Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Coming Undone

Part of the world as I know it has come undone. Pat died on Tuesday, August 12, 2008. It was unexpected; until the last few hours before her death, she had been busy with writing, entertaining friends, and telling a good story to all who cared to listen. That she did it from a hospital bed was of no matter to her.

She did not wish to die. A few weeks prior she had whispered to me in a small moment of fear, "I don't want to die. I love my life too much". She had been counseled to learn to let go; to accept that she was dying. This was never an issue for my sister; she knew that she was dying and had made all the suitable preparations. She was, quite simply, raging against the untimely nature of these events when she had much left to do. She saw no point to acceptance; it was a weak alternative to demanding her right to live.

In the last few days I spent with Pat, I came to realize how much of her now-presence was devoted to the telling of a good story. A small event during the day would be shaped, enlarged, and changed to make a marvelous story for all who would listen. In doing so, she followed in the footsteps of our mother and our Scottish aunts, all of whom loved nothing more than to tell a good story, always to be in the long version and never the short.

For everyone who knew Pat, I would invite you to tell your own story about her, the more outrageous the better. There are few things Pat loved more than a tale well told.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Pam!
Hang in there girl you are in our prayers!
It was good to talk with you yesterday. Guess we had never talked on the phone before as you sound just like Pat on the phone.
Remember the times that Pat was going through chemo treatments and lost her hair. The outrageous hats were always amazing as was her sense of humor at the situation. Also the time that she had her students shave her head as a fund raiser.
We are sad we can't be in Calgary for the memorial on Friday,but are looking forward to celebrating Pat's life with y'all in Saskatoon later. Last evening Judy and I tipped a glass of Knob Creek bourbon in Pat's memory.

We will miss you Pat, but you will always be with us.
Love, Ken & Judy

Anonymous said...

I mourn the loss of this magnificent and beautiful woman who was so full of compassion and wisdom and delightful humour. She contributed so much to the ovarian cancer community in Calgary, in her province and across the country. Her book of poetry is an amazing and moving manuscript that opens the heart of the reader.

Pat indeed will always be with us.

Kindest regards,

Fran Turner
Ovarian Cancer Canada

Finnsal said...

Pam, I've been lurking here since you brought Pat's blog to our attention at the office.

For others here, I'm primarily Pam's friend and co-worker, but had the opportunity to meet and work with Pat too briefly, as she supported and contributed to our research in wellness monitoring and cancer screening/prevention. Pat freely contributed her time, enthusiasm and wisdom from an invaluable perspective, and it's been a pleasure to hear her voice here in a creative capacity.

Pam, I salute your voice and strength as well. You don't write like a lawyer.

With my sincere and heartfelt wishes,
Alix Hayden

Sheena K. Clifford said...

Hi "Auntie Pam",
Its been a long, long time.
Its true--you and Pat have a very similar style, in some of the blogs, I couldn't figure out who the author really was!
In my earlier years, I remember her and her perfect imitation of my favorite video: Fat Albert and introducing me to Saskatoon berries in the back of the house.
She later introduced me to the art of the theatre; a summer drama camp and a big night out to Cats and then Phantom.
I found myself as part of her audience as she spoke about the forgotten world of anything other than pink-I "got" it, and I was inspired by her spirit, strength and attitude (some of which I have myself-I am often referred to as Sassy).
Hugs, Sheena

Anonymous said...

