Sunday, December 21, 2008


Today is Darrell's birthday. It hasn't been a very difficult day yet its hung in the background of my mind.

There were so many things I thought about writing about, I had a whole list of things sorted out in my mind about what he taught me and how he made me a better person, but instead I sit here in my robe remembering one of his most special birthdays.

Darrell hated his birthday being in December. He said that as a kid he always got combination Christmas and Birthday gifts. He rarely got parties because of its proximity to Christmas. So when we got married I promised myself that I would always make a big deal out of his birthday. One year we were living in Little Rock and we hadn't been away alone together in a very long time. With quite a bit of planning I planned a weekend away to Hot Springs. I found places for the kids to go and made reservations at a bed and breakfast. When Darrell wasn't paying attention I packed a bag for him and myself and hid it in the car. The only thing I told him was that I had a special day planned for us.

We left Saturday morning with me driving; he had no idea where we were even going but about halfway there I told him we were going to Hot Springs. We got there and wandered around the small downtown, eating lunch at a little cafe. About 4:30 I told him there was somewhere special I was taking him for a snack. The bed and breakfast, Lookout Point, served drinks and cookies at 5:00. I drove there and he was completely clueless and confused as to why we were parking outside a bed and breakfast. When we got out of the car I opened the trunk and showed him our suitcase. He was very pleasantly surprised.

It was wonderful weekend, although very short but Darrell loved surprises and he knew how much effort I had made to make it all happen and to keep it a surprise for him. I think he would say it was his best birthday ever. So what does that have to do with my robe?

The bed and breakfast was a very nice place and they had robes and slippers for the guests. The robes had a super soft outside fabric and the inside was French terry cloth, a very soft, fine terry cloth. When I put the robe on and loved it, reveled in it actually. When we got home, I opened the suitcase up to unpack and a robe was in there. I looked at Darrell in surprise and smiling he said "I knew you loved it so much that I bought it for you."

So I sit here tonight, tired but enveloped in love, finding it hard to believe it was only 5 years ago. Its seems like a lifetime.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Segment of Chapter 2

I sat in the waiting room but I was fidgeting and anxious. Darrell was behind those double doors with the small narrow windows, the answers to my questions were behind those double doors and everyone just expected me to sit there patiently waiting. I was about to lose my mind when the doors opened and I looked up with expectation. Two men in flight suits were coming through the door. One of them spoke to the receptionist and she looked at me and pointed. I slowly rose and walked towards them. I wanted answers but now I was afraid to hear them.

“Mrs. Swank?” One of them asked.


“Let’s go in the back and talk in private.” They led the way back through the double doors and I wondered if I was walking through the gates of hell. Was he dead? Had he died and that’s why they had to take me in private so when I flipped out I wouldn’t freak out the entire waiting room? My feet could barely move; I had to will myself to follow them afraid of what they were waiting to tell me.

Finally we entered a small exam room, an empty exam room. I was trying to keep myself in control. Completely losing it wouldn’t do me or anyone else any good. I had to pull it together. The men were on one side of the room and I was on the other. It was like there was a line in the middle, me against them.

“Where’s Darrell?” I asked, apprehensive of the answer. “I want to see my husband.”

“They’ve taken him straight up to the burn unit. It will be better this way. They try to take the burn patients upstairs and skip triage down here in the emergency room.” One the men answered.

I let out my breath; I hadn’t even realized I had been holding my breath in fear. I was momentarily relieved. He was alive. That was a good place to start.

The men introduced themselves. They were flight nurses with the Life Flight team “Your husband’s plane crashed just short of the Murfreesboro airport runway. He made it to Murfreesboro and was just short of the runway when his plane tipped and rolled. It burst into flames. The local emergency personnel found him on an embankment close to the plane.”

I took a moment to register this information.

‘He’s burned?”


“Very badly?”


The bottom seemed to fall out again but I held it together. My need for answers was stronger than my need to collapse. I was standing for this question and answer period and my shaky legs made me long for a chair but I mentally scolded myself. Your husband is upstairs burned and you want a chair. Rethink your priorities here. I found a piece of equipment to lean against.

“Darrell’s back was burnt as well as his arms, his side and his face. He also has a few burns on his legs. He suffered some smoke inhalation as well. As a standard precaution we intubate the patient on the site in case they have some breathing difficulties or their airways begin to close. We heavily sedated him for this so he is unconscious right now.”

I couldn’t bear to think of Darrell suffering in severe pain. “When can I see him?” I wanted to see him, I needed to see him. I needed to talk to him.

