“He died that day because his body had served its purpose. His soul had done what it came to do, learned what it came to learn, and then was free to leave.”
― Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain
In July of 1985, I walked away from my old life and home, packed my car, and headed from Waterloo, Iowa, to Denver, Colorado. My two sisters took vacation time to travel west with me to help me settle into a duplex I had not seen in a town I wasn’t even sure how to spell–was Englewood spelled with an I or an E?
I did learn how to spell my new hometown and we did make it to my new address without any real problems. There was that scary guy in Sterling, Colorado who ran a stop sign. In a nano-second all our futures were in question–thank God our guardian angels were near and attentive.
The three of us arrived, tired, but quickly unloaded the car and moved what we had into my new home. As the sun rose and set, we waited for the moving truck to arrive.
We waited…and waited..and waited. My entire house had been in storage for weeks because there was a high demand for moving trucks in Iowa at that time. I was part of many who were heading west.
As time passed, I was learning how expensive it was to move to a new city in a new state where you had no established credit. My savings dwindled away and we were all still sleeping on the living room floor.
When the moving company returned my many calls, the news was not good. They could not locate “my stuff.”
What? I’m a thousand miles from “home” and I’m being told the moving company has lost all my stuff? And…I’m scheduled to start my new job in a week.
I learned a lot during this time in my life. I learned a cashier’s check does not clear immediately. I learned that the cost of living in the Denver area was MUCH higher than I’d expected. Seven to ten days is a very long time to pinch pennies. I learned even though Denver was a mile high and the nights often cool down, it is still very hot in July. I learned that three women living in an empty duplex for a week with nothing to do lose patience with waiting and with each other.
My lessons continued to come fast a furious. I can’t say it was easy–I struggled. I can say I did eventually learn to trust myself and I survived–alone. There were no cell phones–long distance phone calls were expensive. I had no extra money for phone calls. I had my kind and generous friend, Cindy, who was there for me. The problem was Cindy lived quite a distance away and she had a young daughter and her own new job. Being on call did restrict us but thank heavens calling her was a local call.
My first day at my new job was a whirlwind. My co-worker lived a short distance from me. In order to make it easy for me, she offered to give me a ride that week back and forth to Children’s Hospital in Denver. Lucky for me, both our department and the hospital at the time were small. The cardiology department and cardiovascular surgery shared the third floor of Tammen Hall, expanding the size of my work family. That first day it seemed I met dozens of people, all of them were talking about the Huey Lewis and the News concert they’d all gone to that past Sunday.
As I stood listening to snipets of their conversations and enjoyed their bursts of laughter, I knew I’d found my new spot. My gut told me, with time and patience, I’d find my way into this exciting group of people. I wasn’t sure how. I only knew that they represented a large part of what my new life would hold–I was soaking up their energy and the genuine love I felt they had for each other.
By the grace of God I DID become part of this amazing group of people. We were all the same age or close to the same age. Our work was important to us and we worked extremely hard doing it as well as we know how. We worked long hours and covered call–our time off was precious. We played as hard as we worked. Because we were older, we’d all been “players” in the past and most of us had experienced “being played.” We were done with the games–we wanted people around us we could trust. We encouraged each other when we had bad days, when we made mistakes, when we lost patients, when we had relationship issues, and when we experienced those times when we felt lost and alone. Through it all, we knew we would be there for each other…
I’ll never ever forget how this group of people took me in and made me feel loved and always welcome.
This group I knew I had to join earlier this month–to be with one of our own and comfort her during her time of loss as only old friends can.
The best way I can think to talk about Julie and John is to retell a story she shared at John’s memorial. I’d heard the story before but it’d faded from my memory.
Both John and Julie worked at Children’s in Denver for years–Julie in the heart room in the OR and John was a radiologist. Even though they’d most likely walked by each other daily, they’d never really met. Now they were both newly single meaning there were several people making it their mission to get them together. As we know, timing is everything–throw in a little bit of luck and you have a grand plan. The date of the annual hospital gala was rapidly approaching. All those great minds came together to nudge John, suggesting he ask Julie to the grand event. He agreed to ask her and the plan was in motion.
John asked and Julie nervously accepted.
John arrived at Julie’s and rang the bell. Carol, Julie’s roommate, rushed to answer, and as Carol describes it, she opened the door to this tall and handsome man, dressed in a black tuxedo, smiling, and holding a single red rose. Carol quickly admits she wanted to say she was Julie but, alas, knew he knew better. Welcoming him in, she ran upstairs to tell Julie he was there. Opening the bedroom door, Carol sings out:
“Cinderellie, Cinderellie, your Prince Charming is here!”
For the next 26 years, John was her Prince Charming, standing beside her through all their trials and tribulations. It wasn’t easy. They faced many challenges and they both found ways to make it all work. They were a good team and they had three amazing sons who will help us all take care of their mom.
It has been an honor, privilege, and a blessing witnessing and being a small part of this grand story. Like so many of our childhood fairy tales, we watch helplessly as the ominous music crescendos, signaling the wicked witch has released her evilness out into our world. We prayed the witch would be foiled. If we could find a way to defeat her our hero and heroine would live happily FOREVER after. Reality strikes again. This time, cancer proved to be the greatest and strongest Witch of the West and that damn clock chimed midnight much too soon.
I love you, Julie. My John rest in peace knowing we will all take care of you as we’ve taken care of each other for all these years. You will not be alone–none of us will be because we all have our memories to give us comfort and eventual peace.
You hold time within your hands, and see it all, from beginning to end. Please keep and carry these precious people in their sadness and loss. Cover them with your great wings of love, give their weary hearts rest and their minds sound sleep. Lord, lift their eyes so that they may catch a glimpse of eternity, and be comforted by the promise of heaven.
We ask all this in the precious name of Jesus.
Reach out to those who may need you today.
~Peace be with you~
I am so fortunate I have an amazing photographer in my circle of Facebook friends. Thank you, Mr. Chuck Hackenmiller, for allowing me to use your wonderful photos as part of my blog. You can see many of Mr. Hackenmiller beautiful pictures on the Facebook page, I grew up in Iowa. Please note, no re-use of this photo without permission from Chuck Hackenmiller, Boone, Iowa.