positively influenced others’ lives, and you are so loved – I want you never to believe you are not accomplished, my friend. Do not grieve for the girl you were and the dreams she had, but acknowledge the lives you’ve touched, the love you’ve shared, and the battles you’ve fought and survived to become the woman you are today – she is the one I love and respect so very much.

– Julie

19 01 2012
PBMom

Okay, now I’m crying. Seattle/Vancouver not looking good for me at all this year, but I may try a weekend drive to NOLA to see Peter in April, a San Antonio trip to see some twitter friends & coworkers i saw at Diane’s funeral in August, and a trip to NY for my high school reunion in late July. We’ll figure it out.

15 01 2012
Anth

You’re always welcome to come visit Vancouver and I have get my butt down to Houston!

15 01 2012
Jane Wilkerson

I think you’ll have many more things to be remembered about in addition to PBMom. You’re a caring, sensitive person who has impacted many other people through your friendship, perseverance, and loyalty. You have a gift of writing. Since I’ve become more involved in the writing and publishing field since my retirement, I see a future book you should write about your life experiences, not only with Patrick, but everything else as well. It would be an inspiration to all who read it. Your blog was beautifully written, and a great tribute to a dear friend and colleague, Diane LaDue, a sweet, sweet lady.

15 01 2012
PBMom

Jane: That means quite a lot to me to hear you say that. At the prodding of friends who know many of my lifestories already, I sat down several times and tried to write it. When I read the pages back to myself I think–Good God, this is boring. Who wants to read this?” and I’ve stopped. I stopped to think that maybe it is the organization of how I’m writing it, maybe I need to select unique lessons I learned from different experiences. I just haven’t figured out the right format to convey what I want. Patrick would be an entire book of itself. The life lessons obtained from him are like stage 2 of my life.

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