I See Big Things For You - Transcript
This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled “I See Big Things For You.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.
Nora McInerny: I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”
[SOUND OF A LOON CALL]
Nora: I am from Minnesota. And in Minnesota, we have this culture that you’re probably not aware of unless you’re from here. A lot of us get cabin fever just from being inside for the winter, and a lot of us literally own cabins, which can cure your cabin fever because, you know, you’re technically in a vacation home which is what YOU may call it. Some people say cottage. Lake house. We say cabin.
It was the last weekend in October of 2007, and Pam was up at the cabin with her new husband, Steve, a proud cabin-owner.
Pam: It's about 20 miles southwest of Grand Rapids. And you take, like, right off the highway, you take a bigger gravel road for about three miles. And then from there, you take this record like a red rock road that goes for about a mile up to the cabin. And then there's sort of the circle of neighbors that are up there. So there's neighbors. There's people there. But it felt. Like a getaway, like an oasis, And it was year round. So we would go up there in the wintertime, too.
Pam: So the cabin... was amazing. It is a log cabin. It was built in... I think 1999 or 2000 when he had purchased it... and was gorgeous. It was... it had a loft on the top floor, like an attic loft, and then... main floor with a couple of bedrooms, bath, and then the lower floor had another bath and just kind of walked out onto the backyard that looked over the trees and the Chippewa National Forest... and so because it was Chippewa National Forest across from us, no one could build. So it was this beautiful setting, and then the sun would set, like looking out over the deck and the sun would set and it was... it was gorgeous.
Nora: The cabin is an escape from their hectic life in the Twin Cities — which is what we call Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Steve is… basically a genius. His work is really intense, and the cabin is the place where he gets to let go of all that pressure and intensity.
Pam: It was a meditative space, I think, for him. When we got up there, we’d do a lot of reading, just being together, and ideas would come to him in that space.
Nora: On this trip to the cabin, Pam and Steve are newlyweds.
Their marriage is new, but they’ve been together for ABOUT FOUR YEARS and they’ve known each other for even longer than that … because they are just one of those couples who happened to meet in the most romantic of places. A carriage ride in Central Park? No. A small Italian restaurant where their orders got mixed up and they ended up sitting together and talking all night? No… guess again…
They met at WORK.
At a valentine factory?
At a flower store?
A dark bar with lots of candles?
No. They met… at a company known for chemicals and technologies. They worked at a science place. Steve was the brilliant scientist, and Pam was the brilliant marketer.
Pam: I was... working in a lab that was connected with him and so we would have conversations... and developed a friendship through there but he-- there was... He was an interesting, very interesting person. Brilliant and witty and a storyteller, and so he just sort of captivated you when you talked with him.
Pam: He kind of looks like Bruce Springsteen. I just was watching the Netflix Bruce Springsteen... And I was like, "Oh, my gosh, that's Steve." Kind of like a cross between him and sort of... What's that like... Paul Newman. Steve, if you're listening... you're welcome.
Nora: That's a dreamboat right there. That's a combo.
Pam: Yeah. He was really handsome. He... he had these crooked teeth in the front and he never got him fixed. And he would tell me this story. He grew up with... an agoraphobic mother. She didn't want to leave the house. And she was an alcoholic. And so whenever they did go to the dentist, no one would drive them there. And so they never wanted to go to the dentist. And so he... he always was a little self-conscious about his teeth. But it was also, I think, sort of this badge of honor, something like showing this is part of my life story.
Nora: I'm a fancy scientist. I'm an artist. And I got -- I got crooked teeth. (Right.) Big deal. (Yeah.)
Nora: Steve is his own man in that way. And that’s part of what makes him so fascinating. He does things his way.
Pam: He never wore a seatbelt. He felt like it infringed on his personal rights.
