Mother Henriette Delille bucked the French Creole system and became a candidate for sainthood!

In the traditional Catholic French Creole ways of pre-civil New Orleans, most young women did as their mothers taught them. The expectations were clear. Look your very best and find a suitable husband. But not Henriette Diaz DeLille. Henriette was born in 1813.  She was considered an octaroon, her mother was a quadroon, which is a French Creole word meaning ¼ African American, ¾ white. Women of color within Henriette’s family can be traced back to her maternal great-grandmother the daughter of Claude Villars Dubruil, born in 1716 who immigrated from France to Louisiana. The family settled in the French Quarter, not far from St. Louis cathedral. Her father Jean-Baptiste Lille Sarpy a married French merchant was also wed in common law to Marie-Josephe “Pouponne” Diaz, a free woman of color from New Orleans. Henriette’s great-great grandmother had been a slave from West Africa.

portrait of henriette delille

But that is not what made Henriette special. It was her calling to the religious vocation to serve others. Henriette was schooled in French literature, music, dancing, and even crude nursing skills, which included preparation of medications from herbs. The expectation was that like her mother, Henriette would become a finer lady of the placage system. This meant a common law marriage with a wealthy man, often whom had a white Catholic family of society somewhere else Many women of the quarter were supported financially in elegance in this manner. A “kept” woman so to speak. Dutiful, Henriette attended many of the quadroon balls held in the quarter. She caught many a man’s eye.  But Henriette would have none of that, much to her mother’s displeasure.

Delille was an outspoken opponent of the placage system, believing it to be in violation of the covenant sacrament of Catholic marriage. Henriette was a devout Catholic and held strong to her beliefs. She received the sacrament of confirmation from the Catholic church in 1834. Funeral records from the church document that Henriette, during the 1920 as a young teen may have given birth to two sons out of wedlock who died in infancy.  In 1835, Henriette’s mother had a psychotic breakdown and was declared incompetent. The court granted Henriette control of her mother’s financials. After providing her care until her death, DeLille sold all of the remaining assets using the funds to found a small group of nuns she called Sister of the Presentation. Their purpose was to care for the sick, help the poor of the quarter and instruct free and enslaved children and adults teaching them how to read and write. She is attributed with establishing the oldest Catholic home for the elderly in America. Many of whom from the Quarter, persons of color and had nowhere to go.

What was remarkable, is that in a male dominated Southern society of culture, Henriette rose above. She used her wit, intelligence and faith to make the impossible possible. She was told “no” on numerous occasions, for example when she applied to the Diocese of New Orleans to have her order of nuns recognized and was denied because they were women of color. At that time, Black women were not seen in the South as worthy of religious life, nor the official habit worn. But she didn’t care, her nuns wore their own self-designed habits and took non-public vows. Henriette continued to fight on with her servitude to others. The order’s legal advisor Etienne Rousselon obtained approval from the order from the Vatican, the Holy See in 1837 establishing Henriette as the mother superior. She took the official religious name of Sister Mary Theresa, however all who knew her called her Mother Henriette.

The order continued their work throughout the poor neighborhoods of post-civil war New Orleans. They cared for literally hundreds of indigent and orphaned children and elderly.  In 1842, the order’s name was officially changed to the Sisters of the Holy Family. New Orleans was hit hard by yellow fever epidemics that killed hundreds in 1853. The nuns of Henriette’s order nursed plenty of victims. In November of 1862, Henriette died at age 49. Many saying her death was attributed to never ending life of poverty and hard work.  Beginning with only eight original members, by 1909 her order of nuns how now grown to 150 members carrying out her legacy. They now operated parochial schools for children of color. In today’s time, with over 500 members, the order operates free schools for children and nursing homes in New Orleans and Shreveport, LA; Washington D.C.; Galveston, Texas; Little Rock, AR, as well as California and even a mission in Belize.

Recognizing her gift of servitude to the  underserved in society within the city of New Orleans named a street after her in 2011.  Archbishop Gregory Aymond, still in service to this day, developed the diocesan prayer said by every church each Sunday in New Orleans which prays for an end to violence and racism. The Prayer for the Archdiocese of New Orleans ends with the intercessory not only to our Lady of Prompt Succor, but to Mother Henriette Delille. Mother Henriette was declared by Pope Benedict the XVI to be venerable, now in Step 2 of the canonization process by the Vatican to be named a saint. For her love of the poor and underserved, her lifelong service as a nun and nurse, AgeView press proudly includes Mother Henriette Delille as Belle of Steel #18.

Photo of portrait that hangs in the parlor of the Motherhouse of the Sisters of the Holy Family.  Artist of the original portrait was Ulrick Jean-Pierre.  Photo credit:  Laine Kaplan-Levenson from WWNO.

Grit and determination, meet Dr. Latanja Divens Belle of Steel #17

     Imagine you are a brilliant little Black girl and your Mama is wanting you to go to an upper echelon private school. Mostly white. Latanja’s Mama was at the ironing board making sure her uniform looked just right. No wrinkles allowed. She checked Latanja’s braids one more time, no nappy strays allowed. Latanja quickly donned the pinafore before getting hearing her mother call out “Hurry up now, ya hear? Early is on time, Latanja. On time is late.” Latanja was just finishing up polishing her shoes. She quickly finished and her Mama loaded her up into the old jalopy. Dr. Latanja Divens, PhD, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC remembered that day as if was yesterday.  When she got to school, she was placed in the third level group of students for the grade. The low group. Her mother was not satisfied with that. She went marching to the principle to complain. “This little girl could read by age three.  She’s way smarter than that. You put her there because of the color of her skin.” After looking at the child’s previous academic record, reluctantly, the principal moved her to group two. Not only did Latanja excel over all the other students in that group, she aced all of her work, including some from level one. 

