Piece by piece, the cornerstones of Willow’s life begin to crumble. A routine colon operation goes horribly wrong. A yoga injury leads to a series of surgeries and misdiagnoses, ultimately ending in permanent loss of motion in her right arm. And then Willow is diagnosed with breast cancer. Convinced that no one will stand by her for one more day of sickness and depression, she prepares to end her life.
That's where the Angels come in.
Willow’s friends lift her spirits when she is sad, and weep with her when she is hurting. They walk beside her quite literally, on sidewalks from Cleveland to Miami. And they walk beside her spiritually and emotionally, soothing her heartache and reminding her that every single minute of her life is abundantly worth living. Walk Beside Me is the story of a woman who peels away the layers to find her inner warrior, a woman who faces insurmountable odds andthanks to her earthly Angelslearns to treasure the gift of God's infinite light and love.
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|Publisher:||Morgan James Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)|
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It was a warm day in September when I decided to kill myself.
I stood in the parking lot outside the doctor's office. I had just seen the specialist, but I would have to wait four endless days for that fateful phone call. Why did they always do these sorts of life-altering tests before a weekend? I feared the worst.
In my left hand I held my car keys far too tightly, the sharp metal ridges digging deep grooves into my fingers. But I couldn't feel anything. In those first moments, all I felt was fear and disbelief. The anger would come soon enough.
"Willow," said Oliver, my husband. "Willow, listen to me. You're going to be all right."
I didn't hear him. I had started to scream.
I was literally screaming in broad daylight, leaning against our car, as if the car itself would support my weight. I felt sharp, guttural pain, as if something was tearing me apart from the inside. And now it was only going to get worse. The diagnosis wouldn't come for four days but I already knew it in the marrow of my bones: the worst was coming true.
I couldn't wrap my brain around having to undergo more suffering. I had spent the last three years in constant pain, every single day. Was I being punished? Was everything I had gone through not enough? I screamed and screamed and screamed some more, unable to grasp what was happening to me.
Not me, I cried. Not me.
"Stop screaming, Willow," said Oliver, gently taking the car keys out of my hand. "Let's get you home." He seemed a bit irritated. How could he be so cold? He must have seen that question in my eyes because he tried to hug me.
I ignored him and climbed into the passenger's seat.
I stared out the window the entire ride home, crying softly. Sunlight shone through the tall, stately trees of Bexley, the affluent suburb of Columbus where we lived. It was a beautiful crisp fall day. Kids were outside playing in jeans and T-shirts. The weather had not yet turned.
But inside the car, I had broken out into a cold sweat. I felt sick. It seemed cruelly unfair to see families outside, enjoying the pleasant weather, leading lives so happy and carefree when my own life had become a living nightmare. I looked down at my arm and let out a guttural whimper.
The tears kept flowing. All the emotional courage I had mustered over the last few years went up in flames and crumbled into ash. This couldn't happen to me — and yet, it was happening.
Hadn't I suffered enough? Hadn't my family suffered enough? My daughter Isabella and son Wiles, fourteen and eleven at the time, had suffered. So had my husband.
I looked at Oliver now, staring straight ahead, his hands gripping the steering wheel. He said nothing. I desperately needed comfort — a kind word, a reassuring touch — but he had none to give. He was fighting his own demons, tethered to a wife who had been in constant pain for the last three years. When he took his wedding vows, I'm sure he hadn't imagined "in sickness and in health" to be quite so literal.
And then, I had the thought. It came as a shining epiphany, hitting me like a bolt of lightning. If I end my life, I thought, my husband and children won't have to suffer anymore.
I loved Bella and Wiles more than life itself. I was their mother and I wanted to protect them, not cause them pain. Being a mother was all I'd ever really wanted to do, and I wanted to love them, not put fear in their tender souls. I wanted to be a good mom, not a woman needing constant care and help from others.
But I had failed miserably. And it was about to get so much worse.
I wanted to scream and yell and run and hide. The pain was excruciating, both physically and mentally. I didn't think I could bear it. Generally speaking I wasn't a "worst-case scenario" person, but then my whole life had become a worst-case scenario the last few years. I didn't have the diagnosis yet, but I knew what was coming, even then.
* * *
In four days, my worst fears were confirmed. I got the call early Monday morning. I was home alone when my phone rang. When I heard the doctor's voice, I knew what he was going to say.
