I love to bake! I really love to bake chocolate chip cookies with butterscotch chips, heath bar crunch pieces, and lots of chocolate chips! Baking is my stress-buster. I eat one cookie hot from the oven and then I bag up the rest of the 5 dozen cookies and put them in the freezer. My goal was to “ration” out the cookies over time, but that’s not what my family wanted. My family would eat all 5 dozen cookies at one sitting and I’d get really upset! How stupid is that…why get upset when I made the cookies for the family and then not let them enjoy it. I became the cookie Sheriff…I made them, I monitored them, I counted them! But one day my husband looked at the cookies and said, “Do I have to wait for my funeral to be able to have a cookie?” At that comment I rolled my eyes and out of his view I wrapped the cookies in aluminum foil and marked them, “Hamburg, 2 pounds!”
Five years ago my husband of 25 years died of a sudden heart attack. He was 6’3” and weighed way over 350 pounds. I never knew exactly how much he weighed as he never shared that number with me and when I tried to look around him when he was on the scale, I could never see the number because he blocked the view. Lou was a diabetic who had suffered with neuropathy, sciatica, and high blood pressure for many years but his heart was as “healthy as a horse”, or so thought his doctors. How could he have died from a sudden cardiac arrest? How could he have done it away from home with no one there to help? How could he have died 7 miles from a hospital? How could he have died without saying good bye?
Rewind 26 years to when Lou and I were both active duty officers in the US Air Force. Those were the days of mandatory yearly weigh-ins…something I dreaded although not because of my weight but because I hated the scale. My phobia with the scale came when I was applying to the Air Force and I had gotten down to a good weight with running, healthy eating, and just perseverance. I had been a “Big Girl” much of my youth but that was because I was an athlete and had “big bones”…oh my, the same bones I have today and they’re not big! In any event, I dreaded the scale as it brought back so many terrible memories of shopping in the ladies department with my mom when I was 12 with all of those polyester pantsuits calling my name! I was scheduled to check in with the recruiter just days before flying to San Antonio, TX for Officer Training School and when I got on the scale in the recruiter’s office, the needle kept going and going…way past what I knew to be my real weight and my heart stopped. I couldn’t believe that I was over the weight set for me by the Air Force standards. I just about started to cry when I turned around to see the recruiter take his foot off the scale. If I were predisposed to swear, he would have gotten an ear full, but I just pushed him away and took a deep breath. “Don’t ever do that again” was all I could say to him and from then on when I have to get weighed at the doctor’s office, I don’t eat for a day and make sure I wear the lightest clothing I own. Warped, I know, but that’s my reality.
Back to Lou…he, on the other hand, made light of the weigh-ins. He would spend a week before the weigh-in running, sitting in the sauna or the steam room, fasting and doing just about anything that would get him to within the limits. He got to the point where they would do a measurement of his neck and waist and whatever other body parts would calculate a body weight that would “Pass”. When Lou left the Air Force, gone were the days of the yearly weigh-ins. Gone was the worry about him getting separated from his job because of his weight. But what wasn’t gone was the worry about his unhealthy body. He was the father of my four children. He was the breadwinner as I chose to stay-at-home with the kids and his mom. Our financial future was still in his hands and his hands alone.
Lou loved to eat. He enjoyed every meal, every snack, every moment with food in his hands. I, on the other hand, ate just enough to keep my blood sugar from crashing on a daily basis. The more he ate, the less I did. I guess somehow I thought if I stopped eating that he would too and that we could have the “perfect” bodies. Silly me though…the less I ate, the more he did because there was more around! I thought that surely he would be mindful of his health – he quit drinking and smoking without any struggle, so why couldn’t he just push away from the table without a fuss?
I don’t like arguments or any tension so I let him do what he wanted. The bigger he got, the quieter I got. He knew what he needed to do to lose the weight. He knew every diet plan and tried more of them than I can count. I had to keep our four children healthy so I tried to cook “good meals” and even tried to keep snack foods and sweets to a minimum, but I wasn’t going to deprive the kids of all sweets because Dad didn’t have the willpower to resist. Why should I? He was an adult with a brilliant mind…let him make the right choices.
I remember about 10 years ago when Lou was scheduled for lap band surgery and he went in for a pre-op appointment. All of the doctors had cleared him for surgery, but the cardiac specialist had one last look at him and held everything up because he thought there was NO WAY this big man didn’t have heart trouble and that would be problematic with the lap band surgery. He was insistent on holding up the surgery until multiple tests and blood work were done. Of course, this frustrated my husband which in turn made his blood pressure go up and the stress sent him running to the freezer to eat all of “MY” cookies that were carefully bagged up! Needless to say, the tests came back within normal range and the surgery was scheduled. EVERYONE in the family was thrilled for Lou and for the decision he had finally made to get the weight off and to “be responsible” for the family. No one actually said that last statement to him, but I could feel the tension before and the release afterwards. I was so happy that I didn’t have to nag, cajole, or sit in silence anymore…or so I thought.
Lou was pretty good with following the advice of his doctors and he even tried to attend the nutritionists meetings but I could sense his resistance to their counsel and every time he sat down to eat and could only manage a few bites before “feeling full”, he complained that the food was cold or that he couldn’t finish his steak which he so wanted to do. I watched quietly all the while, grateful that the lap band surgery went well and grateful that he would take off the weight. I made sure the life insurance was paid up even though he told me that because he was moving into the next age group that his premiums would go from $100 to $500/month and that there was NO WAY he would pay that much for insurance. He was no fan of paying for something that we would most likely never use…or so he believed.
Fast forward a six months…each time he visited the doctor there was growing contempt for his inability to eat what he wanted, when he wanted. He wanted big breakfasts, satisfying lunches, steak dinners and of course, my chocolate chip cookies. He had lost a significant amount of weight but he decided that the lap band had to go and he had the doctor open up the band to allow food unrestricted access to his stomach. Oh well…his decision…his conquences.
April 8, 2010 I got the call…multiple calls actually, from my son, my parents, and eventually the hospital. Lou had died on his way to the hospital after suffering a massive heart attack. I guess the years of cookies and other goodies had taken their toll and to add insult to injury, he had cancelled his $500,000 life insurance policy February, just two months before (with such a fuss that there was no way they would consider my request for benefits when he died.) I put up the mask and kept on smiling…again I was the Woman Behind the Smile doing everything I could to get through each new day.