Excerpt for I Will Never Leave You: A Soul Mate's Promise by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Books by Joy Collins

Second Chance 2007

Coming Together (with Joyce Norman) 2009

I Will Never Leave You 2017

I Will Never Leave You

Joy Collins

Desert Spirit Press


Digital Edition

Copyright © 2017 Joy Collins

All Rights Reserved.

Author’s Note

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews.

Reviewers may quote short passages for use in periodicals, newspapers, or broadcasts provided credit is given to I Will Never Leave You by Joy Collins and Desert Spirit Press, LLC.

Desert Spirit Press, LLC





Published in the United States of America

First Edition

Author photo: Photography by Leanna http://photosbyleanna.com/

To John

For always believing in me

For always loving me



Where to start? There are so many people whom I need to acknowledge and thank for their part in helping this book come to be.

To Susanne Wilson for introducing me to my “team” on the Other Side. She and they kept encouraging me to keep on writing when the task seemed so hard. And a big Thank You for honoring me with this beautiful Foreword.

To my soul sisters and business partners Cathy Marley and Betts McCalla for always being there with hearts and shoulders.

To my family and friends who supported me after John passed and kept me strong.

To my beta readers – Joyce Norman, Shelley Uram, Claudia Flowers, and Cynthia Flowers – they helped make this book so much better.

To my furbabies past and present. You gave me a reason for getting up in the morning.

And last – but never ever least – to John. You inspired and encouraged me in both life and death. You showed me a way when I was at my darkest. You loved me – and still do – and that has made all the difference in my life. Thank you, Sweetheart. Until we are together again…


I first met Joy two years after her soul mate John had unexpectedly transitioned. She was still deeply immersed in grief over the loss and driven by questions she had been unable to answer. Where was he? Was he okay? Was he to be forever beyond her reach? She had been reading one grief book after another but nothing provided the answers she needed.

When Joy came to me, she had seen other mediums. She knew that her husband’s consciousness, all his memories and personality, were still very much alive. She wanted more than just a reading with a spiritual medium. Joy wanted to learn how to make her own, direct connection with John’s spirit. Seeking understanding and connection, she began taking the next steps in her journey. I was honored when Joy chose me as a teacher on her path. She eagerly studied every course I had to offer, progressing through classes including Reiki Master Teacher, Intuition Development, and Past Life Regression. Her connection to her husband in spirit was becoming stronger, week by week. It was only a matter of time (and trust).

Joy was quick to connect with her spirit guides and become comfortable communicating with them. Soon her spirit guides were “showing” us a book (which became the book you are reading now). Joy’s spirit guides used the symbols of hands and angel wings as their way of saying that the spirit world supported her in writing this book.

It was not an easy process, but grief is never easy. Joy’s intense connection to John kept her moving forward on her spiritual journey. She knew that death was like a change of address and “moving away” cannot end a true love story. They now have a new relationship that is transcendent of Earthly life. All I had to do was facilitate and watch the two of them recreate the magic that they always had!

As sure as I am that the sun will rise in the morning, I am certain that Joy and John (in spirit) wrote this book together. With great compassion and generosity, this couple now shares their story, to help others heal from grief and learn to reconnect after death.

This book is about love, heartbreak, and healing in the face of the loss of one’s soul mate. You will find no grief counseling and no scientific data here. Joy is not a spiritual medium; she is a regular person like you. But if you have lost the love of your life, whether a spouse, child, or other greatly loved person, I invite you to come along on this journey now. Perhaps you, too, will be inspired to create a different kind of relationship with your loved one in spirit.

Love lives forever!

Susanne Wilson

The Carefree Medium

December 2016



Why am I writing yet another book about grief? Or, more specifically, why I am writing about my grief?

Seems rather conceited, doesn’t it?

I guess I have three reasons.

• I want to explain that grief is still largely misunderstood in our society and those who are mourning are given a harder row to hoe because of expectations put on them by those who don’t understand.

• I want to show that losing a soul mate spouse is very hard. In my opinion, it is harder than losing a spouse who is not your soul mate. I do not say this out of arrogance. And I’m not saying my grief is better than your grief. This isn’t a contest. I am just acknowledging that not all marriages are between soul mates. And that’s okay. But those of us who are married to soul mates mourn a little differently when we lose our partner. Those of you who are going through this will understand only too well. My hope is that this book will explain that.

• And finally, I want to share, through my story, that love and life don’t end just because death happened. I confirm up front that there is a lot of my life experience in this book. And a lot about John. Some of my editing team even questioned if maybe there were too many “John stories” in here. It is deliberate. I tell these stories not only to give you a feel for the depth of what a soul mate relationship is like but also how soul mates can continue their love even after death.

Let me elaborate.

John was truly my soul mate. And yes, that term gets thrown around a lot these days. Just because you are madly in love with someone doesn’t mean he or she is your soul mate. You can have a wonderful marriage with someone who isn’t your soul mate. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. But when you are living your life with your soul mate, especially if that soul mate is also your Twin Flame, life is beyond wonderful. And when you lose that person to death, the depth of the devastation is almost something that can’t be put into mere words. Having said that, I am going to try to do just that in this book.

