A Sacramento love story: Until death do us part

Patrick’s sister Mary Clark, second from right, wipes away tears at the celebration of life at Southport Community Church on Jan. 24 in West Sacramento.
Patrick’s sister Mary Clark, second from right, wipes away tears at the celebration of life at Southport Community Church on Jan. 24 in West Sacramento. bnguyen@sacbee.com

For days, Patrick Grady kept vigil at her hospital bed in the living room of his brother’s Natomas home, watching the life seep from his longtime companion as her children and grandchildren gathered around. As she grew weaker, her appetite fading, he wondered aloud whether he would survive without her.

Linda Ekis took her last breath at 5:21 on the morning of Jan. 10, her body succumbing to lung cancer. A few hours later, Patrick was gone, as well.

When relatives first discovered his body, propped in his familiar living room chair, they were taken aback. Patrick also had a lung condition, but his doctors had said he might live another year. Later, those who knew the couple decided it made perfect sense: that two people whose love held fast for more than two decades, buoying them through struggles with money, addiction and mental illness, would die on the same day.

“They didn’t make some kind of pact to die together. It just worked out that way,” said Patrick’s brother, Michael Grady, who had shared his home with the couple in recent years.

“At first I thought it wasn’t fair that he had to go so quickly after she did,” Michael said. “But I’m glad they went together. They had a unique love story.”

In recent days, the couple’s family and friends have shared that love story, in emotional interviews and at a Jan. 24 memorial service celebrating their lives. Linda was 65 when she died, and Patrick was 63. They met in their 40s, with nine marriages and six children between them. She was a force of nature: a former waitress and retail clerk who stood less than 5 feet tall but commanded a room with her loud laughter, whimsical stories and colorful Hawaiian skirts. He was quiet and more cynical, a high-school dropout and Vietnam veteran who loved the Tennessee Titans and had a gift for repairing broken things.

They met in the early 1990s at a homeless shelter on Front Street in downtown Sacramento, where she was volunteering as a cook and he was a client. Both were chain smokers who had an affinity for booze and had bounced from town to town for much of their adult lives. She suffered the swings of bipolar disorder. He came home from war, his family said, with battle scars that caused flashbacks and sleeplessness.

From the very start, they understood each other. They never married but were devoted partners for more than 20 years.

“They were meant for each other,” said Mark Taylor, Linda’s son, tearful during a celebration of their lives at Southport Community Church in West Sacramento. “No one else could have put up with either of them.”

Mark recalled a chaotic childhood in which he and his three siblings were regularly on the move in California and Nevada as their mother switched jobs, homes and husbands. She married seven times in all. Her children express no bitterness – their mother made everything feel like an adventure. “She went through so much in her life,” he said. “But she never left us. She always supported us. She always loved us.”

Linda’s bipolar disorder often rendered her manic or depressed, family members said. But she refused to give in to the illness. When she felt her symptoms surfacing, she would don a pink wig to warn them. “She could take any situation and make people laugh,” said her daughter Jennifer Taylor. “That was my mom.”

Patrick’s life, too, had been a roller coaster. Raised in Pocatello, Idaho, he left school at 16, enlisted at 18 and spent four years in the Navy, where he earned his high school equivalency certificate. He returned home from the war with new demons that drove him to drink and smoke dope, relatives said. He worked odd jobs from harbor master to apartment manager, but had a hard time holding them.

He married twice, and had two children. In the throes of alcoholism, he left his family and never mended fences. For a time, he was homeless, fishing in garbage bins for food.

Then he found Linda.

The shelter where they met was a place where people picked up for public drunkenness were sent to dry out. Patrick was trying to get sober. Linda, who had stopped drinking, was a cook who whipped up pots of soup and chili for guests.

He flirtatiously claimed his culinary skills were better than hers. She told him to prove it, but only after he stopped drinking. He did stop, and eventually earned a certificate in drug and alcohol counseling. They worked together in Fresno at a mental health clinic before moving back to the Sacramento area.

They had a few dramatic breakups, said Jennifer, but always found their way back together. Linda’s family – still tightly knit – became his family, and her children and grandchildren grew to call him Papa. Linda, in turn, “became best friends with all of my friends,” said Patrick’s brother, Michael. “Her laugh, and her personality, were infectious.”