Nora: Steve was captivating, but he and Pam were strictly friends and colleagues. They were part of a group of work friends that would go out for a drink now and then. And on one of those nights, Pam’s car was in the shop. She didn’t have a way to get home from Don Pablos. Uber hadn’t been invented yet, so she figured she’ll call a cab or something. But Steve says no, you don’t have to do that.
Pam: "Oh, I can just give you a ride home." And we were in the car together. And that's when he said to me... "I am in love with you." Just sort of professed his love and I was like... "What?"I mean, it was it was -- it was -- it was this moment of seeing this person very differently. And also at that time he had said, "I know you're going through this separation. I will wait for you whatever you need. I just want you to know that I don't want to complicate things." And I was like, "Well, you're -- well I know you don't want to, but you really are…
Nora: There, in the parking lot of a Don Pablos, is where Steve professes his love.
And Pam just… sits with that for awhile. Not in the car, but at home. And at work. It’s a lot to take in. Is this friend of hers -- this magnetic genius -- more than just a friend? Eventually, she tells him yeah, let’s do this. And it’s that saying yes that changes EVERYTHING. Because it’s not just that Steve is magnetic and magical, it’s that he thinks the same of Pam.
The romance begins. This man who looks like the love child of Paul Newman and Bruce Springsteen is VERY ROMANTIC
Pam: He would write me love letters, like handwrite pencil love letters. And... and at the time, Something was happened in the universe where Mars was like huge in the sky. I don't know. Planets were aligning. So he was like, "The planets are aligned. We are supposed to be together." And it was really... swept me off my feet.
Nora: It feels -- for both of them -- like they have finally met their match. The person they’ve been waiting for.
Pam: He was over the top, I would say. Really romantic. We traveled a lot together. We... We would -- we would... sending me flowers, giving me flowers, telling me... I don't know if you've ever seen this movie 'Adaptation' with Nicolas Cage, and so there's this part in here with the character Laroche who's talking about orchids and talking about how there's one insect for each orchid. Right? And so Steve would always say... "Like I am the insect for your orchid." Right? I mean like -- like felt like this was meant to be.
Nora: Here’s the thing about having a star-crossed love affair with a dad. It’s not JUST the two of you. Steve has two kids, tween girls. And do they feel that this new lady is the orchid for their dad’s insect? And now, reading that phrase, does it seem gross to you? No! They are NOT THAT INTO IT!
Pam: The youngest, she... for the first about nine or ten months would not talk to me, not look at me. And I understand that. She had... she felt like her mother was hurting. And she was like “you” or, you know, at some level... So that was -- that was tough, but I understood it.
Nora: Pam is patient... and she and the girls eventually develop a relationship. Pam loves the girls, and she loves seeing Steve as a dad.
I saw this side of Steve that I had never... seen before. It was... It really... showed me for the first time what unconditional love is... seeing him with his kids.
Nora: Pam moves into Steve’s condo in downtown St. Paul, where he works on tile mosaics. They buy a separate condo down the hall for his daughters to stay in on his parenting days -- and walkie-talkies to keep them in touch. He does things his own way: even parenting. He’s not JUST a brilliant scientist, he’s an artist. And Pam is good at her job, too! It’s just that, she’s not passionate about it, like Steve is passionate about… well, everything…
Pam: It wasn't fulfilling. I was good at it, which I think is why I kept going for it and I kept advancing in my career in that way was like, oh, you can do this, you're good at it, you're competent. But I was not passionate about it.
He had said to me that "I see greater things for you." And he... He really opened up a new world to me. He was a renaissance man. Where he... was brilliant about so many things and he opened up a new world for me and profoundly changing my life and the course of its direction.
Nora: And greater things did come for Pam. For both of them. Because Pam was changing the direction of Steve’s life, too.
Pam: He was... 15 years older than me, and... he had two children at the time that were nine -- when we first started dating, they were like 9 and 12. He had never been married, but had been with their mother for a long period of time, over 20 years. And... he had said that he didn't know that this could exist, this relationship or this feeling, and had never thought that he would ever get married. That was something that he was like. No, no reason to get married. He was pretty much a nonconformist about a lot of things. And so I think our relationship shifted things for him and maybe opened up some things for him in this romantic part of himself.
