One year ago….

I really wasn’t prepared…

Oh I thought I had taken all the precautions necessary for a major surgery.

As I stated previously, before the surgery I was quite literally in the best shape of my life! So surgery be damned, I wasn’t changing a thing! I continued eating right, kept myself in excellent shape, and continually tried focusing on the positive as opposed to dredging myself through self-doubt and inner despair.

I believe I even talked a really good game! Like a salesman expounding upon the virtues of a product! Telling those close enough to me to be in the know that the odds were in my favor. Building upon the very statistics I despised while regurgitating knowledge obtained from my surgeon. But let’s face it, at night I was a complete and at times uncontrollable mess.

Often times as I closed my eyes during a moment of peace or reflection; it looked like the end, it smelled like the end, it tasted like the end and that last tasting of my perceived reality was hard to swallow. Many times I’d walked this pathway as a proposed rock, the shoulder, the crutch, carrying the very same sorrows or concerns of my loved ones. Many times I had been told all the facts and how whatever the medical complication was it was a walk in the park. Yet too many times I sat and watched painfully as it all went to shit!

I tried to become prepared, I really did! Sending the two youngest off to their grandparents so they wouldn’t become a part of this hysterical medical machine. Hoping and praying they wouldn’t need to witness the aftermath of another parent in really bad shape post operation. Carefully my will was wrapped into a nice neat little package and distributed accordingly. The house and all the animals were in good hands, taken care of for the next month without worry. My bedroom had been remodeled in anticipation of my return complete with refrigerator, microwave and a lazy-boy recliner which sat you upright through an electric motor.  All of this necessary as I wouldn’t be allowed to come downstairs for two weeks at the earliest. This was due to the physical strain it would place upon my system post operation.

I was reminded constantly just how weak I would become, how hard it was going to be to breathe, how important it was to do respiratory therapy each and every day. The thought of being immobile, in need, a useless weakling that couldn’t care for himself, I could not bear yet I treated jokingly! I really began to believe those who struggled through these operations did so because they were old, out of shape, and didn’t care for their bodies which is what most likely landed them in this position in the first place. I know it was arrogance, but it was a façade I placed upon myself to help me believe I could accomplish this feat.  Nothing no matter how scared I really was could change the fact that I needed to believe, I needed to know I was coming back, and after all I had been through in life, there was no way I was abandoning my family now! I was strong!

Yeah about that….

I stared at the ceiling tiles that morning in the hallway. They rolled me inside one of the operating rooms, I remember the nurse being super nice. In a matter of minutes an I.V. was in place and my hands were strapped down behind me. I don’t even remember if I was told to count backwards. No laughter, no goodbyes or see you in a bit, no God Damn Van Halen! Yeah; no turning back now. Everything, my whole world simply faded quietly into black.

Waking up, well I don’t even remember the first time I woke up. Lyn’s said it was when they removed my intubation tube. (I just realized typing this my heart rate has doubled, maybe I am a little traumatized?)

This is what I remember from my 7 day stay in the hospital.

My chest hurt! Fuck it hurt! It hurt badly, but through modern chemistry and my desire to look tough in front of my girl (I failed miserably) I remember trudging through some pain that I probably shouldn’t have.

My stomach bloated with air continued to do so for several days. My abdomen hurt, it stretched and I went a few days longer than I should have before my intestines decided to awaken and resume operations. It was touch and go for a bit, and I never want to go through that miserable experience again either.

I had to walk during my physical therapy. The first day was next to impossible and I struggled with the fact that a few days prior I was this healthy strong man who could have run a marathon and now I couldn’t make it to the door of my room without wanting to collapse. Dizziness, nausea, the inability to breathe, wanting to vomit and full body weakness is what greeted me whenever I would stand.

On day two of physical therapy I got pissed at the therapist who kept telling me after ten or twelve steps I needed to lean against the wall! Several times I would explain that we didn’t need to stop, yet she would order me to the wall citing it was in my best interest. Fuck that! I walked off on her and did the circle around the whole quad as a giant F-U! She left and I collapsed in bed exhausted having gone far beyond my capabilities. But I did it and it was a win for my mental wellbeing.

A female night nurse who kept calling me “papi” drove me completely bonkers. How you feeling papi? You need pain meds papi? You want me to get you more pain meds papi? Then as if I didn’t have a say, she would dose me up like a stone cold heroin addict! Oh yeah, she dosed me up so bad one night I thought I was going to die. My morning nurse Andrew after talking with Lyns recognized what was happening and saved my ass! He was my favorite of all the nurses who cared for me. Of course Lyn’s figured out the crazy night nurses game and was all up in her shit about her improper patient care! I never wanted to see that woman again.

I wish Andrew could have been my primary nurse the entire duration of my stay. He understood every minute aspect of my condition and adjusted shit accordingly. I felt safe when he was around and more importantly so did Lyn’s. There was also a nurse near the end of my stay named Chelsea. She was amazing and I felt safe when she was around as well. There is something to be said about nurses that know and love their job. They make a difference every single day.

I learned that I am 100% a horrible patient! The very worst! You know the kind that throw it in you face with statements like; I know myself better than you, you can’t tell me what I can and can’t do! Yeah I was that guy! But I think that behavior as far as I am concerned arises from having been a care giver to others. Strange I know, but truthful none the less for you see we as caregivers have a standard set in our heads and expect the very same in return, but quickly you learn that the work world you live in is yours and yours alone. It is not how the rest of the world operates and others standards which may or may not be less, equal or superior to your own are theirs and they surely would believe your level of caregiving was most likely inadequate.

I learned the importance of letting new people inside my life. Lyn’s was there for me from day one. She never wavered, she took time off work to care for me, she took it upon herself to ensure my care was top notch all the time and she never left the hospital! Not once, not one moment, not one second, anytime I looked to my right, she was always there with a tired, worn out sleepy smile. If I moved she was at my side seeing if I needed anything. She cheered me on when I struggled and cheered for me even louder when I succeeded. She celebrated my stubbornness and never let me forget the reasons I was still alive. I will forever be grateful for the love and compassion she showed me along the way.  She taught me a term that we use between us to this day.

Every day, every way..

I also learned that true friends are just that, true. Those that learned of my operation later on weren’t offended for me keeping it to a tight nit group. Those who knew, kept the lid quiet and my recovery was peaceful. It was a time of renewal for me and my inner circle, a time of growth as people became closer and new people entered my life. It was a time to stop and see things differently. No longer always on the go as fast as I could helping, caring and worrying about others. No longer hearing alarms several times in the middle of the night, running calls at midnight, 1, 2, 2:30 and 4 am. Barley getting sleep some nights while getting 3-4 hours another. It was time to stop and be thankful I was in fact still alive.

No matter the pain, no matter how hard it was to do simple things, I always reflected, learned and did my best to thankful. Like walking from the recliner I slept in for two months to the bathroom. I hated sleeping there, but the reality was I couldn’t lay flat, I was lucky to have it, and I could have been in the hospital but I wasn’t, I was home. Or needing to breathe into a stupid fucking tube for respiratory therapy! God I hated that stupid fucking tube, but the reality was I needed to for my lungs to get stronger, to help keep pneumonia away and the sooner I reached certain goals the sooner I would begin to grow stronger. To simply being able to eat more than a spoonful of food. That was indeed a hard one, but I did, even when I didn’t want too and after depleting myself to a gaunt 158 pounds it didn’t take long to return to 205. Staring at the wall, not moving much, watching movies and healing was my new pastime. It was boring, I don’t do well sitting still, but I did it and was thankful to still be alive.

It has been a long hard road over this last year and Sunday the 28th was my one year mark, my new birthday. I still am nowhere near 100%! Oh like I stated, the weight is back on and I am much stronger, but my heart still jumps to 120 bpm for no reason at times, and I still have episodes of A-fib when startled. I can only do a challenging task for a little while and then I need a couple hour break, I also can no longer take the heat. If it hits the 90’s and up I get a little nauseous.  I can sit in it, I have done a little fishing on hotter days, but for the most part I get really tired and it feels hard to breathe.

But all of that aside, I am here still. One year later. Still breathing, still kicking, still ornery and still able to witness my children’s lives. I don’t know what the future holds. I miss my station, I miss my crew, and yes even though it was beginning to wear thin, I miss the calls, the excitement, and the ability to help another human being during the toughest moment of their lives.

I’m still scared.

There are so many variables with this operation in my case. I could be back on the table in a year or five or ten? Nobody knows. But the one thing they all know is that it will happen eventually and I will need to go through this all over again. The key to my life right now is no stress. Stress places a greater chance the valve will be replaced sooner than it needs too.

Have they not met me???? I am nothing but a ball of stress!!!!!! All the God Damn Fucking Time!!!!!!

Phew… Deep breath… Good air in, bad air out…….

The aneurysm repair so far shows it was done flawlessly! That brings great peace of mind. But that damn valve repair will haunt me forever. I am on baby aspirin every day to prevent clotting right now. Terrified to go on blood thinners, yet it is a very real possibility that I need to live with.

