Legacies -- For A Kindred Spirit, There Are No Goodbyes
Death often is a measure of life. In degrees, it teaches about friendship and family, and about love.
What it can also do is point out not how much is taken away, but how much is left behind.
Here are two legacies.
The certificate came in the mail several days later. I knew it was coming; yet I wasn't prepared for its arrival. Not really.
I made myself look at it. Just below a freshly made tear stain, "renal failure" was handwritten in as cause of death, with "human immune deficiency virus" listed as a contributing factor.
It was official - coldly official. My life had been touched - clubbed, really - by AIDS. That, I'd also known was coming. For two years, I'd known. I'd hoped the wait would be much longer.
Truth be known, my dear friend Patrick McGruder was tired. Tired of being sick. Tired of fighting an illness whose inevitable resolution, so far, is death.
He fought hard and courageously. He continued to make his appearances at family functions (for he was as much family as friend) and he continued to work (even on weekends, to everyone's chagrin). In fact, he had worked on a Friday and was on his way back the following Monday, before taking a final detour to the hospital.
On March 24, it was over. He'd hung on for a week, to say his goodbyes - albeit with gestures, eye contact and the occasional, barely whispered word. We all knew what he meant. "We love you, too," we all said.
Then, at age 34, Patrick was simply too tired to go on.
That's what I believe anyway - no matter what a certificate says.
I never said goodbye. Even when I was supposed to say it, at a memorial three days later, I didn't.
He was my friend and my teacher. Without him, my life would not have been the same. Over the years, he's taught me much about tolerance and courage, among other things. And the lessons continue even now.
Mostly, they've come by example. Patrick liked to make his words count.
He and I were kindred spirits in that regard. We both found that golden streak in silence. We were content to observe and drink in life and were happy to have someone with whom to share the experience. So, over the past 16 years, we've spent a lot of time together, not talking to each other - but saying a lot nevertheless.
When I first met him, Patrick was the guy with the navy-blue knit cap whose name I couldn't ever seem to remember because, well, I'd never heard him utter it. I remember clearly the night that changed. I was sitting on a couch on the top floor of the Chieftain, the student union building at Seattle University. There was a dance, or some other function, taking place. And from the darkness I heard for the first time, and certainly not the last, the words, "Glenn, I need to speak with you."
Before I could respond, he disappeared. And Patrick probably wandered around that room for an hour, building up his nerve, before I finally was able to corral him. This was another ritual to be repeated often during the course of our friendship.
Turned out, he wanted me to know and understand some things about him. Since I promised not to repeat the conversation, I won't, except to say that his words profoundly shaped the way I've thought about a lot of things - viewpoints that were reinforced by the love and friendship we shared in the years that followed.
That conversation was one of the last developments in the formation of our family of friends. Our common thread, in addition to minoring in Student Union, was the fact that we were all doers. From our Rainbow Coalition group to our participation in student government to our extra-extra-curricular activities, Patrick was always there doing. Not saying much, but taking part.
I came to regard him as the Shadow, though certainly not in any negative sense. A shadow is a reliable presence that never announces its comings and goings. Maybe because, without your knowing, it's always with you, requiring only your illumination. In that way, it also is the revealer of light, which is the source of warmth and indeed of life itself. Patrick was all those things.
That stayed consistent over the years. I've come to understand that the most important thing to Patrick was just being there - with the people he loved and who loved him. He loved his work, for example, because he loved the people who worked with him. And his love for all of us - his family, his friends, our children who called him Uncle Pat - was always clear, one of the things he never left unstated.
Lately, I've been listening a lot to Chet Baker sing, "Fair Weather." Part of the lyrics go: "Plant seeds for good deeds, like the trees, and of course, love will grow." Another part says, "When we walk side by side like brothers, oh glory will stand up in the world, then Gabriel will blow as he never has blown before. There'll be fair weather. Together."
All of this is a roundabout way of expressing how I feel now. When Patrick passed - not away but into another realm - I believed I'd miss him. I've thought a lot about that since. Now I know exactly what I'll miss - the rare person who laughed at all my jokes, read all my stories in the newspaper and reveled in all my glories, along with me and sometimes in spite of me.
But I realize that I won't miss Patrick, after all; at least not the essence of him. He maintains a presence in my heart, which is not broken but fortified. So nothing will change, really. From now through eternity, we're still going to be spending a lot of time not talking to each other, yet finding comfort in each other's company and, in our own way, communicating nonetheless.
Therefore, I'm not going to say goodbye, just so long, the way you always did, Patrick. Peace.
Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.