Posted in Family

Dates with Daddy

Please press play and listen as you read.

Did you ever notice, as a teen, we were eager to get away from our parents so that we could go out and spend more time having fun with our friends?  As young adults, we find that we couldn’t wait to move away so that we could venture out into the world on our own.  Eventually, we began to take on more responsibilities – college, careers, buying homes, and starting our own family.  We drifted away from mom and dad, only to realize that when we became parents ourselves that we wanted to go back and spend time with them once again.  It is at this point we realize how important every moment we get to spend with our parents truly is.   These moments we share with them, we begin to cherish more as they often become fewer and farther between.

“Love your Parents.  We are so busy growing up, we often forget that they are also growing old.” ~unknown

I am no different than anyone else; I followed that same path and have come to that same conclusion.  I often get busy living life day to day, being a mom, working, and taking care of my own responsibilities that I look forward to those few times just dad and I get to spend together.

As a cardiac patient, doctor and hospital visits are inevitable.  As annoying as they may be, often times sitting and waiting to see doctors or waiting to have tests performed, it is just one of those things that I understand will always be a part of my life.  Because of my condition, I visit a specific heart clinic, located in a larger hospital about an hours drive from my home.  These visits are probably the most important visits I have and often the most stressful and exhausting.  As you can imagine, these days can be long and tiresome.   I typically drive myself, but to these specific visits, my father drives instead.  It is a route he frequented on so many occasions, taking my mom to the same hospital and ironically to the same doctors as well.  Already a bundle of nerves before going, and being tired afterwards, to drive on a busy highway would certainly be a recipe for a disaster, therefore, it is dad who becomes my taxi.

Many may find these types of days as a disruption to their daily life, but ironically, even when I get not-so-good news from the doctors during these visits, these days are still my favorite – because these are the days my father and I have our daddy-daughter dates.  Just dad and I enjoying our time together – First, the trip to the hospital to see the doctors, followed by lunch and then a trip to Barnes and Nobel.  No doubt, there is plenty of time to talk during the long drives, while waiting in the waiting room, or while we eat lunch.  Since neither of us really spend a lot of time talking over the phone, these are definitely the perfect times for us to have our own heart-to-heart talks with each other.  We talk about so many things, but what i like most is that it is the one time he and I will talk about mom and in our own ways, I think it helps us to both deal with the situation I face with my own heart problems as well as dealing with the loss of her.  I think it also helps dad to still be able to take care of his “little girl” as he watches me face many of the same things that my mom did.  Although scary for him I’m sure, I think he feels better being with me during these important visits rather than hearing about them afterwards.

So to my dad on this Fathers Day I’d like to say Thank You for those special moments we have during our daddy-daughter dates and for always looking out for me – your little Squirt!!  I’m sure it can’t be easy to watch your little girl go through the same things mom did, but I am sure glad that I have a dad like you to be by my side as I face what has become my fate.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!!!  I Love You!!





Posted in Family, Life

Everything happens for a reason

10645158_750337425003352_862100971715368878_nIt goes without saying, when a young life has ended, a midst of the grieving, there is often a question of why that young life was cut short.  Whether it’s a child or even a young adult, it leaves us puzzled and wondering why these “bad things (death)” happen to such young/good people; as if death was a punishment that they didn’t deserve.

This year, towards the end of our family vacation, I received a rather unexpected message from my cousins girlfriend, Becca – news that certainly caught me off guard and shook me to the core.  My cousin Jason, who was just a year younger than I and suffering from the same heart condition as myself, had passed away in her arms just a few hours before.  I couldn’t believe it – I still can’t believe it.  His defibrillator, which was working correctly and trying desperately to restart his heart was unable to do so.  No doubt, this began a series of “What if’s?” which started to roll through my mind.  What if my defibrillator didn’t work properly?  What if my heart goes into a funny rhythm that the defibrillator can’t get me out of?  What if it didn’t work at all?  What if I fell asleep and never woke up?  Question upon question continued to roll through my mind.  These were soon replaced with, Why did Jason have to die so young?, How come I’m still alive and Jason isn’t?

