Life, Death, and Somewhere in Between: Observations on These and Other Experiences as Seen Through My Eyes

Life, Death, and Somewhere in Between: Observations on These and Other Experiences as Seen Through My Eyes

by Jeff Hielkema


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Life, Death, and Somewhere In Between is the deeply personal story of one man's journey through some of the roughest obstacles in his life. The author shares the sights, sounds, thoughts, and emotions that resulted from life-altering events, including the deaths of his sixty-three-year-old mother and eighteen-year-old daughter within eight weeks of each other; the near death of his twenty-four-year-old daughter four years later; how performing CPR on a seventeen-year-old male profoundly affected his life; and the author's own out-of-body experience as a teenager due to a farm accident. Life, Death, and Somewhere In Between is the story of how it all ties together and shows that ultimately, LIFE WINS.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781477261200
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 08/23/2012
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.46(d)

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Life, Death, and Somewhere In Between

Observations on These and Other Experiences As Seen through My Eyes
By Jeff Hielkema


Copyright © 2012 Jeff Hielkema
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4772-6120-0

Chapter One

History Lesson

Sometimes you need a brief history about people in order to understand who they are and why they are the way they are. In order to see where you're going, you have to see where you've been. This is my "history." I'll try to keep it from getting too boring. Here goes.

I was born in 1960 to Wisconsin dairy farmers, Harvey and Suzanna (Sue). Mom and Dad got married in 1958 when Mom was seventeen and Dad was twenty-three. Mom's parents had told her she couldn't get married until she was seventeen, so they got married the day after her seventeenth birthday.

I am the eldest of four: boy, boy, girl, boy. My youngest brother was born the day after my seventh birthday. There was actually another little girl between the second boy and girl, but she died shortly after birth due to being born three months premature. Nowadays, of course, she would have had a much better chance of survival. That's a lot of children in seven years, over nine-month clips, but that's the way it was for most dairy farm families of that time. You needed to get the "having kids" part of life quickly out of the way. The wives and the kids were needed for help on the farm. That might sound kind of harsh, but it's reality.

Dairy farmer wives of that day all had jobs. They bore the children, did most of the raising of the children in their early years, helped with the barn chores, helped with the field work, and got paid nothing—at least not money—but there was a lot of pride and love that came out of that "job," and there's not any amount of money that can replace that. The husbands just worked, worked, worked some more, and still found time to make babies. Enough said.

Growing up in the day and age of no color TV (we were lucky to have a TV that worked at all), no video games, no computers, no cell phones (just a party line telephone that was shared with some of the neighbors), you had to make your own fun. That wasn't hard to do living on the farm because there was always something to do. Activities were only limited by our imagination—and our imagination got us into trouble our fair share of the time, but usually nothing too serious.

Life was a pretty structured, regular thing: farm work and school on Monday through Friday, farm work on Saturdays, and church with minimal farm work on Sundays. Repeat, repeat ... Dad would hire someone to milk the cows for a few days so we could take our yearly trip to Iowa to visit his parents. It was a real treat to have swimming lessons during the summer. Going to the Dairy Queen on Friday nights was a big treat too ... my how times have changed. I remember going to my first Minnesota Twins game at the old Met Stadium. That was a huge treat. If it sounds like I didn't care for my childhood or thought it was too much work and not enough fun, it's actually the opposite. I absolutely loved it. I wouldn't have traded it for the world. Farming is good, hard work. I like working with my hands and enjoyed working with the animals. It's actually how I wanted to raise my family, but it didn't work out that way. More on that later.

Discipline wasn't a big deal. You knew where the "line" was, so you didn't cross it. I can honestly say that I can probably count on one hand the number of times Dad ever "took a hand" to me. A little "love tap" on the side of the "melon" was all that was needed. It was never a hard hit, just enough to get our attention, and it worked really well. If I got slapped, I deserved it. I remember one time I made Mom cry—don't remember what I did, but she was crying. It wasn't long after Dad got in the house that I was crying too. I made sure I never did that again. I think that a little "love tap" is fine when appropriate, as long as that's all it is.

Respect was a huge thing. I have always had the utmost respect for my parents. I was never afraid of them if I messed up. I was afraid of disappointing them, of letting them down. I knew I wasn't going to get beaten, I knew they were still going to love me. I just didn't want to see the look of disappointment on their faces. I've never looked up the definition of "respect," but part of it has got to be "not wanting to disappoint someone."

Mom and Dad raised us in a God-fearing home. It was two church services along with Sunday school every Sunday, and catechism after school on Wednesdays. Mom and Dad both taught Sunday school, Dad sat on the church board many times, and Mom sometimes sang in the choir. It was in Sunday school that Dad gave me the "sex talk." I must have been about fifteen or sixteen at the time and he was my Sunday school teacher (how much fun is that, having your parent as your Sunday school teacher?). The lesson that Sunday had to do with sex. Growing up on a farm with animals all over, you learned about the mechanics of sex at an early age. But Dad wasn't talking mechanics—he was talking about the who, when, and why of sex. He was trying to teach "there's a time and there's a place" for sex from the Bible's viewpoint. He looked—no, he stared—right at me while he was talking. It was almost as if there wasn't anyone in the room but the two of us. I don't know that I had been thinking about sex while sitting there in Sunday school, but if I had been, I wasn't anymore.

