Dec 27

In Celebration of a Life Well Lived: Barbara Nipper 10/10/1929 — 12/24/2005

Few people outside Central Georgia would recognize her name. She never made the news. She never made a lot of money. No one will ever name a building for her; her face will never be on a postage stamp. Fame and fortune were not her lot in life. She never wanted them. Nonetheless, she touched hundreds, even thousands, of lives in a deep, personal way, and those people remember her and honor her.

For nearly 45 years, she worked as a Registered Nurse, 33 years with the same hospital. Most of those years, she worked the graveyard shift, so she could have time to spend with her family after school. From the first day of her career, she developed a reputation as a vocal advocate for her patients, not just providing but demanding the very best care possible. In a time when doctors reigned supreme and nurses were regarded as little more than hired help, few doctors crossed her more than once, though there were a few who took on the challenge as a way of crosschecking their decisions. Charge Nurses and Nursing Supervisors quickly learned to tread lightly and think carefully before speaking. The nurses she worked with and the patients she cared for so deeply gave her their respect and love wholeheartedly.

Through 54 years as a minister’s wife, she never put herself forward as better than anyone else. She did not take and did not want a leadership position in the church. She always said that there were others better suited for the job and gladly yielded that place. She preferred to work behind the scenes, giving her skills in sewing and cooking and whatever time she could make for the church’s benefit.

She was born into a family that would have had to rise several rungs on the social ladder to be considered even poor. Though clothes were scarce and luxuries unreachable, she learned to value of love, hard work, and self-reliance. Marrying a preacher was not a path to fortune, and they lived in abject poverty through the early years of their marriage, gradually working their way up to a degree of security. She never preached her values to others, but her actions and example said more than words ever could. Though she was small in stature, her spirit stood tall and strong. She dared life to do its worst and took on and triumphed over the challenges thrown before her.

Their was only one enemy she could never defeat: diabetes. After a pancreatectomy in 1962, she was insulin-dependent for life. She determined early on that diabetes would not rule her life. For 43 years, she fought the unconquerable disease to a draw, giving ground only grudgingly. But diabetes is a devious and ultimately unbeatable disease. First, it nibbled away at her sight, slowly leaching away her ability to drive at night and to read without magnification. After a sextuple cardiac bypass, followed shortly by an aortal aneurism that was found and repaired just in time, she knew her active life was over.

After her retirement, she threw herself into sewing and church work, but her time was now running out. In 1997, her first serious stroke took half the strength from the right side of her body. Only 2 years later, a second stroke took her left side and condemned her to life in a wheelchair. Although being an invalid was hard enough, the stroke also stole her eyesight to the point that she could no longer read. For an active, self-reliant woman, this condition was close to unbearable, but still she would not give up. For 8 years, she fought against a slowly decaying body, keeping her mind alert and defying the doctors that gave up on her.

Not even the strongest live forever. On December 24, 2005, Christmas Eve, at 5:30pm, she drew her last breath. She died in her living room, with her devoted husband of 54 years, who had been her caregiver for the last 8 years of her life, holding her hand. It was what she wanted. No resuscitation, no mechanical life support besides an oxygen tube and a feeding tube. No fuss, no heroics, no hysterics. She was not afraid to live, and she was not afraid to die.

As her youngest son, I am proud of the lessons she taught me. I am proud of the life she lived. Though her death has left an enormous void in all our lives, we harbor a relief that her long struggle is finally over and a satisfaction in remembering a life well lived. I think the scripture chosen by her minister for her funeral is an accurate summing up of her life:

I have run the great race, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. And now the prize awaits me, the garland of righteousness which the Lord, the all-just Judge, will award me on that great Day; and it is not for me alone, but for all who have set their hearts on his coming appearance.
–2 Timothy 4:7-8

Dec 23

What Have I Done?

Oh. My. God.

I did it. I just sent the synopsis of Washed in the Blood to Miss Snark. Oh well, when MS, the Crap-O-Meter, and Killer Yapp are done with it, I’ll at least have some confetti for New Year’s Eve. I will go dig a hole now, so I can crawl in and cover myself up.