So we move forward. Like I always say; get up in the morning, put both feet on the floor, stand up, and always take that all important step forward. Don’t sit back down, don’t cry over your bullshit, just square up those shoulders and move.

Life is to short and regardless of what you are bombarded with daily on television, or Facebook or from some of your weaker minded friends, to damn beautiful to do anything else but enjoy.

If you don’t believe me, do like I do and get up at 5:30 am to watch the sunrise. I promise, you’ll be thankful you are still here as well.

Coming to Terms…This ones for you Jim Wilson.

“If I ever needed to know how he was doing, I would simply read his blog….”

So are the words of a man I hold in high regard.

To Jim, this one’s for you.

Coming to terms with a traumatic event in your life can at times become very difficult. You and you alone will ultimately decide how, where and when you face whatever collateral damage that event may have inflicted upon your mind, body and soul.

I do not believe there is any one answer. For those that believe there is a dedicated path to recovery, I have no words. That every human being is so cookie cutter perfect, a simple pathway of textbook answers by those in the know is exactly how each person will perfectly handle grief, suffering, stress, emptiness, loneness, mental isolation, adversity and a host of other emotions is absurd.

Now don’t get me wrong, the help afforded through networks of well-meaning individuals with countless hour of education is definitely needed, wanted and effectively utilized.

My problem is this; those preaching the loudest are not the ones in the know. They are not the ones who have suffered and been helped. They are not the ones with hundreds of hours of education within the process. To me, when I look around the ones preaching the loudest are those who are arrogant and the closest to you. With little regard to how you feel, or the knowledge you have obtained along the way, believing they know more about you under the guise of caring for you because they are close to you and you appear to be struggling. Yet their motive most times is very clear. They wish to be the ones to say at the end of the day, they were there, and it was because of them and them alone that you are making it. In the end it is about them and not you. Most don’t even know they are behaving in this irrational manor, a smaller handful do and enjoy it.

There is no substitute for experience and even though I am speaking for myself, I wish those experiences on no one but wear mine like a badge of honor. I have earned this shit! Good bad or otherwise, I have earned my way through surviving each and every single devastating thing I have witnessed or been party too these 53 years of life. The ones speaking the loudest have witnessed little in my opinion and although everyone’s tolerance or idea of what a tragedy may or may not be is differing, I am sure I will be chastised at some point for my view being wrong or delusional.

I don’t know why I felt the need to get that off my chest but I did. All part of the process I guess.

I digress; I said this one’s for you my friend so here we go.

I have not comes to terms..

I still haven’t comes to terms with the passing of my first wife Kim. She was an amazingly beautiful human being, the mother of my first two sons and quite simply the kindest person I ever met.

If she did something to upset you, the minute she knew there was nothing that would stop her from correcting that wrong. In ten years we fought once. Once and it lasted a whole 20 minutes or so. She gave me two of the greatest gifts I had ever received. One is currently a CHP officer and the other works construction hoping to one day be a fireman like his old man. She never saw them grow up, she never saw them off to school, helped with their classes, went to camp with them, or guided them into adulthood. She missed it all. All of it.

I know she is gone, I know she will never walk through the door again, I know this is part of life and I know I carried on the way she would have wanted me too. I wish I could say goodbye, but I never have been able too. My heart hurts when I think about her, she was taken way too soon. I would have given it all up, walked away, allowed her life to be with someone else, somewhere else if it meant she wouldn’t have been taken.

I had not dealt with a lot of death at that point in my life. It was strange to see her after she had passed. Serene, peacefully in eternal slumber. It always stuck with me, if I close my eyes I can see her now. My job had not jaded me yet, life hadn’t begun to punish me. Little did I know.

I am also incredibly thankful for our time together. She made me a better person, she built up my confidence, supported my decisions and always stood by my side through the consequences. And believe me there were many. To deal with the younger me, love me and stand by my side on a daily basis took a saint.

There is a picture of her on our wall. She will forever be 34. To be so lucky.

I have still not come to terms with the death of my father.

A man I revered early on in childhood, who through failure and disgust with what I can only assume was himself, became an angry, grumpy and at times violent man. As a young boy I looked up to him, idolized him, loved standing in his shadow and believe me when I say my dad cast a large shadow! I learned much from him. It is because of him I have always believed in doing what’s right, even when no one is looking. Speaking for those who cannot or do not have the power to speak regardless of the consequences and never faltering on a true friend. EVER!

It is also because of him that I have spent a lifetime struggling with an explosive temper. Fighting the urge to fight at the drop of a hat or hit my kids as a form of punishment! I wrestle with it daily, but I do it because it is what’s right. I hated him for the times he beat me, I despised him as a teenager for those years and knew I would eventually become bigger and stronger than he would ever become. I did eventually become bigger and stronger, it didn’t help.

As he grew older he became harder to be around. I became softer in my stance but the damage was done. Our years of butting heads made it where I had a hard time loving him, seeing him as anything but a bully. My parents moved onto my property so we could keep an eye on them as they aged. In my naïve thought process I thought it would bring us closer but it pushed us farther apart. Both of us stubborn, both set in our ways I found myself purposely avoiding him.

When he passed away in our driveway, all I wanted to do was turn back time and say I was sorry.

Sorry for being a troublesome child.

Sorry for fighting/rebelling against him all the time.

Sorry for never living up to his standard.

Sorry for not being the son I am sure he wanted as I was adopted.

Sorry for so many damn things I could write an entire book.

I carried, and still do; all the guilt.

I just needed to be eight again, when he was my dad. Really my dad! The man who held me, kissed me, hugged me, let me sit next to him during a Niner’s game. I will never truly know what happened or why. But that was all I needed and as I parent my kids feeling as though I am failing at every moment, I pray when I am gone, I did a good enough job and they won’t feel this way. It sucks…

I have not come to terms with my second wife’s death.

How do you say goodbye twice? How do you even fathom believing you can not only lose one wife but two! Seriously!! What the hell is wrong with life that this can happen again! How can two amazing women walk into my life, stay for a while and then be gone like the wind. Ten years the first time felt like a dream, this (16 years) felt like the blink of an eye. An alternate universe, a black whole.

Kim went fairly quickly; her heart failing, it was painful, scary but she only suffered for a short period of time. But Jacy, poor Jacy struggled and fought, and struggled some more. She lived with incredible pain every single day, while trying her very best to show a consistent positivity that one could only hope our society strives for, yet really; who deserves that much pain and struggle? Who?

Jacy was a people person and not one person I knew thought otherwise. She had the incredibly rare ability to make a friend from anyone. She could morph herself into any situation and always be loved by all. It was her gift. Anywhere anytime, it didn’t matter. The back of the school yard as a teacher or the far reaches of Haiti. People flocked to her, people loved her.

She willingly and gleefully raised, loved and cared for my first two sons, we added another son together and adopted our daughter. She always placed the kids first and did her best to keep them on their toes, created fun lasting moments in their lives. I still don’t understand how life can take away two moms from one set of boys and the only mother three of them ever knew. Leukemia is a bastard.

I am unable to clear my head from the vision of her taking her last breath. It is with me most days. I look at those I love and pray to never see them die the way I saw her pass away. When my children are sleeping, I stare at them to see that little movement. The rise and fall of the chest. I am permanently scarred. Always looking to see if you are alive. I have witnessed the passing of so many human beings, it wears on you over time. Death staring you in the face. It makes it hard to appreciate life sometimes. While others may hear a clock ticking in the background, I hear a life clock clacking loudly, harshly, reminding me it (death) can be at any moment.

I have not come to terms with my own mortality.             

Three important people in my life gone. People I never knew beyond the few seconds I attended to them in the course of my job, gone. Faces, feelings, the most awful things one could ever have seen done to the human body, emotional disconnect, doubt, all run through my thoughts every single day.

Spending my entire adult life hiding behind a wall of false security. Being a firefighter, we train, learn and work our best at protecting you while needing to feel invincible. It is the only way we could do our jobs. Nothing can touch you, nothing can hurt you, and your good deed bank is overflowing so how can anything bad ever happen to you?

Three gone and I feel wounded. Then I learn that I have an aortic aneurysm and a failing heart valve a mere 8 months after losing my wife. Where is the justice? Why do bad things keep happening? Is there any sunlight left in this world? Why does the darkness always fall upon me or the ones who surround me?

My oldest is a newly christened CHP officer. He has wanted this since he was 8 years old. I am beyond proud of this man for chasing his dreams. Success always follows hard work. Yet, I don’t sleep at night sometimes worrying about him, on his own, with back up 45 minutes away. Especially in today’s climate! He is a public servant, raised in a public service family. All people are to be treated with kindness and respect until proven otherwise. No one person is any better than the other. Yet all some see is the badge which incites hate. Never mind the person or the fact that even though you hate him for what he represents he will gladly protect you, while upholding the law. Praying daily I am the one carrying all the bad luck for the entire family. It all stops with me.

