Saturday, May 29, 2010

Eugene Arthur Gammon- World War II

There is a small memorial marker standing silent vigil at the Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. There is no body buried beneath the marker. Sadly, this sailor was never brought home to his family. His mother was never able to lay her son to rest in the family cemetery. It is certain that Eugene A. Gammon died 24 October 1944 when the Arisan Maru (P.O.W. hell ship) was sunk off the coast of Formosa. Yet, Eugene Arthur Gammon is one of thousands still listed as Missing in Action from World War II.

Eugene was born 3 January 1915 in Ramah, a small town located about 38 miles from Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was the son of Eugene and Gertrude Dunning Gammon. His father was a proud cattle rancher. He was the oldest of two boys. Growing up the Gammon boys were taught to love their land and love their country. Since they had been “knee high” Eugene and his brother, James, were often told of their great great grandfather fighting in the Revolutionary War along side George Rogers Clark. Since before this country was founded the Gammons and Robinsons have been intertwined in her history. When called on, they have always served her needs.

Eugene was different from his younger brother. James wanted to spend his life on the family ranch in Ramah. Eugene, he loved Colorado but since visiting his cousin in California he longed to see the world, long to see what laid beyond the Pacific. Eugene enlisted in the United States Navy hoping this would allow him to see the world. In August 1940 he reported for duty on the U.S.S. Canopus stationed in Manila. In his letters home Eugene wrote about his life on the“Old Lady”, the beauty of the beaches and people, the unbearable heat compared to the gentle summers in Colorado. He wrote to his mom that his ship was called the “Mama-san” because the Canopus repaired and serviced the subs of the pacific. Eugene missed home but loved his new adventure. He was hoping soon he would be able to visit other exotic places.

Eugene’s dreams of seeing the world changed December 7, 1941. His horrific fate was sealed that Sunday in the Cavite Naval Yard. Hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese began bombing Manila. Soon the men of the Canopus were working day and night repairing the ships that were damaged by the daily air raids. On Christmas day, as his family attended church praying for Eugene’s safe return, the Canopus sailed into Mariveles Bay at the tip of Bataan. All other ships were ordered out of Philippines, the U.S.S. Canopus would be serving alone. On December 27 the “Old Lady” took a direct hit, which penetrated all decks and exploded in the alley shaft killing 6 sailors and igniting her powder magazines. The Japanese were not successful in sinking her, the crew worked gallantly saving what seemed to be impossible. That night the first of her crew were buried at sea. Once again on January 6, the Canopus suffered a direct hit. Eugene wrote home he was not sure how much longer they would be able to hold on. They worked under the cover of darkness to repair their ship. At the same time the crew were converting her launches into gunboats to support the Marines off Corregidor. During her short service in World War II, the U.S.S. Canopus received only one battle star, but the battle lasted a long 4 months. Eugene and his fellow sailors fought heroically never giving up even in the face of overwhelming Japanese forces.

9 April 1942, starving, out of ammunition, and out of supplies, the crew was ordered to scuttle the U.S.S. Canopus. On 10 April 1942, her crew did what the Japanese had tried to do for four and a half months they laid the “Old Lady” to rest at bottom of Mariveles Bay with 13 of her crew. As she slowly disappeared into the bay, the reality of what laid ahead for Eugene and the rest of the crew must have been overwhelming. 11 April 1942 Eugene and the rest of the Canopus crew became part of the 4th Marine Division defending Corregidor.

Eugene A. Gammon, service number 96600 USN became a Prisoner of War. After the fall of Corregidor, his journey into hell began at the hands of the Japanese. For three weeks the prisoners were held in Corregidor they faced machine guns, random killings by the Japanese, starvation and disease. The United States Navy lists Eugene's capture after the fall of Corregidor, but in the Greeley Daily Tribune dated 28 February 1944 his mother stated that she clearly saw her son Eugene in some of the photos of the Bataan Death March which if true, meant he had been captured after the fall of Bataan almost a month earlier. She later wrote she fell to her knees crying when she first saw Eugene in the photos. Her handsome son who could wrangle a steer singularly had whittled away to mere skin and bones. For days his mother, Gertrude, could not sleep or eat, she was happy to see her son, yet horrified at how he appeared. Eugene is listed in Japanese records as a prisoner in Bilibid prison beginning in June of 1942. For the next three weeks, Eugene slept on concrete floors, lived on rice balls. The daily enemies at Bilibid were starvation, disease, abuse and boredom.

Eugene was transferred to Cabanatuan Prison in July of 1942. Cabanatuan was made famous by the 2005 film, “The Great Raid.” The story of the rangers rescuing the POWs before the Japanese tried to killed them. Sadly Eugene would never see rescue, never find freedom. For the next two and half years Eugene was a resident of camp 1, Cabanatuan. During the first 8 months Cabanatuan prison over 2,400 prisoners died from starvation or disease. Eugene was listed on burial detail. 30 to 50 prisoners were buried each day. July 1942 85 % of the men who died were under the age of 30. Several men attempted escape in the first few weeks of Cabanatuan, they were unsuccessful. To prevent further escapes the Japanese instituted groups of 10 named “Blood Brothers” or “Shooting Squads’. If anyone of the group escaped the other 9 would be executed. To protect the lives of all the prisoners, the American officers instituted a no escape policy. Men were made to sign an agreement not to attempt escape. They were told if they escaped and survived they would be court martialed after the war for the deaths of the other 9 in the group. It was a common practice by the japanese, before a man was executed he would be forced to dig his own grave as the other prisoners looked on. He would then most likely beheaded. There was later testimony at the War Crimes trial that on numerous instances, the guards would place the head of the decapitated POW on a pole and march it around the camp for all the prisoners to see. Food, water and sanitation were almost non-existent. Most of the food and water the prisoners received was smuggled in by brave civilians. Lugao, a thin watery soup became the main staple of every prisoner. Rice balls and worms were a luxurious dinner. Each morning the dying were removed from the barracks and taken to “zero ward”. Aptly named because those taken there had zero chance of surviving.

May 1943. almost a year after Eugene’s capture, the family received official notification from the Navy that their son, Eugene Arthur Gammon, was a prisoner of war at Cabanatuan. Eugene was promoted in absence to the rank of Boatswain, W.O. July 1943. For 2 years, 5 months Eugene would rot/waste away at the hands of the Japanese. During this time his mother would receive only two “form cards” from her son. When Gertrude died, she was buried with the cards, the last remaining items she had that her son’s hands had touched.