Dear Pam,
My heart is breaking for you, both as someone who knows what it is like to lose a sister to this awful disease, and as someone who loved Pat and will miss her. I've never used the word love about someone who I haven't met in person, but I think Pat was the sort of person who could make you love her through the written word. I met Pat because she gave me info and suggestions for Hannah's care when I joined the online Ovca group. Then when Hannah died, I initiated an online conversation about predeath agitation and confusion --- which turned into several years of emails between Pat and I exploring what we thought about existing and ceasing to exist. We joked that we were epistolary buddies like people used to be in the enlightenment, with only the written word to connect us.
So I am lucky. I have all these beautiful written words that Pat sent me, to reread whenever I want. I would like to send them to you, so that you will have them too, but I need your email and can't find it. MIne is
Here are some snippets of Pats words to me: Her description of what it was like to go to your choir concert this winter: "Dec 12, 2007
I had a fabulous time. My sister's choir sang beautifully. Their style is kind of swing/jazz, and the arrangements of old favorites was wonderful--as were the pieces I had never heard before. There were about 500 people in the audience, so it felt festive and happening. Added bonus--the venue was one of the old churches in the city, one I would go to as a child for Christmas eve. Big stained glass windows, a huge pipe organ--all the good stuff you'd want for an old fashioned Christmas. Pam's mother-in-law keeps hoping that her singing Christmas stuff and being in churches will rub off and turn her into a god fearing gal--but that ain't happening! She just loves to sing and she looked so happy and beautiful I started to cry. "

or what she wrote to me about what one of her Buddhist teachers would have said about my sister Hannah being gone. I think this piece applies to her too: April 27, 2007 "Thich Nat Hanh's emphasis is on developing a mind that understands that our sense of the world as solid and objectively real is part of the cause of our suffering. We are not isolated, separate individuals. Instead, he emphasizes the teaching of what Joan Halifax calls "unboundedness": that everything is part of everything else, and that at the death time, nothing goes anywhere. In fact, he says, nothing is really born either. It's very aligned with old Newton: matter is neither created nor destroyed. It just keeps changing form.

So in "No Death, No Fear", he emphasizes the kind of thing that you talk about: that there is a huge transformation in energy. He likens what happens to lighting and blowing out a candle. Before you strike a match and light a candle, there was no flame lurking around waiting to go somewhere else. Flames arise when the assembled conditions are right: a wick, some wax, a matchstick, oxygen, the striking of the match. Take any of those conditions away, and there is no flame. When you blow a candle out, the flame doesn't go somewhere else. All that has happened is that the conditions under which a flame can manifest are no longer sufficient.

That's the kind of thing I wrote about the other day: that when the body fails, the conditions needed to maintain our conscious minds and our sense of a shared reality begin to falter. Eventually there are no longer enough of the essential conditions left and the person as we know him or her no longer exists in the form we knew. What I love about his teachings is that he says that Hannah, for example, is no longer with you in the form you loved so much, but she is now part of the world (for lack of a better world) in myriad ways, including this conversation you and I are having now. She is in some sense alive in me now because you told the group about her dying and I was so ready to hear details about what had happened to her. "

And lastly, what she wrote to me when I sent her some photos of my sister's death, and particularly one of me holding Hannah the moment after she died:
"April 26 2007 The pictures are heartbreakingly beautiful, Kato. The one of you with her right after her death is so moving. I am gathering my thoughts, and it will take a while--but the first thing I saw in her repose and your grief was that her struggles were over. Living is such a hard thing to do, and being left behind is maybe even more difficult than being the one who goes.

I was also so touched by your wanting to stay with her body, that 2 hours wasn't enough. If the Tibetans are right, she would have known you were there, and likely hadn't actually finished her journey when she took her last breath. One of the things I have in my Personal Directive (which is what we call Living Wills in Canada) is that I want my body to remain undisturbed for as long as possible. It would be amazing to be held by someone who loves me as much as you loved Hannah."

I don't know if you have been able to follow her desire to remain undisturbed, but if she is still there with you, please tell her that I send her all my love. And I know from reading your writing and seeing your heart so clearly in it that Pat got what she wanted, that I am certain she was held by you with as much love as I held my sister. And I am grateful that she died quickly and with mental clarity up until the end. That she did not have to suffer lengthy confusion or pain. Her struggles are over and it is clear that she died surrounded by love as she wanted.

with an achy heart,
ps. sorry this is so long. I couldn't bear to edit Pat so I left it long.

Pam said...

Here is one of my own stories about Pat.

In considering all the different options, we talked about the possibility of sending Pat home on TPN. This requires that Pat learn to prepare the formula at home, which is no small task. This highly processed form of nutrients is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. The preparation must be done under highly sterile conditions. And Pat must do it herself. Two weeks of lessons and a final test are required.