Grief is hard. Grief is terrible. Grief is work. And society, especially American society, has put labels and restrictions and expectations on grief that are totally unrealistic and, in some cases, downright harmful. My first year after losing John was without a doubt the worst year of my life. I cried – all the time. I lost weight. I had no interest in life. Was I suicidal? No. Was I depressed? Yes, in the sense that I was very sad and had little to no interest in anything going on around me. Did I take care of myself and my home and my animals? Absolutely. Well, mostly what I did was for my home and my animals and doing the minimum for myself. I did not sit around on the sofa (most days) inside a mound of used tissues.

Yet, every time I went to the doctor and shed a tear, I was handed samples and prescriptions for antidepressants. I read books and articles that diagnosed me, and those suffering like me, with “complicated” grief because it went on for longer than six months. Other books stated that I should already have given away all of John’s clothes and taken off my wedding ring. Everywhere I turned it seemed someone had an opinion about what I should be doing and how I should be feeling. None of them were right. Grief is an individual thing. We each go through it in our own way. And doing what felt right for me was not a wrong thing. In fact, it was the most right thing I could do. Especially given the underlying circumstance that I was grieving the loss of my soul mate/twin flame.

And finally, partly because I had the need to know and partly because I just knew in my heart of hearts that this was true, I searched for the answer to the question that haunted me the most. Was it possible to continue my relationship with John even though he had passed? From the very first day I knew that, if any couple could do it, we could. I knew how much we loved each other. I knew how much we were part of each other’s lives. And I knew that we could do this.

Was it possible though? Was I just grasping for something because I was deep in grief? Or was there something to all the metaphysical stuff I had learned up until that point? Not only did I learn the answers to those questions, I learned even more than I realized was possible. Death is an illusion and communication with loved ones who have passed is not only possible but practical and happening all the time if we but know how to receive the messages.

I want to be clear about some things, too. I am not special. I’m an ordinary woman. I am not psychic. I am not a medium. Even though this is my story, this is not about me. I use my experience as an example. This book is for others who are grieving, especially those – man or woman – who are grieving their soul mate. I want to show you that any one of you can communicate with your loved one who has passed.

I also want to be clear that this is not the definitive book on grief and communication with a loved one who has passed. Just the opposite is true. This book is only the beginning. My hope is that I will whet your appetite and guide you to want to learn more.

Early on in my journey after John passed, I meditated with the expressed intention of learning my purpose. It was becoming apparent to me that if I was still here, despite my longing not to be, that maybe, just maybe, there was a reason. Maybe I still had something to do.

So, I meditated as best I could and asked for an answer. What I got was “Be. Do. Teach.”

A strange answer, indeed. Assuming I wasn’t tapping into my inner Yoda, what did it mean? I had no clue. Did it refer to my blossoming interest in Reiki? Maybe. But that didn’t feel like it.

So, I let it go, I prayed the answer would come in time.

And eventually it did.

I realized as I started to write this book that “Be – Do – Teach” is its theme. I have divided the book into those three parts. The first part “Be” is our story – John’s and mine. In it, I lay the groundwork to show you how we were together and why we still are. The second part is “Do” where I show you how I learned to apply what I was learning so that our relationship continues to this day. And the third part is “Teach”. There I am going to guide you on the beginnings of your own journey to communication with your loved one.

I invite you to come along with me through the last few years of my life and see if what I have to say will resonate with you and perhaps help you along your way as well.

And so it is…


September 2016



Our Story

Chapter One

I looked at the clock radio on the hotel nightstand – 1:15 AM – and turned to check John’s side of the bed. He wasn’t there. Nothing unusual. He often got up in the middle of the night to pee. One of the hazards of being a sixty-seven-year old man.

But he hadn’t been in bed when I woke up at 12:30 AM either.

Right away this didn’t feel right.

I called John’s name.

No answer.

I was instantly and fully awake. I didn’t bother to turn on the bedside lamp. I could see a sliver of light coming from the bathroom door. As soon as I jumped out of bed I hit my shin on the arm chair next to the bed. Cursing my stupidity, I limped around the bed calling John’s name again.

Still no answer.

I was now panicking.

John and I lived in Arizona and we had been visiting my family in New York City. But the visit was over. We had walked back to our hotel holding hands the evening before and I thought life couldn’t get any better. That night we had snuggled under the covers and talked about going home and how much we were looking forward to our own bed and our animals. We wished each other Good Night, I rolled over and quickly fell asleep. It was 10:30 and I knew the wake-up call would come early.

Now fear gripped me as I stumbled around the unfamiliar room.

I called John’s name again. Still no answer. Not even a moan.

Time slowed down. What took mere fractions of seconds felt like forever as I made my way to the bathroom.

By now I had rounded the bed and could see the bathroom door more clearly. It was slightly ajar. As I neared the door I saw John’s right foot beyond. It was discolored, oddly bluish-purple. And there was no way his foot should have been so close to the door like that. John was a tall man but even I knew he had to be slightly stretched out to reach the door like that. Had he fallen?

