Life is a constant precarious balance

Solidity against the breeze of time,

And death a constant reminder

Of denial and acceptance.

One misstep away from a plummet

We fall from grace or fall in love.

We are poised for the end, but if

We endure and remain stable, we will leave behind

A pair of hands, or perhaps a multitude of hearts

Who remember when they discover stones of interest

To pile up rock solid moments, enshrine memories,

Encircle themselves in love for the entirety of their life.   


My smile was too big for my face. This created a quiet nervousness and uncertainty in my psyche.  If you watch closely, you will see that it lingers still.  As a child in school, I would have absolutely wanted to wear a mask.  It would have protected me from developing the low self-esteem that I carried inwardly for most of my life.  My self-perceived ugliness would have been hidden. The anxiety I had about my overbite may have been squelched if my classmates couldn’t see it, and perhaps I would not have been a target for bullying. I spent many hours in the nurse’s office in third grade to sixth grade.  There I found a safe place where I could be alone long enough to calm myself when the teasing at recess felt overwhelming. I told the nurse that I had a headache or a tummy ache, but in reality, it was my heart that was wounded. The thoughts and emotions floating in my young head were on overdrive.  How could my classmates be so mean? Why am I so ugly? I hate them.  I want to be friends.  I hate myself.  You see, not only did I have an overbite, my two front teeth had been chipped when I flew over my handlebars in a bike accident.  I knew I was ugly; my teeth were pointy.   My classmates merely confirmed this fact.  During those few years I had three new schools bringing three new sets of classmates. Looking back on those years now, I wonder that if had I only had one school perhaps the teasing wouldn’t have been as prolonged during my formative years. 

One cold day in particular, I felt completely surrounded by the name calling at lunch recess. “Bucky Beaver” or “Snaggletooth”.  Everyone was against me, even my handful of friends didn’t come to my defense. I quickly yanked my knitted hat over my face so that they wouldn’t see my tears as I ran to the nurse’s office.  She was sympathetic as always and asked me what had upset me so much, and I told her.  She allowed me to recover on the cot, however a little while later she breezed in and said the principal would like to see me. Most kids would be mortified by that sentence being directed at them. Not me, I just knew that he would want names of the bullies, to punish them.  I sat timidly in front of his desk, and he began by asking if I knew who Eleanor Roosevelt was. He then went on to tell me that she had overcome sadness in her life, that people did not consider her a beauty, but she had become a well-respected and important woman who was loved worldwide. At my young age I didn’t grasp the significance of what he was telling me.  I heard only that it was okay to not be pretty. I do not know if my classmates were reprimanded.  I did not feel any better about myself.  It wasn’t until many years later, when looking back, I realized he had attempted to make me feel better by telling me looks are not everything, that what we have inside us, is what is vital to a happy life.   

When my dad found out what had happened that day, he was calm but with an undercurrent of annoyance directed at the principal.   “Don’t worry about your looks, you’re going to grow into your teeth.” And “You will be beautiful like your mother.” And “Some people consider Eleanor Roosevelt to be attractive.”  Or “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  My dad has always known what to say to make me feel better about myself.  He still does to this day.

Shortly after, we moved to Shiloh and a new school.  I was older, my face filled out, and I eventually had porcelain caps put on my chipped teeth. I still had that overbite, but the teasing wasn’t mean, it was good natured.  I was a novelty, new girl in the school and it seemed like everyone wanted to get to know me. There were only five girls in my classroom and the boys gave us all nicknames.   I was Feather Head because of my last name, Heatherly.   Shiloh was a turning point in my childhood, as I formed close friendships in that small town that have lasted my lifetime. However, to this day I cringe and squirm inside anytime I hear the word bucktooth.   

Maneuvering in a Covid era has all of us feeling insecure and uncertain.  With all the inane debating about masking at school this coming fall, these memories of my childhood have been on the forefront.  I guess the reason I write this is twofold:  Firstly, for the parents:  Stop creating stress for your children with your anti-masking stance.  Stop confusing mask wearing with an infringement on your rights.   Change your mind set about YOUR rights.  Having rights comes with responsibility to YOUR community.  I understand your distrust with the government, but this pandemic has NOTHING to do with politics.  Our government is not attempting to manipulate you. Continuing the anti-vax, anti-mask stance makes you out to be a whiner.  Pick your battles. Be an activist in a fight that is worthy (environmental, poverty, healthcare, taxes… there are so many), instead of this self-entitled, fear of vaccine/disbelief of the seriousness of Covid. You look foolish. Variants don’t care about your opinion.  Is this the lesson you want to teach your children? You are adding to their fear and confusion.  Your children have no problems with wearing a mask, in fact, some of them may prefer it. It may even help them concentrate on their studies instead of worrying about what others think of them. All for one, one for all.

