Seasons of Change

Sometimes it takes a while to be able to put thoughts down on paper.  Sometimes life gives you what you need.

A lot has happened in ten years.  I lost my first true love. I finally understand bittersweet and melancholy.  I learned that the human spirit is a very fragile and strong thing, sometimes being both at the same time.  And I found love again, the second time around.

Christmas of 2015 was to begin another year of rediscovery.  I’ve been married to Steve for six years and he never ceases to surprise me by knowing what I need.  This year’s Christmas present would be no exception. To make a long story short, Steve bought me a painting class at the Fort Myers Alliance for the Arts and I exchanged it for a Memoir class.  I hadn’t written anything substantial in quite some time, but writing has always been a passion since college.

In January I went to my first class.  “Writing Your Memoir.”  There were four of us students, all around the same age, although I was about 10 years younger, which wasn’t abnormal for Florida.  Our teacher, Artis Henderson, was a young woman who wrote her first memoir about the loss of her husband, “An Unmarried Widow”.  Artis and my fellow students were so supportive.  We wrote, did a lot of exercises, enjoyed and critiqued each other’s writing.  The class was enriching, and we didn’t want it to end.  We decided to extend it for three more sessions.  My memoir was going to center on these last ten years.

We met at a student’s house and the goal of the three sessions was to write a chapter of the memoir. I had written parts and pieces and listed chapters to be included.  Which would I choose to develop into a completed chapter.  I thought long and hard and decided that in the list of chapters for my memoir one was missing – The catastrophe that changed my life forever.  And this is how “Just Breathe” was born.

Just Breathe

November 12, 2006, two weeks before Thanksgiving.  The family was coming up from Belleville and we were doing our normal readying of the house.  My emotions were on overload and for some reason Rick’s were, as well.  We were married almost 30 years and this was definitely something new, as he was usually the calm one.  He was on edge.  I didn’t think much about it, because as usual I was all consumed with my own thoughts and feelings.

I was making up the guest bedroom and we argued about family.

“Why do we always have to work like crazy before your family comes up here, I just don’t get it!” He said.

“Well, at least my family comes to visit us, unlike your family!”

He stood still for a second. “You’re right, I’m not going to argue; I’m going out to rake leaves.

“Wait!” I yelled, but he was already gone.

I was so angry.  Past hurts raced through my mind, along with guilt for my sharp tongue.  The only positive thing, I was putting that guest room together at warped speed.  By the time I joined him outside, my temper had calmed and I was sorry.

He was raking and burning leaves, and I grabbed a rake to help him.  He walked over to the table on the patio.  I stopped raking and walked over to sit with him.  We sat in silence.

“Do you want some lunch?” I asked.

“No, I’m not hungry, I think I inhaled too much smoke, I’m having a hard time breathing.”

“Do you want to quit for the day?”

“No, I’ll be okay,” he said as he grabbed his rake and walked over to the burn pile.

I started raking the leaves closer to the house, all the while watching him.

A short time later he came running through the yard.  “What’s wrong?” I asked.  No answer.  I stopped raking and stood watching as he ran through the porch.  I dropped the rake and followed to see.  There he was, my strong husband sitting on the concrete step, holding his chest, chewing an aspirin with white powder on his lips.  The look in his eyes was one I had never seen before.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I think I’m having a heart attack.”

“I’ll call an ambulance.”

“No!”

“You need to go to the hospital!”

“You need to take me; I don’t want an ambulance.”

I paused, wanting to argue, but remembered what happened a little over an hour ago.  “Ok,”

He went to the van and I changed from my sweat pants into jeans.  I grabbed my purse.  He honked the horn.  I ran to the car, opened the garage door and backed out heading up around the curve and out of our subdivision.  As we got to the corner he said, “I feel better turn around.”

“Are you sure?”  “I think we should go to the emergency room and have them check you out just in case.”

“Why should I spend the last day of the weekend sitting in a hospital emergency room for nothing.  Just turn around.”

I did as he asked.  The drive from the corner to our driveway was about a tenth of a mile and by the time I got there he was having chest pains again.

“I’m turning around, we’re going to the hospital, and I’m not heading back home again no matter how you feel.”  I wanted to be kind and loving, but knew this was serious.

“Ok.”

I drove to the corner, turned left, made the light at a busy intersection and decided to take the faster road without stop lights.

“Hurry up,” He pleaded.

I needed help.  I picked up speed as I opened my cell to dial 911.  “Hello this is the 911 operator how may I help you?”

