Tag Archives: #firsteverworkhusband

Someone Else’s Story

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And what chapter do you contribute…?

I have not written a post here in two and a half months.  In that time frame, 3 valuable people in my universe died.  Two of my connections from Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) died, both on Monday, April 27.  Randy, our unit supervisor, was a mentor, coach, sensei, cheerleader, buster-of-chops-and-rejoicer-in-successes.  John, a member of our peer group, was a United Methodist pastor on sabbatical, a warm hearted man of insight and humility.  These losses came to all of us as a shock, and for me, a gut-punch as I was still reeling from Aunt Helen’s death, which I shared in my last post here.

One week later, on Monday, May 4, my beloved friend, #FirstEverWorkHusband and Person, Martin, died.  I have written several times about him, his kidney failure, and our friendship in this blog.  We had just texted shortly before he passed, and his death appears to have been a fast and massive heart attack.  I can’t really write much about that right now; it is still pretty raw and I continue to process a great deal.

But the circumstances surrounding his passing left me inconsolable.  When I could manage to sleep there were dreams (which are to be expected and I know there will be more to come); various types of crying, from leaky moments to wailing, sobbing jags.  Finally as I stood in my yard, I spoke out loud, to Martin, to God, to The Universe, asking, pleading for…something.  A sign.  I said, “I need something to know that Martin is OK, so if he is…if you are…please, let the next feather that comes my way be either white or red.  I will take that as my sign.”  I didn’t specify that I needed to be the one to actually find the feather, but I didn’t give that much thought.

Flash forward a few weeks to a Thursday evening after work, when I reported to my church to record the service for the following Sunday, since we had not yet been cleared yet for in-person worship due to coronavirus.  On my music stand was my music for the service, and an envelope with my name on it.  I opened it to find these beautiful #featherblessings from my #ChoirBoss, Carroll, courtesy of his neighbors who had collected them on a walk with their dog.

 

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As gorgeous as the spotted feathers are, it was the red one that brought me to tears.  It was the sign I had begged for.  After we had finished recording the service, I thanked Carroll for his gift, explaining to him, with choked-back tears and a breaking voice, what the red feather meant to me, and how it was the first semblance of comfort I had received since Martin died.  I thanked him for unwittingly playing such an important role in someone else’s story…in my story.

We never know the importance of a seemingly small gesture.  Something we may do or say without a second thought can make all the difference in another person’s life.  When you get an impulse to reach out to someone, don’t ignore it.  You never know when you might be writing a chapter in someone else’s story.

 

Tides

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A week of extremes…

As I write this, I am in a northwest Florida condo with a gorgeous view of the Gulf of Mexico.  The temperature is 66 degrees, the sun is bright, and the surf is a bit more active today than the Gulf is most of the time.  Foamy whitecaps dot the surface of the blue-green water, and the sugary white sand is completely devoid of people.

Five days ago I was working at my current temporary assignment at the library and watching a postcard-pretty snow fall just beyond the reference desk windows.  Oak Ridge was whited out, but the streets and pavement were clear and safe, just wet.  It was every bit as beautiful as the setting I enjoy now; it was also about as opposite as one could imagine.

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It has been a week of extremes.  My #FirstEverWorkHusband Martin’s mother passed away on Halloween.  Fort Walton Beach was their home for many years, and Charlotte was a driving force behind the local Stage Crafters Theatre company, so it was decided that her memorial service would be held there.  Hence our trip to Florida in December.  Even though a month and a half has passed since she died, it is still a fresh grief for them, and the gathering of family and friends from decades gone by and miles away seems to have brought a fresh tide of emotion.

At least, it has for me.  I grieve the death of a woman I never met, but feel like I knew.  I grieve because my friend/person is grieving, and, as Truvy said in the film Steel Magnolias, “…no one cries alone in my presence.”  I grieve remembering my own Mama’s death, the anniversary of which was a week ago today.  December always brings a fresh tide of memories.

