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NOTIONS: Little ditty 'bout livin' in the wake of dyin'

February 27, 2006

Several months ago, I broke bread with two editors of this esteemed journal. Over soup and salad, we concluded I'd said enough in this space of my bout with Grief. We figured you readers had grown weary of the topic, as had we.

But Grief has a way of lingering.

She shows up, unannounced, for cameos.

As you stand at the shore, the wave of your future finally, joyfully rolling in and crashing 'round, Grief plays the undertow, luring you back, threatening to drag you down.

On special occasions-birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Thanksgiving and Christmas-Grief's pull grows even more daunting. And on the anniversary of the dreaded date itself, the fateful hour when Death came calling for your loved one, Grief's gravity tugs like a rip current.

Or so I've heard. And so I fear.

And so, dreading the fifth day of March-the first anniversary of my wife Pam's death by cancer-I made plans.

I planned to be far from the hallway where she collapsed in my arms. Far from the sight of Wishard ambulances (Is that the one that took her away?). Far from Methodist and IU hospitals where the doctors and nurses struggled, too late, to save her. Far from this metropolis of memories.

I planned to be in Santa Fe-a place we adored and where we might have retired had we been blessed with more seasons together.

I planned to be with people I love, some cousins from Albuquerque and my friend Cheri.

I planned for a condo and airlines and rental cars.

I planned what to read, and when to light candles and when to walk alone in the desert.

But once I'd plotted my flight-a masterpiece of mental manipulation that at once honored and distracted from memory-Life sprang from the malaise, shouting, "Hey, what about me?"

For a letter arrived from a prospective client-one our firm has long sought and worked hard to win. One with whom I enjoy a rich personal history. And they wanted us to compete for even more of their business. And they sought a presentation. On March 2. During my escape to Santa Fe.

And then there's the volunteer project I've been working on for more than six months. The one that, if approved, could affect the lives of thousands of people. The one I've packaged in hopes that all the decision makers involved will better understand what might change and why. The one that must be presented to my fellow board members right away. On March 2. During my escape to Santa Fe.

Then came the announcement as to when former President George H.W. Bush would speak at Butler University. A speech I'd hoped to attend and write about-a counterpoint to a column about a similar visit by Bill Clinton. The speech is March 2. During my escape to Santa Fe.

Then a friend called to say that violin virtuoso Joshua Bell, an Indiana native, a fellow IU alumnus and one of my favorite musicians, would be playing Clowes Hall. And could I come along? But the concert is March 5. During my escape to Santa Fe.

A few days later, Cheri and I were sharing a pizza at Bazbeaux and skimming through Nuvo, searching for things to do. And we discovered that singer-songwriter David Gray, a favorite of ours, would be performing at the Murat. On March 6. During my escape to Santa Fe.

Week after week, since the day I booked those flights, it's gone on like this: requests for meetings at which my gray matter matters to someone or another, invitations to events where I might occupy a seat, articles about activities that sound fun, requests from people I'd like to see. All during the same fateful week. All during my escape to Santa Fe.

For most of the 12 months since Pam died, I've had a John Mellencamp lyric stuck in my head. Call it my 2005 theme song. From the chorus of "Jack and Diane," it goes:

"Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of livin' is gone."

But this week, after seeing all the "could haves" being thrown my way for the first week of March, Cheri suggested that maybe, just maybe, the universe was trying to tell me something.

She said I was, perhaps, hearing the wrong part of "Jack and Diane"-that even at my ripe young age of 48, and despite the loss of Pam, I might still be one of those "two American kids growin' up in the Heartland."

And knowing how much I love to-do lists, she handed me one for the hours and days after March 5. It suggested I find time to love, dream, listen, and share; to heal the past, enjoy the present and plan for the future.

Oh yeah, life goes on. And, I'm happy to report, the thrill of livin' ain't gone.



Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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