I have a girlfriend. She is amazing. But what is she in for by being with me? Is she destined to perish to soon as well? Will some other medical bullshit mow her down in the prime of life? Would she lead or live a better life by never being with me? Am I cursed? Will her family be cursing me if something does happen? How many people do you know who lost everything twice and are still sane? Still looking for the sunshine on daily basis? How many?

You know, funny tidbit, things come in threes! Are we truly fucked in the end?

Friends have come and many have gone over the last almost two years. Faces and attitudes changed. Some telling me what I should be doing and not supporting me when I didn’t agree. Others openly accepting changes in my life because they understood. Missing a few who kept quiet but just disappeared. Relearning people all over again.

Coming to terms means: To begin to or make an effort to understand, accept, and deal with a difficult or problematic person, thing or situation.

I don’t know if I will ever truly come to terms with some or any of what I have just described. But I do know this, because unlike many humans I have encountered. I know, like and love myself, regardless of any doubt, struggle or pain. I can look in the mirror and say yes; I would hang out with myself if we ever met.

In the end, there is this;

I will always, wake up each morning, put my feet on the floor and take one step forward. Life is so incredibly beautiful if you take a moment each day to look around. It is also too short to think otherwise. Move forward, every single day, breathe and know what will be, will be.

And this.

If you ever want to know how I am doing? Just read my blog.

Thank you for being you Jim Wilson..

30 days..

Over the next month, I met with doctors, health professionals, and people from work. Every person I met I felt as though I was saying goodbye. I hugged, I smiled, I behaved as though nothing was wrong. Then once alone I would cry.

 My girlfriend was amazing! We did get the very best doctor there was for this procedure due to her efforts. We were told we had a very favorable outcome according to those in the know. After one appointment in particular it was explained that I had the arteries of a 20 year old! All positive things!

Lyn’s helped me finish the will. With my son Cody as the executor and my three best friends all holding certain positions within, I knew the children, ranch and animals were well cared for. Signing it, having it notarized, watching friends sign it, was incredibly sobering.

There were a few fun moments.

At my angiogram the nurse and I were talking and he asked what I would like to listen too as I drifted off to sleep. I responded, can we play some Van Halen please?

As I rolled into the room Sammy was screaming on the overhead speakers. That gentle, gracious kindness to a scared 52 year old man I will never forget. My eyes are wet thinking about how much the gentlemen from that room calmed me down, and let me drift off on my own terms. I am forever grateful.

Lyn’s asked me to list all the things I wanted to do in life but never could. When I asked why? She simply stated, because you have more than earned them!

The reality; it was something else to look forward too. To think about living for beyond the operation date. Something other than worrying about my family, my children, my very small circle of friends, all for whom I have no desire to leave. It was a new tomorrow, sunlight at the end of the tunnel, an umbrella from the rain. She was shielding me while providing mental warmth.

Daily I would melt down, daily she would ask me:

Where am I?

I would respond: right here…

Where am I going?

I would respond: nowhere

Then (not ashamed to say) I would cry again..

She would look me in the eye and say, I expect the same from you. You are not going anywhere, this all will be fine, you have the best surgeon, you are in great shape and healthy. This will all be over soon and you will be back to being you.

I chose during this time to silence myself from social media, and from this blog. To keep this procedure to myself. Some would (actually some did) say it was selfish, I should have asked for help from those who cared. But to me, after all I went through after my first wife Kim passed away, and after running through the gauntlet with Jacy’s battle, I simply wanted to fall away. If the operation went south, if they failed to save my valve or botched the aorta transplant, to me nothing would have been more beautiful than to simply draw myself into darkness. Fade to black. No one needed to know.

I had done things right for once, the kids were to be well taken care of, and my friends are my friends because they would understand. The only things that bothered me most was the loneliness the kids would have for eternity because they had lost so much! Between losing both their moms and now their dad; what a fucking mental train wreck for all of them.

Speaking of mental train wrecks! I ended up telling the kids after my first appointment with the cardiologist. Jake and Cody both were home and I asked them all to please sit down on the couch for a family meeting. The looks on their faces, my god I will never forget the looks on their faces. It took a while for it all to settle in and when it did, there were a few questions. I did my best to answer everything honestly. It was so very hard to look them in the eye. I was ashamed I could not be their strength any longer. I am their father, dad, and the foundation for this family yet here I am, just as vulnerable as both their moms. Not the man they thought or I believed they knew me to be.  

And then there was Lyn’s, this whole surgery thing bothered me for Lyn’s as well. Sure we were a fairly new couple, but simply put; I knew that pain all too well. One day someone you love or care for is there and then they aren’t. It’s mortifying, draining, scary, and leaves you always wondering what if.

What if they had lived a full life? What would they or we have become? What would the world have held in store for them/us? Questions that would never be answered.

A whole month, from diagnosis to operation. One trip to the ER because of some strange chest pains in the middle. A whole, long messy, shitty, emotional month. I was scared to move, to breathe, to cough, to lift, to ride my horse, to sit on my motorcycle, I was terrified of every single ache and pain that moved through my chest, I was afraid to live, in reality I was mentally living to die. My entire mindset was just that, counting down the days until surgery, counting down the days until I die, counting down the seconds until I said my final goodbye.

June 27th 2019

Lyn’s and I head to Mercy hospital. I am having my body shaved today by some stranger in a small room while they poke and prod, take samples of blood and prepare me for tomorrow’s grand finale! Uncomfortable is the word to describe how I feel yet strangely to this day it doesn’t even come close to how I felt.

Clean as a whistle we head out for one last meal. We laugh, we joke, and we have a very good time. Heading home the rest of the evening is spent with kids, family. I still feel like I am saying goodbye. Like a death row inmate having the proverbial last meal.

That evening, I don’t sleep very well.

June 28th 2019

Lying in a cold hallway, staring upwards at the tile ceiling I am waiting my turn.

You never know…..

In one of my favorite movies; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, (Queenie) Benjamins adopted by fate mother proclaims; you never know what’s coming for ya.

Floating aboard my cousins Bass Boat very early Saturday morning a mere two days since diagnosis, I felt the need to push all my emotions down deep inside. Control myself, place my mind in the right space so as to look forward, beyond my current issues. Then with confidence firmly choose the correct rod, the right lure and hunker down for a long day’s grind. I could not under any circumstances allow myself to wander into the land of death, possible death, my heart failing, the surgery becoming botched, my family falling apart, my pathetic life unraveling before my eyes. It was as if the angel of death had arrived and was sitting alongside me. Taunting me, calling me out for all my misgivings, while allowing one or two last chances to get things right in this world. It was a daunting emotional mind fuck.

Tony and I were fishing in a very well run tournament series (NewJen) and there was no place I would rather have been at that very moment in time. Fishing is my escape from the world, and being as though I am competitive as fuck, it was a double win for me that very morning. 80 teams around us, the sun just beginning to rise over the mountains and off in the distance the national anthem is being played. 160 or so men, women and youth took off their hats, placed them over their hearts, standing upon the bows of their liquid rocket ships, some singing along, others with their heads slung downward, it was a thing of beauty. We were seconds from blast off, moments from 70-80 mph runs towards our first opportunities for greatness. It is what I live for and not only was I privileged enough to do it that very morning, but with family, my cousin standing alongside me.

Not going to sugar coat it. I was terrified as fuck when we ripped across the lake. Knowing sometimes is so much worse than not knowing. All I could think about over and over again was the doc telling me the size of my aneurism. Too big to live my life untouched, not big enough for emergency surgery, but large enough surgery needs to be done in a rapid timely manner. I can now no longer go do the things I did before. You know simple things like running, lifting weights, oh wait sorry; lifting anything over 5 pounds! Carrying things for your girl, the way I raised. Yeah pretty much no straining in any way, yes that includes pooping!!! Whatever you do don’t strain while doing that!!! Could you imaging pulling an Elvis on the toilet!! Its laxatives every day for me!!! But as we ripped across the lake, every bump, swell or rocker left me holding my chest and wondering why. Why me?

My whole world changed that weekend.

As I was fishing, Lynnsie was back at the cottage with all the kids. She promised them a fun filled adventurous day. Lucky for us we were able to get a cottage with a dock so my Bass Boat was out front in the water and that is where all of the kids spent the majority of the day. Fishing, playing, pretending to be in a tournament of their own. Why was this so lucky? Because while they were making their own fun, Lyn’s spent the entire day, holed up in the bedroom, laptop in hand, mired in research. She learned everything there was to learn about my upcoming procedure, how it was performed, the percentages of those who survive and the percentages of those still making it post op. She also researched within our medical system as to who was the very best doctor to perform the surgery. She wasn’t taking any chances. She would later tell me when presented with all the evidence; you have lived through so much, been in so much emotional pain, you are not going to die on my watch, you don’t deserve this bullshit. I don’t care what anyone tells me, we are getting you the best, you will come out of this alive and I will be right by your side. No arguments, no feeling sorry for yourself. She then handed me a piece of paper stating; this is him, this is the guy and I don’t care that he is the best, which will make it difficult to see him, I will get him to see us.