Since we had not seen each other since I visited him in February during #OperationTakeAMinute, Martin invited me to go with him to his dialysis session on Friday, so we could talk and visit away from the crowd of family and friends.  When I arrived to collect him, he presented me with one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received…a pair of large, beautiful feathers he had found during the months since my last visit and had saved for me.

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We arrived at the clinic, did paperwork, got him connected and me gowned up, and, as much as possible, we enjoyed short periods of conversation mixed into wordless times of simple shared presence.  About halfway through treatment he began to have some chest pain and, long story short, we ended up taking an ambulance ride to the nearby hospital to have him checked out.  Fortunately, his heart is medically all right.  I am grateful.

While we were in the emergency department, a portable X-ray unit was brought in to examine him in his triage space…and a fresh tide of memory flooded over me as I relived a moment from when Mama was in the hospital and a portable X-ray unit was brought to her room to check her, a moment when she was not stable enough to transport to them, so they came to her.  It was my sweet husband’s one meltdown moment during the whole of Mama’s hospital stay.  A moment of his deep attachment to my Mama, and his mother-in-love.

It is an odd thing, how present grief can churn up past grief, like the foamy whitecaps of a turbulent surf.  The tides are constant, sometimes tranquil, sometimes violent.  But the ebb and flow never cease.

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Pilgrimage

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Soulful sounds, hallowed grounds and Guardian Angels…

My last couple of posts here have documented some of the high points of my post-work-road-trip-adventure, which I named #OperationTakeAMinute.  Having never embarked upon a trip like this before, and likely never having the chance to do it again, I set out to keep thorough records of the people and places I visited, the music I chose to listen to on the road (as well as the times when I chose to listen to the sounds of the road itself), the memorable meals I enjoyed and all the other little—and not so little—details of my time on the road.  I was very intentional in the planning, knowing that I needed restoration of heart, mind and spirit.

I am firmly entrenched in middle age, and as a middle-aged woman, some of the music I chose on the road was in my phone…and some was on CDs, in the actual old-school CD binder that I STILL carry with me in the car.  Old habits die hard, what can I say?  Don’t judge me.

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In addition to listening to soulful sounds to empower me, I knew that I needed time with my Guardian Angels, namely my Aunt Helen and my cousin Debbie.  These women have, for as long as I can remember, been in my corner with unconditional love, support and encouragement, believing in me when I have not believed in myself.  These are both ladies from Mama’s side of my family, and the Williams is strong in them both.  They are both eternally young, beautiful, with sparkling personalities and enormous hearts.  In my entire life I can honestly say that I have never felt judged in their presence.  This is beyond priceless.

After visits with Aunt Helen and Debbie, I took the opportunity to see something new to me, in a town I had never visited.  The side trip to visit Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama, was a revelation.  I hope to return in different seasons and times of day, to see and photograph the marvels there in varying degrees of light, shadow and color.  The stillness there, punctuated only by birdsong and breeze, quieted my soul and set the tone for the next step of my pilgrimage.

I knew that I also wanted to visit the church that Jeff and I attended when we lived in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, when we lived down there between 1987 and 1990.  First United Methodist, DeFuniak Springs, provided us with a safe, loving and accepting church family, welcoming us into their choir and asking (and TRUSTING!) us to teach senior high youth in Sunday School.  As many times as we both sang in that beautiful sanctuary, I never thought to photograph the space.  I intended to rectify that on this trip, and I did.  My friend Vicki’s mom Marsha, still lives there and faithfully attends the church, so Vicki told her I was going to be there and to look for me.  She rolled out the welcome wagon, re-introducing me to a number of the folks I remembered from there who are still among the faithful members of the church, including Nancy, who now directs the choir.  And it was a delight to learn that our friends, “Miz Mary” and “Mr. Buddy” Pinckard, are still there.  Miz Mary is to this day one of the best piano accompanists I ever had the pleasure to work with, a consummate musician and a genteel Southern lady in the finest tradition.  We exchanged letters for years after Jeff and I moved back to Tennessee, but a few years ago I lost touch.  I hugged her close and sat next to her in worship, tears trickling down my cheeks in gratitude and joy.  During the service, she jotted down a note on her bulletin and handed it to me—her email address!  This lady must be near 90 years of age, and now, we pen-pal online.  Everyone asked about Jeff, and made me promise that, next time we are in the area, we will BOTH attend services.  It will be a happy promise to keep.