Nora: By the time that Pam and Steve get married, in August 2007, the girls are their only wedding guests. The four of them fly to New York City to elope, and start their blended family.
Pam: I had given them each this little pearl drop necklace and just wanted them to know how much I love them and how special they were. And we had actually talked with them... Steve had talked with them first about the fact that we were going to try having a baby after we were married and just to let them know that we were thinking about. And so I just... in my mind, in my vision, I was creating this family. Yeah. Starting this new family together.
Pam: I imagined great things. Honestly, we... Around that time, he had been working on developing a different type of polymer coating that had to do with, like, drug release. And one of the things that he really wanted to do was work on... extended release of vaccines for the developing world to help with children that die of curable diseases. And so we had around that time too... had talked about working together. Some of my strengths are more on administrative and writing and organizing. He was not very good at any of that. So we started writing a... to see if you could get a grant from the Gates Foundation to maybe do this kind of work. And so I imagined us doing... great things together.
Nora: Being up at the cabin that weekend is a break from their busy lives. The girls are at home with their mom. Work is back in the city. The cabin is a respite, but this trip is really more a necessity than it is a break.
Nora: Cabins are like, by definition, maintenance.
Pam: Yeah, I have to bring the boat in and the dock in... if you have a boat, and so you have to put the boat in storage and then bring the dock up on the shore.
Nora: Their plan for the weekend is to drive up on Saturday -- store the boat, pull out the dock and the swimming platform -- and drive back to the cities on Sunday. A short trip.
Typically, this kind of maintenance is something you try to do around Labor Day, or early October. Autumn in Minnesota is unpredictable -- there are years when we’ve had snowstorms in October -- but they’ve been busy, planning their future, working, doing normal life stuff.
They’ve been planning a wedding reception! In just 5 days, they’ll be hosting a reception for their friends and ALL OF THEIR COLLEAGUES because they invited everyone at the company where they met.
Which means this weekend, where it’s going to have lows in the 20s.. .is their last chance to get the swimming platform and the dock out before Minnesota winter really flips the switch and goes from a temperate heaven filled with lakes and greenery to a frozen tundra where you won’t see the sun for months.
Pam and Steve drove up on Saturday morning.
October in Minnesota can be so, so beautiful. Imagine leaves turning -- yellow, orange, red -- perfect blue skies. The absolute best weather for a flannel, for thick socks pulled up to your calves, for heavy boots. Maybe a blanket scarf? A messy bun? Fingerless gloves! A VEST. And that’s the kind of day that Pam and Steve get, up at the cabin. The perfect Minnesota fall day.
Pam: it was a beautiful day like I remember it's like that cold, crisp October day the leaves are kind of glistening, changing falling You know, the sun's on the water. It's... it's beautiful.
Nora: First things first, they get their boat out of the water and drive it 10 miles away to store it for the winter.
When they get back, it’s afternoon. And it’s cool outside, but inside it’s cozy. Who wants to go pull out the dock and the swimming platform when you could be drinking some coffee under a throw blanket in front of a fire? When you could read, or take a nap, or just like...NOT do the hard annoying thing you drove up specifically to do?
Pam: It was probably around 4 o'clock in the afternoon. So I was like, OK, it's gonna be getting dark pretty soon. We had these little kayaks, just plastic kayaks, you just basically sit on top of them, paddle around. He would get on that and paddle out to the swimming platform, pull the anchor up and then put the anchor in his lap and then paddle it back to the shore. And so I waited on the shore with the winch to attach it and crank it up onto the shore. So... he proceeds to get out on the kayak. He's paddling out there. And I'm just on the shore watching him kind of like doo-dooo-doooo, you know, just not thinking about anything probably in general or thinking about whatever, but just watching him and…
We are going to take a break.