Sharon and Georgia offer to take the lessons with her in support. The first lesson is in handwashing. The three of them breeze through the lesson. Warm running water, two pumps of soap, scrub front, back, and between the fingers and up the wrists for as long as it takes you to sing Happy Birthday twice. Dry your hands with paper towel, and use the towel to shut off the taps.

Lesson two is The Gloves. The gloves are sterile, and come with special instructions on how to put them on so that they will remain sterile. Not like the doctor shows on television, where gloves are briskly snapped on with bare hands for the purpose of not-so-pleasant examinations. Pat is still weak from the insertion of a tube in her side, but enthusiastic to get on with the lesson. The gloves are unwrapped, Pat being careful not to touch the inside of the packaging. Using a corner of the paper, she carefully uses her left hand to lift up the edge of the right glove. Then with great certainty, jams her hand into the glove – upside down. Like a five year old in kindergarten, there was Pat with two fingers crammed into one finger hole, and the thumb of the glove dangling on the wrong side of her hand. “Like a used condom”, she says with a snort of laughter later.

“Not to worry”, says the TPN trainer. “You can still keep the gloves sterile by using your right hand to put on the left glove, and then using the left hand to straighten the glove on your right hand”. Right, left, left, right – all very confusing to someone who is still trying to figure out why two fingers are jammed into one finger of the glove, with the thumb trapped inside the body of the glove, and a condom-like appendage dangling off to one side. The cleft hoof approach to putting on gloves.

But Pat is game to try. The next step is to carefully lift open the left glove, by inserting the right hand into the folded cuff of the left glove, and lifting it open. But Pat’s right hand, in its upside-down glove, has only three fingers, no opposable thumb, and a dangling condom to distract her. Clearly easier said than done. By the end of the lesson, Pat’s gloves still were not on and were definitely not sterile.

We giggle madly about it later. “You know”, I said to Pat, “There’s a reason why you and I aren’t in the medical profession.”

carol arcus said...


As you know, you have been so blessed to have had such a sister, and have been privileged to share in this intimate ritual - the letting go of life.

As I posted on August 12, my richest memory of Pat was the lovely speech she gave at the 2000 Drama reunion: she understood so well the true nature of learning, and fought very hard to teach this to others. She was so funny describing our old drama days, and reminded us all how privileged we had been.

That spirit abounds in all who knew her.


GirlProf said...

Today, I attended the memorial for my good friend, Pat Clifford. Tonight, I am sitting here reflecting on the wonder that was Pat.

I am so very grateful for Pat's love, friendship and mentorship. She helped me find courage so many times when I faltered; Pat was always open to hugs and laughter; she offered wise advice exactly when I needed it. I am grateful for the last few minutes I had with her, for the last few visits we shared in the hospital, for the phonecalls and the shopping trip and the walk to the park and the suppers, for the lunches and the wine, for the trust she placed with me, for the belief she had in me, for the last eleven years that I had to learn with and from this world class teacher, and good friend and dynamic, powerful woman.

I have written more in my blog.
It was good to hug you today Pam.
Love Michele

lorri neilsen glenn said...

Too many stories to single out one. I remember Cowichans and drama bus rides, Dippity-do and juice-can-sized rollers, outrageous tricks on each other at Bowman, and walking home with Pat and Mardi as late at night as we could get away with. Then, decades later, I remember walking the streets of New Orleans with Pat and Sharon, Pat and I giving a presentation at a conference that turned into a found poem, Pat and I and her mother sipping wine in the mountains, and the many long evenings Pat and I sat at her house in Calgary sharing insights, book plans (now abandoned), and reading lists. Years of long, long phone calls. Pat at our Nova Scotia cottage learning to use the yo-yo and other kidstuff I'd given her as a gift. Her amazing voice. Her strong and inspiring writing. It was a privilege to be her editor for her poetry-- it was a gift in this life to have known her these many decades. All afternoon I have been thinking about the memorial in Calgary, knowing she was--and is still-so loved, and so present.

In Saskatoon today, we drove past old paths,
now even more resonant.