Next stop (after a brief detour to The Donut Hole Bakery and Cafe, home of The Best Key Lime Pie On The Planet and another piece of hallowed ground!) was a nice long visit with #FirstEverWorkHusband, Martin, and his little dog, Boris.  Martin is, like me, an artist (he’s an actor/director to my musician/writer) and he possesses a unique understanding of the crazy places in my soul that I tend not to share with most people.  We cooked and ate, laughed and cried, and rested.  Despite Martin’s health issues, dialysis and diabetes and all that comes with those conditions, it still feels like he’s the one who props me up more often than not.

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From Martin’s in Orlando, I traveled north to St. Simons Island, Georgia, to visit some other hallowed spots.  I arrived on Friday afternoon in heavy rain, ordered supper, did laundry and relaxed for the night.  Saturday morning began with a visit to GJ Ford Bookshop, an independent local bookseller (and bookworm destination) when we are there on vacation.  From there I trekked the short distance to Christ Church, an historic landmark that I’ve always wanted to see inside but never made it during open hours, until this trip!  A wedding was scheduled there for later in the day so I was able to catch a couple of sneak photos of the happy couple as well.  The sanctuary is small but glorious, with exquisite stained-glass windows and a gorgeous organ.  The docent gave a brief but detailed presentation about the church’s history, adding to my awe of standing in that holy space.  I hope to attend services there at some point when we make our way back to the island.  Before heading to the pier/village/shops/beach, I grabbed a snack at Palm Coast Coffee, a place we discovered on our first trip to the island. It is now a “must-stop” part of any trip there as well.  My day on St. Simons Island was packed with “doing the things”, and left me feeling grateful and grounded.

From two nights by myself on St. Simons Island, my next leg of travel was to Candler, NC, and a little cabin there that backs up to a creek, for a couple more nights of pure solitude.  I planned this time purposefully, the quiet serving as a buffer between the trip and my arrival back in Knoxville, to my sweet husband and dog, the job hunt and the realities of everyday living.  While in the cabin,  I listened to the rushing water, enjoyed soaking in the hot tub, rested, wrote in my trip journal and prepared to go Home…perhaps the most hallowed spot of all.

 

#OperationTakeAMinute

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The purpose and the planning

After seventeen and a half years working for the same company, my employment ended officially on Friday, February 1, 2019, but my last actual work day on-site was Saturday, January 26.  It was a strange, emotional day, one I had known was coming for six months, when notice was given to me and my department-mates that our jobs would be coming to a conclusion.  Walking out the door that last time, leaving my ID badge on my manager’s desk, felt a bit like I was leaving a piece of myself behind.

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I knew that, after working for so long in one place with a team of people I had come to love like family in many cases, I would need some time to recover after it was over.  That is how #OperationTakeAMinute was born.

My friend and #FirstEverWorkHusband, Martin, was the first person to suggest a road trip.  I had never even considered such a thing.  I am not the person who does any of the driving when Sweet Pea and I take vacations.  For years I couldn’t even stay awake when we traveled by car.  But after thinking about it, talking to my sweet husband, and getting ideas from some friends, I began to think that a road trip would be a great chance to clear my head and get some rest.  Truth told, the last six months had left me feeling much more beaten-up than even I realized, and the despair had taken hold more strongly than I wanted to admit.

