Thursday, 19 October 2017

 

 "The Road Back to Hell"

 This is the bittersweet story of growing up in an extremely dysfunctional home in the 1950's and 1960's. As the oldest child of my biological mother, Bonnie, and my adoptive father, Stew, I was the only daughter who benefited from the strong love my parents shared during the early years of their marriage. Shortly after the birth of my first sibling, Judy, their marriage started to crumble.  

"The Road Back to Hell" is

NOW AVAILABLE ON AMAZON
$17.95 - Paperback

Some sample pages are available for you to read if you click on LOOK INSIDE on Amazon.

 

 

Purchase the paperback here for $17.95. Click on the BUY NOW button below.

Please sign-up for my blog newsletter to get updates!

 

A+ R A-
Tuesday, 26 September 2017 19:36

On the Wings of Angels

"On the Wings of Angels"

This story is about a very special person, my friend Pam, who was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2009. It is a tribute to a truly strong and loving woman who gives more than she takes. She shared this story when I finally paid her a long overdue visit. Her story touched my heart and soul, and I felt the need to share it with others.


I first met Pam in 1976, when she was a young cashier in her father's Golden Dawn store and I was a busy, divorced mother of two who made frequent stops at the store on her home from work. I was always in a hurry and she was always calm and smiling. While she totaled my purchases, we would share idle chitchat. Although she was years younger than me, there was something special about her that drew me in. I soon realized it was a quality I admired most in people―her unselfishness and caring ways.
    

Over the years, our chats grew longer and we soon became friends.  Whenever we saw each other, we would always stop and talk. We had plenty to talk about because when she married Rick Cook in 1983, she became the sister-in-law of Rick's brothers, Tony and Steve Cook. Tony was my oldest son, Todd's, best friend.  My younger son, Nathan, spent many hours playing with Steve when we lived near them on 'Catholic' hill.  Our conversations always ended with a laugh about some of the crazy things these boys had done together. After we finished laughing, we would part ways with the promise we would get together soon.


That 'soon' did not happen until 2011, when at the age of forty-six Tony took his life. A gray cloud of mourning covered our small town as the news of Tony's tragic death traveled.  After attending the funeral, I was invited to Pam and Rick's home. My heavy heart lightened when I approached the porch where some family members were talking about happier times with Tony.  A few of those stories reminded me of the wonderful years when Tony and Todd had been best friends.

When I opened the front door, Pam was waiting to welcome me.  Rick and Pam had purchased the Cook family home when they married and through her loving ways and kind heart, Pam had become the family matriarch. As such, she welcomed everyone back to the Cook homestead for joyous holiday reunions, as well as times of family tragedy.  I wrapped my arms around her while she cried. The moment we sat down at her kitchen table and began talking, it seemed as if the years had never passed. When I was leaving later that afternoon, we promised to get together very soon

Four years flew by before we got together again.  Although I knew Pam an incurable form of breast cancer, I had heard very little about her condition and assumed she was doing fine.  In December, 2015, while standing in line at the local drug store, her sister-in-law, Julie, came in. Julie's eyes filled with tears as she told me she had just brought Pam home from the hospital.  She then told me Pam was waiting in the car while her prescriptions were being filled.  Although Pam had done fairly well since her breast cancer was first detected, her condition had worsened and she had been having bouts of pneumonia, which required hospitalization.  I hurried out of the store to talk to her.  When I approached the car, I saw a very tired and distraught Pam sitting in the passenger's seat.  However, when she looked up and saw me, she smiled and softly said she was doing fine. As ill as she was feeling, she wanted to ease my discomfort by putting on that happy face.  That's Pam.  Once again, I promised to visit her soon.

On the way home, I chastised myself for not visiting sooner.  I had known she had been struggling with this disease for over six years―why had I waited?  In the past, whenever I thought about paying her a visit, I would quickly make excuses―maybe she was not feeling well, what if I intruded on her and she was having a bad day, what if she didn't want company?  Knowing my excuses were lame, I vowed to spend more time with her, hoping my visits would help lift her spirits. A few days later, I called to set-up a day when we could get together.