Love to all

Sharon said...

A number of you have asked for my speaking notes from Pat's memorial service. I am posting them here so you might have them.

The Invitation to an Afternoon of Tributes to Pat

Pat had strong ideas about how this day should unfold.


It should be in a pretty place. Nothing ugly. And it should not be in a church because ministers can’t be trusted at funerals or memorial services. They can’t be trusted because they have a captive, vulnerable audience.

It should have lots of music. I love music. All kinds of music. I want classical, jazz, ragtime, celtic… all kinds. Remember when we used to start each new school year off with Janis Joplin.

There should be very little speech giving. I don’t want a lot of speeches and certainly nothing long. Do you remember that memorial service we went to where people just kept coming up to the front and going on and on and on? If I ever consider that, just shoot me. Okay.

I want people to come together, to remember, to tell stories and to commune with each other over food. To give comfort to each other. Comfort is a great word, etymologically derived from two Latin roots: con, meaning with, and fortitude, meaning strength. We move strongly together, bound to one another with fortitude, determination and power. We deeply be-hold and are be-held.
This is a time for remembering, re-membering.
For when people remember, they re-member themselves.

I want people to be appropriately sad but I don’t want people to come to this with “dog faces.”

By this, she meant no long faces and no loud wailing.

Pat was always in the middle of something. It’s not that she didn’t know how to bring closure to things, she did. It is just that as one thing was being “put to bed,” as she would say, she was already in the midst of the next thing. So it should it come as no surprise that she was in the midst of a story, her story, her memoirs. And she wanted to finish them. She made that very clear to everyone.

From one piece that she called Presence she wrote...

"[These] stories did not proceed chronologically. They emerged over time compelled by the logic of an aesthetic I made no attempt to understand. I just followed the images, both uncovering and creating connections that run like a deep underground river, at one and the same time both independent of anything I do to tap in to them and also utterly alive in my own particular blood and bones, my own imagination."

"Presence both demands and permits the living character of the past. What happened long ago is not just over and done with. It lives in the stories we know, tell and create. And it lives with necessity outside time as well."

People are storytelling creatures. We make sense of our experience of the world through the stories we tell, and we are drawn to the stories of others: bedtime stories, family histories, myths, legends and the accounts of the struggles and triumphs of our people, whoever they may be.

Stretching far behind me there is a thread, held aloft by the hands of all the storytellers that came before me. Nobody can see how far it reaches into the beginnings of the World, but that thread now passes over my shoulder and into my hand. I offer this strand to all of you—you must catch it, unravel a little and pass it on, so that it will never end.

With deepest love, Sharon

Sharon said...

Throughout our 12 years teaching together Pat and I, always team-taught in a large double classroom. The students in our classrooms sat around tables. The look and feel of our classroom was more studio-like.

One hot afternoon, in the east end of Calgary, Alberta, the Grade 8 students gathered their notebooks, shuffled their chairs towards the TV at one end of the classroom and settled into an hour or so of viewing, note taking and conversation.

At the end of the video students returned to their table to further discuss and develop the provoking ideas, compelling images and evocative sounds that lingered in their minds and hearts calling for their attention.

Pat and I were so pleased with the ways in which this class of students, our class of students for both Grade 7 and 8, to whom we had taught all academic core subjects for two years, now drove themselves to search below the surface of the ordinary. Their level of engagement into ideas that really mattered inspired us to write about the ways in which students, all students, even those who typically scored in the lowest quartile in the province of Alberta, could and did take our breath away. We had come to care deeply about this group of students. They in turn had come to care deeply about themselves and each other.

A group of girls called us over to their table. “We need to talk to you.”

Looking forward to a great conversation, we both eagerly walked over the to the group of six girls. However, the conversation we were both anticipating never happened. In a most indigent tone, Vien said, “Look at this!” She pointed to a number of deeply carved grooves that now marred the top of their wooden table.

We looked down at the obscene markings in horror. Who would do such a horrible thing? Who would betray the trust, the care that we had worked so hard to cultivate over these two years? How dare anyone breech the ethic that now permeated our class.

