Editor’s note: Over the past two years, columnist Bruce Hetrick has commented from time to time in this space on his wife Pam Klein’s battle with cancer. She died of complications from that disease March 5 at the age of 49. Here is the tribute to her that he delivered at the March 10 memorial service.
Our next-door neighbors in downtown Indianapolis own a second home in Brown County, about an hour south of here. It’s a difficult place to find. You follow one narrow road after another until you think you’re surely lost.
But after a while, you come to a clearing, and round a bend, and you’re face to face with the stuff that Country Living is made of.
The place is pristine and the decor perfect for the period. Out back, there’s a bubbling hot tub. And all around are thick, towering trees. So if you’re secure in your person and the person you’re with … well, let’s just say that between the bedroom and the sauna, you don’t have to wear much.
Late last summer, knowing that Pam had been through a lot-what with neck surgery, multiple rounds of chemotherapy and frequent trips to Houston for treatment-our neighbors invited us to use their cabin for a long, relaxing weekend.
When we opened the door and walked through the sunlit front room, we found fresh candles on the dining room table just waiting for a match. There also were several bottles of wine, and a fully stocked refrigerator and homemade hors d’oeuvres-all with a note card explaining that this veritable feast was compliments of our entire urban neighborhood.
Pam and I unpacked our bags, sat in the sauna past sunset and went inside to make dinner.
When we’d finished cooking, we lit every candle in the place, switched on the tiny stereo under the stairs, and found ourselves listening to an old John Denver CD-the only one around.
After we’d eaten for awhile, I stood up, took Pam’s hands and pulled her close. There in the dark, we danced and danced, turning round and round in the flickering flame.
We were still at it when “Annie’s Song” came on. John Denver sang, in that crisp tenor voice of his:
Come let me love you Let me give my life to you Let me drown in your laughter Let me die in your arms Let me lay down beside you Let me always be with you Come let me love you Come love me again
And when he got to the part about dying in your arms, my cheek touched Pam’s, and I could feel her tears rolling down. Our love was born of turmoil. Pam’s marriage had ended. I was struggling-silently and unfairly-with mine. And Pam was in counseling, trying to rebuild her confidence about life and love.
And she told me one day that she imagined herself a butterfly in the making-all wrapped up in her straight-jacket cocoon, yearning more than anything to fly free. A few years later, the emotions of shattered marriages as behind us as ever they can be, we spent a long weekend in a little house on Cape Cod.
We walked along the beach each day. Slow-danced by candlelight each night. And awoke each brilliant morning in a nest of white lace. For the first time in our united lives, my bride-to-be said she’d found her wings.
Pam let me love her.
She let me give my life to her.
We drowned in our laughter.
And last Saturday, she died in my arms. I lay down beside her.
And I tried, with all my being, to breathe life into her.
But by then, the labored breath of Pam’s soul had flown free.
A few weeks from now, I’ll drive to Cape Cod. And some brilliant morning, I’ll walk along the beach in front of the little house. And when the time is right, when I’ve had my cry, I’ll take off my shoes, step into the brine, open the urn and send my love’s butterfly seeds dancing across the waves.
Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to email@example.com. Pam Klein, pictured here in a 1991 photo, died March 5 from cancer complications.