My Novels

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Ending

Some people think they are immortal until they have a life-threatening experience. Such was the case with DH; though he always knew he was in danger as an officer, his bravery had prevented him from fully dealing with mortality.

I had that experience at the age of 23 when I almost died of a metabolism issue, resulting in two serious life-threatening surgeries. As a result, I have never taken life for granted, and though I planned for the future, I never had the optimistic viewpoint many people, including DH, have.

His optimism was a great motivating factor in our lives; I was (and am) the eternal pessimist: "Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst."

And soon after DH's heart attack, I could see the telltale signs of him coming to terms with the fact he could have another heart attack, be gone in an instant. Though we talked of it sometimes, he (as we all must) had to fight his own inner battles with that particular demon.

One night he said he wanted to talk to me about his pension, and launched into a worst case scenario: What if he died, how would I manage financially? We had savings and whole life insurance, had the policy paid for years ago (what law enforcement officer would NOT have such a policy?), but now he was thinking we needed to address his pension plan.

At the time, he was working an extended period at the department in a state retirement program for experienced officers that accumulated money for staying beyond the time they could have already retired. It was a great program, essentially paying the experienced officers double what they were making, with compounded interest. If he made it the next three years, the lump sum we'd get was amazing.

As part of this program, he could opt to take less monthly pension and stipulate I get a reduced monthly pension income for life. The catch, of course, was the reduction we'd both have to live on after he retired. But after thoroughly discussing it, thinking it over, we decided it was best to take that option.

Thank the fates and my responsible husband (as well as my own sense of self-preservation) we did that -- or I'd have only gotten a lump sum, and as anyone knows, living off a lump sum is NOT going to last one into old age (providing lucky enough to actually live that long).

Once this issue was settled, DH began work on his dream: the large barn. When spring came that year, all his buddies (officers and horse-back riding friends) got together and had a "barn-raising." DH had taken some of the earnings from the trailer sales, and bought used tin, second-cut lumber and other cost savings materials. A dear friend had a big truck with the apparatus to lift the steel beams, so they were set to do the hard labor.

I remember the beautiful late spring day they all gathered for the barn-raising. I prepared big coolers of sandwiches, drinks/water, snacks for all the men; we set up a big picnic table, and everyone had access to refreshments.

I stayed at the house, though I could clearly watch from there as they worked. It was fascinating to see the men literally create the basic structure of the barn in one day! DH was again in great health, and had always been physically fit; he was a man that could not sit in the house, was always doing something physical.

I recall seeing him start laying tin, balancing on the wide steel beams, worried about his safety. But he was always a master of co-ordination and balance, looked as if he'd been born to walk steel beams. My nephews were there, and later marveled at his agility; considering they were in their 20s, they thought DH was a superman for his age.

Summertime was especially sweet that year; we had finally finished the house renovations, and could enjoy the farm. DH went on horse-back rides with his buddies in a nearby national forest. Friends gathered at our farm, and we'd sit on the back porch and talk about the future: the tack shop was taking form, the barn was almost done, there was so much to look forward to.

Yet, there was this undercurrent of strange phenomena. Odd orbs started showing up in my photographs, which I tried to dismiss. In one photo (taken before we moved in) there had been a reddish image in the pasture; when I zoomed in on it, I could make out a devil-shaped face. And in my cemetery photos, orbs would appear over some stones. At a neglected cemetery in a wooded area, I saw a strange face between the cracked stone slabs of an above-ground grave. On and on it went, and all that is documented in this blog -- even the photos and my uneasiness.

Late in the fall, DH went on his last horse ride. Unfortunately, he had the first accident he'd ever had: his horse stepped on his foot. When he came home that Saturday and told me about it, he downplayed it (as usual) and didn't even go to urgent care to get it checked out.

But by Sunday, it was obvious he was in great pain. Monday he went to the doctor, and x-rays showed his toes were broken. He was to wear a foot brace, and not stay on his feet a lot.

The year before he had been promoted at the Sheriff's Department again. The county built a new jail, and the building also housed the departmental offices. DH was to be the first work release director of inmates. As usual, he took his position seriously, and was soon on the way to making the program one of the best in the state.

However, it wasn't long until I realized he was beginning to understand inmates as I did long ago. Many times they had been abused as children, mistreated, neglected; some were from families of dire poverty; and they were all fellow human beings for whom he had compassion. He began to truly take an interest in them, and inspire them to better themselves, change. In this way, he had come full circle: at last having experienced the entire spectrum of the law enforcement from capturing criminals to corrections.

