Every year on my birthday, Jo's older sister Pam, and her mom and dad would call and leave an enthusiastic rendition of "Happy Birthday to You" in three part harmony on my voicemail.
Joey is the youngest of four and Pam was 16 by the time Joey came along. She had been diagnosed with a congenital heart issue which was treated with surgery before her little sister was born, and because the doctors told her parents that although Pam's heart was fixed she could still drop dead at any time - they were very protective of her. During the years when most teenagers are rebelling and getting ready to leave home, Pam was held very close. In many ways, while she was like another parent to her youngest siblings, at the same time there were childlike aspects in Pam that were there her whole life. Indeed she never moved from her parents home. Although she was very intelligent, she often missed social cues, and definitely marched to the beat of her own drum.
I met Pam in the early 80s when she was working at McDonnell Douglas. She was very much into Republican politics, enthusiastically so, and she loved the candidates she worked for George Deukmejian and Ronald Reagan.
I did not.
Something that she didn't seem to notice although I was pretty clear that I wasn't interested in going to events or donating money to individuals that, according to my father, were responsible for the devastation of mental health services in the state of California and in the country.
Pam was also really involved with the Crystal Cathedral - if you've read anything I've written in the last couple of weeks it's pretty clear that I'm not a fan of organized religion. If you ever watched the Hour of Power it really doesn't get more organized than that. Pam began as an usher and every single year she invited me to come to the huge Christmas story production or the Easter morning production (where she would have gotten me into the best seat in the house), but it wasn't my thing. It was Pam's home for 25 years and I believe she eventually became an elder. I really should have taken her up on her offer because it is an amazing piece of architecture and I'm certain that those services were beautiful. I also could have practiced some Grace and appreciated and participated in something that was so special to her - but that would be one more thing that Pam taught me.
None of my rejection of her offers phased her and she did not love me any less. Had I asked her for anything she would have gone out of her way to help me.
What I recognized is that although we were ideologically polar opposites, her intention was always about sharing love, never about proselytizing, or forcing me to believe what she believed - she would believe it enough for both of us.
The last time I saw Pam was during the long weeks that her father was struggling to slip off this mortal coil at the end of his battle with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. She had discovered a love of "clowning" and she was also learning to play the ukelele. Nothing made her happier than spreading joy as Twinkles D' Klown and if she could play her ukelele and sing at the same time - even better.
My last memory is of her in the backyard of the house in Malibu, on the edge of a hill looking over the ocean, sitting in a chair, playing her ukelele and smiling. At the time it was a bit surreal, but in a larger context it was the exact right thing for her to do.
To say that Pam was eccentric would be an entirely accurate statement, but she was also authentically loving and resilient in the face of rejection, and sometimes loneliness. She showed up in a way that is so rare anymore. She had a profound faith in God and heaven and she walked the walk more than most people who call themselves Christians.
Pam passed away a couple of weeks ago - that day her doctors warned her parents about finally came. It was shocking because I had always imagined her clowning her way into her 90s when it seems you can get away with anything. My hope is that she went to sleep, that she left quickly and that she wasn't afraid. In fact, I just know that she went to sleep and at some point she saw both her parents holding out their arms so she grabbed her ukelele and went with them and now they are singing once again in three part harmony.
Her memorial service was this past Saturday at the Crystal Cathedral (which has been sold to the Catholic Church and is only going to be Pam's beloved church for a little bit longer). There were so many people there - all of whom were reflecting back the love that Pam had given them over the time she'd known them - and there were clowns and ukeleles. It was as if she right there with us.
It was the best funeral a lot of us have ever been too, which is as it should be, because for all of her eccentricities and struggles, Pam was one of the best people we ever knew. She spread a lot of joy and even now she is twinkling.