LIVING AND DYING IN THE PUBLIC EYE

Since my mother died, many of the people who come up to me expressing their condolences add, “It must be so hard to go through this in the public eye.” When I answer that I’m used to it, or I say, “No, not really,” they look confused.85

If you’ve grown up in the public eye, it’s familiar — it’s your “normal” even though you know, to other people, it seems bizarre. After my father died, and now my mother, the public part was, in a way, a relief. It was the state of limbo before the real journey began. I know how to do the public part, it’s been an aspect of my life for as long as I can remember. But I didn’t know how to lose my father, or my mother. Those are personal journeys — private, often complicated, layered with residue of the past.

The period between a loved one dying and the service is busy with planning and filled with people offering support and sustenance. There is little time to truly process the absence of the person who has died. Once the service is over — even if, in some cases,  it’s only a burial service — there is a finality to it, a sense that one phase is ending and a much longer journey is beginning. That’s when it’s common to look around and ask, Where did everyone go?

It’s no different if you’re in the public eye. Sadly, you see who your real friends are after the service is over, after the burial, when life goes on and the flowers that were sent die and you have a pile of thank you notes to write. Some people remain attentive; some vanish. It’s generally a surprise to see who falls into which camp. There were people I never expected to be so attentive and present — people who earnestly have wanted to know how I’m doing — who are now woven into my life in ways they weren’t before. Then there are those few  friends who I assumed would be calling or coming by who have disappeared. Nothing but radio silence. It surprised me after my father died; it doesn’t now. I know now how common this is. Whether someone is in the public eye or not, this is just what happens after a loved one dies. Maybe it’s a weeding out process. Maybe it’s a way to see with absolute clarity who belongs in your life and who doesn’t. That’s how I choose to think of it, because looking at it like that leads me to gratitude, which is a far better place to live than anger or blame. I’ve ended up with more meaningful relationships that were forged in the aftermath of my parents’ passing.

One aspect of being in the public eye is that you get messages and support from strangers — the girl at the checkout counter at Whole Foods, someone at the gym who I’ve seen but had no interaction with before. And on social media. A woman who identified herself as “Mrs. Claus” sent several messages to my website that were powerful, and spiritual, and slipped into my heart. I had to laugh a little, that she took the time to write me — and they were well thought-out letters — while a woman who I had considered a close friend hadn’t even called.

Death is the great equalizer. Whether we live our lives publicly or privately, we lose people. We say goodbye and turn back to our lives without them. We’re lucky to have people reaching out, calling, asking how we’re doing, even if they aren’t the people we expected to be filling that role. I’m lucky that, because my family is public, I have gotten some of that from strangers. Mrs. Claus wrote: “It took the loss of many to be able to accept that life is a moment in time and each person’s moment is individual. Some for decades, some for seconds, but each life has meaning for the time it lasts. I rejoice that I had those moments and focusing on that helps me.” She helped me more than she knows, and I have no idea who she is.

12 Responses to LIVING AND DYING IN THE PUBLIC EYE

  1. Dianne says:

    Your words have helped me in my own journey. Although we never met you have helped me. Sometimes it’s just the right time or perfect words that.can help a complete stranger get past a difficult time. I find what you wrote was well said.

  2. Amy Barlow says:

    Patti, I lost my mom years ago. What you said about knowing who your real friends are following a great loss? The great equalizer? So true, regardless of the spotlight. You have weathered a lot of storms quite publicly. I wish you continued grace in your journey. Prayers in your pocket from an old friend. Love, Amy

  3. Rodney Wilson says:

    God bless the Mrs. Clauses of the world. Thoughts of peace and wholeness sent your way.

  4. Lynda Wells says:

    Once again the genetic trait from your father emerges…Communicator in Chief. It is amazing how people react to us after seminal life events. And how we assume the ‘public eye’ is more glaring in loss. I grieved my own mother’s loss long before before she actually died. First when, because of macular degeneration, she could no longer look into my eyes…then when she began the slow process of vascular dementia…and then when she, for all intense and purposes, stopped verbal communication. Finally, 2 months after her 100th Burthday, she peacefully died. My relief was palpable, as the mother I had depended on as a child had left long ago. She wasn’t famous, nor am I, so there was little support when I had to return to her home to empty the closets. There are a lot of memories in closets. And drawers. I couldn’t even go into the attic because I knew Christmas was there. So I locked the door and left most everything behind. I took the love, however. And the gratitude for her. She was a wonder to behold, actually…all the way to the end. But, she was my mother so of course I am prejudiced.
    Patti, we have not met, yet, but I do read your heart and words. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

  5. Silviya Milanova says:

    Beautifully written and so true. One of my friends who had to grieve in public for some of her loved ones said to me once “Grieving in public is actually easy – you are surrounded by so many people and such an overwhelming support that you just keep on going without having any time and space to process your deepest inner feelings but it makes the aftermath much more difficult. You start counting the people who should have called but never did. And there’s just one possible remedy for this: I focus on the ones who called or wrote, or came and on the words they have said. The new friendships that come out of such circumstances are great and lasting and make me feel blessed”.

  6. Heather Blodgett says:

    Hi Patti, I met you years ago several times through Lanetta….My step mother…as you may recall she was married to my father Michael Blodgett and had Lucy my sister……..I just wanted to thank you for your words..I lost both parents recently and it is a process of mourning and growing…I remember how much my Father Michael loved you and your family. He loved seeing you guys together at the ranch..I am sending you love and prayers and yes the universe is a mysterious place, love shines in the oddest places…just showing how control is yesterdays tonic and not a full course meal…some people feel safe knowing….or thinking they know…when in fact we know so little…and the unknown is the adventure that is far more interesting than anything we can concoct on our own….it is taking the nose dive into this love and appreciating its beauty and fortitude….

