Kentucky Stories of Loss

What I Know of Tom

Story AboutTom Dillion

I don’t know why, but who am I to know such things? He was our kindly next-door neighbor whom we've known for four years. The neighbor down the street to whom he bequeathed his wood-boring machine, a man who has spent countless hours with him in his basement workshop, is also in the dark. So is Carol, his wife. He left no note. And there was no real indication that things were amiss.

Sure, he didn’t pick any blueberries from the bush he gave us last fall while we were gone during the height of berry picking season. Nor did he pick any from his, which mysteriously failed to fruit this year. Sure, the Triumph TR6 he’s been rebuilding since we’ve lived here was not ready for the Concours show this summer. And yes, there was the mysterious vertigo from which he suffered. Originally diagnosed as crystals in his ear canals, a recent re-diagnosis discounted that cause but gave no new explanation. And there was the frustration with his internet service. But who knows why a methodical man will do something that seems so impulsive.

We try to find reasons, comb through behavior, frustrations, discover something to explain a desperate act. His dad, who had fled the West Virginia coal camps in the night with his family in tow, also killed himself. But his father's death came at a much younger age than his.

What I do know of our neighbor Tom Dillion is that he was a maker. He painstakingly crafted the pickets of his fence, the gate to his backyard, the stairs that led down from the deck to the carpark. He was a tinkerer who worked on cars, who replaced his own windows and doors, who made cabinetry in his house to fit the space and the object.

What I do know of Tom is that he was kind toward our children and toward us. Knowing our son professed an interest in computers and electronics, he introduced him to Arduino, thinking that he too might find a similar joy in making and programming electronic devices. Knowing our son was interested in cars, he introduced us to Saturday car shows at the feedlot on the northside of town.

These memories seem so small now. Though we’d have cul-de-sac dinners in June, though twice a year he would invite me over to see his car and talk about the progress and the challenges and dream of the first spin down the highway, though we compared notes on lawn maintenance, and though he walked me through the various steps to ensure our blueberry bush took root, there was much more to him, as there is to all of us.

Tom was generous to everyone, those on his street, in his circle of friends, and in his various interest and hobby groups. When a widow a few houses down, wanted to give her MG, purchased brand new in the 80s and with barely any miles, to her son, he helped her move the car from her garage to the trailer. Our woodworking neighbor has many more stories to tell of his largesse and camaraderie. Though these acts of neighborly kindness, attention, and fellowship, seem small, they are the measure of a life, they are the memories shared among those who knew him, who remember him.

There was more, much more going on beneath the surface, but he let no one see. Carol speaks of his high standards, of his being particular. Engineers seem cursed with the blessing of knowing the right way of doing things, seem prone to frustration with self and the world when neither self nor world go according to plan. Could he be curt when faced with the failings of internet companies or builders? Sure. Still, his neighbors remember him as a kind man, generous with his time and tools, open to friends and neighbors, even while suffering from a debilitating, painful vertigo.

What will I will remember of Tom? The handful of Arduinos he, my son, and I worked on together; the joy my son takes in Saturday car shows; how we worked side by side to transplant the blueberry bush and to replace their kitchen window; how he praised his Carol’s cooking; the twinkle in his eyes and how a chuckle was never far from his lips.

When I was fifteen, and figuring out life, my first job was in Appalshop's Boone Building.
Eight years ago, I met the love of my life there.
Years of "Youth Bored" punk shows, workshops, yard sales, and friendships.
A place many have loved for so long and so much.

--Washed away in a night.

Mom's School Lunches

Story AboutRamona Gordon

Today is the first day of school in our county. I can feel the anticipation and nervousness hanging in the air like a fog on this wet August morning. Neighborhood children sporting new shoes and carrying fresh lunchboxes make their way to school, and I can’t help but be transported to my own grade school days.

Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, we were lucky to live just two blocks from school. My brother, sister, and I were “walkers” as they called us, and we didn’t need lunchboxes because we were allowed to go home for lunch. Even my dad came home to eat, driving from across town. We all looked forward to Mom’s noon-time menu.

