Finding Stillness and Gratitude In a Heart Attack

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my journey with Marjorie, it is that life can change in the blink of an eye. No matter how much we plan or perfectly color code our calendars, life happens.

And with adversity comes miracles. My family and I are counting our blessings extra this Thanksgiving as we received a miracle that could only be written by God Himself…

Sunday morning, I headed off to my beloved homeland of Louisiana for an awesomely busy week of talks, events and fundraisers. I was beyond thrilled to host an Alliance event in Baton Rouge, which would raise funds to create a free clinician led support group in my hometown. My ultimate pay it forward dream and mission was finally happening!

On Wednesday morning, my mom and I headed downtown to start setting up for Tailgating for a Cause, Baton Rouge’s fundraiser. Our kickass committee joined us as we set up the evening. We wrapped up and headed home to get dressed. Everything was lining up perfectly, just as I planned. Until I received a text from my husband…

“Call me ASAP. Dad had a heart attack.”

I slowly sat down on my bathroom floor as I dialed my husband’s number. This can’t be happening, I thought to myself. But I was wrong.

My beloved father-in-law, the glue that holds our Dempsey family together, suffered a major heart attack. The information at the time was limited. All we knew was it was a massive heart attack.

My heart shattered. My face flushed and my eyes welled with tears of terror. Thoughts whirled in my head, including worst case scenarios that I tried to ignore.

I went downstairs and told my mom, “Gary had a heart attack.”

My mom stood shocked before me. Since meeting Jordan sixteen years ago, my family has grown to know and love him as one of our own. If you have ever met Gary, then you love him. He is one of kind, filled with hilarity, love and compassion. The thought of life without him was (and is) totally incomprehensible.

I looked at my mom and waited for her to tell me exactly what to do. Isn’t it a mother’s job to have the answer to all complicated life decisions?

Do I stay and do the event that I’ve worked so hard on? Do I get on a plan tonight? Or do I get in the car and start driving?

Mom, tell me what to do!

She calmly looked at me and said, “Let’s get in the car and head to the event. When we get more information we will make a decision.”

Sobbing in the car, I pulled up my Delta app. “There’s a flight in an hour,” I said. You could take me straight there. I’ll just go in this (note: I was wearing a cocktail skirt, heels and my typically oversized earrings). I realized I would not get into to Jacksonville until one in the morning. Or there was a flight at six the next morning.

I text Jordan the two options. He replied, “There’s nothing you can do tonight. Come tomorrow.”

My mom said, “Yep. We can do that. And if something happens we will get in the car and drive tonight.”

I looked at my mom with tears and said, “How am I going to do this? How am I supposed to get through tonight?”

“You’re going to do it because you’ve worked hard and this is what Gary would want you to do. You will be there tomorrow. Let’s focus on tonight.”

Like all good Southern girls do, I listened to my momma and began some serious self talk about how I was not just going to make it through the night, but kick ass for my amazing committee who had worked so damn hard and the people of Baton Rouge who needed tonight to be a success.

And it was. Holy shit, it was. Seeing so many people that I know and love rally around this cause was overwhelming. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that behind my smile, my heart was broken and heavy. But I pushed on.

Until 8:45pm

The committee and I had most the venue picked up, but I was struggling. I was running out of energy. I walked over to my amazing Alliance coworker, Sarea, who knew about Gary, and told her I was tapped out. She gave me a big hug and reassured me they had the rest.

I went downstairs where my three best friends were waiting for me. I collapsed and started bawling. I was done. They all know and love Gary. They laughed and cried with me. We told Gary stories and drank wine. It was the perfect ending to a hard, but wonderful evening.

Mom and I headed home only to wake up a couple of hours later and head to the airport. Fueled with adrenaline, I had one mission: get to my Gary.

I’m not a medical professional, never pretend to be, but I am excellent in hospital settings…might have something to do with Marjorie. Hospitals are my wheelhouse. I stay calm and befriend every nurse and doctor I can to gather all information, taking copious notes.