 Secondly, for the kids:  The United States of America was created to insure the people have a right to their own opinions, ideas, and lifestyle.  You have won the geographical lottery to be living in this great country.  But be sure your principles, beliefs, rights are on the right side of history.  We all know that wearing a mask is uncomfortable, but it is the right thing to do to destroy a virus, which will continue to replicate and become stronger, unless society uses its tools to combat it.    Your mask is your weapon.  Also, for the kids who are struggling with their self-esteem, remember to love who you are, flaws and all, and know that everyone has them.  Remain aware that your looks will change as you grow. Keep in mind that nobody is scrutinizing you as closely as you criticize yourself.  They, too, are all wrapped up in their own insecurities. You will always appear stronger when you are open minded, kind and accepting rather than bullying and judgmental.

AGE 10 Donna J. Heatherly – Jefferson School, Belleville, Illinois

Insecurities And Exchanges

Behind The Mask

Behind the mask

My views are unsuppressed

While I do not flaunt my thoughts

Look closer. My opinions are expressed,

if only to myself.

Behind the mask

I flagrantly display

Disgust, distain, annoyance

It is liberating really.

Behind the mask

My face relaxed

Unguarded, unseen.

Shallow breaths indoors become deeper

as I distance myself from the unknown.

Behind the mask

I sigh, I mutter, I curse

Covid fatigue, foolishness, boredom and politics.

Silent screams save my soul from tedium and buffoons.

Behind the mask

My eyes do the talking

Telltale dark circles,

An arched brow, a squint, a scowl,

Or a roll of the eyes.

Pay attention.

Behind the mask

I read others’ body language while I

chose with care which gesture to use to

evoke an emotion, a concept or understanding.

Behind the mask.

Sheltered from suspended virus particles,

Unshackled from senseless arguments of whether to wear it or not

Common sense buoyed by science and consideration of community

Safe from scrutiny, I will sneer at those showing ignorant bravado.

Donna Heatherly

Oct 26, 2020

Physiques In Time

Floating in the pool one day I attempted to recall nearly every swimsuit I have ever worn, and to remember how I felt about myself, my body, my life, at the time.  Some of these recollections originate from ancient black and white snapshots taken by my mom. As the decades glide swiftly past and the currents of my life overflow with memories, I am startled at how little I appreciated the body I was born with.

1960’s   Blooming Bud

Oh, how I wish I could be as content in my body as I was at the age of 2.  When I look at this picture taken at Carlyle Lake, I see a lucky little girl, surrounded with boys who made an impression on shaping me… my older brother and cousins.  This little girl stands solid on her pudgy legs, pleased in her baby fat, her tummy full of snacks and milk.  The baggy two-piece swimsuit, mismatched bottom and white halter top is adorable, and is rather in style today, except for the bagginess.

How cute I was in my little strawberry print one- piece at the sweet age of 4.  The excitement of climbing into the little wading pool bubbles up in my mind and to this day I can feel the rubbery surface beneath my little toes, feel the pebbles under the rubber.   The sweet little face in that photo shows a cheerful squinty toddler without a care in the world beyond my mothers’ attempts to keep the grass clippings out of the pool.  I had no thoughts about how I looked in the bathing suit, only that I was happy to be with my brother and sister and cousins on a hot summer day.

About the age of 9 I had become aware that it was vital to be tan.  Thus, my sister and I took the time out from playing with our beloved Barbies to smother ourselves with baby oil and fry our virgin skin.  For this exercise in failure I sported a pink floral with an attached flouncy skirt. We would lay side by side on a bedsheet with blades of dry summer grass poking our pale bodies under us and the glaring UV rays ruining our unsullied skin. I recall the impatience I felt as my energetic self would lift the fabric to assess for any tan marks, and the disappointment when after 10 minutes prone on the ground no results were to be found.   Our mother, undoubtedly hoping we would fall asleep and give her a break from our giggling noisiness, insisted we wear sunglasses to protect our eyes.  That way we would be able to read teen magazines directing us on how to become beautiful in the future.