Little did I know that during our visit, she would be the one lifting me up with her positive attitude, her strength and her angelic aura. Pam has always been a selfless person and a natural born healer of problems and heartaches.  She has proven this by serving the needs of everyone in her family― her husband and children, her siblings, Rick's siblings, and her parents, Peg and Sam, when they were ill.  

My first question was, "What has happened since you were first diagnosed with breast cancer?"  I could tell by the expression on her face she was not comfortable talking about herself.  After modestly addressing some of her recent issues, she began to share the story that was closest to her heart―the story of her only daughter, Jena's wedding.  While sitting on the sofa across from Pam, I noticed her eyes begin to sparkle, and heard the animation in her voice as she described the events leading up to Jena's wedding day, Saturday, July 18, 2015.


Pam began her story by explaining that since the announcement of Jena and Jesse's engagement the year before, she and Jena had spent countless hours joyfully preparing for this very special day. They had done everything well ahead of time so the week before the wedding they would not have to deal with the usual frustration of last minute details. Unfortunately, the Sunday before the wedding, Pam began experiencing the symptoms of pneumonia ― shortness of breath, a fever and extreme exhaustion.  She had been hospitalized with pneumonia several times over the past six-months―a sign her condition was worsening.  On Tuesday evening, Rick admitted her into the DuBois Regional Medical Center.

While there, Pam prayed, asking God to help her become well enough to be discharged in time for Jena's wedding.  On Thursday morning, she awoke feeling better, but as the day wore on, the exhaustion and shortness of breath returned.  She feared her doctor would not allow her to leave.  When the doctor entered her room later that day, she found Pam sitting up in bed with a big smile on her face―a smile Pam hoped would convince the doctor she was well enough to be released. leave.
    

    "How are you doing today?" the doctor asked.
    "Better," Pam lied. "I'm very anxious to get home today."
    After taking her vitals and reviewing Pam's chart, her doctor said, "I'm sorry, Pam.  I know you were hoping to be released today, but I don't think that is possible. Your heart rate is elevated and you are running a fever. I think we need to keep you here a little longer."
    Pam looked at her and replied, "I'm going home."
    "I understand your daughter is getting married this weekend, but I don't think you are able to leave."
    Pam responded a little louder this time―," No, I am going home."  She tried to hide the tears that were welling-up in her eyes before saying, "Did you hear me? I AM going home."
    Taken aback by the conviction in Pam's voice and the strength in her eyes, Dr. Smith said, "Well, I can't keep you here against your will. Although it's against my better judgment, I'll make the necessary arrangements to see you get the care you need when you're home."
    As the doctor walked out the door, Pam meekly whispered, "Thank you."

After loading the car with everything Pam would need―a portable oxygen tank, an inhaler, a bag of medications, prescriptions and a list of directions a mile long, Rick helped her get into the car. Although she was relieved to be released from the hospital, she cried ceaselessly on the way to Brookville. Between her tears, she said, "Rick, I'm really sick. I don't know if I can make it to the wedding." Re-thinking the words she had just spoken, Pam strongly proclaimed, "But I know I AM going to be there!"

During her stay in the hospital, Pam had remained relatively calm about the plans for the upcoming wedding.  She was confident all would go well because she and Jena had been working together for almost a year, taking care of every detail.  From the choice of flowers, the table decorations, the menu for the wedding dinner to the decorating of the local country club, all the plans were in place.  She sighed with relief knowing Jena's wedding day would be picture perfect!   

Pam was beaming as she recalled the day Jena had selected her beautiful wedding dress.  Unlike many brides-to-be, Jena did not spend hours going through racks of dresses and traveling from store to store.  Instead, she spotted the dress of her dreams on the first try. While looking back, Pam realized it all worked out so well because she and Jena were very much alike. Because they liked the same things, there was never a struggle.

Pam looked angelic when she said, "Jena is the most wonderful daughter― she never once threw a tantrum or got upset like a lot of girls do. We had so much fun shopping, talking and laughing while we were getting ready for her wedding day. She's just the best daughter, and I am so blessed!"

