P.G. Holyfield: Bearing Witness to Life

At roughly 11:20pm Wednesday August 20, 2014, author, podcaster, and father P.G. Holyfield died surrounded by love. I was one of the many there able to say good bye. I was there; I was sitting at the top of his bed stroking his hair. Both his hands were being held. His legs were clung to too, and his shoulder touched. We each let him feel that he was not alone. We wept as Viv’s words rang out, chanting the names of all those who had reached out to send their words of love.

Her words rang out telling him we had accepted, we loved him, and it was ok to rest.

Because of cancer
I know the pain of laughter
lines cracking from tears.

When someone dies it seems like all you are left with is a world asking questions while you try ever so hard not to cry (while you try ever so hard to stop crying, over and over and over again).

Are you ok?
Where did he die? Was he in pain? Was his family with him?
Do you want to talk?
When did you meet? How did you know him? Were you close?
Do you …?
Was he…?

There are so many questions; there is so much curiosity about death and it feels like there is this impossible mass of people trying to find closure for themselves by trying to cross exam and support the people who were closest in that final moment and who are blessed with still being alive.

Just how many ways
will you make me find to say
(lying) I’m okay?

Patrick died after the briefest of struggles with cancer. He was sent to an oncologist July 30, and on the weekend of August 3, he worked with Chooch to set up a sub-blog on specficmedia.com where he was going to document his fight. He wanted to win, and live, and …

He had asked me that last week of July if I’d help him write a bucket list if it was needed. I said yes, … but he never asked. He thought he’d have the time to consider that another day, or maybe even another year.

But he had no time at all.

P.G. had his first chemo treatment on August 5, and was hospitalized a week later for the first time.  When he went for his second chemo treatment on August 16, the doctor said that the treatment would do nothing and that it was time to go home. His beloved Kim Herrick, who had been with him for every appointment and who was his rock, took him straight to Duke University Hospital where all the tests were repeated and a group of three doctors sorrowfully agreed on the earlier prognosis. On Saturday, August 16, P.G. went home for the last time.

In Durham we lost
hope for many tomorrows
and found this moment.

Viv and Chooch had met Kim and Patrick at Duke, and Viv began making calls immediately, telling us it was time, and we needed to come now. Viv and I had been in close contact all that week as Patrick had stopped using his phone to talk. She reached me early Saturday morning and found me working at the barn, helping a friend with terminal cancer. How do you say to someone who is dying, “I’m sorry, I need to go; someone else is dying faster.” I don’t know what I said, but I know what she said, “You get yourself home before this fully hits you. I’m ok.” And that day she was ok. And this day she is ok. And with her at least there is time.

That Saturday night, podcasters started to arrive, with Tee and Pip coming with cookies. Christiana Ellis and I arrived by plane on Saturday, and over the days so many would come and selflessly help. I am so grateful for Matt Lynch’s help on Monday morning when we so needed his strong hands. By Monday afternoon, family was filling the house. I can’t say that many hands made light work, but many hands meant that P.G. never awoke without someone holding his hands.

He didn’t want to be alone.

I made a mistake once. I was trying so hard to get P.G. to take a nasty thick sticky medicine; he was half awake and … I was begging. I told him I’d leave him alone if he would just … and he cut me off, eyes going so very terribly wide, saying with a fought for clarity, “Don’t leave me alone.” It was Viv who knew the words to say to him, reminding him the medicine would help him have a clearer head when his daughters came. His daughters – his three beautiful daughters – were his world, and for them he would drink the meds. For him, we made the promise that there would always be someone with him; there would always be someone holding his hand.

I held your hand then
In the all too dark present
listening to you breath.

His decline took us all off guard, but his soul was so strong. He fought for his dignity like a badass. He battled to walk to the bathroom longer then I would have thought possible, and he fought over and over to sit up for daughters. The last time he raised his arms was to put them around his littlest flower.