1970s   Ripening

This is the decade I went from being a carefree child to becoming a free spirit.  I also developed a love/hate relationship with myself.  Most days I was unhappy with my appearance.  I felt I was so skinny and flat chested that no boy would ever like me.  I thought everybody was staring at my overbite.  I was highly self-conscious and wanted to disappear.  I spent a lot of time reading romance books and craving a boyfriend.  The summer before high school I had a near death experience when my appendix burst on the operating table and spent weeks recovering in the hospital.  The surgeon did a hatchet job.  My underlying thought process was about how ugly the massive damn scar looked.  This is when the hatred of my stomach began.  When I was finally able to start gym in school, changing into our PE uniform was brutal.  Of all the many faults my body had to be hidden from the girls in the locker room, now I had to add my disgusting stomach.   It was not until three years later that I wore a two-piece, at the prodding of my best friends.  It was all the fashion at the end of the 1970’s and peer pressure gave me a false confidence.   I was thin, yet I was so concerned about my hideous appendectomy scar and the pooch from the surgery.  I let it consume my entire life really, always focusing on my abdomen and how insufficiently flat my stomach was.  But I did love the attention bestowed on me while in that brown string bikini.   I soon realized that at 17 there is no man in the world that would scoff at a woman just because of an appendectomy scar if he thought he had a chance with her!

The power of sexuality became my modus operandi.  Literally with the wink of an eye, a beguiling smile or a dance move, young men would come to attendance.  The awkward little girl who thought she would never have a boyfriend now juggled four at a time.  I was a party girl, ready to drink and dance and have fun.  I felt like I had the upper hand as I made decisions on who to see on which night.

1980s   Blossoming

I fell in love and married early, at 21.  My husband adored everything about me, faults and all, maybe especially my faults.  My favorite suit at this time was a purple poly one piece with a large silver diamond print on the bosom, which I thought hid the fact that I had none.   I was thin and yet I still thought I had to hide the poochy stomach.   I never thought my body was all that attractive, but my husband and I were in love, and that gave us both such confidence in one another.

Pregnancy years. How great it was to not have to worry about an expanding mid-section while I gained 20 pounds!  Maternity swimsuits are the ultimate for saying pamper me and give me all the ice cream.  Post pregnancy all the attention was on my beautiful babies and I was so proud to show them off. Having two babies under two years apart, I was too exhausted to really think much about my own appearances.  I sure enjoyed picking out their clothes though.

1990s   Vining

My persona is definitely in momma-mode. My days are full of volunteering…computer labs, Brownie troop leader, and tap-dancing musicals at a local playhouse.  I take great care in my appearance and am feeling self-assured.   At this time, I realized that I was a late bloomer. However, the only two-piece suit I would have the courage to wear are the high waisted boy cut shorts and halter top, which thank goodness was the style.  I chose a bright blue floral print to help to hide any evidence of mommy tummy.  I am still so hyper focused on my stomach, which after having two babies I realize I will never have a six-pack abs, but I am okay with it.  I am confident in the love of my husband and family. I wore mostly sporty tankinis when I took my littles to the public pool, however I do recall a deep purple one piece with a plunging neckline and back that I looked and felt fabulous in, because, yay, I now have breasts after having had babies.

2000   Full Grown

Unquestionably the most tumultuous time of my life while departing a marriage with teenage daughters. Finding myself single, I begin the excitement and apprehension of dating.   Falling madly for a charismatic man, I quickly find out he was damaged in childhood, he was a misogynistic asshole, and I his latest victim. But that is a story for another time, and you can read it in my book ‘Silent Longing’.   In the course of this on and off again seven-year relationship my daughters become women. They are gorgeous. One moves to Chicago for college and the other becomes pregnant. I witness my eldest baby become a mother.  It is an emotionally charged time for us all.  Hormones are raging (theirs) while mine are declining.  I become a grandma at 45.  And yet during all this stress and upheaval I am still able to look good in a bathing suit.  By this time, I have figured out most men do not believe in or need perfection.  I have also figured out that large prints work to hide imperfections, tankinis are my friend and coverups can be sexy.  I also splurge on tanning bed packages since cellulite and crepey skin are improved when bronzed.