As if deep in thought, she paused for a few moments before continuing her story.  She told me the reason she had desperately needed to get home from hospital was to take care of some of the last-minute details for Jena.  However, after she was home, she realized she was still very ill and unable to do it. She was so weak she could barely function and needed to rely on the oxygen tank to breathe comfortably. When she went to bed on Thursday, she tossed and turned most of the night.  

Pam awoke the next morning feeling a little more refreshed. Once again, she convinced herself she would be able to help. About 10:00 that morning, she found the energy to shower and dress as she prepared to go to Pinecrest Country Club.  At noon, Rick pulled up to the country club door and helped Pam walk into the reception area. Much to her chagrin, she had to tote the portable oxygen tank.  She was immediately calmed when she saw the beehive of activity taking place. Everywhere she looked, some member of the family or one of the bridesmaids, was busily preparing for the reception.

The beautifully decorated reception area astounded her! The chairs had been draped in white fabric with bright- aqua, satin ribbons tied around the backs. The table settings were in place and a gorgeous array of white flowers in various sizes protruded from the crystal vases. When she looked up at the ceiling and saw the balcony decorated with white lights shining through aqua tulle, she realized Rick must have done it the day before! When had he found the time?   Use photo #1 of reception. Wind test around

Overwhelmed by the beauty of her surroundings, she happily accepted a chair. Sitting at a table watching all of the activity, she experienced a peaceful feeling of joy and gratitude for all of the friends and family members who were helping to make Jena's day perfect.

Later that afternoon, she returned home to rest for a short while before the rehearsal that evening. As she and Rick were preparing to leave for the church, Pam asked, "Are we picking Sally up for the rehearsal?"  She was referring to Sally Cook, Rick's mother, who lived in an apartment across town.

"Mom's not feeling well tonight, so she's staying home," Rick replied. What he omitted to tell Pam was that Sally had been hospitalized earlier that day. Rick's comment surprised Pam.  She realized Sally must be gravely ill because she would never have missed her granddaughter's rehearsal.

It was stifling hot when Rick and Pam entered the sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception Church.  The church had no air-conditioning, and Pam struggled to catch her breath.  It was the first time she was grateful for the portable oxygen tank she carried. Everyone was relieved when the rehearsal was over and they could head to the air-conditioned comfort of the Gold Eagle Restaurant for dinner.

Shortly after they were seated, Pam began toying with her salad, while trying to ignore the pain and shortness of breath she was experiencing. Suddenly, she felt like she could pass out. Pam quietly said to Rick, "I need to go home now. I think I'm going to faint."  Then she leaned over and whispered in Jena's ear, "Your Dad and I have to leave. I'm not feeling very well."
    

Jena calmly said, "That's fine, Mom. I'll tell the waitress to get your meals ready and you can take them home. I'll give out the gifts while you're waiting."

Jena left the table to talk with the waitress. Then she retrieved the bag filled with gifts for both sets of parents and the bridal party. She presented her mother with the first gift― a beautiful picture of Jena and her mom with a heart-felt inscription on the frame.  Jena then presented her father with his own special picture of the two of them together.  After receiving these treasured gifts, Rick and Pam quietly slipped out the door while Josh's parents and the bridal party opened their presents.  

As soon as they arrived home, Pam ate as much of her dinner as she could, slipped into her pajamas and laid down on the sofa.  She took her meds and hooked up the oxygen tank hoping it would relax her enough to sleep. Not long after she was settled in, Rick came to her and gently told her his mother was not at home, but in the hospital with an aneurysm.  He said he was going to see her, and would return shortly.

Later that evening when Rick returned home, he sat in the living room with Pam and told her about Sally's condition.  Not long after he had returned, Rick's brother, Steve called to say that Sally's aneurysm had ruptured. The doctor did not believe she had long to live. Steve suggested that Rick come back to the hospital to see his mother before she passed away. He immediately left the house. Many of Rick's siblings, and their families, had traveled from different areas of the country for the celebration of Jena's wedding. When he arrived at the hospital, they were sitting in the waiting room or congregated around Sally's bed.  None of them had ever expected to be spending Friday evening into early Saturday morning, in the Brookville Hospital preparing to say their final farewells to their mother and grandmother.  

