In times of loss, everyone experiences grief, whether from the loss of a marriage, the loss of a job, or the loss of a life. "In grief, you are not alone," we often say to comfort grieving loved ones. But tell that to the woman who feels like her world has just been turned inside out. During two inconceivably difficult weeks, author Trish Rankin's life radically morphs into something almost unrecognizable. Her husband dies of an inoperable brain tumor, and, simultaneously, their son suffers liver failure. To move forward together, both as partners and parents, on their "God adventure," Trish and Dr. David Rankin chose to use the techniques she had taught for years in grief programs.
In this honest, heartbreaking memoir, Trish lifts the veil on loss. She stares lovingly into the face of what's real: the shock, the agony, the suffering, the hope, the re-emergence, and, eventually, the ability to rediscover joy. Once she finds the strength to lift that metaphorical veil, she realizes that, like the butterfly emerging from its cocoon, her loss is the gateway to an awakening-and perhaps to creating a full life once again.
Woven within this inspiring grief journey are techniques to help others on their own path to healing. Trish Rankin's story is one of tragedy, deep struggle, and, ultimately, hope.
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Where's the Veil?A Widow's Journey from Grief to Joy
By Trish Rankin
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Trish Rankin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Disturbing Fatigue
Ignorance is bliss until it's not ignorance anymore.
October 2005 Blue Ridge, Georgia
"Hello, Briarpatch!" Billie yelled as she exited the car. The group of three, Glenn, Billie, and Woody, who were part of Everything But Chess, had left Orlando at O-dark thirty to arrive at our cabin before dusk. Billie stretched her long body like a waking cat as she took in the beauty of the surrounding mountains.
"Hello, Billie and Glenn!" I yelled from the steps of the cedar cabin, which nestled under massive hickory trees.
Every year, the ten people who composed Everything But Chess headed over for a long weekend at our farm, lovingly called "The Rankin Inn." The tradition began twelve years before, when I had formed an eclectic group of the funniest people I knew. Frustrated over how little I could do to help my friend Mary Helen and Glenn, her husband, as they fought her breast cancer, I decided to follow Norm Cousin's remedy for healing: laughter. "Giggle therapy," I called it. We ten met every two weeks to do nothing more than play games (except for chess) and laugh and share struggles. Although after a six-year battle with cancer, Mary Helen hadn't survived, the group had.
"This setting never ceases to create enough wonder in me to fill a country barn," Billie commented to Glenn. Her southern charm and narrow waist were complemented by her short brown hair and attractive face.
Forty acres of hills and virgin pasture surrounded the small cabin. A large rushing creek was often the only noise interrupting the quiet, except for an occasional owl or coyote at night. Cows dotted the green grass, creating a pastoral scene that could have been from Switzerland instead of north Georgia.
"Welcome to the Briarpatch!" I yelled. "Where's Woody?"
"Who knows?" Billie said as she climbed the steps and grabbed me, her hug strong, warm, and genuine.
"He wanted to walk in from the gate ... to stretch his legs," Glenn said. "He'll be here soon."
Glenn unfolded his large, portly frame from his latest Volvo. His thick gray hair and a matching mustache adorned his kind, wise, professorial face.
The porch was covered a foot or two deep in dried leaves that formed a colorful, brittle barrier to the wooden floor. We crunched our way inside.
Although I had done some cleaning in the short time I'd been there, the cabin was still musty from being closed up for months. Cobwebs decorated the walls like wallpaper. The eleven-hour drive south from Apple Valley, Ohio, limited our trips, and the months between visits gave the spiders time to set up residency.
David's job was to warm up the chilly cabin with a fire in the fireplace. My skinny husband, with his small, protruding paunch, slouched on the country-plaid couch, allowing himself a few moments of rest from the pyro job he took so seriously. Having struggled with MS for over twenty years, David fatigued easily.
"Good to be here, huh?" he asked, stretching back comfortably.
"Yeah." I kissed his hair. David always reminded people of Harrison Ford with his thick, wayward brown hair and thin stature. His thin, deep-lined face glowed with the reflection of the flames on his pale skin, while his hair took on the reds from the fire. Though he gave little effort to his appearance, David was comfortable with who he was.
