It was Mother’s Day, 2006—a beautiful spring day in the Okanagan. The air was heavy with the warm scent of blossoms, the buzz of bees and the graceful flutter of butterflies in and amongst the flowerbeds. Ron, Linda and their young son, Kristian, spent the day in their huge yard: cutting the lawn, pruning trees, weeding and playfully arguing over where to plant flowers. They had just bought a used play structure and Kristian—in his ‘big-boy-four-year-old’ way—helped Ron lay it out on the patio, even picking the color of the stain. They had planned to start painting that day; however, Ron was also preparing a wonderful home-cooked meal for Linda and ran out of time. He was confident he would get to it soon.
After dinner, Ron finished up some work on the computer and went to bed around 11pm, complaining of feeling tired. Linda followed and while Ron fell asleep right away, Linda laid in bed, day-dreaming about all of their exciting reno projects. A short time later, Ron cried out in his sleep and sat up. At first, Linda thought he was having a nightmare, something that had been happening quite a bit, of late. What quickly became apparent was that this was not a nightmare.
This was something much worse.
Flipping on the light, Linda stood helplessly as her husband experienced a massive heart attack. The way she describes it, it was like he was wrestling an elephant off of his chest. His mouth was foaming and his eyes rolled back in his head. After a panicked call to 911, she did her best to calm him while waiting for the paramedics to arrive.
The first responder was the fire department. Unfortunately they did not have a defibrillator with them and were unable to do anything, except move him to the living room. By this time, Ron was unconscious. Linda has a vague memory of this time, of making phone calls, of neighbors and friends arriving and of talking to her unconscious husband, waiting precious minutes (that seemed like hours) for the paramedics.
As soon as the paramedics arrived, they rushed Ron to the hospital, but despite their efforts, it was too late. Ron could not be revived.
“I felt so helpless,” Linda says. “I felt like I should have tried something to save him. But I couldn’t…” she chokes up as she recalls that night. Even six years later, the experience haunts her. “It was so much more violent than I’d ever imagined. I’ve heard all these stories of people simply going to sleep and never waking up. It wasn’t like that for Ron. It seems so unfair.”
Ron was only 55 when he passed away so suddenly in the night. He was a victim of heart disease, a genetic condition that took the life of his grandfather, father and older brother. His father was only 42, his brother 38 when they passed away. Ron was with his grandfather, working out on the farm, when he died. Ron tried to resuscitate him; he was only 16 at the time.
“We knew he had this condition,” Linda tells me. “But we just lived our lives, I mean you can’t carry on your life waiting for death.” In fact, if you had met Ron, you would never have guessed he had a heart condition. He was vibrant and fit, looking much younger than his years. Linda, a massage therapist, was a conscientious cook, making sure to keep their meals healthy and heart-smart.
But at the end of the day, there was nothing they could do.
Six years later, Linda has courageously carried on, changing careers and raising Kristian on her own. She misses Ron every single day and grieves, not only for the loss of her husband, but for the loss of her son’s father. “Kristian was only four when Ron died. There were so many things Ron wanted to do with him, share with him.”
Linda is one of the bravest women I know and she is also one of my dearest friends. I will never be able to understand how helpless she felt that night. To a much lesser degree, I’ve often felt helpless wishing I could do more for her as she has struggled to come to terms with ‘life after heart disease’.
So, in my own small way, I have dedicated, Thief of Hearts: Wanted to the memory of her husband, Ron. It’s a fantastical retelling of the story of Robin Hood – which is fitting because Ron was the kind of guy who would give his last dollar to someone living on the streets. In the same spirit, I will be donating $1 from every book sold between February 14th 2012, and March 14, 2012 to The Heart and Stroke Foundation.