Even as his body shut down, we could see his mind trapped inside. Tuesday, as we began to see the days shorten to hours, we put an urgency into our plea for messages and media from friends, and Viv and I sat there/lay there on either side of him, alternating between reading and playing media. Matt Wallace’s words made it real, and I can remember how P.G. tried so hard to reach for the screen when David Slusher said, ever so truthfully, “I love you, Motherfucker.” I can hear how he struggled to talk when we played him audio from Mur Lafferty on Wednesday morning. He was there in that broken body, and your words carried him. We read. And then we read some more. And when we were out of your messages I kept reading as I turned to short stories and longer ones that were written by his friends. Sometime Wednesday after 10:30pm, his mom came in and said, “Pamela, I think it’s time to stop reading.” I was reading for me at that point. I was reading because I needed to feel those friends, those authors, there supporting me. I was reading because if I was dying, it’s what I would want. But she knew her son, and she knew he was a reader who could never sleep as long as there were words waiting to be consumed. I closed the book, and Kim and I sat with him, talking softly, telling him we loved him.

I didn’t know grace
until I looked in your eyes
and said “Goodbye, love.”

I can still remember the first time P.G. said, “I love you.” It is only in recent years that I’ve found a group of friends who are true and open in their friendships; friends who are able to say “I love you.” P.G. was the first to say it (sober) when one Monday morning of Balticon, we talked on the phone as he was packing his car and running out of time to actually see me off in person. We talked ever so briefly, and when I said goodbye, he said “I love you.” And I said it back, because I realized that with this tight knit group of friends it truly is love. It truly is family. That Monday morning… he was missing his (new media) family brunch as he raced home to his (genetic) family. That was Balticon 2011. We’d known each other since DragonCon 2009. We’ve had 5 years of Skype conversations, room parties, random text messages, and even a shared vodcast about the 2013 nanowrimo. It wasn’t the decades I would have asked for, but it was enough. I am better for knowing Patrick.

So many of us were made better for knowing him, being inspired by him, and simply being loved by him. One of the greatest privileges that we, his friends, were granted in those final days was helping his family understand who P.G. was as a writer, podcaster, and fan of speculative fiction and fantasy. As they watched us use the internet (and take down the cable modem and two hotspots) to bring in the voices and videos of so many people from so many corners of the globe, they saw the reality of how many people PG had touched.

And I think Patrick, who had always been blind to his own powerful creativity, finally knew how much he was loved and respected. I can think of no greater thing I can have accomplished than helping him and his family feel that love and respect. There was closure.

Tears still keep coming
but I wouldn’t change what’s been.
You shaped who I am.

About 15 minutes after I stopped reading, Patrick’s hard fought for breathing changed. He stopped struggling and his breath grew shallow. He gave us the time to call in everyone who was scattered throughout the house. He held on long enough for all of us to be there one last time as he looked around and breathed deeply a final time.

Patrick died surrounded by love. I was there; I wept into his pillow as my hand couldn’t stop stroking his hair. My other hand was held by someone; I don’t know who. We all held him, and we all held each other. We each knew we were not alone. We wept as Viv’s words rang out, chanting the names of all those who had reached out to send their words of love.

The next day we held each other, and we found reasons to laugh and we told his daughters about the parts of him they hadn’t yet met. We ate too much, and… we beat up / flattened / pounded the frosting out of a carrot cake because it looked at his eldest daughter funny (we then each picked at that cake with shared forks until Patrick’s mom finally made it go away). We wrestled with his dog Bo (who had over and over and over gently lain at PG’s side and licked his hands). We … we wept and we laughed and wept and laughed. The house buzzed and sang with social media as everyone not in the house reached out asking “are you ok?” and sharing their favorite photos and videos. It was as though our entire small community was electronically holding us and making it clear that none of us are ever truly alone.

I will celebrate
your words and your works each day
as you still teach me.

On October 11, 2014 there will be a memorial for P.G. From now until at least then we are working to raise money to help support his three wonderful daughters. You can give at the GoFundMe page. If you can’t give, please just read his stories and share them with others. It is through his words and media that everyone can still get to know him.

The most powerful thing I learned from PG was that we need to say, “I love you” when we love someone. Love is not a word to be carefully guarded from over use. It is not a word to be sheltered from daylight and held close to only be used with family and significant others. Love, when felt, must be named.

I am brave enough
To speak the truth; I loved you.
You remain my friend.

142310

20 Comments

  1. Tim Dodge August 24, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    Thank you so much, Pamela. I’ve wondered a lot what his last days and hours were like, although I’ve chastised myself for being a bit morbid. I’ve just wondered how alert he was, whether he was able to walk and talk a little, did he hear and understand all the messages. Now I know. All of you who were in that house made his transition from this world to the next a little more bearable for him, and for that I thank you. I hope we can all make October 11 a day of celebration. There will be sorrow, yes, but I hope we can celebrate his gifts and the memories of all those good times.