"How much stuff did you bring this time to cram into two thousand square feet, Miss Billie?" I asked, partially in jest, as she entered with overloaded arms.
"Weeeellll"—she drew out the word in her North Carolina twang—"one time, I only brought one suitcase and one tiny duffle bag to Everything But Chess weekend, if you recall?" There was a touch of sarcasm in her voice as she flashed her conniving grin. Though they had been Florida residents for twenty years, their native North Carolina was still a huge part of both Billie and her husband, Woody.
"That's because David weighed your luggage," I jabbed back jovially, "and made you unpack half your stuff before he loaded the Bonanza." For twenty years, David had piloted his own plane until MS had robbed him of so many things, including his pilot's license. Regularly, we had flown to the cabin to help him relax from his stressful job as a radiologist at ORMC, a large medical center in Orlando.
Due to David's unexpected forced retirement eight years earlier from a cognitive disorder associated with multiple sclerosis, we had relocated to Apple Valley, near our expected grandchildren and Ohio's Amish Country. Florida's unrelenting heat aggravated David's MS, so the cooler Ohio weather was an additional lure. When I was in my teens, my family had transferred to Florida from Pennsylvania, and the rolling hills and seasons drew me back north. Even the cold Ohio winters were beautiful to me. After the stunning fall colors were all raked away, the cove outside our lakefront home froze, collecting snow with each new storm until a blanket of white greeted me each morning from my bedroom's picture window. But in wintertime, our dangerously steep, icy driveway sent us to California, near our daughter's home.
"I'm sorry, honey," I explained to Billie, "but this cabin is adequate for two people. This weekend with ten, it'll be splitting at its cedar seams." Nearby, Glenn grinned but was wise enough to stay out of the friendly banter. The tight quarters weren't a problem, since relationship was our goal. After so many years, the cabin had permeated the fabric of Everything But Chess, weaving its woodsy wonder into the makeup of our group.
"Where have you been, young man?" Billie teased when Woody finally arrived, kicking the dirt from his hiking boots.
"I found Carolyn driving through the pasture. A herd of deer wandered by, so we sat down and watched," Woody answered. "I've just been unloading the car and making up the beds downstairs. Carolyn's freshening up and will be up for dinner soon." He turned my way playfully. "We are having dinner soon, aren't we?" Food dominated Woody's world.
"Yes, of course," I said.
An hour later we were all settled in and hungry. One last couple would arrive later.
"Can someone wake David for dinner?"
"Finally, we can relax!" Judy said, plopping down into the porch rocking chair with a plate of spaghetti. Judy and Kenny usually arrived right after horse chores, in time to join us for dinner. Having moved from Orlando to Georgia to build a horse ranch seven years earlier, their interaction with Everything But Chess was limited to the fall retreat. Running Cedar Haven Farm was hard work, but when Kenny sat down, he knew how to relax. He glided across the porch in the rope chair, swinging his long, thin limbs back and forth while balancing spaghetti and salad on his knobby knees.
Rich conversation flowed easily. The rushing creek and glowing Milky Way soothed the cluster of weary travelers. Candlelight flickered off contented faces as we caught up on each other's lives long into the wee hours. The night fog settled into the hills and valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and bodies were blanketed to ward off the chill. Familiarity settled once again into Everything But Chess like a favored old shoe, soft leather, tattered with time, but treasured all the more for the perfect fit.
Morning came slowly to the mountains, when a soft sun finally rose above the hills, warming the frosty night air. A variety of birds twittered around the feeders, ravenous after their long slumber.
"Good morning, Glenn," I greeted cheerfully.
"Good morning, Trish. Where's David?" he asked casually.
"Believe it or not, he's still asleep. I tiptoed out so I wouldn't wake him."
"He's usually up long before me," Glenn remarked.
"I know, strange," I said, without thinking about it much. "I thought I'd do the waffle thing this morning as people get up. Then this afternoon we can hike over to the Swinging Bridge."
