Monday, April 26, 2010

What Sarah Said Part One: Why I'm Here

{This is the first part of a four part series based on the song What Sarah Said by Death Cab for Cutie.}

I have a new love and its name is Death Cab for Cutie. Perhaps that seems an odd statement for a blog about losing the love of your life. Perhaps it's even bordering on blasphemous. Yet there is it is, I've fallen in love with a band.

That's not an entirely accurate statement; I've fallen in love with their music. It's beautiful, reflective, poetic. Their mellow music soothes while I write of the pain and horror my characters experience in my novel Chosen. The lyrics are also poetic; when I feel writer's block I listen to the words accompanying melodies that flow through my mind. Simple, yet so descriptive. A single line about absolutely nothing at all can mean so much.

Yesterday, I listened to the words of their song What Sarah Said, from their Plans CD. I wondered how the meaning of the song had escaped me during the scores of times I had heard it. The words so simple and direct are about losing someone you love to death.

The song bubbled so many feelings, so many memories to the surface and I realized-- I have lived this song. The knowledge brings me to my knees. Someone else knows. Someone else understands what I've been through. Sometimes that's the greatest comfort of all. I often wonder why this blog is here and then out of nowhere something hits me, a song, a memory, and then I know. Someone in pain needs to know that someone else knows what they are going through. Someone understands. I will never meet them. I probably won't even know their name. They will leave an anonymous comment thanking me for expressing how they feel, fresh in their grief and I will cry for them. Real tears full of empathy wishing I could comfort them somehow, but the reality is that I already offered them the only comfort I have. I have survived. And so will they. The road is full of unbelievable agony but they will get through it. I am proof.

I have found myself listening to the song over and over again. Its a blessing and a curse and I accept them both equally. The entire song haunts me but the second to the last line takes my breath every time I hear it.

Love is watching someone die.

Watching your best friend die, the only person who ever really knew you, is surreal but it is also a gift.

I have been blessed.


What Sarah Said

And it came to me then that every plan is a tiny prayer to father time
As I stared at my shoes in the ICU that reeked of piss and 409
And I rationed my breaths as I said to myself that I'd already taken too much today
As each descending peak on the LCD took you a little farther away from me
Away from me

Amongst the vending machines and year-old magazines in a place where we only say goodbye
It stung like a violent wind that our memories depend on a faulty camera in our minds
But I knew that you were a truth I would rather lose than to have never lain beside at all
And I looked around at all the eyes on the ground as the TV entertained itself

'Cause there's no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous pacers bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round and everyone will lift their heads
But I'm thinking of what Sarah said that "Love is watching someone die"

So who's going to watch you die?.

**This blog post has a companion post on my writing blog Denise Swank, author in progress

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Beginning and the End

For 21 days the Advent calendar hanging on the wall has taunted me. Those first few weeks I would see the pocket for 21 looming at the bottom yet it was easy to ignore. It was so far away. But this morning I looked at the calendar and the star was in the 21 pocket. It had arrived. The day I hoped to ignore yet felt obligated to recognize was here once again. It was Darrell's birthday.

It's funny that every year a different birthday of Darrell's has special significance. One year it was the birthday I had a surprise birthday dinner for him while we lived in Tulsa. Last year it was the birthday I surprised him with a weekend away. But this year, for some reason this year, our first year to celebrate his birthday is haunting me. It was his 40th birthday and I took him to a restaurant known for its seafood, his favorite. The candlelight and soft music are still there in my memories, but most of all I remember his happiness. His utter happiness to be celebrating his birthday with me.

After those memories washed over me, nearly choking me in Costco parking lot of all places, I wondered why I remember the first now. Four years since I celebrated his last birthday with him, why suddenly the first? I wonder if I'm ready to really let him go.

I can remember so many firsts but I struggle with the lasts. For the past hour I've tried to remember his last birthday for the life of me, I can't. I can't remember the last time we held hands. Or the last time we made love. I can't remember what I made him for dinner the night before his accident. Or the last time he said "I love you." Our last kiss is but a vague memory, a quick kiss as he left the house to go fly his plane. We remember the firsts, forever etched in our brains, but the lasts are locked away in the fog of our memories.