Late summer of 1944 the Japanese were aware of the approaching American forces. In August 1944 the Japanese issued a “Kill All” Policy. The Americans were not to find the prisoners. As MacArthur prepared to attack Leyte, Eugene and 1784 other prisoners of Cabanatuan were loaded on the Arisan Maru for transport to Japan. They were crammed like sardines into dark black hulls. . Later in war records these hulls were named hold 1 and 2. There was no sanitation, no fresh air to breath in the holds. The stench and heat were unbearable. The ship was part of a merchant convoy and was not marked as a POW transport ship. For two weeks the men in the holds suffered from heat and continued starvation. It was just before dinner on October 24 when two torpedoes struck the Arisan Maru. The ship stopped instantly and began taking on water. The Japanese issued abandoned ship orders. Before evacuating the ship, the Japanese cut the rope ladder leading to hold 1 and closed the hatches on hold one and two. Trapping the POWs below, guaranteed to cause certain death.. Gathered from surviving testimony, men in hold two though they suffered years of starvation, their will to live prevailed, they escaped their hold and lowered a rope down to the men in hold one. The prisoners jumped from the Arisan Maru and swam to the other Japanese ships who were part of the merchant convoy only to be beaten away, left to drown in the Pacific. Eugene and the other prisoners watched as the merchant ships left them floating in waves of salt water. The men grabbed onto anything that floated, wreckage left by the Arisan Maru. Some men drown quickly, others lasted for hours, days waiting for rescue. As they languished in the pacific they could hear the cries and prayers of those around them. The men watched in agony as their fellow POWs slipped into the depths of the ocean, knowing that eventually that would be their fate. They prayed for a miracle, a ship to find them, but the sub who sank the Arisan Maru was unaware the ship carried prisoners. It went about its mission patrolling the pacific. Out of the 1795 prisoners on the Arisan Maru, only 7 survived, Eugene was not one of them. The Pacific Ocean whom Eugene had fallen in love with on his trip to California, swallowed his body, took Eugene to his watery grave.

Several years after the war ended a fellow POW from camp 1 at Cabanatuan visited the Gammon family in Colorado. He tried his best to answer Eugene's mother’s questions, fill in the blanks of the last part of Eugene’s life. Although beaten and starved Eugene never lost his faith, he prayed every night. During the blistering heat of the Philippines he often told of the soft first snowfalls of Colorado. Before the war, he longed to see the world, at Cabanatuan all he dreamed about was his home in Colorado. Eugene often told his fellow prisoners after the war, they had to visit Colorado, it was the most beautiful place on earth. To cheer men up Eugene would often tell stories of chasing lost cattle in the pass between the mountains. He told of his childhood adventures in Colorado. Eugene often spoke of his mother. He worried most about her, on more than one occasion he said the pain his mother was feeling had to be much worse than what he was going through. He wished/prayed he could hug his mom just once, tell her he was okay. He was coming home one day.

The sinking of the Arisan Maru is the worst Naval disaster in U.S. history. 1780 POWs lost their life after suffering for years at the hands of the Japanese.

There is no definitive answer on when Eugene Arthur Gammon died. Did he die within hours of the sinking of the Arisan Maru or did he linger for days praying for a miracle? I have often wondered, before his death as he closed his eyes was he able to see one last time his home nestled in the foothills of the Rockies?

On Corregidor there sits a memorial to all those who died in the Pacific during World War II. The inscription along the rim of the alter reads;

Sleep, my sons,
Your destiny done,
For freedom’s light has come;
Sleep in the depths of the sea,
Or in your hallow sod,
Until you hear at dawn,
The low reveille of God

Rest in Peace Eugene Arthur Gammon and all those who died serving in the Pacific.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Don't Let Them Be Forgotten!

As Memorial Day approaches I find myself reflecting back to my last month as a Girl Scout, May 1978.  My final community service project, our troop volunteered to work with the Boy Scouts at various cemeteries placing American Flags next to the headstone of all who served. 

Upon our arrival we were broken into small groups, shown how to insert the flag and informed of cemetery protocol.  After orientation I was handed a bundle of flags, a map of the cemetery and a list containing the section, row numbers and the names of the men and women I was responsible for honoring.

Walking across the lush green lawns I marveled at how many headstones there were, how large the cemetery was.  With my section located I began to walk down the rows, inserting my flags at the base of each headstone. As I pushed each flag into the ground, I found myself reading the rank, the birth day, death date, branch of service and the war served on each headstone.

Before moving to the next headstone I would say a short prayer, “Dear God, please be with…inserting their name.” As the morning wore on, my brain began to calculate the age of the person at the time of their death. I marveled at how old some of the veterans were when they passed.  With my first section complete I headed back to the check-in table for my new assignment.  

With more flags I bounded back across the cemetery in search of my new assignment. In my first section, the majority of birth years were before the 1930s.   The wars cited on the headstones were World War I, World War II and Korea. I was not prepared for the new conflict I would encounter inscribed on the stones.

As I rounded the walkway the word “Vietnam” seem to scream at me from her rows of silent memorials.  It was a country, a war I was familiar with.  Growing up after dinner we would watch the evening news, the nightly broadcasts from the war front as well as the peace protests on the home front. I remember the sounds of my mom’s frequent sobs while my dad was deployed and her tears of joy when the President announced the war was over.

In sixth grade I had a wonderful teacher, Mr. Hopper. Every morning after taking roll he would read a few pages from the book, “In the Presence of Mine Enemies.”  The story of Capt. Howard Rutledge, his years as a POW at Hanoi Hilton and the struggles of his family back home while he was a prisoner. Cognizant of the times we lived in, he often said, he wanted his students to be thankful and not hateful of the men and women who served.  He hoped through Capt. Rutledge’s words/story we would better understand the sacrifices made to ensure our freedom.

I spent many Saturday nights watching old war movies with Dad, most were on World War II but numerous took place in Vietnam; “The Green Berets” and “Go Tell the Spartans” to name two.  A few weeks before my Dad had taken me to see “The Boys of Company C” at the Fort Meade Movie theaters. Hollywood had introduced me to the more sanitized version of war. I believed I understood the price of war, the cost of serving our country.

Nothing hits the heart stronger than seeing the reality of war carved in stone.  One headstone would illustrate the absoluteness of the “fallen” more than any other previous lesson.  It would demonstrate war does not adhere to boundaries; it will take the young more than the old.

Half way down the row my soul awakened as my heart stopped. Sadly time has erased the name inscribed on his headstone from my memory but not the dates I read. I remember the sadness that overwhelmed me, the instant ‘bond’ I felt when I read his birthdate, July 11, 1952. We were born on the same day. He was only twenty years old when he died, a few years older than I was at the time.  Tears cascaded down my cheeks as I read the words, “Only Son” inscribed and worn below his name.

My mind seems to ponder things more than most. My brain began to spin, fill with questions as I stared at his headstone.  Filled with sadness I sat and tried to come up with some logical explanation to the question that will never be adequately be answered, why? Not understanding then what I know now, why is the most difficult question that we may never have answered. The one question that will constantly tear at the heart.

Most of the graves before his I could tell someone had cleaned their headstones. Many had flowers on them, coins, small tokens, a sign someone cared, someone remembered them. His lay bare, his headstone covered with a light coat of dirt from the wind. Sadness seemed to encompass his headstone.

