Today’s post comes courtesy of the incomparable, Ellen Patton, raised in Van Nuys, California, she moved to Boston nearly twenty-one years ago, sight unseen. She enjoys baking, reading, sewing, quilting, antiquing, taking photos, decorating her condo (in a converted school), road tripping and blogging. Ellen works as an assistant to the President of MIT, and has word processing, photocard, and photography businesses on the side. She is a sister to three brothers, an aunt to eleven and friend to hundreds.
It has been ten and a half years since my brother Robes (Robert Pitchforth Patton) died of a brain tumor. I still count the years and months and miss him terribly. When “Robby” was thirteen months old, I was born; rocking his little world. A baby sister redheaded baby sister. And, on September 28, 1998, eighteen months and three days after his brain cancer diagnosis, Robes’ death rocked my world. I won’t ever forget it.
Staying up two entire nights, true vigils, watching over him as he slipped into a coma and then died. It wasn’t like the movies. The noises were strange. His vital signs raced and his organs shut down. His skin changed. He picked at his clothes. He became weaker and weaker. He was confused and he hallucinated. His body and mind failed him after a short thirty nine years. I have never felt sadness like I felt when it was clear that he was dying. I remember the steady stream of tears and the sick feeling in my stomach. We huddled around his hospital bed in their home; me, his wife Kim, her mother Ann, and his college friend Rick Egan. The three kids were still sleeping. We were watching and waiting. Whispering to each other about what was happening. Counting his pulse and respirations. The shock and disbelief that he was dying right in front of us. His strange gasps for breath that none of us anticipated. It was surreal. Robes died that Monday morning at 7:00am. A lover of gourmet food and an excellent cook—being spoon fed green jell-O. Bedridden for weeks—a man with a passion for travel. And, a writer by trade—robbed of his keen mind. How does that happen to a healthy young man? Why does that happen to a healthy young man?
I think about Robes every day. Plenty of things remind me of him—Bruce Springsteen, the Miami Heat, Tito’s Tacos, French cheese and chocolate, VW bugs, Levis 501 jeans to name a few. His three kids–Ian, Jamel, and Adrienne–remind me of him. They were 11, 8 and 3 when their dad died. It makes me sad that he is not here to raise them. He was crazy about his kids and he would be very proud of them. Ian is serving a mission in Argentina, Jamel is preparing for college this Fall, and Adrienne who shares his birthday, is the Beehive president, plays the baritone horn and will start high school and marching band in August. They all resemble him (except that the boys are both over six feet tall!).
Soon after Robes’ diagnosis I discovered The Brain Tumor Society was in Boston. For twelve years I have been involved in the —volunteering, serving on the Ride Committee and riding 25 miles with friends and family raising money for research (we have collectively raised nearly $50,000 over the years). [Note: that is Adrienne and her cousin Emma on the website banner.] Jamel flew to Boston alone when he was ten and has done the ride every year since then. Adrienne started doing the Ride when she was nine. This year on May 31 we will be riding through the western suburbs of Boston in memory of Robes and all the others who have lots their fight and for those still fighting–that there will be a cure for brain tumors. There is talk amongst our team—PATTON’S ARMY—of riding 50 miles since Robes would have turned 50 on May 21. This weekend I plan to get on my bike and start training!
I don’t ever want to forget Robes’ great example, his many talents and his love of life. I know I will be with him again but in the meantime I’m sad that he’s not here to be a husband, father, brother and son.
What have you learned from experiences with death? What do you do to memorialize, honor, or remember a loved one who has died?