We arrived in staggered shifts, and she would have a hot, steaming plate of heaven waiting for each one of us. I remember the large cast-iron skillet filled with freshly fried potatoes, the edges crispy and golden. I loved Mom’s homegrown stewed tomatoes, warm and tangy, ladled over creamy mashed potatoes and served with thick, salty bacon.

During the winter months, we were greeted with bowls of beef and homemade egg noodles, a tradition handed down from Mom’s German roots. Making the noodles was a two-day project, as she and Dad would hand-cut every noodle and then lay them out to dry.

When I was a child, lunches at home didn’t seem like something to be cherished. However, looking back now, I can truly appreciate those hectic but sacred family times. It was a 30-minute retreat in the middle of a busy school day.

It must have been a difficult chore for Mom, barely getting us off to school in the morning before she had to think about what to cook for lunch. She didn’t think feeding us at lunch was anything special, but she was actually giving us a wonderful gift. Those sights, smells and tastes have remained with me all these years.

It comforts me to think of Mom like that, bustling around in our warm and welcoming kitchen. We lost her in January of 2021 when the world was neither.

My Mom -- My Broken Heart

Story AboutSydney Terrell

It was a pretty normal Tuesday morning, 12/15/2020 and my mother called me -- she said she was having horrible pains, could I come over.

I drove to her nearby house and sure enough she needed to go to the hospital. That entire day was a fiasco and the communication from the hospital was extremely poor. (It is important to note here that on Thursday of the previous week she took a COVID test and Monday received the negative results, she was also again tested in the ER on 12/15 and received negative results.) I did find out that my Mom was going to have emergency surgery that evening. (That whole day was a mess with communication with hospital and consent forms. I was not permitted to stay with her in the ER. I was listed as the person to contact - no contact was made.)

My Mom had the surgery and I was able to visit her the next day. Surgery seemed to go well and she seemed pretty good the next day. I was literally skipping out of the hospital when I left because I was so happy about how well it all went. Due to visiting policies, I was not able to go back to see her until Saturday.

But, on Saturday she just didn't seem as awake and alert as she was on Wednesday. She said she just didn't feel good. My sister went on Sunday and called me to say Mom just doesn't seem like she feels well. I visited on Monday and she was not feeling well at all. We kept telling the hospital staff -- they said it was just the hospital stay -- it makes you that way.

The next day she was sent home in late afternoon. I stayed with her all day Wednesday 12/23/2020. She did not feel well, was super tired and didn't have an appetite. By evening she spiked a high fever, high enough that I became concerned and called her surgeon. Her surgery site looked fine so she took more Tylenol and tried to rest.

My poor mother moaned and groaned all night long in misery. Finally in the morning she was so sick I knew we were going to have to go back to the hospital. We thought maybe it was a UTI. I made a few calls to doctors and they said to take her into the ER.

Not long after I dropped her off at the ER I received a call from my sister -- she'd tested positive for COVID-19. On January 8, 2021 my mother lost her battle with the nasty virus and passed away.

We are all still devastated, in shock, traumatized, and horribly heartbroken over the loss of our mother.

Never Complained

Story AboutMichael Rodriguez

Michael never worried, about anything. He never complained, and rarely got angry.

After 25 years, he said "You know, I really like my bacon limp." Shaking my head . . .

We lost him the first year. He was a nurse, his second chosen career. I miss him terribly, every day.

Yellow Roses

Story AboutLaVern Terry

A few years ago, on 9/11, which is, ironically, my birthday, I woke up at college by a phone call from my family. My parents' home, a single-wide trailer that they'd built on over time, was engulfed in flames. The next day, when I made my way back to them, there was little remaining but burnt pieces of tin that used to be a roof. My mom, who had been up all night, was crying, asking "Why, why?"

It was hard not to notice that the fire had even taken the yard and garden along with my mom's rose bushes that she'd tended to for years. She loved them. She was always trying to make things beautiful, and see the bright side even when it seemed impractical to do so, and flowers were a part of that.