2010   Seasoned

Welcome to the age of enlightenment.  After the sudden loss of my dear mother to leukemia I am driven by a desire to live my life to the fullest. Death makes you aware of how critical it is to live your best life. I have a fierce love for my grandbabies, meet my wonderful current husband, travel often together, exercise regularly, and feel absolutely 75% fine about my body.  Thoughts of gravity and anti-aging products take up the other 25%.  My biceps are becoming floppy and my butt is beginning a journey to who-knows-where-it-will-end-up, but I am alive and well; except for the melanoma in-situ found and removed on my arm leaving me with three new scars.   I end all sun tanning or tanning beds. My color comes strictly from Lancôme or Neutrogena now.  My go-to style suit are monokinis. Where have they been all my life?!  The first one was a bright red mono that covered my butt while lifting it, hid the tummy and had a low cut neckline but kept the girls intake. Monos can either be skimpy or they can cover more.  I have six in my possession and will never throw them out!  They make me feel so good about my body, hide my worse flaw and keep me young at heart.  However, some days when in a grandmotherly state of mind, I put on a one-piece or a suit with a flowy, blousy top with underwire push-up to show my maturity.

2020   Mellow

In my life, I have spent an inordinate amount of time agonizing over which swimsuit to purchase, how to hide flaws, reading reviews on Amazon, etc. I looked at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition once and went into a mild depression. It lasted a day.  I estimate that I have tried on at least 15 suits to each one purchased.  My sister and I have had many laughs in the numerous fitting rooms of years gone by while supporting each other through this process.  Commiserating together, we snicker about poor lighting in the room making our paleness more pallid.  We chuckle over muffin tops, we titter about our tatas, we cackle concerning arm flab, and we snort over our belly flops.   Its either laugh or cry and we prefer laughter. We remember a phrase our mom once told us while all three of us were trying on clothes at Dillard’s one afternoon.  My sister and I were complaining about some trivial aspect of our bodies, and mom said, “You will never look as good as you do now.”   She was reminding us not to be too hard on ourselves, and that the worse is yet to come.  HA!  To this day, I repeat those same words to myself when I am feeling melancholy about how I look as I age.  I am told that I look great for 60.  Most days I feel great about my appearance if I don’t look to closely.

We have a pool now, so I have been wearing bikinis again, and have been tanning.  However, I use caution with sunscreen, as well as caution with who sees me in a bikini!  I still love my monokinis and have also recently found favor with the crop top/banded arm suits or peasant tops that camouflage dimply upper arms.  I also still like boy shorts however my butt has taken a trip too far south and sometimes travels outside its boundaries.   I have a suit for every essence of my mood and for every event.  I have athletic suits for water aerobics class, canoeing and playing with grands, skimpy suits for lounging poolside or vacationing with hubs, roomy suits for large meals, black suits for conservative gatherings, skirted suits (which hubs recently told me to toss saying they look too matronly), and I even have one with long-sleeves for cooler nighttime dips.  I imagine that one day I will wear the long-sleeve in the daylight when my arms completely disintegrate.  At last count I own 27 swimsuits.  I know I need to toss some but have a hard time doing so. I rationalize having so many by telling myself that they do not take up much room.  Why is it so difficult? Is it because I feel like I am throwing away my younger self?   Yes, I think that is part of it, and I have always had a deep need to remember my past. Well, tomorrow I will say hasta la vista to several suits.  Then, I will continue my quest for the perfect suit for my imperfect physique.

Donna Heatherly

July 15, 2020



Silas At 6!

Big brother enjoying a moment with his little sister, while vacationing in Montana. Summer 2021
To our sweet boy on his birthday - loving thoughts from his Grandma. 

Silas has an insightfully funny personality who is quick to read the emotions of others as well as express his own, at times with gleeful abandon, and other times with a controlled reserve.   I love his happy, silly dance moves, his feet stepping lightly at such a quick light brings my energy level up x10!  And I cherish the quiet moments when he wants me climb up on his bunk bed to read Shel Silverstein and talk about poems before bed.  

A brain like a sponge, he absorbs every tidbit of new information and locks it in like a steel trap.  He is a baby elephant, retaining even complex ideas.  He knows the rules of chess and is a brave player, making bold moves.  He craves learning and creating.  His parents began nurturing his ability to learn at a very early age, checking out EVERY book at the public library and reading nightly.  In any given week I could walk into his bedroom and find baskets of new books to explore. This boy has a vocabulary better than some adults!   These days he prefers to create scenarios on Mindcraft over reading, but his parents keep a sharp lookout for using too much screen time.  And Legos…. Silas knows Legos!  Use caution when entering his room as the floor is covered with creativity. During the Presidential election last year, he and I had a timed contest to see who could build the best White House. He won.   He has a monthly subscription to KiwiCrate, which is a STEM kit.  We have such a good time putting them together, and I am always impressed at how he follows each step of the project carefully.  I pray he never looses interest in learning.  