If this thing was going to do me any good at all, I reasoned, I would need to do some of the things I never had time to do because I was always rushing to get back to work.  Well, rushing back to work was not really an issue at this point.  So I talked to my “choir boss” at church and asked for a little time off from singing responsibilities there, and he was most gracious and accommodating.  We sat down with a calendar and determined when would be a good window for me to be gone.  Then my planning began in earnest.

I started deciding my route and stops, who I wanted to visit, places I might like to see and photograph along the way.  The more the path and its timeline took shape, the more excited I became.  A forward momentum was happening that I had been missing for a long time, and I was starting to feel…hopeful.

In the television industry, time is truly of the essence.  Not just hours and minutes, but seconds—and every second is divided into 30 frames of video.  Since 1994 when I began my first television job in master control, time has dictated much of my existence.  It seemed only fitting to name my road trip adventure #OperationTakeAMinute.  A minute, to catch my breath, recover, and prepare for the next chapter of my professional—and personal—life.

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Lines

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Keeping them open…

I am not a seasoned traveler by any means.  But the week after Christmas I traveled, on a plane, by myself, to visit with my friend, chosen family and #firsteverworkhusband Martin.  My local airport is not enormous and checking my big bag and passing through security went smoothly enough, as the lines were fairly short and moved quickly.  Then I went on to my gate and eventually to board the plane, where I waited in another line.  I have a sweet and understanding husband who graciously allowed me to take this trip, and escorted me as far as he could before kissing me goodbye and probably experiencing some stress about me proceeding on my own.

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Airports are poignant places as I look around at the other travelers.  I wonder what their stories are, who or what they are traveling to see, if their trips are carefree vacations, happy reunions or sad goodbyes.  It’s the storyteller in me, I suppose, that craves to know these details, the storylines of the people around me.

After a quick and smooth flight I landed at my destination, a much larger airport than the one I had left behind less than two hours before.  Text messages from Martin told me that he was waiting to meet me at baggage claim.  After almost 5 months since seeing each other in person, his warm smile greeting me made all the angst and craziness melt away, as it always does when we see each other.  Hugs exchanged and my suitcase retrieved, we got into his car and merged into the lines of traffic headed back to his apartment.

We laughed and talked nonstop the entire time I was there, never once encountering an awkward pause or running out of things to say.  Friendships like this are priceless indeed, the connection of soulful, goofball kindred spirits who understand each other well.  Conversations started forever ago and new ones begun, like lines in an ongoing play or novel.

Part of our time was spent at the clinic where Martin undergoes hemodialysis three days per week.  As an ESRD (end stage renal disease) patient, he must dialyze regularly in order to survive until he can receive a kidney transplant.  As much illness as I have seen among my family and friends, I have had little experience with kidney failure or dialysis until now, and Martin kindly arranged with his clinic for me to be able to sit with him during his treatments.  Usually visitors are discouraged but since our visit allowed us limited time together, I was permitted to be there.

Because of possible blood contamination, biohazard and liability concerns, I was not present when he was connected to, or disconnected from, the dialysis machine, and I  was required to gown up while I sat with him.  I joked about how flattering my “prom dress” was, which got laughs.  I was able to observe him and the other patients, his clinic family, as they sat through treatment.  On Friday, the man in the chair next to us had an episode of chest pain resulting in a bit of quick, efficient scrambling by the team in order to stabilize him and get him feeling better.  Sunday’s treatment brought Martin the news that one of his fellow travelers on the dialysis path had passed away, the first time he has lost a member of his clinic family, a woman only a few years his senior.  The ride from the clinic was a little quieter, and a little bit somber as we both tried to wrap our heads around the news.  Had he learned of her death in time he would have attended her memorial service, but it had already taken place.

For several hours after treatment, the possibility of bleeding is a concern so he has to stay bandaged up.