When it was Rick's turn to talk to see his mother, he gently kissed her and held her hand.  Before slipping into a comma, Sally squeezed his hand and whispered, "Please don't tell Jena when I pass. Tomorrow is her wedding day. Please do not ruin it. Tell her after everything is over."

After Rick left, Pam cried as she thought about the tremendous confusion and pain the Cook family was experiencing. She desperately wished she had been well enough to be there with them.  She was still awake when Rick returned home. He shared what his mother had said and asked Pam what she thought they should do. After thinking about it for a few moments, Pam softly said, "Tomorrow is Jena's big day and we need to honor your mother's wishes."

About 5:00 am, Pam heard Rick's sister, Amy come into the house. She quietly went upstairs to bed. Two hours later, she heard his sister, Julie when she returned to the Cook homestead.  All Pam could think about was how emotionally and physically exhausted they each had to be. When she finally arose at 8:00 am, she let Amy and Julie sleep while she went downstairs to prepare the cookie trays for the wedding reception.  Although she still was not feeling much better, she needed to be doing something constructive.

Pam perched herself at the kitchen table as other family members gathered around to assist her. Brother Gary pulled the cookie trays down from the top of the cupboards and laid them on the table. Rick retrieved the cookies from the freezer.  Julie's husband, John, washed all of the dishes as they were emptied of the stored cookies.  Then Pam called her sisters, Jeanne and Jaime, and asked them to come and help. Everyone worked while Pam sat at the table, lovingly loading the trays with the large array of cookies she had baked weeks in advance. By 9:00, the cookies were loaded on the trays, carried to the vehicles and taken to the country club. It was truly a labor of love.

After the 'cookie crew' left to get ready for the wedding, Pam became so sick she could not move. She prayed for the strength to get through the day ahead―a day she and her daughter had been working towards, and happily anticipating for over a year. Although she did not think she had the strength to put one foot in front of the other, she knew she somehow would do it. She was still sitting at the table when a disheveled and distraught Amy wandered into the kitchen, soon followed by her sister Julie, who looked about the same.

Pam studied each of their faces and asked, "How are we going to do this? How are we going to get through this day? Look at you, you're both exhausted."   
    Amy brightened-up and said, "We all said our goodbyes to Mom last night. Today is Jena's day. This day will be all about Jena."  After those words were spoken, Pam could hear a 'voice' telling her to "BREATHE.'  And she did.
    Earlier that morning, Becky, a family friend had called and offered to come to the house to stay with Pam while Rick went to the hospital to be with his mother. Rick thanked her, and assured her Pam would be fine by herself while he was gone.  About 10:30, as Rick was getting ready to leave for the hospital, the phone rang again. This time it was one of his brothers calling to say Sally had passed away. When Rick told Pam the news, he once again asked if they should tell Jena. Pam calmly responded, "Let's wait until the wedding is over."

Shortly after the phone call about his mother's passing, Rick received another call. When he hung up, he abruptly left the house without saying where he was going. The call had been from one of Pam's best friends, Barb, who was at the country club checking on last minute arrangements. When she arrived, she discovered the portable air-conditioning unit was not working and the country club was incredibly hot and humid.  Because Rick was an electrician, Barb called him; in hopes, he could come out and repair it. When Pam discovered the reason Rick had rushed out of the house, she called him on his cell phone and told him to return home. She had just called the owner of the rental unit and he was on his way to fix it.

With all of the morning's problems solved, Pam and Rick were finally able to get dressed for the wedding.  She knew it would take every ounce of strength she had to get ready.  She felt a little more refreshed after she showered. While she sat at her dressing table looking into the mirror, she started thinking about everything that had transpired that week. She was overwhelmed as she thought about coming home from the hospital while still being very ill; worrying about the last minute details for the wedding; feeling weaker rather than stronger as Jena's wedding day neared; Rick's mother being taken to the hospital where she later died from an aneurysm; his grieving family that would soon be putting on their happy faces for Jena's sake, and all of this morning's commotion. She buried her head in her hands and sobbed. When she was finished releasing all of her pent-up emotions through her tears, she looked back at the mirror and said, "We will do this!"