Starting school during a global pandemic has been fraught with emotions and challenges.  Silas has the advantage of his young age and not having had much experience in a school environment but still he felt the stress of remote learning.  Before classes started in the fall we were playing poolside when he told me with grown worry in his little voice, “I can’t do what my mom and dad do’”.  They have both worked remotely for quite some time.  I did not know what he meant, however as the conversation went on and his tears emerged, I realized he was very worried about using a computer.  His parents eased his mind with their patience and their availability to be nearby while he gained his confidence.  I have often said that I would like to be a fly on a wall in my children/grandchildren classroom; remote learning gave me an occasional glimpse of him interacting with his teacher. He has done well at remote learning for Kindergarten and is good listener and quick learner.  I overheard the Letter-Of-The-Day while he was at class/laptop at my house.  The letter was ‘U’ and Silas said “Ukulele, its like a guitar, only smaller.  I have one”.  When his teacher said she hopes he will play for her one day, a shy, worried smile lit across his face.  The simple things like that make me smile.  In January 2021, school was open for in-person and he was so happy to be back, making new friends.  He is definitely a social guy who loves to laugh, make up jokes and play.   He is learning soccer; it is sad to see the littles on the field wearing their masks, covering up their cuteness, however they do not seem to mind and treat it as business as usual.  He has also started Boy Scouts recently. 
I am very proud of how Silas looks out for his little sister, and as Hadley is growing and becoming insistently verbal (that girl just has to be heard), I see that he sometimes HAS to tune her out, but somehow she is always in big brothers radar.  I know the two of them will always have a tight bond.  She watches her big brother’s every move, and she is going to be as curious about things as he is.  

Silas is a joy to be around.  He is seldom cranky but when he is, it is always brief.  If he is upset with someone or something he quickly curbs his attitude.  Truthfully, I have never seen him have a tantrum, even when he was younger.  It is remarkable.  The only times I have seen him upset is if he feels his older cousins are making fun of him or ignoring him. He wants so much to be a part of their teenage conversations/actions.  It breaks my heart to see his little feelings hurt, but I get how Dylan and Devin need their space too.  It is all a part of learning to cope, and I know they all love one another; the age differences will one day work themselves out.   

I foresee a future of Silas continuing to make us all proud, bringing all our lives laughter and wonderment with his inquisitive spirit and happy personality.  

Love, Love!


May 3, 2021

STFU & Mask It

Maneuvering in a Covid era has all of us feeling insecure and uncertain, so Just Stop with all the inane debating about masking at school.  The reason I write this is twofold:  Firstly, for the parents:  Stop creating stress for your children with your anti-masking stance.  Stop confusing mask wearing with an infringement on your rights.   Change your mind set about YOUR rights.  Having rights comes with responsibility to YOUR community.  I understand your distrust with the government, but this pandemic has NOTHING to do with politics.  Our government is not attempting to manipulate you. Continuing the anti-vax, anti-mask stance makes you out to be a whiner.  Pick your battles. Be an activist in a fight that is worthy (environmental, poverty, healthcare, taxes… there are so many), instead of this self-entitled, fear of vaccine/disbelief of the seriousness of Covid. You look foolish. Variants don’t care about your opinion.  Is this the lesson you want to teach your children? You are adding to their fear and confusion.  Your children have no problem with wearing a mask, in fact, some of them may prefer it. It may even help them concentrate on their studies instead of worrying about what others think of them. All for one, one for all.

 Secondly, for the kids:  The United States of America was created to insure the people have a right to their own opinions, ideas, and lifestyle.  You have won the geographical lottery to be living in this great country.  But be sure your principles, beliefs, rights are on the right side of history.  We all know that wearing a mask is uncomfortable, but it is the right thing to do to destroy a virus, which will continue to replicate and become stronger, unless society uses its tools to combat it.    Your mask is your weapon. Keep in mind that your classmates are not scrutinizing you as closely as you criticize own self.  They are all wrapped up in their own insecurities. Remember, you will always appear stronger when you are open minded, kind and accepting rather than bullying and judgmental.

Photo by cottonbro on

Observer Of The Orb

You pondered life while

peering out classroom windows.

Your daydreams gave rise to

a need for knowledge

of all things, large and small.