Tony and I had a fair day fishing, not our best but enough to keep us in the points. By noon I had put my fears away and was really focusing on our task at hand. By the time we rolled in, I was still lost back in a life of normalcy, when we got in the truck to head home, through our normal banter of fish lost or what could have been, I focused on the learning points of the day.

We hit the driveway to our cottage and as I walked in the door turning to wave as my cousin drove away, I grabbed a beer, sat down and was instantaneously transported back to Thursday, the words, the facts, and the diagnosis. I started dwelling on fucking percentages.  Have I ever explained through this blog just how much I hate god damn percentages!! They are numbers derived from testing subjects, cases gone both good and bad, they intentionally are loaded to favor hope. But hope is just that; hope. It is neither fact nor science. It is an emotion, a response to someone’s idea of what might keep you interested or holding on. Hope is a falsehood, a misnomer, a correction of fact to illicit a response. Hope is fucking bullshit because in the end you can have all the hope in the world, but real life tangible fact will always rule the day. I have lived through hope, held onto hope, awoken every day regurgitating statistics leading to hope. Every time fact and science slapped me square in the face with no remorse. Every time through prayer, love, pain and hope I was let down. Every time, I hoped, I ended up placing the person I loved more than anything in the ground. Hope can fuck itself.

There I was, surrounded by family, drinking a beer, looking at the woman who has quite possibly saved my life by forcing me to go to the doctor and all I can think is its all bullshit. Her statistics she worked so hard on all day, the doctor she is telling me about, the procedures, how the procedures are done and their survivability rates, yeah all I can think about because I am clearly not listening is I am going to die, this isn’t going to end well. It never does let’s just face it, it is my turn to die. The angel of death rides shotgun, it’s just a matter of time.

Staring at her. My lip begins to quiver, snot begins to roll from my nose and tears fall hard like rain. I am shaking all over. The kids are outside and so move to the bedroom and hide. The children know nothing and we aren’t going to tell them until we have met with all the doctors and have a solid plan in place. I look like an infant, sobbing, blubbering, expelling so much trapped emotion. I just don’t understand and no matter how many times I am told just how lucky I am it doesn’t matter. Not feeling lucky today fuckers! I have chosen feeling sorry for myself and have resigned myself to the fact I deserve too, right here, right now and for some time to come. I want so badly for the angel of death to quit following me. Or crazy thought; maybe I am the angel of death, and it’s time for me to go. Taking every soul I have acquired over 25 years both professionally in the fire service and in my personal life with me. You know the ones trapped in my head dancing along with the ones I loved.

The next few weeks until my appointment with the cardiologist were to be the hardest of my life. Living in the unknown, trying to not look up procedures on the internet. Wrapping my head around the whole thing. Looking at my children without crying and feeling horrible for them again. What if they lose me, what if their whole lives are forged in hate and despair from losing their parents. It just isn’t right. Trapped in a strange purgatory of not being able to go to work, not being able to work the ranch, ride a horse, a motorcycle, a tractor. Fear of any large jolt or bump dissecting my aneurism kept me regulated to sitting in a chair doing nothing. Not a great way spend time when you don’t have all the answers.

I chose to write a will.

It was strange and quite possibly one of the most realistic, grounding moments of my life.

To die or not to die, that is the question. Quickly enough we would know the answer.

Because you never know what’s coming for ya….

Doctor says what??

April 25, 2019

Working a structure fire in one of our neighboring cities I was partaking in the almost mundane task of lowering a ladder from the “C” side of the structure. Nothing big, I had help and it really was/is a job that after proper training becomes the equivalent of putting your pants on every day, (I mean if you wear pants, like pants, you know, that sort of thing). I had developed a pretty significant cough that week and unfortunately it kept rearing its ugly head. Feeling as though it was nothing more than allergies due to this specific time of year my cough was “kind of” being controlled with medication, but it certainly made firefighting a little harder.

At the halfway point of lowering this particular ladder, something “popped” in my right shoulder. Not like a balloon or a pressurized bag, but more along the lines of let’s say; a guitar string letting go. I knew right, deep down inside there was a problem. Oh I stretched it, didn’t make a thing of it, rotated my arm a couple of times and shrugged it off to being older. But yeah, there was a problem.

The better part of this year I worked out like a mad man. Starting in January with eating right, and swapping to a mostly vegetarian diet. Then running, stairs and eventually weights. This lifestyle change had in fact worked wonders!  Not without struggle though, it was hard, taxing, and I was always dizzy or nauseous after each workout; but for real, I was quite literally in the very best shape of my life! Down three pant sizes, lots of muscle and very, little fat! One side effect to the effort though was these uncontrollable muscle spasms or shaking after each workout.  A little scary at times but I simply chalked it up to effort. In the end, I felt great!!!

So how could such a simple task like lowering a ladder take me out?

Upon returning to the station the On-Duty Captain was notified as the pain was intensifying and my range of motion became more limited. For the record; I hate putting in paperwork! I hate looking broken or weak! Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to do this job and our injury/workers comp system is deplorable! In my humble opinion it favors those who don’t want to go back to work and challenges those who do want to go back or at the very least, need too!  

2019 was going to be a better year, it was supposed to be BETTER I told myself over and over again. This is nothing but a strain, nothing but a simple, every day strain associated with physical work. I’ll be in and out of the doctor’s office and the guys will be giving me shit in a few hours. Right? I climbed into one of our utility vehicles, started the motor….Damn! I’m such a fucking pussy….

Long story short….

Right glenoid tear, cracked ball, strained muscles. I’m officially off work with full restrictions for movement or use. Soooo the much hated workers compensation game began.

Playing by the rules, I began visiting the workers comp doc on a regular basis; who I end up really liking by the way? I began moping around the house, feeling all sorry for myself. Can’t do chores (stupid), can’t ride horses (stupid); can’t sleep because of the pain (stupid) and worse of all? I have this cough that makes my shoulder throb when it’s at its height of coughy, coughy land (fucking stupid)! I’m angry, hard to be around and really not feeling well about myself and life in general. Touche’ 2019, Touche’

Oh yeah that cough…. That fucking pain in the ass cough!

Let’s talk about that shall we? Huh? You in? Ok well, to bad here we go…..

A few weeks go by and my cough is so bad that I am soaking the sheets in sweat at night. Not just damp, moist like a hot summer’s night next to your favorite person; actual pools of sweat. My head is pounding, I can’t breathe and I am up all night struggling.

Lyn’s daily has been suggesting I see a doctor, of course I am balking at it. I’m 53, work in emergency medicine and this fireman isn’t jinxing himself by going to the doctor? Ok, so maybe I should put the bullshit aside and go, but I am not going too. Why? Because I am a stubborn, know it all, self-centered man who obviously knows more than anyone else! Yeah that’s right I just called myself out! But it is the truth. I’m a rigid asshole sometimes..

Finally after much coercion I agree to make an appointment with my general practitioner. Of course I totally don’t! I agreed to it, but never said when! Ha! Yeah that went over real well with her too.

After another week of showing my lungs to the world each time I tried to breathe, the cough just wasn’t going away. Everyday Lyn’s asks if I have made that appointment. Every day I make some lame ass excuse as to why I haven’t. One morning all my excuses and bullshit came to an end.

May 08, 2019

I awoke that morning drenched as if I had taken a dip in the hot tub and rolled right back into bed, then for fun had a kid throw a bucket of water on me to seal the deal. My coughing had gone on all night without a break. Sitting on the edge of the bed wondering if I should try and sleep or just roll over and die, Lyn’s tells (not asks) me to go to the ER. I try pacifying her with a; I’ll walk in and see if there are any openings with my GP. I’m not taking up time in the ER. It’s just a cough. Through searing painful heat ray lasers shooting from her eyes, I glanced up, her arms were crossed and I knew that was the wrong answer.

Here is a little background; Lyn’s works in one of the busiest ER’s in Northern Ca. She worked on an ambulance before that and is no slouch when it comes to patient care. She was no longer looking at someone she cared for feeling a little ill. She had given me all the leeway she was going to give hoping my 25 years in emergency medicine would wake something up inside me where I might say; hey stupid! You probably should go to the doctor! Then do something really crazy like, oh I don’t know, actually following through with such an amazing idea that I thought up all on my own like a really big boy. Let’s face it, in a nutshell, she was finished with my half ass excuses and was treating me like an unruly patient in her charge. Rightfully so.

I was told with stern love and kindness to get off my ass and go to the ER. I tried to pawn it off and it was reiterated that I needed, right now, to get off my fucking ass and go to the ER! If I did not do so by the time she got off work, she was going to beat my ass (not hard to do in the state I was in) load me in the car herself and take me to her facility! Yeah the red headed inner Irish devil child had come out! In retrospect it was kinda sexy…

Being a man who had successfully navigated two previous marriages I knew instantaneously when to fold my cards, push my chair back, stand up and walk from the table. I told her, no I promised her over the phone I was headed to the ER. I always keep my promises.

