#TBT – July 24, 2014

I love coffee.

It’s my morning routine to go downstairs and set the coffee pot once I get back from my morning run.  Over the years, I have gathered  an extensive collection of coffee cups from our family’s travels.  I’ve received them as gifts and purchased them as souvenirs.  It’s a great way to remember places and people while enjoying my morning coffee.

Today, however, as I was perusing the cups in the cupboard, I came across this one:

7-24 Coffee Cup TBT

It’s a cup that my daughter made for her Dad.  I remember her asking me to take her to the pottery place because she wanted to pick one out and make it special for him.  Notice the date – one week before his birthday.  Now, look at their picture together.

There’s no denying whose child she is.

This is the cup I will use today.
Someday, my daughter will have it in her own coffee cup collection.

I miss you, honey.

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How I remember Memorial Day

How I remember Memorial Day

Memorial Day weekend.  It’s a holiday filled with events that pay homage to those who have fought bravely.

In my world, Memorial Day weekend usually fills my calendar with multiple graduation ceremonies and parties, all of which are amazing and fun.  This day, however, holds special meaning for me because it was on this day that I discovered my own heroes.  If you’ve followed my story so far, you know that my husband received horrible news on April 1, 2013 –  hepatitis C.  This resulted in a flurry of tests, only to discover that he might be battling something far worse.

Spring season/early summer is usually the time that all major tours are prepping for the summer of show runs.  During the month of May in 2013, Sam was working with Alan Jackson, doing shows up and down the East Coast.  While taking Sam to the airport, the hepatologist (doctor who specializes in diseases of the liver, gall bladder, pancreas, etc.) called with his test results.  Sam focused on getting everything ready for his flight, so he put me on the phone with the doctor.  “It doesn’t look good, Mrs. Harden.  From the CT scan, markers show that he is definitely battling something serious.”  Now that’s a sentence you don’t want to hear as you are driving your husband to the airport.

If there was one thing I knew that Sam loved more than me, it was stage lighting.  It was his dream, his gifting, and he lived it well.  My husband worked for twenty years doing what he loved, and I loved watching him work.  He worked for some of the biggest names in the industry and I was either driving him to the airport or to bus call.  Today was different.  As I drove him to the airport, I listened numbly as the hepatologist rattled off his statistical test results.  Sam didn’t want to talk to him, more so because he was making sure he had his ticket, passport, etc.  “Could I call you right back?”, I asked the doctor.  I mean, should he even go on this trip?  It’s not like he had a choice.  Alan Jackson’s people had already purchased the plane tickets.  Shows were scheduled and it’s not like you can call in sick on this type of job.  So I did what any wife would do…I drove him to the airport.  I asked him to call me every day and let me know how he was doing.  I kissed him goodbye and dropped him off at the curbside check-in for American Airlines.

The drive home was surreal.  I called the hepatologist back to get the real answers.  Dr. Michael Porayko is one of the best at Vanderbilt Hospital, specializing in liver disease and liver transplants.  He was also one of the kindest doctors I dealt with.  “Mrs. Harden, I can tell you that this is serious…very serious.  From the markers on the CT scan, we usually have a sign of where we are.  I can honestly tell you that we’re looking at a 50% chance of survival for 6-12 months with palliative care.”  I’m sorry……what?  How did we go from getting preliminary tests run to a death sentence?  Just like that?  “Are you sure?” were the words that followed.  I was asking a veteran expert in the field if he was sure.  “I’m sorry, Mrs. Harden, but this is very serious.”

The next few weeks were a blur.  How was I supposed to tell Sam?  I didn’t want to call him out on the road and give him devastating news, especially since he had to spend the next ten days bouncing up and down the East Coast doing shows for Alan Jackson.  I didn’t want him stressing and worrying while trying to work.  I didn’t want to kill his dream.  Not yet.