By one o’clock Thursday, I was at Gary’s bedside. His typical jovial and jittery self laid uncharacteristically still in his ICU room. I walked over and gave my Gary a kiss and he weakly replied, “Why are you here? I’m not dying.”

I laughed and told him to be quiet and rest. Rest is a laughable word in the ICU aka the fishbowl. Constant beeping, codes announced, tests being taken and bright lights shining in your tired eyes. It brought me back to my week with Marjorie on the PICU. I had one mission – get Gary out of ICU and into a normal room.

I finally got the full story of what happened from Gary’s nurse…

On Wednesday he and my mother-in-law went to the doctor for what they thought was pneumonia. The doctor said it probably was, but it could also be fluid around the heart. They could go home or go to ER for a scan to make sure.

My in laws thankfully don’t gamble when it comes to health or the heart disease that runs in Gary’s lineage. So they took the ER route.

They wheeled him to the ER, hooked him up to the EKG and within seconds were calling codes and doctors were running in. He was having a heart attack…a widow maker heart attack. By absolute divine intervention from God above he was IN the hospital receiving life saving care.

I stayed by his side asking questions and befriending nurses so they knew Gary was a VIP patient! That evening he was stepped down to the Cardiac Unit where he was able to get a little more rest.

I arrived back this morning after kid drop off and started making new nurse friends. We needed answers.

After multiple viability tests and scans, we needed to know…when can he get his second and hopefully last stent placed. Oh and when can we get a private room. He had a roommate. That was detoxing. From meth. You seriously can’t make it up.

I became a fixture at the nurses station to make sure we got him to a private room…and we did. I left shortly after to snatch the kids then returned to the hospital with Jordan for a quick hello.

Gary will have his second (and last) stent placed first thing Monday morning. We are all counting our blessings knowing this came very close to having a different ending.

My  adrenaline ran out today. I left the hospital at 7pm worn out and grateful. So damn grateful for this stubborn and resilient father in law of mine. I decided to cook take out pizza tonight and on my way to pick it up I burst into tears. The reality of what could have been, my abrupt departure from Louisiana and the ghosts of the past hit me all at once. Gary is going to be okay. Heaven is definitely not ready for him and that is reason alone to let out a big cry of relief.

If there is one thing recovery and my journey with Marjorie has taught me is that staying in the present is a crucial key to survival in tough times. Going down the rabbit hole and googling your way to an MD is tempting, but ultimately spins you further into despair, wasting precious energy along the way.

Staying mindfully present is anything but easy, but incredibly necessary during life’s trials. We can plan and color code our calendars all we want, but life often (always) throws splatter paint on that perfect plan. Life happens when we let go of that perfect plan. It never fails that I am reminded of many many blessings when life goes anything but perfect.

This past week I was thankful for my amazing co-workers and committee members who carried the torch without me.  Thankful for friends who are more like family. Thankful for my amazing family who is moving our turkey day plans and heading east so we can all be together. Thankful for miracles big and small today and every day.

Life happens when we let go. Be still, let go and count your blessings – you might be surprised just how many you have in your life.

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  • Dawn Liphart
    November 22, 2019 at 9:51 pm

    Thank you for your vulnerability and sharing your precious Gary blessing with us all. Prayers go with you all! Happy ThanksLIVING!

  • Terri Hobgood
    November 22, 2019 at 11:52 pm

    So happy for the way things turned out!! Nothing but the Lord’s Hands!! You are an amazing woman with a wonderful family!!

  • Erma Blick
    November 23, 2019 at 12:08 am

    God continue His many Blessings on all of you!!! Heartfelt ????????????For Gary!?

  • Erin Eastham
    November 24, 2019 at 9:42 pm

    Thank you for sharing this story and your journey over the past few days. It is a reminder to be thankful for every moment we have with the ones who mean the most to us. Happy thanksgiving to you and your family may your smiles be brighter and your hugs a little tighter!