I'm no longer the Denise Swank who was married to Darrell. I've changed, evolved, adapted to my new life sometimes drug through it all kicking, screaming and wailing. I've not always done it gracefully, but I've done it my way. I sometimes wonder if Darrell would recognize the person I am today. Would he love the new me? I'm not so sure he would. But that's okay (and this is what makes me realize I'm ready to let go) because I can't change a thing. And I'll go so far as to say I wouldn't change a thing. The way I behaved, the person I've become was created through the birth of fire. Literally. I defy anyone to do that gracefully.

Over the next few weeks, I plan on doing some posts covering my journey through the first six months of grief. Some of those times, I won't look very pretty. But the cold hard fact is that grief is ugly business. It's high time someone finally admitted it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


It's been awhile since I wrote here. The truth is that this book is on hold right now. It's hard reliving everything from that time so intensely so I've put it on hold to write fiction for now. But that being said, I know that people stumble upon this blog for the same reason that I was writing my book-- when you're going through such a devastating experience you have to know that you will survive it. You have to know that others have preceded you and have made through the stage of merely existing to living again. That was one reason for wanting to write the book. When I was going through it I looked for books about women who had experienced my pain and I found selection quite lacking.

So for now, when the urge calls, I'm going to write here about what I went through so that those of you who are in the depths of despair can see that while a part of you will most likely always hurt, there is hope. One day you will laugh without guilt. You will think of your significant other without tears. And you will find that you actually have the desire to go on, not just because it's a requirement.

When Darrell died I was in shock. I was numb. I really didn't feel anything. But eventually, as I moved through the stages of guilt, I found anger and I latched onto that bad boy like a dog with a bone and held on tight. There were so many things to be angry about but my main focus was Darrell.

There's nothing logical with a grieving anger. Darrell definitely didn't choose to die, and while my head knew this, my heart was bitter. I felt betrayed and abandoned. I was overwhelmed with loneliness. At times I was faced with life altering decisions and I wasn't sure Darrell would agree with my choices. One day as I struggled with the guilt of a decision I got mad and said "Too bad. If you don't like what I'm doing then you shouldn't have died and left me to make it alone."

Looking back, I think that is what pushed me into my abyss of anger. He was supposed to be with me and in my mind he decided not to be. He decided to leave me when he promised me he would stay with me forever. There couldn't be anything further from the truth, but in the summer of 2006 that was my reality.

I always loved the group Evanescence. They were from Little Rock and became popular when I lived in Little Rock. Darrell bought me their first CD for Christmas the year it came out. So when Call Me When You're Sober came out, I felt a special connection to it, on so many levels.

Call Me When You're Sober is about a woman who's significant other chooses alcohol over her. Darrell hardly drank, so this in no way compared to my experience. But my heart felt that Darrell chose death over me. He said he wanted me but he didn't.

Don't cry to me, if you loved me
You would be here with me.
You want me, come find me
Make up your mind

Those are the words that spoke to me and opened a torrent of resentment.  I would sometimes sing this song in the car, tears streaming down my face, practically screaming the lyrics at him.  And it made me feel better, if only for a few minutes.  Of course, there are probably a bevy of people who thought witnessed a stark raving lunatic, and they weren't far off.

I felt tremendous guilt over my anger but I was also rational enough to realize that it was a stage, one I would move through, one I actually had to move through.  If you are grieving and find yourself in the middle of anger towards your loved one, please be kind to yourself and let yourself live through it without guilt.  You're going through enough pain without adding your own.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Letter to Darrell


I have survived without you, but you knew that I could. My independence worried you in the beginning of our relationship, thinking I didn’t need you because I could take care of myself. Yet you mistook surviving for living my darling. They are two completely different things. Yes, I have survived, how could I not? What choice did I have? I had four children who needed me. The lives of our three children at home where shook out from underneath them. Our children lost their father, as their mother it was up to me to pick up the fragments of our lives and put them back together.

I’ve trudged on, doing what needed to be done but with a heart so heavy and broken that some days I had no idea how I would get through the next hour let alone the day. So I kept busy because a busy person has no time to dwell on their broken heart.