I wondered if his parents were they still alive. If they lived nearby why didn’t they clean his grave? Did he have a girlfriend, someone who loved him when he died? Why didn't someone care him enough to visit, take care of his headstone?  He was only twenty, I was positive he had no children. 

As I sat at the foot of his grave, my tears flowed and the questions continued. Who would remember him years from now? Who would bring him flowers on his birthday? Who would cry on the anniversary of his death? Did anyone remember him? Did his high school friends still talk about him, share their memories. Was it possible for a grave to be lonely? If so he was.

My tears brought the realization, he would never coach his son and never walk his daughter down the aisle. There were no more football games, Saturday night parties or summer days at the beach. He ceased to be and without children time would eventually erase all memories of him. The only thing left to carry on his name was his headstone.

Trying to comfort myself, I pulled my bundle of flags close to my heart. Noticing my tears and the fact I was sitting, Mrs. Cislo, our girl scout leader, came over and sat beside me. I wiped the tears from my eyes and cried, “We share a birthday. He was only twenty. He was a kid. That’s not fair."

She wrapped her arm around me and answered. “War is not fair. It takes a toll, more on the young than the old, Vietnam especially.”

She patted me on the shoulder, told me it was time to get moving. There were soldiers who needed a flag placed as a tribute to their service. As I stood I asked her the question that haunted me the most. “If they have no children, if they never married, who’s going to remember them twenty years from now?”

Her answer was simple and direct, “Hopefully after today, Denise, you will. If I taught you well, you will teach your children to remember the forgotten. And the lessons will continue to pass down.”

I brushed the grass off my shorts and grabbed my list of names from the ground. I started to walk away but couldn't. I paused, stepped back so I was standing in front of his grave once again. I kissed my fingers then placed them on the top of his headstone, and said, “Rest in Peace.”

That afternoon as I placed American flags on the soldiers graves, my prayer changed; “God please be with…. let them be remembered, please don’t ever let them be forgotten.”

I think this Memorial day I will travel back to the cemetery and see if I can find the boy who shares my birthday, let him know I may have forgotten his name but not his sacrifice. He has always stayed in my heart and always will.

My prayer this weekend will be the same as it was 32 years ago, this time I hope you will join me…
“Dear God, please don’t let them be forgotten.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Never Going to be a Girly Girl

I am not sure why but lately I have been noticing the women my age who are perfectly coiffed. They always seem to have exquisite make-up, impeccable hair, classic clothes, polished nails, the look finished of course with fabulous heels. Sunday at my nephew's graduation I marveled at all the woman who looked like they just stepped out of a Nordstrom's catalogue. Bumped up/styled hair sprayed into place, lipstick, beautiful dress, pearls, earrings, matching heels and purse. I didn't even remember to put on a necklace. I would love to be that pulled together, polished, very lady like in appearance. To have the look that leaves men weak in the knees. As I stood in awe of their femininity I came to the realization no matter how hard I tried or wanted, I would never be a girly girl. I am not dainty or refined, it is just not me.

I am what you would call a no frills kind of gal. I own a blow dryer, I may have used it three times last year. I never use hairspray or mousse, don’t own any. I understand hair care products are meant to keep my hair under control and in place. I can't even get my life under control, so why do I want my hair to be one up on me? I love my long hair, pull it up in a ponytail or let it hang loose and wild. If we are out and about, don’t ask to borrow a brush or comb, you will be out of luck, I don’t carry one in my purse. Why carry a brush, when I can just as easily fluff/fix my hair with my fingers. I drive a convertible, even in the winter I have been known to drop the top down. Nothing more freeing than having the sun shine on my face and the wind blowing through my hair. When I arrive at my destination, I remove my ponytail holder, shake my hair/head, fluff my hair with my fingers and mirror or brush necessary. Windblown hair is a great look…wild and untamed! Just like I can be at times.

I don't use moisturizers, cleansing masks, anti wrinkle creams...I wash my face with soap and water. I own one tube of lipstick, can’t even tell you the shade, I never seem to remember to apply it. I consider myself lucky when I remember to apply chap stick in the winter. I took a make-up lesson once, she tried so hard to teach me the "tricks of the trade", I failed. As soon as I left the salon I couldn't remember which brush was for blending, which brush was for application. I do own many different shades and types of eye shadow. They look really pretty in the drawer. I tried once to give myself the "smoky" eye look, instead I got the black eye look. After that I determined neutrals and browns seem to be a much safer choice for this make-up dysfunctional person. I don't wax my eyebrows. I tried it, didn’t like the look on me. Maybe my eyebrows were too thin, too “polished”, the problem was every time I looked in the mirror I didn't see me. My theory, God gave me my eyebrows I have, so they must be perfect for me. It’s not that I don’t care what I look like, I just need to be comfortable in my own skin.

I don't sleep in satin and silk, cotton is the fabric of choice. Sexy to me is an oversized man's t-shirt or nothing at all. Many years ago I purchased a beautiful silk negligee. I admit when I first put it on I felt very sexy. Then every time I rolled over or turned in bed I "fell" out of the negligee. Instead of sleeping, I spent most of the night waking and “tucking” myself back in. Apparently a D-cup is not a good match for skimpy. Since I desire comfort when I sleep the negligee was banished to the back of the drawer and eventually donated to the church thrift shop. Hopefully the old ladies unpacking the donation box didn’t have heart failure when they found it and the negligee has since found a good home.

I live in denim and cotton. Don’t get me wrong, I have some killer clothes for special occasions. I can dress with the best of them, wow you, knock your socks off, just not on a daily basis. Knock on my door in the summer, I will answer in shorts, t-shirt and flip flops. In the winter, jeans, long sleeve t-shirt and flats…okay who am I kidding I will be wearing really warm slippers!! When I go out with friends I love to wear casual skirts with flats. Me and heels don’t mix. I have tried on numerous occasions to buy/wear heels, all with the same outcome. Kathryn’s closet gains another pair of shoes!! When I show up at work, wearing my one pair of black pumps, the betting pool soon commences. Everyone guessing how long the pumps will stay on my feet before I kick them off and replace them with flats. I believe the record this year was set at Movie Mayhem, I wore my pumps just shy of two hours. Those who know me may find this hard to believe, I have actually lasted longer in heels. I was proud of myself when I attended a formal event and kept my heels on the entire time. 8 long hours… Okay so technically when I was sitting at the table I kicked the heels off, but no one could see so that doesn’t really count in my book. The next day I presented said heels to my daughter and told her I never wanted to see them again. I think my feet are still recovering from that night!!

I do one girly thing, I get a manicure and pedicure every two weeks. If my nail breaks I don’t rush back to the salon to have it fixed, it’s just a nail. So maybe I don’t get as many girly points as I would like??

