I was shocked and saddened to hear this morning of Patricia Graham's death yesterday at Allegheny General in Pittsburgh following emergency open-heart surgery on Friday night, just a day after her 43rd birthday.
Last Tuesday, when my daughter and I ran into her — literally — at the farmers' market in St. Clairsville, she chided me for saying "Excuse us" before I recognized it was her. "What do you mean, 'Excuse us'? Geez, Betsy, you don't have to say 'excuse us' to ME!"
We laughed and she commented on how big Emma has gotten. She was as jocular as ever and she looked fantastic — vibrant even. She had lost weight and I knew she had been training to do the Faith in Action triathlon in Wheeling. After that brief encounter, I felt inspired by how she was taking care of herself and wished I had the motivation to get fit like she had.
I never once encountered Trish, whether on the phone or in person, when I didn't end up laughing over something she said. If she wasn't poking fun at herself, she was sharing a story about some antic of her kids or some off-the-wall encounter she had with a member of the public. Sometimes she was poking fun at me, helping me take myself and life in general less seriously.
When I started working at The Times Leader in 1996, Tricia was the assistant Lifestyles editor, working with then-Lifestyles editor Phyllis Sigal. Before taking her maternity leave when pregnant with her third child, Tricia trained me to do her job in the Lifestyles department. She was a patient and gracious teacher. She had gone to high school with my future husband, who also was a co-worker, and she mercilessly teased us when we started dating.
For the past 10 years, as we worked parallel jobs across the river from each other, I would run into her at assignments, such as the Wedding Bells bridal show or the Wheeling Civic Garden Center flower show, where we caught up about our families and ourselves and the goings-on in Martins Ferry, where we both live. We unassumingly helped each other out. Did you get that guy's name? Where was that model from? And we would joke about how we wish we had green thumbs or could wear a dress like that.
Whenever my colleague, Life editor Linda Comins, or I had occasion to call Trish about an anniversary or wedding announcement we were sharing with the T-L, our laughter was the telltale sign we were talking to Trish. She was always matter of fact, and I always felt a little lighter after talking to her, often shaking my head with a smile while hanging up the phone. I can't count the number of times I've said, "Tricia Graham is sooooooo funny!"
Times Leader readers will miss her Sunday columns, in which she chronicled — often self-deprecatingly — her experiences as a mom of four, her poignant feature stories and her yummy Taste Buds reviews. The community will miss her — she was an active member of Martins Ferry Rotary and champion of anything in which her children were involved.
All who knew her must feel a void as I do this morning. She was a fun-loving mother to her four children, and my heart aches for them and her husband.
I now realize her quest for fitness was probably partly an attempt to triumph over genetics. Her mother died of a heart condition at age 29, when Tricia was just 12. Last year, her brother collapsed from a heart problem, and she spent a couple weeks by his side; he pulled through.
I imagine her arriving at the Pearly Gates this morning, her jaw dropped, arms out and palms upturned, giving St. Peter a hard time. "You mean to tell me I counted all those Weight Watchers points and walked 50 gazillion miles for nothin'?"
It is heartening to think that she no longer has to toil here on earth, fighting against a mysterious genetic assailant. As a mother, I know she would be torn apart by the pain and loss her children are feeling. But there is no mommy guilt in heaven. No tears, no pain. Only joy and laughter. Trish will fit right in.