Jason was an honest, generous, and very caring man who had very much the same positive attitude and IMG_5313outlook on life as I did.  When we were toddlers, we even looked so much alike, we probably could have passed as twins.  We were a couple of curly, blond-haired, blue-eyed cuties!  As adults, we shared nearly the same exact heart condition, going to doctors to have many of the same tests performed, taking the same medications, and even having the same type of implants put in to save our lives.  With the invention of social networking, we were able to keep in contact with one another even better, often discussing how our appointments went with our cardiologists and how our hearts were doing, perhaps hoping that we could make each others condition better in some sort of way.

Jason and Becca

During the funeral, my heart sank for Becca.  I could not even imagine what it would be like to lose the one you love, holding them tight as their life quickly slipped away.  No doubt that Becca was likely asking the same question, Why did Jason have to die?  Jason and Becca had not yet married but they shared their lives with one another and with God as well as with Beccas three children for over 7 years. So for all intent and purposes, the only thing that made them different from any married couple was essentially a piece of paper.  Jason was an incredible father figure, raising Becca’s kids as if they were his very own.  He had a big heart and the kids loved him.

With Jason’s passing, I was reminded how precious life is how we never truly know when “our time” is going to be, so we must cherish those special moment’s with those that we love, no matter how brief those moments may be.  A quick visit, a card, even a quick phone call just to say hello – its important to make time for those brief moments rather than allowing them to pass because we have convinced ourselves that we don’t have time to do them.

I think everything happens for a reason and there is a reason that Jason had to pass so young.  Perhaps God had a bigger plan for Jason up in heaven while he still has other plans for those of us still here on earth.  Some of us are destined to have health aliments, some of us are meant to be advocates and fight for cures and represent others facing the same fate.  Some of us are meant to motivate and encourage others to live a happier, healthier life.  Some of us are meant to fight the big fights to teach others what being strong truly means.  Some of us were meant to pass young to help others understand the meaning of love after a loss or to bring a troubled family closer together.  Regardless of the reasons, one thing is for sure…life is a gift so we should live life to the fullest, overcome the obstacles we may face, and never take the life we are given for granted because you never know when our time here on earth will be over.

10562943_10154540075350612_2894253566950992917_nMay you rest in peace, Jason!

Posted in Family, Friends, Life

Best friends by birth, Sisters for life

Looking back through old photographs, I have again realized how fortunate I have been to have crossed paths with so many really wonderful people throughout my life.  Nicki, my best friend….we have known each other for close to 25 years now.  It just doesn’t seem possible that so many years have passed.  It seems as though it was yesterday we were young girls in grade school, just sparking a new friendship.  We were a couple of blond haired cuties, looking so much alike, that we could have passed as sisters.  Riding bikes to the local corner store, going swimming on warm days, spending every Sunday morning going to church…just doing what little girls do – which is to have fun.

I spent countless weekends, even entire summers at her house, becoming the “adopted daughter” to her parents and younger “sister” to her siblings.  Nicki’s mom, Kathy, became a woman I admired and wished to become; a successful, independent business woman who balanced a full time career, college, and a family.  She took me under her wing, provided the support, faith and encouragement as a young girl that I needed to help create who I am today.

Now, here we are, Nicki and I,  women in our mid 30’s, keeping busy raising children of our own, balancing life with our adult responsibilities.  We can go days, weeks, even months without seeing each other, but yet when we get together, we pick up right where we left off.  We look back at our childhood, laughing and giggling at the things we used to do as children, and what lessons we learned throughout our years growing up.

To my best friend, my sister, my non-biological twin….Happy Birthday to you!  You are my dearest, closest friend….a woman to look to for support, guidance, and stability.  You are a wonderful mother, wife, and role model and thanks to the friendship we created when we were younger,  I was able to meet a wonderful family.  A family who has had a huge, positive influence on my life.  I Love You, Girl!!!

When we first talked to each other, I knew we would always be friends.

Our friendship has kept on growing, And I’ll be here for you to the end.

You listen when I have a problem, And help dry the tears from my face.

You take away my sorrow, And put happiness in its place.

We can’t forget the fun we’ve had, Laughing ’til our faces turn blue.

Talking of things only we find funny, People think we’re insane-If they only knew!

I guess this is my way of saying thanks, For catching me when I fall.

Thanks once again for being such a good friend, And being here with me through it all.