I love getting wet, don't mind getting dirty and love having fun. When it rains, I never run to my car. I don’t care if my hair, clothes get soaked. I have been known to say on more than one occasion. I won’t melt, I’ll dry. I am the adult who starts all the childhood fun/shenanigans; water balloon and silly string fights, and on a few occasions whip cream fights. I am not afraid to skin my knee or get a bruise. Football or softball, I will dive to catch the ball or slide into base…if that is what I have to do. I love amusement parks, I ride roller coasters with both hands up, scream my head off, get soaked on all the water rides and look a mess at the end of the day....and I don't care. When taking a walk along the beach I can’t help myself, I run and jump waves as they crash on the shore. It is a temptation I can’t resist. Fair warning, I also jump and splash in the puddles of salt water made by the receding tide. If you are with me you are going to get wet. For the record, make-up and the beach don’t mix. I laugh at the women who come to the beach perfectly groomed with make-up applied. It’s the beach, why add the stress of looking perfect to what is meant to be fun?? Pull the hair up, apply sunscreen, put on the bathing suit, throw on shorts, grab a towel and go. No added steps needed. It has to be exhausting for girly girl women to keep the "perfect" look all day at the beach.

If given a choice between watching a chick flick or a Dirty Harry movie, Clint Eastwood will win every time. On television I don’t watch Dancing with the Stars, Brothers & Sisters, Desperate Housewives, Gilmore Girls tastes run towards Cold Case, Southland, LOST, NCIS or the History Channel. I have never read a romance novel in my life. You will find me in the non-fiction section of the book store. Don’t ask me what wine should pair with what food, I don’t know. I always ask the waiter for their recommendation. I would rather have friends come over to BBQ and hang out, then go out to a fancy restaurant. Just something about the freedom to laugh loudly that makes for a wonderful dinner, conversation and company.

I can talk to anyone. I have the gift of gab and the Robinson wit. I have been known to hold conversations with complete strangers in elevators. If given enough time, I can make even the hardest of shells chuckle and smile. Hell with protocol, I can introduce a group of strangers and have them leave friends. I will make you laugh, but don’t misinterpret wit for lack of intelligence. I can hold my ground with anyone. I know it may not be very lady like, but I speak my mind and give my opinion when asked. Sometimes I won’t give the answer you want to hear, but it will always be my answer. Good or bad I will always tell you how I feel. Often times not at the most appropriate times or places. I can be honest to a fault. I will never be that “trophy” wife or girlfriend who just stands there and says nothing. I talk, I hold conversations. I don’t know how to be just pretty.....or quiet.

I may yearn to be that girly girl, the woman who exemplifies femininity. The woman who makes a man weak in the knees upon her arrival, who knows how to bite her tongue, control her silliness, be the perfect lady. No matter how hard I try or want to be, I am just not her. I don’t turn heads when I enter a room, but I can make men laugh while I am there and think when I leave. It’s okay, I can accept who I am. I may never be that girly girl, but I am one hell of a woman. I think for me, that may be enough:)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

First Kiss

Please note all the names have been changed in the post below.

"A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous." ~Ingrid Bergman

If you had to define a first kiss could you? What is it about a kiss that makes it so magical? What is it about a kiss that can drive one crazy, as we anticipate it, dream of it? Hollywood has spent millions of dollars trying to portray the perfect kiss. The directors through their visions have shown us, the audience how a kiss should look, where we should embrace, what we should feel, what we should say, where the kiss should occur. Who can forget the magical first kiss between Jack and Rose in "Titanic"? Or "From Here to Eternity", the immortal kissing scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the beach as waves crash around them? Even television shows have held us captive as we have desperately wait week after week for our two favorite characters to break down and finally kiss; Ross and Rachel, Mulder and Scully, Jack and Kate. There is just something about the culmination of chemistry, flirting, want and desire, that leads to the magic of the first kiss. In essence the kiss that will answer the question, is this the first step toward intimacy or nothing more. Keep in mind, everything in Hollywood is finely choreographed, unfortunately or maybe not, a real life first kiss can be wonderful, awkward, unpredictable, gentle, loving, frenzied and even disastrous at times. The magic of it all, through out our life we will encounter over and over so many different types of “first” kisses. Some first kisses we will look back and laugh, others we will cherish, still others leave us wishing we could repeat that moment/kiss one more time.

“First Kiss”I was 10 years old, it was summer, it was Lloyd’s birthday party. At the time, boys were, yuck, boys, I didn’t “like” them. I played baseball and basketball with them. So there I was at Lloyd’s birthday party, when I was dared by a group of friends to kiss him. He stood across the room, no parents were present, I was dared, what is a girl to do? I bravely walked across the room and gave him a quick peck on the lips. Turned around, wiped my lips with my hand, mouthed the word yuck to my friends, went into the bathroom where I washed my face several times. I came out of the bathroom smiling, after all they dared me and I did it. That technically would be my "first" kiss. It would also be the first time I learned how cruel friends can be toward one another. I had no idea that Lloyd had a crush on me. How much I hurt him later when he asked me to “go” with him and I said “NO…gross”. I walked up and kissed him, he had no idea about the dare. That was probably the first time but not the last time a girl would confuse the heck out of poor Lloyd. For the record I apologized to him in high school.

“Wow The Real First Kiss”
Fast forward several years later, to high school. There can be nothing worse in your teen years then attending a New Year’s Eve party dateless. As a teenager I already felt gawky, inelegant, add to that the dread of the clock hitting midnight and standing there alone, like a fool, while everyone else had someone to kiss. I told myself, on the bright side, everyone at the party would have their eyes closed when they were kissing, so just maybe they wouldn’t notice me standing there twiddling my thumbs. There I was standing alone, feeling out of place, as everyone began counting down, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…then my heart sank as the ball dropped, the moment I dreaded, midnight on New Year's. As I turned to head out of the room, make my getaway, I felt a hand take mine. I turned, looked up saw his gorgeous blue eyes, I couldn’t believe who was standing there holding my hand. He was sooooooooo out of my league yet there he was staring into my eyes, saying Happy New Year. I lost my breath has he pulled me in to him and kissed me. They were the softest lips I have ever felt against mine. He was so gentle, his kiss tasted so sweet. He left me dazed as he walked away. He would be my crush for many years, sadly that would be the only time we would kiss in high school. But that night I was given an amazing wonderful gift, my first passionate, heart stopping, take my breath away, "WOW" kiss. For those few minutes I felt special. Just thinking about that first kiss still makes my heart skip a beat even after all these years.

