Neighbor Patty Riffle MAG

By Stephanie H., Bellingham, MA

     With glowing blond hair and a priceless smile, Patty Riffle was a second mother to me. With a slender figure and eyes that changed color with her emotions, she was the strongest woman I knew (and the most gorgeous, too). There are a limited number of people like her, a limited number of people as crazy, wild, lovely, determined and hard-working as Patty. Patty Riffle died on December 25, 2002 at age 39.

It was an odd friendship, a middle-aged woman and a child, but age didn’t matter. She was there when my life began and I was there when hers ended. She was my neighbor and so much more. Whenever I had a problem I felt uncomfortable discussing with my mother, I knew she would listen. She would advise and reassure me with her heavenly smile. That same smile was the life of the party and the soul of this remarkable woman. How often I wished she were my own mother, but I understand now that this same wish would have destroyed me. She had two adoring sons and a devoted husband and I was often called the daughter she never had. I basked in the fact that she thought of me as one of her own. I loved that she considered me to be so much like her, to have a balance of being social and independent.

Patty is dead now. Her spark is missing from every party and her enthusiasm no longer graces us. Every day, though, she reminds us that our lives, too, will come to an end. When people say we have to learn to let go, they lie. We should not let go of the person and what they stand for. We should not let go of the grief. Instead, we need to learn to cope with it, always carrying a bit with us. We should not let go of all the precious memories. Jack Lemmon once said, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” I believe that is true.

To this day, I remember my mother’s quivering voice as she called my brother and me into the living room. We staggered in as if we were going to be punished for some stupid incident, plopping ourselves on the couch and anticipating a speech. But instead there was silence. A silence so nerve-wracking; a silence that made you crazy; a silence that made you bite your fingernails in unease.

My dad was sitting across from us and had his arm around my mother. “Patty has pancreatic cancer. We can’t tell Michael and Doobie because they would be too afraid. Your dad and I are going to tell them that she is sick and nothing else. We expect you to keep this a secret, too.” I felt a lump forming in my throat and tears flooded my eyes. After what seemed like hours, I regained my composure and left the room.

We did everything we could to help the brave and courageous Patty. My mother and other neighbors baked cookies and drove her to chemotherapy. Often, Patty was home alone, which she hated. Sitting in bed doing nothing was boring and missing out on life and the outdoors bothered her. It wasn’t her nature. She desperately needed someone to talk and laugh with.

Christmas was merry because Patty was still with us. Our family woke up looking forward to a great day but once again my mother called us into the living room. My grandmother was sitting next to me when my mother took a deep breath. My heart raced.

“Patty passed away last night,” she said, confirming my suspicions. There was another moment of silence and then Michael exploded into tears.

At the wake, we all paid our respects. As I looked at her lying there peacefully, I expected her to sit up and do something outrageous like she always did as though this were all a big joke. But it wasn’t a joke. It was real and until that moment, I had been protected from everything cruel and spiteful. I was suddenly experiencing the real world. I knew that it chewed people up and swallowed them whole. Once that protective shield is broken, it can never be mended or fixed.

“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome,” William Penn said. Patty’s attributes and virtues live on in me, although I apply them in different ways. I believe that God has created a chain effect, that one person is put on earth to touch, change and influence another. Patty is my hero and has changed me in so many ways. I wish she were here to see how I have grown. I suppose she has, and is still keeping an eye on me. I know that until eternity, I am the daughter Patty never had. I am connected to her by something even stronger than blood - spirit.

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i love this so much!


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