“John, are you okay?”

I reached the door and pushed it open, knowing in my heart that something was terribly wrong.

The next second changed my life forever.


My brain just exploded. This couldn’t be happening.

John was sitting on the toilet, slumped toward the wall. His eyes were half closed and the right side of his face looked drooped. His left leg was slightly drawn up, his left arm was across his chest and his right arm and leg were extended. I screamed his name again and reached for him. His body was cold and already felt slightly stiff. I shook him knowing it was useless.

“John!” I kissed him. “John.”

I ran from the bathroom and just spun in place in the small room, screaming and crying.

After a second I turned toward the bed and reached for the phone on the bedside table. I knew I needed help. I wasn’t wearing my glasses and couldn’t see to know what numbers to push to get the front desk. I just kept hitting buttons, getting nowhere, crying and sobbing. Finally, I took a deep breath and took the time to get my glasses and put them on. I now clearly saw what I needed and the man at the front desk answered immediately.

“Front desk, may I help you?”

I know I screamed at the poor man. “My husband is dead and I need help!”

“Ma’am? I’ll be right there.” He disconnected.

I sat in the lone armchair in the room. This couldn’t be happening. This wasn’t real. I looked at the bathroom doorway again. The room was eerily quiet. I ran back in and touched John again, crying, pleading with him to come back to me.

But he was gone. I was alone. All alone. The world had turned upside down and nothing made sense.

I went back out to the room and sat in the chair, waiting for the man from the front desk.

I looked at the ceiling. Was John still here? Could he hear me?

“I love you, Baby. Please come back. I don’t want to do this. Please.” I sobbed as if my insides were falling out.

But there was no answer.



Nothing except the sound of my own crying.

Chapter Two

The day I married John was the happiest day of my life.

John and I had been living together for a little over a year when we married in August of 1981. We had met almost five years earlier in November 1976 at a day treatment and counseling center for emotionally disturbed children and adolescents in northeastern Pennsylvania. I was the new nurse at the facility and John was one of the counselor/therapists. At the time, I was married to Bill, a psychiatrist. Bill was working at the local mental health center and had heard of the job through his networking circle. So he recommended me and I was given an interview. The job paid poorly, even for that time and area of the country, but I was just happy to be working. Bill and I had no children, just two cats and a parakeet, and I was bored out of my mind at home.

I will never forget the day I met John. I was still in orientation and was attending my first full staff meeting in the main building. John was sitting against the far wall in front of a window next to a psychologist friend. He stood out for some reason. Maybe it was the full red beard and the almost shoulder-length red hair.

Or maybe my soul just knew. John and I always believed we recognized each other from all the lives we had spent together both in this world and in between. All these years later I can still see him in my mind on that first day. It was as if a light beamed down from on high and singled him out. My heart recognized him and knew it was home. I imagine there was a metaphysical sigh of relief. “At last. There you are.”

And the older we got and the longer we were married, the more we believed it. In any case, at the time, there was an instant rapport and an instant attraction that we both fought for a few years. But eventually we developed an easy friendship that soon blossomed into love.

I divorced Bill in 1978. The marriage had always been rocky and finally Bill’s drinking and abuse got to be too much and I threw in the towel. John separated from his first wife in 1980. He moved in with me and our life together began in earnest. We had our challenges but we both knew we were meant to be together.

We decided to marry in August 1981. I think we had always known we would be married someday but had never made any real plans. Then one day we were sitting in our favorite bar, talking “how about?” and “what if?” Three weeks later we were standing in front of a justice of the peace pledging to love each other forever.

Our wedding day was magical because it was our wedding day. Technically we were eloping because we had only told a few of our closest friends that we were getting married. Neither of our families knew what was happening but we had a small reception planned at that same bar where we had made our decision to get married. That deserves its own story.

This bar – actually, it was more of a fancy lounge with small cubicles and sofas placed all around - was called Vispi’s and had burned down in the spring of 1981. Okay, it was kind of a gay hangout, too. The decor was over the top with red flocked wallpaper and large paintings of nudes all over but it was a fun place, always packed with people – gay and straight – having a good time and we loved going there. John and I had gotten to know the owner and the bartenders and wait staff. We were glad to see it reopen that summer. When we told them of our wedding plans they made us a deal. They were trying to entice business back and saw this as a way to help all of us. If we had our reception there they would give us hors d’oeuvres and open bar – including a champagne toast! – for three hours for thirty dollars. We were expecting about twenty people and this was an offer we couldn’t pass up. We were only too happy to agree.

Of course, we needed a wedding cake and the bartender gave us the name of a man who baked cakes and sold them out of his home. So off we went. The man and his wife were darling and very friendly.

Turned out that he had learned to bake while in prison.

For manslaughter.

Oh, well, the cake was only ten dollars. We were grateful.

