***Please note-some of the following properties are not abandoned, and when I photographed the barns, I remained respectful of the property lines.
“We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works.”―Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
All of us are intricate pieces to an elaborate puzzle, constantly being remolded to fit where we are most needed. Sometimes we might not understand in the moment how important a person might become to us throughout the course of our lives, until they have already gone.
A dear friend of mine facilitated the visits, especially the first, which he was the most excited about. Randy and I had been friends since 2001. We met during my employment at a hectic emergency room, where I worked as a tech (my license was as an EMT), and he was a nurse for over 30 years. Outside of the ER, Randy also volunteered as a paramedic and a firefighter for 33 years. In addition, he was a father to 2 grown children, (just a bit younger than me), an avid gardener, an animal lover, a handy man, and someone who loved to read. Randy was the guy you could call if your car broke down or you needed last minute help to fix something in your home. No matter what he had going on, he would always help his friends, his community or his patients. I worked with him for over six years, and in that time we became friends.
I have never been the type who easily opens up about everything, unless I can type it out, but I could talk to Randy. No matter what you told him, he never passed judgement, mostly because he had done so much himself in his life.
After I left the hospital, we kept in touch, and the years ticked by as they do. In 2014, my father passed away. Seven months later, my 35-year-old brother-in-law died. My health had also changed in the midst of everything else. I met Randy for breakfast one Saturday morning, and we caught up on one another’s lives. Just before leaving, he informed me he was in heart failure-the very thing that finally killed my dad. After that day, I decided we needed to keep in touch. I had already lost my father, and could not bear to lose another person without making him feel important. People drift in and out of our lives like clouds in the sky; some sail by quickly, while others rip open the sky and leave their mark long after they have passed.
The photo below was taken at Randy’s last birthday dinner. Several of us met downtown to celebrate with him.
The photo below was taken at one of Randy’s favorite places to eat. I drove down to his beautiful community in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. We shared a meal, and he listened as I described life with two teenagers. He caught me up on his medical condition.
Both of us relived our days in the ER. The moment I met you, I knew you were someone special, he smiled. It’s so wonderful to see you again. We were one big family. I miss those days. He listed a string of nurses, techs, doctors, and paramedics. Randy told me about his father, who worked the same job miserably for years, and he vowed to never stay anywhere he was unhappy. I was a Jack-of-all-trades, you name it I’ve done it, and some for just a week. Then I found the medical field, and that was it.
My next visit to see Randy, we began with lunch, and then went around the area to take pictures of old barns. The first place we went to, pictured below, was his favorite. We stood in the street, admiring the architecture of each old place. The family who lives here are great people, and I’d love to bring them a picture. I promised him we could take them the photograph of his choice, but he passed away before we were able. Now I will have to carry out my friend’s wish alone. The one below was his favorite, so I will make sure they receive a copy.
He inquired about my girls, and began talking about his adult sons. The truck tires rattled down dirt roads, however, it couldn’t disguise the pride in his voice as he spoke of them, including his daughter-in-law, who he adored. He recited the quote below from a book a gave me when we still worked together, and reminded me that children are never truly our own. All we can do is our best, and then send them off into the world.
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You might give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.”-Kahil Gabran, The Prophet
As Randy and I began talking more regularly again, my father-in-law (my ex-husband’s dad), who had long battled cancer, had become extremely ill. I felt there were few I could open up to about my feelings, because they too had lost him and I felt I couldn’t burden them. When things were at their ugliest, he understood because we had been there together in the trenches of the ER. He knew when I explained the last days to him in few words that it meant they were lost inside. He knew there were some things better left unsaid. He also understood that I had already lost my father, and how close Denny and I were. It’s hard to lose someone that’s close, be it’s a relief the suffering is over. As always, my thoughts are with you. I’m so sorry, not much more I can say, or I won’t. Take care of you. Nuff Said.
Denny passed away September 21, 2016. Randy’s health started to decline, and we kept in touch. I managed to mail him a card almost every week, minus one or two when we went out of town in July. It was important to me my friend knew he was cherished, and I equally felt treasured by him.
Doing well here, little tired some days. Went with Anna and had Chinese. I love your cards, they make me happy. I try to stay humble, but your cards make it difficult . Love Ya lady. Be well, stay strong.
Randy, pictured below from our photo journey looking at a barn.
Not doing very well. Winter is coming and so is mine. It is inevitable.
“The autumn of my life has passed Trish. Winter’s upon me. My heart is quickly failing now, and there’s no cure. I am so pleased to have been a part of your life. From when I first met you I knew that you had a very special aura. There’s a goodness about you, and strength.
I’m going to leave you with a warning. I have witnessed, or been part of, a thousand deaths. young, old , baby’s, and too many suicides. It’s very difficult to separate yourself from the grief, not only for the patient, but the family. You must learn to do that, it’s essential. There’s a cumulative effect, and it can wear you out. You must learn to let the past go. Got to. Tired, will talk more later. If you do come up, A La Mode plz. (apple pie)” Love Randy
The week before he passed away, I was able to go visit Randy one last time to say good-bye in person, and shared pie with him. He died the following week, November 21, 2016.
“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountaintop, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”-Kahil Gabran, The Prophet
Randy was issued his last pager call on Saturday, November, 26th, as we all stood in the cemetery on a blustery winter morning.
Life is a series of stories woven intricately together in bits and pieces, and just like in a novel, the characters come and go from your life. This friend of mine, and our time together has meant so very much to me.
Perhaps a blog about abandoned places really is more about other things after all. Besides, it has always been more about the journey than the destination, and what a ride it’s been. What a ride indeed.
Trish Eklund is the owner and creator of Abandoned, Forgotten, & Decayed, and Family Fusion Community, an online resource for blended families of all types. Trish’s photography has been featured on Only in Nebraska, Nature Takes Over and Pocket Abandoned. Check out the new Bonanza Store for AFD merchandise! Follow on Instagram and Facebook. Trish is regularly featured on The Mighty, Huffington Post Divorce, and Her View From Home. She has also been featured on Making Midlife Matter, and The Five Moms, and has an essay in the anthology, Hey, Who’s In My House? Stepkids Speak Out by Erin Mantz.