Parking the car I slowly walked by the front glass doors of the ER. Peering in like a kid trying to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus without being caught, before me lay an empty waiting room. I had told myself if the ER was packed I was going to keep walking over to my GP’s (General Practitioners) office and try to get squeezed in that day. Intent would have been met and no one would be the wiser. But there I stood, staring at an empty ER waiting room. It was a sign.

Walking through the door to triage nurse meets me and asks; how can I help you today.

Me: Are you busy

Nurse: we are open 24/7

Me: (kindly) not what I fucking asked! Are you busy?

Nurse (taking me by the forearm): I think you need to sit down.

Sit down I did, and at that moment I realized while seated I was placing myself in a tripod position to ease my breathing  and that I was in fact speaking in 2 and three word sentences with sweat dripping on the floor. I was sick, real sick and for the first time over the last several weeks, through all my excuses, becoming a little worried.

They (ER staff) took me immediately, chest x-rays done and a breathing treatment started it was fairly obvious I was battling a solid case of pneumonia. Heart rate up, jitters from the albuterol, I was finally starting to catch my breath when the doctor came back to have a word with me.

Doc: Hey James, so we were right, you have pneumonia. We will be sending you home with some medication to treat it along with doses of albuterol, but there is something else. We spotted a dark shadow over your heart so you are being sent to CT for a better picture. Is that ok with you? I laugh and say no problem doc, ask anyone my heart is two sizes to small (Grinch reference) so I’m sure it’s nothing. We both chuckle and off to CT I go.

Two hours later.

Doc comes in and leans against the wall.

Doc: James, it is confirmed for sure, you do have pneumonia.

We both laugh at the absurdity of the re-diagnosis.

Doc: But there is something else. You have a T.A.A.

For those who do not know what a T.A.A is, it stands for Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm.  In a nut shell, the garden hose that feeds my heart is ballooning and ready to pop. If it pops, I’m dead in under thirty seconds! That’s right, I will bleed out on the inside. Nothing anyone can do.

I look him in the eye and say; you can’t tell me that doc, you can’t tell me I have a T.A.A! You know what I do for a living! You can’t tell me that!! I promptly begin freaking out!

He says; James because of what you do for a living, I told you that way. I know you know what it is and what needs to be done. He calms me down, gives me all the specifics and reminds me that in fact I am the luckiest person in the building. They caught something that has no known signs or symptoms. In the medical world it is known as the silent killer.

I walk out to the parking lot in shock. The sun seems brighter, the air smells different. Holding it together, head held high, I make it to the truck. To that date, longest slowest walk of my life. Once inside, I start it, turn on the A/C, hang my head behind my dark tinted windows and cry. A lot.

I text Lyn’s to give her the update. As soon as she is able to process what I have just told her, she clears it with her team and runs outside to call me. I am sobbing and sobbing hard, I can’t breathe, and I’m coughing, crying, and speaking in two word sentences again. All I can focus on is every call at work I responded to where the person/patient had an aortic aneurysm. They died. Even the few I went on that were post operation, yeah……they died. What the fuck! What the holy fuck! Yeah I know doc reminded me I was the luckiest guy in the building at that very moment because they found it in time but I sure didn’t feel lucky! I feel fucking cursed! So god damned fucking cursed!!!! Fuck you 2019, fuck you God, fuck everything!

Lyn’s pulls me back in, reminding me she is there for me, she isn’t going anywhere, and she is going to do a ton of research. She tells me we will find the very best doctor for this procedure, acquire him and everything will be fine. She reminds me that there is no way I have survived everything life has thrown at me without surviving this too. Calm down, breathe it will all be ok.

She has a way about her. I don’t know what it is but she has this consistent way of talking me off the ledge even if it’s momentarily. She is also a thorough planner and I know the planning is about to begin. Someone is going to be taking care of me, something that never, ever happens. The fact that it’s early in our relationship and she isn’t running away, is mind blowing. She says she is all in. Over the next several months, it will show just how “all in” she has become. I learn I am a lucky man once again.

Hanging up the phone, I proceed to spend the next hour calling my three very best friends. The three men in my life I would gladly give my life for in return. I tell them the news, give them all the prognosis and each one of them find a way to make me laugh. You know why? Because that’s what real friends do. They have your back no matter what and you have theirs. We will be that way until we die.

I place the truck in reverse and start my way out of the Kaiser parking lot. I’m terrified, certain I am going to die, worried about what I am going to tell all four of my already emotionally damaged children. Fuck me. What I am going to tell them? They’ve lost their moms’ and now they are most likely going to lose their dad! Haven’t we done enough? Hasn’t my family been through enough already!! Why?

I’m driving up 505, sobbing again. The pain is real, I am scared of the reality I am about to face. Little do I know just how scary things are about to get…

Dually..

My son brought him home one day while I was at work. Which coincidentally seemed to be where I was during most large events or life changes that revolved around our family.

He was black and tan, no bigger than a handful, full of energy and completely against what I thought my son was worthy of at the time. His name was Dually. He was a kelpie mix, a mistake from a breeding that shouldn’t have happened. He was cute as hell, full of energy and I wanted nothing to do with him.

You see Jake already had a dog. Jack. Jack came to us in a similar fashion (as in I was at work and had no say). After a year or so, Jack just kind of fell off the boy’s radar and Jack more or less became my dog. Now here we were again, a puppy, the dog of his dreams and I just knew with a stubborn, stingy old man heart that I would be taking care of another damn dog in a year. Cynical yes, but with cynicism comes truth. Little did I know how right and wrong I would be all at the same time.

Dually turned out to be smart as hell! You could teach him anything with only a few tries or corrections. He not only got it, but he never forgot it. The two of them (Jake and Dually) were inseparable. Where ever Jake was Dually was not far behind. He learned to work cattle quickly and went to every roping with jake, happily riding shot gun or inside the trailer. At rodeo’s if I was looking for my son, I’d just walk down the alleyways belting out his recall whistle. My son to this day has no idea how many times that dog narc’d him and his buddies out! One time after not getting an answer on Jakes phone and realizing the locater had been turned off, I whistled down an alleyway to see Dually’s little head pop out from under a stock trailer. Walking over quietly I peered into the trailer to see him and all his friends huddled around a heater, telling lies and laughing. Now I am no moron, of course they were hiding and drinking beer, but all I could think of was it could be much worse. When I was his age, it definitely was, so I simply chalked it up to memories they would never forget and kept a close watch.

Jake went off to college the next year. He came back a few weekends here and there but over time the trips became fewer and fewer. Dually was depressed, moping around the house and ranch. I had grown to really like him a lot. It was such a hard year, Jacy was dying, and the house was inundated with people all the time. The pressure to be everything to everyone was mounting and most days I felt as though I was going to explode. Even with writing this blog, detailing every experience, I was pushing down so much hard emotion. Days were long and the nights were longer. I always tried my best to put on a good face or when called out for my appearance proclaimed I was simply tired. Truth; I was alone inside.

One day I loaded dually up and took him to the beach. He was so happy! He ran and played, we hiked and it was then I knew, my son was losing his dog.

Dually slept on the bed next to me, he got baths, his teeth brushed, treats and lots of exercise. He went with me everywhere, and I mean everywhere. To quote the world famous Forrest Gump; we were like peas and carrots!! Ha ha!

The coolest thing about this dog and believe me there were many really cool things about this dog was his ability to sense things. I had sleep apnea at the time. If I had a night where I quit breathing. Dually would jump on my chest and wake me! He would then stand over me until I recognized him, kiss me once on the face, go to the foot of the bed, curl up and go back to sleep. At first I didn’t know what he was doing. I put it together after realizing the only times he did it, I had a severe headache when he woke me up. A sign I had been oxygen deprived for some time. He was my very special friend.

Even though it was him and I all the time, when Jake came home he never flinched in covering that boy with love. His faithfulness never wavered. Jake would always be “his” boy. It was amazing.

Sitting on the park bench I kept staring at the picture of my dog lying still on the pavement with the caption; He dead. At first I thought he was joking, that dually was actually sleeping out front in some weird contorted body position. I knew the truth by staring at the pic, but couldn’t grasp it. I called Parker and when I finally reached him through his choking tear filled pleas, Parker proclaimed it wasn’t a joke. Dually was dead.

Somehow that morning, Dually had escaped from the backyard. Parker realized he was gone and found him out in front of the house. Before he could get to him, while rounding the corner some asshole in a green Chevy truck hit my dog, full force, and dead center running him over with both the front and back of the truck. I know this because Parker saw him do it, saw the truck bounce into the air and the bastard never let off the gas.

Parker watched him die out in the middle of the street. Parker pulled him from the street, dragging Dually to our front porch. Covered in Duallys blood he tried calling me several times, because he didn’t know what to do. Where was I? Helping, always helping, doing my job, not home with my family where I should have been. Not able to answer the emergency call from my panicked, scared and heartbroken 14 year old son who had just seen something he shouldn’t have seen and was believing it was his fault. Yeah at work we stopped the structure fire that morning, we saved the house; we did our jobs. Here I was miles away and had just lost the one thing that had saved me, saved Jake from going crazy as we watched my wife, his mother die over the last several years. Who was going to save us now..

