The Spirit Carries On

Pam and Al are friends of ours. Kathy has known Pam since early childhood. They went to school together and were in girl scouts together. Pam was even Kathy's maid of honor when we got married. They were the closest of friends. I've known Pam and Al as long as I've known Kathy, which is more than ten years.

The past few years, we haven't had much time to see Pam and Al. They've been busy with their two kids: nine-year-old Chris and four-year-old Adam, and we've been busy too. Despite our busy lives, we had recently seen them at their son Chris' birthday party. And so I thought it was a little unusual when Kathy scheduled us to eat dinner with Pam and Al without asking me; Kathy always asks me. Somehow, it just seemed important to her that we get together that night.

So Friday night, Jan 28, 2000, the four of us went out to eat dinner together. They came over to our house, and we drove to Spikers, a local restaurant. Al and I ordered their famous ribs. Kathy ordered fajitas. Pam ordered the kabobs. Dinner at Spikers was nice.

As part of our conversation, we talked about a movie Kathy and I saw Thursday called "The Cider House Rules." In the movie, one woman dies because she tried to have an illegal abortion that was botched, which led to an infection. Al said that it was easier for a woman to die than a man, due to complications with a woman's reproductive organs. Pam seemed to squirm at that thought. Al told us he had passed his EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) certification class, as he had so many times in the past. Al has been a volunteer fire fighter and EMT for the city of Ramsey Minnesota for as long as I've known him. Our conversation turned to some of the emergencies Al has responded to. He's saved a lot of lives, but he's also seen people die, and some of them very suddenly.

Al gave us several examples of tragic endings he's seen as a fire fighter and first responder. He told us about a girl who was riding a bike along a busy road. Suddenly, she made a sharp turn toward the street and the truck that hit her never even had a chance to react. She was killed instantly. Pam said that it was nobody's fault, and that the death could not have been avoided. Al gave us another example of a fatality he's seen, and again Pam said it was nobody's fault, and the accident could not be avoided. We heard about a third example, and again Pam said it wasn't anybody's fault, and the death could not have been avoided. I looked Al straight in the eye and told him, "It just goes to show you: You never know when it's your time to die. You've just got to get the most out of life while you still have it."

The four of us returned to our house where the evening was filled with casual conversation. Pam hated her job and had a job interview on Monday. She was excited at the prospect of a major life change. We talked about the pinewood derby race that their kids were in, and a snowmobile race they were going to the next day, Saturday. We talked about their parents, and how Pam's dad is recovering from alcoholism and went totally dry due to health problems. And although her dad seems much more cranky without the alcohol, Pam said she was much happier about him making that decision. We also talked about how Al's parents were much more involved with the two kids than Pam's parents. Pam's parents didn't go to enough of the kids' events, but Al's parents went to too many. Pam said they even insisted on going to the race on Saturday.

We talked almost until midnight, and I played the album "Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From a Memory" by Dream Theater in the background. The CD culminates in a beautiful song called "The Spirit Carries On." The main refrain from the song goes like this:

If I die tomorrow,
I'd be alright
Because I believe
That after we're gone,
The spirit carries on.

The next day, when Kathy and I got home at 9:15pm from a busy day celebrating her Grandma Jones' 89th birthday and an antique show, there was a message on our answering machine from Al. "Please call; it's real important."

That afternoon at the race, Pam suddenly stood up, crumbled and died while she was holding her son's hand. Al, the well-trained EMT who had saved the lives of dozens of strangers with his skill, was helpless to restart his own wife's heart. He tried for more than an hour. As Pam said herself, it was nobody's fault; the death could not have been avoided. Pam had the best person at the scene to work on her: her loving husband. They say her heart just exploded.

I can't presume to know the reasons for a tragic ending such as this. But I do know one thing: Some day I will see and embrace Pam again. Maybe she'll tell me the answer "why." Until then she will be missed.

In loving memory of our friend Pam LaTour. 1964 - 2000.