Widow Wednesday: I Don’t Know How

When people ask, I don’t know what to say. Because I don’t really know what happened to cause Mark’s death. The physicians had theories but could never say for sure. It would be easier to be able to say “cancer” or “heart attack” but I can’t. Well, I could, but that would be a lie. Instead, I sort of stumble around. I could say he starved to death because he literally did (I never say this because it makes me feel awful). I could say he had organ failure because he did (but I don’t because I just thought of it). I could say that if it had happened all at once it would have been that he choked to death (which is sometimes what I say).  But I don’t have a short answer so the person who asked and I both end up feeling awkward. Or maybe it’s just me who does. The thing I don’t say is that he died of cirhosis of the liver even though it’s what is on his death certificate. And I don’t say it because it’s what the first set of doctors said, but the second set of doctors contradicted it.

So, I say that Mark got a stomach bug, couldn’t stop throwing up, and every time he threw up he aspirated, and every time he aspirated it caused brain damage, until finally there was enough brain damage that he went into a coma that he wasn’t going to recover from, so I had his body taken off of life support, he breathed on his own but he slowly wasted away over 8 days until he finally stopped breathing. But that’s just what we *think* happened. Because except for the brain damage, Mark’s body was perfectly healthy when we took him off life support. Because we weren’t able to do an autopsy, even though his physician ordered it, because of a bureaucratic mix up. Simple, no?

I get mad every time I see Mark’s death certificate because he worked so hard to get sober, I hate that it has cirrhosis of the liver as his cause of death.

Not that you asked.


The Thing About Ronny

I seem to start most of my conversations about my friend, Ronny, with that phrase. “The thing about Ronny is…” If you knew Ronny Jo Villarreal, you know how lucky you were. If you didn’t know her? I wish you had.

The thing about Ronny is that she was tough. Ronny was tough without being hard. She took on so many challenges and conquered most of them. We would all be better with a fraction of her toughness.

The thing about Ronny is that she was caring. Ronny wanted to know how you were. If she asked you, she really wanted to know, it wasn’t just a platitude with her. And no matter how busy her world was, she always wanted to know.

The thing about Ronny is that she was funny. This woman made me (and most people) laugh so hard I’d get cramps in my side. A few weeks ago I sent Ronny a little gift. In her thank-you note she said, “The plaque went perfect in my bathroom, so I hung it in front of the toilet. Now I think of you every time I have to go.” Only Ronny could work using the toilet into a thank-you note.

The thing about Ronny is that she was thoughtful. The number of times I got a something small from Ronny, at exactly the right time, is too many to count. Flowers when Mark was in the hospital, baby gifts for both of my boys, phone calls, notes, texts, emails, compliments, advice. No matter how long it had been since we had talked, I knew she was with me. I told her just the other day that I think of her and Andy most nights when I cover Tobin in the blanket they sent when he was born. It made her happy that she was in my thoughts, and she was, often.

The thing about Ronny is that she was smart. She wasn’t just book smart, although she was that, Ronny was also clever. She was good at reading people, she was good at judging situations, and she was creative.

The thing about Ronny is that she was driven. Ronny achieved. She worked her butt off in school and college. She worked hard to become a cheerleader. She worked hard to succeed professionally. She worked hard to perfect her photography. She worked hard on her relationships. She worked hard to make a home. She worked hard to have her Maddy. She worked hard to be a good mom and wife. She may have worked too hard at school, I mean, who doesn’t miss any school between kindergarten and her senior year? That’s just weird.

The thing about Ronny is that she was proud. This is one of my favorite things about Ronny. She was proud of her extended family, proud of our tiny town, proud of where we came from. Ronny was proud of her accomplishments without being boastful. Ronny was proud when her hard work resulted in success. I think that’s a rare quality in a lot of women, and it’s something I’m always striving for.

The thing about Ronny is that she was radiant. I would challenge *anyone* to look at Ronny’s smiling face and not smile back. That woman’s smile was an amazing, contagious, wonderful sight.

