15 April 2012

Sentimental Sunday - My First True Loss

"Pammy's gone."


"What?"


"Pammy's gone. She died. She's dead."


"What?! How can that be?!!"


I don't really remember the rest of the conversation between my second cousin's husband and I. I do remember telling him that I would do whatever needed to be done, help in whatever way I could. Did he want me to make phone calls? Were there arrangements that I could help with? It's strange and a little surreal to realize that it was 15 years ago today that I got that phone call. It was a phone call that changed my life in a lot of different ways.


Pamela Ann Harbacek Ervin (Wowczek, Nuti) Skrzynecki (yes, I gave her crap about her choice of husbands, plural) was born on August 10, 1951. She was months shy of her 46th birthday when she died on April 15, 1997. Her death was an incredible shock, even though she'd had years worth of medical problems and had just gone through a liver transplant. 


It's difficult for me to imagine what my life would be like today if she were still alive; I have no doubt that it would be different. Pammy was the big sister I never had, but she'd only been that to me for a few short years. We were far enough apart in age that we didn't spend time together as kids. But, whenever she was around, it was always a party. And she had a heart of gold.


Pam came back into my life under what some might consider providential circumstances. I'd been offered the opportunity to stay at my boss's timeshare in Mexico for a week; all I had to do was pay for airfare. When I asked my (then) husband to go, well, let's just say he said 'no' and leave it at that. I told him that I wanted to go, and that I was going to go if I could find someone to go with me. He laughed and said, "who'd wanna go with YOU?" 


Sadly, he was right. I'd gotten married in September, 1988 and over the course of time my husband had turned my life upside down. He'd alienated all my friends and my family and because I worked in a small office, it wasn't like I could invite someone from there. I was ashamed to admit that he was right. I spoke with my parents very infrequently, but on Mother's day I mentioned to my Mom that I was having to turn down the opportunity to go on a Mexican vacation because I didn't have anyone to go with me. She looked at me and said, "why don't you ask Pammy?" 


Huh. I hadn't thought of her. That might work. She had recently gotten remarried and was living not too far from my parents. So, I called her up. Out of the blue. When I explained the situation (leaving out she was my only option), she said, "Are you kidding?! Of course I'll go!!" So it was set. We were going to spend the week of June 9 - 16, 1991 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico! My husband was none too pleased that I'd found someone to go, but nothing was going to stop me from getting away.


We met at the airport. I got on the plane with (what felt like) a stranger, and got off the plane in Mexico with my life saver. We hadn't talked for more than a few minutes when she started asking very personal questions about my relationship with my husband. And it didn't take me very long to realize that she knew. Without telling her, she knew how miserable I was. Miserable wasn't really the right word. Afraid was a better word. I was in a situation that was unhealthy and unsafe, but I didn't know what to do about it. I was too smart to be "THAT" girl.  And yet, I WAS that girl. 


We shared an incredible week in Mexico. We were very fortunate to meet a crazy group of Chicagoans while we were having dinner in town the first night we were there. They had a group of Canadian friends and they were all staying at this place with an amazing pool and great activities. They asked if we wanted to come and hang out with them, so we did. 


Photo of Laura Cosgrove and Pam Skryzynecki (2nd & 3rd from left) taken June 11, 1991 at the Hard Rock Cafe, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Copyright Laura C Lorenzana)


Oh, did I forget to mention the most important part? The week of June 9-16, 1991 is of ginormous significance in Chicago sports. Yes, sir...we got to spend the week watching the Chicago Bulls pummel the LA Lakers in their first NBA Championship. Oh. My. God. You'd have thought we were in Chicago for the amount of celebrating that was going on the night the Bulls won the Championship. 
Photo of Pam Skryzynecki  and Laura Cosgrove (5th & 7th from left) taken June 12, 1991, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Copyright Laura C Lorenzana)


After a KAHRAYZEE night, we had to get up at the ....crack of dawn to go on an excursion we'd bought the first day we were there. This is the lovely picture of us, taken that morning while on ship before leaving:


Photo of Pam Skryzynecki  and Laura Cosgrove taken June 13, 1991, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (Copyright Laura C Lorenzana)


We had so much fun. She helped me see that life could, and should, be fun for someone my age, and for someone HER age. When we went to the airport to go home, I had my first and only panic attack. I literally thought I couldn't get on the plane, I was so afraid to go home. Pammy very gently talked me down and assured me that everything would be OK. And she was right. I'm living proof. But she's gone. And I miss her so very, very much.


