How We Live Makes All of the Difference

Charlton Harris avatar

by Charlton Harris |

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The past few months have been challenging for me. I’ve had several doctor appointments that seemed more serious than usual, and I lost three family members who passed away.

To put a number on things, I was close to one of those family members, very cool with another, and very, very close to the third, my cousin Pat, whom I called “Paddy” or “Granny Shark.”

Growing up, insults were our way of bonding, because they always turned into laughter. Paddy and I kept our families amused when everyone was together. I would start with the insults, and then she would jump in with the next ones. It was comedic timing at its best, inspired by our love for Mad Magazine, its cartoonist Don Martin, and his Fonebone characters.

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All of this started in the mid-1970s, so our clowning together has been going on for over 40 years. Paddy was the one who convinced me to go to college with her, and we had many mutual friends who knew we were cousins.

Of course, life gets in the way, and we lost track of each other for a few years. But as the saying goes, if you ever want an impromptu family reunion, wait for the next funeral. And that’s what happened at the funeral of one of our aunts.

Paddy’s sister lives near me, so we could’ve easily caught up with each other before. Like I said, life gets in the way. When you’re busy working, raising a family, and worrying about bills, schools, and everything else related to “adulting,” the simple things seem to get lost in the quagmire of life.

But sure enough, we reconnected at the funeral. When we saw each other, we couldn’t help but display big smiles on our faces. It was like we’d never lost any time apart, and after that, we didn’t. Over the next few conversations, we caught up, and she told me she was battling breast cancer. I told her about my two spontaneous pneumothoraces. We were both shocked at how suddenly life had interrupted our plans.

Catching up entailed sharing daily laughs. We talked or texted every day, including when we were both hospitalized at different times. The last few months became more difficult for her because the cancer had returned. Although she was going through her battles, she never stopped laughing. We insulted each other and laughed until the tears flowed.

About a week and a half ago, her condition worsened and she had to be hospitalized again. One of the last text messages I received from her was “Hey ratface, what are you up to?” She told me she was back in rehab trying to build her physical strength again. We didn’t talk much that time. Her husband was holding the phone for her, and I could tell her meds had her tired. But she kept laughing, as did I.

Two days later, her husband called to tell me she had passed. It was a blow I wasn’t expecting. I thought about the good times and all the laughs we shared over the years. It was difficult for me to process at first, but I could hear her hurling insults, followed by that infectious laugh. The thought made me smile like a kid on Christmas.

Sarcoidosis has a way of making us compromise in life. But it also makes us realize that we can make a difference in people’s lives, too. So when you’re feeling at your lowest point in life, remember that there is always someone who appreciates you — in sickness and in health.


Note: Sarcoidosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sarcoidosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sarcoidosis.


Adam from Australia avatar

Adam from Australia

Hi Charlton, thank you for writing this lovely tribute , I am sorry for your loss. How fantastic that you had managed to re-establish such a close bond with Paddy who obviously meant so much to you, as you did to her. So often you hear of friends lamenting a loss with regrets that there was so much left to say, in your case you can rest easy knowing how much your friendship was valued and appreciated. While the loss of anyone close is tragic great memories of that person help us live on, may you think of Paddy often and be inspired by her memory. Best wishes from Australia.

Charlton Harris avatar

Charlton Harris

Thank you for your kind words, Adam. It was a tough pill to swallow at that time especially having had daily conversations with her. Like me, she was a fighter and refused to let things get in her way. She greatly enjoyed being a G'mom and would laugh about how old we both became.
Your sentiments brightened my day-THANK YOU!

DebbraP avatar


I am sorry for your loss, Charlton. I'm also sorry that the world has lost such a bright and beautiful person. Your cousin must've really brightened a room...

I recently lost my husband and if grief has been teaching me anything, it is to champion my husband's will to love life. I want to be his hero. I cry a lot missing him but I am starting to think about the future and how I might be able to use the goodness in him to live life again. His life will help me to move forward and then maybe I can do some good with that and help other people. Please go easy on yourself, allow yourself to grieve and when you are ready, I am sure you will think of a way to honor your cousin's memory and be her hero.


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