     In college, Latanja continued to demonstrate her academic prowess, earning her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Xavier University of Louisiana in 1996 and a second Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing from Our Lady of Holy Cross College in 2001. But she wasn’t done with school yet. She loved to learn and she was good at it. She nursed patients in the areas of family practice, nephrology, and gastroenterology. She even worked with the Veterans Administration caring for Vietnam and Afghanistan war veterans. In 2007, she completed her Master of Science in Nursing. But she wasn’t done, she wanted more.  She completed her Doctor of Nursing Practice in 2012 from Loyola University New Orleans working as a Family Nurse Practitioner. Her passion lay in caring for underserved patients with chronic diseases. 

     But she just couldn’t turn her brain off. There was so much more to learn. More to do. Back to school. She wanted to be involved in research. In 2018 she completed her second doctorate, PhD in Nursing Education from William Carey University. She maintained her board certification by the American Nurses Credentialing Center as a Primary Care Family Nurse Practitioner throughout her career, continuing to practice actively.  Dr. Divens served as an Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing in both the undergraduate and graduate nursing programs at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans. She was the program coordinator for the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program.  She was sought out for her grant writing abilities, having single handedly writing for over 1.5 million in federal grant funding. 

     However, that is not what made Dr. Latanja Divens a Belle of Steel.  Several years ago she noticed that she was experiencing numbness and tingling in her fingers and toes. Sometimes she had trouble with balance. Being a healthcare provider, she sought medical journals and expert consultations from physicians. Numerous health care providers could simply not figure it out. But Latanja did. She finally found a neurologist to perform the right test. Being summoned to his office, she already knew it was not going to be good news. He told her she had a progressive form of multiple sclerosis (MS). For an instant, her heart sank. But her mind went into over drive. Knowing what she knew as a medical professional, she felt a pit in her stomach and visually projected being in a bed and on a ventilator. It made her nauseous and want to vomit. Not her. Not now. And in a Black woman? MS is a disease of white women.

     Driving herself home, she prepared to tell her husband.  “What I am going to do? I teach for a major university? I care for patients?” He simply said, “What you always do, Latanja. Pick yourself up, dust off after you cry a bit. And conquer it day by day. Use that head of yours.” Her husband was right. But she summoned her strength from somewhere else too. Her faith. Even though she was mad at God at the moment for this train-wreck of a diagnosis, she went to church to talk to her pastor. He basically repeated what her husband had told her. Dr. Latanja Given was not a person to give up. Ever. God had other plans for her.

     Since that time, Latanja has struggled, but she wouldn’t give up. Bit by bit her body faught her. With twitching and cramps, pain that would disable anyone. It even affected the one thing she loved to do, speak. Speak to teach. Speak to make people laugh. Speak to motivate. Her voice was craggy but she carried on. Nothing would stop her from doing what she loved, teaching.

     “I’ve been through some very dark days,” she said from behind her desk. Struggling she reached over to get her hand over the special large mouse to direct her computer.  She was mentoring a fellow faculty to publish. “I know I look awkward. But, I won’t let it get me. There’s got to be a purpose in all this. A reason.” Until recently, Dr. Divens delivered moving motivational speeches at churches and public gatherings about MS in African Americans. She revealed that many times MS is mis-diagnosed for years in the African American population, as was in her case. At the conclusion of one of her presentations, a young Black female approached her. She revealed how thankful she was to have met her and heard her story, as she was recently diagnosed. It was another face, facing the same devastating diagnosis. They continue to be friends to this day.

     Dr. Divens was often found wheeling around the halls of LSU Health Sciences Center, New Orleans. Continuing to mentor not only students, but fellow faculty. Everyone from students, to friends, to faculty considered her family. She chaired the curriculum committee and served as a programmatic and grant reviewer. Her curriculum vitae remains chocker-block full of her awards, accomplishments, publications and presentations from around the country. But all of that is not what made Dr. Divens a Belle of Steel. It was her kind heart, her soaring spirit, her infectious laugh, her dry wit. But most of all, it was her undeniable grit. On any given day, she never knew what her body was going to throw at her. Would she seize? Would she end up on the floor? Would she hurt? Would her shakes make others uncomfortable? But ever determined, she would never give in. Not as long as her heart and brain continued to tick.

     Early in morning on February 14th, Valentines Day, 2022, at age 47, Latanja’s heart played that final beat. She died in her sleep. That weekend, she had met with her doctoral student, finished up an article, planned for the week, and went to church with her husband. Little did she know, on that day, God had other plans for her. He was calling her home. The halls at LSU on that Monday seemed empty. Students and faculty bereft. A spirit, larger than life was suddenly taken from them. Many were stunned and not sure what to say or do. During a session to debrief their profound loss, students and faculty poured out their grief and memories of her. They talked about her humor, her faith, her passion for teaching. How they would never forget how she individually touched so many. For her life’s work, her profound resilience, AgeView Press is proud, humbled, and honored to name Dr. Latanja Divens Belle of Steel # 17.

There’s a rumble restarting!

It’s been almost a year or more since I posted on the blog. Compartmentalization was necessary to finish that doctorate. But now, I am on the homestretch and can actually see that light at the end of the tunnel. Seven weeks to go. As such, formal papers are being wrapped up, poster and podium presentations on my project complete. It has been a long, long two years in an accelerated program.

That “almost” has given me new energy to re-kindle my book business and creative side of writing. I have had to spend the last two years writing nothing but professional nursing related things. Don’t get me wrong, I love working in the professional arena of writing as well. But there is just a different mindset needed. An entirely different set of rules are warranted. I have missed my characters, my stories, my military writing and historical figures. It is time to resume.

Thank you for your patience readers. Guess in a couple of weeks, I will have to re-change my title from Jeanette Vaughan to Dr. Jeanette Vaughan. Can’t believe I even get to type that. One of my first new posts will be some Belles of Steel entries. Along this journey, I have met some amazing women who so deserve that title. It will be an honor to feature their stories.