So I sat and cried.

A police officer came over and asked if I was ok. Was there anything he could do to help? I told him no, there wasn’t, I had just gotten word my dog was killed. He looked at me the way most would. With kindness and understanding, but also with that look. You know the “it’s just a dog” look. How could he know, how would he have known what this dog had done for me, for our family and now like everything else in my life that I grew to love he was dead, gone forever! Is this my destiny? I get it, he is a dog, but fuck! Is everything I love supposed to die? I am I not supposed to love anything at all? Am I fucking jinxed?? I mean whats next? This woman I am seeing; is being with me a death sentence for her as well??? Jesus H FUCKING Christ!!!!!!!!

I spent several minutes on that bench, trying to process, fighting the fight or flight urge to get out of there, wondering how I could escape. Then like I have done so many times before, I swallowed hard, stood up, and shook it off pushing every emotion I had down as hard as I could so as to not show weakness. I walked over to rehab, grabbed up my crew and we went back inside for overhaul relief.

Coming home I pulled up front. There he was, my best friend, my partner in crime, lying there on the concrete. He was still, stiff, and flies were making there way around his crushed skull and missing teeth. There was blood in the street, blood on the concrete. I cried so damn hard. It was painful. I didn’t know what to do. Parker and I hugged, I told him it wasn’t his fault and we would all be fine. I called Jake, I don’t remember that conversation and I am glad I don’t. When I think about that call all I feel is pain. Lots and lots of pain. That dog had saved him right in the middle of his mother dying. Dually was a gift from his mother against my wishes. I would find out much later it was because she simply wanted him to be loved unconditionally after she was gone. Pain, lots of pain.

I took the backhoe and dug a hole for him by his roping horse buddy Twoey. We had lost Twoey to a freak accident earlier the year before. I spent an hour carefully digging that hole. Something that probably should have taken only twenty minutes. It was clean, perfectly shaped and just the right depth. I laid him gently in the bottom of it and something strange happened to me.

Laying down next him inside that hole, I thanked him for everything he did for myself and Jake, I cried some more. He should have been off to the side watching me dig like always. He wasn’t supposed to be dead! It took me twenty years to love another dog after the death of Bear my first dog. Dually was it! What the fuck! I don’t know how long I was down there, but I heard a soft sweet voice coming from the edge. It was Lyn’s, my girlfriend. She came over right after work, she knew I was in a bad place.

Calmly, quietly she reached out her hand for me to come out of the hole. I told her I couldn’t, I couldn’t leave him, he never left my side and I wasn’t there for him when he needed me. Gently she reached out again, took my hand and asked; what can I do?

I came out of the hole. Hugged her, sobbed on her shoulder, crying like a child. I just couldn’t do it, there is no way I can do it, I mumbled over and over again. Lyn’s asked me what it was I couldn’t do.

Bury him. I just can’t put the dirt on top of him, I just can’t say goodbye. Especially like that, as if he was nothing.

Lynnsie grabbed my face, looked me right in the eye and said something I will never forget.

Maybe his time here was done. He came and did what he was meant to do. He cared for you and Jake, he brought you both exactly what you needed and now it’s time for him to go. Now go be the man I know you to be and finish what you started. He’ll always be with you.

The first bucket load was hard, the second a little less so, and before long I was grading the finish.

I sat for a while, looking over the pond with him. Feeling lonelier than ever. Wondering how one human being could hate another human being that he had never met more. Hatred is a powerful thing. Even now, writing this, I have no forgiveness for the fucker who took my friend from me.

I thought a lot about Dually in the days before finding myself lying in a cold hallway awaiting my turn. Wondering if someone would play Van Halen for me once we were inside.  If this went wrong, would I see him again, would I see everyone or anyone at all? Would I wake up and be even more heartbroken. I had my family, I had my closest friends and now I had Lyn’s, but I didn’t have my four legged buddy who could brighten up the roughest of days with nothing more than his presence. It was selfish but it was sadness drawn from love.

April 25, 2019 a mere five days later.

It all begins….

A million no mores………

Where are you?

I see you in the trees, I hear you in the wind. Your smiles a reflection of the sun, your tears an afterthought of rain. I smell you while passing a garden and feel you in the dirt upon my hands. I know you’re in my heart, my chest feels nothing but pain.

You belonged to no one, yet you were mine. I will always have been the lucky one.

Things have settled down, people have filtered away. My house is no longer filled with the sounds of an active family, but instead a quiet, sterile silence echoes from the walls.

I have a lot of time to think. No more oxygen machine, no more pills to be taken, no more round the clock care, sheets to be changed, special meals to be made, I.V.’s to exchange or breathing treatments to administer. No more last minute pain pushes or middle of the night Kaiser Pharmacy runs. No more doctors’ appointments or shuttling to and from her second home at her dads under the wonderful care of her S-MUM. No more……. Anything.

There is also no more middle of the night laughter as she owned being high as a kite! No more rambling conversations with me acting frustrated to get her goat then tell her I was listening all along. No more stories of childhood or the time she decided she wanted to be a firefighter, all having been recited a thousand times. No more theological discussions involving what some would consider the gospel truth, then mixed in with stories of what we both called historical biblical sleight of hand. No more listening painfully to The Real Housewives of any fucking stupid city as she played it purely for background noise to quell her ever increasing anxiety. No more walks together outside or watching as she bravely and oh so blindly used her will of steel to walk on her own. No more morning breakfasts where I tried so very hard to create something flavorful and delicious to make her smile, knowing that being stuck in bed while I ran a million chores made her sad. No more arguments about who wasn’t listening to who or her telling me to slow down because her brain didn’t process as fast as it used too. No more inadvertently hurting her feelings as I needed to treat certain situations in a clinical aspect to get her to comply then working towards forgiveness and a long awaited hug and kiss which she always made me earn and rightfully so. No more watching her snuggle her children or her dogs with glee! No more watching her find joy in the simplest of things, hear her recollect every amazing moment with each and every one of her children or fill those precious moments with every worry she had about their future. No more sage advice from a woman who pulled no punches while never saying she was sorry, but then fill your face with a million kisses instead knowing you’d probably already forgiven her. No more family holidays with her smile radiating across the room. She couldn’t see, but she could sense every single minute surrounded by those she loved and the joy upon her face was the stuff stories are made from. No more hearing her at 1 am downstairs, alone, singing or laughing or talking to her iPad as she recorded things for her children in the future. No more hearing her sob, alone downstairs at 1 in the morning as her brain helped her realize what was to be a certain fate. No more morning goodbyes or walking through the door hellos, followed by a joyous “I love you”. No more hidden cards telling me how much she loved me, no more painted art or crafty paintings! No more kissing her while she slept and adjusting the covers so she was warm. No more, no more, there are a million no mores.

Saturday was the start of something.

Seeing each and every life she ever touched, listening to all the stories and remembrances, being surrounded by that much love was an amazing experience. I know she was there, I hope she was happy, I am sure she spent time in her own way touching each and every one who walked through our gate. Jacy just had a way. I fell in love with her for many reasons, but one of them was because she just had a way. She drew you in like a moth to a flame, she held you close with her warmth, compassion and heart of gold. She only ever cared about you, never herself and that my friends is an amazing quality that is not seen all that often today. She was quite simply an angel.

I can remember dropping her off for choir practice and thinking as I drove away that church seemed a little brighter once she walked into the building. I loved listening to her sing in the choir too. She always glowed. She always said that we all find our way, it is what Go has planned for us. There is no roadmap, no directions, we simply need to trust in him and we all find our way.

After Saturday, seeing everyone and watching a day of remembrance unfold exactly the way she hoped it would, I knew in my heart we will also find our way.

It will be long and painful for all of us. There will be a million new experiences for us. We will make new memories and find our way while hopefully honoring the leader of our family with each and every step.

I will miss being able to report our successes and failures to her, hearing her laugh or wanting to give us a hug. But we will find our way.

The truth of it all is I don’t know how to be anyone but Mr. Jacy and I miss more than anything hearing her voice out loud. It’s in my head, it’s in soundbites and video, but I am selfish, it is not the same.

But I can hear it, and I hear her telling me to have faith, stay strong and find a way.

She told me once that she will be waiting for me with open arms on the other side, and though it will seem like an eternity for me, for her it will be but a joyous moment in time, for she had been with me all along, in my heart and in my soul.

I loved you Jacy Franceschi, I will always love you, I will always be grateful for every single moment we spent together and apart. When it was easy it was good, when it was hard it created what marriage is supposed to be and those memories will never fade. I loved you with everything I had and I can never repay you for what you brought to my life.

I miss you so bad, but I can truly say not only was I loved, but I was loved by an angel.

You were my everything…

The Face of Leukemia belongs to another………

Oh god! It’s happening right now!!! It’s happening right now! Oh my god, oh my god, holy shit, I’m not ready, or lord I’m not ready!!! Please don’t go, PLEASE DON’T FUCKING GO, YOU CANT LEAVE ME, YOU CANT LEAVE, PLEASE BABY PLEASE D O N ’T  G O…………..