She reached for the lovely wig, Barb & Becky, had recently purchased for her. After placing it on her head, she whispered to her reflection in the mirror, "A special gift, for a special day, from very special friends―I am blessed."  The thought of her close friends and family calmed her.  When she donned her mother-of -the-bride outfit, she recalled her daughter's words, "Mom, if you are not able to walk down the aisle, its okay with me."

Remembering Jena's words infused Pam with more resolve. Although she knew she did not have to, she wanted to walk down the aisle without the aid of a clumsy oxygen tank!

As she and Rick walked to the car to go to the church, Pam became very short of breath again. While asking herself how she could possibly make it through one of the most important days of her daughter's life, she once again began to pray.   

July 18th was one of the hottest days of the summer. When they entered the church vestibule, the heat of the church was unbearable.  Father Laska greeted them at the door and expressed his sincere condolences for the loss of Rick's mother, Sally.  Before descending the stairs to the social hall, where Jena and her bridesmaids were dressing, Pam had to sit down for a few minutes to regain her strength.  

With each downward step, her breathing became more labored, making her believe she would never be able to get through the day.  However, when she reached the final step, and looked through the doorway, she saw Jena― a stunningly beautiful bride with a smile so bright it could light-up the sky! At that moment, she felt as if 'the wings of angels' were gently lifting her up and giving her the strength to get through this very special  day. With renewed energy, Pam eagerly strode into the arms of her waiting daughter. They both shed tears of joy when they realized everything was going to be all right.  

Jena escorted her mother to a chair where she could sit to watch the photographer, as she snapped photo after photo of Jenna and her bridesmaids. Pam was calmly enjoying the action around her until she heard someone say to her sister, Jeanne, "I'm so sorry to hear about Sally's passing."

Pam's heart sank. Rick gently squeezed her hand when they realized Jena had overheard this comment.  Jena anxiously approached her parents and asked, "Did she just say something about Grandma Sally dying?"

Pam instantly replied, "No, she asked Jeanne something about her eyebrows."   It was such a bizarre reply that Jena appeared to accept it. To this day, Pam will never know where her response came from! A short while later, Pam and Rick ascended the steps to the church. Pam sat on the steps waiting for her son, Troy, to come and escort her down the aisle. When he approached his mother and reached for her portable oxygen tank, she firmly touched his hand and said, "I am walking down the aisle WITHOUT my oxygen tank."

As the soloist began singing, "You Raise Me Up", Pam accepted the waiting arm of her strong son, and proudly walked down the aisle.  With each step, she heard each meaningful word of that precious song―  
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains,
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up to more than I can be.
 
While sitting in her mother-of-the bride seat, Pam prayed to God, thanking him for sending her and Rick this amazing daughter. She also thanked Him for their wonderful son, Troy who proudly walked her down the aisle  An overwhelming sense of peace filled Pam's heart and soul, as she watched Jena and Jesse exchange their wedding vows. The gleam in Jena's eyes and the look of devotion on Josh's face helped Pam understand that when the day came for her to join the 'other' angels, Jena would be fine.


She also knew if Jena's soul one day became weary with troubles, she could sit and wait in silence, for the 'wings of her special angel' to come.

Since this story was written two years ago, Pam's own "Little Angel", her granddaughter - Hadley Bish was born on March 24, 2016.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Bonnie Friday, 06 October 2017 17:06 posted by Bonnie

    How come every time I read something you write, I cry.

Leave a comment

Please feel free to share your own thoughts, stories, etc. using the comment form. Someone will review your comment and publish it shortly.

SHARE A REVIEW of my book!

What Readers Say...

Latest Blog Posts

Book Diana

[BOOK DIANA] for your library, book club, organization, etc. She is always happy to share her stories and listen to yours!