Also expect to see some excerpts from that professional world. My DNP project was under-represented minority nursing students, primarily Hispanics. The disparity in healthcare delivery with regard to missing Hispanic nurses among our numbers is staggering. Truly a wicked problem. Texas is almost 50% Hispanic, yet only 16% of the professional RN -nursing workforce are Hispanic. That is simply appalling. So stay tuned for more on that topic.

As you can see, I am now giving myself permission to merge my creative and professional writing. Whether or not that is a trainwreck decision remains to be seen. Have a safe and Happy 4th of July weekend. And please don’t forget that pandemic that is still out there. Wear a mask if in a crowd inside.

Absentia for Good Reason

It has been many moons so to speak that I have been absent from posting.  Several reasons for that, both personal and professional.  But mostly professional.  I made a decision in early 2019 to return to school.  I have put it off for two decades!   Yeppers 2019 was the year.  I returned to graduate school at the University of Texas at Arlington to complete my Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.

It was after much soul searching. . . should I?  Shouldn’t I?  But I have never been a “shoulda, coulda, woulda” kind of person.  Nope, just doesn’t fit the bill.  I was terrified to return.  I had not been on the student side of academia for twenty-eight years!   Sure, I had students, but being the student is a whole different kind of stress level. Although I was fascinated by the material and catching up on real world nursing literature, I missed my writing and book signings. But I didn’t dare stray.

book signing FLYING SOLO

Book Signing at ARealBookStore May 2012

 

Sheer panic overtook me as I entered the first course.  Numerous emails to the prof.  A plethora of phone calls to IT.  Fear that my computer internet speed was not going to be fast enough.  The first couple of discussion posts were brutal.  Numerous edits and re-submits.  During the time I had written my own novels, I had a final editor.  Now it was just me and grammarly.com   That God for that program.

But I plugged along, even pulling out an “A” in the course.  So what is the message?   Patience, my friend, and fortitude.   Be patient with me, I am now on the downward slope.   Fortitude is the verb that i have chosen to live by.   That, and the old adage that “slow and steady” wins the race.

And just to top it all off?  COVID-19 struck!  Now, that lovely phenomenon threatened to do us all in.   However, I was determined to forge ahead.  I thought of all the protagonists.  Not only in my novels, but in history.  I also turned to my faith.  Nope.  I would not give up.

Believe me, I cannot wait to get back to the world of historical make-believe!  In the meantime, please enjoy the accomplishments of my fellow military writers.  The Military Writer’s Society of America just announced their 2020 finalists.   I wish them all well and will enjoy celebrating their achievements.

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there”

— Theodore Roosevelt

“Oh, honey!” Meet Belle of Steel #16 June Simmons Phillips

June Phillips never met a stranger in her life.  Her attribute as the penultimate people person made her one of the most successful women’s wardrobe mavens in Fort Worth, Texas. If one needed the perfect outfit, you called upon June. June loved to work.  Her career in women’s wear sales spanned over sixty years in some of Fort Worth’s most iconic boutiques.  The patrons of Wally Williams, Edison’s, Margo’s La Mode, HR Lowes, and Leon’s knew that no matter what the event, June would have them impeccably dressed.

june phillipsbestAs for her own style, avante –garde fits the bill.  June always made her own unique fashion statement with beautifully cut suits, designer dresses, and matching scarves, hats, shoes and jewelry. Her signature was her hats. In her later years, she didn’t like carrying a purse, afraid she would leave it somewhere.  Her ample bosom served as storage for her lipstick, cell phone, keys and credit card, which she would never leave without.

Growing up as an only child of two adoring parents, June considered her father a driving force in her life. She believed he taught her the tenants of life without gender stereotype. Once, he tied boxing gloves on her to show her how to take and throw a powerful punch.  Matching her up with a boy her own age, he taught her to spar.  The young boy reached back and threw June a hard punch to her face.  It hurt and stung, making her cry.  “That’s okay,” her Dad said.  “That’s how it feels. Now let him have it.”  June wiped tears away from her face and delivered a blow hard enough to knock the young boy off his feet.  She got a thumbs up from her “Pops.”

It was this steely toughness and plucky grit that gave June the strength and courage to take on any challenge handed to her.  Behind her perfect makeup, ruby red lipstick and lovely skin, she was no showy flower, she was one of the most brutally honest and remarkable women her friends had ever seen.   June was a consummate story teller.  They always began with an intense flash of consternation in her eyes. When relating life lessons from her parents, her eyes filled with tears. She described her childhood as “14 carat gold.”  As for time with family? She was heard to frequently say “Hold your memories close, for they are golden and never to return.”

June loved to sing. Loudly. She was admitted to Julliard School of Music.  But having met a dashing young man, her plans changed after her father’s warning. “You can leave home, study with the best, and have a songster’s career, or you can choose to have a family. Not both.”  June chose family and never looked back. She sang at every party and gathering.  Remarkabley in Pre-Vatican II times, she was ensconced as the only divorced and Protestant member of St. Peter’s Catholic Church choir.

June sized you up with a knowing eye, engaged you with a bright smile, and drew you in with a mesmerizing gaze. As a customer, she’d have you instantly pegged.  “Hi, honey, what’s your name?” was her classic opening line.  Managing to engage and delight, she almost always  closed a sale.  June educated herself about retail, her merchandise and her customers. With a heart for people and lovely things, she was truly interested in making someone feel like a million bucks.  She would bring out two or three choices of outfits, carefully selected for her customer which they simply “couldn’t live without!” She would tell you what looked right and definitely identify what didn’t. She’d match your personality with your zodiac sign.