My mother's favorite song was "Roses Will Bloom Again." When I remember, I can hear her singing the lyrics "Roses will bloom again, just wait and see". Often, she'd sing this as a reminder that things will get better, and it had meaning because despite the fact that we didn't grow up with a lot of money, she always made sure that we had a stable home where we felt supported and loved.

Recently, I was digging through my archive of old video footage and I found something that surprised me. It was video of my mother, a year before she died, showing me the rose bush at the end of the driveway, the one my sister and I had bought to replace the bushes that had burned up.

The new bush that we'd planted was pink or red – I can't remember exactly. But oddly enough, when the bush began to flower, the roses were yellow. The color of hope and light and happiness. My mom was amazed. That's what she's showing us in the video, her joy that they'd transformed themselves. It seemed to be a sign at the time that things would get better -- a little miracle that happened to us after losing so much.

This year we've had a cold spring and the roses haven't bloomed yet on the bush at the end of the driveway. We've developed a new tradition of clipping a rose and bringing it to lay atop my mother's grave. There won't yet be a fresh yellow bloom to bring for this Mother's Day, but that's ok. We'll return in a month or so, because like the song says, "Roses will bloom again, just wait and see." My mother was right about that, and so many other things. That's how I like to remember her: tending to the garden, singing those lyrics, and smiling. I love you, Mom.

Humor Always Had a Place in Our Day

Story AboutMichael Wiemers (1 of 2)

It’s the fall of 1981, and I am a Southern California girl who had just graduated from nursing school. I'd landed my “wish job” working in the Obstetrics Department of a local community hospital. The hospital wasn’t particularly large, so it was easy to know your colleagues on other floors. One day I hear through the scuttlebutt about a 3rd year medical student training there, who was living in a camper truck in the hospital parking lot. So, a few days later this guy, who I didn’t recognize, comes walking by the nurses’ station, and I blurt out, “oh, you’re the guy living in the parking lot.” Immediately I realized I had just had an “open mouth, insert foot” moment.

As the next few weeks passed on, he would conveniently saunter by, and I began to get to know him. As we chatted during the workday, I found him interesting and thought to myself, he could be the most unique person I had ever met. After several weeks, he popped in on me eating lunch in the nurses lounge. Looking very nervous, he asked if I would like to go out with him, and I said yes. Little did I know then, that three years later, we would marry and move to New Mexico to start our life together.

Even in the face of life’s ups and downs, we had a blessed 39 years which ended when Mike went into the hospital in October 2020 for diverticulitis issues. During the first year of the pandemic, he was advised to be evaluated in the E.R., but first he had to have a Covid test. The next day the test came back negative, which was no surprise as we were always careful, trying to avoid the deadly virus. When we arrived at the hospital, due to Covid restrictions, I had to leave him at the concrete barriers at the Emergency Department. How was I to know at that moment that it would be the last time I would ever see him again? After two weeks of being hospitalized, Mike became sicker, and it was not related to his diverticulitis. Eventually, he was diagnosed with pneumonia, and aggressive respiratory therapy treatment began. On my twice a day calls with his nurses, they told me he seemed to be getting worse. He couldn’t hold his oxygen levels, and his shortness of breath was worse. The doctors called to get my permission to place him on a ventilator, as he could no longer advocate for himself.

Five days later on a Saturday night, the phone rang -- it’s the hospital. Over the phone I heard that the love of my life had tested positive for Covid. At that moment, it was as if I had been gut-punched, with all the air leaving my body. I was in such shock, I couldn’t find the words to even form a sentence.

And just like that, the talk went from him slowly recovering, to discussing end of life issues. In a heartbeat, my world had been flipped upside down. Apparently, during his time in the hospital, Mike had been exposed and became infected with Covid. Six days later, all hope was gone. Mike’s healthy lungs were now so badly scarred that he would never function without the ventilator. Because of Covid restrictions, there would be no opportunity to sit at his bedside, to hold his hand and say that final goodbye.

Later that day, Mike was gone. He died all alone with his doctor in the room. I had lost my person, my everything, my partner in crime. There is no doubt we loved each other, but also precious was the fact that we still really liked each other, after all those years.

