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My “Lady Patricia”

 

When some people first hear the title of the book I’ve written, “Saved By Shayna: Life Lessons From A Miracle Dog,” they ask (very reasonably), “From what did Shayna save you?”

As I write in the book, one of the most acute things that she helped to “save me” from was the wrenching pain I was still feeling in early 2002 over:

1) Watching Patricia, the girl with whom I shared the first full-bore love affair of my life, slowly die in the spring of 2001.

I spent the last weeks of her life with her in a hospital ICU, watching helplessly as she was gradually destroyed by a very rare, late-diagnosed, extremely-aggressive, always-fatal form of ovarian cancer.  The only thing I could do was to try to make her comfortable, and convey a sense of love to her.

2) Being the last holdout to authorize the doctors to discontinue her life support, after all hope was lost, and her organs began failing.

Her family members were the only ones who could give or withhold such authority. But even though by this time Patricia and I had broken up, they knew we remained very close – and they graciously included me in the decision-making process.

3) Never having had the chance to say say goodbye to her.

To have Patricia taken from me, and from her family and friends, so suddenly, ripped all our hearts out.

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Patricia – or, my “Lady Patricia,” as I came to call her, when our love was in full blossom – was another one of the miracles of my life.  The love we shared was one of the best things that ever happened to me.  She was incredibly bright, motivated, and like me, a perfectionist.  The venture to which she was applying herself when she was stricken by the cancer was to open her own after-hours jazz club in the beachfront neighborhood in which we lived – to be named (drumroll…) “Lady Patricia’s.”

Even after we’d broken up, we remained close.  So close that the last words she ever spoke were to me: “Please take care of my mom.”  In my book, I explain the significance of these words, and how our loyalty to our mothers helped to bring us together.  After speaking these words, she lapsed into a coma, from which she never fully awoke.  I spent the last three weeks of her life with her – and then, her family, as they streamed in from all over the country – in the hospital’s ICU ward, trying to wage an unwinnable fight against the cancer that was destroying her.

After exhausting all options, and as her  body began to more fully shut down, Patricia’s family and I authorized the doctors to discontinue her life support, on May 31, 2001 (my mother’s birthday).

This was followed several weeks later by the failure of my small publishing business, which is what brought Patricia and I together in the first place.

These tragedies, combined with losing my mother, father and grandfather in rapid succession just before that, and followed by 9/11 a few months later, served as the triggers that led me to finally move to the only place I ever felt really “at home” – Charlottesville, VA – to heal, rebuild my life, and see about adopting my first dog.  The tale of what happened after that turning point forms the bulk of my book, and the many “life lessons” I’ve learned since then.

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A pictorial tribute to my “Lady Patricia”

This is my favorite picture of Patricia. I took it while doing a feature story for my magazine on the new restaurant she managed – which is how we met in the first place.  The photoshoot was over, and as I looked up, I saw her standing at the side door, cleaning the glass – and the light struck her so perfectly, I asked her to hold that pose, while I got my camera.  She was amused, as you can see.  Our love was in bloom, which you might also be able to see.  This was the result:

How did a stunning, brilliant, successful girl like her ever end up with a schlub like me?  Let’s face it – one would not ordinarily put us together.  I asked her the same thing.  Especially considering the fact that she had very wealthy, very handsome men throwing themselves at her when we began dating.  (As one who hung out at the elegant restaurant-bar she ran, I observed this up-close.)

In my book, I recount Patricia’s answer to that question.  It closely parallels the tales of other couples who, on the surface, would seem to be completely mismatched – such as Paulina Porizkova and… Ric Ocasek? Elizabeth Harper and… Dennis Kucinich? Padma Lakshmi and… Salman RushdieNancy Wilson and… Cameron Crowe?

 

Patricia and her mother, Delana, also her best friend (she passed in 2006), at a fair that my magazine co-sponsored in early 1999; see video of this event and both of them at the bottom of this page:

Miscellaneous:

 

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Christmas Eve 1999 at Bistro Double U, pointing at my “Lady Patricia.”

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My comments at Patricia’s memorial service

“Patricia, you brightened my life in so many ways, some of which I recognized immediately, and some I only discovered later, after a distance grew between us.  I am just now recognizing how many other lives you’ve brightened, and how much richer everyone in this room and beyond is for having known you, and felt your love.

“Your brightness was undeniable.  Your strength was unmistakable.  Your character was your badge of honor.  All this, plus the beauty, grace, compassion and drive that were your trademarks.

“I am so glad that as spread out as we are, some of those who saw and felt the brightness of your many qualities could gather in this room, at this time, to celebrate your life.  I consider myself blessed to have had you in my life.  The love we enjoyed was one of the best things that ever happened to me, and I will cherish it for the rest of my life.

“My Lady Patricia, I hope you know how much I really loved you, and always will.

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The message book of love

This was a message book that I created in which Patricia’s friends could write messages to her, that I could (and did) read to her at her bedside, in the hopes that even through her coma, she could hear us:

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The poster-tribute I created for display at Patricia’s funeral

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Addendum 1: Video of Patricia and her mother

I only belatedly realized that I’d taken video of Patricia and Delana at the fair my magazine co-sponsored, in early 1999: here is the only video that, to my knowledge, exists of both of them:

 

Addendum 2: Employer reviews of Patricia and me – eerily similar, re our professionalism, and perfectionism

When Patricia and I first started realizing how our spirits were colliding, in a very good way, we discussed our philosophies on hospitality and food service, specifically fine dining.  We quickly discovered that we were working in fine dining at the same time (the late 1980s), and that we were both nominated for top recognition by our respective employers, but that both of our employers commented on our perfectionism – a recurring theme in my book.  Below left is the Ritz Carlton-Phoenix banquet manager’s October 15, 1988 nomination of me for the Five Star Award, the Ritz’s highest employee honor.  Below right is the review by a Marriott-Detroit manager of Patricia’s service.

 

When we showed each other these documents, we had a good laugh – but I had the bigger one, over her manager’s claim that: “Because Patricia is a perfectionist she has little tolerance for imperfection around her.  I need her to be an example and a leader.  She must learn to critique others not criticize.”  My manager could easily have said the same about me.