“My husband is having a heart attack.  I’m driving him to the hospital.  I’m on Washington Street.  I need an ambulance.”

Rick threw his glasses at the dash board, he was struggling, as he slumped in the seat.  I listened for sounds of life, as I listened to the operator for instructions.  His body sounded like a car sounds when the key is turned in the ignition and the battery is dead. Click. Click.

***************

“Ma’am.  Where are you?”

“I told you I’m on Washington Street.”

“Where are you at?  I need to know whether to call the city or county rescue squad.”  She wanted clarification.

“I don’t know.  My husband’s dying.  I don’t care which one you call.  I am close to the city.  Call them.  I will get there fast.”  In my mind I thought the city might have better equipment to save him.  I kept thinking shouldn’t they be doing something to save him.  Can’t she just call someone.  He needs help.  He’s dying.  He’s face is white.  He can’t die.

***************

I drive as fast as I can with her on the line.  Bloomington Heights Road, a big yard, this has to be the city.

“I’m in the city and have pulled over to the side of the road, what do you want me to do?”

“Get him as flat as possible.”

I push the seat back as far as it will go.  The 911 operator is coaching me through my flip phone as I breathe my breath into my husband’s body.  I am so scared and focused at the same time as she says, “exhale twice into his mouth and look up and inhale to get a fresh breath.”  I have no experience at CPR, always thought I should take a class, but put it on the back burner.  I’ve got time, I used to think as I exhale into Rick’s lifeless body.

I look up and see flashing red lights out of the corner of my eye.  A police car, thank God! “Operator, the police have arrived.”

“Put them on when they get here, but keep doing what you’re doing until then”

It seems like forever until the officer gets to my van.  “911 wants to talk to you.” I hand him my phone, continuing to breathe for my husband.  The officer says he will take it from here and hands me the phone.  I drop it on the floor board.

“I’m glad you’re here.”  He looks at me and gets to work.

“We have to get him out of the car so we can lie him flat,” he says.  The officer grabs Rick under his armpits.  I try to help turn him, but he is so heavy.

“I’ve got this,” he says just as Rick slips from his grasp.  Rick’s head crashes on the concrete curb.  He looks at me.  “I’m sorry.”  He says.  I stand unable to speak, as he picks Rick up and pulls him over to the grass. “The officer gives me instructions. “you breathe, and I’ll do chest compressions.”

My breathing becomes a constant rhythm, as I try to bring my husband’s heart back to life.  Exhale, exhale, look up inhale.  Exhale, exhale, look up inhale.  “Am I doing this right?” I ask.  “You’re doing fine.”    Exhale, exhale, look up inhale.  My thoughts whirl.  I’m sorry we argued this morning.  Exhale, exhale, look up inhale.  I should have called an ambulance.  Exhale, exhale, look up inhale.  I love you.  Exhale, exhale, look up inhale.  Where are the paramedics?  Exhale, exhale, look up inhale.  Breathe damnit!  Exhale, exhale, look up inhale.  I’m sorry.  Exhale, exhale, look up inhale.  I’m sorry.  Exhale, exhale, look up inhale.

The ambulance and fire truck arrive and the paramedics run over with their equipment.  They cut off Rick’s sweatshirt while at the same time begin breathing for him with an oxygen air pump.  He seems to be getting so much more air, surely he’ll start breathing now.  Everything will be okay.

I step aside and watch as they work.  The officer sees me and comes over.

“Do you have any questions?” he asks.

“Is he going to live?”

“They are working on him.  They will be transporting him to the hospital soon.  It will be slow because they can’t use any of the life-saving equipment while moving.  They will need to stop each time, so don’t worry if it takes them a while.  Do you want to ride with me?  I will be following them?  What hospital do you want them to take him to?”

“St. Joe’s, it’s closer.”  “No, I’ll drive myself.” All I can think of is I am losing control and need to take it back wherever I can.

“Ok.  And I’ll let them know you want him taken to St. Joe’s.”

I wait for a while.  The paramedics put Rick on the stretcher and carry him to the ambulance.  I want to hold him, but fear of getting in the way keeps me at a distance.  The officer hands me Rick’s ruined sweatshirt.  I hold it to my face and smell the smoke of burning leaves, as I turn and walk to the van.

***************

I wait in the hospital parking lot for the ambulance to arrive.  It seems like forever before I see the flashing red lights, no siren.  I wait for them to take him in the ER doors and when no one comes out I walk over.  As I walk I see the paramedic holding the oxygen air pump, she is just sitting in the vehicle.  Our eyes meet and she begins to use the pump on Rick.  I worry.