We’re back. And Pam and her new husband Steve are up in the north woods of Minnesota, doing the annoying part of cabin ownership. A few yards from the end of the dock, Steve is on a kayak out near the swimming platform, which is like a floating dock. It’s held in place by an anchor, and Steve has to pull that up from the bottom of the lake and tow the platform back to land.
And Pam is onshore, wearing her cute cabin outfit on a perfect fall day. Watching him, and being tall and beautiful.
Pam: So it was probably, maybe 40 degrees. But what I was wearing were these Doc Marten boots, jeans, heavy sweatshirt.
It’s the kind of boring task Steve has done countless times before. No big deal.
Pam: What I remember is that at some point, two things happened. One, I heard him scream my name. And then saw him flip off the back of the kayak. And my first thought was... “What the hell, you know, like God. Okay. Now you're gonna have to. This is gonna suck, right?”?
They’ll laugh about this later, right? How he fell into the water? How it ruined their whole afternoon?
Pam: And then, this all happens really fast, right. So at some point, seconds later, I realize he's sort of flat -- thrashing around in the water. And I didn't really think about it. I just ran.
Pam: And I ran off the dock and I jumped into the water, and I remember as soon as I got into the water it’s like syrup. It's cold and it's syrupy and I've got all this stuff on. But I'm not thinking about any of this. I'm just going out to where he is.
In perfect swimming weather, in a swimsuit, it would take just a few moments for Pam to swim out to Steve. But it’s cold outside. And it’s even colder in the water. And she’s swimming not in a swimsuit, but in jeans.. .socks… a sweatshirt.. And heavy Doc Marten boots. But she gets there. She gets to Steve.
Pam: I'm where he is. I'm touching him. He's kind of going up and down. He's not talking. I'm screaming, by the way. So I'm screaming for help. I'm screaming. I am. He's, he's just going up and down. It was just confusing as all get out and it was terrifying.
Steve doesn’t scream, he doesn’t grab for her, but she reaches for him. Pam is screaming -- not for anyone in particular, she doesn’t know the cabin neighbors yet -- but someone hears her. A neighbor. He seems to understand what’s going on, and pushes his paddleboat into the water.
Pam: And he tried to paddle over and I remember seeing him, but it was just like I mean, like a snail's pace, right.
The water is at least 30 to 40 degrees colder than body temperature -- a shock to your system that constricts your blood vessels and makes it harder to move your arms and legs.
Pam: And. At a certain point, which was a point where I realized I'm going to drown if I stay out here with him… I swam back and... It took everything for me to get back on that dock.
Pam means everything -- not just emotionally, but physically. And Pam is swimming through this frigid water in jeans, a sweatshirt, and boots. It takes pure adrenaline for her to get back to the dock. And back to the cabin.
When he looks back, Steve is gone.
She needs to get to their landline. She needs to call 9-1-1. She needs someone to come help her help Steve.
Out on the lake, it’s still a beautiful day. The neighbor who is in the paddle boat -- the casual little vessel that you pedal… like the least efficient bike of all time… is still out there, trying his hardest to get closer to where Steve went under. Inside the cabin, Pam is trying to call 911 -- trying to maintain hope that even though her husband has slipped beneath the surface of that cold lake, he might still be saved. It takes 20, maybe 30 minutes for help to arrive.
Pam: And the sheriff… comes in or the ambulance people come in, the paramedics and they said, we can't find his body, we need you to come out and tell us where he is. And I… I did it. I didn't want to do it.
Pam: I was like, I can not be here to watch this happen. I cannot be here to watch him being pulled out from the water. I do not want that image in my head. And I went back into the house and then I don't know how many minutes it was, later they came in and they said, OK, here we have his body.
They have his body. Steve’s body. Her new husband’s body, is whisked into an ambulance and towards a hospital while Pam sits in the cabin, waiting for her parents to arrive.
Hours pass, she thinks, before the sheriff tells her that Steve is dead. And that the attempts to resuscitate him did not work.