Grade school teachers worried

that you read too fast

Feared for your comprehension.

As you consumed every book in the library

In one year at Landsdowne Jr. High!

Ol’ wise Observer of the Orb,

you are the embodiment of common sense

your wisdom is unlimitless

your interests brim

with verity and wit.

You amaze me with your recall.

Details of distant days are contentedly recollected.

The prose of your memoires spill forth with ease.

Suddenly, I am in your moment of days gone by.

A generous man, with tolerance and perception.

A grateful man, with an understanding, compassionate heart.

Your open-minded opinions with just the right amount of suspicion

makes for stimulating issues of discussion.

You have taught me plenty and I have taken it all in.

The essential lessons of life being:

Remain positive, continue to learn, love deeply, and take care of oneself.

Afterall, a fulfilled life is much easier to live than a neglected one!

Happy Birthday Dad!



August 7, 2020


While the sands of time mark the minutes of my life

And the relentless roll of the tidal sea marches on

My pedicured digits dig in, rooted solid in wistful thoughts.

The present, with it’s swift tempo, becomes past, flows away, disappears with the grains under my feet.

As a pelican dives headfirst and deep to catch a morsel

I stand looking outward to the sea and see the serene peace of destiny

My Two Brothers Bob


I awoke this morning with a Facebook notification telling me that a special member of my family has a birthday. I use the word ‘telling’, instead of reminding, because I didn’t realize that today was the day that my dear mother had birthed my half-brother Bob. June 7 is not etched in my mind yet as a day to remember.  You see, I met him for the first time in my life a year ago.

It was a bittersweet discovery, the details of which I will reveal later. For now, let me just say that Half-Bob (a nickname which I joyously gave to him upon having him in my life) is the brother my psyche craved.

The brother I grew up with, the one I both adored and abhorred was Full-Bob. He was unavailable often as he hid his emotions from his sisters early in his life. (Unless angry or disgusted..he had no problem with expressing that). We had a extremely loving childhood, but Full-Bob was often solemn and moody. As children he teased me and hurt my feelings as only a brother can. Perhaps I was too sensitive. Perhaps I did not get his humor. Nonetheless, there was a deep love for one another.

As an adult, Full-Bob was busy working rotating schedule as a train operator or performing a gig as a professional musician. He often missed family events. He had two miserable marriages and great angst about unfulfilled dreams/desires.  His time was thin and he was often stressed out.

When a cancer diagnosis fell out of the sky he let the full range of his emotions rain down on my sister and I, sharing his disbelief, anxiety, and fear.

Shortly after that horrible diagnosis and dire prognosis his incredible strength hit me with full force. I have always been proud of my brother, but never had I been prouder than while watching him battle an evil disease. He became optimistic of a positive outcome, trying new cancer treatments, researching, vocal in support groups, all while continuing to make music. He was unable to play out, so instead he set up a recording studio in his home. His sense of humor showed a quiet dignity about the process of his body being destroyed.

Meeting Half-Bob was an emotional roller coaster for me. Total sublime happiness upon finding out about him! However, supreme sadness that he and his half-brother Bob never knew each other. I know their bond would have tight, and I know they would have stood side by side on stage playing their guitars.

Half-Bob is strikingly similar to Full-Bob in so many ways. They have the same names, given by different parents.  One is a pessimist. The other was a cynic. They both are very musically talented. Yet Half-Bob reaches out to both of his sisters in a way Full- Bob never could.

There were so many times growing up and as a young adult that I would’ve wanted Full-Bob to be more attentive to me and my life, my family, and more appreciative of who I was. I’ve never heard Full-Bob say he was proud of me.

Half-Bob on the other hand, is 100% more expressive with his feelings towards his new sisters. At first I thought it was insincere. …all the times he told me he loves me, how happy he is to be the “big brother”, how amazing I am. I mean, how could he love me when he just met me for the first time merely months ago? And why couldn’t Full-Bob tell those things? For some reason I really needed to hear them from my brother during my life. Why did I need validation from him?

I love Half- Bob, but it’s different. It’s mixed with disappointment that we didn’t know each other when we were younger and extreme grief at the death of our brother Bob. All the what-if‘s have been very hard for me to look past. But I’m working on accepting the fate of both of my dear brothers.

Our generous, sweet mother created a gift for me the day she gave birth to her first son. Six decades delayed, and yet, he arrived right on time.