"What about David? He can't hike." Glenn was always attuned to David's needs, but over the years I had learned not to let his limitations stifle my plans. After almost thirty years with multiple sclerosis, David required two canes to ambulate inside, but needed a wheelchair outdoors. His laid-back personality allowed him to be involved without fully participating.
"He'll want to go too," I added, stirring the waffle mix. "He can read in a chair under the trees." David's positive attitude gave me permission to continue to live as if I weren't also handicapped. It freed me from the guilt I saw in so many other couples that dealt with debilitating diseases. "But I'm certain he'll want to go," I continued. "He won't want to miss anything."
The morning passed. Porch chatter, fireside reading, and puzzle searching occupied the group until it was time for our annual trek. I quietly went to David, still clad in his pajamas and sitting in his favorite couch spot.
"David, what do you need to do to get ready to go to the Swinging Bridge?" I asked, trying to speed up the departure.
"I'm not going," he said calmly.
"My legs are just too weak today. I think I'll stay home and nap."
"But you just got up a few hours ago," I said in disbelief.
"I know, but I'm really tired today. When you return, I should be good for the evening." I recognized the frustration on his face. He must have registered the shock on mine. It was totally out of character for David to miss anything.
His disappointment only made it harder on me. Acceptance was something I had learned to abide, abandoning the fruitless pleadings long ago. Dejectedly, David limped off to bed as we piled into several SUVs, laughing and conversing.
The refreshing, undemanding walk along the wide river and over the suspension bridge was fall perfection. We returned late in the afternoon, tired and hungry. I headed into the bedroom, surprised to find David still asleep. I leaned down, kissed his forehead, and whispered, "Hey, sleepyhead, you want to get up now?"
Nervousness crept into me like the squirrel that stealthily raided my bird feeders daily: slow but determined. Except for his weak legs and unusual fatigue, nothing else seemed wrong; nonetheless, my apprehension mounted.
"Really? I slept that late?" he asked.
"Come join us. Everyone missed you today. You've slept through half of Everything But Chess weekend already."
"I'm so tired. I don't know what's going on with me." His uncommon concern further unsettled me.
"Are you okay, honey?" I queried.
"Just tired, I guess."
October 15, 2005
"How did Angela and Charles like the hayride at Bert's?" Billie asked, shoving boiled peanuts into her mouth. Charles and Angela, the last members of Everything But Chess, had arrived in the wee hours of the morning, sneaking into their usual sleeping nooks like church mice. We had stopped at Bert's Pumpkin Patch for the annual group photo. Popcorn, pumpkin bread, gourds, and a variety of pumpkins from Bert's now filled the already-crowded car as we headed onward to the Gold Rush Festival.
"Charles said it was fun. I hope Gold Rush isn't as crowded as last year. I could hardly get my wheelchair through the people," David complained, still feeling very weary. He stared absently, preoccupied. Addressing his medical issue would be first on the list when everyone vacated; perhaps we would call his neurologist for some advice on the extreme fatigue and weakness.
Later, with shopping bags hanging off all our available arms, Judy and I approached the large oak tree in front of the brick columned courthouse that served as the stately backdrop for the spot where David rested. As he'd sensed, the hordes of people at the festival made it difficult for him to explore with the group. "Want some cinnamon nuts?" Judy asked as she dropped more accumulated packages into David's capable hands. His eyes lit up at the prospect of a new fair food group he hadn't yet tried. Who knew what he had already consumed before the group convened around him to show off their handmade country crafts and share food? David could eat what he wanted. Except for the belly that had been developing since he was a young man, his weight rarely fluctuated. In fact, since his prostate cancer surgery in May, he had lost some weight; unfortunately it was likely muscle mass. When the post surgical tests had showed no further malignancy, we had all rejoiced and relaxed. However, he hadn't fully healed yet.
"Sure, I'd love some cinnamon nuts," David said, "but Trish, could you also get me some real food? Maybe a roasted corn on the cob and a barbecue sandwich? Oh, and a Coke too?" he asked sweetly. I sighed. That meant standing in two different long lines, but it was past lunchtime and maneuvering his wheelchair was nearly impossible with the crowd.
