This blog entry is written with a heavy heart. On Feb. 7th one of my favorite people, Trish Snowdon Heelan, passed away after succumbing to the ravages of pancreatic cancer.
I received the email about Trish’s passing during our afternoon editor’s meeting. I was sitting in the same room, having a similar meeting in 2009 when my brother Jeff called to tell me that our mother had died. Instead of getting up to leave, this time I just sat silently staring at the email and the photo of her waving goodbye. The meeting kept moving forward but I was stuck in neutral. It sort of felt like I was standing perfectly still in the middle of a train station at rush hour.
My first thought was that she was going to get to see my Mom & Dad in heaven. Then I flashed back to the phone call back in 2009 from Jeff and how surreal it was to have to tell a room full of people that I needed to leave because my mom was dead. I guess I just sat there numb contemplating what Trish had meant to me and my family. When I got home my wife Lisa gave me a big hug. We spent most of our evening walk chatting about what a wonderful person Trish was.
It wasn’t until he next morning that her passing hit me. As a stood in the shower, the song ‘Lean on Me’ by Bill Withers started to play and all of my emotions just started to pour out. I remembered how much we leaned on her for the 10-months it took to clean out my parent’s house and I cried. I thought about how much Mom leaned on her in the years following our Dad’s death and I cried. I thought about her husband Will, who she leaned on during her battle with cancer, being all alone in their wonderful house and I cried. I thought about all the nights they hosted me and Jeff so we could decompress in their care and I cried.
I know that Trish forever changed me. She was the kind of person who made you want to be a better, kinder and gentler person. Her kindness had no equal and we would have been lost without her help and guidance in the days and months following my mother’s passing. Why did she help us? God only knows but when I think about a world without Trish I cry.
It seems like I knew her my entire life but that isn’t true. Knowing someone is different than being aware of someone. I guess it wasn’t until my dad died in 2005 that I really learned how special Trish was.
Trish and her husband Will were ‘the hippies’ living next door to my very Republican parents. They always seemed nice but I knew my mom didn’t really understand them. They were the kind of people who had a VW Van and God forbid a McGovern sticker on the bumper. Mom and Trish shared a common cause as members of the neighborhood garden club but I think you could best describe their relationship as reserved, with a gentle political tense undertow.
But little did I know, on the other side of that old picket fence, Trish and Will were quietly waiting for just the right moment build a real friendship. That day came when my father passed away in 2005. Trish & Will tossed my mother a lifeline. Janet grabbed it and held on for dear life.
Up until the day she died in Dec. of 2009 Trish and Will kept a watchful eye over my mom. They helped her with all the little chores that are gigantic hurdles to a woman in her 80‘s and they never asked for anything in return. I was glad to find out later that mom showed them her appreciation with thoughtful little gifts now and again. It was their dedication to my Mom’s daily routine that alerted us to her passing. They quickly noticed that her light pattern in the house had changed.
My parent’s house was packed from the attic rafters, to the basement drain, with a unique brand of treasures and trash. It took us 10-months to clean out the house and sell it. Since neither of us live in the Chicago area Trish and Will acted as our eyes and ears. They also volunteered countless hours of their time to helping us pack and haul things out of every crevasse of the two-story house. Trish even found a home for mom’s raggedy old cat. I could go on and on listing every little thing they helped us with but my fingers would go numb typing.
The most important thing they did for us during those 10-months was to offer us sanctuary in the evening. We were only 25-feet from the chaos but their kitchen might as well been in another state. Those many dinners were full of insightful conversation, a ton of laughs and not to mention a lot of great food and wine. I wouldn’t trade those nights for the world, they made the unbearable bearable.
I took tons of photos over those 10-months and after I learned Trish had died I poured over them again. I was disappointed by how few photos I had of Trish. Then I realized that she probably wanted it that way. Maybe it was because she was camera shy but I think it speaks more to her amazing ability to know just when to offer us a life line and when to step back and let us work, grieve and bond. As hard as those 10-months were I can’t imagine going through that experience without Trish and Will.
On Saturday March 23 Trish’s family and friends will gather to celebrate her life and say goodbye. I plan to say thank you.
This video snippet is from one of our many dinners. I love being able to hear her voice again. Cheers my friend, we miss you.