One particular June story which gives way to her scrappyness had to do with the proceeds from sales. June worked on commissions and worked hard for them. After one particularly successful sale, during which she sold two ladies thousands of dollars of merchandise, another clerk claimed they were her clients. “Oh, no they’re not, sister. I emptied those ladies pockets with my skills. Those were my loyal customers. I know them like I know the back of my hand.  Which soon is gonna make its way to your  face if you don’t give me back my money.”  This led to an actual rolling-on-the-floor, hair-pulling, nail-scratching brawl at Wally Williams. At one point, her foe ripped off June’s hair clip. Her perfectly coiffed curls fell to her shoulders. Although the other woman was quite larger in stature, June got in her licks. Once the manager broke it up, June straightened her skirt, put her hair back up in the clip and threatened, “Honey, if you ever try that again, you better run for your life!” Wherein, the clerk quit and was never to return.

Cultivating deep friendships, June endeared herself to her companions. She doted over her second husband, Allan. Thirteen years her senior, she knew from the moment their eyes met in an elevator, that he was the love of her life.  They lived in a petite, two bedroom home just a few blocks from June’s parents, to whom she was still very close.  When Allan went to collect June’s things, he was surprised there were not more clothes and shoes.  “Oh, honey.  It’s not all in the bedroom. There’s a whole ‘nuther mess of it up in the attic.”  June’s father wryly pointed to the ceiling.  Alan had no idea now he would store box after box of hats, shoes, and racks of clothes.  He suggested that maybe she should give some of it away to charity.  But June didn’t see obstacles.  Only solutions.  “Honey, why say no, when yes means so much.”  With a sheepish grin, Allan gave in.  But before loading them up, he consulted with his brother on how to turn the spare bedroom into a closet, suspending multiple racks from the beams in the ceiling.

In 1975, while working at Margo’s La Mode, June hand-picked her son’s wife. A lovely, young eighteen-year-old blond with peaches and cream skin walked into the store shopping for an Easter dress.  When June first spotted her, she strode over and remarked, “Honey, you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.  I think you would be perfect for my only son.” Sure enough, a few months after dating, Lisa Ferguson became Raul Pena’s wife.  Having been married for over forty years, they now have two adult children.  June adored matchmaking and love stories.  Intent on finding her grandson a mate, one day she rang him up. “Nathan, I’ve found the perfect girl for you. She is beautiful with brown, sparkling eyes!”  Skeptical, Nathan asked “Okay. Where did you meet her?” June’s answer? “Oh, honey. I haven’t met her yet. She’s the underarm deodorant model in my magazine!”

Despite her strength and independence, June never learned to drive. Allan took her to and from work.  June also didn’t like to cook. So every night, they would eat out deliciously, many times meeting up with life-long friends.  Her quick wit and salty tongue would have everyone at the table in stitches.  The staff and owners of her favorite spots knew and loved Miss June and Mister Allan by name.  Often describing them as the grandparents they never knew. Their booth was regularly reserved and waiting.  In fact, The Café, a longtime Fort Worth eatery on Montgomery Street served as the breakfast version of “Cheers” -where everyone knew their name.  A poem that June wrote about the establishment is posted on the cash register.  When June became ill, The Café had their customary breakfast delivered to the hospital. june phillips

June loved Halloween and many of her friends and colleagues recall her festive Halloween parties. Their quaint home was annually festooned with pumpkins and colorful goblins. June’s costumes and witch’s hats were notorious. How ironic that in 2016, on her most favorite of holidays, June was given her death sentence.  Experiencing some vertigo and recent falls, June received a horrific diagnosis. She had the worst of all brain cancers, a glioblastoma, Stage IV.  At age 79, rosy-cheeked and in perfect health, she was incredulous that she was told she had only months to live. To her shocked family and friends, she remarked “Nobody lives forever, honey! I’m not afraid to die. But I’m gonna give this thing a helluva fight.”

She chatted up folks until the day she died. While having an early morning blood draw, she queried her phlebotomist, “Honey, when’s your birthday?  What’s your sign?” holding out her arm.  “I think I’m a Scorpio,” the tech replied.  “Oh yeah? Me too, honey. That means we’re resourceful, brave, passionate, and stubborn as all get out! But a true friend.”  The lab tech smiled. Yep, that was June.

On one of her last days, she held the hand of another Belle of Steel, Edmee Baird.  ‘Honey, let’s say part of the rosary.”  June was a Catholic for that day. They began the Glory Be. Edmee had tears in her eyes, “But what am I going to do without my best friend?” June’s voice was stoic. “Don’t cry for me gal. You’ve got more life to live.  If this whole thing is terminal, I’ve had a good one.  I have a wonderful son.  I hand-picked his wife.  I was given a second chance at love and have a fabulous husband.  I’ve lived life to the fullest every day.  If this is it, it’s all been grand.”  They completed a decade of the rosary.  June died the next day.  AgeView Press is proud to celebrate the indominatable spirit of Belle of Steel  #16, June Phillips. She forever left her mark and cast her spell of love on her corner of the world.

Grief, Time and Love

Sometimes in life you can’t understand a concept until going through it yourself. Death of someone you love. Extraordinary grief. That has been the case for me since Jan of 2017.  January 9, 2017 rocked my world as I knew it. My youngest son, Harrison died from complications of Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy after a freak fall. I haven’t really been able to write since then. Nothing. Nada.harrison senior

Within my very small circle of friends and my family I have seen others lose someone close. A grandparent. A great aunt. A distant cousin. Significant others to them, but clearly not close enough to me for understanding. Many had lived long lives or suffered greatly before death. As an ICU/trauma nurse I have experienced death plenty of times in my career.  Held the hands of they dying. Comforted those who have lost someone.

The age old adage is that time is a great healer. It will get better. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I have learned that grief is not something that ever goes away. It will always be present and within you. It is now one of the major threads in your tapestry of life. Recently, I had heard as much from my daughter, who has attempted to comfort me. Hah, it should be the other way around. But she has a profound and deep understanding of emotions. She also saw a grief counselor.