So, the happy day arrived. John, ever the careful planner, decided to call the judge’s office where we were scheduled to be married to make sure all was set for that afternoon. It was a good thing he did because the judge was on vacation. It seemed our wedding was never placed on his schedule. If John hadn’t called, we would never have known. It took some scrambling but we found a judge who was available for that afternoon. He was busy but his receptionist said they could squeeze us in.

And squeeze us in they did. When we arrived at three in the afternoon, the judge was busy dealing with some young kid in the back room. I have no idea what was going on but all I saw was someone handcuffed to a desk and the judge sitting opposite him. When we and our witnesses arrived, the judge told the kid he would be back, put on his robe and a smile, and married us in the front room. Despite the odd circumstances, it was still the best day of our life.

And the reception was wonderful. Unbeknownst to me, John had ordered a balloon bouquet to be delivered to me at the reception. It was at the time when balloon bouquets were just becoming popular. I had no idea he had set this up. So, right after we cut our cake and did the traditional feeding of each other, a woman dressed up like Little Bo Peep arrived with a dozen balloons and sang “Ain’t She Sweet” to me as she handed me the bouquet. John never believed he was a romantic but he did things like that all the time. He was a romantic and I loved him for it.

Later that evening we went out to dinner with our Maid of Honor and her husband. My best friend from nursing school, Judy, and her husband John, had driven up from southern Pennsylvania where they had been visiting family just so Judy could be in our wedding. They were leaving later that night and we wanted to spend some more time with them before they left. We were at the Crackerbox Palace, another favorite hangout where John and I often went to eat and dance. We wanted them to play “You Needed Me” by Anne Murray. It was “our song” and we wanted that to be our first dance as a married couple. But the deejay didn’t have that song so he played another Anne Murray song for us. I can’t remember what song it was now. It might have been “Tennessee Waltz”. It doesn’t matter. We were married and dancing and happy and that’s all we cared about.

Chapter Three

Life with John was an adventure. John’s attitude toward life was happy and more relaxed than mine and I learned a lot from him. With him I felt free to take chances and try things I had never done before. One of those things was camping - tent camping to be exact. I had never slept in a tent before. I had never made a campfire or roasted marshmallows. I had never used a communal bathroom or shower. But I did all that and more with John. Camping was cheap so there was that but it was also fun. Sitting under the stars, watching the flames of our campfire, waking up to the sounds of the forest – it was the closest thing to Heaven.

Not all our adventures were stress free. I often told people that most of my married life was one continual house remodel. Our first house together was right after we were married. John was given the opportunity to buy the house he had shared with his ex as part of the divorce settlement. So, three months after we were married we moved into the little house in Dallas, Pennsylvania. My bargaining chip was that I would do this only if John remodeled the kitchen and repainted every surface of the house. It was hard enough moving into his former house and neighborhood. I needed to make the space my own. So, John and I painted all the rooms. We put wall to wall carpeting down in the living room. And John took the kitchen down to the studs and rebuilt it, including making new cabinets from lumber complete with handmade stained glass doors. They were truly a thing of beauty. But it took forever.

In between all of this, John went back to school. We knew that at some point in time we would probably be leaving that part of Pennsylvania, maybe even leaving the state. John had a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and everything he needed to obtain his Masters degree except for his thesis. But even if he completed his Masters, therapist positions did not pay that well. In the meantime, he saw how well I was doing as a nurse (by this time I was a nurse manager at a local psychiatric hospital) so John decided to become a nurse. With all the college credits he already had, all he needed to graduate were his nursing courses. Amazingly, John worked full time and attended school full-time and in June 1985, he graduated from nursing school. By this time, he had finished remodeling the house and we decided to sell it. We knew we needed our own place. It had always been our plan to get a home that was truly just our own with no ghosts from the past. Unfortunately, the house sold very quickly (John had done an excellent job of remodeling) and we hadn’t yet found a house we liked so our real estate agent helped us find a place to rent in the interim while we continued to look for our dream home.

But instead of getting rid of ghosts we found more. The house we rented was at the end of a dirt road called 42nd Street. I think that was somebody’s idea of a joke. The house itself was darling. Built in the late 1700’s it was small but very charming. It had a huge kitchen with a small mud room and a good size living room and bathroom (the only one) downstairs. Upstairs were two bedrooms with a single hall closet. It was obvious that the house had been built in bits and pieces over the years. Probably the best part of the house was the solarium. It ran the length of the entire downstairs and had views of the surrounding woods. We moved in in June 1985 and stayed until November that same year and watched the seasons change from those windows.

After graduation, John secured a part-time job as a night nurse at the same hospital I was working in but on a different unit. This gave him lots of time to look for our house. After many searches, he found it. He called me at my office at the hospital.

“I found the house.” I could hear the happiness in his voice but there was something else too. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

“Great. Where is it?”

“Lehman.” I knew where that was. It was just a few miles further out than our house in Dallas and not far from the house we were renting. We had driven around that area several times looking for houses. “I want you to take a ride out there and go look at it.”


“Yes, if you agree, we need to make an offer. I’m really excited about this. But it needs work.”

