My parents divorce when I was ten – it was not amicable – showed me the kind of relationship I didn’t want to have when I married. My grandparents’ sixty-eight year marriage showed me the kind I do want to have. My family was spread out, geographically, so there wasn’t much interaction with cousins, aunts or uncles, but I learned a few years later that family is not always related by blood ties. While many things and people have shaped me into the person I am today, the events of last weekend have changed my entire outlook on life.
My “sister’s” family adopted me when I was 15. The details are unimportant. We’ve been best friends since then. Thirty years is a lot of life to share, but it’s gone by in the blink of an eye. We talk every week; sharing the trivial and the profound stuff of our lives – children, jobs, husband stories, recipes and whatever else we can think of. We hadn’t been together in the same place since her wedding 4 ½ years ago, so we were both excited about my four-day weekend trip to Kentucky.
Friday night we shared dinner; grilled chicken, corn-on-the-cob and refrigerator pickles, I think. The kids griped about being pulled away from their video games; our two husbands discussing the work left to do on the chicken coop – the birds had to be moved into it in two weeks and there was still quite a bit to finish. Saturday plans were made: we girls were going to the Farmer’s Market for bison steaks for dinner and the men were going to paint the coop.
My sister and her husband had known each other for nearly forty years – since they were children. Life and unsuccessful first marriages had separated them, but they found each other again ten years ago. I was surprised that they had spent five years dating before they finally tied the knot. I watched as she poked fun at him, and he at her, and marveled at the love in their eyes for each other.
Saturday, June 12th, started like any other day - with coffee; we got ready to leave for the Farmer’s Market at around 8:00 and then, “Call 911, he’s dead - oh my god, he’s dead!” she screamed.
My husband and I ran to the chicken coop where my sister’s husband lay – he had been painting in the ten minutes prior to that scream. I tried to remember everything I had learned from the first aid and CPR training I had completed just three weeks ago – check for pulse, clear the airway, two breaths, thirty compressions, continue until EMS arrives.
I started compressions, my husband started breaths. I never dreamed I would actually have to use that training – not on someone I knew. I could not stop. My arms ached. I knew I had cracked his sternum and it sounded like a gunshot in the stillness of the morning. That was OK – it happens – it meant that I was going deep enough with the compressions. My heart was breaking as I looked into his grey-blue eyes – they were dilated and unresponsive. I knew that he was gone, but somehow I hoped that what we were doing could bring him back to her; to his children; to us. I remember thinking that he was the same shade of blue as a newborn baby before their first breath.
Time seemed to slow down but ten minutes later, we relinquished our places at his side to the first EMS tech to arrive. The ambulance and the second crew arrived ten minutes after that and we waited while they tried to work their magic. The ambulance pulled away for the short trip to the hospital (ten miles). I knew I had done everything right, but I kept thinking, “Was there anything more I could have done?”
My husband and I paced around the yard waiting for word and picked up the debris left by the paramedics: pieces of tape, plastic caps and a paper sticker from the defibrillator pad. Beside the spilled paint, the color of fresh buttermilk, lay the discarded IV tap still containing a drop of his blood. The paint seemed to bleed into grass that was way too green. It was surreal.
It had happened so fast; he was just going to finish one more bit of painting. The rest of us had gone in for breakfast just ten minutes before; he said he’d be up in a minute. The doctor said that it was probably a blood clot. A tiny bomb that exploded in his heart and his death was instantaneous; there was nothing anyone could have done.
Scott was one of those people that are so genuine that, ten minutes after you met him, you felt like you had known him all your life. He took pride in his work, but it didn’t define him. He had many friends, but they didn’t define him. He was active in his church, but that didn’t define him either. He loved his wife and children and that did define him. He told my sister almost every day that he felt so lucky that he got to live in this house that they bought together, but even luckier that he got to live there with her.
Ten minutes – enough time to fold a load of laundry; time enough for a quick phone call to a friend. 1/6 of an hour was all it took for a husband, a son, a father, a grandfather, a friend to leave this place. How has this event shaped me?
I’ve come to understand, in the days after his death, that life is too short to “sweat the small stuff” and too precious to ignore the big stuff. I’ve realized that past hurts that I have held onto are just that, the past and that it is time to forgive.
As family and friends rallied around Vicki and the kids, we’ve all said that we are going to a this lesson from this tragedy – love the ones close to you; cherish friendships; forgive people that have wronged you because ten minutes can change your world forever.
The sights and sounds of last weekend will be forever etched in my memory. I hope I will keep it in my heart forever – a reminder of what ten minutes can mean. I’ve called my adult children to tell them that Sunday family dinners are back on the calendar – just like when they lived at home.