“Awkward First Kiss”George was a gentle quiet shy soul, I was the outgoing, talk too much social butterfly. We started a friendship in class, shortly after we began to flirt with each other. I was thrilled to be going to the dance with him. There is always anticipation, a bit of anxiety leading up to the first kiss with anyone. Have you ever really liked someone but when you kissed them, it was just not... good?? George and I were on the dance floor, the first slow dance of the evening. The dance I had been waiting for, anticipating that moment I hoped would come. As we began to sway back and forth with the music, he leaned in and kissed me. This first dance, first kiss, should have been a scene out of a Hollywood love story but instead of kissing John Travolta I was kissing the tin man from "The Wizard of Oz." The kiss was stiff, unmoving, frozen, mechanical, not at all what I had expected, dreamed of. It was to say the least very awkward. As I pulled away from him, abruptly ending the dance, he asked me if I was okay. The only answer I could come up with, I needed to go to the bathroom. Being the typical teenage girl and not having the experience or maturity necessary to deal with the “situation”, I did what every teenage girl does, grabbed my two best friends and headed straight to the bathroom. I had only kissed two guys before this, I knew what a kiss was suppose to be, I knew what I liked, this was not it. This was my first dance, with a real date, and he couldn’t kiss…what the heck was I suppose to do? He had a girlfriend before me, I thought he should know how to kiss. My dream night ruined by one bad kiss. After relaying to my friends the disastrous kiss details we decided jointly the best solution was to avoid kissing him. For the rest of the night, every time there was a slow song, I would either dance with my head on his shoulder, making sure never to look up (that way there could be no temptation on his part) or I would head to the bathroom. When I arrived home that night, an ejection seat couldn’t have gotten me out of the car faster. Yes I know, I was a jerk. In my teenage mind I told myself it would be more hurtful to tell George he couldn’t kiss. I reasoned, how do I teach a person to kiss, when I had only kissed two people? To me kissing should be natural. Looking back, I know I should have been honest, said, hey loosen up, relax the lips and jaw, be gentle, slow down. Nothing kills the chemistry faster between two people than a bad first kiss. I knew after that kiss, there would be no other dates, no more flirting.

“I Love You First Kiss”From the time a girl first realizes boys are different, starts to “like” them, she begins dreaming of hearing I love you for the first time from the perfect man. Hollywood has portrayed the first "I love you" many times, her hair is always perfect, he is gorgeous, he looks her in her eyes, gazes for a second, then softly whispers I love you as he draws her in for a long passionate kiss, with one hand gently behind her head, the other around her waist pulling her in closer. That would be Hollywood version, not the screenplay of my life. When I first met Marty he was a midshipmen at the United States Naval Academy, to be honest, I thought he was an obnoxious, arrogant man. I am not sure when or why but the next thing I knew every night at eleven my phone would ring and it would be Marty. He started to grow on me. Sometimes we would only talk for a few minutes, others we would talk the night away. We began to hang out on weekends, watch TV, play trivia pursuit, go out to bars with the gang. He had a girlfriend, so I never really thought much about the possibility of anything more. I knew I liked him, but we were just friends. That all changed one night in February. Marty's girlfriend had flown up from Florida to attend a Hawaiian party a group friends were holding. It was February, Annapolis was struck by a winter storm that left two feet of snow in it's path. My friends were prepared for the blizzard, we stayed in Annapolis Friday night so we would have no problem walking to the party. We were amazed when "the girls" from a college in Virginia arrived at the party. My friends and I, we didn't like them, in our eyes they were very fake, snooty and extremely rude.

The girls from Virginia showed up in bikini tops, grass skirts and yes panty hose. Two feet of snow and they had very little clothing on. My friends and I could not decide if they were nuts or slutty. We laughed at their panty hose, they had the built in panty, complete with big ole white line at the top of the thigh, and they even cut a slit in the toe so they could wear flip flops. Ode to tacky!

I should point out I had never been drunk in my life prior to this night. No one told me the punch was spiked. Five or so glasses later, I was feeling no pain and willing to speak my mind to anyone, and unfortunately I did. I had just finished telling off one of the girls in the kitchen, she made a rude commnet, I believe I may have used the word tramp several times to describe her and her friends. I walked into the living room to find Marty’s girlfriend crying. Marty was upstairs in a bedroom with yet another of the "bikini top, panty hose wearing tramps." An understatement would be I got a tad bit angry. Add alcohol, tab bit became extremely angry. For me this was not acceptable. Marty was my friend, he was not going to cheat on his girlfriend (whom I liked), with one of "them", especially with one of them! I had to put a stop to it.

I stood at the bottom of the stairs, beginning with his full name I yelled, ”if you ever want to talk to me again, you will kick that white trash out of the room and get your ass down here NOW!” To my amazement and everyone at the party, the girl came scurrying out of the room followed by Marty. He stood at the top of the landing motioning me to come upstairs; he needed to talk to me. I marched my drunken pissed off self up the stairs. As I reached the top of the stairs, he pulled me into the room and closed the door behind me. Then he stood with his back against the door and pulled me in close. I was scolding him, telling him how his behavior was unacceptable, his girlfriend was down stairs crying when he interrupted, looked me in the eyes and told me it was my fault. Drunk and confused I asked how it was my fault he was kissing white trash? He pulled me closer, my body was now flush against his, I could feel his heart pounding, he put his finger over my mouth so I stop babbling and said, “Because I want to be with you. You don't understand, I think I love you.” Then he kissed me, it was our first kiss, it was the first time a guy had professed he loved me. After digesting what he had said, I stopped mid kiss, pulled away, and asked, “What did you say?” he repeated, “I think I love you” then kissed me again.

For some reason, most likely alcohol. I got angry with Marty mid kiss (it was a great kiss) and pulled away. My brilliant, wonderful response to his proclamation of possible love, “Damn it Marty! What the hell are you thinking, Wendy is downstairs crying. What do you mean you love me? I am hungry. I am going to get some ravioli. Oh and I think I love you too.” I walked out of the room, down the stairs past a couple of crowds of 'frozen' people. I didn't understand why everyone was staring at me. Later I learned our conversation was not quiet at all, we were arguing very loudly, everyone, including his girlfriend, heard everything.

At the bottom of the stairs I grabbed my coat, walked through the snow back to the Captain's house. I made myself a bowl of ravioli before going to bed. I look back and laugh now, but that night I was angry, drunk and confused as I cried myself to sleep. I knew falling asleep, that was not the way I was supposed to hear I love you for the first time. If Hollywood had scripted the scene, Marty would have quickly told his girlfriend he was sorry, then come running after me in the snow calling my name.  I did not have my magical I love you first kiss. Who knows, I have not given up hope, I may still have that wonderful moment one day when the right person will say I love you, then passionately kiss me. Hopefully I will not be hungry for ravioli.

“The Miracle First Kiss”There is the gentle miracle of a first kiss between a mother and a child. To me the most wonderful first kiss of all. After months of feeling Kathryn kick, move, and turn inside me, countless nights dreaming what she would be like, how she would look, imaging her growing up….at long last after 22 hours of  labor, then a c-section, the doctor placed her in my arms. As I held her, I marveled at her beauty, soaked her all in, counted her fingers and toes. I laughed and cried as I put my finger in her hand and felt her grasp it. Her quiet cries stopped as I softly spoke to her, said hello. I held her next to my heart. I put my face down close to her so I could smell her, feel her face next to mine. Her skin was soft, rosy and delicate. I gently kissed her forehead and whispered, “I love you Kathryn Elaine Robinson.” The innocence, the joy, the beauty of that moment can never be matched. There is nothing as pure as the love between a mother and a child the moment they first meet.