Coming from John, those could be scary words.

“What do you mean ‘it needs work’?”

“Just go look at it and then call me back.” I could hear a smile in his words and sensed trouble.

John gave me directions and a final warning. “Just remember to look at it with future eyes.”

It was already lunchtime so I told my staff I needed to go out for a while and headed out to this wonderful house that had John all excited.

Thirty minutes later I stood in front of a house that looked like it was out of a horror movie. It was an old two-story Victorian farmhouse that had once been white when it had seen better days. Looking at it from the front, the entire house sagged on the right side. It had a wraparound porch that was screened in. The two huge old trees in the front lawn had been dropping leaves on the house for years and it seemed every leaf had embedded itself in those screens giving the house a dark and dreary look. There was aluminum skirting under the porch and it was either sagging or missing in some places. The grass needed mowing.

Cue the creepy organ music.

I looked down at the paper in my hand on which I had written the directions John had given me. Surely, I had made a mistake. This couldn’t be the dream home he wanted. I looked around the neighborhood but there was no other house that fit his directions.

Confused, I headed back to my office. I was convinced I had not found the house and was disappointed.

As soon as I was back at my desk I called John.

“Well, what did you think?”

“I’m sorry, hon. I must have made a mistake. I couldn’t find the house.”

John repeated the directions.

“Yes, that’s where I went but I only saw this old dilapidated house that looked like it was falling over.”

John was now laughing. “That’s it.”

“You’re not serious. That’s the house you want to buy? Are you crazy?”

“It will be beautiful. Trust me. I can do it. The house needs to be jacked up and the sill needs to be replaced but it has good potential. I can make it into a showplace.” John had been inside the house already with the realtor and had obviously been already remodeling the house in his head.

Somehow, I let myself get talked into buying that house. When I later got the grand tour, it was even worse on the inside. A part of the floor was missing in the kitchen. There was no central heat. The only source of heat in the house was a coal stove in the kitchen. There was a vent through the ceiling to the room above (the master bedroom) and the heat rose through that and heated the upstairs. The downstairs bathroom was a little cubby off the kitchen that was so filthy I didn’t even want to walk in to look at it. There was ugly wallpaper everywhere, even on the ceilings. The water stains made spooky faces at me. There was a summer kitchen off the back of the main kitchen and that was piled high with debris. And there was no garage.

But the grounds were beautiful. It was a corner lot and very spacious. The house had been built around 1860 and obviously had some charm to it. My husband was smitten and I succumbed to his enthusiasm. We bought the house for very little money. The house had been owned by three sisters and their respective husbands. Their father Charlie had been living in the house by himself after his wife died. He himself had died only months before. Apparently, he had raised prize-winning tomatoes in his garden in the back yard. For Christmas, the year before, he had received a new tiller as a present and he had gone out in the spring to get the soil ready for his new crop. He turned on that spiffy new high-powered tiller and promptly keeled over. He was found by a friend, dead as a doornail, tiller still running.

Getting three elderly sisters and their husbands to agree to a price wasn’t easy but we did it and took possession in August 1985. John spent the next few months jacking up the house, replacing the sill, putting in central heat, making us a new halfway decent bathroom, and fixing the siding and rotten floor so we could at least move in without wind blowing through the walls.

Now for the ghost stories.

That November, our friends helped us move the big pieces of furniture and heavier boxes from the rental house on 42nd Street but John and I still had to make a few trips back and forth on our own to pack up our clothes and some other items. I went alone one Saturday afternoon to gather my clothes from our bedroom upstairs. While I was packing, I kept hearing the door from the spare bedroom down the hall knock against the wall. I thought this was strange since no windows were open so I left my packing and went to investigate. Although I could not find a reason for the noise I decided to reposition the door away from the door jamb anyway and went back to my work.

The door started knocking again.

A second time, I looked, repositioned the door, and went back to my packing.

Again, I heard that same knocking, door against wall.

Okay, now I was spooked.

I quickly went downstairs, trying to decide what to do.

Now, I thought I heard very slight whispering. No words, just an undercurrent of almost white noise. That was it. I left everything where it was and drove back to the house in Lehman.

John was working in the kitchen.

“Back so soon?” John took one look at my face and knew something was wrong. “What’s the matter? What happened?”

“You’re not going to believe this but I think the house is haunted. I heard things.” I told him about the door knocking and the voices.

John just smiled. “You’re kidding, right? The house isn’t haunted. We lived there for six months. We never heard anything.”

“Maybe they don’t want us to leave. But I swear I heard stuff over there. I’m not going back there by myself.”

“You’re letting your imagination run away with you. There are no ghosts over there. Joy, you’re being silly. I’m going over there.”

“Fine but I’m staying here.”

John and I both believed in ghosts. We had just never experienced them. So off he went in his car while I worked on unpacking in the new house. He was back within half an hour and I could tell from the look on his face that something had happened.

“I heard the whispering,” he said.

“See? I told you.”

“Okay, from now on we go back there together and we pack up fast.”