I sat down on my bed and asked the doctor one question. "Am I going to die?"
He said something that was supposed to be vaguely comforting, not too hopeful but not too dire, but I didn't hear it. Everything had gone black.
That night I lay in bed, my cotton pillow hot beneath my head. Sleeping was impossible. I felt petrified, exhausted, and confused. I wanted to curl up into the fetal position and give myself comfort but I couldn't with the cast on my arm. How many casts have I had on that arm? I thought, and when I counted, the number was far too many. The realization only made me feel sicker. I wanted to press my warm body into my husband and hear him tell me he loved me. But he had been drawing further away from me these many months, getting increasingly unavailable. I felt like I was looking at him through the rearview mirror of a car: he got smaller and smaller, and eventually he would become so small that he might disappear completely.
I was only forty-one years old. I had gone from being a thriving wife and mother with an incredible passion and talent for yoga and other sports to a sick, frail woman. The "I can'ts" had replaced the "I cans" in every area of my life. I had not had a day without pain in almost three years, and I couldn't remember the last time I had been able to use my right arm.
I put on a tough face to the world, but emotionally I was dying inside. The days I wanted to quit were too many. I felt desperate to live to raise my children, but the suffering was endless — and that was all before. Now I had received the diagnosis that would change everything. It was too much. I knew my strength had run out.
I lay in bed that night, my husband turned away from me. He was coping in his own stoic way with my health issues, a way I couldn't understand. My children pushed me away out of fear. The love I had for Wiles and Bella was overpowering, but I was afraid I was no longer a blessing to their lives.
Still unable to sleep and racked by fear, I tiptoed into Wiles's bedroom. Oliver and I had told him the dreadful news earlier that night. Oliver wanted to wait but I couldn't stop crying; it was impossible for me to hide my trembling, sadness, and utter despair. The look in Wiles's eyes was one I'd never forget. He was terrified of losing me. Afraid that, after all the pain we had already gone through as a family, now his mother was going to die.
Wiles was sleeping fitfully, probably having nightmares about the bad news. I kissed him on the forehead and stroked his cheek. I could still feel the warmth of his newborn body in my arms when we brought him home from the hospital, how small and helpless he seemed. Now he was growing into a young man, but there was still a certain tenderness he carried with him. Wiles was a lot like me: he felt deeply for people. He was a child with great compassion; he always amazed me with his bleeding heart and enormous gestures for the poor and needy. But he was far too young to have to bear these kinds of burdens.
My daughter Isabella was at boarding school many states away. Our relationship had undergone its fair share of strain and tension. I loved Bella deeply, but the seventeen hundred miles between us was hard. The more she acted out, the more I thought, It's my fault. I'm a horrible mother. She was too much like me, in everything from personality to appearance, with her long legs and straight blond hair. The only physical difference was that her eyes were blue and mine were brown. Other than that, she was a mini-me.
It was the character traits that concerned me most. Bella desperately craved attention and wanted to start modeling, even though she was only fifteen. She was a beautiful girl, and I'd caved and let her do some commercial work around Columbus, but I really didn't want her to be exposed to the world I'd been exposed to as a model in my twenties — the drug use, the rampant partying, and the lack of self-worth. When you're a model, so much of your identity only goes skin deep. I didn't want that for Bella; I'd had enough of it myself. She reminded me so much of myself at that age: hot-tempered and entitled, absolutely determined to get her way. Frankly, I could still be a pain in the butt.
And now we had to give Bella the horrible news. We decided to keep the truth from her until Oliver could fly up to Andover and tell her in person: the news was too big and important for a phone call. Already I felt ill at the thought of Bella's reaction. I wanted to hold her tight and never let go. I wanted her to be home so that our family could be together again.
My fears were shadows clutching at my soul. I crawled back into bed, desolate, hopeless. Dark thoughts tugged at the corners of my mind. If I was going to die anyway, why not speed it along and save everyone the trouble?
A story popped into my head and suddenly I knew exactly how I'd do it. The previous week Oliver had read an article in the newspaper about a boy who had died using this exact approach. It was almost perfect, something that would look like an accident when it was anything but. No horrible aftermath, no mess for anyone to clean up. Quick and relatively painless, my suicide would end the suffering once and for all.