Then I came across probably one of the best, most concise and honest explanations of grief from a blogger and author named John Pavlovitz.  It is called The Grieving Need You Most After The Funeral.  This blog post touched my heart and soul, because it is absolutely true. The reason you have not seen blog posts from me, nor new books or articles coming out. I have been able to write nothing. Create nothing. There has been this terrible black cloud that has been over my outlook on life existence. Despite my strong faith. It was only that faith that got me through that first year. 20663603_10159152365365182_7502417785234300432_n

That and the unending support from my daughter and her partner.  We soldiered through the first year and planned a bucket list trip of my son’s that he never got to take, Yellowstone. It was a pilgrimage of sorts to experience what he had always read about in National Geographic on the earth’s wonders. It helped squelch the grief down to a manageable level. But it didn’t erase the grief completely.  At that point, I thought there was something wrong with me.  I always seemed to be stuck in second gear. I was doing the typical, counting the grief anniversaries.  His birthday.  The first Thanksgiving and Christmas without him.  Seasonally decorating the tombstone. No mother should ever have to do that.21199750_10159255561795182_8843416713551446220_o

I got through the initial pain by numbing it with wine. Medicating it with comfort food and doing nothing but gaining weight. The grief was still there. What a monster. I forced myself back to church. I could still imagine the where the casket had been draped in front of the alter. But somehow I felt closer to him there. My trips to the grave site became less frequent. I knew he was in heaven and often I would look out at the stars and sky and talk to him.

     As we approached the anniversary of his death, I knew I had to plan a trip. No way could I be at my farm and relive every moment of that day. Nor at work, as I manage an ER. An ER and then brief two hours in ICU were where his heart played its final beat. I took my daughter on a NYC excursion of craziness. We needed all the distraction we could manage. Both of us had returned to work. My other two sons too; back to the Navy and FBI. We got through that awful day. Surely 2018 would lessen and finally see that grief subside.2nd anniversary

    But there is the caveat of the article. Know this. Realize this. Grief never goes away. The time you need your friends and family are the mundane and ordinary days afterward. For weeks. For months. For years. We have survived anniversary number two. Yes we are now those people. Marking the time from a loved one’s death. The blogger, John Pavlovitz had a great quote in that post. “Death is a date in the calendar, but grief IS the calendar.

I have learned to be kinder to myself. Lower my expectations. Love more. Live more. Judge less. Try to just put one foot in front of the other and move back into life. I dreaded another Christmas, but opened my heart to it. Expecting it to be lanced, I was surprised. The last Christmas I spent with Harrison was filled with joy. I had worked night shift Christmas Eve, but he called me and wanted to go to mass.  He asked to speak to the priest afterward.  He told him how cool it was that the Christmas sermon was all about going from the darkness into the light.

After nine years of waiting, Harrison’s Medicaid checks had finally kicked in. He paid for his college and for the first time bought little Christmas presents for everyone. He wanted to go to my parents home for the day.  During the gathering, he leaned over his wheelchair to me with the biggest grin on his face. “I get it, Mom. I really get it now.”

I looked at him inquisitively. “What do you mean?”  He explained. “I’ve never gotten to experience the happiness you feel when you watch someone open something that you have given them. Not until today.  That’s joy. That’s Christmas.” My Harrison gave me the best gift ever, actually feeling joy. Self actualization.

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     That first Christmas after his death, I busied myself with activities, to avoid the grief monster. This second Christmas, I was struggling. I just couldn’t get back to feeling happy. So instead I threw myself into planning my parents 65th wedding anniversary. Then after two years of blank pages, writing.  I created two very special memory books, one for my parents anniversary and one about the Make-A-Wish safari trip Harrison got to take with us. It was the first time I had been able to re-look at those pictures. I made myself go to a family gathering on Christmas Day.  And Harrison gave me the best gift ever – again. Joy. I felt joy again for the first time since his death. My daughter interpreted the message. He is telling you to give back. As much as you can, move from the darkness and into the light. Learn from his life and his death. Learn that in grieving we learn to love.

What’s critical to read next? Margie Miklas’ debut novel!

I am so very excited to share this book with you!  Margie Miklas is a critical care nurse colleague of mine who has been lucky enough to retire and travel all around Italy!  An award winning author, she has written several books depicting the colorful, less-traveled towns and villages amongst Sicily, Rome, and the Amalfi coast.  But that’s not the exciting part!  On her last viaggio abroad, she penned a medical thriller!  I am proud to show off my nurse buddy’s debut novel!  Check it out!Margie Miklas

  1. What sparked off the idea of your books?

My first three books are on Italy, so my travels there and how I felt at home and fell in love with Italy sparked the idea for the books. The first book is based on my blog, which I started when I went to Italy as a solo traveler for three months. Once I returned home, I realized I had much to say about those experiences besides what I wrote on my blog.

I wrote My Love Affair with Sicily for the same reasons, except that book is based on five separate trips to Sicily, the region where my maternal grandparents were born. I wanted to share my experiences as I discovered explored their village and the other towns and cities in Sicily, a place where I almost felt a strong connection.

The main reason I wrote my third book, Colors of Naples and the Amalfi Coast, was to present Naples in a more positive light than its reputation. So, the book is a photography/coffee table book depicting life in Naples as well as the Amalfi Coast, which I truly love.

So, this newest work, Critical Cover-Up, is a work of fiction, my first novel. My years of working as a critical care nurse and witnessing the changes in the healthcare system, sparked the idea to write this book. I decided to make it more exciting than that, so I wrote a thriller set in a hospital where a critical care nurse is the main character and discovers corruption and evil around her.

2. Which character, if any, most resembles your personality?

I guess it would have to be Allison Jamison, the protagonist, although as I wrote the story, I don’t think I was consciously thinking of her like that.

3. Which character was the hardest to write and why?

Detective Derning. I don’t know any detectives personally, so his character required more research and imagination for me.

4. How do you plan/research your books?

The Italy books were nonfiction so the research consisted of checking on historical facts about places, monuments, and dates. In Critical Cover-Up, I created a loose outline based on events by chapters, which changed some as the story evolved during the writing process. As I wrote sections which included laws, places, protocols, etc. I reviewed current policy and statistics related to those.