We both felt uncomfortable going back and were never sure if we heard actual whispering or if it was our imagination but the door stopped knocking.

Then there was Charlie. Remember the man who died in our backyard tilling the soil?

When we moved in there was an old ratty rocking chair left by the coal stove. The upholstery was worn and frayed and the stuffing was coming out but we didn’t have the heart to throw it away. We knew it had belonged to Charlie so, out of respect, we put it up in the attic when we moved in.

That Christmas John’s children came to visit. The house had four bedrooms on the second floor. We had made up the larger front bedroom for the two girls and John’s son was in one of the smaller rooms toward the back. The morning after their first night with us, we were all sitting around the breakfast table and we asked them how they had slept in their new rooms. The girls looked at each other, unsure what to say. There was something wrong.

“We didn’t sleep so well. We heard noises.”

“Well, this is an old house,” John said. “It makes lots of creaks at night.”

“This was different. It sounded like a rocking chair. It was right over our bed. It scared us.”

John and I looked at each other and he made a face to me that I knew meant “keep your mouth shut.” It was obvious the girls had been spooked.

“It was probably squirrels. I’ll go up there and look and get rid of them.”

Later that day John went up in the attic. Sure enough, there was Charlie’s rocking chair right over the girls’ bedroom. Could it really have been Charlie rocking away during the night just as he had so many nights next to the coal stove? John wasn’t taking any chances.

“Charlie, please don’t rock the chair. You’re scaring the kids.”

John told me what he had done. It sounded silly but a part of us really believed it was Charlie rocking the chair.

The next night all was quiet. We never heard the chair again. And that chair stayed there until we moved out several years later.

We had many other “adventures” in that house.

Like the time Meow-Meow, one of our cats, decided to go out our bedroom window via the little accordion sleeve next to the window air conditioner. She was too smart for her own good and figured out how to push it open. From there it was a simple procedure to get out onto the roof. Only thing was she didn’t know how to get back in. Luckily John was walking our dog Willie outside and Willie started barking his head off and looking up at the roof. John immediately saw the problem but wasn’t sure about a solution. He finally decided to hook up his longest ladder and climb up. He also nailed a box to a long wooden rod and placed an open can of cat food inside. The idea was to scoop the cat up when she went inside. In hindsight, it probably seemed better inside his head. In any case, there was John up two stories-plus alongside the house. Meow-Meow was within reach. She did head toward the box but started sliding instead. Just as she plummeted past John he reached out and grabbed her leg. He was able to save her and not break her leg in the process. A small miracle. Thank God I was at work and only found out about this after it was all over and everyone was safe.

Meow-Meow paid John back a little while later. Again, I avoided this adventure by being at work. John was sleeping upstairs in our room having worked the night before. Willie was not fully house-broken yet so he was in a crate downstairs in a room that was under the new bathroom on the second floor.

Suddenly John was awakened by Meow-Meow on his chest frantically pawing and meowing. He pushed her away but she wouldn’t give up. She kept treading and butting him and was very vocal. By now John was awake and could hear water running. This was not right. He traced the noise and found a broken pipe in the new bathroom. The water was running so fast that it was now pouring into the floor below. The dog was getting wet and water was coming through a light fixture in the dining room. If the cat hadn’t awakened John, there would have been more damage than what had already been done. Our little Meowser earned her keep that day.

But my favorite house renovation story involved the new shower stall. Again, I missed all the excitement by being at work (I’m no dummy!).

There were four bedrooms upstairs in John’s wonderful dream house in Lehman. And one teeny tiny bathroom. This bathroom contained a sink, a toilet and a bathtub but the room itself was so small that the door didn’t open all the way. It bumped into the side of the tub. It was clear that someone along the way had just closed off the end of the hallway and turned it into a bathroom. So, John decided to make that bathroom a laundry room instead. This was ideal - a laundry room on the second floor. No more trudging laundry up and down stairs. Instead, he would make the smallest of the four bedrooms into our new bathroom. And because it was going to be so large there was room for a big Jacuzzi tub. Part of the renovation included a separate shower stall. We chose a one piece molded model from one of the home renovation stores in town. The day of delivery arrived but they delivered the wrong color. John had a heated argument with the delivery people and after a loud telephone discussion with the store manager, it was decided a new shower stall would be delivered the next day.

Much to John’s embarrassment, the newly delivered, correct color shower stall would not fit through any of the house doors. So, there it lay on the side lawn while John decided what to do. Ever the innovator, John got out that trusty ladder, the same one he had used to rescue Meow-Meow, and placed it up alongside the house wall that was to be the bathroom. Then he got out his saws-all and made a hole in the wall big enough to slide the shower stall through. By using a system of rope pulleys, he managed to get the shower stall into the bathroom. Except now he had a huge hole in the wall over where the tub was going to go. But John had a plan. He had been carrying around two beautiful stained glass windows for several years. They were originally from a demolished old building in Wilkes Barre and John had made them into a room divider when he lived in the Dallas house with his ex. Now they were just being stored in the attic until we decided what to do with them. They fit the hole in the wall perfectly. When that bathroom was finally finished, it was beautiful beyond my imagining. John built a large enclosure around the tub, big enough for plants and wine glasses. With the stained-glass windows shining down on us it was like bathing in heaven.