Blues In The Sunset Of Life


Bobs grave

My brother died much like he lived, and it was not peacefully. Watching his final days of denial and dying, I wanted to help him get through it, which is much like I felt watching him living. Everyone’s life matters. Their death, then, matters too, which is why I write this on the one-year anniversary of his passing.

Growing up, my brother teased me in the typical ways an older brother annoys a sister. I mean, doesn’t everyone’s brother hang their Barbie dolls from trees? His feisty, funny teasing made me laugh some days and cry others. He seemed to thrive on making me anxious. He would say in an offhand way that my side profile was ugly or that I was dumb. Those remarks left a scar on my psyche. He was downright mean at times when we were young but I always held a tenderness towards him. I could sense vulnerability about him, especially when he was in one of his crabby moods. I absolutely looked up to him.

As a child in the 1960’s, every night I would fall asleep to the sound of laughter as my parents watched Johnny Carson. Their chuckles and talking brought a secure feeling to my little self. My sister and I would giggle in bed together feeling all was right in our world, while our brother was alone in his own room. Looking back, I wonder how that little boy felt. Did he feel relieved that he did not have to share a room with his younger sisters? Did he feel left out? We talked about this as adults, and he never let on that he held any resentment about how close my sister and I were, or that he felt left out. However I think at a young age, he coped with life by being independent. And perhaps the teasing was his way of acting out his feeling left out.

I watched him, and learned a few things from him along the way. I learned to appreciate his stubborn, sardonic wit. I suppose I picked up a bit of those traits too. It was his stubbornness mixed with his strength and sheer willpower that got him through a devastating diagnosis of stage 3 renal cell cancer. He was given a prognosis of six months. I remember hearing the panic in his voice on the phone when he told me the staggering news. I remember hearing his fear, but underlying that worried tone was also skepticism. His cynical personality made him doubt. And with that doubt he sought out other doctors. That six month death sentence extended to three years. Three years of Hell, but he was alive.

My brother came into himself in high school when he discovered the guitar. Self-taught, it came to him naturally. He was at ease and confident with a guitar in his hands. We loved hearing him perform, either casually around the table or playing a gig with the many bands he played in. He performed next to some of St. Louis’s finest – Tony Campanella and Marcel Strong. He even had an encounter with Nelly’s dad one night, who asked him to do an album with Nelly. It never came to fruition, but my brother’s talents did not go unnoticed. At his wake, a man I had not seen in 30 years, nor had my brother, told me that Todd Rungren was impressed with my brother when he heard him at Mississippi Nights. Bob was always proud to say he was a working musician, he took his art seriously. His musical growth never stopped, he constantly learned new cords, styles, and wrote songs. Music was his greatest love. After his diagnosis, and after his spinal surgery due to mets, he was depressed at the thought of never playing out again. He had a long painful recovery, and I am sure one of the things that got him through it was the need to be strong enough to hold his beloved Taylor in his arms. While he never performed publicaly again, he poured all his creativity into setting up a studio in his home where, he wrote and recorded his music. I miss watching him stroke his Fender, experiencing his total abandon while he manipulated those cords with so much expression on his face. I miss hearing his beautiful essence perform.

He had lived his life his own way. He had a star-crossed love at a young age, which he had to give up, followed by two doomed marriages. He gave them his best, and they selfishly took it. But he took from those experiences the inflamed emotions, which added to the gift of his musicality in playing the Blues. He told me his biggest regret was in not having a child. I weep now, thinking of that night. It was his ten years before his diagnosis, on his 50th birthday celebration. Everyone had left, it was very late and Bob was having “one more night cap”. It all came pouring out. His feelings of inadequacy, his bad habits, his exhaustion with work, his loneliness, his fears of getting older, his tears.

Nearing the end, hospice gave him a choice to go to a nursing facility or go home. He remained resolute in his fight and would not talk about his fate. Later that afternoon, he asked me what he should do. How does a person express to a loved one that they should accept their passing when they do not want to discuss death? So I remained vague. I told him that the outcome would be the same either way: That he would either rally or get worse. I told him he should be home, that Diana and I could care for him and he would be more comfortable. He arrived via ambulance. When he was being rolled to his bedroom he passed his hallway mirror and comically said “who is that ugly, old man?” He had become unrecognizable even to himself, but he found the humor in it. He was a skeleton, too weak to walk, oxygen deprived, but he was not ready to die.