You always said if something happened to you that I would find someone within 6 months and I always protested that would never happen. I remember when you’d been gone 6 months, as I was slowly emerging from my bottomless pit of grief and despair, laughing at the irony of your statement. I even told you “I told you so.” You see Darrell, you’ve ruined me. The part of my life before you seems so long ago. I was a completely different person then. You made me the person I am today. You made me feel beautiful, smart, talented, and above all loved. You did everything within your power to give me everything you thought I wanted or needed. I always said if I had asked for the moon that you would have found a way to give it to me. People accused us of being newlyweds, even after almost 10 years of marriage. Not that our marriage was perfect, you know we had some very rough patches were we wondered if we would make it. But we loved each other too much to give each other up. I find it so bitter sweet that we had reached one of the most blissful points in our marriage before your accident.

No Darrell, I haven’t found someone else. How could anyone measure up to you? I admit that I’ve been on two dates since you died and even after 3 years it feels like I’m cheating on you. Isn’t that funny? You’re the one who left me yet I still feel loyal to you. The loneliness is overwhelming some days but I’ve tried to learn to accept it, the inevitable presence that it is. My days are filled with children yet you of all people know that children can’t fulfill all of our emotional needs. It seems so unfair that I waited 31 years to finally have someone love me, to fill the dark corners of my heart with love, and then to lose it a mere 10 years later. We were supposed to grow old together Darrell Swank. You promised me you would never leave me. You promised. Now I’ll grow old alone.

I know you tried to stay with me. I watched you fight for 5 weeks, 5 long, horrible weeks. I look back on that time now and can’t believe it’s real. Did we really live through that nightmare? Sometimes out of no where a memory will pop into my head catching me off guard. I think of the pain you endured, the fear you must have felt, as a doctor knowing full well what the significance of you injuries meant. For 5 weeks I watched you suffer. I think of my weariness from trying to make sure the kids were taken care of, of trying to be there for you every moment I could. Some days I woke up and cried my heart out trying to process the reality of it all and protesting “I can’t do this.” But of course I did it. You needed me. The kids needed me.

After you died and I adopted Emma from Vietnam and she was hospitalized with RSV 10 days after coming home, I was so scared and wished so much that you were there to reassure me, to take over, but I was alone. This time there wasn’t a waiting room full of people like there was for you. It was just me and a 4 month old baby. I watched her fight to breathe and almost die in front of me on Thanksgiving morning. After they rushed her to the ICU and I finally got to see her again, I remember walking down the hall to her room. The rooms looked exactly like yours and when I walked in and saw that tiny baby on the bed with ventilator breathing for her, just like you, I couldn’t be strong anymore. I spent most of Thanksgiving Day crying for Emma, the baby we talked about adopting but you never got to see or hold. I cried for you and what you went through. I cried for me because I couldn’t understand how God could do this to me again. How much pain can one person endure in a lifetime?

I was angry with God when you died. I really felt like He was telling me that you would survive so I felt betrayed. Truth be told, I think I’m still angry. I wonder if my anger will ever go away.

Yes, Darrell I have survived and I am trying to live because I’ve learned how precious life is. I have regrets. I wish that I had let you eaten that piece of chocolate cake before you left the day of the plane crash. I wish I could have heard your voice one last time. I wish I could hear you say I love you. I wish we could have really sad goodbye instead of me watching you die while you were in a deep sedation. But that’s the selfish part of me. In truth, I’m glad you were unaware of how it ended. But what I would give to look into your eyes, just one more time and see the love that used to fill my heart with such joy and such assurance. To know, without a doubt, that you knew I was there for you those 5 weeks. To know that you felt as completely loved as I did.

You were the love of my life, my soul mate as corny as that sounds. You knew me better than anyone ever has or ever will. Sometimes you knew me even better than I knew myself. I laugh and I do live life now but a piece of my soul is missing and can never be replaced. Sometimes I’m furious with you for that. I no longer reach for the phone through out the day but my heart still reaches out to you.

I’m not the only one who misses you. Your sister Karol, Jamie and Christy, your best friend Jim-- sometime they seem to be stuck in their grief for you. Maybe it’s because we live the daily loss of you while they are still waiting for you phone calls, emails or visits. Your loss has affected so many more people than you would have ever realized. You reached so many lives, touched so many hearts. I often forget that your death wasn’t just my loss and the children’s loss. So many more people are trying to come to terms with your death.

