We’d only ever met a few times, Linda Lou Hetherington Patterson and I. The first time, I suppose, was 18 years ago when her daughter, Anne-Charlotte, married my brother Terrell. Then the next few times, when we got to visit were those holidays or funerals, when extended family members gather, and there’s not much time to do more than share what’s important on the surface.
But we never visited that I didn’t wish I could know Linda better. Everything I did know made me admire her, be a little more curious about her life’s journey; wish – coincidentally – I could be as calm, as reflective and serene as she. All things that allude me, even though I fully embrace my quirks.
When Linda was diagnosed almost a year ago with bladder cancer, the doctor’s said her prognosis was grim, though they might try some incredibly aggressive treatments to buy her more time.
She said, no, what would be, would be. Anne-Charlotte wrote in her mother’s obituary that Linda was a marathon runner who outstripped Stage III cancer in the ’90s, and when the cancer returned this year, she “confronted her pursuer with remarkable endurance and grace.”
In telling us how gravely ill his mother-in-law was, my brother said, “It is so horribly sad. It’s like watching a tree fall in slow motion and nothing can be done to stop it.”
Sitting at Linda’s memorial last Saturday, I thought about the tree falling metaphor Terrell had used. Who misses a tree after it’s fallen, chopped up and hauled away? Those who knew it was there and rested in its shade, or delighted in its changes with the seasons, I would suppose. But after a while they forget it was there, and with any luck there are other trees to notice.
But I want Linda, whom I hardly knew, to be remembered for a long time, an example of courage and grace, class and conscience, dedication and standards we might all try to emulate.
We were treated at the memorial service to reminders of her goodness and talents. Her seamstress’s flair for fashion; her ability and attention for cultivating natural plants in her abundantly lovely yard; her cozy home, kept with meticulous attention to comfort and detail; her delight and devotion for her grandchild, Jack Wayne, who sobbed at the memorial service in his grief at losing his one kindred spirit and most special childhood playmate.
In an eloquent eulogy, Linda was remembered as a lovely free spirit who danced when there was music, found adventure in the city where she lived and the places she travelled to. Linda found her passion in running and competed in marathons for more than 30 years, though she didn’t take up the endeavor until she was in her 40s. She found her peace at the ocean’s shores, where she and Wayne took extended visits.
As a young woman, in Dallas, Linda danced at a live Ike and Tina Turner concert. She was working as a mail clerk at Texas Power and Light, a few blocks from Dealey Plaza the day President John F. Kennedy was shot.
Linda was “an affectionate and loving mother to her only child,” Anne-Charlotte wrote in the obituary. “She produced beautiful homemade birthday cakes and hand-sewn dance costumes while teaching the importance of self-respect and independence.”
As to the latter, she succeeded mightily, I might add.
All five of Terrell’s siblings made the effort to come to Austin for Linda’s memorial. We were blessed – are blessed – to be family, glad to so ably stand in with shoulders to cry on and ears to listen and hear the memories and stories that are Linda’s legacy. We are heartbroken to have lost someone so special, proud the opportunity came our way so our paths could cross like they did.
The memorial service was lovely, with perfectly selected poems and songs and a precisely fitting sermon text. Terrell and our oldest brother, Eric, sang “Way over Yonder,” by Joni Mitchell. A most fitting tribute to Linda and a fine description of the heaven she is headed toward.
“Way over yonder / Is a place that I know / Where I can find shelter /
From a hunger and cold.
“And the sweet tastin’ good life / Is so easily found / Way over yonder /
That’s where I’m bound.
“I know when I get there / The first thing I’ll see / Is the sun shining golden
Shining right down on me.”
Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.