My sister and I sat vigil day and night with our dear brother. He did not want us in the room with him “staring at him”. He did not want to talk. He did not need us telling him how much he was loved or seeing our tears. His oxygen levels were dangerously compromised and we knew it was only a matter of days, and yet he was still in warrior mode and could not accept dying. He was an atheist. I wonder if not believing in God makes the act, the thought of death, more incomprehensible.

We would look in at him lying there, so frail, alone and defenseless. We gave him a bell to ring when he needed anything. He did want much beyond cold milk, chocolate donuts and Xanax. Dad came over each day bringing milk shakes and meals and to see how we were all holding up. The final few days were very hard on dad but he would not show it. He and my brother had butted heads often. Dad had wanted him to go to Nashville and become of studio musician, Bob would hear none of it. Nashville was 90% country back in the 1980’s and my brother was born with the Blues and Funk in his veins. I wonder today how different my brothers’ life would have been had he taken his advice. After the death of our mother in 2009, they became very close. My brother was there for my dad, man to man, sharing his grief. Dad was there for Bob, soldiering through an unrelenting battle, watching every aspect of his son’s life wither away. I cannot even imagine how excruciating that was for my dad. Out of earshot of Bob, we discussed funeral arrangements and logistics of the house, even had a few laughs, which kept us all from becoming too emotional.

Bob became obsessed with his oxygen level and kept the monitor on his finger to see his level. It was pitiful. When his O2 dropped he would pass out. This happened often, and it had been for months, when he developed aspiration pneumonia. Now it was critical. The blaring noise of the television would tell us that his O2 had plunged as his index finger, always on the remote, remained pressed on the volume. My sister and I took turns in the middle of the night going into his room to turn it down. He would revive, and it would repeat all night long. Lying awake on the sofa, I felt guilty that I did not try harder to have a dialogue about the deeper meaning of death; however I was so apprehensive about his discomfort and his anger. He wanted his sisters with him but he could not share his exit thoughts with us. I prayed for his release. I prayed for his death to come soon.

On the morning of his death he growled at me when he noticed his milk and chocolate donut were missing. He had developed a sweet tooth to replace the scotch he had lived his life with. He had drifted off while eating, so I had removed it. I had taken his only enjoyment away. In his oxygen deprived mind he felt that if he could still eat he could still live. My poor brother, so afraid to give in. I told him I loved him. He said he loved me too. I made myself busy tidying things around his bed, hoping he would open up, however he was too exhausted to talk, raised his weak arm and waved me out of the room.

That afternoon, my sister and I were beginning to feel overwhelmed. We knew he did not want us to take care of his intimate needs, nor were we comfortable doing so. We called in hospice to offer advice. While we were meeting with the nurse in the dining room my brother was soundlessly taking his last breaths, with the music of Joe Bonamassa playing. I should have turned up that music! I hope he could hear it well. Music had always given my brother comfort; music was a place where his suffering would disappear. ‘Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life.’ – Jean Paul Friedrich Richter.

Bob was leaving us. I felt an immediate relief for him, as well as anguish. My sister cried out, “No!” She and I surrounded him with love. I stroked his head and told him it was okay. I told him that the song was over, that he had played it well, so well. I told him it was time to let go. I told him that I loved him. I told him that we would all miss hearing his music. I told him all the things I had wanted to tell him these past few days. I know he heard us as he drifted away. The nurse was at the foot of the bed observing his final moments. He was gone. I turned my back to walk out of the room to control my emotions. I heard a scream, and then laughter. The nurse had approached Bob with her stethoscope. He had raised his shoulders up quickly as if to lunge for her, then he laid back down. As I came back in the door I saw my brother give a lopsided grin, which then faded. He teased his sisters even at the end. Or was it a mere reflex of a dead man? I don’t think so. I believe my brother was ecstatic at seeing our dear mom again.

Six months later: I wake up sobbing from a dream. It is an exquisitely good dream, and yet sad beyond words, at the same time. In this dream, I am walking up to my brothers’ house. It is a summer night and the windows are open. I hear my brother playing his guitar – the song is a blues melody which had always touched a chord deep inside me each time he played it. He is in the battle of his life, worn out, yet freshly showered, and with a desire to create. Seeing him in this dream playing his guitar he never looked so good. I am happy and heartbroken at the same time. He sees my tears, gets up from his chair, walks over to me, puts his arms around me and tells me that everything is going to okay. He is reassuring me instead of me comforting him. Perhaps that is all I ever really wanted from him.

Donna J. Heatherly
April 13, 2018