Flash forward to life at home.  It was the end of a school year and I was neck-deep in year-end project presentations with my students.  I didn’t want to tell them what was happening.  Better to not let them worry about Mrs. Ronei and look forward to summer.  I also had to prepare for the upcoming graduation of our daughter.  Savannah had worked so hard during her high school years.  They weren’t easy.  She attended a college-prep classical school that allowed her to pursue a challenging academic path that eventually enabled her to dual-enroll her senior year at Middle Tennessee State University.  I serve on the board of the Middle Tennessee Home Education Association and our organization holds a special graduation ceremony for homeschool graduates.  We were especially proud because this year, our daughter would serve as one of two commencement speakers chosen by the graduation committee.

So……..it was graduation central in our house.  Sam had come home from his gigs with Alan Jackson and scheduled to begin prep work on Toby Keith’s tour.  The crew set up shop at the Curb Center on the Belmont University campus.  They spent a week setting up the show and doing rehearsals before the show hit the road for the summer.  Sam spent the week with the crew at a hotel near Belmont so they could handle the long days/nights of rehearsal.  Little did I know (or did Sam know) that this would be his last gig.  I think he knew it even though he never admitted it.  It was hard to watch my husband face this ordeal, but he did so with such fortitude and stamina that I am still in awe.  While he was in rehearsals, we were busy getting ready for graduation.

I can remember it like it was yesterday.  It was Friday night, May 24th, 2013.  Sam came home from a week of rehearsals and when he stepped inside the door, I had to contain myself.  He was YELLOW.  He looked like a human highlighter.  Even the whites of his eyes were yellow with jaundice.  He was also shaking and itching.  We would find out later that his bilirubin count in his bloodstream was 42, a level that most humans cannot withstand without severe pain and irritation.  “Sam!  Have you been like this all week?  You probably scared the bejeezus out of the crew!  Why didn’t you tell me?”  It was always like that with Sam.  He didn’t want to bother folks or make them feel sorry for him.  He was determined to finish his job well.  “Yeah, it’s been doing this on and off, but if I get some sleep, it seems to go away after a while.”  It goes away for a while?  Does that mean it comes back?  What was I going to do?  Graduation day was tomorrow!!  Savannah came upstairs when she heard us talking and saw her father.  She was equally concerned.  Sam, however, wasn’t going to budge.  I wanted to take him to the ER right then and there, but he wouldn’t have it.  “Tomorrow is Savannah’s graduation.  Let’s get through that first, then we’ll talk.”  Talk?  You are YELLOW and you want to talk.

I didnt’ sleep much that night.  Neither did Sam.  He was in a lot of pain and due to the high bilirubin levels, he was itching all over his body.  Our son, Seth, works third shift for Nissan.  The plan was that Seth would come home from work, sleep, then come by the house and pick up Sam and the two of them would join Savannah and I at graduation.  I had to have Savannah at graduation rehearsal and run-thru at 9am.  Graduation was at 1pm.  I called Seth to warn him of what he would see when he picked up his father.  Needless to say, when Seth got there, he asked me why we didn’t take Sam to the hospital. “Mom, he needs to go.  NOW.”   “Have you tried talking your father into going?”, I asked.  “I’ve got your sister on this end who doesn’t want to give her commencement speech and your father won’t go to the hospital until he sees her give her speech and graduate.  Two boneheads who won’t budge.  Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  I’d like to hear your suggestions on how to fix this.”  Seth knew all to well what that conversation would do.  Absolutely nothing.  “Just don’t argue with him.  Keep an eye on him and if it gets really bad, call me.”  Meanwhile, I had to convince a very nervous and very shaken daughter that we HAD to go through with this.

It’s times like this when you find out just how strong you are.  It was on this day that I discovered the heroes disguised as my husband, son, and daughter.  Who knew that we would have to walk this path together, facing insurmountable odds, and face lots of people who would have lots of things to say.  I had to call and warn my fellow board members and the graduation committee to not call an ambulance or cringe in horror when they saw my husband.  Savannah and I were on our way to the rehearsal, but would be just a little late.  Little did I know that they made an announcement to the entire graduating class (parents included) and took a moment to pray for us.  Boy did we need it.