I… love … you….

Time of Death (TOD) 12:10

Date: 10/20/2018

No it’s not a reality show, or some made up Holly wood bullshit and I am not writing a paragraph for some future best seller!

It’s the playlist running through my head every day since my wife succumbed to GvHD or Graft vs Host Disease one week ago. GvHD, a nasty derivative of a Bone Marrow Transplant post Leukemia diagnosis.

I have been a firefighter for 23 years. Nothing, and mean NOTHING prepared me for those 30 seconds as I watched the woman I loved, cared for through sickness and health, good times or bad, take her final, gasping, breath at 12:10 on a bed she made me swear she would never be in (hospice provided hospital bed) in the transformed living room of the place she loved more than anything-her home.

I cannot even begin to tell you the number of people I have personally witnessed perish. I cannot tell you the number of people I have personally watched suffer in agony as the one they loved slipped away. I cannot tell you the number of times I drove back to the station after an incident, filled with sadness for those people and sluffed it away with humor or companionship from my fellow co-workers.

I cannot tell you how badly all of it hurt and came to a head at 12:10 on Saturday the 20th 2018.

The storyline if there was one should read: quietly I wept by her side knowing she was in a better place, free from pain, one with God. I took comfort in knowing these things and because of this knowledge was able to open up and allow others to grieve by her side.

But this isn’t a storyline! This is my life..

If I hadn’t been in a chair, I would have fallen to the floor, If my sons hadn’t been by my side I would have crawled under the bed, but make no mistake, I wailed, I sobbed, I kissed her face, over and over, and over again, just praying for one last look, one last mumble, one last anything.

There was nothing. She was gone, I was crushed, my heart is consumed with pain, I feel immeasurable guilt for the multiple hours she spent alone, trapped in this house as I ran from one place to another, and the thought of living life without my center, my navigational north by my side is unbearable.

Today is the one week anniversary of her death.

I have made it a week. The house is empty, oh so empty. I still am not used to the silence associated with no medical equipment running, no sounds of her coughing or calling my name for assistance. I need more than anything to hear her making dumb jokes, asking if I think GvHD has made her sexy or wanting nothing more than a cheek snuggle. I pace around in the morning early, trying my best to fight the urge to go downstairs and check on that fucking empty room.

This is NOT how she would have wanted me to be. I sit in her room and tell her I am sorry, I tell her I promise as time goes on I will get stronger, but right now I am mourning. I have come to realize I am not mourning just the loss of my wife, my best friend, a person who gave so much of herself to those around her which in turn made me a better man. I am mourning the past, the five years lost, filled with sickness, Stanford, Kaiser and such. Date nights, alone time, reconnection, weekends, and walks around the property, loading up and taking horses anywhere or nowhere at all. I am mourning what we didn’t have for 4 of those five years. I am mourning what we will never have again. I am mourning for my children, for my grandchildren and that is what hurts the most. That woman lived for babies, for being a presence in their lives and the thought of my grandchildren never meeting their goofy, fun loving grandmother. The thought makes me sad, so sad, as if I am drowning in a perpetual sea of sadness.

I am sad my son’s wives will never know the true unfiltered love of a mother in law with no agenda. I am sad my daughter won’t have her mother at her side on her wedding day.

And I am angry.

The hardest part for me is why? I am not supposed to know the answer, I am supposed to believe and follow faithfully. My faith has always been strong. How many times must a man suffer? How many times must a family suffer? What is it I am supposed to learn from all of this?

My whole life I have wanted nothing more than a family, to marry, grow, and together step through the seasons of life. To celebrate 50 years of marriage, to celebrate weddings, anniversaries, births and birthdays. To have a ranch where they all come together with their children built upon the seeds their mother and I threw into the mix. To die an old couple knowing we did our best, grew our crop and watched it flourish to harvest together.

To pass on our love, compassion and set an example for our future Franceschi generations.

I have been robbed, she has been robbed, and our children have been robbed. For that I am angry.

She would tell me to knock it off! To not be angry, we all knew this was a possibility, that she did this for no other reason than to be by her children for one more day, to hear their voices and feel their presence for one more day. She would tell me she succeeded and that it quite simply was time to go. She had a funny way of always knowing. She just had a way. I loved her for it.

Right now, I wish she was here, for 7 days later, I really need her to help show me the way…

The Face of Leukemia now belongs to another.

Picture taken at 11:30 am. 40 minutes before she slipped away.

I am not fine…

I am not fine.

There it is, I said it. It has taken me a long time to come to this conclusion. But, I have acknowledged it, pulled it out from under the emotional rock it was hiding and verbally stated its presence.

I am not fine.

There are many reasons I am not fine, and it’s not a simple answer to the question of why? But it is a truth, a truth I have been hiding for quite some time now.

I spent this week in San Diego as a participant in a Health and Wellness for public servants seminar. The first day started with an amazing opening speaker who really inspired and justified my resilience in accepting this time away from Jacy. After that it was a lot of the same old build up, and for us fire guys a reiteration that ICS should always be used while managing any type of incident. Including a mental health crisis. After 8 hours of what was new and interesting information for most and a segment of boring refresher for us fire people. I prayed the class would only get better. It did not disappoint.

Day two found us thrown into the emotional arms of a speaker covering the essentials of support, where that support comes from and what it looks like when built properly. He carefully broke down through his own experiences where we go wrong as public service personnel when it comes to identifying the who, what where and why of our foundations for strength while working these spiritually, emotionally and mentally taxing professions.

As he stood there expounding on his failures, the recognition of a skewed priority system, the ability to deny professional help after a triggered emotional event and the wall he built around him by simply stating he was fine when asked. It hit me, hard, like a ton of bricks that everything he was saying fit me to a tee. That I to have been pronouncing my resilience nonstop and answering every question in regards to how I was doing with the five year demise of my wife as I was “fine”.

But I wasn’t fine. In fact I had been living this lie for so long I actually began to believe my own bullshit.

You see in those few moments as I wandered in and out of his lecture, with every key point fitting me perfectly I knew it had gone on long enough. But where did all this come from? How did I get this way? Why have I been able to carry this load so well for so long and still be standing?

Day three gave me the answer.

During a transition in classes on day three, having freshly been removed from an hour long course on family crisis and the emotional well-being of children in regards to perceptions related to our jobs.

I received the phone call no one wants.

My wife, the love of my life, the strongest human being I know in this world was in demise. As many of you already know Jacy has been fighting a very long hard battle with GvHD post Leukemia transplant. The GvHD has won. We quietly placed her on long term hospice four weeks ago. Affording us instant access to RN’s who would come straight to the house when needed. Also giving me a strong base to stand on as I have been the head nurse to my wife for over a year.

 

 

 

The phone call went something like this: James, Hospice is taking Jacy off the Stanford medications, she can no longer swallow, or eat and really it’s about pain management now. She has but a few days.

Of course there is much more to it than that but this is neither the time nor place to run through her complete medical chart, emotional state or my irrational state of mind.

As of late I have been referring to myself as the air traffic controller of our family, that call was the equivalent of having a plane drop from my screen. Call sign, call sign, pandemonium and panic ensue.

Yet it was also in that moment, standing on a deck just outside the convention overlooking beautiful Mission Bay trying to keep it together as 600 hundred of my fellow public servants could see me from many vantage points I not only realized 100% I met every single criteria for a public servant-no a human being, father of four, dad, a fucking husband in distress and the honest recognition I needed help. Just like that, the clarity as to how I have been able to keep going for so long hit me like a brick.

My father.

My dad could drive me crazy! His self-righteous bullshit was always something I rebelled against! But since his passing here at the house almost three years ago I have come to realize that even though I fought against him so hard for so long there are traits he taught me that I carry proudly to this day.

Son; always put one foot in front of the other, life will knock you down but you need to keep going. What else are you going to do?

Of course in his later years he did nothing but sit on his butt and blame everyone and everything for his perceived failures in life instead of cherishing what was around him. This was also a bone of contention between us because I believed the latter and it made me mad he wouldn’t follow his own advice.

But here I was, overlooking the ocean, swelled up with a myriad of uncontrollable emotions. Not more than a few hours earlier I had been talking to one of my co-workers about how tired I was after five years and several Leukemia associated battles. Trips to Stanford, scares, triumphs, disappointment, doctors’ visits to Kaiser, Jacy crying in the elevator proclaiming she wasn’t ready to die, because she felt there was so much work left to do. It all has taken a tremendous toll on us all, of course no more than what it’s done to my wife.

The only life I have known for five years is that of a single parent (I fully admire all of you single parents) doing his best to get three of my four kids where they need to be when they need to be there, run our ranch, work my job as a firefighter, and care for my wife 24 hours a day many times with little sleep. I am blessed the most amazing support structure in Jacys family and with the assistance of our Gina I don’t know how I would ever have gotten it all done, but either way, yeah I was tired.

But what struck me, what really opened my eyes at that very moment was the realization through wonderful training that week, was that I hadn’t been placing one foot in front of the other for five years, no, no my friends. I have been doing it for 18 years.

