Dr. Pamela L. Starcher
February 9, 1943-June 26, 2021
In the early morning hours of Saturday, June 26, 2021, Pamela L. Starcher left the confines of her earthly body behind to step into the brilliance of her Maker. She held fast to her faith, even as her body failed. In her last days, she was at peace with all the things she knew, which amounted to little in comparison to the beautiful mysteries ahead.
Pam was born to Donald and Harriet Rager in Johnstown, PA, on a cold day in February. She was the eldest of five children. The home she grew up in was on Coleman Avenue, and some of the sweetest memories of her youth included the days in the big, white double house with the deep front porch under the maples. Growing up in the 1950s presented Pam with new choices — she could have simply settled into the role of wife and mother like so many women before her, or she could venture into the increasingly more accepted role of a working woman. However, she could not abide the thought of secretarial work. The travel of an airplane stewardess held a certain appeal but had limited opportunities to continuously learn. Teaching children sounded dreadful and a little scary (“all those kids…”). As she searched for her path, she evaluated what she knew already. She had spent her days in the big white house helping her mother tend to her younger siblings and vividly remembered the years her mother cared for her grandmother in their home until her death. She knew she was capable of providing care, and knew she was good at it. So, a career in nursing felt like the direction she should go.
She entered the nursing program at the University of Pittsburgh, and ultimately graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing in 1965. As the development of a conflict in Vietnam became more real, she also enlisted in the Army with the intention of filling a role in nursing wherever she was needed. Due to a childhood illness, the Army honorably discharged Pam 1964 at the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. Though no longer enlisted, she continued to work in Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals. Soon enough, the injured and broken began to return to the United States and fill the wards of VA hospitals everywhere. She was needed.
Pam managed to travel while working as a nurse, and added a Master’s of Nursing in 1971 to her credentials. Eventually she landed in Buckhannon, West Virginia. There she met a recovering veteran named Roger Starcher. He was completing physical therapy; she continued her work as a nurse. She could not remember who caught whose eye first, but the result was the same: Roger and Pam were married in June of 1975. They settled in Washington, WV. Pam began teaching at Parkersburg Community College, which became West Virginia University-Parkersburg. She taught nursing, leading her many students through St. Joseph’s and Camden Clark in their studies. She also worked shifts in both hospitals to keep her skills sharp and ready. By 1979 Roger and Pam had two children, Amanda and Joshua. Growing up with the local nursing professor that taught pretty much every nurse in the MOV meant Amanda and Joshua could not fake an illness with the school nurses- they all knew their mom and respected her so thoroughly they refused to go along with the game.
As the years went by and her children grew up, Pam decided to consider moving back to PA after a painful divorce. She felt very unsure of herself, which was uncomfortable for someone so confident in the previous years. As she looked for the place she should be, she prayed often to be shown the path she should take. Finally, the call came from Pennsylvania College of Technology, a branch of Penn State, in Williamsport, PA. She had not dared to dream for something more than she had in Parkersburg, but the offer received ultimately led to her position as Director of Nursing. While working at PCT, she pursued and achieved a PhD in Nursing in 2007. During that time, she was able to bring her mother Harriet to Williamsport to live with her. With congestive heart failure and a need to not be alone, Pam’s mother became her constant companion and friend. Slowly their roles shifted, and Pam became the caregiver and nurse for her mother. The role was difficult, but Pam could not imagine any other arrangement either would prefer. With her whole heart, she cared and loved her mother until her death in 2010, sitting in the sun and holding her hand as she quietly slipped away while surrounded by her children.
Pam had managed to retire the year before her mother died. The plan had been to spend her retirement traveling, painting, visiting family, and maybe picking up some consulting work to keep her mind engaged.
After her mother’s death, she decided to return to Parkersburg. Her son still lived there, and it was the place she still held in her heart as home. She found a warm, pretty house in Mineral Wells. Flowers were planted all around her home, and she delighted in discovering what would come up next. After spending a few months settling in, she began to look ahead to all the places she wished to visit. Her daughter lived in North Carolina, so she made a few trips down for visits. Always close to her sister, Kitty, she looked forward to visits to Bainbridge. Nearby were two brothers, Bob and Dwayne, so those trips felt like mini-reunions. She had attended the family get together at her brother Bob’s home on Christmas Eve for years, and she was able to continue the tradition. Pam and Kitty continued taking the annual trip to St. Louis to visit their brother Ron. Pam’s ties to her family were most precious to her.