I watched Oliver's back rise and fall on his side of the bed, the easy unlabored rhythm of his breathing. I would wait until Bella came home from boarding school so I could say goodbye. And then I would end it.
It seemed like a rational decision. My friends and family had already spent far too much of their time and energy on my health issues over the last few years. I knew it was only going to get worse.
I knew it would be hard on them for a while. But a year after my death, my family would have mostly healed. My husband would be dating other people and my kids would no longer be worried about their mom dying every second of every day. My friends would remember me fondly, but they had their own lives, their own families to take care of. My parents and sisters would carry the sadness with them forever, but they would secretly be grateful I was no longer sapping their love and time.
I was resolved. In the morning I would start telling my friends and family goodbye. I didn't want to alarm them, but I also didn't want them to blame themselves when they learned Willow Adair was dead. I didn't want any of them feeling like it was their fault for not having said or done something to stop me.
I rolled over and shut my eyes, desperately trying to sleep. The tide of despair and confusion swelled to a crescendo in my head. I'm making a rational decision, I thought. I'm better off dead.
I'll do it in a few weeks. The pain will finally be over. The suffering will end.
I'll take my life.
* * *
October 1, 2012. That was the day my life changed forever. Things would never be the same after that. Everything — my family, my life, my values, myself — would be different.
But my story doesn't start in 2012. It starts seven years earlier when I almost bled out on the operating table during what was supposed to be a routine surgery.
In some ways, it feels like I haven't stopped bleeding since.CHAPTER 2
It was July 5, 2006, the day after Independence Day and the day before my colon surgery. I wasn't too worried about going into the operating room the following morning. I was scheduled for a colon resection — not exactly a routine surgery, but hopefully one that would cure the stomach troubles I'd been having for years with minimal effect on my routine. My doctor explained that my colon had gotten so long it had become twisted, which explained the terrible stomach pain. We needed to take care of it promptly, but there wasn't any particular reason for concern. My doctor assured me that the procedure was fairly simple: he'd go in, cut out maybe fifteen to sixteen inches of my colon, and stitch the whole thing back together. After six weeks of recovery, I'd be good as new. Which was a good thing, since I was mostly worried about getting it done quickly and well so that Oliver wouldn't have to miss his three-week vacation in Nantucket: something he looked forward to every year.
I'd been down to the doctor's office earlier that week to sign the pre-surgery paperwork. "We just need your signature on a few forms," he said, as I sat across from him in his immaculate office. "This is all standard procedure." His medical degrees were framed prominently on the wall behind him, illustrious and impressive, tinged in fine gold. Surely this man knew what he was doing.
I scanned the paperwork in front of me. I should actually read these, I thought. What was I even signing? I glanced down at the papers and started to pay more attention. No more small talk, I said to myself. You have to focus. Almost immediately one waiver jumped out at me: Would I accept blood if needed?
"What's this?" I said. "Why would I need to sign this one?" "Oh, don't worry about that," my doctor said. "You're not going to need any blood. It's just a form we have everyone fill out. If you didn't sign it and something were to happen on the operating table, we wouldn't be able to give you blood."
My stomach knotted slightly. "But this is a standard procedure, right?"
"Absolutely. If there was any chance you were going to need blood, we would have had you donate your own blood prior to the surgery." He chuckled. "Better your own blood than someone else's, right?"
We laughed, but I felt slightly uneasy. Still, I signed the form.
* * *
I'd known Amelia King for several years — we were introduced by a mutual friend. We had children about the same age: my daughter Bella was seven and her daughter Ava was six. We were in the same supper club with three other couples. All four families lived within a few blocks, so twice a month we alternated houses to eat good food and get to know each other better.
That summer, we were supposed to be with Amelia and Quinn at their home in Taos for the Fourth of July holiday. We had stayed with them the previous summer and it worked. Their home was beautiful, and the summers there were spectacular. We played games with the kids at night, and lots of other Bexley families were there, including the Somervilles, who spent their summers in Vail. Gigi Somerville was another one of my closest friends, and she and her husband Ron were also part of the supper club.
We were planning on spending the 4th in Taos again — maybe even as the beginning of a new family tradition — and then the colon surgery was scheduled for July 5th. Suddenly I had to cancel the trip.
