Pam Downing, In Memoriam: A Thank You Letter

Pam Downing, memorial tree at Chicago Botanic Garden

Dear Family and Friends,

Ever since “Pam Day,” I’ve wanted to send each of you a thank you note for all of the care, help, thoughts, prayers, gestures, donations, and love you’ve given. This past year has been incredibly hard for me, and a while ago I realized there is no way I could thank all of you individually (and never adequately), but I wanted each of you to know what your collective love for Pam has created in memoriam. And so that this can reach as many people as possible, please feel free to share this in any way you can, publicly or privately. Also, at the end of this letter, there is a comments section you may post to, now or in the future. There are days when I am so very tired, but I will never tire of hearing and thinking about and loving Pam.

A picture of Pam smiling in her bright yellow hoodie

As many of you know, when Pam passed away on November 3, 2015, I was on a personal leave from work. I am incredibly lucky to work at a place that has been both empathetic and empowering through everything—before, during, and after. As such, I did not return to work until March 1, 2016, working part-time until I returned full-time on June 1. During that time away I took a road trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and revisited some of the places there Pam and I had spent time at together, as well as discovered new places for myself and with her in my mind and heart. Each time I went for a hike, I found a peaceful area to write her name in the dirt, dust, and rocks, and after some reflection, I wiped away her name before carrying on.

2015-12-06-11-05-15-copy

I have a lot to say about grief and grieving, and I am currently working on a book, A Grief Lexicon, a sequel (of sorts) to A Slow Archive, that will include prose, poems, and pictures. For now, let me just share that for a long time I lived life by the hour, and many days felt as if they contained many lives. Grief knows no linearity, and it relentlessly folds back in on itself, yet slowly these lives of mine have expanded into days, weeks, even months. As Pam and I always felt, and despite this unimaginable loss, I still feel lucky and grateful, both to have had her in my life and to continue to have her memory and all of you.

2016-07-02-02-12-08

In May, I spent as much time as possible watching birds during the spring migration, mostly at the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary just a few miles from my apartment (the one Pam and I shared, and in which I still live). I’ve now been back to work full-time for four months and am rekindling my passion for it, which feels wonderful even if sometimes completely exhausting. It hasn’t always been easy, but there are days in which I think about how Pam knew this part of my life and that brings me solace.

2016-05-13-07-01-12

As for Pam’s work, the staff, students, and parents at Prescott School have honored and memorialized Pam in a number of truly beautiful ways, including a handmade bookcase filled with her favorite children’s books (that have custom bookplates dedicated to Pam), a memorial garden near the playground, and more. During one of the annual celebration of learning days, Chrissy and I were able to attend a wonderful ceremony in which the whole school celebrated Pam. I was able to share some words with the school during the event, and the whole thing was just so moving and special and I will never forget it. Below is a slideshow some of Pam’s closest colleagues, friends, and students made in her memory.

In July, Pam’s sisters and I spent a week on the beach in Shelby, MI., just a mile away from where Pam and I said our vows on July 7, 2011 (before partying with many of you a few days later in Chicago). We were together the whole week, joined by Amy’s husband Julian, Chrissy’s husband Nic, and my brother Jared and his girlfriend Melissa. One evening, we walked down to the beach before sunset to spread Pam’s ashes in Lake Michigan. Like her mother before her, this is what Pam wanted, and now their ashes remain together in a place they loved, a place we all love. After, we sat on the shore and watched the sunset and told funny stories about Pam. We cried and hugged, but mostly we laughed. I know it’s exactly what Pam would have wanted. It was perfect.

2016-07-15-11-14-19

Amy and Chrissy have both been taking time everyday to remember and honor Pam while also taking on new challenges, both moving and finding new jobs this year. Amy and Julian bought a house in Seattle and have both started new jobs there. Amy is now on faculty at Seattle Children’s Hospital, teaching and caring for children as both a palliative care doctor and a general pediatrician. More recently, Chrissy and Nic moved to Alabama, as Nic found a job teaching philosophy as a lecturer at Auburn University. Chrissy is teaching yoga and will soon start a new job in social work with the VA. Amy and Chrissy are like sisters to me and I miss them so much, though we are keeping up the tradition of group texting. I know Pam would be so impressed and proud of them both and I am looking forward to the holidays when we can all be together again.

img_3758

On Pam’s birthday, August 15, my brother Jared and I spent the day at the Chicago Botanic Garden. For “Pam Day,” we asked that all donations be made to a few places close to Pam’s heart, and over $7,000 was raised that went to supporting under- and uninsured women undergoing cancer treatment, providing food for hungry people and working to end hunger, and the dedication of a tree and brick in Pam’s name. For what would have been Pam’s 37th birthday, we visited the brick with her name on it and “tagged” her tree with her name and a poem. Pam loved botanical illustration, especially collecting and drawing “dead stuff,” so the Colorado Spruce is perfect, not just because it lives next to where Pam and I loved to sit together, but because we can bring home pinecones each year! If you’d like to visit, download this map—each location is highlighted with a heart. Her tree is next to two benches across from Spider Island (33), and her brick is in front of a bench on a path behind the Rose Garden (29). Thank you so much to everyone who made this possible!