Dec 21

Turning a New Year

Happy Winter Solstice! In the Northern Hemisphere, this is the shortest day of the year and the longest night. South of the Equator, they do everything upside-down and backwards, so they think today is the Summer Solstice. I guess I can cut a break for people who can live on the underside of the Earth without falling off, though.

The Winter Solstice is the real New Year. For thousands of years, people’s lives have revolved around this day. Before we knew anything about planetary mechanics, we had no assurance that the Sun would reverse its course and bring Spring back again. Monuments such as Stonehenge were constructed to keep track of this, and people did everything they could think of, some of them pretty horrible, to insure that Spring would come, and life would return to the land.

Some of our most cherished Christmas traditions are survivors from those times. Evergreens and holly, especially, are reminders that life goes on, even on the darkest days. The red berries on the holly bush are some of the first seeds of the new year, as well as a dash of color against the snow and bare trees of deep winter. The Yule Log reminds us of the fires our ancestors used to keep the night monsters at bay and to provide themselves with heat and light. Fire also represents the warmth of light against the dark and cold around us, a little comfort in the midst of danger and despair.

Whatever day we call New Year’s Day is truly a magical day. On that day, we close the book of another year and open a new one. Crisp, white pages wait to be filled with our wonder and sorrow, our laughter and tears, our dreams and nightmares, our triumphs and failures, all the words that tell the stories of the days that build our lives.

This is the season of reflection and planning. At this time of year, I look back at the past year and see what I can learn from it. Many plans I made did not come to fruition. Many things happened that I did not plan for, both good and bad. This is the way life works. Things seldom work out exactly the way we expect. Again, that is both good and bad. The one thing I can say is that surprises, however unwelcome, keep life from becoming a boring routine.

For the next 10 days, I will be considering my plans for the coming year. One of them, I have already committed to by signing up for the 2 Year Novel course at Forward Motion. Many participants have commented on the value of this course, and I expect to get enormous benefit from it, as well as momentum. In the coming days, I will set other plans and goals. Maybe I will reach them, maybe not. The important thing for me is to try. I am trying to learn to give myself credit for the progress I make, while not whipping myself for the goals I did not accomplish. That’s a long, hard road for me. One step at a time.

Dec 19

Ketchup Day

Sorry, sometimes I fall prey to my childish infatuation with really, really bad puns.

I have fallen behind in my responses to comments, so I’m going to cheat and put them in a post. And you can’t stop me! Nyaah!

In response to My New Retirement Fund:

Heather: Just invest yours and let the miracle of compound interest work for you. Yah, right.

Hi jae! Here’s a link to you. Maybe that’ll be worth 2 cents.

In response to Update and a Quick Christmas Rant:

Melly, thanks for the thoughts. All are welcome. Hugs, too. Home is the best place she can be from here on.

Hi Linda. Prayers and hugs gratefully accepted. Professional singers know when to quit. Screeching wannabes don’t. That makes all the difference in the world. Real singers recognize and emphasize the natural beauty in the songs they sing. Just like with makeup, it’s more effective if you don’t notice it.

Heather, as always, your thoughts mean a lot to me. Thank you.

Piro, your comments are right on the money. Unfortunately, compassion for myself is not something I do well at all. Thanks for the hugs and prayers.

In response to Raise the Stakes:

Jean, if it’s not hard on him, where’s the fun? When you deal with vampires, both stakes and steaks take on whole new dimensions. Hee hee.

Ronn, I think a lot of writers miss some real depth of character by ducking out on the “reality” of vampires. He’s a monster. He may be good at heart, but he has hard realities he has to cope with. It’s in the coping that we learn about him and learn to care about him. Without the need for blood, he’s just another night-owl. Big deal. Thanks.