We arrived at rehearsal and slowly but surely, Savannah started to crack.  She was fine until she saw her father walk in.  He was jaundiced and wincing from the itching and pain.  Still, he smiled at her and said, “You’re going to be great!”.  You see, Sam had been on the road touring with Lord of the Dance when our son graduated, so he didn’t want to miss this one too.  He was adamant about not wrecking this for her.  Savannah and I had spent lunchtime in the car, eating sandwiches and reviewing her speech.  “Mom, I can’t do this.”  We went through the line for the photographers, taking her senior picture in cap and gown.  Then it was time.  As I pinned her hat in her beautiful hair, she sobbed.  “Mommy, please.  I can’t do this.  I can’t.”  When the sentence starts with Mommy, you know it’s serious.  “Baby girl, there are times in life when you can’t stop and cry.  Great people have gone before you in this life, facing horrible circumstances while called upon to do something great.  God has given you this moment, THIS moment, to speak…not just to your graduating class, but to your father.  He needs your words now more than ever.”  I took her precious face into my hands and spoke the only words I knew to say.  “Savannah, in this life, you will face many things that will feel just as awful as this does.  But you’ve got to remember….you serve a God who is bigger than this.  No matter what happens, no matter how hard things get and how much life may shake, God will always be there.  Always.  He will be your constant when everything else around you falls.  He’s got you.  You can do this.”  I wiped her tears, she freshened up her makeup, and the rest, they say, is history.

Little did we know, this would be our last family picture together.

Little did we know, this would be our last family picture together.

So how did she do?  Well, you can see for yourself.  She was amazing.  As soon as graduation was over, we left for Vanderbilt’s ER.  Sam was admitted and for the next six days, Savannah slept on the tile floor next to her father.  There was no graduation party (except for the fundraiser she sang at to help one of her friends raise funds for her mission trip to Ethiopia).  No graduation presents.  No senior trip. No fanfare or friends to show up and support her.  Just the halls of Vanderbilt, the staff, and the unknown journey ahead.  We would have only six months left.  Still, we had this moment….together.

This is how I remember Memorial Day.  The day my heroes fought well.

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The day my friends made me call Bob Goff

I have the coolest friends.

These aren’t ordinary friends.  These are complete strangers, some of whom I have yet to meet in real life.  Friends who have surrounded and supported me in this wonderful thing called “community” that grew out of a project by my friend, Jon Acuff.  You see, God sort of threw me into this group because he knew I wouldn’t step out or speak up, so he swung me WAAAAAY back and sent me catapulting via the Great Slingshot in the Sky straight into the middle of Jon’s burgeoning online community.

I’ve learned so much through this experience:

  1. I’m more of an introvert than I thought
  2. I’m really awkward in new social settings
  3. People scare the bejeezus out of me
  4. God always has to shove me into my destiny
  5. I’m more afraid of success than I am failure

And so, this amazing group did what they always do…they DARED me to do something big.  Something brave.  They dared me to call the author, Bob Goff.  Mr. Goff wrote the New York Times best seller Love Does.  I haven’t read his book yet, but that didn’t matter.  My friends reached out to him, hoping that we would have a phone conversation.  Me.  With a New York Times best-selling author.  Whose book I haven’t read.  And I’m supposed to just call the man.

Well…..I did.  I thought I would show my friends that I’m not afraid of a dare, that I could be really brave and at least call to leave him a voicemail.  But it didn’t exactly go as I planned.

So here it is, live, in living color, for your viewing pleasure.  I took the time to insert my own annotations in the video to help the viewer understand exactly what happened and how I felt in the moment.  It should offer some entertainment for your day.  Oh, and you can only view the annotations if you’re on a laptop, desktop, or possibly an iPad or tablet.  Not on smartphones.

I hope you have friends that will dare you to take big steps, big leaps, and be there when you do the impossible.

My friends are the best, even though they make me do crazy things.