I know this is long, but there's a bit more I want to add to the story. Pammy was in the hospital when she died. As I mentioned, she'd had a liver transplant a few days before she died. We (my current husband and I) had gone to see her on Sunday, and although she was alert and oriented, she still had a breathing tube in, so she couldn't talk. She scribbled notes on a piece of paper for the few questions we asked that weren't 'yes' or 'no'. She looked really good, and the nurse told us that they were going to extubate her on Monday. So, I told her I would call her in the morning when I got work (the 15th), said "I love you" to which she nodded vigorously and we said goodbye. 


The next morning, when I got to the office, I waited until a little after 9 and called her room's direct line. She answered the phone and I though I heard rustling on the other end, she didn't say anything. So, I said "Hey, how're you feeling?" She responded, "I can't talk right now." So I said, "OK, call me when you can. I love you." And, she said to me, "I love you, too."


The call I got from her husband came just after I'd gotten home from work at 6. Having spoken with her in the morning, his words were that much more shocking. I truly, truly couldn't believe that she was gone. I hadn't asked her husband for any details about her death out of respect for him and what he was going through, but a couple of days later at her wake, I couldn't resist any more, so I asked. He explained to me that she had taken a turn on Sunday night, and that she'd gone into cardiac arrest around 2 in the morning. He said that they'd worked valiantly to resuscitate her, but that she'd finally passed at a little bit before 9 on Monday morning.


Wait. What? That's not possible. I TALKED to her at 9. She'd told me she couldn't talk...that she loved me. He looked at me and told me I couldn't have possibly talked with her, because he was there while all this was going on. The medical staff was in her room, and they came out just at 9 to say that they'd done all they could and she was gone. I started to argue with him, to tell him it wasn't possible, when my husband took my arm and pulled me away. I looked at him and said, "But I talked to her..." He said, "I know you did." And I believe I did. With all my heart, I believe her last words to me were "I love you, too." What an incredible and powerful thing she did to give me that gift. That's who she was, and who she will always be to me. 



28 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I appreciate that you took the time to read my post. She was a wonderful person.

      Delete
  2. Wonderful post. I have tears in my eyes.
    I still have the last email sent to me by my genealogy soulmate and double cousin, Mary Margaret. I didn't discover it until after she died.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's the unintended gifts we give that mean the most to the people who love us. Thank you for taking the time to read my post, I truly appreciate it.

      Delete
  3. Tears in eyes. What a wonderful wonderful post, Laura.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was challenging to write, but I wanted to share her with as many people as I can. I know she'd rather have us laughing, but that's what makes me cry. She's missed. And, I'm grateful that you took the time to read and comment; I value that greatly.

      Delete
  4. This is such a powerful story! I probably identified most with the comments about your husbands -- 1 and 2. I'm glad to read that you had the strength to stand up for yourself. It probably was a turning point. Amazing how we can get so beat down and not even realize it. (It took 3 years of counseling for me). I also found myself smiling when you used the term "current husband." I use that term a lot to refer to my "current husband" of 25 years who isn't particularly fond of the term.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my post, Kathy. I honestly have tried to keep my situation out of my mind. As for my 'current husband'...heh...I used that for the post only because I had to refer to my first husband. Otherwise, he's just my husband ;-)

      Delete
  5. What a very beautiful tribute to your friend...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. I'm grateful that you took the time to read it, and appreciate your comment.

