It is my pleasure to present to you the Special Honorable Mention winner from the July 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, Deborah Bowman, “Our Last Day”
Please note: Special Honorable Mention is NOT a consolation prize.
Occasionally we have a story that does something special but doesn’t neatly fit into a category, so we award a Special Honorable Mention.
Don’t think somebody gets a Special Honorable Mention as a sympathy vote. They don’t. It’s my way of saying, out of the all the entries, this was unique and deserving of recognition.
Debbie brought us a unique story under difficult circumstances. She had, I believe, set writing aside, and it was during a conversation we had that she decided to “pick up the quill” again, so to speak. That’s always gratifying to hear.
This unique piece will tug at your heart strings because it’s a true story, but it received a Special Honorable Mention because it demonstrated elements of storytelling worthy of emulation.
I’ll give you my reasons for why I liked it at the bottom of the post.
SPECIAL HONORABLE MENTION
“Our Last day”
“When one light goes out in this world, another more brilliant and pure light turns on in the Universe, which is the person watching over us, guiding and loving us from the heavens above.”
–A quote by Deborah A. Bowman
I wrote this line to a friend a number of years ago and have used it in all sincerity and truth more times than I would have liked to, to comfort grieving friends. Now it is my turn to read and listen to the full meaning of these words and hope they can bring me a few moments of comfort and peace.
On Monday, 4/9/2018, my husband, Sidney Sclar, was taken from this world and my life in the timespan of less than a single heartbeat. He died very unexpectedly from a massive coronary. There had been no warning signs whatsoever.
We had been lying beside each other in bed during the early afternoon, holding hands. I must have a low-dose chemo injection every Monday, which I now give myself, for I will be taking it for the rest of my life. Sidney was recovering from a stomach flu and hadn’t eaten much for a couple of days. He was tired and just wanted to be near me, even though I’m a little grumpy after the shot from nausea.
He had just told me that he needed to rest so he could feel a little better to take me somewhere special for my 65th birthday, which was the next day, April 10, 2018.
He rose to go to the bathroom to take a shower. I heard a loud thump and received no answer when I called his name. I hurried as fast as I could, which is not a “run” by any means, but it was only a few steps. I suspected that he must have fallen.
I had been in a wheelchair for many months from a severe SLE and Rheumatoid Arthritis attack, combined with a new drug interaction, that occurred in late August 2017. I had just graduated to two very old-style crutches that clip on my forearms, which I have kept for over 25 years, when I had my first knee replacement. They are like old friends to me; I do not like a walker because it destroys my lower back when I have to bend forward to hold onto it. Besides, the crutches allow me to retain a little of the perfect posture that I was so known for many years ago.
He was sprawled across the bathtub with his face lying in a pool of blood, which was already dripping down the inside of the tub. He was trying to breathe, but only harsh gurgling sounds were erupting. I screamed his name and then told him I was going to call 9-1-1, but he was unresponsive. I don’t think he ever heard my voice.
On the 9-1-1 call the medical advisor told me I needed to start CPR immediately. I know how to do CPR, but he was face down with one arm draped across the tub and the other flung behind his head. My husband is a tall and big man; also, the bathroom is very narrow. Trying as hard as I could, there was no way I could get him flat on his back to do CPR. The advisor asked if there was anyone I could call or get assistance from because it had to be started immediately.
I ran as fast as I could with my crutches to my neighbor’s house and a lady visiting my neighbor from our block—I didn’t know her—said her husband did CPR and she flew out of the house to get him. Their names are Posey and Mark.
As my next-door neighbors Elaine and Mike, a couple in their mid-70s, were helping me to get back to Sidney in our home, we heard the sirens of the ambulance coming. It had been less than three minutes.
The EMT immediately went to assist him, all of us believing it was a head injury. Very soon, they realized that was not the case. They worked on him for 48 minutes in our bathroom. Hours later, I found five large IV syringes which were left on the floor, trying to administer enough medicinal adrenaline to create a heartbeat so they could use a defibrillator. I learned of these specifics after the fact.
They incubated him with a tube and were able to get him breathing through artificial means. With stern, worried faces, they told me they were taking him to the Washington Adventist Hospital, which was only 4-5 minutes away, probably even faster by ambulance.
As I had been lying in bed, I was not dressed in anything but a long kimono-like gown. My neighbor, Elaine, had wrapped me in a small blanket that lies across the back of my chair in the living room. It was very chilly on Monday. She talked to me about everything under the sun during those 48 minutes to distract me from the procedures being performed in the bathroom, which I could not see from where I sat.
I was told to get dressed, bring his medications with me, and they took his Driver’s license as ID. The time was 2:48 p.m.
I arrived at the hospital at a few minutes before 3:00 p.m., having trouble finding a parking place. I gave my name and Sidney’s name at reception and at first was told he had not come into the ER. I told the guy behind the glass window that he must be there because the ambulance that brought him was already gone when I arrived. He called back to the ER and said my husband’s name, which is a little tricky to pronounce “Sclar” with a hard “c” like “SKLAR”, rhymes with “car”. He said into the phone, “Oh, that man … in room 18. Yes, I understand.”