I called Amelia and told her I was stopping by. I walked over and we went to her back porch. It was the calmest spot in our neighborhood and such a peaceful place to talk. I sat with Amelia for a moment until my voice choked as I fought back tears.
"They scheduled my surgery, Amelia," I said, looking down. "I'm going into the hospital next week. We won't be able to go to Taos."
I couldn't hold back the tears: I started crying. I told Amelia everything; she was that kind of friend. She knew me intimately, seeing a side of me I didn't show to the rest of the world.
"I'm scared," I said. "I know it's a relatively normal surgery but I'm so scared."
"You have every right to be scared," Amelia said, rubbing my back. "I'm so sorry, Willow. Can I pray with you?"
Amelia was a great comfort that day; she sat beside me and prayed. She knew how bad I felt, since we had to cancel at the last minute and they wouldn't be able to invite another family in time. I kept apologizing.
"Willow, please don't worry about that." Amelia laid a gentle hand on my arm. Amelia had a really motherly instinct about her. I had never seen her raise her voice or get upset. "You have plenty on your mind already. I don't want you to spend another second worrying about us."
I tried to keep that in mind. Still, I was heartbroken that I wouldn't be able to go. And I was scared, scared to be alone in Columbus without Gigi and Amelia with the surgery looming.
* * *
The night before the surgery, I was frantically taking care of business around the house. I had a laundry basket pressed to my hip as I walked from room to room, putting away the kids' laundry and Oliver's. I knew I'd be in the hospital for a couple days, and then I wouldn't be doing much for six to eight weeks while I recovered from the surgery. I wanted to make sure the kids had everything they needed — that everything was in order.
I was standing in the laundry room, separating the whites from the colors, when the home phone rang.
I checked the caller ID. Gigi Somerville.
I felt relief course over me. My dedicated friend calling me when I'm sure her house is totally chaotic.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Walk Beside Me"
Copyright © 2017 Christine Handy.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Not Me,
Chapter 2 Standard Procedure,
Chapter 3 Who Will Protect Me?,
Chapter 4 My Girls,
Chapter 5 The Cleveland Clinic,
Chapter 6 Alone in the ER,
Chapter 7 False Idols,
Chapter 8 Blood Clot #2,
Chapter 9 The Columbus Arts Ball,
Chapter 10 The Pain Monster,
Chapter 11 Ten Out of Ten,
Chapter 12 Something's Wrong,
Chapter 13 Out of Sight, Out of Mind,
Chapter 14 Game Over,
Chapter 15 Traumatized,
Chapter 16 The PICC Line,
Chapter 17 A Tornado at Easter,
Chapter 18 A Very Good Actress,
Chapter 19 Just the Two of Us,
Chapter 20 Fusion,
Chapter 21 The Way It Was Before,
Chapter 22 The Lump,
Chapter 23 I'm Going to Kill Myself,
Chapter 24 The Phone Call,
Chapter 25 The Black Mark of Cancer,
Chapter 26 "As Long as It's Not Cancer",
Chapter 27 A Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem,
Chapter 28 Circle of Angels,
Chapter 29 Twenty-Eight Treatments,
Chapter 30 Halloween,
Chapter 31 Friends and Face Paint,
Chapter 32 A Living Hell,
Chapter 33 The Red Devil,
Chapter 34 Making Me Sick,
Chapter 35 Hair Shopping,
Chapter 36 The Haircut Party,
Chapter 37 An Island to Swim To,
Chapter 38 Avalanche of Love,
Chapter 39 An Army of Angels,
Chapter 40 Oliver, Bella, + Wiles,
Chapter 41 My Dad, My Champion,
Chapter 42 God's Word in Every Room,
Chapter 43 From Chicago to Taos: A Million Miles,
Chapter 44 "Keep Me Posted",
Chapter 45 Turned Away,
Chapter 46 Wiles's Birthday,
Chapter 47 New York City,
Chapter 48 House Arrest for Two,
Chapter 49 Walk With Me,
Chapter 50 My Birthday Week,
Chapter 51 Valentine's Day,
Chapter 52 We Are Winning,
Chapter 53 All I Want to Do Is Give Back,
Chapter 54 My Two a.m. Angel,
Chapter 55 March Madness,
Chapter 56 Walk Through the Valley,
Chapter 57 The Last Chemo,
Chapter 58 My Life Now,