This Charlene when to high school with David’s twins, Richard and Steve. She and her husband were the abulance drivers who transferred Dave to the heart hospital. How strange is that?
David A Swankie, Sr. (1937-2001)
How could it be 10 years already? Last night I realized that today it would be 10 years since my husband died in open heart surgery. I want to tell our story as a tribute to this wonderful man. He would want me to tell our short story. Please don’t think this is going to be sad or morbid… we laughed and loved more than most people do in an entire lifetime together.
Wonderful… what can I say, he loved horses and dogs and nature… and most of all, he loved me (I felt more than anyone else ever had-including my parents). We met online in March 2001. He said, his wife was in a nursing home and no longer knew him and he wanted someone to go have a meal with him and talk. I was hesitant to go out with a married man… but thought he really needed a friend… but by the time I emailed him back, his wife has passed. Oh, sure you say, rebound… and so we met… at McDonald’s. We talked, we parted laughing at how our vehicles looked like they went together… mine a forest green and his bright red… they looked like Christmas parked together.
We began dating but by the following month (April 2001), we got an apartment together, became engaged… and began planning our wedding. He didn’t want one, he wanted to get married that very minute. But I never really had a wedding… so he agreed and the date was set for end of June 2001. We began settling in and merging our stuff… too many t.v.s and radios, etc. He claimed the kitchen as HIS and would not even let me wash one dish… and even fussed at me for walking the dirty dishes to the sink. He wanted to make everything perfect for me. No mis-matched dishes or silverware. One of his kids laughed at that, as they always had mis-matched stuff.
We arranged the wedding venue, invited all our friends and family (my best friend flying back from Africa), ordered the cake, etc. and so forth. He insisted on a double-ring ceremony and we went out and bought our rings. I was much more excited and more in love than the first time around. My 9-year old granddaughter wrote us a love poem.
I just noticed that the R.S.V.P. date was June 4th and that was the day he died in surgery. How ironic.
He had many health issues… was on oxygen all the time, was a diabetic, and I knew all that. I think now looking back on it.. he did too much in getting our new “home” organized while I was working fulltime. I worked across the street from our new place. About the end of May we finally got our marriage license. The very next day I went to work… and he called shortly after I got there, saying he didn’t feel right and thought I should come get him and take him to the Emergency Room. I did. They transferred him to a heart hospital in Everett, WA. I was frantic when they told me we could not even go outside to sit in the fresh air and talk. That scared us both.
Well, this didn’t sound good. I told him he was in deep doo-doo for spoiling all the wedding plans and he was going to need a really big shovel to dig his way out of that one.
David with his deep doo-doo shovel
and my granddaughter, Tori.
I ran out for lunch and came back with a big snow shovel which I had spray painted gold and silver and tied a big bow on. He laughed so hard I thought he was going to expire on the spot. From that moment on he had to tell everyone that story. Someone would come in the room and see the shovel and looked puzzled… and there was the storyteller waiting for them.
I went back home to call around, search on the internet, etc., make phone calls and try to find someone to marry us. I had no success and felt I needed to get back to him so I rushed back to the hospital. A couple blocks from the hospital I saw a church steeple off to the left and swerved and just marched in asking if someone could marry us. I found this guy dressed in a Hawaiian shirt… and he said, “Yes, he married people. When?” I said, “Now!” He became skeptical but followed me back to the hospital. We got to the room, David’s daughter was there, and I popped my head in the door… and asked “You still want to get married?” He reply was a loud and hearty “Hell, YESS!” The minister had no further doubts. And so we were married right then and there on May 27, 2001.
The minister in his fancy shirt, David’s nurse,
and the bride and groom, Mr. and Mrs. David A. Swankie.
A sign went up on the door… “Honeymooners – Do Not Disturb!” Well, on the heart wing… an odd sign indeed. But it made David laugh. Also we had to edit the nurse’s white board.