He told me to take a seat and that someone would come to get me in a few minutes to go back and be with my husband. I found that hopeful because if I could sit with him while they waited for … test results, x-rays, whatever? … there was some hope.
About 30 seconds later, a young nurse came out dressed in scrubs and asked me who I was there to see. I again told her my husband’s name, and she looked at the floor. I held out the bag of medicines that was in my hand. She asked me what it was. I told her I had brought my husband’s medications, as instructed. When she didn’t reach to take them, I said, “Don’t you need these?” She answered, “Yes, I’ll take them,” which she did. Then she told me that she was going to take me to a private room where the doctor would come talk to me.
I knew; I knew, but I still hoped beyond hope. I prayed and whispered his name. It was a tiny room with a small settee, a chair, and a table upon which there was a box of tissues. Yes, I knew, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it even to myself. I had known since the moment I had seen him lying on the floor at 2:00 p.m.
The doctor, a young woman—I don’t even remember her name—and the same nurse stepped into the room and the doctor sat down beside me on the settee. She said, “I have some very bad news for you.” That was when I started to cry.
She told me that he had had a massive coronary and that he was dead before he ever hit the floor. She described it as his heart bursting inside his chest. She said there was nothing anyone could have done, even if it had happened at the hospital. She said he would not have been in any pain and had died instantly. There was no pulse when he arrived at the hospital. I would later find out there had been no pulse for the full 48 minutes when they worked on him at our home. They tried so hard to save him, and for that I am grateful.
She asked me if I wanted to see him and I told her, “Yes” through my sobs. She said he was still incubated; did I want her to remove the tube, and I told her to please do so. She said the chaplain would be down to sit with me in just a couple of minutes. She sincerely expressed her deep sorrow for my loss.
Again, I don’t even remember the kind gentleman’s name. He was short, dignified, and Asian. He talked to me about my faith and religion. I told him I was Christian, and my husband was born into the Jewish faith, even though he now believed in Jesus as our savior. I told him I had never made arrangements for anything like this before, and I didn’t know what to do. He excused himself and went and got me a pamphlet with names of different funeral homes of different faiths and some assistance phone numbers. He patiently explained to me what it was I had to do.
He then escorted me back to see my husband. The chaplain allowed me all the time I wanted to be alone with Sidney.
Sid looked so peaceful. His hand was slightly cool, but his face felt as warm as if he was alive. I expected him to open his eyes and speak to me. I held his hand, ran my hands over the thick gray curls at the back of his head, and kissed him on the cheek, on his lips, and on the large gash that was all the way down the right side of his head. I talked to him for 20 minutes, telling him how much I loved him and that I knew that he loved me too. I said many things, but I really don’t know exactly what they were.
Another gentleman came in and kneeled down to talk to me since I was sitting in the bedside chair. He handed me some assistance phone numbers and was very gracious, but I was told that Sidney had to be removed from the hospital within 72 hours. I believe this to be standard operating procedure for all hospitals. They needed the bed, Room 18.
The young man asked if there was anyone he could call for me and if Sid and I lived alone to which I nodded assent. He noticed my crutches and said if there was any problem at all to call them and they would help me or extend the time limit, if necessary.
The chaplain returned and with a final kiss and a squeeze of Sidney’s hand, along with some choking sobs, the nice Asian gentleman walked me to my car. I told him he didn’t need to do that because I hadn’t been able to find a close handicapped parking space so it was a little bit of a walk, but he insisted. He was very sweet as he hugged me and together we said a prayer for Sidney, who was going home to God. Sidney A. Sclar had just turned 64 years old in February.
In August of 2006, Sidney had suffered a massive heart attack and had to be resuscitated. He had quintuple-bypass surgery. God was generous and loving enough to give Sidney and I twelve additional years of love and happiness.
On Thursday, 4/12/18, Sidney was buried at The Olde Adas Israel Cemetery near both of his parent’ graves at a beautiful and respectful Jewish graveside service. He was in a richly grained, unfinished pine wooden box with a lovely hand-carved Star of David in the center of the top. I did not have to bring any clothes for him because he was wrapped in a white shroud and the casket was closed, nailed shut, and I did not wish to see him like that anyway. I had already said my goodbyes.
I had put the sad news of his unexpected passing on his facebook accounts on Tuesday, the 10th. The arrangements weren’t finalized until Wednesday afternoon because there had not been any plots available in this “Old” cemetery for many years. Yet, the Synagogue was somehow able to create a plot just slightly up a small knoll from his parents’ gravestones. I put the information about the service on facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., on Wednesday evening.
Sid was known as the Master Networker. There is a blog using that name, sidthemasternetworker.com, which I set up for him not too long ago. I was surprised that over 35 people showed up in the middle of the afternoon with only half a day’s notice. I have received hundreds of cards, messages, comments, “likes” but many more hearts of love, and long, shocked, grieving emails as well as condolences and offers of support and help for myself, even from people whom I don’t know. In my devastation and grief, I am still so proud of the man I love. I also realized he had touched many lives and the bereavement stretched far and wide.