Lastly, I hope you know how much you meant to me. There’s never been anyone like you in my life and I’m sure there never will. I hope I showered you with the love you had been missing for so many years, the love you craved. I hope I filled your days with happiness and joy.

All my love,

Friday, January 30, 2009

Three Years Ago Yesterday

Three years ago yesterday, my world changed forever. On January 29, 2006 Darrell crashed his plane short of the Murfreesboro, Tennessee airport runway. He had had problems immediately after take off from the Smyrna, Tennessee airport and the air control told him to go on to Murfreesboro instead of turning around. With the problems the plane was having, it was incredibly difficult for him to keep the plane up, but he did. And he almost made it. About 50 feet short of the runway a crosswind tipped his plane. His right wing hit the grass, he tried to recover but it tipped again and this time the plane flipped over and at some point, caught on fire.

The previous 2 years I acknowledged the day but this year I refused. For one thing, I feel like I'm moving past that date, in spite of the fact that I'm writing about it, perhaps because I'm writing about it. For so long that date and March 7, 2006 have defined who I am. But I don't want them to define me anymore. They will always mark the most significant change in my life but I want to move on from there.

Our first Father's Day after Darrell died, I didn't go to church. The girls and I were out of town (Ross and Trace were with their dad) and I refused to acknowledge Father's Day. The girls and I acted like it was any other day but Father's Day. My sister-in-law, Darrell's sister, seemed horrified by my actions. But I told her I acknowledged Darrell every other day. It hurt to badly to acknowledge him that day.

I want to remember life with Darrell, not how I lost him.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Will Praise You In This Storm

I've said before that music has always been part of my life. Certain songs help me through different times. If The Valley Song was my theme song for when Darrell was in the hospital, I Will Praise You In This Storm was my theme song for the month of two after his death.

I was sure by now, that you would have reached down and wiped our tears away. Stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say Amen, and its still raining.

As the thunder rolls, I barely hear you whisper in through the rain "I'm with you"
And as your mercy falls, I raise hands and praise the God who gives and takes away.

I will praise you in this storm. I will lift my hands for you are who are no matter where I am. And every tear I cry, You hold in Your hands. You never left my side and though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm.

I can assure you that as I sang this last sentence, I meant what I sang, but it was often through choking sobs.

My loss was great. I lost the love of my life but I look around me and see others who suffer too and some days I am overwhelmed by all the suffering. It's then that I need this song again, to remind me to praise Him, even in the storms.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


If I could offer any advice to married women, it would be to be prepared in the event that the unfathomable happens-- your husband dies. And by prepared, I mean financially. Planning how you will live after he's gone. Where your income will come from. How to handle the life insurance. No one likes to think about "what if" but the what ifs of life are very real.

After Darrell died I had a will made within weeks. I could hardly sleep at night thinking What If I died, what would happen to my children? Once the will was finished, I told Trace where it was and a basic run down of what it contained in case What If happened. At first he didn't want to listen but I made him. He needed to be prepared.

I received life insurance after Darrell died and it was a blessing and a curse. I had no idea what to do with it. But let me assure you that several financial planners did. I went through THREE financial planners and every single one of them tried to take advantage of me and my situation. And I lost thousands of dollars. If I had been even slightly prepared, I might have stopped some of the bleeding. If nothing else, I have some unbelievable stories for my book. No worries, there will be at least one chapter devoted to Vultures.

Trust me, financial planners weren't the only ones to take advantage of me. Accountants, insurance sales people, attorneys, banks. All I ever heard was how much they "wanted to help me," all the way to the bank that is. My Pollyanna trust in people has turned to cynicism. I realize people need to make a living, but not excessively at my own expense. Examples? How about the accountant who charged me $1000 to come up with a "budget" for my monthly expenses and the "budget" was never even completed? Or the same accountant who made multiple phone calls to my attorney about the trust income tax returns ultimately generating about a 3 page return with literally less than 10 lines filled in yet presented me with a $2000 bill? There's more, believe me there's more. It's sickening how much more.

And now I am at a cross roads, yet again and I would love to say more, but feel I shouldn't at this time. But I worry that it may be my financial ruin. It's times like this, and over the last 3 years, I that I needed Darrell to help me with these decisions but he wasn't there. But maybe he would have been, in some small part, if we had only been more prepared.