5. What are you working on at the moment?

Right now I am taking a break. I know I will write another book, but nothing concrete is in the works at the moment, although I have been overwhelmed by the positive response and comments about a sequel.

6. Do you write for any websites?

I am a contributing writer for various online and print magazines and newspapers, including Italia Magazine, La Gazzetta Italiana, The Grand Wine Tour, and Italian Talks, the blog for Baglioni Hotels.

7. Do you prefer to read paperbacks or ebooks? Why?

I prefer paperbacks and hardback books because it seems easier to pick up and continue reading. I have so many books on Kindle that I have started and never finished. I like going into bookstores too and browsing the shelves.

8. What was your favorite book as a child and as an adult?

I liked Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales as I was growing up, but as an adult, I prefer biographies and autobiographies. I am currently reading Bruce Springsteen’s, Born to Run.

9. Whom do you admire and why?

I admire my 91-year old mother who always encouraged me to be independent and follow my dreams and today, she still always wears a smile and is positive and encouraging. I also admire writers who can write about very personal challenges times in their lives. I find their stories inspirational and moving, and don’t know that I could write about such private experiences.

10. Name three people, dead or alive, you would invite to dinner. Why?

Wow, this is a tough one. I’d like to invite Angelina Savoca, my Sicilian grandmother who died when I was in my twenties. I have so many questions I’d like to ask her about her life in Sicily before she came to the United States. I’d like to invite Emmy award-winning writer Matthew Weiner so I could pick his brain about character development and storylines. And I’d like to invite Andrea Bocelli if he’d be gracious enough to sing. He’s one of my favorite performers.

Now, if that doesn’t get you interested….try a FREE excerpt from this awesome read!!!

Critical Cover-Up         Critical Care Cover-Up . . . .

The unit was full, so it looked like her shift would be busy. They were also one nurse short, since someone had called in sick and not been replaced. Word from top management was the usual explanation: “There aren’t any nurses available.” One nurse now had three patients, and the charge nurse had one patient and an empty admission bed. This was becoming the status quo lately, and Allison did not recall the staffing being so tight when she worked her clinical during nursing school. Good thing she enjoyed the work so much that she didn’t mind being busy. It was the frickin’ paperwork she detested.

***

     By 2:00 a.m. Allison had gotten caught up with her work. Thank God Mr. Wetherly is somewhat stable. Allison doubted that anyone outside the medical field would describe a critically ill patient in those words. It seemed like an oxymoron. His blood pressure and heart rate were maintaining within the parameters ordered by the physician, although he required high doses of vasoactive medications to achieve those numbers. As Allison reviewed the electronic chart and checked his orders, she became curious as to the events which led to his respiratory arrest a couple of nights before.

Unable to find any new information from the physicians’ progress notes, she approached the central station monitors. I know there’s a reason he coded, and maybe I can find something here, she thought. Zeroing in on Mr. Wetherly’s information, she backtracked to the day in question.

She located his patient data screen and studied his vital sign trends. Her inquisitiveness became an obsession for a few minutes as she zoomed in to the time of the code. She sensed she was on the verge of uncovering something.

“What is this? Oh no. Do I really want to see this?” she said. What had triggered the alarm was not only a heart rate of forty-five, but an oxygen saturation of fifty, which was quite low. After more investigating, Allison discovered that the oxygen saturation had been low for an hour before he coded. The last time it had been within normal limits was an hour and five minutes prior to the code, and at that time it was reading ninety-five percent. The number consistently decreased from there until it reached fifty. She knew this was not good. The alarms for O2 sats were always set for ninety-two or ninety-three, since anything below that was abnormal. Why didn’t someone check on this patient when the alarms went off? she wondered as a heated flush spread up her chest and across her face.

Allison then checked the alarm review for the same time period and found close to 100 instances when the alarm had been triggered for low oxygen saturation.

Her stomach roiled, and she swallowed back the wave of nausea that followed. Why didn’t someone see this? She printed out the alarm events and also the patient’s vital signs from that terrible day and shoved the papers into her bag. Glancing around, she noticed that she was the only one at the desk and felt relieved that she was not being watched. Maybe she would reevaluate the information later when she had more time. Her gut informed her that something wasn’t right, and she knew this information was something she had to save.

The more she contemplated what she’d discovered, the more anxious Allison became. She knew that sometimes nurses just silenced the alarms when they were sitting at the desk and didn’t really investigate the reason for them. Most of the time it was insignificant and an annoyance, such as an irregular heartbeat in a patient everyone already knew suffered from the problem. But this was serious, and Allison thought she recalled a nurse sitting near the monitors for most of the night before Mr. Wetherly coded. She remembered that the nurse was Paula, an experienced ICU nurse who had worked in that unit for at least three years. Now Allison recalled that Paula had been sitting near the monitors that night and silencing alarms while she was charting. Had she silenced Mr. Wetherly’s alarms? Possibly. Probably. But Allison had not witnessed it. She could identify the nurse, but she couldn’t say for sure that this nurse had turned off any alarms, since she wasn’t specifically observing her behavior. But someone had to have silenced those alarms.

The sense of unease didn’t dissipate, and Allison wasn’t sure what she should do. If I don’t say anything, nobody will know and nothing will happen to my coworker. Allison had this gut feeling that if the alarms had not been silenced, Mr. Wetherly would never have had low oxygen saturation for a long enough time to cause him to stop breathing.

***

     For the next two days, her stomach was killing her as she couldn’t stop thinking about Mr. Wetherly’s situation. Is it my responsibility to say something? Will it make any difference?

When she came back to work that night, she found out that Mr. Wetherly had died during the previous shift. The nurses had coded him with the family present, but the sepsis was too advanced and he didn’t survive. She tried to tell herself it was for the best, that he would never have been the same, but she knew better. Mr. Wetherly never should have arrested in the first place.