Mom and Dad got involved with church youth groups and even started a nondenominational group from the area communities. They were determined to give teenage kids something to do besides getting into trouble.

Every meal at home involved devotions and prayer, before and after eating. They went on many mission trips over the years to help others less fortunate. For more than twelve years until Mom's passing they went to a homeless shelter for men in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Tuesday and Thursday nights and helped serve supper. Dad still does that, and it's now been almost twenty years. As strong as their faith was, they were never pushy about it. If someone asked, they were more than willing to talk about it, but they didn't go around throwing it in your face. They lived it by example. Dad is that way to this day, even after all that has happened. I can't begin to tell you how much I respect that.

Mom and Dad were pretty passive people. By that I mean they didn't let things bother them too much. Things "bounced off" them pretty easily, especially Dad. I suppose that explains some of my passivity. There are plenty of times I should say something and don't. I like to avoid confrontation if I can, and Dad is the same way. I never once saw my parents argue (how many people can make that claim? My kids couldn't). Either they never argued or they made sure they did it when we kids weren't around. I remember my parents curling up on the couch together on Sunday afternoons for a nap. It was almost routine and I grew up thinking it was special and wanting that "routine" for myself someday. The love and respect they had for each other was something special. More on that later.

I think the most important thing Mom and Dad did was to always let us know how much we were loved. There were always plenty of hugs, kisses, and "I love yous" to go around. That didn't stop as we got older, not even as adults. I used to play a "game" with Mom where I would try to sneak out of the house without the usual hug and "love you." That was as recent as three and a half weeks before her passing away, and I never once made it out the door. I still can't get out of Dad's sight or off the phone without the same. That carried over with me raising my girls. I always told them I loved them, even after I yelled at them for something. My opinion: never discipline a child without telling him or her afterward that you love the child. That's why you're disciplining in the first place, because you love your children.

That, in a long nutshell, is me. It's not new news, but a lot of your personality comes from your childhood and how you were raised. Hopefully this gives you an idea of who I am. Why I am.

Somewhere In Between

Life continued following that same basic routine for the next number of years. As time went on, we kids became involved in a few more activities such as 4-H. When I was in the seventh grade, Mom and Dad bought a "bigger and better" farm approximately nine miles west of the farm where we were living. It was kind of cool because it meant a larger and newer dairy barn, newer out-buildings, and a brand new house with a bedroom of my own. It also meant a different school district. I didn't think going to a new school was that big a deal. I already knew a few of the kids there and it didn't take long to get to know the rest. With approximately only seventy kids in my class, it wasn't that hard to get to know everyone. My brothers and sister adjusted well also.

When I was fourteen, my parents bought a grocery store in Baldwin. I'm not quiet sure what prompted that, but they did. Mom's brother had been helping on the farm some and had management experience, so he got the job of store manager. A store manager was needed because we still had the dairy farm to run. That meant there was always plenty to do. My brother Jerry and I would help at the store, mostly on Saturdays, by stocking shelves and carrying out groceries. Then it was back to the farm to milk the cows. Working in the grocery store was kind of fun. It was a nice change of pace working with customers instead of cows all the time. Of course every once in a while there was a customer who made you want to get back to the cows.

Like in most businesses, inventory had to be taken. It was a real pain having to count every last can and box on the shelves. Quite often it was done at night, after the customers were gone. One such night was Saturday, October 4, 1975. I was fifteen at the time. Dad had stayed in town to get the inventory finished while Mom took Jerry and me home.

After going through the normal routine of chores and milking, we had all the cows milked except one. For reasons too complicated and boring to explain, the one remaining cow to be milked was still outside. Jerry continued with some other chores while I went out to get her. It was dark in the pasture, so I took a flashlight with me. I also took a pitchfork along because the Holstein bull used for breeding the cows was also out there, and he had been acting kind of ornery for the last little bit. I still don't remember if I was chasing that last cow back to the barn or not, but I do know that I was headed toward the barn. I was only ten or fifteen feet from the end of the barn when I either heard or sensed something behind me. I turned around to see the bull ten feet away and charging at me with his head down. And he didn't look like he was in a playful mood ...

Thank God I don't remember the beating. I do remember him catching up to me in about half a second, and I'm sure I didn't run more than two feet before he caught me. I remember his head hitting me in the back of my right thigh. I remember my feet leaving the ground, and then nothing ...