“Still on the List First Kisses"
Like many teenagers I kept a diary. It contained my hopes, dreams, loves, heartbreaks, desires, lists, goals. One list was my dream/perfect first kisses. My own personal Hollywood script of where I would like to be kissed. Tonight I dusted off my old diary, reread the list I made so many years ago. I realized I still have many first kisses left on the list, goals not yet accomplished. Some on the list still have possibility; in the pouring rain; under a waterfall; on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Ireland to list a few. While others I am not quite sure what I was thinking, other than being a silly teenage girl with a wild imagination, some of them are; on national television while accepting my Grammy or Oscar, center field Memorial Stadium; The steps of the White House with my husband the President etc. I realized after reading the list, you or I can have as many first kisses as our imagination will allow. So I ponder, why not dream up another list? Maybe I need to add that to my to do list for the weekend.

"My Kiss Conclusion"Anticipating a first kiss can be like standing in the water waiting for the perfect wave to carry you to shore. Sometimes you get the ride of your life, while other times you get a ripple, a dud. The bad wave (Kiss) doesn’t stop you from wanting more, it makes you wade back out in the water and wait for another wave, hoping, maybe the next time will be the ride you have always dreamed of. Just maybe if we are lucky, it will be that once in a lifetime Hollywood perfect knock your socks off kiss. Until then we have a lifetime ahead of us to keep trying, to keep enjoying the beauty and wonder of a kiss!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Becoming Pollyanna

Before you begin to read my post below, please understand I am not saying the journey I took was unendurable. I realize what I went through is not as hard or as traumatic as cancer or any other serious disease. I am simply explaining some of the experiences I had, how they changed who I am, hopefully helped me to become a better person.

I have tried once before to compose a blog on my inner transformation, my survival of the year from hell but with no success. As I sit here in the cafeteria at Maryland General waiting for my father to finish his chemo, the hospital sounds begin to surround me, remind me of my own hospital stay. The sounds like a soft whisper in my ear, remind me of the fear I once felt. I begin to wonder if the reason I have been unhappy with what I had previously written is because I wrote clinically what was happened to me, the cat scans, heart monitors, Ivs and constant blood work and not focusing on the fear and uncertainty I faced, more importantly felt.

At any age, hospitals can be extremely scary, especially when brought in to an emergency room under lights and sirens. Most of my memories from the first night are the paramedics, doctors, nurses all yelling the same sentence over and over, “Denise stay with us”. Today I am well aware I was dying that night, I should be dead, I was simply too stubborn to let go. I am what my doctors call, a living, breathing, walking miracle. Miracles aren’t easy, they aren’t free and they can take a toll on you. But if you let them, they take you on a journey of self discovery and self improvement.

Massive bi-lateral pulmonary embolus. A medical diagnosis I had never heard before August 28, 2003. Yet that night , the diagnosis would change my world, change who I was, who I am now. As it was later explained to me, I had a large blood clot that had broken loose from where it had been growing for several weeks (most likely my leg). The blood clot traveled from my veins through my heart, until it rested for a while straddling both my lungs in my pulmonary artery. After it sat there for several hours, the pressure from the blood flow caused it to break apart into hundreds of smaller clots filling both lungs. My cat scans would reveal that 53% of my right lung and 48% of my left lung were covered in clots restricting the amount of oxygen getting to the rest of my body. Most people die from one clot, yet there I was still alive with over half my lungs littered with clots, limiting my lung function. The doctors would later tell me they were surprised I even survived the clot passing through my heart. The estimated size of the clot should have stopped my heart, or caused a massive heart attack. Yet all I can remember is a bad burning sensation in my chest earlier that morning. Chalk my survival up to the fact I was in great shape physically so my heart was able to push the clot through. My lungs were in pristine shape, I had never smoked, never did drugs, allowing them to withstand the onslaught of the numerous clots. Maybe my being "good" all my life was leading up to this night. No one is quite sure how or why I survived, some people call it God’s will, others a miracle.

There is nothing as surreal as a doctor explaining to you there is a good chance you will die. The E.R. doctor's biggest fear, at any moment one of the many clots in my lungs would break free, travel to my brain, cause a stroke and most likely instant death. My own mortality was brought front and center, my greatest fear exposed. I was only 40, death was not suppose to be here so soon. After I heard the words 50 percent chance of survival through the night, my mind wondered back to the events earlier in the day. Our family had dropped Kathryn off for her first day of college earlier in the morning. I questioned myself. Did I tell Kathryn I loved her, I was proud of her? My mind was replaying our goodbye at Frostburg, praying it was not going to be the last time I would hug my daughter. As I listened to all the blurbs and beeps of the machines attached to me, I made up my mind, I didn't care what the doctor's said, that was not going to be our final goodbye.

The first morning after I had been admitted to the hospital my new pulmonologist greeted me with, “I am not sure who your guardian angel is, but I could sure use them on my team." Dr. Davidson made me smile, he had a sense of humor. I knew I was going to like him. He would be responsible for my recovery, the man in charge of getting my lungs back to normal or as close to normal as possible. While all the other doctors were giving me a 50 to 70 percent chance of surviving. He reassured me by saying I had survived the night before, he was pretty sure I could handle anything from then on. He promised I was going to live to be old and gray, he would be my doctor for a very long time. Those were the words I needed to hear, nothing negative, he had faith I could handle it. Sometimes what the soul needs to hear is more important then the reality the brain is trying to comprehend. I smiled at Dr. Davidson and announced, I agreed, I was too stubborn to go anywhere. Over the past six and half years, Dr. Davidson has come to laugh and accept my stubborn side, the don’t tell me I can’t do it side.(He knows I will anyway!)

I am not ashamed to admit while at the hospital I was afraid to fall asleep. Afraid a clot would break free from my lungs and I would never wake up. My fear of death had come to confront me head on. I had to learn to accept it's eventuality or continue to be afraid and deny it's existence. It would be many weeks before I would finally be able to sleep on my own. Until then the songs of Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw would lull me into my dreams. Their music would help me forget my weekly blood tests, constant lung infections, blood thinners, and the many medications that were keeping me alive. In my dreams I was normal again. Some dreams were from long ago, others I was running on the beach enjoying the sun and waves not worried about dying.