So readers?  What did you think?  Where can you connect with Margi Miklas?

You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, or send her an email!  But don’t wait!  Halloween’s coming up!  Treat yourself to this #mustread!

History and Highlights from the Military Writer’s Conference 2017

Recently, the Military Writer’s Society had their annual Book Conference and Awards Banquet in San Antonio, Texas. What is it about a conference that brings you back motivated, energized and ready to write?  Networking!IMG_2475

The MWSA is chocker-block full of fantastic talent.  A group made up of active and retired military, military buffs, historians, writers, poets, and educators. The group spans several generations.  The youngest author?  A lovely, young, military dependent all of age 12, Grace Remey! There were representatives from World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.  Navy, Army, and Air Force.  What a collection of talent in one room.

The program’s theme was World War I this time, but there were presentations not only relating to history, but panel discussions and “how-to”s.  I was lucky enough to serve on a panel discussing Social Media and its impact on book marketing and networking.  Members included MWSA Awards Director, John Cathcart; award winning author Jack Woodville London; historian Dana Tibbetts and was moderated by MWSA board member Valerie Ormond.  Valerie, a retired naval officer is one of AgeView Press’s Valerie Ormond Belle of Steel.IMG_2483

Set at a historic and supposedly haunted hotel, The Menger, the locale was a perfect backdrop for a conference group that loves history.  The Menger sits directly across from the Alamo.  Many famous authors have written at The Menger such as Robert Frost and Oscar Wilde.  One couldn’t help but be inspired, not only by the architecture but the hotel’s grandeur and reputation.

The three day event provided a service program to veterans at San Antonio Medical Center.  “Telling your Story” focused on writing as therapy for PTSD.  Just gives you chills doesn’t it?  While there, a load of books from writers of the MWSA were donated.   One of the most popular talks was given on anthologies, which are collections of stories, either by one author, one subject or multiple authors.  Examples and standards of how to run a writer’s group were also a part of that presentation by Navy pilot Jim Tritten and Pat Walkow from the Corrales Writing Group of New Mexico. IMG_2486

On Saturday, the premier event was the 2017 MWSA Book Awards.  There were approximately 79 books submitted for scrutinization and review.  Many didn’t make the cut. A select few made the lists as finalists.  Awards of gold, silver or bronze medals were awarded based on strict criterion.  One of my books, Eternally at War was awarded the bronze medal in the category of memoir.  Admist this room of excellence, I was humbled. IMG_2502

If you have an interest in the military and writing, this is definitely a group you should check out.  Warm, welcoming, and advisory – they uphold a superior standard of literature.

A young Texas woman turns tragedy into triumph. Meet Belle of Steel #15 Emily Allen Colbert

It’s the doorbell that no one ever wants to answer.  “There’s been a horrific accident,” emily-colbertexplained the policemen.  “It’s your husband.” Emily, a young wife and mother of two fell to her knees on the floor. There had been a car accident on Highway 66 in Rockwall. “Oh my God,” she cried out through tears.  “Is everyone okay?” But everyone wasn’t okay.  A vehicle had struck her Garland Fire Department husband’s car from the side.  The impact caused it to spin violently and roll with their oldest child.  Rockwall Fire Department was on scene. Her husband Devon was trapped inside the vehicle. The jaws of life were being used to cut him out. The car seat of her child was covered in glass shards, but miraculously he was unscathed. In just an instant, Emily’s life changed forever.  It was seven days before Christmas, 2012.

Emily threw her things into a bag and frantically called her mother to drive her to Parkland, one of two major trauma centers in Dallas, TX.  According to the policeman it was controlled chaos and they were still cutting Devon out of the car. He was alive, but in critical condition.  In the trauma bay at Parkland, there were already thirty Garland firemen surrounding her for comfort.  “He’s gonna be okay. We promise.” But he wasn’t. Not totally. The next bad news Emily would hear was from the ER physicians.  Devon’s spinal cord had been sublux’d, or pinched at cervical spine number four. This dashing, young, strong fireman became a quadriplegic at age 29.

Emily’s mother, a nurse, knew what that would mean. Devon would never walk again. Never run again. Never be able to put out fires, the job he loved, again. He would live the rest of his life in a chair with wheels. For most young women, this would be the kiss of death to a relationship; just too large a tragedy with which to cope. Because at first, everyone is helpful. Everyone is there. But it’s the heavy burden of long term care. Bathing your husband. Toileting your husband. Helping him to dress. Finding uncomfortable challenges with intimacy. Helping him find meaning in life. Thank goodness for the brigade of Garland and Rockwall firemen who came to their aid.

The first few months were pure torture. Rollercoaster’s of hope and despair. Their tiny home was not wheelchair accessible. But it wasn’t just the pragmatic day to day. Emily was exhausted from the protracted hours at rehab and caring for their two small children. She was bereft of energy or strength. She missed her husband’s caress. She missed the way he made love to her. She felt alone and, at times, hopeless. She had only one thing – her faith in God. She trusted in God’s love to win the day.

Over months, Devon slowly gained the ability to power his chair with his hands and shoulders.  He regained some gross upper body movement. Emily gave in to the generous charity and time that people provided so that she could get meals on the table and care for her children. Through it all though, she never considered this her rock bottom.  This was just another challenge that God had laid before her.

For years ago, Emily had indeed hit rock bottom. She was a gorgeous young twenty-something. Her life involved parties and partying. She dabbled in drugs and had become an addict; even when she had first met  Devon. She was at her lowest low. “My only option was to go up. I wanted to leave a life story worth knowing and reading. Not a life story of worthlessness and addiction. I chose to ‘forget about it – and left drugs behind. I chose joy.”

Upon that decision, everything changed.  Emily had a new focus on life and chose living. So she channeled that same strength in overcoming Devon’s accident. It had to have meaning. So many people had given to them to help them survive a life of quadriplegia, she had to give back. Emily started The Colbert Project, a non-profit foundation which raises money to bridge gaps for other facing financial ruin from tragedies throughout the fire community brought on by illness or off duty injury. Their mission?  To do behind the scenes work so that all the glory is given to God.