Nothing until I woke up lying on my back in the dirt with the bull standing alongside me. When I say standing alongside me, I mean standing alongside me. There was no way you could have gotten a hair between his front hooves and my right side. He occasionally stomped on the ground, and when he did I felt his hooves rubbing against my ribs. He never had his face far from mine or from the upper half of my body. All the while he was breathing directly on me. His hot breath against me smelled awful. Actually, it downright stank. And there was phlegm dripping from his nose and landing on me, sometimes on my face, sometimes on my chest and stomach. He wasn't being extremely noisy, but he wasn't quiet, either. Most people have heard a cow or bull "moo." Forget that sound; he didn't sound anything like that. He had the deepest, most terrifying, evil-sounding bellow you could possibly imagine. It was the sound of a wild animal that had "tasted blood" and wanted more. I can still hear him ...

I knew I was injured. I just didn't know how bad. My chest hurt terribly and my stomach didn't feel much better. Then there was my jaw, which was pretty much lying on my chest. There was no doubt in my mind that it was broken ... badly. My tongue felt thick, but I could still feel teeth scattered all through the bottom of my mouth.

I knew enough not to move or try to get away. There was an electric fence not that far away, but I figured that even if I could get to it to crawl under it, he would go right through it anyway. When I'd move my legs a little (partly to see if they still worked), he would give me a nudge in the ribs. It didn't feel good when he did that. I knew I was pretty much planted there until someone came looking for me.

From where I was lying I couldn't see the pitchfork, but I could see the flashlight, which was still on. That's what Jerry saw first, the flashlight. He had continued on with some other chores (some of which were in other buildings), and after approximately thirty minutes realized I wasn't around and that the last cow still hadn't been milked.

After searching the barn and not finding me, he headed out to the pasture. That's when he saw the flashlight. He didn't yet see me and was calling my name as he walked. Then he saw me and the bull "protecting" me. I don't know what he was thinking, but he kept walking closer. I'm sure he was in total disbelief about what he was seeing, besides wanting to do something to help his brother. He kept calling my name as he got closer. I tried telling him to get away, but it wasn't easy to talk with my jaw hanging the way it was. Try it once—try talking with your mouth hanging open and not moving your lower jaw very much.

He couldn't hear me, couldn't understand me, or just didn't care because he kept getting closer. That's when it happened. The bull had had enough. He charged Jerry and knocked him down too.

Fortunately for Jerry the bull was satisfied with whom he already had. He came right back to me and stood guard again. Jerry wasn't injured and headed for the house just as fast as he could.

Like I said, Dad was in town working at the grocery store while all of this took place. Mom would later tell me how much that bothered Dad for a long time, the fact that he wasn't home when it happened. She said he lost a lot of sleep over it, that he blamed himself. I never felt that way; it would have happened whether he was there or not. Thirty years later I would end up understanding all too well exactly how he felt.

Visiting with Mom in the house at the time of the attack was a guy named Mark. Mark was one of the young adults who attended the nondenominational youth group Mom and Dad had started. He must have been around twenty at the time.

Jerry ran in the house and told them what had happened. The three of them found Dad's shotgun but couldn't find any bullets. Dad had done a good job of keeping them in separate places. It's just as well they didn't find the bullets. What if they had missed the target and only wounded the bull? It was dark out there and it would have been hard to get a good shot at him. He was already crabby, and I certainly wouldn't have wanted him any madder. And what if they did get a good shot at him? Because he was standing as close as he was to me, guess where he was going to land? I was already hurting. I didn't need that too. Then there's always the chance they would have shot me ... but they didn't find the bullets, so none of it happened.

While Mark and Jerry headed for the barn and pasture, Mom tried to call Dad. Either he was busy in the store and didn't hear the phone or Mom dialed wrong from being shook up. I'm not sure at what point Dad found out what was going on, but he didn't see me until he reached the Baldwin Hospital.

On their way to the barn, Jerry and Mark flagged down a passing car. In the car was our neighbor, Al, and his girlfriend. Al must have been about the same age as Mark. I don't know that you want to call it a miracle, but it was a fortunate thing to have someone happen to be driving by at that particular time. Ours were country roads with only a house or two every mile. You might go all day and not see anyone drive by. At any rate, Al was there now and was ready to help.

Jerry, Mark, and Al headed for the barn. Mom, Al's girlfriend, my sister, Jody, and my youngest brother Joe stood outside the pasture gate looking toward me.

When the three guys got close to me, they started yelling and screaming at the bull, trying to scare him away. He didn't budge. They then grabbed some rocks, pieces of wood, and anything else they could find. They threw enough stuff and yelled and screamed enough so he backed off far enough so one of the older guys could drag me into the barn. They quickly closed the heavy steel gate securing the doorway to the barn. I was safe. The bull went absolutely nuts. He ran wild with that terrible, evil bellowing.


Excerpted from Life, Death, and Somewhere In Between by Jeff Hielkema Copyright © 2012 by Jeff Hielkema. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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