 

 

 

I never dealt with or recovered fully from the loss of my first wife. I have been doing the emotional two step in one form or another for a very, very long time, affecting my personal relationships, my children’s ability to grow as human beings and my own self-care.

So yeah I am tired, I am so fucking tired.

But in that same instant, I’m not ready!

I am not ready for any of this, I have the skills to handle it, I have a complete support network in place to handle it, and I have the contacts to some of the best professionals in the business to handle it! All of that is something I didn’t have in 2001 when Kim died. I have been praying for peace for my wife, but her mind says she isn’t ready. I have been wanting to have a moment where I don’t need to worry about anyone or anything, but I am a man who cares deeply for his family, all of his family so that is not a viable wish. But I am not ready to say goodbye.

On the flight home I stared at the ceiling, I could hear my wife’s angelic voice in my head as I replayed moments from the past. It hurt because we haven’t had a conversation that was completely lucid in quite some time. I relived many of my favorite times with her and realized how much I will miss even the tough times. She is the only woman in my life who understood I never ever meant any harm when at times my mouth wrote checks I couldn’t cash. Which means she is also the only person who could ever call me on my shit without receiving the full verbal wrath of James Franceschi! Something I am always embarrassed by when it inadvertently happens.

I don’t do alone.

What am I going to do without her? Why is or did this happen? I have been so focused on keeping her alive that now as the time dwindles away I haven’t remotely considered how I am going to function without her, her strong willed personality, her gigantic kind, giving heart, her ability to coerce me into doing things or trying things I never, ever would have done or experienced completely against my will only to have me thank her for it afterwards. That larger than life smile, how will I go on without that larger than life smile in my life? How are my children going to function? Cody and Jake have been through this, they still have no idea what’s ahead, and they are quietly struggling as well but what do I say, what do I do? What is Jess going to do in a house filled with all boys, no mom to be there for prom, homecoming, graduation, and all the girly things that need to be addressed in the way only a mom, no, only my wife can do! What about Parker, why is this happening to Parker her only child? She fought so hard to bring him into this life and now she won’t be there for him either!! She is his everything!!!

Listen, I understand I am not the only person in the world this has or is happening too. But what the hell???? Why is this happening to me twice and how in the fuck do you justify taking away quite possibly the kindest most giving person I have ever known. Why not me? I have spent my life as an asshole, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work???

 

 

 

Jacy Mirelle Glenn Franceschi answered a call 16 years ago. She fought hard against all odds to answer that call, fulfil that vision and she has without question made me the man I am today! Something I am so, so grateful for! She fought long and hard, working night and day to create the James Franceschi that sits here typing, wondering why? Is God saying her job is done and if so couldn’t he have found a different, less painful and disturbing way to tell her?

I love, love, love my wife. What am I going to do the first morning I get up and I don’t hear; Good morning my love as I grumble across the kitchen floor and make her coffee and breakfast? That first morning the kids don’t yell goodbye mom see you after school, hope you feel better today, while she does her best to respond with: have a great day! The first time her hospital bed isn’t there, the oxygen machine isn’t running, the doorbell isn’t ringing with medication deliveries and the house is cold and empty as if she never existed? The house she created, the home she filled with warmth and love, the ranch we tried to build together???

WHAT KIND OF FUCKED UP SHIT IS THAT??? MY BEST FRIEND IS DYING SLOWLY AND THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT IT!!!!

I’M NOT FINE, THERE IT IS, I’M NOT FUCKING FINE!!!

Is it just a party??

Rolling down this dirt path carved into a country landscape from many years of vehicular abuse, these almost gypsy like heathens moved like a battle hardened caravan having just crossed nature’s own brutal convection oven labeled the Sahara. One by one their vehicles of choice came to ease and were hastily placed into park. Dust, once billowing behind now came to settle as they spilled like sullied cargo from within these sheet metal four wheeled coffins. Wiping their eyes and straightening the linens draped upon their weary bones, eye contact was made with their hosts and those who had previously arrived. These weariest of travelers sighed a heavy sigh with shoulders slumped while large grins appeared upon their faces. Slowly stepping forward towards these friendly smiles warmly becoming one because they were with family; they were finally home.

AND THE NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE GOES TOO????? BETTY!!!!!!!

(Thunderous applause, cheering can be heard for miles)

This weekend we did something that hasn’t happened in a very long time here on our ranch.

WE HAD A FAMILY PARTY!!!!!

That’s right, my wife wanted so badly to get her side of the family together and to feel normal, even if just for a few hours.

Before Jacy got sick, it was not uncommon for us to throw multiple summer shin digs out here on the ranch. Beer, BBQ and good times! Life is short and spending time with family and great people is of the utmost priority because as we all know, it can be over in a minute.

So, one by one they came, by car, by motorhome, by four wheel drive. Some were family we see on a fairly regular basis, some came from the east coast, some came from the north, some we hadn’t seen in a very long time and some I had personally never met.

I used to LOVE throwing a party, I would spend days preparing the meat, Jacy would spend days preparing the house and making all the side dishes. We would dress up the place, throw down some lights, set up the music and wait, much like kids on Christmas morning for people to arrive.

But I cannot tell a lie, that feeling has been gone for quite some time. It just hasn’t been in me, I really don’t want to socialize most days, I don’t want any extra work load put on my plate, and I don’t want to plan anything for every time I open my calendar the schedule is completely full.

I dream of running away all the time. No place in particular, in my mind it’s just a quiet place of solitude with no responsibilities at all. It’s a weird feeling really, this place you go to in your mind when as the sole everything to your family you should remain steadfast and not let imaginary substance take hold. You feel guilty for mentally giving up at times. Yet it’s hard when you live with the constant fear of always forgetting something important, never doing any one thing good enough, and worrying every time you leave the house that something is going to happen to your wife. (That feeling really sucks when I go to work 48 hours at a time)

Well something did happen to my wife, and myself too.

She smiled.

Surrounded by a portion (all of our friends and family weren’t able to attend) of those she loves, for a full day while jokes flew, stories were told, and laughter reigned king my wife was able to forget four years of suffering and pain. My wife was able to believe her life was and could be normal. My wife who gives more of herself to anyone and I mean ANYONE who would ever ask or even look as though they needed her assistance. Felt as though her life was whole again.

Since Saturday came and went, she hasn’t quit smiling. Oh she was exhausted Sunday night after all had gone home and quiet settled upon our little ranch house. Today is Monday and for the most part for her is has been spent in bed.

Last night, I swear when I came to bed amongst the hum of her oxygen machine, through the glow of the security lights she has surrounding our bed, my wife, my little tiny, half blind, frail, sweet wife, was still smiling.

For me, it reminded me about the importance of family and great friends. It reminded me that even though things seem difficult at times, if I really wanted to hit the ole pity party streets within minutes I could find others who have it way harder than myself. It reminded me this is a journey and no matter the outcome I need to always embrace the journey for when my journey is over, well it’s over.

So why not fill that journey with incredible moments, experiences that will never be forgotten, surrounded by people you love, who love you right back?

Sure today we are right back into the grind of things, but I’m still smiling from a great couple of days that took a little work to make happen and the work was so worth it. My wife is still smiling from the opportunity to not only still be here on this planet but also being surrounded by the ones she loves. Our children are still laughing at all the fun they had with their cousins, nephews and friends. And I’m pretty sure each and every family member or friend who stepped foot on our ranch Saturday afternoon is in some small way still smiling too.

That itself says it all.

So smile a little smile, tell the ones you love, that you love them, put away the politics, the news, the electronic i-device of slavery and get everyone together for some good food, a few drinks, lots of laughter and memories that last a lifetime.

It is so worth it.

And now and ending worthy of literature greatness.

Blitz laid quietly amongst the empty tables and chairs, belly warmed by the earth beneath his fur. His head hung heavy upon his front feet as Jacy slowly stroking his ears mumbled aloud; it sure is quiet now isn’t it buddy?

He groaned, took a deep breath and sighed again. The breeze was warm upon her back as she gazed upon a now lonesome backyard that only a few hours ago was brimming with energy and love. Smiling as a tear rolled gently down her cheek the salty droplet landing adjacent to her lip. A day, a single day she swore would never come, a moment of time her brain told her she would never take part in again, the thought of all those days trapped within the bustling walls of Stanford hospital flooding every pore of her body. Shaking, feeling numb as memories of pain and despair, sleepless nights and the thought she would never, ever come home rears its ugly head. She looks down at Blitz and mumbles; I proved them all wrong didn’t I buddy? One by one she proved every one of them wrong and survived what had previously been deemed un-survivable.

Now, face turned towards the property, a thousand yard stare firmly affixed she sees nothing of the landscape before her and as the sounds of the last vehicle fade into the distance she smiles. Not because these traveling familia nomads are all gone. Not because quiet has befallen her world once again, and not because she can finally rest. No she smiles because in true Jacy style, she did it all her way and was able to once again surround herself with love.

Ok so maybe not literary genius. Readers Digest?