Steve is the person that Pam loves most in this world. She is his wife, alone in the cabin where they planned to spend summers and long weekends.
Four hours south, Steve’s girls are staying with their mother, a woman who spent 20 years as Steve’s partner.
Four hours south of where Steve died, those girls and their mother are having a perfectly normal Saturday. Maybe they went to soccer or stayed in bed late watching movies. Maybe they went to the mall.
Whatever they did, they’re still living in the magic spell of an alternate reality. That not knowing -- that unawareness that someone you love has died, that there is suffering out there waiting to sink its claws into you -- is a kind of delicate magic spell. And it is about to be broken.
Pam has to tell the kids. Not them directly. But she has to tell their mother.
[SOUND OF RINGING LANDLINE PHONE]
This phone call will be the first real conversation these women ever have. Outside of a few hellos for kid drop-offs and pick-ups, their relationship hasn’t existed.
Until now, when the phone rings. And then, someone picks up. It’s Steve’s youngest daughter.
Pam: And I said, hi, this is -- this is Pam. I said, I need to talk to your mom. And right away, I heard her say, “What happened to Daddy, what happened to Daddy?” And I hadn't even said anything. She must have… known.
Mom grabs the phone, and Pam tells her what happened. About the kayak and the anchor and the lake. About Steve dying.
Pam: And she said something that I will never forget and has, it was such a blessing for me. The first thing she said to me, is she said, “Pam. This is not your fault. He was a man who lived a life of risk, and I've been waiting for a phone call like this for a long time.”
Nora: What did she mean? Like he's lived a life of risk?
Pam: He went out on a kayak without a lifejacket thinking he could do whatever. Right. He, he would drink too much sometimes. Right. He did things that... He shouldn’t have been doing. And I think that in some ways he felt invincible.
Pam and Steve’s wedding reception was supposed to be happening in five days. The caterer is booked. The RSVPs are in.
And now, instead of planning a celebration of the life Pam and Steve are going to live together, Pam is planning a memorial service to celebrate the life that was, and to mourn the life that never will be. She and Steve will not travel the world saving lives with his medical innovations. They will not have a baby together. Will she even get to be a stepmom, without Steve there as the connecting force between Pam and the girls?
Grief has strange effects on people. It can make you open your arms wider -- to every griever, to everyone who is hurt by the loss of this life. Or, it can close you up. You can end up hovering over this death-like Gollum protecting his precious ring. The precious, though, is your grief.
I have done this. I have seen it done. It’s gross and it’s normal and it’s not our best selves.
Pam could do this. She could say, “STEVE WAS THE LOVE OF MY LIFE AND I AM HIS WIDOW! I WILL PLAN THIS MEMORIAL! I WILL MISS HIM MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE.”
Steve’s ex could do this. She could say, “STEVE WAS THE FATHER OF MY CHILDREN AND MY PARTNER FOR EXPONENTIALLY LONGER THAN HE WAS YOUR HUSBAND. WE WILL MISS HIM MORE THAN YOU!”
But Pam doesn’t. Steve’s ex… doesn’t.
Pam: It was awkward at first. But as we came to know each other, we realized. Things we had in common and also that our best interests were in for the girls.
Pam: We planned the memorial service and that's where I had given a eulogy and their mom had given a eulogy as well. And there was a Bruce Springsteen cover band that Steve used to love going to. Listen to and at the time it was Bruce Springsteen's magic album that had come out and “Terry's Song.” So he played that song at the funeral
[“TERRY’S SONG” PLAYS]
The memorial ends. And the administrative tasks of death begin. There is an estate to settle. A home to sell. Pam takes a leave of absence from her job. She goes back to Wisconsin, to her parent’s house, and curls up in her childhood bed.
Pam: You know, you're in this space where you're not alive. You're not dead. You're just kind of existing.
