"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:
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.