I met Patricia Kearney ‘77 on the first day of Architecture school at UC Berkeley. We sat next to each other in our introductory design studio. One day, after a couple of months, I was waiting for the elevator in Wurster Hall when the doors opened and Patti emerged. I had never seen her so dressed up, and there she was in a white sundress with heels and makeup and flowing blonde hair and red lips and a lovely smile. My eyes captured this angelic vision and sent it straight to my heart. That was the moment I knew she was the one for me. A few months later, in the spring, I somewhat casually mentioned to her that I intended to marry her. Her response was something along the lines of “I can’t even imagine such a thing ever happening.” Six years later we were indeed married.
We were sailing through life. Then Patti was diagnosed with breast cancer, and our life together changed.
Patti and I were married for 31 years, during which time we had two terrific kids, Colton and Kearney, and designed and built three family homes. The first two were in the foothills above Sacramento; the last, facing the Olympic Mountains on the Hood Canal waterfront in Kingston, Washington. We were sailing through life. Then Patti was diagnosed with breast cancer, and our life together changed. For six years we journeyed through the complex and convoluted world of health and wellness, and cancer. Our focus was on living, attitude, and gratitude. Taking life for granted was no longer an option. We would not be victims of circumstance, but rather creators of our own destiny.
Patti worked full time until two weeks before her death. Many of her friends and acquaintances did not even know she was ill. She was happy and healthy, choosing that as her path to neutralize the cancer that had become a part of her. But it metastasized to her liver, and in the end she died of liver failure. She spent the last two weeks at home and was not on any pain medication other than some ibuprofen. She was present and alert to her last breath.
We had a memorial celebration for Patti one week later at our home. That morning, as we were preparing for the hundred or so guests who would soon arrive, I somewhat hastily hung a picture of Patti above our fireplace. After a few minutes it fell, knocking over a Chinese vase on the mantel below. With a loud crash, the porcelain vase fell to the floor and shattered. Among the broken pieces, I found a tightly folded sheet of writing paper that must have been hidden inside. Unfolding it, I discovered a letter in Patti’s handwriting. It was addressed “Dear Home.”
Thank you so much for sheltering and nurturing me and all of my family. I am so grateful for all that you provide and the welcoming, loving energy that you hold. I look forward to spending many years enveloped in your love.
I am grateful that you give a special place where we can enjoy our family and friends. You are so welcoming to everyone and enable me to enjoy entertaining and socializing with everyone. I love that you welcome everyone with open arms and provide space for talking, laughing, and loving. I look forward to having treasured friends and family over, and that is possible because of your warmth. My dream is that someday my kids will get married here, and many other special events will take place here.
Please help David and me to nurture our marriage and grow our love for one another. I am grateful that you provide space for this to be possible. We, in turn, will nurture you all that we can.
Here’s to many more years of our life together!
The letter was dated five-and-a-half years earlier, written shortly after her cancer diagnosis. We passed it around, reading it and marveling at the sentiment it conveyed and the serendipity of its appearance. Had the tall vase with its long, narrow neck not broken, the letter might never have been discovered.
Patti’s sister Peggy read it aloud at the celebration that afternoon, and again at another memorial in Sacramento, where they’d grown up.
Patti accepted that she might die and was at peace with herself, choosing to focus her energy on a positive outcome. She and I never discussed her dying, let alone how she wanted to be remembered, but I can’t help feeling she played a role in her own eulogy.
David Bangs lives on Washington’s Hood Canal.