 

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Flying Solo

Flying Solo

Well, that was special.

I woke up at my usual 5am time, showered and got ready because today was the day.  I’ve been working with my attorney and financial advisor for the past few months getting things in “order”.  We filed the paperwork back in February, so it was time to head to Probate Court.

Or so I thought.

You see, since I’ve suddenly had to learn how to fly solo, things don’t go according to plan anymore.  Due to an incorrect date set in my calendar app, I thought today was the day for our hearing.

I showered, made sure to pick out the right outfit (the paperwork did have a dress code for court, who knew?), and began the tedious process of applying makeup through tears.  Tears.  The flood of tears that come every time I have to think about the death of my husband, sorting through and packing his things, and dealing with all the legal matters in regards to his estate. Endless memories.

I sent a few text messages to my attorney; one last night saying, “See you in the morning!”, and again this morning with a “See you in a bit!” greeting.  As I scrolled up to look at his earlier message, I found one that said our court date was NEXT Wednesday, not today.

What. The. Heck.

EXPECTATIONS

That seems to be my word for 2014.  It’s all about understanding how my expectations have to adapt to God’s expectations.

girl on bench

  • I expected to live happily ever after with my Prince.  Yeah, that isn’t happening.
  • I expected to have a family that stayed together.  When you have adult children, it’s inevitable that they leave.  They are processing things on their own which most of the time means it doesn’t include me.
  • I expected to always be able to transition back into the workforce.  At my age, and this present economy, it doesn’t look promising out there.
  • I expected relationships to be more than what they are; instead, God threw me into a group of strangers in a blogging community and expected me to “play nicely” with them.  I’ve never felt more vulnerable, exposed, and stripped bare in front of people in my life. Does He NOT understand how freaked out I get around strangers?  Whatever happened to “Stranger Danger”?
  • I expected to have my websites up and running.  I have a really sweet friend helping me with this, but she is waiting on me to get some information from my hosting company.  I just haven’t had time to call them yet.
  • I expected to be more consistent in a lot of areas with a lot of things.  Most days, I’m amazed that I remember my name and where I put my car keys.
  • I expected to be able to move on quickly and get this whole grief thing over.  Not easy when everywhere you look, you see couples.  Couples with kids, couples without kids, older couples having coffee or dinner together.  A daily reminder that I’m no longer part of a couple.  I fly solo now.
  • I expected to be further along in 2014.  I can’t seem to get out of my house on the right day, let alone think ahead to the future, even if its next week.  Now tax season is approaching……

I’m learning that this is a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong process that I will have to endure until it’s complete.  According to my attorney, after our court date NEXT Wednesday, the probate process may extend until late May/early June.

I’d probably be in a better mood if the weather wasn’t ARCTIC.  Should I drink wine in the morning?

For now, I plug along, pushing forward to my dream, no matter how small the steps are to getting there.

Hoping to catch up to life and humanity soon.

 

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And just like that….it’s gone.

And just like that….it’s gone.

People always ask me how I’m doing.  “How’s it going?  You doing okay?”

I always answer with “I’m fine”.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Steel Magnolias, then you’re familiar with the cemetery scene with Malynne and her friends after they bury Shelby.

I’m three and a half months out from my husband’s death and it STILL feels like that.  I can (and sometimes probably do) look like I’m having a schizophrenic moment, but Sally Field truly captured the emotions of the grieving wife/mother.  That’s why she’s Oscar material.

There are no words to describe how you feel.

The feelings can return when you have to process daily matters.  Yesterday, I had to take the car title and Sam’s copy of the Civic key to the Allstate Insurance agency.  They handed me a check.  The money didn’t even really matter to me at that moment.  I handed them the last tangible reminder of Sam’s car, the car that he gave to our daughter as a gift when he got sick.

And just like that……it’s gone.

Like a dork, I took a picture of the key.  Sam’s key.  The key I would always default to when my daughter or I would misplace our keys.

