When I learned this week that Patricio “Pat” Figueroa Jr. had died, it felt as if the air left the day. I was gutted. He was 63, much too young to be leaving the world in my book.
Pat was, in so many ways, an extraordinary human being. Testimony to this can be found, in part, when you pause to consider the fact that I only met him once, several years ago, and yet, here I am, thoroughly staggered by his death. Granted, we had quite a few phone conversations, I write for Independence Today, the national disability rights newspaper he published. Our conversations ranged over all kinds of areas, including our love for New York City’s Lower East Side, a place where we both lived.
So what was it about this good and decent man that caused him to mean so much to me? I don’t know that I’ll be able to answer the question completely in this essay and I’m too damned sad to try. I can tell you that one of the reasons was his pure unfettered compassion for people and, in more than one instance, for me personally. He enjoyed reading this blog and after reading one piece that talked about my struggle to keep food on the table he told me the piece moved him to tears. The man knew poor, he knew struggle.
So here’s the thing, if Pat came to mean so much to me after so little time together, I can only imagine what those who knew him far better than I are going through. I’ve met his wife Denise and daughter Melissa. I love them both too. In fact, only those who don’t pay attention would fail to love these three truly beautiful human beings.
I have no magic words to offer those deeply wounded by Pat’s death. What I can tell them, simply because it is true, is this: even death has its impotence. My father died when I was 15. For years I believed, on a thinking-level, that he was all gone. Then, one day, it hit me, he was (and is) present in my mind and heart on a daily basis. In a very concrete real way, he is still with me every day of my life. Death did not take the all of him away from me. Nor will death take the all of Pat away from those who loved him and love him still. He is not all gone.