Before I could leave the hospital I had to be schooled on the dos and don’ts for the next year, possibly the rest of my life. The traditional treatment for a pulmonary embolus (1 blood clot) is six months on a anticoagulant, a blood thinner. With a massive bi-lateral pulmonary embolus my course of treatment was Coumadin for minimum one year, possibly forever. Blood test, PT/INR, had to be drawn once a week to check my clotting levels. It can never be overstated how much I hate needles. The thought of constantly having blood drawn was nauseating. Coumadin for those who don’t know, was originally developed for use as a rat poison. Later it was found that Coumadin blocked the formation of the clotting factors in the liver, thinning the blood and preventing any future blood clots. Because of this, while on Coumadin there are many dietary and physical restrictions. The dietary restrictions although at times were a pain, did not have the same impact as the physical restrictions on my life. When a person's blood is thin, your gums bleed, you bruise easily, if you get cut or injured the bleeding is harder to control and/or stop. Any activity that had a risk of physical contact or injury was deemed unsafe and not allowed. A slight hit to the abdomen or head could cause internal bleeding. A person theoretically could begin to bleed to death before ever realizing what was happening. As the doctor was reviewing the list, my new reality was beginning to sink in. My primary job/paycheck, gymnastics instructor-gone not allowed, my volunteer work as a cheerleading coach-gone not allowed, both of these carried a high risk of injury. No more teaching, no more coaching, Kathryn was now away at college. Everything that characterized who I thought I was, Mom, instructor and coach were all now absent from my daily life. For the next several months I would find myself in and out of depression as I tried to find a new career to pay my daughter's college tuition. I struggled for months to redefine who I was from who I had been in the past.

One of the hardest adjustments I had to make was dealing with the physical restrictions my doctors had given me. Even worse, the restrictions my body placed on me. The first nine months of my recovery I was constantly battling lung/respiratory infections. Before my blood clots my daily routine included running 3 miles a day in the morning, at night I would walk 2 miles. It would be months before I would be able to simply walk a single flight of stairs without being out of breath. It may sound strange but I had forgotten what it felt like to breathe normally. A natural instinct was at times very foreign to me. I developed asthma in November. I was never more aware of the constant battle my lungs were fighting on a daily basis then the day of my first asthma attack. For a few nights prior I would wake up in the middle of the night coughing for several minutes before I could fall back to sleep. I thought I was getting yet another lung infection. Later I would learn that is a sign of asthma. I was in the kitchen making myself breakfast when I had the strange realization, I had to think about breathing. I was telling myself to breathe in, breathe out. I felt like I had a six hundred pound man sitting on my chest. I looked at my hands, I noticed they had a slight blue tint to them. I became very cognizant of the fact I was suffocating from the inside. No matter how much I tried to breathe in, my lungs would not let me. The strange wheeze my lungs made scared me. I said a silent prayer as I reached for the phone. Then as soon as the tightness began to feel like it was closing off my airway I began to cough and the pressure on my lungs lessened. I slowly felt the air return back in my lungs. After my breathing returned to normal. Reality once again struck me, I sat on the floor and cried. I wondered once again if death was only one breath away.

I have always loved to sing. I sing in the shower, with my iPod in the car. I have even been known to sing when I am cleaning around the house. Granted I would never win American Idol but I can carry a tune. For a time the simple joy I loved, left me. When your body no longer allows you to do the simple things you love, frustration becomes a part of your daily life. My lungs were no longer strong enough to hold a note. I was heart broken when Christmas 2003 I could not even sing the opening line of my favorite Christmas carol. Every time I would attempt to sing, my lungs would react, erupting in coughing fits. Christmas Eve a night of joy, I am ashamed to say I had a pity party for myself as I silently cried myself to sleep. I woke up Christmas morning feeling guilty over the moment of self pity and vowed to keep trying until I could sing again. The blood clots, their after effect, my asthma was not going to win this battle. I wanted to sing, I was going to sing. It would be March of 2004 before I would be able to sing a simple chorus. In June I rejoiced when I was finally able to sing an entire song, She Daisy's, "Come Home Soon". You would have thought I won the Grammy when I jumped up and down for joy when the song ended and I was not coughing. Of course the jumping up and down for joy did cause me to break out in a coughing fit, which today I find quite humorous. But I sang the song start to finish.

The daily blood thinners took a toll on my body, I was always cold, in a constant state of fatigue, my face had no color, my hair thinned, my gums bled, at times my arms and legs would be covered in bruises from weekly blood tests and my normal tendency to bump into things. I would look in the mirror and be horrified by the way I looked. Now I laugh and joke around calling that year, the time I looked like a drug addict. I won't even discuss the nightmare combination of blood thinners and monthly periods. Blood thinners equals no clots, no clots equals whoosh! While on blood thinners if I nicked my leg while shaving, the bathroom would look like a CSI crime scene. There would be times I would feel something warm on my arm or leg, look down and see I was bleeding but have no clue how I cut myself. It was not unusual for a even a small cut to take an hour to stop bleeding. On a more positive note. the weekly blood tests did help me conquer my fear of needles. I still can't watch as they take my blood, but at least now I can relax and not feel like I am going to pass out.

Some people may get upset with me for stating this, the worst thing anyone can say to someone who has defied death, beaten the odds is “God has a purpose for you." I lost track of the number of well meaning people who made that statement to me. It seems innocent enough, is meant to give a person comfort. In reality it can have the opposite effect by adding more stress to an already exasperating life. It did for me. In my crazy way of thinking; I didn’t know where my next paycheck was coming from, so how was I going to even begin to discover or learn my purpose, God's purpose? The questions over what is God's purpose for me was constantly waging a battle within my brain. What if I missed the signs, or even worse what if I screwed up God's purpose? What if I never discovered my purpose, does that mean my life was meaningless? One simple statement, innocent enough, added to my stress of trying to redefine myself. What I would say to a person who defied death, "Live life, enjoy your second chance." It may seem silly to some, but there are still days when I wonder if I really do have a purpose, did I miss it, or have I already fulfilled it? I have a life now filled with even more unanswered questions. Questions I know I have placed on myself and will never be answered.

When a person is sick, they long for a sense of independence, a sense of normal. You tire of people constantly doing things for you, or the constant question are you okay? Even more detrimental to one's self esteem, do you need help? This loss of freedom, independence made me extremely disagreeable at times. I laugh now at the small steps I took to regain control, often times met with angry concern by my family. I was sent home from the hospital with strict instructions to rest, do nothing strenuous for the next three weeks. A few days after I was home, I was bored, the floor needed to be vacuumed, so I did. I was very proud of myself for being able to vacuum the living room and hallway while I was still on crutches. I was crushed when I was scolded like a small child for what I considered a great accomplishment. I was even further annoyed when over the next few weeks whenever I was home alone I was called every hour or so to make sure I was 'behaving'. I was constantly told if I needed something ask, do not do it on my own. Such an easy request yet for me it was so hard to accept. Relying on others, asking for help has never been one of my strengths. At first, instead of admitting I could not or should not do something, I would push through it. Usually my efforts ended in an asthma attack or sheer exhaustion. My exhaustion would not allow my lungs to heal and infection would set in. I was in a vicious cycle and I was too stubborn to recognize it. Until I was willing to admit to myself I could not do everything, no amount of scolding, yelling, or lecturing was going to change me. It took me to change myself. It can be extremely humbling learning to ask for help on the simplest of tasks. In a way, the acceptance I needed help, learning I could not do everything, helped build character. That was the most difficult lesson I learned. To ask for help was not a sign of weakness, rather a sign I was human. A stronger person realizes their own limitations and embraces them, instead of trying to deny them. We cannot go through life without asking for help at one time or another.