Chapter Four

I learned early on that life with John was going to be an enjoyable ride no matter how I looked at it. John just loved life and saw the humor in just about everything. And he was a truly kind man. He loved me unconditionally and without fail and I never doubted that for a minute. Looking back, there are so many examples.

I had to have a hysterectomy in 2004 at the age of fifty-six. I had been having troubles for a while and was glad to have the surgery. I elected to have the procedure done laparoscopically which meant the doctor did it through a small incision in my abdomen. I didn’t want to know how he could get everything out through that small hole. Best I slept through all that. But to do that kind of surgery, it’s necessary to inflate the abdomen with gas. The idea is that most of the gas is expelled prior to the doctor sewing up the incision and whatever gas is left is supposed to be minimal and will get absorbed by the body over the next couple of days.

What they don’t tell you is that you will have pain from that retained gas, it will be referred to your shoulder (meaning that is where you will feel it), and it will hurt like a son of a bitch! My pain started on the day after surgery, right after I was discharged, and as we were driving home from the hospital. Every so often I would wince in pain and lean forward. It felt as if a gladiator had run me through and it was hard not to yell out loud.

When we got home, I settled down on the sofa in the living room with a blanket and our animals, and John waited on me. He always made me feel so cared for. Between John’s care and some ibuprofen, I remained comfortable with only an occasional bout of pain. The problem came that night. We had a waterbed back then and because of its construction I knew I would be in trouble if I slept in it. The bed had a frame that held the mattress. To get in or out (especially out), I would have to lean heavily on the frame to boost myself onto the floor. There was no way I could do that in the condition I was in. Any pressure on my arms caused the shoulder pain to come back with a vengeance.

So, I opted to sleep on the sofa that night. It was large and very comfortable. I assumed John would sleep in our bed even though that meant we would be separated. Imagine my surprise when I awoke during the night to find him asleep on the hard tile floor next to me in the living room. He was wrapped in a blanket, his head on a pillow he had taken from our bed.

He stirred and woke up when he heard me moving around.

“Are you all right? Do you need anything?” he asked.

“I’m good. But why are you sleeping on the floor? Why aren’t you in bed?”

“I was afraid I wouldn’t hear you if you needed me.”

I think that is just about the most romantic thing John ever did. My heart melted. How lucky I was to be that loved by this wonderful man. But that was how John was. He always made me feel that I was the most important person in the world to him. I just knew I was.

He proved that another time when I became ill with bronchitis. It was December 7, 2000. My voice was getting more and more hoarse as the morning hours went by. I had stayed home from work and was on the phone with one of my co-workers who had called to see how I was. I was in our bedroom on the phone with Kristin when John brought me in some soup. Then he went back into the kitchen. While I was talking to my friend my voice just went away and I was barely able to get out a whisper. I said good-bye to Kristin and took another sip of soup but by then even the soup felt scratchy in my throat. In fact, by this time my entire throat felt as if it was on fire. I knew something just wasn’t right so I got up and went to the kitchen to put the soup in the sink. At that time John was on the phone with a friend of his so I turned away. I did not want to interrupt him while trying to clear my throat. In that instant, I felt my throat “catch” and immediately seize up. Every time I tried to inhale I felt as if my throat was slamming shut. I wasn’t getting any air and I knew I was in trouble.

I turned to John and banged on the countertop to get his attention, all the while making a horrible loud wheezing noise. John looked at me, almost not comprehending what was happening. I pointed to the phone and banged on the countertop again. Only a couple of seconds had gone by but it felt like an eternity. John sprang into action. He hung up and immediately dialed 911. Within minutes, we heard the ambulance arrive and the paramedics did their thing. By the time they arrived the spasms had subsided and I could breathe although I still couldn’t talk. They took me to the Emergency Room for treatment with John following in our car. The same episode happened again in the ER and John told me later that he was afraid they were going to have to intubate me. My oxygen levels dropped to a dangerous level but again with medication and breathing treatments the doctors got me well enough to discharge home.

However, John and I were both very shaken by what had happened. I was terrified to be alone. John called in sick from work for two days so he could be by my side. He knew I was traumatized (as was he). That just shows how John was. I didn’t have to even ask. He just knew what I needed and there was never a doubt in my mind that I would be loved and cared for.

I have so many other loving memories too. None of them would probably matter to anyone but me but they all proved to me how our love and our life meant everything to John.

Here are some random examples:

I have always been an anxious person and could probably win an award for worrying. Over the years, John’s even nature had a positive influence on me but it was a struggle in our first years together. To help me remember that life was not an everyday battle John would take my pointer finger and draw a smiley face on it in ballpoint ink.