The thing about Ronny is that she was loyal. I don’t know that I’ve ever met someone else who had the quality of friendships that Ronny had, for the length of time she had them. She was a fierce friend. But she wasn’t blindly loyal, she told you what you needed to hear for you to be a better person, even if it hurt to hear her say it.

The thing about Ronny is that she was courageous. Like her pride, Ronny’s courage is one of my favorite things about her. Ronny was courageous in her thoughts, she didn’t believe in injustice and didn’t let others get away with it around her. Ronny was courageous in her actions, becoming a college cheerleader, getting married again, moving across the country and away from her family, trusting her instincts enough to follow her passion for photography and putting her career on hold. Making the hard choices to fight the cancer when it probably would have been easier and less painful not to. There are big, tough men who don’t have a speck of the courage that this one small woman had.

I’m lucky that I got to be Ronny’s friend, it’s just that simple. There is so much more I could say about Ronny, and so much more I’ll never know about her. I’m glad I got to share a tiny slice of her life.

Mr. and Mrs. Villarreal ~ You raised an incredible person.

Andy and Maddy~Thank you for sharing Ronny with us. You didn’t have to, but I’m so glad you did.

Ronny~ I know you’re looking down on me and telling me to suck it up, enough with the tears. I love you so much. Thanks for being my friend.

Note: If you would like to make a donation to Stand Up 2 Cancer or The Livestrong Foundation you would have one happy angel looking down on you!

Ready, Set, Get Healthy!

This isn’t the post I intended to write about health and fitness and how it relates to me. I was going to do something frothy and upbeat, but I changed my mind. Because, maybe, being frothy and upbeat – therefore avoiding too much honest emotion – has been one of my tools for staying unhealthy and unfit. I’ve had a few kicks in the pants lately, and am determined to be healthy for the rest of my life.

In an effort to be honest with myself, in this very public place, I think I need to review.

1. I’m the most unfit and biggest I’ve ever been. In my life. Ever.
2. I want to be healthy for me and my family.
3. I want to see my grandchildren (and be able to run and play with them).
4. Hell, I want to be able to run and play with my children.
5. I need to stop treating my body like there aren’t any consequences to my actions (have I mentioned my love of ice cream?)

The encouraging thing is, I know I can get healthy because I did it while I was pregnant with Tobin. I was diagnosed early in the pregnancy (around 6 weeks) with gestational diabetes. I had had it with Nicholas, and when I felt some of the same symptoms, I asked my doctor to test me. So, I had it in control early and did it mostly with diet. While I had a little insulin, my control of my glucose levels really came through keeping track of my carb intake and portion control. While I was pregnant with Tobin, I lost around 30 pounds and felt awesome. What does all that mean? That I can’t use the excuse that I just *can’t* lose weight. Because I didn’t go on a diet, I just ate correctly, and I lost a good chunk of weight. And I did it while growing a human being. Got it.

In addition to a talk with my doctor that has helped to spur this new determination, I have had a couple of other being-taken-by-the-shoulders-and-shaken moments over the last few months. I have two people that I really love fighting cancer. People who are incredible, wonderful, kick-ass people. Also? People who were incredibly fit and healthy when they were diagnosed. People who are using every tool at their disposal to fight this disease that is trying to take them from their families. And here I am, taking my body for granted. It’s ridiculous.

Last week, on CNN, my amazing friend, Ronny, was interviewed about the breast cancer medication that she (and her doctors) feel is keeping her alive. She’s 34 and has been fighting cancer for 7 years.

I watched the clip with pride for my friend who is articulate and did a great job putting a face to the fight. I watched the clip with tears running down my face for my friend who is a mom, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a photographer, a cheerleader, and who has one of the biggest laughs in the world.

There are other kinds of survivors in my life, people who have battled disease or accidents. People who didn’t let anything stop them from living the lives they wanted to live despite their “bad luck.”

All this to say I’m getting healthy. And I’m starting today.

My incredible friend, Ronny on CNN last week: