Anger, gripes cannot cover a heart's grief

Wednesday, July 15, 1998

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Not a day goes by where Pat Sowers doesn't miss her husband, Rich.

They were happily married for 40 years. But their happiness ended when the retired printer died of a massive heart attack at their house in North College Hill.

Pat was home that day. "He told me he was going out. He grabbed his chest and that was it." Her husband was gone.

That was 17 months ago. The hurt and the shock over his loss remain. Pat still speaks of Rich in the present tense.

"He is quiet and tall. He's such a gentleman."

Recalling the way he held doors for her, remembering how he touched her hand made Pat's luminous blue eyes glisten. Her mouth quivered. She pushed her cup of soup aside and dabbed her eyes with her napkin. "Lunch with Cliff" would have to wait. Pat had to take some deep breaths. Calming herself, she waved her hand in the air as if to chase away the blues.

Finally, she whispered: "I'm all right."

Pointing to her tear-dampened cheeks, she added: "I've been very good about this. But sometimes, it just comes over me."

She looked away and a silence joined us in the back booth at Shuller's Wigwam Restaurant. Pat and Rich used to come here. He was a meat and potatoes man and liked the restaurant's no-frills menu.

Now when she goes to Shuller's, Pat sits alone with her thoughts. The dark wood paneling and friendly waitresses remind her of happier days.

"We had our wedding dinner here," she said. She remembered birthdays and anniversary parties and special times spent with the couple's two sons, Russell and Wayne. For a few seconds, she smiled sweetly as she savored the memories.

Pat had planned to use this lunch as a gripe session. She has had her fill of dealing with polite, but uncaring Social Security functionaries and the government's piddling death benefits.

"They gave me a whole $255 for my husband's burial. That doesn't even cover opening the grave."

Pat also told me she was "ticked off at the tobacco companies and the additives they put in cigarettes to hook people like Rich." But, more than anything else, she was mourning her loss and worried about her future.

"I'm going to have to work until I'm 65," she said. "I'm not lazy. I've worked as long as I can remember. But when I retire, the pension I get won't begin to match what I put into Social Security." Pat sat back and frowned. The mere mention of the government made her fume.

"Those politicians in Washington send billions to countries all over the world. But common people like myself have to cut corners to get by. How can they get away with that? That's our money."

Pat's job involves coordinating orders for export at Sun Chemical. The company makes pigments used in cosmetics and car paint as well as the green hue of paper money.

"Sun just bought a plant that makes phosphorescent pigments," she noted. "Maybe we could put their product into the green pigment we make. That way, we could see where our money goes."

Pat laughed at the idea of glow-in-the-dark bucks. Her laughter helped soften her mood.

She stressed that she doesn't spend her every waking moment railing against the government. There are better things to do with her time. She has four grandchildren to love and cakes to bake, including her specialty, cheesecake.

In her spare time she ushers at the Aronoff and sews at home. She tries not to feel sorry for herself.

"When I get to feeling bad," she said, "I think of a friend who's battling breast cancer. That's when I tell myself what a dummy I am to feel that way.

"I'm only fighting some temporary blues. She's fighting for her life."

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

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