You Gotta Have Heart

You Gotta Have Heart

Clever. Romantic. Funny.

That’s the kind of blog I planned on posting today for Valentine’s Day.

Instead, I am writing (and thinking and praying) about a guy named Jim who died unexpectedly on Sunday. Jim had a big heart. Literally.

A right-sized heart

Twelve years ago Jim was at the top of the list to receive a donor heart. He’d been waiting a year or more for a heart of the right size for his big frame to become available. His wife and four teenaged daughters and all of us in their circle of family and friends had been praying steadily for such a donation to happen.

When word finally came one May day that a right-sized heart was ready to be transplanted into Jim’s 6-foot 5-inch frame, we all breathed a little sigh of relief and thanksgiving…and then the really BIG prayers started: that Jim would survive the transplant operation and take well to the anti-rejection drugs and other medications required to keep his heart pumping. Thanks to a skilled transplant team and his wife, Meg, who is about the most competent nurse on this planet, Jim made it through surgery and the many months of rehab and adjustment post-transplant.

We all reveled in Jim’s new-found energy and his almost-back-to-normal lifestyle that allowed him to accomplish household chores, take on caregiving responsibilities for his aging parents-in-law, and best of all, see his four beautiful daughters complete their high school and college educations. It would be hard to find a prouder dad on college graduation day than Jim!

Because two of Jim’s daughters attended college near my home, my husband and I became surrogate parents for the five years that the two young women lived near us. Jim would call to ask advice of my mechanically-gifted husband about car problems that his daughters were experiencing. Or he’d ask us if we would store the college students’ belongings in our basement for the summers between semesters. Or, he questioned happily, would we mind hosting his daughters’ graduation parties?

Jim usually knew the intricate and ever-changing comings and goings of his girls, and provided them with wise and loving counsel from afar.

When Jim and Meg visited their daughters in college here in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas, they always arrived in a fully-packed van, loaded with food and other items to make college life a little homier and easier. Jim became a master at packing and unpacking the van and was an expert in navigating the college tuition and loan systems. I once told him that he could give financial aid seminars to other parents!

During his visits with us, Jim cooked grand meals (Italian sausage and bell peppers in marinara sauce over pasta was his specialty!) that used every pot and pan in my house. He was the first to volunteer to drive to the supermarket to pick up an extra gallon of milk. When I whined about our home computer woes, Jim generously climbed the stairs to our home office on the second floor and installed software and printers, all as his way of loving us and saying thanks for the hospitality.

Many an evening at our kitchen table found Jim, my husband and me chewing the fat over a beer (or two). Those chats were always punctuated, even late into the night, by cell phone calls from one or more of his daughters. Amazingly, Jim usually knew the intricate and ever-changing comings and goings of his girls, and provided them with wise and loving counsel from afar. He cheered their college sports teams to victories and bemoaned game losses just as much as his daughters. His casual wardrobe consisted mainly of ball caps, sweatshirts, and jackets emblazoned with the logos and names of West Virginia, Xavier, and Dayton Universities.

An early Valentine

This past Saturday Jim surprised his wife with an early Valentine—a lobster dinner with all the trimmings that he had ordered during the Christmas holidays. He and Meg enjoyed a lovely meal together, just the two of them in a quiet and intimate setting. When they went to bed that evening, Jim said he was a little tired.

Early in the morning on Sunday, Jim’s coughing woke Meg, and instantly her medical training kicked in and she began performing CPR on her husband who had turned blue. She was used to the CPR drill after so many previous life-threatening events.

But this time was different. Jim did not respond to Meg’s rhythmic pushing into his chest to restart his breathing, and the 911 paramedics could not restart Jim’s big heart either.

Sunday night Meg called me and my husband to inform us of Jim’s death. We were—and still are, of course—shocked and incredibly sad. His death reminds us that all life is fragile, and even with the best of medical care, we never know what will happen to us and those we love.

So, on this holiday of hearts, I remember Jim, the man with a big heart. God bless you, Jim, and may the angels and saints embrace you and welcome you with open arms. May Jesus hold you close to his heart.

Photos © Scott Maxwell and Anyka and artSILENSE of PhotoXpress


About the Author

Lisa Biedenbach, director of product development for St. Anthony Messenger Press books, works to identify great writers whose insights and experiences can inspire and inform us about the Catholic faith and help connect people to God and each other. A graduate of St. Bonaventure University, she is married, and loves to cook, garden, read books, and entertain family and friends.