Happy International Women's Day - 2 Weeks Ago Today, We Lost One of The Good Ones
I'm Billie Proffitt - I'm Pam’s big brother, Bud’s, daughter. I promise to do my best to speak clearly, but as anyone in our family will tell you - I’m the emotional one.
Thank you all for coming to honor the beautiful, glowing-with-goodness, kind, strong, smart, self-described "squishy" soul that my Auntie Pam was, and remains. Burbank is what we call the Center of The Universe in the Proffitt Family. And for me, the heart of Burbank has always been two places: Aunt Pam & Uncle Dom's house, and here, at Forrest Lawn, with our Grandparents. (Well, and a lot of times with a stop at Bob’s Big Boy in between.) When my parents told me this celebration of her life would be held here, my first question was if it would be in the Old North Church. Pam's parents sit just up on that hill. When cancer stole my Grandpa at 64, this is the very building where his loved ones gathered to celebrate him, and I know this is something that has cut deep in my Dad's heart - that his beloved little sister was stolen from us by the same disease, & at the very same age.
I was blessed to spend a lot of my childhood with my magnificent Auntie Pam because of how much my parents traveled… With our hopscotch generations, Jennifer's relationship seemed more like her little sister, and I feel at times that I was like her surrogate daughter - the little girl who wanted to be a part of the things she remembered from her own childhood. Dom, Jason & Justin definitely teased me for those things too, and Pam always saved me.
She's shaped my entire life as she supported me in finding my life's purpose through my career. Being the only kid not born in the city, she took on the extra responsibility of allowing me to stay with them for acting classes and auditions as a child. Amongst her already-packed schedule of wife, mother, career-woman, current-season-sport's team Mom, and still more monikers, she was super-Auntie as well, shuffling me to-and-fro, feeding me along with my cousins, always making sure we were all warm-enough, hydrated-enough, entertained enough, loved-enough... Her feminine instincts were exceedingly graceful and natural, as opposed to her balance and coordination, which were, maybe not so much graceful or natural. As a matter of fact, going back into her childhood, we’re all so lucky she survived it.
Physical falls out her control as a youngster perhaps lead to this oftentimes funny (and sometimes scary) fact. For those who don't know, both a curb on Orchard Drive and a horse mixed with a fence post in Sterling, Kansas could have ended it all in a split-second... But Pam was born a fighter. She rolled with the punches life threw with that astonishing natural softness and grace that I'm sure we all admire about her. Her ability to remain so steadily & calmly grounded while being so light & so happy is a balance rarely found in this hectic world, and particularly in this exhausting city.
I think our current reigning matriarch, Auntie Jean, would agree with me that our Germanic roots make us exceedingly egalitarian - I am proud to say that in our family girls have always been raised with the belief that we can do most things the boys can do, as well as the things girls do, and Pam was a living, breathing culmination of those beliefs. Of all the ways I knew her as a maternal guide in our family, when I went to meet her for lunch at her office for the first time on my own once I was driving, her professional side stunned me. She was the BOSS. I can't remember how many assistants she had (maybe half a dozen?) all whose desks surrounded Pam's office, typing away and intermittently nervously inquiring if they could get me anything while I waited for Pam's meeting that ran late. She was no-doubt in demand for her expertise. Her company & colleagues relied on her incredible ability to always fix the problem. And yet still, she did it while maintaining her feminine power with that same internal balance she always kept in her personal life.
Her personal life - that anchor with which she weathered her various life storms. When I moved back from overseas I remember writing Uncle Dom a Father's Day card and in it I told him how grateful I was for his presence in my life, for his character and values being so similar to my father's - because the strong woman I was becoming was birthed by the tribe of strong women who raised me, and also because it is the strongest of men who are required to be partners with these types of women. They're the only kind who can hack it in the long-haul. I told him how grateful I am to he & Pam for living the proof of what creates and maintains a good, humble, happy and thriving life for all of us who became a part of this family after (or in my cousins' cases, because of) them. It is not “do as I say and not as I do” in our family - it is lead by example.
This well-balanced egalitarian nature lead to sweet surprises for me as I aged, picking up on greater nuances in my maturity to use as life markers. Like how even as she coached me through my legal depositions, as she had endured so much in her own career in corporate real estate, Auntie Pam also so rarely got gas in her own car that she barely remembered how to do it, because Uncle Dom always filled her tank, he always sorted the “grimy” parts of life for her. Generosity, kindness, laughter, durability, willingness, compassion, so much laughter, and so much love - just some of the elements that Pam brought us all and therefore how she continues to keep goodness alive in this world.
The past couple years I’ve been blessed to spend lunch each week with Auntie Pam. As a matter of fact, I still can't bring myself to delete the repeating event off my calendar, even if she hasn’t had the energy to do so since the holidays... Seeing her name there still comforts me, as her presence always has - be it physical, emotional and now more than ever, spiritually. This focused effort on spending time together started when she finally told us that she was sick, and that it wasn't going to get any better. It's far too often like that in life, isn't it? We don't even realize the elements of our lives we take for granted until faced with losing them.
She asked me to join her once a week in a yoga class for chronic and terminally ill people taught by a lovely woman who suffers herself. The first time we signed in at Yoga Blend they already knew her, knew they had her paperwork and knew her name. She said I was her niece, and as I wrote in my name on the sign-in sheet, the woman added me to their computer system, only she put me in as “Billie Del Paine,” not knowing. We laughed about it, but it was the first time it dawned on me that Pam had been a Del Paine for more years of her life than she was a Proffitt; she chose with her whole heart to give up the name she was born to, to build a life with the man she loved.
It took my breath away and filled my eyes with tears which I tried to hide as we set up our mats. As someone who has now called off six engagements, to view myself and my own life’s choices in contrast with this woman’s steady clarity who had committed to her partner and their shared life when she wasn't even old enough to (legally) toast a glass of champagne at her own wedding. And to swallow in that moment a small piece of the reality that one day this day would come when we would all be sitting here without her smiling back at us in the flesh, the way she always has.
Eventually yoga turned into lunches some of the time, when she didn't feel up to stretching. And then to just a tea at Starbucks when she couldn't even muster an appetite. And now here we are, in a world without her, but that is without a doubt better because of her.
Every member of her friends and family has benefited as we all live in the light and warmth created in Pam and Dom’s authentic marriage, but most directly from it came my two beautiful cousins. Men who carry on this legacy: being both strong and gentle, filled with respect for, and now living their lives in honor of their mother. Our Grandpa Brice taught us to “Aim for the least expensive home in the best neighborhood you can afford, and don’t drive a fancy car.” Because we’re not just here for the shiny bits of life - our greater family is made up of the intangibles, the kind of wealth in spirit that never dies, the small things in life, the showing up for one another.
Even as her illness was present, and progressing, she continued to worry about the rest of us. About how we were handling not so much losing her, but our own dramas, as if “she was fine”. She didn't make things about her, she made the focus on the compassion she believed we all deserve. When conflicts arise in our family, she urged us with delicacy - although sometimes with discipline - to accept people for who they are, as they are. That we are all fighting battles others are unaware of, and that our ignorance is no excuse for impatience, grudges or contempt.
I want to share a quote that I have modified to fit for our perspective of Auntie Pam today. It's by Aaron Freeman.
“You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want a physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. To remind them about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. That all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was your beloved body remains with all of them in this world. You want the physicist to tell your loved ones that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would walk to your brokenhearted spouse and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your children stand in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let them know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are their eyes, that those photons created within them constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
Hopefully the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat, and that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue in the heat of our own lives.
And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; that it isn't just about faith, because we can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves, being comforted to know that your energy is still here. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly.”