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Among the other painful aspects of treatment, pulling the tape off a hairy arm sometimes smarts!  After he removed the tape and gauze, he let me photograph his arm…it bears the marks of several years’ worth of puncture wounds and the scar from where his fistula was created.  His access is apparently a bit tricky; the arterial line is near the surface and not usually a problem for the technician to find, but the venous line goes deeper and has a turn, so it sometimes makes for a difficult “stick”.

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Once connected, he rests (or attempts to rest)  in a reclining chair for approximately 4 hours, during which every drop of blood is removed, scrubbed free of toxins and then the clean blood fed back into the body.  It’s really remarkable technology…but it is a punishing process.  Martin’s minimum removed fluid since we have reconnected has been 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) and he has had as much as 5 kilos taken off, which is 11 pounds and change.  In four hours.

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I sat silent for a few moments and frown lines must have shadowed my face, because Martin said, “Don’t look at my access with sadness; it is my lifeline until I can get a kidney transplant.”  Still, I remember him telling me about times when his access has been blown out when one of the needles infiltrated, leaving its assigned spot and forcing treatment to be halted…bruising, swelling and pain in the arm, and the itching that sometimes aggravates him after treatment.

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Storylines…waiting in lines…lifelines…my holiday got me thinking about the lines of our lives in a whole new way.  Five days of nonstop talking with Martin reminded me that the most important lines are those of communication between us and our loved ones.  Life is short.  Talk to the people you care about.  Keep the lines open and clear.

 

Time To Go Home

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Timing is all…

Wednesday, August 30, 2017, was an intense day.  My emotions ran the gamut from profound sadness to overwhelming love to incredible joy, over the course of both hours and moments.  I’m actually still trying to process it all, and in doing so, I’ve spent a bit more time lately just keeping to myself and being still.

It was the beginning of my work week as Wednesdays always are, but with a distinct change in the middle of the day when I took a 3-hour lunch to go and sing for a funeral at Messiah Lutheran Church, where I sang and served from 2013-2016.  The associate pastor’s mother had died, and I adore both pastor and mom.  Being asked to offer music for this occasion both honored and humbled me, as I would have attended the service even had I not been singing.

Even the most seasoned of musicians sometimes feel nervous, especially when called upon to provide music for funerals and memorials.  It is only natural.  And nerves visited me as well.  My friend and #firsteverworkhusband Martin, knew how much I love this family, and how important the service was to me.  We exchanged messages first thing in the morning and throughout the day.  I had gathered a little token of love for Pastor Pauline to take with me and give her prior to the service, along with a big hug.  A reminder that she has not lost her marbles.

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As I had predicted, my singing was not easy or perfect, but it was, as I told Mother Farrington’s grandchildren afterward, with my speaking voice breaking,  “…a way for me to love your family…”  Reuniting with my former “choir boss”,  Joan, to make music for this service comforted me, and being back among this church family warmed my heart and made me feel loved.  As I have come to understand, musicians and people of faith are all part of the same family;  we never really say goodbye and we always recognize and welcome one another back.

I left the fellowship hall and I walked to my car with tears of sadness, gratitude and love…and I thought the intense part of my day had passed.  Knowing that Martin had held space for me meant the world to me, especially with everything he has endured this year…a transitional period in his relationship, his health, undergoing medical procedures, and his living situation, including being without a home for months and staying with friends/family, and in shelters ranging from tolerable to hellish.  His, and my, fondest wish, had been for him to find a place to live, and that process seemed to be taking longer than forever to happen.  Until this intense day.  Almost the minute I returned to work, Martin ping’ed me with a message.

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Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that feathers are for me a symbol, a powerful reminder that God is there, looking out for me and my loved ones, sending comfort when I need it in a language I can understand.  When this teeny feather floated down after the funeral and landed on the program, I assumed it was just for my benefit…turned out to be a harbinger of Martin’s wonderful news as well.  That his housing came through at the same time I sang and we were commending Mother Farrington to her home in Heaven…seemed, and still seems, especially poignant, and fitting.  For her, and for Martin, it was time to go Home.

Home.

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