      Delete
  6. Thank you for sharing such a personal story, Laura. It is so painful to lose someone who has made such a difference in your life, and this could not have been easy to write. But her memory - and the loving bond between you - will live on and inspire others.

    Linda
    www.manybranchesonetree.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thank you Linda, for taking the time to read it and comment. It was, indeed, very difficult to write, but cathartic at the same time. She showed me that there is possibility both in life and in death, and I'm grateful to have had her in my life at all. I didn't realize how important she was until she was gone.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I just read your Post. It was a beauutiful story of love and Frienship. I am not going to say Sad because I found it to be more of a testimony of your bonds than the obvious loss. I have lost many many loved ones over the past several yrars. Now, I find myself with a few exceptions, the Patriarch, a position I do not want. But as I watch the Elders Pass on, If no one records our Histories, How are our descendents to actually know the Legacies that they do not appreciace yet but will when they have kids leaving home. I wish they knew just how important these stories will be to them at some point. As for you, you have created an interesting by line in the history of you that I would add to my story and the moments of joy shared. Again, thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and comment. I, too, have lost others since then, including my 25 year old niece. My experience with Pam gave me a measure of peace when we lost Krystine; Faith that she would go on. As the last in my line, I worry my family's stories will be lost, and that's why I wanted to share this. Write your stories; they may not listen now, but they'll be heard.

      Delete
  10. many hugs... what a treasure of an experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Laura. The hugs are returned to you...

      Delete
  11. So heartfelt and moving. A truly amazing story, and it must have taken great courage to share it here - in such a public format. I have no doubt she is looking down and smiling. Sounds like an amazing woman.
    What strength you both had to walk away from such hardships in life. Her medical situation must have been difficult, but to me, from your story, I walk away with the impression that she was happy with life somehow.
    As you said above, somehow healing I'm sure.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Jen. What's truly sad is that she spent five or six years being unwell, going from doctor to doctor because they couldn't figure out what was wrong with her. Many in my family called her a 'hypochondriac'. So, her struggle came with the added difficulty of the unknown. She was incredibly strong, and in writing this I was reminded of just how strong we can be when we need to be. As you point out though, she always had a positive attitude, even at the end. I was blessed to have known her.

      Delete
  12. I don't even know what to say, Laura...you brought tears to my eyes with this heartfelt remembrance. I do believe that your soul and her soul talked to each other that last morning. What a treasure she was in your life. It couldn't have been easy to share this with us, but thank you for doing so. I feel richer myself for knowing what Pam meant to you. And those pictures are priceless!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Shelley! Ah, the pictures. They're really the only pictures I have of her, which is sad and remarkable at the same time. To have the opportunity to just let loose and be myself after so long was an incredible experience, and I'm so glad that I shared it with her. And yes, even all these years later, in my heart I believe that we had a incredibly rare opportunity to say what we wanted say to each other. I don't ever leave the people I love without telling them so; when it's the last thing you say, or hear, somehow there is peace in that.

      Delete
  13. Having had a few personal experiences myself, and some similar by others within our family, I have no doubt whatsoever that she answered your call and you did speak with her...and she was probably smiling as she read this tribute while you wrote it.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks Carolyn. I hope so, I really do. I appreciate that you took the time to read this and comment.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Oh, Laura, that made me cry. I've twice had the same kind of thing happen to me. And even now, fifteen years after my Mum died (suddenly at 57) I still see her in crowds, only to realise that it's not Her after all. Have a big hug from me :-)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thank you so much, Jo! I recognized that this might hit close to home for a few, but I really needed to share her with everyone. I can't begin to imagine the pain of losing your Mum, sudden or otherwise. The hug is mutual. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  17. I'm just learning about genealogy blogs and found yours and read this story - you are a gifted writer. Thank you for writing about your experience. It is an encouragement to me to connect closer with my cousins.
    Debbie V.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Debbie, thank you so very much for taking the time to read it, and even more for the lovely compliment! Have you seen the GeneaBloggers website? I HIGHLY recommend it...

    ReplyDelete

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on my blog!