We tried to recall who was sitting at the girls’ table during the video. “Who was sitting here?” Pat asked the other students.

“I was,” Ewan stated quite proudly.

Ewan was new to our class. He had recently moved to the community to live with his grandmother while his mother was undergoing parole after being released from jail for attempted homicide.

Barely being able to control her rage, Pat asked, “Did you write THAT on the girls’ table?”

“Yeah,” Ewan shrugged quite indifferently. “So what?”

By this time, Pat was simmering with rage. “So what?... Indeed! …. GET OUT! GO TO THE OFFICE! JUST GET OUT!”

“No. Make me,” Ewan retorted.

“GET OUT!” At this point Pat’s neck had turned a brilliant red. I knew that signal. So I madly reached for the telephone and called for backup from the office. Within a matter of seconds the principal, John and one of assistant principals, Judy appeared in the classroom.

Pat and I seldom called the office to ask for assistance. The administration had come to count on us to handle any classroom difficulties ourselves. They knew that we were working hard to create a strong community in which these students came to care deeply about each other, their learning and the work they did together.

As John and Judy stood breathlessly in our classroom, Pat pointed at Ewan. “We need him gone!” Pat took John and Judy to look at the top of the table. There, carved deeply into the well-worn wooden table surface, were the incriminating remnants of Ewan’s indifferent, malicious attack. “Lucy is fuct. Vien is fuct. Joanne is fuct. Jenny is fuct.”

John and Judy glared at Ewan. “Come with us.”

“No,” retorted Ewan.

“Oh yes, sir. You are coming with us.”

Reluctantly and indifferently, Ewan raised all six feet of himself from his chair. He walked towards the classroom door having made the decision not to play this game of roulette any longer.

The other students sat in stunned silence beholding the scene unfolding in front of them. Pat and I were relieved that the drama was about to end. Ewan was leaving.

Detached and aloof, he sauntered out of the classroom. I was relieved; however, Pat, unable to control herself any longer, blew the parting blow.

“And besides, Ewan. You don’t spell fucked with a “t”!


Many years have past since the hot afternoon day. But when we looked back on those days, teaching that group of incredible students in east Calgary, we often laughed uproariously, knowing we had a ready title for our book.

And… it wasn’t until, sitting with Pam at the funeral home going over their version of her lovingly composed obituary, that this story once again became more than a distant, forgotten memory.

We sat there stunned looking at what the undertaker and his assistant had done. They changed Pam’s beautiful loving words of the obituary she had written for her sister. We grabbed a pen and dutifully changed it back to the way it was.

Looking at our edits that now covered his copy, he looked at us, “Are you trying to make this like your copy.”

“Yes,” Pam replied coolly.

He looked at us. We are sure that he had never met two women quite like us.

After finally agreeing to our edits, he announced that the words “…a memorial service celebrating Pat’s life” would have to be capitalized to read, “…a Memorial Service Celebrating Pat’s Life.”

Exhausted by fatigue and immense sorrow, sadness and longing, Pam turned to me. “Sharon, what do you think.”

“Let’s let it go! Okay!”
I resigned myself to the false capitalization of that which was not a proper noun. I, too, was exhausted. I had been awake for more than 24 hours. A short 12 hours ago I sat next to my best friend holding frantically onto her hand as she drew her last breath.

As we walked out of the funeral home, Pam turned to me. “How will I ever be able to face Karen?”

Karen, a dear long-time friend of Pat’s was also an English major. Would Karen ever forgive Pam for allowing such sloppiness. “Memorial Service Celebrating,” Pam blurted. “Okay, I can go for ‘Memorial Service’ being capitalized, but ‘Celebrating.’ Oh Karen, how can I face you again.”

Me, I just kept recalling that hot afternoon, a long time ago. Pat’s words echoed through my body as I came to grips with what I had just agreed to, “You don’t spell ‘fucked’ with a ‘t’!

Genevieve said...

Pam, your sister was smiling on Friday. The service was filled with beauty.

May the grieving be gentle.

Love, Genevieve

Anonymous said...