Hospital personnel lead me to a small family waiting room.  I call my daughter and get no answer.  “Hello Julie, this is mom, your dad’s had a heart attack and we’re at St. Joe’s.  Call me as soon as you can.”  There’s no easy way to leave that message.

I look up at the door.  It’s the policeman from the scene.  “Hi.”

“Hi.”  Just want to let you know the doctors and emergency personnel are doing all they can do.  Your husband is really sick, but he is a young man.  He walks out; I am alone.

“Hello, I’m the chaplain.  Would you like me to pray with you?”

“Ok.”  I close my eyes and listen to his gentle voice speak of God’s healing and peace. “For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory.  “Amen”

The room is dark and cool.  I smell the burning leaves from a few hours ago on my sweatshirt.  I wait for some word of encouragement.  I bargain that I will be a better wife and won’t lose my temper, if God will just let him live.  The policeman stands at the doorway.  “You can see him if you want.  They are going to take him to the Cardiac Cath Lab to do surgery.”

“I do.”  I walk into the sterile, bright light environment of the emergency waiting room hall.  They didn’t even put him in a room.  Just a long hallway.  His eyes are small slits, but at least they are open.  I touch him.  “I love you.  You’re going to be ok.”  I can’t take my eyes off his face.  I touch his beard and give him a kiss.  “I love you.”

A voice interrupts our togetherness.  “They’re ready to take him to surgery.  You need to go to the waiting room.”

I walk away, fearing I may never see his eyes again.

***************

The paramedics and doctors tried to bring him back to life that day, but he never regained consciousness.  They tell me Rick was without pulse for 40 minutes and without oxygen for 15 minutes.    My husband had a massive heart attack, 98 percent blockage in the big artery.  They call it the widow maker.

***************

Julie and I sat in the hospital room with family and friends coming in and out from Sunday evening until just after midnight on Thursday morning.  During that time his eyes would blink, his body would convulse due to oxygen deprivation, but he never spoke to me again.  The EEG registered perfect brain waves which to my heart’s sorrow means a beta coma, no life.  On Wednesday he had a fever of 108 degrees.  He was burning up.  Without the brain, the body doesn’t know what to do.  I learned more about how the brain works and doesn’t work during those three days than I ever wanted to know.  And I learned that they may have repaired his heart, but what happened to his brain was terminal.

Three days after his heart attack, Julie and I made the tough decision to take him off of life support.  Rick died 12 hours later.  Julie, my mom, the hospital chaplain and I stood at his bedside as he took his last breath.  I watched my husband die twice.  Once in the car driving down Washington Street and once for the last time in a hospital bed.  I told him goodbye earlier in the day.  Told him he was a wonderful husband and father.  Told him it was okay to die and that I would miss him, but would be okay.  All those reassuring things.  I wanted to comfort him.  I wanted to give back that last bit of love for all the love and caring he gave me.  He deserved and earned that much and more.

***************

Julie and I planned his funeral.  The doctor wasn’t available to sign off on the death certificate so his ashes wouldn’t be at the service, but I knew his spirit would be with us.  Friends and family gathered for an intimate visitation and service.  Julie spoke loving and touching words about her dad.  The ceremony was respectful, it was what I wanted, that last thing we can do for our loved one.  We had a small gathering at the house.

Three days later I returned to the funeral home and picked up my husband’s ashes.  I buckled him in; he was coming home to the house we built together.

***************

The urn was beautiful, cherry wood with a light oak stem and leaf and red rose carved on the side.  He was a woodworker and it just seemed fitting.

I carry him inside.  “Where would I put him that would be a place of honor?” I say to no one.  “I wish we had a mantle.”  “Maybe the kitchen, he used to love my cooking,” I think.  “No, the bedroom on the entertainment center so I can see him each day when I wake and go to sleep.”  I smile.  “Yep, the perfect place,” I think out loud.

I sit on the loveseat looking up at my husband.  “Rhonda, he says, let’s order a pizza.  You call in the order and I’ll pour the”

“Rhonda, what are you doing in there? Mom asked.   What do you want for dinner?”

Thoughts interrupted.  I fight anger.  My mom has been here since the day after Rick’s heart attack and will be here through Thanksgiving.  I haven’t lived with my mom for 32 years.  The house is big, but there is no place to be alone and that’s all I want to be right now.  Alone with my thoughts of the past.  Alone with memories of my love.

