Now that She is Gone

On September 23, 2014, my oldest sister Pamela Drake went to be with the Lord.  She was alone in her apartment when she died. I received the word from her daughter, my niece Jennifer Phillips late that evening.  Needless to say, I was very shocked.  I had not spoken to her since a couple of months ago, and had not seen her since our family visited her back in 1999.  That, unfortunately I do regret.  However, this post is not about what should have been. This post is about what it truly was, and I was incredibly surprised.

Let me start with a little context.  Pam had a very hard childhood.  Life at home was very difficult, much more than for myself.  I often wondered why, and years later, I discovered the answer.  I do not wish to go into details, however, I can assure you that life for her was extremely hard and unfair.  She experienced much rejection and humiliation at the hands of those in authority.  She had few friends because she did not fit into the model of what was considered acceptable.  She ran away from home on various occasions, once for over a week.  And it took us finding her to get her home.  And to be perfectly honest, now that I look back and put the pieces of the puzzle together, I totally understand why she did it.  I am not saying she should have run away, but I understand her decision.  After she graduated, she left home and I lost track of her, especially when I went off to basic training.  I received snippets of information about her, and my heart broke when I heard about it.  Some of this new information was regarding before she left home.  People I knew and trusted used her and treated her badly.  I was very angry, and wished I had been there to protect her from these evil people.   It was so bad, she lost her memory of her early life.  A psychiatrist said this was a coping mechanism.  It was more than she could deal with so her mind blocked these memories.

Pam is the mother of two children.  Her oldest, Jennifer, is now thirty-one and is an incredibly sweet young lady.  Her youngest, Sara, died on Christmas Day, 1996 from brain cancer.  This was also Sara’s fifth birthday.   As you can imagine, this was an immensely difficult time of her life.  But unfortunately it was not much different than her life up to that time.  It was then discovered she was schizophrenic, having multiple personalities which surface when her stress increases to a level she was not able to handle. She was prescribed powerful medication that began to really affect her health.  Granted, the other personalities were gone, but at a cost.  Then, just a year ago she was diagnosed with a tumor in her brain.  They originally thought it was malignant, but after a biopsy was done, it was determined it was benign.  However, they could not remove it and she experienced pain almost constantly, which sometimes required strong medication.   There is so much more I could include in this section.  However, this should give enough context to understand the remaining portion of this post.

Over the last couple of days, I have been musing over Pam’s life.  I was trying to determine what I would say if asked to speak at the funeral.  All I could think of was the suffering and pain she had experienced.  I wanted to give them an understanding of Pam, hoping to give them insight that might answer some questions they may have had.  But the more notes I wrote, the more I felt God saying no.  I then stopped writing. It did not feel as though God wanted me to say anything.  I would re-read and it felt negative, not at all what I was looking for.

Then today, I went to the funeral home to meet with the Pastor assigned to Pam’s funeral.  It was a great meeting where we gave him enough information to give the message at the funeral.  But near the end, Mary, my younger sister asked me if we both could give a small talk.  The Pastor was OK with it as long as the family agreed and gave their OK.  However, I had nothing, nothing at all.

Shortly after this meeting, we attended the wake.  Pam’s body lay in a casket for friends and family to see.  We viewed her body and she seemed so peaceful.  They did a great job of preparing her body for this time.  As more people came in, I was surprised at the number of people who attended.  There were more there than I expected.  I then began to go around and talk with them, and I was absolutely amazed at what I heard.  Never did I expect the responses I received.  Each time I introduced myself and started a conversation, I learned things about my sister I never knew.  Over the last ten years she had lived at the same apartment.  She developed many friends who loved her and cared about her as she had not experienced throughout her life.  And she loved them as well.  It was told to me by many there that she was one of the greatest encouragers they knew.  She would listen to them, and help them to come to grips with their situation, providing the peace they so needed.  So many there were weeping strongly at her passing, crying because they would miss her and her positive personality.  This is not what I expected.  After as difficult a life as she had, and all the psychological issues she had, I expected few people, figuring she was a loner as she always tended to be.  What a joy to my ears.  She was very happy and at peace.  Moreover, there was one additional piece of information that turned out to be the frosting on the cake.  I was talking to some of her neighbors at the apartment complex she lived in, and what they told me left me speechless. They told me they would hear her as she was in her apartment or walking down the hall, laughing.  Laughing!  She laughed a lot, and made others laugh.  In all the times I spent with her, I hardly ever heard her truly laugh.  I smiled as I thought of her enjoying a good laugh.  I was so touched by the thought of it, I began to tear up.  My eyes began to water.  Much of her life she spent sad and alone, rejected by family, friends and those around her.  But in the last years of her life, she was happy, accepted and able to laugh.

Tonight was the wake for my sister Pam. I had no idea what to expect, but suffice it to say it was not what I expected.  I assumed few people coming because Jennifer would ask them to come and they would come to support her.  What occurred was a group of people came who loved Pam deeply, enjoyed her friendship and shared good times as often as they could.  They encouraged each other and were visibly shaken by her death.  The stories they shared constantly brought a smile to my face and warmed my heart.  She had a good life at the end, basking in the love of good friends who truly loved her, and in the love of God who healed her wounds and relieved the pain she lived with for many, many years.  She told Mary, our sister, in answer to the question of whether she went to church and was a Christian that her and Jesus had a long talk, and that everything was OK.  Tears come as I write this, because I know what she suffered and how she was treated by so many.  But in the final years of her life, I found out that everything was indeed OK.  And now, I can mourn her passing, but rejoice knowing that she was at peace in this life, and truly at peace in the life that never ends.  Suffice it to say, I now have something to say.

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4 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Oh Bill, What a tremendous blessing this turned out to be for you, and all of the family, and rejoicing for sure that now she will always have a smile on her face being in the presence of the LORD

  2. Bill this is a truly beautiful tribute to your story. Of course it made me cry…there are so many downtrodden in our midst. I’m so happy the sun shone at the end of Pam’s life. Nothing fills my heart more than being able to be joyful and LAUGH OUT LOUD!!! God blesses you every day darling man. No wonder your faith is so strong. Blessings and Love to you my friend. J

  3. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Pam was my best friend. I would call her house often to see if she could come over and hang out with me cuz I knew what she was going through at home. The majority of the time would be no cuz she had chores, and when she was able to come over, I would be so happy. After Pam graduated from high school she went to visit family members, and when she came back home I had her living with me for a while. I miss her a lot and will always love her. R.I.P. my best friend.

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