I am the Karen of the "spelling Nazi" fame. I might note that our Pat could not spell the noun "lightning;" she kept confusing the noun's spelling with the verb's.

My memories of Pat fill my mind and my soul, especially this last week. It has almost been like living in a continually changing stream of conciousness state of mind. But I will try and organize some of my memories to share with you and Pat's family.

Pat and I were friends for at least 45 years. That statement would have made Pat howl with laughter. At one point we could not even conceive of reaching the age of 45. I know Pat would have laughed as that sense of humour, particularly that sense of the ridiculous, was one of her most outstanding characteristics.

Pat and I were middle class high school geeks. Although we would never verbalize such heresy, we both knew that we were far too "brainy" to be considered cool. So we became "brainy" with a vengeance. We spent hours involved with drama and other activities. One story we told and retold was coming back to school after provincial drama competitions. We would often arrive back at three or four in the morning. The next day at school there would be three of the sixty or so drama club members in attendance--Pat, my sister and I. Our mothers definitely believed that you could have all the fun you wanted, but it was not to interfere with your responsibilities.

Pam's obituary and Pat's poems make reference to "red shoes." It is not that we were antedeluvian, but times were different when we were in high school and money was definitely tighter. Each of us got one pair of summer shoes and one pair of winter shoes a year. Most of us traditional (read "boring") girls would choose a brown or black pair for the wintr. The year Pat was in grade 12 she bought, as her ONLY pair of winter shoes, red ones. We could hardly believe her daring!

When Pat and I got to university, the "brainy" finally paid off as we had major scholarship money. We also lived at home and had no responsibilities beyond tuition and books. Both of us commented in later life that we never had so much disposable income in our lives. It was during this time that we bought ourselves fur coats and contact lenses.

One of the big pluses of this money was that we could use the money from our summer jobs for whatever we liked. So we "liked" to trot off to Ottawa for two summers to work. The fist year I came back with 10 cents; Pat was more fiscally responsible and came back with a quarter.

Of course, we considered ourselves dreadfully sophisticated and mature, but we were babies, trying to grow up with grace and interest. We tried so many things because, for both of us, it was the first time we were not living in our parents' homes. We both loved not only unwisely, but unwell. We truly "skinned our hearts", but we tried to experiment with the kind of homes we would like to build.

I did most of the regular cooking as I was home from work earlier than Pat. But on the weekend, she decided to try such exotic foods as lasagna. That was not easy to make in a furnished apartment (slum?) where the biggest pot could cook two lasagna noodles at a time. Pat even decided that we would have wine with some meals, so we trotted off to the store and bought Mateus. We were far too sophisticated for Baby Duck.

Then Pat decided that we could eat more cheaply and eating organ meats was the way to save money. Fortunately, we both loved things like kidneys, etc., but to this day, I am sure Pat is the only person I know who both had and used a recipe for liver stroganoff.

University treated us well, but we worked like the proverbial dogs. I am not sure what possessed us, but in our last year we each took five honours classes. I held the record since I had to produce 64 papers or essays that year. Pat had it much easier since she had to produce only 61. We spent hours in the Haidenger household. Pat's parents both worked and Pam was at school whereas my house was filled with noisy siblings. Besides, her house was a gold mine since her Mom had a typewriter at home. I'm sure we wore that thing into the ground that year.

All these stories occurred forty years ago; amazingly, we stayed friends despite geographic displacements and divergent careers. I had a good visit with Pat in the spring when I was in Calgary. She came over and we tried to catch up while I was attending to two infant grandchildren. Pat howled as the 18 month boy came up to me to announce "Poop, yuch." Who would have thought that we would be laughing at that when we first met all those many years ago at Aden Bowman.

I'll admit that there is something selfish in my grief. The best friend of my youth is gone. She was brilliant, witty, adventurous and reflective. I will greatly miss her and I will smile often over the many good memories we shared.

Love Karen

Indian Surgical Industries said...

Very attractive and effective blog is created by the blog owner I like the way of present his view with visitors. I would like to come on this blog again and again. hospital trays, instrument tray