Posted in Family

My father…Papa Smurf

A few short weeks ago, while many were spending their day with their fathers to celebrate Fathers Day, our family gathered with my father to celebrate not just a day to remember him as dad, but also to celebrate his 60th birthday!  As a child, 60 years old seemed ancient.  But then again, my father, is a bit old-fashioned himself.  With his hobbies and lifestyle, he is a man that seems to have stepped right out of a history book.  We grew up on a small farm, raising a variety of different animals, from ponies and oxen, sled dogs, goats, sheep, rabbits, ducks, and more (ironically, never all at the same time).  My father carved his own yolks and bent his own bows, starting small and using them on the baby steers.  As the steers grew, so did the bows and yolks that dad had to make.  He used both oxen and ponies to pull farm machinery around, despite the fact we had my great grandfathers tractor sitting in the barn.  He taught us kids how to milk goats by hand while he turned what was collected into our very own goat cheese, since the taste of goats milk on our cereal wasn’t something that us kids could get used to.  He wanted nothing to go to waste, and tried to teach us that anything broken could be fixed (although somethings we tried to convince him that some things were simply beyond repair).  Now that he is retired, no longer does he “play” with animals, but rather he spends time giving blacksmithing demonstrations and dressing up in old-fashioned clothing, sharing his knowledge with others and exhibiting his skills on the anvil.  Over the years, he filled our heads with numerous childhood stories of things his brothers and sisters used to do growing up on the family farm, repeating most of them on numerous occasions, always reliving the moment as if it just happened yesterday.  Although while we were growing up, my brother and I would often say, “Here he goes again..”, knowing the stories nearly word for word that he was about to share, as adults, I think we have realized that dad’s memories have taught us some rather important life lessons.  Now as adults, the words my father shared, we can now pass on to our own children; words about History, traditions, hard work, and so much more.

Without a doubt, I have learned plenty from my father.  He will always be my Papa Smurf, and I’ll always be his little Squirt.

Love you, Dad!!

Posted in Family, Life

To weather a storm, you need strong supports

We have all faced moments when the storms of life want to knock us off our feet.  It is moments like these that we must find comfort and stability with family and friends, looking to them to help create those strong supports one needs to help weather life’s crazy storms.  We could try to stand and weather it on our own, but chances are we would wobble and fall.  So, before I can dive head first into sharing my experiences over the past few years, dealing with the deaths in the family and then to deal with my own heart problems,  I have to give gratitude to those who helped me along the way….if it wasn’t for the people in my life, I couldn’t have faced the challenges I did and succeed!

“Hope”, Watercolor Painting (C) Virginia M. Dillman

To my family…

I owe a debt of gratitude for the life lessons I have learned.  Without them, I wouldn’t have known how to remain strong, to keep going and to never give up.  Approach life with a smile and accept the fate that life has given to me.  Accept things for what they are and understand that there is always someone out there that probably has it worse than I do.  What doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger.

To my son…

Thank you for giving me a reason to live, to give me someone to look forward to seeing each day and someone to care, influence and encourage to become an incredible individual who will show compassion to others as much as they have showed compassion to us.

To my friends…

You are just like family to me.  You were there when I needed a shoulder to cry on, someone I could text in the middle of the night, someone I could talk to and make my worries go away.  Your hugs, your cards, your kind words and prayers, and afternoon coffee runs – all of your gestures have never been forgotten.  I truly hope that I can be there as much for all of you as you have been there for me.

“I’d like to be the sort of friend that you have been to me. I’d like to be the help that you’ve been always glad to be; I’d like to mean as much to you each minute of the day, as you have meant, old friend of mine, to me along the way.”
– Edgar A. Guest

Posted in Family

We can’t help what we inherit, Part Two

Mom and I, circa 1980

It was the summer of 1995.  I was just shy of 16 years old, and naturally, looking forward to hanging out with friends, learning to drive and having fun.  My brother was only 14.  Little did we know that one hot summer day, our lives were about to change…

My mother was a stay at home mom.  A rather quiet and very shy woman, she kept to herself.  If she wasn’t home obsessively cleaning the house, she could be found at the mall window shopping or eating out at the local restaurants around town.

It was a Saturday,  an extremely hot and humid summer day…one that would leave anyone feeling exhausted and having no energy.  We had made plans to go shopping with mom, but because of her ill state, we ended up staying home, making plans to go the following day with dad.  We figured it was the heat that was making her sick.  That next day came and mom still wasn’t feeling well.  It was still relatively warm outdoors, but not nearly as warm as the day before. It seemed as though mom was still having a hard time dealing with the heat, sweating profusely and feeling completely drained.  She was grey in color and if you touched her skin, it was ice cold.  Obviously, something was wrong.  Off to the hospital mom and dad went to soon find out that mom would end up becoming a life long cardiac patient.