I don’t know if you can read that but bottom line says: WIFE: Charlene. We were told he was going to need surgery and his changes were 50/50. He thought those were good odds… I just felt scared. Four days after we were married and four days before his surgery, he had one of his twin sons take me to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and had me added onto his Military Health Insurance. I knew he had wanted to do that after we were married but once he was in the hospital, I just decided that wasn’t happening and I never even mentioned it to him. But he didn’t forget. I told him I didn’t want to leave him long enough to go. He said I had to. Twin Richard drove me over in David’s truck… we took care of the insurance, and then we had to pick up Twin Steve… and run some other errands or something… and I kept wanting to get back to the hospital… but it was fun in one way… the boys were singing country songs to me… wow… what a deal… twin step sons who love country music as much as I do.
David and his four kids.
June 4, 2001 came… we were all awake early, a bunch of his kids were there (I can’t remember who now)… we prayed together. About 3am I woke up hearing David (not out loud)… introducing me to someone saying exactly “…and this is Charlene, my bride of a week and a day”. I heard it in my head. When they took him down to surgery, we were outside the operating room doors… and his surgical nurse came out, introduced herself to him, said she was going to give him a shot now… and he turned to her and said and “…this is Charlene, my bride of a week and a day.” I just stood there in shock. Mind you, he had not used those words before, to me or anyone else. My brain could not believe I heard that or even that through those doors was the OPERATING ROOM… and that he was going into surgery… this was real. The laughing stopped… but he was telling the nurse a joke as she wheeled him into surgery. Always telling jokes and trying to make others happy.
My son, Richard, granddaughter Tori,
and daughter-in-law Rhonda.
Hours later, after being put on the by-pass machine three times (they had told me that more than once would be a very bad sign)… and finally it was over, he was gone. My son Richard was there… and I just screamed and held on to him, and was glad he is a big guy. My Richard took me back to his house where my granddaughter was… and when we told her she just collapsed on the floor and cried. All three of us just sat in a heap holding each other. I gave her David’s ring to wear until she felt better and she could give it back to me. She adored him. They bonded like nothing I’ve ever seen. When she learned we had gotten engaged… she hollered “my Grandma is getting married”…. then she ran to the bathroom and locked the door so no one could see her cry… she was so happy. The news of Grandpa David’s death just crushed her.
He wanted his ashes spread at his favorite fishing spot… where he had planned to take me one day. We hiked to that spot.
Here are his twin sons, Richard and Steve,
spread their father’s ashes.
On our scheduled wedding date… we met as planned… everyone already had reservations, plane tickets, etc. My best friend was in transit from Africa and I couldn’t even reach her to tell her David had passed. I was with my family… and that helped.
My son, Richard and his wife, me with Tori, and my brother Jim with his wife Marla. The rest of David’s family was gathering for an annual family reunion in Leavenworth, WA and we spent a little time with them as well, but it was ackward..
Here are some of the tributes we received for David.
The following year, in a effort not to dwell too much on my loss… I took my Granddaughter on a cruise to Alaska. We had fun… but still I dwelled and kept getting more and more depressed and fatter.
We rafted down a river in an Eagle Preserve, took 4-wheel drive jeeps into the back country… saw the Mendenhall Glacier up close and personal. Still I felt sad and fat and like life was over. I missed him so much.
But, thanks to the thoughtfulness of my wonderful husband (of a week and a day)… I had health insurance… and have since had my knees replaced, gained my mobility, regained my life… and can now bike, hike, and kayak all I want. (Edited: In fact, by 2014, I had kayaked all 50 states, spread the remainder of his ashes on my Alaska paddle… he was born there, and am planning to hike the 820-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail in 2015.) That would not have been possible if this wonderful man not come into my life.
He wanted me to meet someone and go on living. The “someone's” I have met are not of any interest to me… but I am living… David made that possible.
It was my honor to be his wife, if only for a week and a day. He was a blessing and I hope he is sharing my adventures with me. I feel he is.
David, I will always love you. How could it be a decade already. (Edited in 2014: 13 years now.) It still feels like yesterday. When I think of you, I think of happiness and joy and love. You are still making me happy.
Your loving wife – forever, Charlene