For the past decade, the couple had lived with Michael, a retired medical transcriber. He wanted their company, he said, and they needed his financial support. Patrick made a modest income as a counselor, and helped develop treatment programs for addicted veterans. Linda was on disability because of her mental illness, but kept busy with the house and yard, attended church and Bible study, and drove her pickup to Torrance and Santa Cruz to visit friends and relatives.

Cigarettes were the couple’s crutch, softening the sharp edges of life. Every day, Michael said, the couple sat on the front porch, puffing their cigarettes during animated discussion. Linda would shout out greetings to neighbors, who inevitably would stop by.

She also forged friendships during smoke breaks at the Shepherd’s Hand thrift shop, a charity operated by her West Sacramento church. Linda Carrico worked alongside her, and recalled her friend’s bright spirit and “sashaying” style as she chatted with customers “a little too much” during her shifts. During breaks, they talked about their turbulent pasts and their search for peace and stability.

“Linda and I were children of the ’60s. We came from the same egg,” said Carrico, standing in the shop amid used baby clothes and kitchen tools. Between puffs of Camels and Marlboros, “we reminisced about all of the craziness, the things we did when we were younger.

“I’m my own trouble,” Carrico said with a smile, “but Linda had me beat.”

Over the years, Linda and Patrick tried to quit smoking. Linda asked her church family to pray for her to overcome her nicotine addiction. But abstinence never lasted long. In recent years, Michael grew concerned about her coughing and his brother’s raspy breathing.

One day early last year, Linda pulled Carrico aside at the thrift shop and told her she had been given a diagnosis tantamount to a death sentence: Stage 4 lung cancer, likely a result of her smoking. “But it’s not going to kill me,” Carrico recalled her saying.

At about the same time, Patrick also got bad news. He had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung condition also associated with smoking that interferes with breathing. His condition was less grave than Linda’s but could be fatal.

Patrick shepherded his partner to chemotherapy, at her side as she lost weight and strength. Bearded and robust before he got sick, he soon struggled to maneuver her oxygen tank and wheelchair, gasping for breath.

Linda had always wanted to visit Idaho to see Old Faithful and the town where Patrick and Michael grew up, so the Grady brothers took her to Pocatello and Yellowstone. She checked Hawaii off her bucket list, traveling to Kauai with her grandchildren.

Late last year, Linda, bald and withered from cancer and chemo, was told the treatments weren’t working and her time was short. Her doctor recommended hospice. Within days, the living room at Michael’s two-story home became a medical ward, where she lay in a hospital bed with a view of the front window and photos of her family. Jennifer moved in to help. Nurses came and went. Patrick, by then also dependent on oxygen, sat in a chair at her side.

On the night of Jan. 9, exhausted by the vigil, he struggled to get up the stairs to their room and into bed. Linda reluctantly had started taking morphine for the pain. She had stopped talking, and spent most of her time sleeping. Around sunrise, with Patrick asleep upstairs, she died peacefully with a few friends and family members around her.

Her children woke Patrick. He seemed in a fog as they helped him dress and get downstairs. He took his place next to Linda and held her hand. He cried softly as a staff member from a funeral home covered her with a sheet and took her body away.

“I don’t know how I’m going to live without her,” his brother remembers him saying.

He sat in his chair, tethered to his oxygen tank, as Linda’s family made funeral arrangements and phoned relatives with the news. They thought it best to leave him alone with his grief.

Sometime during those couple of hours, Patrick stopped breathing, Michael said. They found him in his chair around noon, his skin cold.

In the weeks since, they have wondered about the circumstances of his death. Was he far sicker than they knew? Did he deliberately overdose on one of his medications after Linda’s body was carried from the house? Or did he simply die of a broken heart?

No autopsy will be performed, so they know only one thing for sure: Patrick and Linda adored each other to the end.

“I was pretty close to Papa, and I know he truly loved my mom,” said Linda’s daughter, Lisa Hamel. “His death on the same day as my mom’s was surreal. I am still in shock and having a hard time mourning. The only thing that keeps coming to mind is they were meant to be together, literally forever.”

Call The Bee’s Cynthia Hubert, (916) 321-1082. Follow her on Twitter @Cynthia_Hubert.

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