However, in late 2013, she noticed she felt more tired than she should. As a long time nurse she also detected what sounded a little like a rattle in her lungs. Concerned, she visited with several doctors and specialists. Initially it was thought she might have a genetic form of emphysema. On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, 2014, she was given the news she had Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). Though suspecting it already, the news was difficult to process. IPF is incurable and ugly. Her prognosis was 18 months to two years… with a hesitant “however”…
Pam was able to participate in the final trials for a new therapeutic medication for IPF. Though not a cure, it was showing good possibilities of greatly reducing the progress of the disease and the weight of symptoms. Pam was honored to be in the trials- her instincts as a medical professional told her that this was a way she could help others. It took a while to get used to the medicine and the sometimes intense side effects, but eventually it was obvious her health was not declining with the rapidity the doctors had predicted.
After a couple more years in WV, sprinkled with several traumatic injuries suffered alone at home, Pam agreed with the concerns of her children that she should not be alone. In 2015 she moved part time to Candler, NC, to live with her daughter and her growing family. Within a year she sold her beloved home in WV and lived full time in NC.
Pam was never loud and feisty when it came time to fight. Her personal mantra was something about speaking softly but carrying the big stick. She rarely complained about her illness. Instead, she worried about the toll her care would take on her daughter and the strain to her son. No matter the reassurances that this was what they wanted, she could not settle into the role of patient. As her ability to travel, to even leave her first floor apartment, dwindled away, she kept up with her efforts to not be the patient but to be the caregiver. Finally, in December of 2020, she was moved into in-home palliative care. By late April of 2021, she was transferred to in-home hospice care.
Pam continued to be “the worst patient ever” (quote from her daughter). She hated the pills, the cannula and reliance on an oxygen concentrator, using a walker, or even allowing a nurse to help her wash her hair. For a few weeks, nurses would arrange to visit one day, but when they called to confirm their arrival time with Pam she would tell them not to come, she didn’t need help that day. With a little time to accept this new kind of care, and with the nurses that were providing her with what she grudgingly admitted was excellent care, by the end of May, she was at peace with what was happening. She quit taking the medication that had given her so many extra years after the side effects became intolerable. Comfort was priority. Time was limited.
Her son Joshua and his family were able to visit NC exactly one week before Pam’s passing. It was the thing she had needed in order to let go. The week that followed that visit was devastating to those that watched. The soft spoken, intelligent, kind woman seemed to disappear. The frustration and confusion in her eyes was obvious. Her daughter assured her it was okay if it was time for her to go, though she didn’t exactly mean it. They discussed what might be next. They sat together knowing that neither knew the answer and rather liking the idea. After her daughter repeated the words to a song she liked, a smile drifted to Pam’s face- let the mystery be.
Pam was preceded in death by her parents and nephew Stephen. Her beloved family remains here, grieving but celebrating the life Pam led and the legacy she leaves. Siblings Kitty (Richard), Ron (Karen), Bob (Linda), and Dwayne (Nancy); children Amanda (Matthew) and Joshua (Crystal), and step-daughter Michelle (Kevin); grandchildren Hannah, Jaysun, Annaliese, Maddox, Bennett, and Lewan. Pam also had many nieces and nephews, “second kids”, and dear friends like Sherry and Larry Snider, Sandy Gray, Suzi Stephens, Dottie Mathers, and Zoanne Kochersperger. Oh, and there’s also her cat, Potter. She found immeasurable comfort in her furry friend that should be acknowledged. Potter has a forever home in NC.
According to Pam’s plans and wishes, her ashes will be scattered in West Virginia. A sunset gathering is planned for later in the summer. All who were touched by the amazing person that Pam was are invited but asked to not wear black. Pam loved the colors and light of life. In lieu of flowers Pam would enjoy knowing that one animal was saved at your local shelter, a student nurse can afford to complete a program of study, a dying patient has something soft and pretty to keep them warm, or your most precious gift is shared now and not later-time. Take a moment to enjoy the music, the art, the new and unknown outcome. Look to the stars, and in the assurance of light and mystery, bask in the love of God.