dsc_0097

Pam was and is the love of my life. There isn’t a moment that goes by in which I don’t feel her presence and memory in some way. At times, that feeling can weigh too much, other times it brings me a great lightness, but no matter what it fills my heart. Even those who only met Pam once, or never got to meet her at all, know she was a beautiful and important human being who truly did make us and the world better. Since her passing, I’ve spoken with so many of you about her, built new relationships with you through her, and continue to keep trying to be the best person I can be because of her. I love her still, and always, so very much.

pam

Thank you, everyone, for every little thing you’ve done for Pam, for me, for Amy and Chrissy, for yourselves and those you love. Whether it’s thinking of her, sharing a story with me, celebrating her life and legacy, liking a photo on Instagram, donating money, dropping off food and sweets, or just checking up on me, all of it means the world. I truly believe that for nearly 8 years I remained in this world because of Pam and I want to continue to live for her, through her, like her. I am a better person because of her. We all are. Thank you, Pam.

With love and gratitude,

Josh

20 thoughts on “Pam Downing, In Memoriam: A Thank You Letter”

  1. It’s funny how human connections work; I was just thinking of you (and Pam) today. Sending a big hug across the miles.

  2. Me, too, Karen! We were in Bucktown and I was reminiscing about game nights at Pam’s apartment. Josh, thank you so much for this beautiful tribute.

  3. Such wonderful and beautiful thoughts Dear Josh. Pam was a beautiful woman and you are so thoughtful. Thank you for all the videos and pictures; a wonderful reminder of her life.

  4. Beautifully written, Josh. The love you and Pam shared together never stops amazing me. Really looking forward to your next book.

  5. Thanks for sharing Josh. It’s one of the greatest things you can do in honor of Pam’s life. Those memories still make us all, cry, smile and make us better for knowing her. We won’t forget them or her. Thanks to you, Pam’s sisters and Pam’s school for creating lasting memorials in Pam’s memory. Love you so much for the man you’ve become.

  6. This is a lovely tribute Josh. Every walk I take in our hood I imagine she is along looking at flowers and deciding what new species to sketch.
    Looking forward to going to the CBG to look at the memorials.
    Thanks for the update.
    Be good to yourself.

  7. This will teach me not to read emails first thing Monday morning! I am sitting at my desk at work weeping (not with sadness with an unimaginable sense of gratitude). Pam worked in the classroom right below where I am sitting now and I loved to walk past her room and watch her reading to her students while sitting in her rocking chair. Her students were spread out on the carpet around her, gazing up at her in rapt attention.
    Thank you Josh for bringing me here today and for letting us in to remind us of the love story that you two share. xoxo

  8. If you remember me, then I don’t care if everyone else forgets.
    —Haruki Murakami

    The beauty of this quote, is that it implies an unbreakable chain of memory and life. Thank you Josh for doing that as well.

  9. Josh, I think of you often and that leads to thoughts of Pam. Thank you for the moving tribute to her. Her vibrant personality will stay with all of us who knew her well or not so well. She touched us all.

  10. Thank you for this and for sharing Pam with us. So much reminds me of her every day, her life, her light, her humor, her kindness and warmth. I am very grateful to have briefly known her and to carry a lasting memory of her friendship. xoxo

  11. Josh –
    All that you’ve put into this is really beautiful and touching. I’m glad for you, for Pam and all the rest of us that you created all this with your love for her. Its very nice.

    Love,
    Mitch

  12. Dearest Josh, I have thought about you so often in the past year, and your beautiful update has given me the nudge to let you know that. From your poignant writings, I came to know and love her … she will be memorialized forever for those of us fortunate enough to share in your accounts. It makes me happy to know that you are continuing with your next book. Pam is no doubt rejoicing also.

    Blessings, Carol

  13. Josh, what a beautiful tribute to Pam. She will be in yours and everyone’s heart forever. Happy to hear that you are at peace❤️Gisela

  14. Thanks for sharing this update. Lucy and I have thought of you many times in the past year. Can’t imagine how hard it must’ve been. We’re grateful that you’ve been so generous in sharing your thoughts.

  15. I never had the opportunity to meet your beautiful wife but kept in touch through my friend, your mom. Through all these heartfelt tributes, one has to know what a wonderful person Pam was. My prayers were out there for her, now they are for you. May your memories sustain you.

    Most sincerely,
    Barbara Beiner

  16. Remembering Pam today-what a blessing she was to so many! I loved the day you both came to my house to set up the antenna. We shared so many laughs. We later went out to eat, and Pam had her Moscow Mule-she just was enjoying simple moments. I miss her!

  17. I’m sorry, I’m not very eloquent with words so I just don’t know what to say. This made me cry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.