…To put it in terms that others would understand, mom’s heart was enlarged and very damaged.  She was immediately placed on the list for a heart transplant and for ten years, she lived and dealt with a heart condition that progressively got worse, leaving her to slowly weaken.  Countless doctors appointments and hospital visits and a multitude of different medications and diet changes became the lifestyle she had to deal with.  By March 2004, she had received a heart but unfortunately passed a month later, just days before her 47th birthday.

By the time the children of my mom, aunt, and uncle were growing up, I think the family began to realize there was a serious problem that ran in the genes of our family.  Of the 7 children born between them, 4 of us would encounter our own heart problems; some at birth, others as young adults.   While we could be upset with the hand we were dealt, having to deal with life long health problems, we all have remained optimistic and strong, continuing to wear a smile on our faces.  We also learned the importance of knowing our families health history in hopes to catch any potential health crisis that may come our ways.

Grandma in the early 50’s

It was 2007 and grandma was in her early 70’s when she finally passed away.  She had lived a relatively long life and had faced the heart break of loosing not only her husband but both of her daughters as well.  Her grandchildren were becoming riddled with heart problems and although she never showed it, this bothered her terribly.  But she remained strong and accepted that perhaps it was all God’s plan.  She was an extremely strong willed and very outspoken woman who managed being a single mother raising three children on her own.  She loved her grandchildren and great-grandchildren – they were her life.  She finally suffered a massive heart attack that took her life….but perhaps as heart broken those of us were when it happened, it was simply her time to be with her maker and with the rest of her family that were no longer with us.  There was one prayer that she had hanging up on the walls in her apartment…the serenity prayer…

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Perhaps God gave her the will to be strong and so accepting for all of those years; she had learned to accept what was happening with her family rather than asking the question “Why?”.  Perhaps her faith in God and her family was what gave her the will to live the life she lived.

Posted in Family

We can’t help what we inherit, Part One

It wasn’t until heart problems started to hit family members in my generation that we realized that there may be some correlation to what my grandfathers’ generation, my mothers’ generation, and now my generation were facing.  Before I could understand my own heart disease, I had to look back at the heart diseases others in the family had faced.  Soon, I would eventually discover more about myself in the process.

Grandma and Grandpa on their wedding day

Unfortunately, I know only few facts of my grandfather.  He was born in 1922 in the state of New York.  He was a tall, thin young man who had worked as a hard laborer at the local GM plant to support his family.  He was a relatively quiet man who also enjoyed playing the organ at church.  He married my grandmother when she was only 18; he was 11 years her senior.  They lived a very modest life, in a small home and eventually had three children; my Mom, my Aunt Sandy, and my Uncle Tom.  In 1971, At age 48, he passed away suddenly, having no known prior illnesses.  From what details I’ve gathered, Cardiac Arrhythmia’s (whether his heart was beating too fast or too slow, we don’t know) lead to his heart attack and ultimately his death.  He left behind a young wife, my grandmother, who would have to find the will and the way to support her three young children.

Ten years had passed since his death.  My Aunt Sandy, along with my Mom, were young women now with young children of their own, and my grandmother was raising my Uncle, a young and budding teenager.  Grandma had managed to raise her children by herself, with many struggles I am sure, but she did it – “…without the need for help of a husband.” she would later on in life go on to say.

My Mom and Aunt Sandy as children

It was May 1981 when suddenly another tragedy would hit and this time it was Aunt Sandy.  Aunt Sandy was an outgoing young woman who enjoyed attending church and participating in all sorts of events.  She wasn’t all too shy and she enjoyed being goofy and fun.  Grandma would always tell me how much I reminded her of Aunt Sandy – – – I think we would have gotten along great!  She had just had a baby boy, my cousin Jason, who was not even a year old yet. Apparently, while walking across the street in town, she suddenly collapsed.  Again, another member of the family had been struck dead due to issues with the heart.  She was otherwise a healthy, young woman who passed suddenly at the age of 21, leaving behind her son to be cared for by his father.

Would the tragedies end there?