Woody overheard and chimed in, "David, I'll get you some yummy barbecue, ole buddy. I want some too. Don't you worry your little self. Ole Woody here will take good care of you." David smiled up at his dear friend.
"Thanks, Woody," I added.
The undulating, overcrowded masses scanned the tiny craft booths that lined the streets. The aroma of candied almonds permeated the air, stirring gastric juices and taunting my willpower. Judy and I started out again to scan the country wares while David ate.
"Trish," David said, halting my departure, "I was hoping that you were nearly ready to go home. I'm so tired." I recognized the extreme frustration on his face. But Everything But Chess was still shopping. I couldn't leave yet. Or at least I didn't want to.
Trying to be magnanimous, I agreed, finding it difficult to mask my resentment of the abrupt departure. With half the fair yet unviewed, I'd had different plans. But after living with MS for almost thirty years, I knew that by the time David asked to go, his patience and energy were already spent. Over the years, we had departed in the middle of plays, concerts, meetings, parties, and occasionally even church. At first it had bothered me a lot, but then I had accepted it as part of our life together with MS. Even so, I often felt cheated—robbed somehow. Appreciation shone on David's face when I agreed to accompany him home.
"Trish!" My head jerked up to see Carolyn rushing our way, carrying a yard sign that said, "Goblins Stop Here."
"I want to show you this beautiful nativity I found," she said.
"We need to go—David." I gestured toward my spouse. "Still tired."
Carolyn's face drooped. "Darn," she said simply. My long-term collection would miss the opportunity to welcome an additional member.
"We have to go. But you all can stay and come home later." My voice reflected my harbored resentment, and shame washed over me, as it had done when I'd been caught sneaking a dime from my father's pants pocket when I was a child. Billie joined us, and I took both of them aside and lowered my voice so David wouldn't hear. "I don't know what's wrong. I'm getting worried. But I hate leaving already when everyone else is still having such a good time." I sighed. "I wanted to see the pig calling and the parade first."
Carolyn grabbed my neck and pulled me into a fierce squeeze. "Sorry, honey."
Although not typical for David's particular type of MS, called "slow progressive," his symptoms were part of the disease's profile. Remitting/ remission had more definite symptoms—ones that could come on quickly and leave just as rapidly, stunning its unsuspecting victims. But David's case was different, progressing slowly and evenly, with changes that were subtle, not sudden. This dramatic shift scared me. I hated the uncertainty of multiple sclerosis. At times I felt like it defined our lives, leaving us with little control over our daily destiny. Lately, we'd been arguing more than usual due to poor decisions David had been making, especially while driving. Were his cognitive abilities decreasing rapidly also? Was that part of this new progression?
Thirty minutes later, after much coordination, everyone decided to join us for the trek back to Briarpatch. Although I outwardly discouraged this communal action, secretly I was glad. Otherwise I'd have moped around, feeling excluded, my emotional welfare ignored as David napped.
I reminded myself that, with three wonderful children and the same number of grandchildren, my life was indeed blessed. Our marriage of almost forty years was strong and loving; our faith was firm. But if I was entirely truthful with myself, at times I felt distressed by the sly health bandit that stole our normalcy.
Excerpted from Where's the Veil? by Trish Rankin Copyright © 2012 by Trish Rankin. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. A Disturbing Fatigue....................3
2. God Will Provide....................11
3. Going Home....................22
4. The Golden Ticket....................37
5. Little Davie is Sixty!....................55
6. Columbus Where?....................63
7. Delta to the Rescue....................82
8. Angels, Angels, Everywhere!....................88
9. David's Goal....................101
10. Letting Go....................119
11. Hot Wings or Devil Wings?....................125
12. Circle of Life....................143
13. Life is Hard, Wear a Helmet....................163
15. A Hero in Disguise....................187
16. Finding Patricia Rankin....................197
17. A Very Strange Cloud....................218
18. Forty, But Who's Counting?....................229
19. Going On....................238
20. Comfort and Joy?....................248
21. Starting Anew....................261