Return To Me

Jim was very good about seeing his doctors and staying on top of his diabetes and any other health issues that needed attention. Being a vet he went to the VA hospitals in Murfreesboro or Nashville for his appointments. Jim was a medic in the Air Force and then a paramedic afterwards. He loved medicine and was very comfortable in a hospital setting. His family always counted on him to interface with hospital staff whenever someone had to be there.

We had no idea he had problems with his heart. His symptoms were not typical and because he had other health problems the symptoms he did have he attributed to other things. Mercy is not one of my God given gifts. Jim would moan and groan a lot and I would say to him, “Hey! You sound like an old man. What? Are you dying or something?” Apparently he was.

Jim used to like to work out a lot. In one of his past careers he managed health clubs. He was very physically strong. In his racquetball phase he was the ‘old’ guy (being in his 30s) who could regularly beat the guys who were ten years younger. Through out his life he worked out by walking and/or doing weights. He wasn’t consistent, but he always went back to it.

A few years ago Jim started having trouble with his legs. He couldn’t walk much and had difficulty with stairs. He was diagnosed with spinal stenosis and it progressively got worse. When he would reach the top of the stairs at home he’d have to rest. I was telling him he needed to get back in shape and encouraged him to join a gym and get on the treadmill or bike. He was good at doing free weights at home, but that was it. This was probably the biggest sign of his heart condition and we missed it.

About a month before he passed he started having pain in his mid back on the right side. Another sign we missed. He wouldn’t say much about it. He just was moaning and groaning more often. One morning when he brought me a cup of coffee (he was so good to me – he brought me coffee in bed every morning) he was very snappy. I thought I had done something to make him mad, but then I thought I haven’t even got out of bed yet. So, I asked him what was wrong. He said nothing was wrong. Then I asked him if he was feeling okay. He said yes and immediately his attitude changed. I know now he was covering up his pain because he didn’t want to worry me.

When he did mention his back pain it was always in trying to figure out what was causing it. He ruled out his heart because the pain wasn’t from his chest into his arm.

During that time we were looking to buy a townhouse in our neighborhood. One was for sale right around the corner. We went to see it. Jim wanted to drive there but I insisted we walk because it was so close. He was very edgy as we looked at the place. I was thinking he didn’t like the place at all because he wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. When I mentioned that to him as we were walking home he said that wasn’t it. He hadn’t wanted to tell me, but he’d been having what he called ‘episodes’ and he was having one when we were looking at the townhouse. He said he had them when he would be shopping at Wal-Mart in the frozen food aisle. He would feel pain all over. By the time he would get to the checkout where it was warmer he would feel better. Another sign we missed.

Now, I insisted he call the doctor. This was late in the afternoon and Jim could have gone that day but he didn’t think it critical enough to fight traffic so we were set to go the next day on Tuesday November 4th.

As we were walking into the VA Hospital in Murfreesboro Jim was laughing as he listed all his ailments and wondered what else could be wrong with him – laughing and saying he’s probably going to die from some new problem.

The staff was terrific and he sailed through all his tests with hardly any wait time. For his last test I waited for him in a large waiting room. He was just around the corner and out of sight but I could hear him laughing and talking with the nurses. He never met a stranger. I think they were taking his blood and asking him his blood type. Anyway, the conversation circled around vowels which lead Jim to call one of them Vanna White and ask if he could buy an A. I was thinking it was strange that I wasn’t with him. I had been everywhere else with him that day.

Some time passed and I started getting concerned. Finally a nurse came out and asked me to come with her. Oh no. Why didn’t Jim come out? I found him with his doctor in a little examining room. They had me sit while they stood. Jim was looking at me peacefully and lovingly. The doctor was talking to me. The bottom line was Jim probably had suffered one or more heart attacks and he needed to be admitted to the hospital. I was shocked. I remember saying to Jim he should be the one sitting down. What indicated heart damage was the high level of troponin proteins. They wanted him to stay all night and watch those levels. After he was settled in for the night I went home.

Early the next morning (Wednesday) he was sent to the VA hospital in Nashville. They were better equipped and doctors from Vanderbilt Hospital next door would be his team. We were coming up to Veteran’s Day the following Tuesday so that meant more of a delay in getting into surgery. They had decided he needed open-heart surgery. It was planned for Wednesday November 12th. A delay was needed anyway to calm and stabilize his heart. Looking back, I see that the delay gave him a couple more days on earth.

We received a lot of encouraging testimonies of people surviving this kind of surgery and how they felt much better with more energy and vitality. I think the doctors said he had a 97% rate of survival. We went into it thinking 50/50. He would either survive or he wouldn’t. Jim would tell everyone – family, friends, hospital staff, strangers – that this was a win/win situation, because he was either going to wake up to see his beautiful wife or he would wake to see his son Brandon and Jesus.

On Friday Jim needed to go to the cath lab. While he was gone I took my opportunity to grab a cup of coffee from the lobby. When I came walking down the hallway back to his room, his nurse seemed very relieved to see me. Jim being back in his room wondered where I was and had the nurses looking for me. He wanted me to meet the two cath lab nurses, but I wasn’t back in time.

Jim explained to me that as he was being wheeled to the cath lab, the two nurses were encouraging him about his upcoming surgery. He responded with his 50/50 scenario and told them he wasn’t afraid because he knew where he’d be going if he didn’t survive the surgery. Then, he asked them if they had ever seen the movie Return to Me. They hadn’t, so Jim proceeded to tell them about it. He’d asked if they knew the song Return to Me. They didn’t, so he sang it for them. I laughed and thought to myself Who does this kind of thing?

Three months later, after Jim had passed, Alise received this PM on her Facebook.