Pam: Like, the TV was on somewhere and the news was on. And I'm thinking, who fucking cares, you know? And I don't, I mean, of course, there's, like, much worse things that are happening in the world. Right. But in the moment, you're just like, why hasn't the world stopped? Because it has for me.
Pam: And then my mom said, there's this person. I got this. Maybe you should give her a call. It was, like, a Friday. I remember this because I called the center and this sort of... the administrative person answering kind of asked me some questions. And then she said, well this particular therapist isn't in the office until next Tuesday. And I was like, oh, I was like, OK, well, I guess I'll talk to her next Tuesday. And then hung up the phone. And then, 30 minutes later, she called me — the therapist — and she said, I heard your story, and I just didn't want you to wait. And that moment, like it means everything. It's like this person gets it right. And that started the trauma therapy that I did, the grief therapy that I did with her for almost 10 years on and off.
There’s a lot for Pam to sort out. There’s the loss, and there’s the trauma of the loss. There’s the guilt. Could she have saved him? Was it the anchor that had drowned him? Could she have untangled him, rescued him?
Pam: I felt for a long time I had killed him because I couldn't save him. And every time -- I'd never wanted to tell the story because I was always afraid someone would say, well, why didn't you do that or why didn't you do this? Or. And it was terrifying for me because I felt like I did something wrong. I mean, this is somebody's life, right? And I couldn't do anything.
Therapy helps Pam unknot all of these tangled feelings. It helps give her context and shine a light onto all of this darkness.
Pam: It was a year later where I'd been working with my trauma therapist and she said, “You know, why don't you contact the sheriff and just see what they know, see if there was, like, an anchor around him when they pulled his body up.” So I called the sheriff because I had his card and he contacted me about two days later and said, “Sorry I didn’t get back to you right away. But I was actually in this training for cold water drowning.” And he was like, “I didn't see an anchor,” he said. “But what I'm imagining happened is because the water was so cold and he wasn't prepared to fall into the water, the first thing your body does is you suck in air. It's like going into, like, a cold shower.”And they think that's what he did. Which would explain why he wasn't talking because he never said anything to me. And the other thing he didn't do, which a lot of people that when they're drowning do, is they grab on. And he never did that.
It helps Pam to hear that -- to know that what happened to Steve is something that HAPPENS. That a perfect storm of terrible circumstances -- not wearing a life vest, cold water, shock -- are what killed Steve… not her inability to perform a cold water rescue in Doc Martens and a sweatshirt while treading water in a northern lake.
Our brains are wild places. They can give us the worst thoughts -- I killed my husband. They can give us the most magical visions. Sometimes, Pam’s brain brings Steve back to her.
Pam: I had this dream where we were at a restaurant and he was sitting across from me. And this was just maybe a month or two after he died. And I asked him, I said, “What happened?” And he said, “Well, you know,” he said, “I fell into the water. And there are these two like tubes, like waterways. One went to the right, one went to the left. And it was the wrong way.” And he said, “It's me.” Just like matter of fact, like, you know, “I just made the wrong choice.” And I remember waking up and feeling like, I just, it just happened, like it's not your fault.
We’ll be right back.
It sounds like all of this happened so quickly, but Pam is in therapy for 10 years. And a lot happens in those ten years. Pam does, eventually, go back to work. And she meets someone. His name is Joe. And guess where she met him?
Pam: We worked at the same company together. And Steve actually had known him. And there was some comfort in that for both of us… for whatever reason.
Pam and her husband Joe have a little boy, named Joey. Every week, one of Steve’s girls comes to babysit him. They consider Pam’s son to be their little brother.
Joey is only 8, so it was only recently that Pam told him about how those girls came to be his sisters. He only just found out about Steve, and what happened to Steve five years before Joey was even born.
Pam: But I had told him the story, and the thing he said to me afterwards -- I mean, kids are just like out of the mouths of babes -- he's like, “Mommy, are you OK?” Because I was, because he was kind of quiet, I was like, “Joey, are you, are you OK?” You know? And he's like, “Well, are you OK now? Are you OK with everything?” And I was like, “I'm OK. I mean, I still... it hurts. And I miss him, but I'm OK.”