At their first event, a silent auction and ball, the seed money was raised. Now three years later, The Firemen’s Ball is one of the largest fundraisers of its kind in the Dallas area.  They have raised thousands of dollars to assist three families on a large scale and helped countless others with hospitalization care packages, gas cards, grocery money and so much more.

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Emily believes that because God blessed her little family, it is her job to return the goodness.  As a mere high school graduate, “Never in a million years would I have seen myself where I am today.”  She is a mother of two lovely young boys; the wife and life-long partner to a husband with quadriplegia; Chairman and CEO of The Colbert Foundation.  “This is a path that God chose me to tackle. I want to be remembered as a warrior doing good for others, not someone of stature in society.”

The people in life that most inspired her and mentored her to overcome are her grandmother and her parents.  “They are beautiful, unique creatures inside. That’s what counts.”  Despite her success, Emily is extraordinarily humble.  “I’m no one special. I’m just me. I live minute by minute, day by day. I never expected to face the challenges in life that God sent me.  I’m living and screwing up just like anyone else. I really don’t see myself as a Belle of Steel, although I am honored.  I just walk in hope each day. In that hope, I pray to kick some ass along the way.  Maybe that’s what makes me a Belle of Steel. Bam!”

For these reasons and seeing/watching with joy as another strong women overcomes, AgeView Press is proud to celebrate Emily Allen Colbert as its fifteenth Belle of Steel.

You survived Vietnam, but what about its aftermath?

Four decades after the Vietnam War, many veterans are still questioning why me? Some still suffer form post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. For many honorable service men and women, it is a condition that just won’t go away.  According to one veteran, “we all came back with some form of PTSD, some were just more affected than others.”

As a trauma nurse, I have seen this over and over in my patients. As a writer, I have heard this over and over from my military colleagues, whether they were in the air or on the ground. This issue was called shell shock in WWII. It was worse after Korea and continued it’s increase post-Vietnam. And now is horrific according the number of cases from our Iraq and Afghanistan vets.  In fact, the type of PTSD being seen in many of our current combat veterans is so bad, it is called moral bankruptcy. Our military are being asked to do and see such horrific things, going against the very fiber of their being for what they know to be just and right, the consequences are catastrophic.

Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop was a USMC pilot who believes he went to Vietnam with a form of PTSD. He arrived there in 1968, interestingly enough, during the TET offensive. During fifteen months, he flew over 275 missions. While in Vietnam, his squadron VMA-311 flew 54,625 sorties dropping over 9 million tons of bombs. That record will never be broken.

picture of pilot Robert Gene Lathrop

Captain Robert “Gene” Lathrop, USMC

Lathrop returned seemingly unscathed until ten years after the fact. That delay in the onset of PTSD is common in vets. What started as nightmares and cold sweats, quickly progressed to anxiety and hallucinations involving the flames of napalm. Desperate to hold onto his second marriage, he and his wife initially sought counseling. Luckily,  a female psychotherapist up on the latest research broached the touchy subject – she suggested that Gene was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Initially he balked at the thought of treatment. But further conflict with family and an incident as work provocated his admission for in-patient treatment at American Lakes VA center.

During the 1980s, therapist and psychologists were treating the disorder the best way they knew how.  Oftentimes opening up a damn of emotion which release a hurricane of feelings for which the patient was not prepared.  Sessions were intense with profound rage, grief, tears, and sorrow as veterans were encouraged to bring out long repressed memories.  When the emotions became unmanageable, the answer was medication.  Heavy sedatives, anti-psychotics, and anti-anxiety drugs were the fixers. Or so they thought.

Through the love and support of his wife, Gene endured this therapy, its aftermath, and finally experienced an evolved standard of care for those with PTSD. In the research for the completion of his memoir ETERNALLY AT WAR, I came across many veterans who told a similar story. Much of this material came from the Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University, the largest national repository of oral histories, photography, film and literature that has been converted by the graduate students into digital format such that the memories of those involved in Vietnam, from doughnut dollies to pilots can be preserved.eternally-at-war-ecoversmall

According to Dr. Richard Verrone, previous Director of the Oral History Project, “The archive is invaluable for many reasons but especially for preserving the history of the Vietnam War and, in the process of doing so, honoring those who served.  We tried to make sure our work was thorough, accurate, personal, and beneficial to future researchers. And, of course, our work was a way to honor those people we interviewed. It was incredibly rewarding to me to be able to help veterans with their PTSD issues as we did the interviews, if that was a possibility.  I certainly made the effort to broach the subject if they were willing, and I wanted to get it out there, to remove any layers that were there, to help those who would research in the interviews better understand this terrible condition.  As an instructor here at Texas Tech in the Department of History, I have had in my classes over the years many veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Their PTSD issues mirror almost exactly those in the Vietnam interviews.”

Some veterans had coped by simply forgetting the past and moving on. Even talking about the war, brought heavy emotions back to the surface. Many of those interviewed for my research could not complete the process. Although some veterans find comfort in hanging out with their peers in the form of reunions or gatherings at a local VFW,  Lathrop found comfort in dealing with the aftermath of Vietnam through the written word. His powerful and frank poetry in THE DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN and now his brutally honest memoir are a brilliant window into the atrocities of a controversial war and the survival of its aftermath. He believed that society has a responsibility to care for all veterans when they return to peacetime and aid them to recovery after their sacrifices. “We owe it to the Vietnam generation, it’s an amazing sacrifice that they made. But it’s also the path ahead for the Iraq and Afghanistan generation. We have to do better than we did for Vietnam,” according to Dr. Charles Marmar, Director of The Steven & Alexandra Cohen Veterans Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. AgeView Press agrees and therefore is honored to produce Lathrop’s works.