  2. Nuchtchas August 24, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

    <3 Thank You

  3. Don August 24, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    You words were so poignant. I felt like I was walking with you as you experienced all this life. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Natalie August 24, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

    <3 *hugs*

  5. Todd weller August 24, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

    Very beautifully written Pamela. I’m so sorry for your loss. I didn’t know P.G. but it sounds like you were blessed because you knew him. This year’s been tough. Hang in there.

    Todd

  6. Valerie Durham August 24, 2014 at 7:29 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing this Pamela. So many of us who loved Patrick wanted to be there with you in those final days and hours. I appreciate knowing more about how those last moments were for him, and that you all shared the love with him that all of us felt and wanted to express. I cannot believe he is no longer in this dimension of life. I miss him.

  7. Chip August 24, 2014 at 8:37 pm #

    So well expressed Pamela. You have the gift to put in words what so many of us going through life can feel but are unable to put in writing. Thank you!

  8. Chris Lester August 24, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

    This is so beautiful. Thank you for painting us this picture of Patrick’s final days, days filled with love and friendship and mutual support. (Dammit, I’m crying.) If there’s one good thing to come out of this tragedy, it’s that we’ve seen how much this community is still a family, a Tribe, and if one of our number falls then the rest of us will come together to hold them, to help them, to let them know we are never alone.

    Thank you, Patrick, for teaching us how much we all still mean to each other.

  9. AB Kovacs August 25, 2014 at 2:20 am #

    I love you. You’re remarkable, powerful, radiant and rock solid. As you’ve ever been. I thank you and I love you.

  10. Jack August 25, 2014 at 3:25 am #

    Thank you for your strength and love for PG to share this with us.

  11. James Spiller August 25, 2014 at 6:14 am #

    Absolutely impossible to read those words, and not be deeply and profoundly moved by them.

    Thank you, Pamela, for gracefully and truly sharing with us the love and friendship bound and united everyone there, and helping remind us of the same love and friendship which supports each of us in our own lives.

    I’m so sorry that Patrick is gone; I’m glad that your life, and the lives of so many, are richer, and more fulfilled, because of him.

    Warmly, James.

  12. Chas August 25, 2014 at 6:46 am #

    That was beautiful, Pamela. Thank you.
    Respect,
    C

  13. Doc Coleman August 25, 2014 at 6:53 am #

    Thank you for sharing these moments with us.

  14. kimberly heroux August 25, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    I have known patrick since elementary school and had a relationship with him just a few short years ago. Your words made me cry and lament the fact i didnt gwt a chance to tell him i loved him one last time. Thank you for your description . I cant believe i wasnt there.

  15. RapidEye August 25, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    Thank you Pamela for sharing what is probably one of the most intimate moments a person can have with the rest of us in your usual eloquent way.

  16. Michael Spence August 25, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    Thank you, Pamela. I’ve regretted not being able to be with Patrick and all of you during this time, but you’ve given me the opportunity that time and space had denied. Thank you so very much.

  17. Guy August 26, 2014 at 5:29 am #

    My father in law has just been diagnosed with what seems to be the same cancer. It’s rare, and brutal. The switch from rude health to jaundiced infirmity is amazingly rapid, and you have no time to prepare. My thoughts are with those who loved him. Fate is cruel.

  18. Lisa August 26, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    Thank you for sharing. That is the most beautiful thing I have ever read. All that knew Patrick will always have a gift of knowing that wonderful man. Peace.

  19. Viv September 10, 2014 at 5:33 am #

    Finally brought myself to read it, as I’m missing him and all of our “someday” plans and hijinx that won’t happen now. It’s hard remembering a lot during that hazy time, but I’m glad you have the same sense and energy I still do. <3 My Cosmic Sestra

  20. Windy J. June 10, 2015 at 4:55 pm #

    Here I am, reading this a year later, and I cried.

    P.G. Holyfield must have been a most beautiful person. As are all his loved ones.

    I offer digital cookies in the hopes that they help warm a coldness that I know never really melts entirely. <3

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