“They’ve taken him upstairs to assess him so they will probably take awhile. We’ll take you over to get his admission paperwork going and then you can go upstairs. Do you have any questions?”

My head was swimming with a million questions but I wasn’t sure if either man was capable of answering any of them. “No.”

Little did I know my husband would never speak to me again.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Love Story

I realized last night that my book is a love story. Its the love story of a man who loved his wife and children so much that he fought as hard as he could for 5 weeks to live. Its the love story of a woman who loved her husband so much that she couldn't imagine living in a world without him. Its the story of children who missed not only their father but their mother as well as she spent her days and nights camped out in a waiting room clinging desperately to any moment she was allowed through the ominous double doors to the burn unit to steal minutes with her husband. Its the love story of family and friends who valued the life and love of their friend and family member so much that they looked for any way they could to help. But its more than that.

Its also the love story of us, Darrell and Denise. Darrell died 10 days before our 10th wedding anniversary but many would have guessed it was our first. We held hands. We kissed often. We were always near each other. Our days revolved around the other's plans. To see the true devastation that Darrell's accident brought to our family and to me, I need to tell our story. Our love story.

I've added a new song to the play list. I Swear by All for One. The song will come into play several times in my book. We played that song at our wedding and ended up singing it to each other on the alter. If you've read my home blog There's Always Room for One More, then you know I can't sing very well. But I didn't care and neither did Darrell. Although our wedding was quite small it was as though it was just the two of us as we stared into each other's eyes singing our song. It was if they were our vows. Now that I think about it they were; we meant every word.

The second time is on Valentine's Day. I brought the CD to the hospital and sang to my unconscious husband. Our song.

I Swear
All for One

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Two Different Worlds

As I delve into writing my book I find that some parts just flow out of me. Its like it just happened yesterday instead of almost 3 years ago. But I also find that the writing takes me to a different place, a different world. Its as though I'm existing in 2 different worlds and I have to juggle the two of them in my mind. The only difference is when I'm writing the book I'm lost in it and when I'm outside of the writing I feel like I'm still there. I had heard of writers secluding themselves when they write, now I see why. Its a precarious balance at best. But I don't have luxury of seclusion, at least not at this point, so I must balance the best that I can.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

New Song Added to Play List

This list will continue to grow as I write. Music has been so much a part of my life. Music helps me through the painful experiences and breaks down the barriers on my heart to let the grief out. There was grief in Darrell's first days in the hospital even though he survived. I realized that our world as we knew it would never be the same. Darrell would never be the same.

This song by Relient K is a song that helped me in a previous time of grief, when my oldest son Trace was going through some difficulties after graduating from high school and going to live with his father. It would only be natural to return to it with my new grief. I didn't stay with it for long. God gave me many new songs.

Let It All Out
Relient K

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Valley Song

I added a playlist to this blog. I apologize for those of you who don't like music on blogs-- hit mute! But if the time that Darrell was in the hospital had a theme song, this was it. This song still touches my heart and at times can bring me to sobs.

The Valley Song
Jars of Clay

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Photo of Darrell and I

Several people have emailed me asking if I could post a photo of Darrell. Its funny because right before the requests I had thought that I needed to do that. But first I had to get out all my old photo albums which proved more difficult than expected. In the process I found the DVD that the funeral home made for us with pictures of Darrell and I watched it this afternoon. I looked at the babies and thought how sad it was that they will never know their father. True he's not legally their father, but nevertheless, he's their father.

As I write my book I struggle with the fact that Darrell has no voice and what little voice he has is not really the person he was in life. I'm working on how to fix that.

This is my favorite photo of the 2 of us. It was several years old at the time of his death. The date is frozen in time now. A happy time for us as we celebrated one of his daughter's birthday at Olive Garden. I have this photo burned onto porcelain on his head stone in Tennessee, the one place he was finally happy.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Chapter One

It was beautiful spring day, a day full of promise. The sky was a bright beautiful, cerulean blue with the occasional white fluffy cloud drifting through. It was March, although early, but the wind didn’t know and had a healthy gust. The air was warm, in the 70’s, so the wind didn’t chill.

The wind didn’t need to chill me, for my heart was already cold. And although I stood at my husband’s grave I was still vaguely aware of the weather around me. The irony of the beauty of the day was not lost on me. It should have been raining. It should have been cold. It should have been ugly. As I my eyes fixed upon that beautiful sky, I could hear Darrell’s voice in my head “What a beautiful day to fly.”

And it was.