I wish that I could now tell anyone who has read this real horror tragedy all the way to the end that this is a dramatic, fictional short story, but unfortunately, that is not the case. I believe this is more of a catharsis for me than anything else, and I don’t expect people to read it until the end. But it is the story of a great man’s life that everyone loved and admired. My niece says, “That if you need anything, Uncle Sidney knows a guy and if he doesn’t, he knows a guy who knows a guy, etc.”
Below in bold are the words that I wrote which I had someone else at the service read because I could not say them:
“Sid was the love of my life as I know he felt the same for me. We were together for 17 years. We saw each other through many trials and illnesses, but we weathered every storm with love, respect, and kindness. His last words to me expressed his love and devotion for me and our life together, even though he did not know that death was hovering right outside our bedroom door; nor did I. I have lost my dearest friend, but I know he is at peace in heaven with his loving parents, looking down upon us with his ready smile and charming wit.
“I am a woman of very strong faith as was Sidney. Nothing made us happier than when we were working as a team to bring joy, peace, and good will to others–easing their pain with a loving, enthusiastic smile or embrace; giving them hope when life dealt them what they perceived as an insurmountable obstacle, sharing our belief that miracles are not only possible, but abundant. This is how Sidney and I lived our life together.”
We would have been celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary on May 24th, 2018.
–Deborah A. Bowman Stevens “Sclar”
What did I like about this story?
What spoke to me?
DAN ALATORRE: Well, as you can see, this is a slightly different story than what we’d usually see in a horror story contest. No doubt, the subject matter is horrific, but not in the sense we wanted – and Debbie knew that.
As I mentioned above, Special Honorable Mention is not a consolation prize, nor is it a pat on the back for someone who went through/is going through a hard time; in my contest, it’s strictly about seeing elements of good writing in a contest entry, and recognizing it.
On a sheer human to human level, of course the story is touching, and I’m glad she is working on her writing again. That’s always good to see. On a quality of writing level, the piece did several things, and those are the things for which it is being recognized.
It’s a good example of what I tell people to do in their writing: to add emotion. There are several places in the story that evoke real images because it was a real life situation, and there is emotion on the page at times. While I would never want someone to go through a situation like this, we all deal with many situations – happy, sad, lonely, depressed, anxious – in real life that we can write about. It is cathartic, and it puts the reader into the mindset of the writer, but if we write from the heart we rarely miss our target.
In “Our Last Day” there are places where I teared up, because I knew it was a true story, but also places where I smiled. That’s important, too, and a good example of utilizing the spectrum of emotion to give the reader a ride. After all, a roller coaster has to have an up and a down or it’s flat. For me, seeing the character in the midst of that hugely emotional situation and realizing she’d been running around the neighborhood in a robe, that made me chuckle – and thereby heightens the sadness with a smile – a high to the low on the roller coaster. Intentional or not, it worked, and it’s a great example of what I tell people to do.
There are two reasons I wanted to feature it here.
First, we all go through things that can cause us to stop writing. Working through those things will keep the writerly fires going, but also can be therapeutic to our souls.
Second, there is much to be said about reaching into the places where the pain lives and putting it on the page. I’m not saying we should commercialize the saddest parts of our lives and thereby cheapen them; I’m saying KNOW that emotion and when a story asks for it, dip into that paint bucket and put it on the page.
It’s a good story and one that I believe will be used in grieving sessions going forward. I’m sure I mischaracterized that, but Debbie will correct me.
Now, a short profile of Debbie and her journey.
Her personal style: I am in remission from SLE Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis, so I can now “walk” around the neighborhood unaided or with only a cane if I’m in unfamiliar terrain, bad weather, or in a group of people where someone could bump into me. Especially children tend to do such, as much as I love talking and interacting with kids.
Her business style: As a writer/ghostwriter and editor/formatter/publishing advisor, I am getting new clients and return clients. I’m excited about the amount of global work I am doing from Great Britain, Scotland, Canada, and Australia, as well as the United States. I love working with different styles of English in its many varieties with different spellings, punctuation, language, and picturesque words. I love classical and modern Brit-Lit, but the Aussies get the prize for the most comical and descriptive jargon. The Canadians can be great reading as well.
Her review style: I don’t do long recaps of the entire plot in a review or reveal any spoilers (is that so the author is informed that the “reader” really read the entire book?), but rather high points to peak interest in a quick-read review that being short will actually get read. My editorial reviews are more journalistic with advertising pizzazz, and my 3rd-party unbiased reviews are very indepth for an agent or traditional publisher. I’m doing less and less of the latter these days with so much self-publishing.
– Debbie” (as my friends know me … “Deborah” is so formal, don’t you think, Dan?)
This was a terrific story, as I’m sure you agree.
Join us tomorrow for more winning stories and profiles!
we will continue each day until all of them are done
and much more!
Right now, please join me in congratulating our Special Honorable Mention winner, Deborah Bowman!
See you tomorrow!