1. What's your most challenging life experience?
Although I had colon cancer in 2003, I would have to say that my most challenging experience was hearing the doctor say that my beloved husband of 49.6 years had stage IV lung cancer. Hal was diagnosed on November 11, 2005 and my life went haywire after that. My husband was a very active man. He loved our five acres of land and his tractor. It now sits silent under the shelter of the barn. He usually cultivated about an acre every year. He grew tomatoes, corn, peas, okra, squash, turnips, mustard and collards. And always grew his hot pepper for the hot pepper sauce he put up in old liquor bottles. He supplied many families with fresh vegetables from his garden. His tractor, garden and giving away vegetables were a passion with him.
Hal had just retired in June before the diagnosis in November. I had decided to work for one more year and then we planned to travel after I retired. It was hard for me to believe that in just five months he was suddenly gravely ill. He had very few symptoms. Although he was a smoker, he did not cough as one might think. Actually he had something like a seizure and passed out in the floor. I called 911 and when his chest was x-rayed there was a cancer the size of an orange in his left lung. After the blood work and a complete body scan the doctor said no amount of radiation or chemotherapy was going to help. He literally had cancer in almost every organ of his body. I suppose his cancer was the silent kind.
I think the biggest challenge for me was watching him slowly deteriorate and become helpless. A strong, vivacious, fun loving, active 74-year old man rendered helpless. I’m still not sure how I got through those months from the time of the diagnosis until his death January 25, 2006. At times it all seems like a blur. He developed what was medically called obstructive pneumonia and had high fevers with chills. Medically that meant the cancer in his left lung had blocked the alveoli and fluid was collecting in his lung. He was given five radiation treatments to shrink the cancer and by so doing the radiation burned his throat so that he could no longer swallow. After that he was sent from the hospital to the Hospice Center and my life was a living hell. The nurses in the Hospice Center told me that dying starts in the feet. They explained while showing me the color of his feet. His feet began to turn a dark bluish color. And it crepes up the leg very quickly. He was given drops of morphine inside the jaw to alleviate the pain. He drifted in and out of consciousness for about five days. I don’t think he knew anything that was going on around him. The nurses had told us that the hearing is the last thing to go before a person dies. About an hour before he died, I reached down and put my arms around my husband and literally pulled him up so that his head was on my chest and that is where he took his last breath. His head went limp and I closed his eyes and gently laid him back on the pillow. We all started singing,”I Will Meet You in the Morning.” After that I left the room. I will never be the same again.
After all was said and done and family and friends went home, I went into a deep depression. I actually had no desire to live. I did put up a good front and returned to work mostly to please my principal who had stood by me during Hal’s sickness and death. After returning to work I gave it my all. I worked long hours just so I wouldn’t have to come home alone. It was almost unbearable. I smiled on the outside but on the inside I was screaming from the pain of losing my beloved husband. How I survived until school was out is beyond me. In May I sent in my retirement notice and on July 31, 2007 I walked out of the school system but did not know who I was or what I would do with the rest of my life.
Hal had been a volunteer at the school and was well known and respected for his services. My principal had a huge picture made from a photo I gave her of him and hung it in the lobby of the school where it still hangs today. On a bronze plate at the bottom of the frame is inscribed, "Hal Hewett, Volunteer Extraordinaire."
Having lived with someone you loved so dearly for almost half a century and then boom he’s gone, is the most devastating thing I have ever experienced. I was a part of a team. I was a wife and a partner. I was needed and I needed him to be complete. Now I’m just me. Alone and trying to find my way by writing and doing volunteer work in the community. I am also working on a one person act for various groups and activities where a thirty minute program is needed. With a change of clothing, I can become either Flossie Mae, the bag lady and when Flossie Mae can’t make the show, I become Fluzzie Mae her cuzin’. And Fluzzie Mae’s name fully describes this character. I tell jokes and quotes to make people laugh at themselves. Sometimes I get the audience involved in a contest of seeing who can “hoola-hoop” the longest to very fast music. I am basically a shy person in a crowd, but neither Flossie nor Fluzzie knows that. That is my secret and they must never know.
2. If you could re-do something in your life, what would it be?
What would I re-do in my life? The only thing I would re-do or maybe I should say do is get a higher education. My mother died when I was 17 and there were five children younger than myself. And when my husband and I got married we had a large family from day one. My father was, what was called back then, “shell shocked” from WWI and he could not care for my younger siblings. When Hal and I got married we took the responsibility of my five siblings. Although we both worked and our plate was full and running over with responsibilities, I often think that I should have tried harder for more education.
Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing. I know without a doubt that God had a hand in bringing my husband and me together. We had some very tough times; a fire from a lightening storm, that destroyed our home and everything in it. But we had a good life together. I thank God every day for his blessings upon my life.
3. Have you done any traveling? If so, where?
No, we did not travel that much. We took vacations every summer when our son and daughter were small. We always enjoyed the State of Florida, the beaches, Disney Land, and many other sites that Florida offers for vacationers. I have also been to several other States including Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Virginia. I have found that I am happiest when I arrive back home to this great State of Georgia. Personally, I can’t imagine living any other place. And I have no desire to travel to a country abroad especially alone.
4. What life lesson have you learned that is most important to you?
Gosh, that is a tough question. I was raised on a farm in rural South Georgia, and was taught to work because as our parents put it, if you don’t work you shouldn’t eat. I resent the fact that our government gives food stamps and welfare checks to certain individuals that are perfectly capable of working. I believe that we should take care of the elderly, deprived children, and the sick or disabled people. But I have had to accept that there are some things I cannot do a thing about. So I have to learn to accept that some things may never change. But I will never like it.
5. What's your favorite pastime?
My favorite pastime is whatever I want to do on the computer. First I like to write. I like writing my memoirs in hopes of leaving a legacy for my children about my life as the daughter of a farmer. I simply love putting words together to tell about my life. It makes me feel good about myself when I see my name on each story I write. I most likely will never be a paid writer. But to think that I grew up in the cotton fields of South Georgia and that my parents could barely read the Bible, (both had about a fifth grade education), is such an exciting thing to me!
6. What "odd" thing about you don't most people know?
One odd thing about me that most people don’t know is that I am a rather shy, but proud person. I take great pride in the way I look when I go out. Once when my children were small before they become of school age I worked in a yarn factory. I did this because I could choose to work the night shift. During break times everyone gathered in the snack room. I usually sat alone except for one friend that I shared a ride with. When I quit the job after my son and daughter started to kindergarten, I was saying goodbye to everyone. One lady said to me that she was sorry she had not tried to get acquainted with me but that she thought I was a sophisticated person based on the way I looked. I may have appeared like that to her, but deep inside I am a very simple and kind human being. Nothing sophisticated about me! I like who I am and what I am. And with so many friends that I have met on blog sites, I’m going to be just fine!