Honda car key

I even knew where to look for it.  He kept it in the same place, every time.  Consistency.  Slow and steady.  These are the words used to describe my husband.  Words that are never used to describe me.

The Allstate agent was so kind and asked if there was anything else he could do.  As I started to well up, ALL the guys in the Allstate office wished me well and offered their condolences.

God has a knack for timing.  Imagine that.

Lucky for me, I had to go into work.  Knowing I only had 30 minutes to get it out and re-do my makeup, I cried all the way there, wondering if anyone else in the world hurts the way I do every day.  Anyone?  Even the morons who seem to ALWAYS DRIVE 15 mph in front of me?  I seem to have come up with my form of extreme therapy of using time efficiently AND sobbing uncontrollably during drive time.  I always leave 10 minutes on the end to reapply makeup in the parking lot.  The drama at work only makes things heavier; at work, you’re not supposed to feel human, you’re supposed to solve the world’s problems that come in groups of a bajillionty or more.

And then He chimes in.

Did I hear someone say “solve the world’s problems?”  Um, I think I already took care of that.

(crickets……dangit….one of His creations…nice one, God)

I try to reply with contextual reference and sentence use (because I’m a dork trying to remind God of sentence structure and context).

I wasn’t referring to the world, meaning globe, because of course, that’s Yours and everything in it.  I just meant the metaphorical “world” that I am over.  You know, like how You gave Adam dominion over the Garden of Eden?  I mean, not that majestic and magical, but, You know what I mean.

About this time is when I get a visual of God, sitting in an over-sized rocking chair, palm on face, shaking His head, and chucking to Himself.

You do remember that I overcame the world, right?  How you can do all things because of My strength, which I try to offer you when you’re not busy cleaning, or stapling, or emailing, or working?  I mean, I do enjoy watching you be the Princess and all, but I’m the King, remember?  You’re taking on things meant for My shoulders, not yours.  Now, hurry up.  You’ve got another mile or so and then you need to fix your face.  You’re a Princess, remember?

How am I doing?

I’m fine.  I’m just fine.

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John Travolta, Say My Name

There were so many fabulous moments on the Academy Awards stage, but one of the best was when John Travolta flubbed Idina Menzel’s name:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaOg6tH3z0Y

What. The Heck.

As a person with an unusual name, I cringe at the thought of how my name will appear on my Starbucks cup, OR WORSE, pronounced in public.  I can always tell when the person doing roll call gets to my name.  There’s always a slight pause, then the randomized butchering of my name commences.

Now, if John Travolta announced my name on the Oscar stage, he would say:

My Travolta-ized name

Want to know your Travoltified name?

Click here to try the Adele Dazeem Name Generator.

You’re welcome.

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Here I Am, There You Are

Here I Am, There You Are

Wow.

It’s been two and a half months since my husband passed away.  Sixty-nine days, to be exact.

Time seems to march along, yet I feel like part of me was torn from my body, I’m hemorrhaging, yet life seems to just go on blissfully……for everyone else.

There really isn’t an articulate and beautiful way to describe the feeling of losing a loved one.

It’s terribly painful.  It aches deep in the center of your soul.  It is an agony forever knocking on the door of your heart.

It hurts in ways that I don’t think we were EVER supposed to hurt.

“Is there any other way, Lord?” was a question often asked.  “ANY other way?”  He so sweetly, and yet poignantly replied to me, “Hmmm, let’s see.  I think I’ve heard that before…….”

“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me.”

jesus_fell_on_his_face_4

Words from His own Son.  I noticed Jesus said this while falling with his face to the ground.  Yep.  I found myself in the same place many times, begging…..pleading…..not this way, Lord.  Please.  Not this way.

“Yet..I want your will to be done, not mine.” – Matthew 26:39

Here I am.  There You are.  Two and a half months later; still here.

My husband is now healed, whole……saved.

I never imagined a life like this.  Then again, I never imagined my life could be the way that it has been, the way it is now, and I’m sure not like anything it’s going to be.

Because You have great things planned for me.

Help me be brave enough to trust You though this.

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