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My husband died 2 months ago from a blood clot in the lung. I was away to Ontario visiting my sister due back in St. John’s that night. He was to pick me up at the airport. I had face timed him that morning to wish our grandson a happy birthday and he was so happy and smiling. Told me about his plans for the day. Going out to lunch with the grandkids and after to Bowering Park to feed the ducks. Said he would call me later and we said our good byes. Six hours later my son called me to tell me Dad was in hospital and didn’t expect to live. He took sick getting into the vehicle while at the park. Drs worked on him for an hour and half but they couldn’t save him. He was my best friend and we had so many many plans together. I am devastated and each day is a struggle.
My husband Jamie was born with a congenital heart defect and at a year old, had open-heart surgery allowing him to live a normal life. At age 30 we were due to get married and as the wedding approached Jamie got sicker and sicker. It was 2012 when we were medivacted to Toronto for treatment that was not available in Newfoundland. Ten trips to Toronto followed, and by the end of 2014 we relocated in an effort to save Jamie’s life.
In 2016 Jamie was placed on the heart transplant list. In the beginning we obsessively checked our phones to make sure we didn’t miss “the call”, but once the newness of being on the list wore off we went on to live our life. After being on the list for a year, we got the call we had been waiting for – a new heart had been found. Going into surgery Jamie was nervous but up beat. This was the start of our new life together.
Jamie’s surgery was supposed to last 12 hours. At hour 15 the doctor came out and told me he didn’t think Jamie was going to make it. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. The room got small and I had to get out of there. Jamie not surviving was never a possibility. Jamie made it through the surgery but never woke up. After three days I turned off life support. Jamie died at age 39. Turning off the machines was the hardest decision I have ever made. I was lucky that Jamie had outlined his wishes in an Advanced Health Care Directive, which took some of the burden off me.
What has stung the most since Jamie’s passing, is that the very thing we worked so hard for – a new heart, is what ultimately lead to his death. It is impossible to describe the range of emotions: the joy and excitement when the call came, to the devastation when the surgery was not successful. Feelings of disappointment, anger and that life is not fair are constant.
After Jamie passed I was very conflicted about what to do in terms of funeral arrangements. I wondered a lot about what Jamie would have wanted. Jamie was raised in a very catholic household and regularly attended mass and participated in church activities. Initially I thought Jamie would want a traditional catholic funeral. However, while in Toronto Jamie did not attend mass even though there was a church next door. I got the sense that given his situation Jamie may have given up on his beliefs and questioned why God would allow a thing like this to happen.
Jamie’s greatest wish was for me to be ok and for this to happen, I needed to have a send off for Jamie that would help me survive. I hosted a wake and given that Jamie was a musician, I transformed the visitation room into a jam space. I hung posters of the Beatles and set up Jamie’s drum kit and guitar. I could not picture myself at Jamie’s funeral, walking up the aisle of a church with Amazing Grace playing. If I had went with that option I don’t think I would be in a very good place today. Instead I decided to celebrate Jamie’s life and love for music by having a concert. His band play Beatles songs and people spoke about the impact he had on their lives. I played a song Jamie had recorded about living with his condition and I also shared the story of Jamie’s life. At the end of the night I left with a smile, knowing that Jamie would have been proud. I do not have any regrets about the decisions I made, and while a send off like this is not for everyone, it has helped me cope with this loss.
It has been four months since Jamie has died. We have all heard about grieving people feeling like they are in a fog, they are lost, and that they have good days and bad days. All of this is true. There are still times when it hits me that Jamie is actually dead, and even though I know he is gone, I still find it hard to believe, that this has happened. Jamie was my purpose, as every day revolved around how we were going to keep him alive. Since he has been gone I look for something to fill this void. A big piece of coping has been going back to school and focusing on something I am passionate about. Another piece has been writing. I started writing our story in Toronto and by continuing to do this, a piece of Jamie lives on.
Jamie and I were always positive that he would get better. People are not supposed to lose their spouses at 34. There are no rulebooks or guides for how to be a widow at a young age. Jamie misses out on life, and I miss out on sharing my life with him. It is painful that the dreams we made are now gone. We all search for the perfect person to spend our life with. I am lucky that Jamie was my perfect person. He knew me better than I knew myself. We were each other’s supporters and partners. Now I am lost, and am not sure of where to go from here. I don’t know when I’ll return to work, or if I’ll pursue a new career path. I don’t know if I will remain in our home or if I will stay in Newfoundland. These dreams no longer exist because Jamie was part of them and he is no longer here. While he was the one with the broken heart, I am the one who is left broken hearted.
What helps me to get through the day is Jamie. I’m lucky to know that he would not want me to be sad, mad or bitter. He would want me to live and be happy. We spent our time fighting to keep him alive. Now it’s my turn to fight. I cannot give up. Jamie didn’t fear dying. He feared that I wouldn’t be ok if he left. For his sake I have to be ok. I wish I had more words of wisdom, but I don’t. I make an effort to get up every morning, no matter how painful it is. I make sure to have some human interaction each day and force myself to do at least one thing I enjoy. Loosing Jamie has been the most difficult thing that has ever happened to me. Death is not something you “get over”. It is something you learn to live with. While Jamie’s death is unbearably hard, I try and focus on all the fun we had, the memories we made and most importantly what he taught me – to live life to the fullest because life really is too short.
My husband and I loved to walk, particularly on the Quidi Vidi, Rennie’s River trails that cut through the center of St. John’s. It was great exercise and we always met people we knew so we would stop and chat. Sometimes we would also stop to feed the ducks which could be found at the mouth of Rennie’s River and Quidi Vidi Lake. They were so tame they would take the food right out of your hand.
My husband’s death was sudden and unexpected and it really hit me hard. He was my best friend and we planned our lives around each other. How would I cope? One bright, sunny day, a perfect day for a walk, I decided to go on my own. While on the trail, I saw a couple sitting on a wooden bench. We used to do the same thing when we needed a rest. Suddenly I had an idea. I would donate my own bench in memory of my husband!
The Quidi Vidi Rennie’s River Development Foundation, based at the Fluvarium, administers this in memorium program for the Quidi Vidi, Rennie’s River and Long Pond trail system. Now with our own memorial bench which includes a beautiful plaque engraved with my husband’s name, I look forward to my walks again.
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