July 16, 2009
Nancy and I went for a walk in the woods this morning. We talked and grieved and remembered. A year ago today her life, my life, that of my family and the lives of some of my closest friends irrevocably changed. At 7:15 in the morning on July 16, 2008 I received a voicemail from Nancy saying that Pat had been hit by a car. It was already after 8 by the time I listened to her shaky message……I was at the hospital within minutes and there I stayed for the next several hours. “Traumatic brain injury, emergency surgery, induced coma, wait and see.” As bad as it was, I really didn’t think, couldn’t fathom, that Patrick Sawyer, one of my best friends and my kayak coach, training and racing partner, would die five days later. He was too strong, too fit, too smart, too good of a man to die. But he did. And many times I cannot believe it, still struggle with the loss of him in my life.
How has an entire year passed? Even though time has made it a bit less painful, I am traumatized by those two weeks in July last year, that night in the ICU, the sounds, the fear and the finality of the awful news that Nancy’s brother-in-law Chris had to deliver to her, to her sisters Mary and Julie, to me and ultimately to all of our families and friends. I can still see and feel every horrific second of those early morning hours of July 21st. I have never felt so honored and devastated to have been part of something so intimate in my life….. to bear witness to Pat’s death, to Nancy and her family’s intense and gut-wrenching grief, was the hardest thing I have ever done. By far it was the single worst night of my life, but I feel forever indebted that I was there to hold him, to kiss him goodbye, to hold Nancy and to be held.
It has been such a difficult year. Staying focused and organized, continuing forward, holding on and letting go have been incredible, seemingly impossible, challenges. For months I didn’t sleep well if at all, couldn’t breathe, lost weight, couldn’t concentrate, lost all motivation for any sort of training especially in the boat, had vivid flashbacks leading to panic attacks when I least expected them and just struggled to be there for Nancy and her kids as well as for my own husband and children.
But positive things have happened too. I have deeper, more meaningful relationships with Nancy and others. Ted and I paddle together as much as our family and work schedules allow, trying to continue what Pat instilled and nurtured in us. Tom and I vowed never to leave the house angry, to enjoy each other more instead of taking one another for granted as is so easy to do. I have new friends that I literally met the week of Pat’s accident whom I (and my kids) don’t know what I would do without. These friends, each in their own ways, have encouraged me to enjoy more, to do things I wouldn’t normally do and I am grateful that they are in my life and in my children’s lives. I have seen how a community can come together in the face of tragedy and do good things for a family it didn’t know, for causes that should be known.
And as insignificant as this may seem to some, I am finally starting to get my stroke down in the kayak, finally starting to understand what Pat was trying to teach me for years. Being on the water without him this summer has been one of my greatest physical and emotional challenges as his absence is most acute. I have been hearing him in my head a lot lately as I have tried to perfect my technique. I welcome this, but I fervently wish he were here to see me, by my side on the river, to tell me what he thinks, either yell at me or praise me. I want both.
A year has gone by and I still cry, am crying as I write this, and often find myself stunned that Pat really, truly is gone. Our friendship was unique, I think, because it is hard for married men and women to have close friends of the opposite sex. I was so fortunate and knew it, to have both him and Ted, “my boys” as Tom called them, in my life. My friendship with Pat started with a chance meeting on the water many years ago, but quickly solidified and spilled over into our families, our work and school lives. I miss his laugh, our easy banter, training and racing together, our phone calls and emails, our families just spending time together for whatever reason. I greatly miss him on the river.
I will never get used to his absence in my life and I will forever mourn the years of friendship that we could have, should have had, but I will try to live the life he would have encouraged me to live and to cherish what I do have. As he often said, “just keep paddling.”