Pam is okay. Like so many of us are okay. She is one of countless people who walk around all day holding two big truths: that yes, she has the family she always wanted and yes, she has lost a huge part of her life.
Look, I’m not much of a cook, but I kind of think of it like this: so many of us are looking at our lives like it’s a recipe. We will grow up -- check. We will add a cup of education, a dash of partying. Two cups of career ambition, one teaspoon of sexual exploits, a tablespoon of anxiety… look, everyone’s recipe is different! The point is, you think you’re making ONE kind of life for yourself. And then one of the key ingredients goes missing and you think, WELL HOW THE FUCK AM I GONNA MAKE THIS NOW? YOU CAN’T MAKE BUTTER NOO NOOS WITHOUT THE NOO NOOS! But you have to keep cooking. You have to keep trying. And eventually, you realize, oh, there are some other things in this godforsaken excuse for a kitchen that will make this something NEW and tasty and… we’re done talking about food. But… that’s Pam. That’s me! That’s so many of us! We ARE fine. We ARE good. We have big, beautiful lives that are nothing like the big, beautiful life we were planning for! And we’re sharing those lives with people like Joey, who cannot believe that someone they love has survived something so awful.
We’re walking around looking like THIS was the recipe we’d been working from all along. It wasn’t. And both would have been wonderful. But this is the one we get. And it could change again, without notice. It could all end up in a heap on the floor. And what we know now, is that we could start over. We could scrape it all together, we could throw it all in a blender.
Nora: I keep thinking about Steve saying, you know, I see big things for you. I see big things for you. Do you think about that and what that means?
Pamela: I do.
Steve was right. There WERE big things in store for her. Steve’s love. Steve’s death. Steve’s girls. Pam’s new husband. Joey. And Pam’s new career.
Pam quit her job at the place where she met Steve and Joe.
She went back to school. And now, she’s a grief therapist, doing for other people what that therapist did for her when Steve died: helping them sort through all of the darkness, all of the trauma and the guilt and the shame that stays with a person.
Pam: I'm a universalist Unitarian, so it's kind of like... see truth in so many things. But there's the Bible verse talking about “where two or more are gathered, I'm there with you.” It feels like that at times where I'm with somebody. We're in that moment of suffering and something else comes in. And all of a sudden, these words come out that they need to hear, or I see something that they're experiencing. I can name it. And I don't know how to explain that other than to say I want to, I want to keep doing that. And I also feel this calling to talk more about this. This bigger idea of... teaching about connection and learning about connections that are there and... and trauma, it creates disconnection in so many different ways. And I see trauma sometimes. As you know, there's cracks in our system. Right. But that's where the light gets in.
So, back to the cabin.
[SOUND OF A LOON CALL]
Death has its own power over geography. The actual LAND doesn’t give a shit who died where -- the waters of that lake that swallowed up Steve will still lap at the shore every day -- but your own sense of place can be dramatically altered. Nobody would blame Pam if she took a torch to that cabin. Or if she holed herself up inside of it, became a wild hermit, a legendary wraith who haunts the north woods, searching for her long lost love.
You already know she didn’t do that.
But what DID she do? What DOES she do? Is that cabin still there? Yes. Does she go there? YES.
Pam: It was strange at first. I have a gravestone down by the lake that I had made for Steve, and actually I spread his ashes in the lake because he loved it up there and that's where he wanted to be.
Pam doesn’t own the cabin -- the girls’ mom bought it.
She goes up to the cabin a few times a year with Joe, and with Joey. It’s a place where Steve’s memory lives, and where Pam and her family are making their own memories. This October, they will mark 13 years since Steve’s death. And Pam will always miss Steve, and will always love Steve, even as she loves her life right now.
Pam: I think he'd be really happy for me. And so... I find, I find peace and comfort in that.
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