    One of my favorite songs…”When the night has been too lonely and the rode has been to long and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong..just remember in the winter far beneath the winter snows lies the seed that with the sun’s love in the spring becomes the rose”…Taken from The Rose.

    I love you!!!!
    Heather Blodgett

  7. Laura Davis says:

    Hello, Ms. Davis,
    While we are total strangers, you have been on my mind these past weeks and I now have your insightful book about mothers on my kindle. Your parents & mine were of similar age and, it seems, cut from that same generational cloth. Knowing from my own experience that the loss seems to sit more heavily along about 3 or 4 weeks out, I just wanted to let you know that you are being thought of with warmth & sympathy.
    Sincerely,
    Laura Davis

  8. Philip Cochran says:

    Patti I realize that I’m one of those strangers who you’ve never met etc etc. It’s strange how I feel like I know you and I can feel your pain. I pray for you, and my friends and I have conversations aboit you (we only speak positive and uplifting words abou you). Even though we’ve never met if I saw you I would probably come up too you and try ro start a conversation and I’m sure you would be think oh God help me another crazy conservative stranger. 🙂 Even though our political views may differ. You are all we have left of our beloved Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Sure there are Ron and Michael but you seem a lot like your Dad in the way you carry yourself and a lot like your Mother in the way your very careful and cautious about what you say in public. Anyway juat wanted you too know I’ve always liked you and have always felt a kinship because like youraelf I have very distant parents.
    Keep doing what your doing and keep your Dad’s legacy relevant. God Vless and hope you have a wonderful day.

  9. Susan Alexander says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m praying God will wrap you in His blanket of peace. Though I’ve lost both my parents, my sister’s unexpected death at 46 shocked me so bad it’s been the hardest one to get over. It’s like I hit a brick wall going 90 mph. She was 4 yrs older than me. I just turned 55 and it kills me that I outlived my big sister. I’d lie awake remembering our childhood with a smile and then realizing she was gone and then I’m drowning in tears. I live alone so the silence could be deafening. I write poetry which always seems to help me and this one came to me about a week after she died:
    THUNDER IN THE SILENCE
    In the thunder of the silence
    Waves of memories flood my mind
    I try desperately to escape them
    But my heart won’t leave them behind

    I take every detour to avoid them
    Yet they remain within my soul’s reach
    I’m not sure if it’s a lesson I failed to learn
    Or a lesson life failed to teach

    These flashbacks of yesterday surround me
    They forever dance around in my head
    Though some have brought me great comfort
    Others demand tears to be shed

    It seems I have no choice or selection
    As to which memories I care to recall
    As in life we must take the good with the bad
    Or we are left with nothing at all

    The kind ones reach out to embrace me
    The painful ones I just struggle through
    Since I’m forced to take one with the other
    Then this I will continue to do

    Though my heart may long for mercy
    It takes it’s chances like a roll of the dice
    I would forsake the joy to forget the pain
    But it would not be worth the sacrifice

    God gave us opposites for a reason
    Each positive makes the negative worthwhile
    Just knowing one day I will see her again
    Makes this journey worth every mile

    For there’s a light at the end of this tunnel
    No need to fear, no reason to roam
    My faith will be the footprints I follow
    And, step by step, I will find my way home.

    I’m sorry this was so long but my heart was full when I wrote it. I hope the last verse will bring you comfort. May God bless you beyond your dreams.

    • caren says:

      Beefore our adopted 23 year old son was murdered in a gang killing, I hadn’t been to many funerals. My parents are 93 and 90 and still I cannot imagine. In my life grief is not something that ever stops it just is a milestone of how awakened we become through loss. Even at the trial my husband and daughter all spoke of compassion because it was so clear that our son had his life shortened but the murderer never had a day without hate. Understanding the family narrative is something that I heal with because it was taught to us as the best information they could do. Sometimes we find the narrative no longer works and it is my mission to help those clients invent a new one. Whether you live in or out of the public eye, families have a distinct story but it can be put aside and reinvented. That is what I told Michael when we spoke in court. He can reinvent his legacy and his family can be healed.

  10. Josh Troy says:

    I know you don’t know me, but I feel like I know you and Ron Jr. You ask where did everyone go. I just wanted to say I’m right here. I will always be supporting you. You’ve taught me so much. Like you, I’m a liberal Democrat. You have shown youb can have good parents who disagree with you. Your parents were good people and you’re a great person. Your friend, Josh Troy

  11. Sandra Warren says:

    Your words give me a lot of thought. The grandson of my father’s second wife was killed in an accident last year. I realize now that I have been remiss in keeping in contact with my extended family since their son’s funeral. I wish I’d been more thoughtful, but it’s not entirely due to thoughtlessness on my part that I haven’t called them. We are Facebook Friends, and while I haven’t seen their faces in months, I feel as though I’ve kept up with them because I’ve read their updates so often, most of which are sadly about dealing with their grief. We may not have spoken, but I know what’s going on in their lives, and it’s obvious to notice their natural ongoing sadness. I been thinking that I haven’t wanted to intrude, but I’ve been wrong to think so. I will call them now. But perhaps you can forgive your friend for her absence. Between the news and your blog, she is undoubtedly able to catch up on you quite often, even if you can’t do the same.

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