I “met” Pam 19 years ago, through an ad in the Couple to Couple League’s Family Foundations newsletter. I had four children and was pregnant with my fifth, lonely for a friend with like-minded values. Pam answered my pen-pal ad and immediately became a mentor of sorts. Pam was older than I; married for eleven more years, and the mother of eight children. Eight children; it boggled my mind. Her first letter to me was pages long, introducing herself, her husband and her brood. I thought then that she was a writer and I admired the power of her pen. Simple ideas about sorting laundry and other mundane household tasks gave me ideas for wielding control over my own burgeoning household. Upon discovering my penchant for using coupons, Pam started sending me Priority mailers full of coupons at that time, and continued to do so for the next 19 years, along with newsy letters, cards of encouragement, and in the last few years during David’s cancer, then my mother’s and finally, my grandson’s cancer, many prayers. We never met in person, but Pam was my friend.
How well can one know a person they have never met? Some might ask this. And yet, through letters and occasional e-mails, Pam and I learned the desires of each other’s hearts. I knew she wanted to write, had told me for years she had so much to write. When I heard last night that she had died, just three short weeks after she had lost her son Jamie, I was shocked. Another loss for her family! A loss for all who knew her. A loss for me. And I couldn’t help but feel the loss of what she would have written someday.
In an attempt to understand how someone so full of life like Pam could be gone in an instant, I called her friend Sharon on the phone. She loved you, Mary. She is the one who told me I must read Mary Potter Kenyon’s blog. We prayed over the phone for your grandson. Tears streamed down my face. How many of us have someone who loves us like that, who will pray with others over the phone for our grandson, who encourages our writing and lifts us up? Those of you with 300 friends on Facebook; how many of those “friends” truly lift you both in spirit and in prayer? Pam always encouraged my writing, even as she lamented the lack of her own writing. She encouraged her friend Sharon’s writing.
For no other reason than I had to have some connection with her last night, I frantically shuffled through the papers on my desk, looking for her last letter. I hadn’t even clipped and filed the coupons she’d sent along. Surely the card and letter was still there? Of course not~In a vain attempt to keep my papers and my desk under control, I have been throwing away most letters right after I read and respond to them. This one I had read portions of aloud to my husband. Pam had wryly commented on the changes in her body with age; the aches and pains and fatigue. She pondered how this could be when she still felt like a teenager in bed with her husband! Her love for him was evident in everything she wrote. I had envied that relationship years before and revelled in having something similar with David since his cancer. My thoughts went to her husband and her children. If only I could find that card, that letter, I could send it to them and they would see how proud she was of them, how much she loved them. She had mentioned them in every single letter she’d ever written me, and always with great pride and love. I was heartened to hear from her friend Sharon that she had kept journals. They will have her written words, after all.
My search for that last letter was fruitless. So I delved into my e-mail next, and unearthed a prayer she had sent me during the period I was fearful David’s cancer had returned. I hadn’t dared to pray that David didn’t have cancer. In fact, I hadn’t known what to pray at all. But Pam did. Pam always knew what to pray. I felt an inexplicable sense of relief when I discovered that prayer still in my inbox.
Hearing of Pam’s sudden death reminded me of a passage in the recently read The Journal Keeper so I found it again this morning:
“Last night, by the fire, Reber, Pat and I talked about how Mom was a person who shone light into other people’s lives. Reber told a story from a Robert Fulghum book about a man who used to ask people what they thought the purpose of their life was. He was always laughed at until one time he was in Greece and he asked the question of an Orthodox priest after his sermon. The priest said, “I’m glad you asked. For me, the answer is found in an experience I had as a young shepherd. One of my sheep had gotten lost, and I searched all over until I came to a cave. I couldn’t see into it but I had a bit of metal and I angled it to reflect the sun and the rays lit up the interior, where I saw the lamb in the back of the cave. Since then I have thought that this is what I want to do- shine light into other people’s lives.'” (The Journal Keeper, Phyllis Theroux, page 162)
That is what Pam did. She shined light into other people’s lives. She will be sorely missed, but her light will shine on.