Heather, I’m taking Maass’s advice to heart. Crank it up. Tension keeps the reader involved, so the more the better. I think that if a reader has to put a book down for a little while to let the tension ease off, that’s a good thing. The snowflake thing is cool. Thanks for sharing that with us. My connection kept failing, too. It keeps bitching about firewalls. Well, tough. My firewall ain’t coming down. Get over it. 🙂

And now for the news:

The synopsis continues to roll along. I am now right on 1000 words. Unfortunately, the story’s not done yet. Eeek. Revision time’s a-coming. This synopsis thing ain’t as easy as it looks.

John is now also wanted for kidnapping his granddaughter (he didn’t do it, tHomas set him up again). Michael, his only potential ally is in jail as an accessory. The climax looms. I know how this ends, and I’m itching to write that scene. It’s not a candy-bar scene, it’s a two-pound bar of Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate with almonds. That’s the carrot that keeps me moving forward, albeit slowly.

Also got “A Time to Every Purpose” polished up until it gleams. I hope. I’m sending it to the Writers of the Future Contest in the next couple of days. Nervous as a kitten about it.

Dec 15

Raise the Stakes

I was working on the synopsis of Washed in the Blood this morning. I guess it says a lot about me that I truly enjoy putting John through Hell. I kept asking myself “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”. Some good ideas come out of that.

What does John have at stake? His soul. Is that high enough stakes for you? It can’t be his life, because he’s already dead, so what else is there? It’s all he has left. So far, he’s a vampire with no clue how to survive. He’s just discovered that he has to have fresh human blood from a living body to survive. About 2 liters every 72 hours. No blood banks or animal substitutes heres, John. No easy way out for you. You’re a monster, you have to learn how to cope with that. He’s also a double murderer, and one of his victims was his own wife, whom he loved with all his heart. His daughter and granddaughter, along with his friends, neighbors, and everybody else, think he’s a murderous, mutilating psychopath. Oh, and while he’s juggling all this, he has to track down and destroy a vampire that is at leat 4000 years more experienced than he is, as well as being a ruthless sociopath. Hmmmm. I might need to add a little tension into this.

I’m halfway through: 550 words out of 1000. Let’s see what happens tomorrow. I just need to keep the old saying in mind: “It can always get worse”. Heh.

Dec 13

Update and a Quick Christmas Rant

The doctors determined that Mama was too weak to undergo a catheterization, much less any exploratory or reconstructive surgery. So. She’s coming home this afternoon. Now we wait. Days, weeks, even years. I already cringe at the sound of the telephone, a leftover neurosis from the anxiety-based psychosis that put me in the loony bin a few years back. Now, I live in dread of that 3am phone call that I know will come, I just don’t know when.

Suspense is great in novels. It’s what pulls the readers in and keeps them attached to the story. In real life, it really sucks. My life needs a TiVo.

And now, a few words the Grinch:

Anybody out there who fancies themselves a singer, I have a Christmas request. Actually, 2 requests. Actually demands.

1. When you sing “O Holy Night”, just sing the song. Your trills and filigress and warbles do not add anything to it. They only mean that either you wouldn’t recognize real beauty if it beat you up and stole your lunch money or you can’t carry a tune in a galvanized bucket. Or both. This song does not need your help. It is one of the most beautiful songs ever written just as it stands. Pleas, please, don’t torture it and us with your egotistical efforts.

2. If your voice does not have the power to pull the listeners up out of their seats when you hit “Fall on your knees…”, don’t even start. You cannot sing this song. All you can do is embarrass yourself. Those people who recognize their limitations are the most successful in life. Learn from them.

Thank you. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress.

Dec 11

Miracles Do Happen

This past Monday, my mother had a heart attack. Long-time readers of NITA will remember that she is wheel-chair-bound after a major stroke in 1999, and was already fading. She was admitted to the ICU and faltered all through Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday morning, her doctor told my father to start calling the family, because she probably would not live through the day, and certainly not through the night.