After the accident, he seemed to recover from the foot injury...but I noticed he wasn't his usual healthy self. He tired easily, wanted to sleep a lot, and was lethargic. I kept insisting he go in for a physical, or get an appointment with his cardiologist. He resisted and as I learned later, was probably hiding how badly he really felt.

The holidays came and went, and January was nearly over before he began to seriously fail in health. Still, he insisted he was just feeling tired, nothing wrong. And he kept saying he'd been under the care of the orthopedic doctor, and that all was well.

In late February, he suddenly wasn't able to go to work, just too tired to get out of bed. I made an appointment for him with his cardiologist; we both feared he was having heart problems. He went in, the cardiologist told him to come back the next day for a stress test.

He never made it, because that night he woke me up and said his chest was hurting so bad he almost couldn't breath. A rerun of that first ER trip ensued, but within 30 minutes of arrival, the ER doctor called me into the room and said, "Your husband has acute leukemia and a med-flight helicopter will be here soon to take him to another hospital."

Shock is a mild word for what we both felt; I was paralysed, DH was speechless as they wheeled him away. My sister was there with me, we went back to my house, got some things and headed for the large city.

That was Wednesday night. At first, the oncologist told us they had to conduct extensive tests -- to make certain he indeed had acute leukemia. Like fools, we both thought maybe a mistake had been made; and when he had a blood transfusion, he was suddenly alert, felt so much better.

But within 24 hours, the oncologist called me into the intensive care unit and told us the dreaded news: it was acute leukemia (a genetic form which I later learned some distant relatives had had also). I felt my legs go weak, was afraid I'd faint; but I managed to stand there, take DH's hand, hug him...and we both cried.

As long as I live I'll never forget his first words to me: "I'm so, so sorry."

I wonder, could I be so thoughtful in a moment such as he was experiencing? To think of him instead of myself? If there is a way to judge a man, that was his defining moment of true love and compassion.

Chemo was to begin the next Monday, and soon the word spread back home about his condition. That weekend, while I understood his friends, fellow officers, family wanted to see him, I only wish we could have had more private time together. His hospital room was constantly full of people, and though an ice storm occurred, making driving hazardous, it didn't prevent people making the 75-mile round trip.

DH seemed almost back to his usual self; the blood transfusions were working miracles. Since we knew the chemo would begin Monday, I went home Sunday night to pack some things for an extended stay. Monday morning DH called and said to wait till Tuesday, he was feeling fine after the chemo and they were moving him to a larger room - with rules about protecting his immune system. There was a TV with DVD player there, so I packed up his favorite western movies.

Monday night I went to bed expecting to drive to see DH the next day...but awakened to the sound of the phone ringing and someone beating on my back door. It was 2:00 AM and my sister and brother-in-law, both in tears, managing to finally say that DH had died.

The first shock of his illness hadn't worn off, and now I seemed to go into a kind of zombie-like state. Somehow they got me in the car, all the while me protesting, saying it was a mistake, I'd just talked to him at ten o'clock and he was fine!

There's no need to detail the nightmare that followed, except to say that his funeral was a community event, and the crowd staggering. So, so many people told me how much DH had meant to them personally and to the community.

The most touching of all though was that the work release inmates wanted to pay their respects by visitation. Our Sheriff arranged for them to be transported there, and once the funeral parlor was closed to the public, with only family remaining, the inmates filed in. Grown men crying, stopping by my side to tell me how much DH had meant to them, how he'd inspired them to change their lives. To my dying day, that is something I'll never forget -- the purest form of DH's compassion and effort to reach those who are often unreachable.

And what of the strange occurrences in and around the farm? After all this time, I have come to think it wasn't the place itself -- perhaps from the first time I saw the house back in the 80s, I had a psychic premonition that something awful would happen to us there. I never learned of any event that could have seemingly made the place "haunted." Nothing. And I did research the place, including talking to neighbors.

Nevertheless, the day before DH died, he told me to move back to town if he didn't survive, that I couldn't take care of that large place, I'd get hurt there. So that is what I did within six months.

When I made it back to the hospital that fatal night, the staff had kept DH's body there so I could see him. I leaned down and whispered my last words to him, "You'll always be with me."

And he always has been -- in beautiful memories.

DH, age 56, on horseback the summer before he died, 2005


Brenda said...

This is the most loving tribute I think I've ever read. How lucky you were to have had him for so many years...

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful tribute to your late husband. Now if you will excuse me..I have to check out your archives for those creepy pictures! Thanks for sharing!