“I’m in the bedroom; I’ll be right out!” I yell in a too crabby voice.  My anger calms as I remember my mom is also grieving.  My dad passed away from complications of Alzheimer’s eight months ago.  Mother and daughter widowed at basically the same time, our ages 26 years apart.

“See you later honey,” I whisper.  I touch the urn and walk out already thinking of excuses to return to our bedroom.  All I want is to be with him.

***************

Mom and I had dinner, watched the news and a movie before I could break away for the evening.  “Goodnight mom see you in the morning,” I say as I give her a hug and kiss and walk toward our bedroom.

***************

I close the bedroom door and walk over to Rick, giving him a kiss.  “I’m back,” I smile.

I change out of my clothes into pajamas and crawl into my side of the bed.  Rick has been gone for nine days and I have left his side of the bed uncovered.  There is this part of a me hoping I will wake up and find him lying there some morning, our life as it was.

Almost 30 years is a long time to spend with someone.  Our life was not perfect, there were ups and downs, but he was a loving husband and he loved me and supported me so much.  We fit together, had fun and went on many adventures.  Through those years of raising a daughter, growing together, and growing as individuals we always loved each other and relied on each other.  Our marriage was solid.  We were kids when we met with all that ego and angst, and as I lie here looking at that urn I feel a love that transcends the ashes inside.

I drift back out of my thoughts.  This room is so big, but it feels warmer, more intimate with him here.  I dose through the night, each time waking to find him sitting there.  It’s comforting.  My husband is back in this room.

 

 

Oh How Joyful

I must admit, I am a Facebook junkie. I really don’t want to go to the app, but out of habit my fingers click  and there I am surrounded by my friends. Not all are my closest friends, but it is fun to take a peak at their lives. Of course, one must take the good with the bad and it seems like the old book face is filled with anger and hatred these days as well as the grandkids’ first day of kindergarten. 

Political viewpoints. Religious beliefs. Violence. Racism. If you want your daily dose, just scroll through the pages of your friends, and their friends, and, well you’ve got the picture.  I will admit I’m opinionated but do scroll past many postings without comment even though I may disagree.  After all, sometimes the best comment is no comment. 

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit depressed. It’s not just Facebook, it’s radio, music, television, billboards. We are so filled with bitterness. Where’s the joy?  And then it happened. I opened the app and what post did my eyes see first?
  
OH HAPPY DAY!

Take a breath

Before you talk, listen. Before you react, think. Before you criticize, wait. Before you pray, forgive. Before you quit, try. -Lecrae
I’m of the firm belief we should think comma while living life. Use the pause button.

  • Think before speaking. Listen to what is being said, don’t think about what you want to say while another is speaking. We miss so much by worrying about what we already know instead of of listening for new information.
  • Does every action need a reaction?  Maybe sometimes the best reaction is no reaction.  Believe me, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.
  • How much work went into that person’s effort?  How much emotion?  How would you feel if the words were turned on you?  Criticism is a creativity killer. Feedback can be given minus hurtful words. Pause before you criticize. 
  • Forgiveness isn’t about excusing another’s behavior, it’s about releasing that person’s power over you. Yes, another quote, but oh so true. Release the power and pray for healing. Feel the weight slip away.
  • Never quit before you’ve given it all you’ve got. Sometimes we barely start before making an excuse to quit. Then we wonder “what if.”  What if we started with “what if.”

I used to change my signature block quotes every month or so. This one has been in place for over a year. I look at it every day and think, “I should find something cuter, more eye catching.”  Then I take a breath and think, “These are really great words to live by, a good daily reminder.  Rhonda, don’t forget the comma.” 

A Sacred Place

Virginia Woolf said every woman must have a room of her own and money if she is to write fiction.  She spoke of that many years ago, and although romantics would say money is simply for material girls, I would say a girl has to eat. And a room of one’s own may not be a necessity but a roof over one’s head is nice to protect from the elements.  As a writer, a quiet place is essential to enable creative thought, or better yet continued creative thought.  🙂

I lived many years in central Illinois and my house was a story and a half.  On the half story was a loft that overlooked my landscaped backyard with pond and koi.  Looking out further was timber and a lake.  It was beautiful, a place of serenity. The loft was quiet and well lit.  Nature provided inspiration.  It was my room with a view.  My husband and I moved to Florida a couple years ago and downsized to a condo.  The view from our lanai provides fodder for writing and painting but is not necessarily quiet, especially in season.

So, I need to get creative.  My IPad can go anywhere.  So, for now my sacred place is in my mind’s eye.

