Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Five Years

Downhill, cross country,
and snowshoeing in Tahoe.
We did everything together.
October 29thwill mark the fifth anniversary of Tom’s very sudden death. Five years. No wonder I’ve been in a funk for the past few weeks. I never expected to outlive my husband by…well…any amount of time. I guess I never considered we wouldn’t “go” together. We did everything else together.

Five years. And when I say, “funk”, that’s what I’m calling the emotional exhaustion I experienced. Not depression. I checked it out with my favorite go-to doctor, Dr. Google. 

You see, for a few weeks I had low energy levels, no motivation to write, sleepless nights followed by naps during the day, crying at the drop of a hat and the big one…forgetfulness. I’m not talking about forgetting to eat or forgetting to check the mail. I do that stuff all the time because I get busy. Engaged in my writing and such. 

No. This was bigger. I forgot to pick up my grandson for his golf match. Three times. He’d call and I’d jump in the car, race to get him, and each day manage to drive him to the course before his tee time. I’m sure he was flustered by not getting there early. I was devastated. 

He was forgiving. I cried.

Late one night…or maybe it was in the wee hours of the morning…I consulted Dr. Google. If I was going through some kind of depression or mental illness I wanted to confront it head on. I listed my symptoms and the good doctor took me to several pages. 

I decided I was emotionally exhausted. It is real. I decided to take steps to care for myself with more walking, less television, eating a more balanced diet, and following a strict schedule (which did not include midday naps). I asked my personal secretary, “Alexa,” to remind me of appointments. I picked my grandson up on time thereafter (with an M&M McFlurry in hand I might add…his favorite), and went to bed at the appropriate hour. 

Five years. I didn’t experience this feeling with any other “anniversary” of Tom’s death. (I put anniversary in quotes because the word connotes celebration to me…maybe I should use the word “remembrance” or something. 

I digress. 

Tom's Colleagues Campaigned to Have a Scholarship in His Name
As Well As This Lifetime Achievement Award
I think the reason this upcoming day has hit me so hard is because I simply thought I would never live this long without him. And it could go on for years. And years. And more years.

So I decided to do something even more positive. 

You see, Tom’s research to protect people in the workplace was impactful. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has referred to him as a “public health hero.” After his death, the CDC Foundation set up a scholarship in Tom’s name. They established it and told me then that if it reached the $50,000 mark in …yep, Five Years…it will be an endowed fund. 

That means it will go on forever. Young men and women seeking to follow in Tom’s footsteps will have access to financial aide for their education. 

tireless leadership...
fierce determination"
For me, it isn’t that some deserving student will receive funds. For me it is that every applicant will read Tom’s story, look at his body of research, and hopefully, seek to serve others the way Tom did. Tom’s work was, in effect, his ministry. He was passionate about what he did. He sincerely cared about people. 

I want what Tom did to inspire others to conduct research with a sense of “mission” and harbor a deep care about worker safety. 

Five years. It’s coming up.

The fund is short by several thousand dollars. So, here is my proposition:
October is National Ergonomics Month. I will match monies donated in this month. I have limited funds, so there is a cap on how far I can go, but if donors give $15,000 I’ll match it and the scholarship will be firmly established. 

You see, when Tom died, we had just purchased a camper. We were able to use it three times. We talked of our future travels and planned to live in it in Naples, Florida for a couple of months in 2015. 

It was a plan. A dream.

I put the money aside from the camper to use in a way that would honor Tom. This is it. Any amount helps. Twenty-five dollars? Yes. Fifty or a hundred? Of course. It’s all tax deductible. So if you won the lottery and want to donate a couple of thousand, I won’t discourage you! 

And I’ll make it easy. Click onthe following to donate on line. 

If you prefer to write a check, you'll find the form at the following link. Simply print it out and mail it in with your check.  The address is on the form.

And if you already give to the CDC Foundation, you can designate this year’s gift to go to the Thomas R. Waters Memorial Scholarship.  

Thank you. For bearing with me through all this. Holding me up. Reading to the end. But most of all...for giving.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Friendship Set to Music

Friendship Set to Music.  That is what the brochure said.  I looked at my husband of thirty-five years.  I could not imagine a day when he would even suggest we take dance lessons. And these weren’t just any kind of dance lessons.  The brochure he held in his hand was advertising square dance lessons.  The lessons were free.  Three dates were listed starting the first Tuesday in January. Attending one of the sessions would be at the very least, a cheap date.

I smiled.  “Sounds like fun.” 

I doubted that when the date rolled around he would follow through. Sometimes, something sounded like a good idea at the moment, but when the time arrived, Tom would balk and grumble about going to an event.  

We had just entered a new season of our lives.  Our youngest daughter had married. We were official empty nesters.  The process had been a long one.  Years earlier, when Kendall initially left for college we had a taste of the empty nester experience.  I remember the first Friday night we were not headed to a high school football game to watch Kendall cheer.  We quickly realized that many of the people we would have called friends were actually acquaintances; parents of Kendall’s friends.  

For most of our daughter’s college career we had found our social outlet through activities designed for us as individuals.  Tom enjoyed his golf league and playing a round or two with friends from church.  I had taken on a more active role in our Women’s Ministry team, including a weekly Bible study.

We had fallen into a rhythm of sorts that seemingly met our individual needs. When the first Tuesday of January arrived, I casually mentioned the lessons to Tom. 

“Are we going to try this?” I asked.  

“’Sure, if you want to,” he replied.  I was surprised.

“Okay,” I answered, “but I am not wearing a fluffy dress or big hair!”

The lessons were held at the county park in a real barn.  A long table boasted a bowl of popcorn, cookies, pretzels, water, and coffee.  The atmosphere was “wholesome.”  I smiled to myself at the thought.  It would be a descriptor I looked for in planning activities for my kids.

That night we learned the person directing our movements was referred to as the caller. We learned a few basic moves. We also learned that square dancing was declared the national folk dance by President Reagan.  I loved the free lesson but I couldn’t read Tom’s reaction. The caller invited all newcomers to return the next week.  I was ready. However, I told myself, if Tom didn’t like it I would not whine or beg.  As we walked out to the car, Tom surprised me by naming all the other people we knew we should ask to join us the following week.  He was hooked.

As it turned out, square dancing is more involved than I remembered it being in my sixth grade physical education class.  Our lessons extended over a period of nine months.  We then joined a square dance club.  We found ourselves going out to eat with fellow dancers, traveling to weekend events, and sharing our joys and sorrows with our newfound friends. Square dancing is, by its very structure, a social activity.  

When my husband died in October 2014 our square dance community rallied around me. They brought food to our family the night of the visitation. Cards and letters poured into the house. Dancers delivered meals. I looked out one snowy day in winter to see one of our square dance friends shoveling my driveway. 

It has been nearly five years now since Tom left this earth for heaven. A couple of weeks ago, I headed back to “the barn” where square dance lessons are held. There were a lot of new people there but many familiar faces. I was greeted with hugs and smiles. One of the men offered to be my partner for the night as I brushed up on some of the basic moves. 

I thought it would be hard to walk into that space again. I thought it would be challenging to dance without Tom. In the end, though, I discovered that the brochure was right in the first place. Square dancing is Friendship Set to Music. 

Through these past few years I’ve learned the friendship remains even when the music fades. Maybe that is the greatest gift of all.