When I got there Thursday morning, her blood pressure was wavering around 65 over 45. A Bi-PAP machine with supplemental oxygen was helping her breathe, but she was still gasping and struggling. At this point, we ran up against the hardest decisions we had ever faced. Mama left strict Do Not Rescucitate and no artificial life support orders. It was up to us to decide what that meant. A ventilator was definitely out, but what about the Bi-PAP? It was not forcing her to breathe, just giving an assist. Should we let them try dopamine to bring her blood pressure up? That is strictly a crisis-intervention measure for her, given the state of her circulatory system. Tough time, tough decisions. We decided to leave the Bi-PAP on and try the dopamine. Were we right? Who can tell. We did what we thought best.

A potential side-effect of dopamine is tachycardia, or accelerated heart beat. Unfortunately, we did not know this until Mama’s heart rate went up to almost 150 beats per minute. For someone already weak and with a damaged heart, this was definitely a really bad turn of events. The ICU nurses kept adjusting dosages and got her heart rate down and blood pressure up, but she was in definite respiratory distress.

By 11 o’clock Thursday night, Mama’s condition had actually stabilized. Her breathing was better, and her heart rate and blood pressure stayed at something at least resembling normal levels. The fact that she lived through the night was amazing in and of itself. The fact that she regained consciousness Friday morning and was able to respond to questions with head shakes or nods is nothing short of a miracle. I don’t know what to think about her continuing improvement since then. Some things cannot be explained by science.

Anyone who witnesses the power of the human spirit cannot come away unchanged. To see a person challenge all odds and beat them, to see a person stand face to face with Death, spit in it’s face, and dare it to do something about it, is one of life’s most inspirational and wonder-ful moments. Anything is possible. Miracles actually happen. Almost any doctor or nurse can tell you about impossible things that happened, and people that lived in spite of, or perhaps to spite, their condition.

What happens from here, we don’t know. She will probably go to the Medical Center of middle Georgia tomorrow for a heart catheterization so the doctor can evaluate the damage and start to make treatment plans. Right now, all I can do is walk in awe and wonder.

Dec 07

Lucky Sevens

This one’s going around. I thought I’d give it a shot.

Seven things to do before I die (in no particular order)
1. Get a novel published
2. Finish remodeling the house (hysterical laughter here)
3. Travel to Scotland and Ireland
4. Find spiritual and emotional serenity
5. Lose 25 pounds and KEEP IT OFF! Forever!
6. Celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary (26 and counting)
7. Retire

Seven things I cannot do
1. Play guitar (but, Lord, how I love to try!)
2. Play baseball (can’t see the ball. Ouch!)
3. Repair a car (or anything gasoline-powered)
4. Work for a dumbass (been there, done that, never again)
5. Quit thinking up compelling story ideas in the middle of the night
6. Keep my desk clean
7. Suffer fools gladly

Seven things that attract me to my significant other
1. Her sense of humor
2. Her intelligence
3. The fact that she loves me (why, I don’t know. Some questions should never be asked.)
4. Her love of animals
5. Her slightly off-beat sense of fashion
6. The way she hugs
7. The way she…well…None of your business! 😉

Seven things I say most often:
1. I love you. (to my wife, of course)
2. Kill ’em all! Let God sort ’em out.
3. Moron! (mostly while driving)
4. Go for it!
5. She’s (he’s) a good girl (boy)! (to the dogs, of course. What did you think?)
6. Whatever.
7. Big dummy! (referring to myself)

Seven books or series that I love
1. Lord of the Rings
2. The Giant’s Star series by James P. Hogan
3. HMS Ulysses by Alistair MacLean
4. Shakespeare’s Tragedies
5. I Sing the Body Electric! by Ray Bradbury
6. Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg
7. Your Heart’s Desire by Sonia Choquette

Seven movies I would watch over and over again
1. Casablanca (only in black and white)
2. The Lion in Winter (Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole)
3. The Phantom of the Opera ( 1925 silent with Lon Cheney, Sr.)
4. Young Frankenstein
5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
6. Steel Magnolias
7. On Golden Pond

Seven people to tag
Whomever feels like it. Pass it on.