For someone who has always preferred to initiate and participate in games, it can be a rough transition to standing on the sidelines. It was hard watching the fun I was normally part of, the family football game on the beach in Ocean Isle, water balloon fights during the summer, roller coasters at amusement parks, spotting my kids in back handsprings and back tucks, kickball, etc. All the goofy things I had normally done I could no longer join in. Anyone who has been on a diet for a long while cheats, I was no exception I cheated on the physical restrictions my doctor placed on me. Luckily breaking the rules only lead to a few nasty bruises rather than major heath consequences. My punishment for 'cheating' was always the same, hours of wondering, waiting to see if I had done something to my body I was not yet aware of.

The day of cheating that changed me, Hershey Park. For an avid roller coaster lover, it was so hard standing in line waiting for an hour or longer with Kathryn and her friends watching the ride over and over, wanting to get on it. Even harder, when finally at the front of the line instead of getting on the coaster, I had to step over the coaster and wait on the other side. I had to cross the line, the step of shame. Shame reserved for those who are too chicken to get on the ride. I could only step over and watch them ride so many coasters before the temptation was too much for me. The coaster I could no longer resist, the Storm Chaser. I had watched the coaster over and over as we waited, I assured myself, it was a smooth ride. It felt great as I climbed into the front seat, strapped myself in. I threw my hands up and waited for the launch. The beauty, freedom I felt as I hurled, dropped, twisted and rode with no cares until we stopped with the usual roller coaster slam. How did I forget the normal crashing halt of all roller coasters? For the next several hours I kept questioning myself, did I hit my head hard, was that a headache I felt coming on. (a sign of bleeding in the brain is a headache) I could see the bruises forming on the sides of my legs from the car, from where the harness had been on my stomach. I debated as we walked around the park, do I say something to everyone? If I did I knew they would stop their fun and want to have me checked out. I was stupid, it was my fault, I didn't want to ruin any one's fun. So I ignored the bruising and slight headache. I know now that was a supreme moment of stupidity and fortunately I did no major damage to my body or brain. The hours of secret panic and worry taught me a valuable lessen, it may be hard standing on the sidelines, but that was the person I had to accept being for a time!

It took me a while to to accept the term "miracle survivor"; a label given to me by the doctors and nurses who cared for me while I was in the hospital. I was the novelty at the hospital. Medical professionals who were not in charge of my care, would stop by room after viewing my cat scans. Most of time, they would look at my charts, smile and say hello. Other times I would hear them in the hall, outside my room talking about my case, the 'miracle'. I had trouble at first dealing with the concept of a miracle, not because I do not believe in them, but because I did not think I was deserving of one. I learned of a friend who had recently been killed while I was in the hospital. To me my old friend deserved a miracle not me. He had so much to offer the world, I could not see where I could compare. When I hear or read about a child who has lost their battle with cancer, I wonder why was I saved and not them? They had their entire life ahead of them, why not a miracle for them? They estimate 60,000 people die a year from a pulmonary embolus. The majority die from one or two small clots, I survived a massive clot load. I have wondered more than once what made me so special? I am positve many of the people who have died from a pulmonary embolus, had a more important life, more passion, more drive than I. They too had a purpose, why is mine more important? Many times I have found myself thinking, what if I was given a miracle and in the eyes of God I do nothing with it? I had to let go of my self imposed guilt and realize in God's eyes I deserved a miracle, that was all that mattered. I constantly remind myself even today, faith is sometimes never knowing or understanding it is simply believing.

Slowly I started to heal both inside and out. My appreciation of life, the beauty of every day living started to grow within me. I began to recognize everything has beauty. I once again came to see the world through a child's eyes. Even today I find myself more and more when I look up at the clouds, searching for hidden animals or shapes, or simply enjoy watching them as they float by. The sky even on the darkest day is magical if you allow it to be. A soft blowing wind is once again secret whispers from heaven. (Something my grandma use to say.) In time I realized I was neglecting the most wonderful gift each one of us is given, the gift of life. Whether your life is 2 years or 110 years, every life has meaning and purpose. Every day we wake up is another gift, it may not be a perfect day, it may even be a bad day but we are given another day, a chance to experience life one more time. How many people never wake up? I began to comprehend it is up to me if the day was going to be the best day possible or simply neglect the gift I have and allow it to become the worse day possible. I learned not everything or everyone is ugly. It is only ugly if we allow it to be, we chose to see them that way.

When a person nearly dies, there is no avoiding how differently the world seems. How life suddenly changes, priorities change, how they change. I know I changed. Things that once before may have upset me, really don't seem that important anymore. I realized life is meant to be celebrated, enjoyed, shared. Anger takes that joy away. Forgiving someone is much easier now. I have learned to forgive what I once thought was unforgiveable. I have learned to give people a second chance. On the same note I may forgive, but if you are a bad influence I will avoid you. Negative influences are bad and suck all the energy that is good out of a person or situation. I no longer hesitate or back away from calling someone out when they use hurtful or hateful words. I have always stood up for my friends, for what I believe is right. Now I find myself standing up with more ferver, more quickly.

Realizing tomorrow may never come has made me at times a bit more impatient. I tend to want to do it now, or tomorrow the latest. Waiting to me means it may not happen. So rest assured if I am impatient it is because whatever the task or trip is, it is very important to me. I know I have become more impulsive. There are days when I will get in my car and go. At times I have left people confused by my spontaneous nature. To some it can be hard to understand or take my spontaneity. If I see something that reminds me of a person and I think they will love it, I don't wait for Christmas or a birthday I buy it. What better day than today to show someone you are thinking about them? Show them you care?

Good or bad I tend to say what I feel instead of holding it inside, never to be heard. For me that chance may never present itself again. I need, I care, I want are words that should never be left unspoken. I am more open with my feelings (to a point). I don't assume someone knows I love them or am proud of them, I tell them. 'I love you' for some reason is a sentence a lot of people avoid saying instead of embracing and sharing it with those who need to hear it the most.

I jokingly call August 28, 2003 - September 2004 my year of living hell. Now I wonder, how can I call it hell when I learned so much about myself? When I learned so much about life? At times accepting my limitations was and still is a hard journey, a continual exploration of me, good and bad. I survived and will continue to push through it all. The journey taught me to appreciate who I am now, not who I was. More importantly I learned to appreciate all the wonders and possibilities that life holds for all of us. We simply have to open our hearts to see it.