Our Golden Retriever Jessie was going deaf in her later years and I taught her some sign language so we could continue to communicate. Nothing fancy. Some of it was real ASL sign language and some of it I even made up but the hand signals meant something to Jessie and that’s all that mattered. It got the job done. I taught the signs to John too and he became interested in learning others. We found the sign for “I love you” and it became our thing – we would sign “I love you” to each other whenever one of us left the house. John made sure to do it every time he left for work.

Early in our relationship, John bought a second-hand washing machine for me for my apartment so that I wouldn’t have to go to the laundromat. The washer needed a little work but John could fix anything. And of course, he came back with a story. He always did. He seemed to have a knack for meeting interesting people. Or maybe interesting people just opened up to him. Anyway, the man who sold John the washing machine had a pet raccoon who took a shining to John while he was inspecting the machine before the purchase. Apparently, the raccoon was a bit of a kleptomaniac too because the owner told John some stories about how the raccoon made off with some of his tools and hid them in odd places. As it was, when John brought the machine home and set it up, we found a connection for a pneumatic tool hidden inside the washing drum.

John injured his hand at work in January 2008. He was working as a rehab nurse and was helping a man who had had a stroke transfer from his bed to a chair. The man was large and unsteady on his feet and a couple of steps into the transfer he started to go down. John grabbed the patient so that he wouldn’t hit the floor and in that instant, he felt something snap in his left hand. Despite my best efforts, John refused to go to the doctor and have it checked. He wrapped it and took anti-inflammatory medication. But every so often he would hit his hand a certain way and would see stars. The pain was intense at times. Still, he insisted it would heal on its own. Finally, after two months he gave in and under the auspices of Workman’s Compensation he went to an orthopedic surgeon. The verdict was a torn ligament and the only treatment was surgery. In the meantime, John had been working on the floor in my office. Initially we had put down wall to wall carpeting in the third bedroom that I was using as office space. Why we thought that was a good idea with so many pets in the house is beyond me and why he let me choose a cream-colored carpet is even more bizarre. Rather than replace the carpet with more carpet, even a darker colored one, we decided to go with wood laminate instead. This way it would be permanent and easier to keep clean. Now, with surgery looming and a long recovery period after that, John didn’t want me to have to live with the bare concrete floor for several months. So, my dear husband with his injured painful hand laid the flooring in my office the week before surgery. I think of that sacrifice and all that love every time I look at the floor and I know his love is still here with me.

Then there is the Christmas cookie exchange story. One of the first jobs I had after we moved to the Phoenix area was at a call center. I was the equivalent of the Ask-a-Nurse for several insurance companies. We nurses sat at our little cubicles with headsets eight hours a day and doled out health advice to the people who called in. I wasn’t sure I would like the job when I applied but I actually enjoyed it and as it turned out the job was serendipitous. It was Michelle my cubicle mate at this job who introduced me to the book The Celestine Prophecy which became part of the catalyst for our spiritual journey. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Christmas of that year our little group of nurses decided to have a cookie exchange. Each of us committed to baking several dozen cookies, then packing them in small zip-lock plastic bags, six cookies to a bag, equivalent to the number of us that was in the exchange. The day of the exchange everyone would get one bag from each of us and then go home with a nice assortment of cookies. Ever the overachiever, I set about my task, baking cookies from scratch all afternoon and packing them up. Then, I put all the little baggies in a shopping bag in the hall closet next to my purse so I would be sure not to forget them. My job was thirty miles away in morning Phoenix traffic, a forty-five-minute commute on a good day.

That night, at three in the morning, I came down with a migraine headache. This was nothing new. I got them often. I tapped John on the shoulder and he sprang into action. He knew what to do. We had been through this many times. I kept my medication – Imitrex pills – in my purse so that I would never be without them. So, John got up and got my pill for me. I took it and went back to sleep. I woke up at six that morning and went into the living room, intent on letting our dog Willie out so he could relieve himself in the back yard while I brushed my teeth. Willie was a border collie/black Labrador mix. Very intelligent. And resourceful. And never met a cookie he didn’t like. In his half-awake state, John had forgotten to close the hallway closet when he had gotten my headache pills hours earlier. Willie saw his chance and had taken it.

The living room was strewn with half-eaten bags of cookies. In some cases, nothing but the zipper part of the baggie was left. Willie had gone through several bags. He must have thought he was in doggie cookie heaven. I was in a panic. I made sure Willie was okay and then turned to the mess in the living room. Now what was I supposed to do? I woke John up and told him what had happened. We didn’t know if we should laugh or cry. If it wasn’t for the fact that the cookie exchange was in hours, it was kind of funny.

“Don’t worry,” John said. “It was my fault for leaving the door open. I’ll fix it. You just go to work and leave this to me.”

After I left for work, my sweetheart went to the grocery store and bought several sticks of refrigerator cookie dough. He came home and baked several dozen cookies, bagged them as I had done the day before, drove them to my job, and hand delivered them to me in time for the cookie exchange. No, they weren’t as fancy as the ones I had baked but I had cookies to give out and that’s what mattered. And when I told my co-workers what had happened, they were envious that I had such a thoughtful husband and that made those cookies even more special. Win/win for me. And extra points for John.

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