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I’m RoundaboutRhonda. I will find many sacred places as I walk through this journey called life.

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Last but not least — What should I write about?  How can I challenge myself?  Please leave your ideas in Comments.

Old Stuff

  

While navigating this thing called life, we accumulate lots of stuff. Stuff worth keeping. Stuff we pitch shortly after we acquire. Stuff we should pitch but hang on to because we just can’t part with it.

I’m not talking about that priceless vase or piece of furniture. I’m talking about our past experiences. That stuff we stuff in our brain that emerges as a monster on those days when we’re at our weakest.  We should destroy that monster. Lock it out of our storage. We should throw that stuff out. Keep the lesson and throw out the the hurtful stuff.  We’d be better for it. 

But I know, that’s easier said than done. We are attached to our experiences much like that old vase that gathers dust in the far corner of our closet. Why is that?  Why do we keep that vase?  Great grandma gave it to grandma who gave it to mom who gave it to me. It doesn’t fit with my decor but the guilt associated with finding it a new home is overwhelming. Maybe someone else would display it in a prominent place instead of in the closet covered with dust. 

Why do we keep that stuff, stuffed in our self storage? That’s an even tougher question. Those thoughts and experiences get dusty. They get shoved to the back of storage because the experience happened so long ago. But unlike, a physical item, a long ago experience can be magically brought to the front without any trouble at all. We gladly remove the dust and nurse old wounds or guilt. How many times do we put it back before we finally get tired of revisiting it and toss it out for good.  We can’t and shouldn’t give it away. But we can glean the lesson and throw it away. 

After all, it is old stuff. 

Deliver Us From Ego

Appearances. How things look from the outside. Growing up, I lived in a family that valued appearances more than truth.  And in order to keep up appearances one most control, or try to control everything around them so others don’t see what is really happening on the inside. 

I never was very good at the appearance thing.  Sure, I could smile when I felt like crying. I could be funny when I felt sad. I could even look the part of a person in control. BUT I could never master appearances to my family’s satisfaction. As I look back, that could be why my parents preferred I stay home instead of hang out with my friends and their families. Hmmmmmmm. 

And I could continue that hmmmmmm as I think about growing into and living as an adult. Because, for whatever reason, I adopted a controlling personality. I wanted everything to be perfect from the inside out. And if it wasn’t perfect on its own it would be perfect with my help. HELLO

  
There were years of controlling. Praying that things would go my way. Praying people would act the way I wanted them to act. You get the picture.  And life moved on sometimes in good and sometimes in tragic ways. 

Through life events I met and married a man who lives life by 12 steps. I went to meetings and accidentally found out those meetings were helpful to me.  I learned control is a myth driven by ego.  Peace and serenity are achieved when we ask to be delivered from ego. 

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen

Uncertainty 

What if I’m not good enough. But what is good enough. 
I picked up a paint brush for the first time three years ago and loved how creating made me feel. Art is so freeing because it lets you be you and create what’s in your mind’s eye. 
I entered a contest, a couple contests and felt that freedom be replaced by uncertainty. Comparing myself to others. Feeling not good enough. I tried painting a couple times since and couldn’t find the freedom. Not good enough. Can I really do this?
Uncertainty kills creativity. 

An Endless Canvass

I love to look out of a window, especially from an upper floor. I can stare for hours.  

Leaves swaying in a breeze or still on a perfectly calm day. Rain falling in nature’s perfect angles. The occasional bird or squirrel. Wild life. 

Glass. Wood. An ever-changing work of art. 

 

Things…

I like,

Sunshine

Music

Hanging with my husband 

Cooking

Doing laundry

Cloudy days

Autumn

Creating

Words

I’ve learned,

Life’s short

Worry less

Love more

Forgive and make amends

Don’t waste time doing things you don’t enjoy

Take risks

Take time to just be

Never stop learning

Be kind always

Things I wish,

That I knew the things I learned earlier. 

That I would make more time to create and do the things I enjoy. 

Getting the words down

The reason I write. The reason I signed up for Writing 101. I was walking in St. Petersburg, Florida, and written on the sidewalk were the words, “if you want to be a writer keep putting the words down.”  I read that over 7 years ago and it’s stuck with me all this time. 

I have periods of time where I write often, but then I get lazy and would rather read other writers’ works. While I know that’s also important, to be a writer one has to write. It doesn’t have to be good writing but putting the words down is an important first step. 

So, I take this first step one more time.  It’s important to tell our life stories.