Hi Alise. You don’t know me, but I knew your father. I work at the VA hospital that your dad had his cath done. I contemplated messaging you because I didn’t know if it would be ok. I was a part of both of his procedures in our cath lab. I just wanted to tell you that your family has been in my prayers and thoughts EVERY SINGLE DAY. I met him on the Friday when he had his first heart cath. I made sure he was comfortable and made sure he wasn’t nervous. I don’t usually get close to patients I work with but your father stuck out for some reason. We talked about your mom and you and how beautiful she & you both were. He said we were the same age, so it hit close to home because my father was his age as well. I told him how my dad had gone through a lot with his heart and he told me how awful he felt that my dad wasn’t in good health. After his procedure was over, me and another nurse took him back to his room.

On the way he told me to watch a movie called Return To Me. He was very adamant about me watching that movie. So I promised him I would. On the elevator he said the movie was the same title as a beautiful song also called “Return to me” by Dean Martin. So he started singing it to us to see if we had ever heard it. But we didn’t know it. (lol) It was so cute. He also told us when we got on the elevator that despite knowing he was going to get bypass, he said, “I’m not afraid to die, I’m a Christian and God has a plan for me.” I told him how wonderful it was that he knew Jesus was his Savior. I didn’t get the chance to meet your mother because she was out of the room. But he was asking for her as soon as we got him there. All the guy nurses were joking with your dad telling him how gorgeous she was. He thanked me so much for being so kind and caring to him. I told him good luck and to take care. For some reason, he left a mark on me.

I went home that Friday feeling really good about myself knowing that I got to make him feel comfortable and positive despite him being referred to surgery. The following Thursday, he came in early as an emergency and we had no idea who was coming into our room. My heart literally sank when I saw him. We worked on him for 4 hours until he was transferred to Vandy. We worked so hard! I prayed after he left and made sure to check on him. Friday came around with no word of his current condition. I cried driving home on Friday because I wanted so much for him and your family to be ok.

That night, I remembered to listen to the song he was singing on the elevator. I listened to it around 9 pm. I cried with every lyric and cried thinking about his wife and daughter who were probably so upset, scared, and worried. The song is so beautiful. On Saturday, I found out that he had passed. I was heartbroken for you and your mother. I was heartbroken because he was such a happy and lively person. I wanted to go to his funeral but couldn’t get any information on it. I checked everyday. I found you by your last name and your profile pic had him in it.

Alise, I just want to let you know he left a mark on so many who worked on him. I want to let you know that you and your mom are thought of everyday. I pray for you both everyday. I hope you and her are ok. I just wanted to reach out. I don’t know if I had a point to this letter but I just needed to tell you. It has been heavy on my heart to let you know how special he was and in what little time I knew him that he will always be remembered. I hope you and your mom listen to that song. I’m so sorry for your loss.

Keeping An Eye on Me

Dear Jim,

I still miss you like crazy. It’s been almost 2 ½ years since you left. I think my sorrow is starting to lift, but there are still moments of pain. The triggers are random. The other day I pulled out my cookbook holder and I flashed back to when I bought it. We were living on Gilman Drive in La Jolla. I was pregnant with Brandon. My mind went swirling with memories of you and him. It took my breath away.

Yesterday, after work I wanted to go out for dinner and have Mexican food. The weather was beautiful and I thought how nice it would be to sit outside and have an ice-cold beer with some spicy food and good conversation. There was no one available that I wanted to join me. I wanted you to join me. I wanted to spend time talking like we used to. Remember how we would talk about our lives and speculate on our future and come up with plan options? I miss that.

I decided to go to El Sombrero’s. It’s not a big deal to eat alone. I can read a book on my phone and I don’t mind being a party of one. As I was driving there, some middle-aged blond lady was following me just a little too close. She was bugging me. When I pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, I thought I saw her pull in also – oh, great. After I parked I looked around and it seemed like there were several, I mean a lot of middle-aged blond ladies going to the restaurant. It kind of freaked me out. I thought to myself I don’t want to be one of those, and especially one that is alone. So I went home and ate the pasta dish I had in the freezer.

I started to feel sad and lonely. Basically, I was feeling sorry for myself. I know a lot of people here in Nashville, but I don’t socialize much. Sometimes it just takes too much effort. I can count on one hand those I feel close to and comfortable enough with that no effort has to be made. You know to whom I’m referring.

It’s strange and humbling being a widow. I haven’t figured out the rules yet. Which is too bad because apparently I’ve been breaking some. Hence, why one friend told me to stay away from her husband and thereby I have been cut off from a whole family who I considered close and comfortable friends. Oh, well.

In March I went to San Diego to see my folks and celebrate Dad’s 79th birthday. (79! Can you believe it?) I made him a German Chocolate cake like always. Did you see when I made him a cake a couple years back and I shipped it overnight? It cost about the same as shipping myself out.

We had a really great visit and I made it a point to keep my time prioritized to spend with them. But I did make time to meet up with a few close girlfriends, because I was desperate for some encouragement and prayer. Prayer because I want joy and I want it now!

I asked S, who had lost her husband many years ago, how long does this sorrow-ing and grieving last? She had good and wise things to say that gave me hope. Then they gathered around me and prayed. And you know what? Prayer works. I have since felt stronger.

Sometimes I think about moving back to San Diego. I really miss my friends and our church. I would love to live closer to my folks, but my life (and daughter) is in Nashville now. It’s a good life, too. Going back would be exactly that – going back, and I must go forward.

My life is starting to evolve and change and become something new. I think you would be proud of me. In fact, I know you are because I think you’ve been helping me. Maybe directly through some spiritual connection? Or, maybe indirectly by what I learned from knowing you? Anyway, thanks for keeping an eye on me.