Humor Always Had a Place in Our Day

Story AboutMichael Wiemers (2 of 2)

And so, I choose to celebrate our history together by remembering Mike's acute sense of humor. With his impeccable timing, he was a master joke teller. He had this ability to convince family and friends to believe just about anything. And after he had his hook in you, he would follow with his famous, “nah, got ya.”

One day, during Mike’s career as a medical officer, he came home from work telling me he’d been assigned temporary duty in the Black Sea, and needed to travel to Istanbul to catch his military ship, to which I responded, “yeah right.” He tried everything to convince me, but with that far-fetched story, I wasn’t buying it. Sure enough 3 weeks later, he’s on a plane to Istanbul.

We still laughed about that moment every now and then which makes sense because during our many years together, humor always had a place in our day. It has been said that laughter is the key to a long happy life. We both understood this, sometimes even on the darkest days. We had fun in our daily lives, whether it be cooking a simple meal, or him jumping out to scare me as I walked down a dark hallway. Even after all the years, we had a solid mutual appreciation of one another.
.
One of Covid's cruelest consequences is how many victims of the virus, like Mike, died alone. I have organized a Yellow Heart Memorial at the Pavilion Recreation Center in Georgetown, Kentucky, which will begin this April. Each heart symbolizes someone lost to the pandemic, but instead of being by themselves, the hearts are gathered together, in solidarity, keeping company with each other and those of us who remain. Michael's yellow heart will be on this wall.

Mike Wiemers was an amazing man with an undeniable love of life. He loved me, and children Bryan, and Lara, and we all loved him back.

"The Light "

Story AboutEd McDaniel

This time last year you were with me. This year is not the same. You are in heaven, that is a wonderful thing. I don't care what people say -- you are in my thoughts, my prayers and the biggest part of me, my heart. There are some days more than others that I feel like I have lost my way. All I have to do is look up at the light and you will guide my way.

I went most of my life without talking to my aunt only because we lived in different cities, but when she moved to Radcliff, Kentucky in 2004, I made sure to be around her on a regular basis. My mother always wanted me to get to know her sister, and this was my opportunity. We talked and laughed -- on the phone, at the movies, and countless lunches and dinners with a huge side of laughter. She even met my friends, making them her friends with her unique sense of humor.

I was her "faaaaavorite niece," but I reminded her that I was her "only niece."

"That's not the point!"

Several years ago, I was leaving her house in Radcliff, and a wayward deer appeared to be charging toward us but ran farther away. "Rudolph" was more afraid of us than anything, but we still bumped into each other trying to get back into the house. "I saved your life!" she said proudly.

Her so-called heroic effort made her feel good, that's all that mattered.

Another time, I was visiting my aunt in the hospital, and she needed a blood transfusion. The nurse walked into her room and announced, "I have your B-positive ready." I perked up and said, "Hey, that's my blood type, too. So, it's in our blood to 'be positive,' get it?"

"Get out!" she said, feigning disapproval of my clever pun. Actually, she thought it was funny that I stayed in her room, laughing at my own joke.

During the pandemic, we resorted to talking on the phone. When I did come to visit, it was only to knock on her door and drop off food supplies and face masks, including one designed with Michelle Obama's images, which she loved. I would leave before she could open the door for social distancing purposes.

Several months later, there was one time I couldn't reach her on the phone. Knowing that I would be worried, my cousin (her son) called to tell me that my aunt had been rushed to the hospital with Covid-19. Thank God, the hospital's nurses allowed us to talk to her on Facetime. My aunt always had a sense of humor, even throughout her hospital stays with heart issues. This last time was not any different, and she joked with my cousins and me without missing a beat.

Even though the nurses warned us that she didn't have long to live, my aunt's personality was still as strong as ever. Maybe the nurses were wrong.

Unfortunately, they weren't wrong, and I have missed my aunt every day since January 28, 2021. There are times when I look in the mirror and I'm reminded of her because of my dimples -- a family trait.

I guess I'm meant to smile so that I can see them. I like to think that's another reason why she always tried to make me laugh.

Share Your Story