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An Ode to the Friendship Special Olympics Brought Me


When David, our son, who was born with Down syndrome, joined the basketball and track team for Special Olympics I was excited that not only would he be able to play sports but that it could also be an opportunity to meet new friends.

Each season I went with him to practice and events. He loved to run fast, shoot baskets, and the best part was that he did make friends. A high five from a friend made him smile more than any blue ribbon ever could. It was during my time sitting on the bleachers, cheering everyone on, or participating with the team that slowly I realized I was making friends too. All the parents were warm and friendly. And David’s teammates were all wonderful. We all connected, laughed and supported one another. Most of all I enjoyed spending time with Patty, one of the athletes. We had first met when the team would walk together around the circle of the track. We started to seek each out so we could talk and share stories.

I really looked forward to seeing Patty at practices, and as we continued to meet, we established a routine. She would always smile,  then either hug me or simply hold my hand, call me Julia, which I loved (as unknown to her it was my mother’s middle name and what I wished I’d been named), share with me all about her latest goal of saving money for some new clothing item, like a hoodie or dress, and get all excited about buying it, and how she was planning to travel, and  during events, when I had a camera along, ask me to take her picture, and to print it and give to her in a frame.

I guess these might not sound like much, but that’s just it. It wasn’t about what we did or what we said. What mattered to me was how we did it, which was with a lot of kindness to each other and shared mutual respect. Time spent with Patty made me feel lighter, like I was less burdened with things I had been worried about. Talking with her made me feel like who I am is enough. She always helped me appreciate how important it was to simply be present when with someone, to be in the moment.

A few weeks ago Patty was diagnosed with cancer. When I visited her in the hospital, the first thing she did was smile, then call me Julia, and then squeeze my hand. Then she told me how happy she was to see me and that she was planning to be back home soon. The next time I visited, she woke for only a few seconds, just long enough to whisper, “Hi, Julia.” Patty died a few days later.

Weeks have passed, but even as I write this now, thinking about her, I still get a lump in my throat. Basketball season starts soon. I know on that first day of practice when I bring David he will be happy to reunite with all his friends. I also anticipate that I will subconsciously scan the room, looking for Patty and her smile. And I will then be reminded she’s not there. And I will stop and fight back that lump, but I have a feeling I will fail, that more tears will fall, as I again grieve, my heart feeling heavy, wishing one more time I could hear her call me Julia.

two women smiling

I will always appreciate Patty, our time together, and will be reminded to cherish those in life who make you happy.

The question has been asked, “What if the value of your life is counted exclusively in the feelings you produce in others?” Well, if that is the case, then the value of Patty’s life is immeasurable. I miss you, sweet friend.

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