I thought we had made it through the tough part, we were entering the retirement years. No more deployments or PCS’s, we were finally going to be able to settle down and get our own house and start the rest of our life after the military….. little did I know. Our story….
Tom and I had known each other for through high school. We sat at the same lunch table but never really connected. Then one night at a friend’s birthday party I brushed past him and he said it was like magic, he had felt that spark they right about in the movies. He asked me out and we started dating right before he went off to college.
We dated for 10 years, lots of up and downs and a whole lot of growing up for both of us. But somehow we made it through both of us going to college, flight training and his first assignment and all the while we were a long distance romance. He was stationed in Biloxi MS at Kessler AFB and just as he was to arrive his unit was deploying to Iraq for the first war. He would catch up to them within a couple of weeks. That was my first experience with struggling with the unknown, would he be safe, would he make it home? Through the years we went through many deployments and several close calls. But thank God, he always came back to me.
Then after 20 years of service in the Air Force, it was finally going to be our time to settle down in one place, get our own home and look forward to a different kind of lifestyle. He retired in July 2009 and was taking the summer off to spend with our kids. Then a few weeks after his retirement date he started complaining of not feeling well. But still in the military mindset he did not seek medical help immediately. Then when he got winded from walking across the parking lot, he knew he had to get help. He went to the ER and that was when our nightmare started. He was diagnosed with Cardiomyopithy, they said he likely had a virus that attacked his heart. Who knew a common cold could tear your world apart. He was going into heart failure, and the plan was to start a treatment plan with medicine and see how it progressed. They said it would take 3 months to see if the medicine would work, but he was in and out of hospitals constantly. The first hospital never treated him for kidney problems so as soon as he was released he spent one night at home and he was sent back to another hospital via a 911 call the very next day. They did not even expect him to survive the night. But my husband was a very strong man and had the will to fight. It was a miracle he survived. I thought that God was on my side and we would make it through. But in order to save him they had to have his body retain fluid which was not good for his heart. Many weeks were spent trying to remove the water. He seemed to get a little better but it was a day to day test. Constant trips to the doctor and blood tests. The doctors were so worried they wanted to medi-vac him to UCLA were they have a state of the art facility for heart transplants. He was to be evaluated.
He was transported on my birthday, which I hoped was going to be the best present ever but was so scared. Family complications made it impossible for me to go with him on the flight. I had to wait 2 agonizing days before someone could come out to watch my children and I could drive out to CA from Nevada. Once I got to the hospital I was able to spend a few days with him and then his heart went into an abnormal heart beat and they tried everything. I had to watch him be shocked while he was still awake…. but no avail. It was necessary for him to have surgery. He would be put into a medical comma and put onto a machine that would beat and breathe for him. This would last for a few days then he would require another surgery to put him on a ventricular assist device. But he got pneumonia, and they took a chance on the second surgery. His body was in so much trauma that he took so many days to wake up that they were not sure he ever would. I stood vigil trying to wake him up, his family flew out and we tried everything. Finally he started to respond. One more hurdle over come. But his liver and kidney had taken so much damage.
After 3 short months from first getting sick and diagnosed he passed away on November 15. My heart and life were changed forever. I still struggle with living life and moving on, but I do so for my children. So many times I feel alone even with a bunch of people in the room. I feel like my heart has been ripped out and that no one understands. But I read the stories of other widows and I am grateful that I at least got to hold his hand and tell him I loved him as he slipped away from me forever…..