I woke up this morning with my heart in a vice. How, after twelve years, can the pain still be so severe? Exactly twelve years ago today, I brought Rick home from the hospital after signing the hospice papers to end his life. They put him into a drug-induced coma – or so we thought.
With our living room converted into a makeshift hospital room, the only difference from the many prior weeks was that after all the healthcare folks and friends left, I was alone totally responsible for his care. No problem. I’d been doing that for a long time.
But that night was different. He was restless. I understood he’d left a plethora of things undone and I also understood that he knew he was home. He kept trying to get off the bed to go tend to whatever was nagging at him. Thank goodness he was so weak, he couldn’t really accomplish getting up, but I spent that entire night trying to soothe him.
I’m sure the hospice people gave me instructions, but all I remember was I was to put a certain number of morphine pills under his tongue every four hours. And despite doing that, still he wasn’t completely under.
Finally, as the sun started to rise, weary, I called the hospice number and asked for some help. Little did I know I could have called them hours earlier.
They came an hour or so later and gave him stronger drugs that put him completely under. But even all these years later, I can recall every agonizing minute spent that night. Never had I felt so helpless. Besides dealing with the reality that he was leaving, I had to manage the guilt of letting him suffer so long before asking for help.
Well, truth be told, I still deal with a lot of guilt. If only I had known then what I know now about oils and gemstones, I could have made his crossing easier.
But one thing I know for sure – you can never go back in life. You have this moment. And for me, it is imperative that I do the best I can with my current knowledge to live the best life possible in the now.
If you are still lucky enough to have your loved one with you, lean over and hug them, kiss them and tell them how much you love them. Don’t put it off.
I will be reliving those days that followed as this week unfolds, but most of it became a blur. Friends and family gathered. Someone forced food down me. I slept only snippets at a time. I’m not going to relive every part of the memory with you, but I will share a couple of significant events that all ended around 4 am on May 1st.
Never forgotten. Ever missed.
This is a story of inspiration, endurance and most of all undying love. When Luke and Darlina face life-altering situations that would destroy a lesser man and woman, they draw on each other’s strength and determination to face them.
Author Suzanne Burke posts a new writing prompt in the form of an image each week and the responses are absolutely amazing!
Each week she features an image and invites you to write a Flash Fiction or Non-Fiction piece inspired by that image in any format and genre of your choosing. Maximum word count: 750 words.
This is my contribution. I want to give you a little background on this poem. When my late husband was dealing with such a difficult physical decline, during one of the many hospital stays, he developed pneumonia and I feared he might not live until morning. I held vigil throughout that long night and this poem came to me. I remember searching for pen and paper to get it down, and I remember the tears that fell as I scribbled it. I felt that I had to give him permission to let go and I did it through this poem. He lived for a few more weeks after this incident and did recover from the pneumonia.
I cannot tell you the reason this image invoked this memory, but it did, so I am sharing.
There is no shame in surrender when it is time
Like General Lee, you’ve known when to lay low
and when to climb
I’ve watched you suffer for so many years
Your life seemed destined to one of pain and of tears
Yet you fought on – the valiant soldier in fierce battle
You sang your song, rode tall in the saddle
You’ve now come down to the last battle call
You’ll hang up your sword, tired and weary you’ll fall
But know that you’ve left many good marks behind
While you learned how to love and how to be kind
Taught lessons to all who shared your many paths
That will be remembered long after you have passed
I can’t tell you why men write and I have
been thinking pretty hard on it these past few hours. It could be a man finds
something inside of him so damn beautiful that he wants to get it down on paper
before it slips away. I guess it could be that a man stumbles onto a thought so
damned earth-shaking he figures just about everybody should get a chance to
hear it. Who knows? Not me. I ain’t no writer. I’m a cowboy…
But, here I am writing!
It all started last night. You see, when
the whistling West Texas wind drives chariots of tumbleweed across this
God-forsaken plain, a man finds his body creeping closer to the fire as surely
as he finds his mind seeking the warmer memories of his past… and last night
was black ice, raw and bitter… and as surely as my fire drew me to its warmth,
one of my memories drew my soul… until… like a Roman Candle exploding in huge
darkness, I saw that memory in a new light… and I was wanting to write it down…
so I could share it… earth-shaking or not…
So, here I am, sitting on my saddle, with
a pencil in my ol’ paw and an empty stomach, doing two things I ain’t never
Missing breakfast and writing a story!
But, sometimes a thought can feed what a
meal can’t. Depends on a man’s hunger I reckon.
I know the thoughts in the Good Book used
to feed my mama, and I can remember a teacher I had once, years ago. They fed
me so much poetry that my heart was filled to bursting because I couldn’t let
it out for fear that my pals would laugh me to shame.
Funny, ain’t it… how one thought leads on
to another? And that brings me to the memory I discovered last night.
I grew into manhood on a rocky Texas
ranch. Pa died early. Ma still lives on the place. The soil ain’t good for
nothing but cactus and windstorms on that place and it weren’t no different
when I was growing up. But, we had some times on the old place worth
remembering, and I find it’s true the older I get, a few things happened there a
boy had to grow into understanding. My story’s about one of those things.
There was an old billy goat on our place. He was wild and wicked, crafty and cantankerous and smelly and scrawny. He was also lonely. His smell would gag a buzzard and he was so scraggly looking that the horned-toads paraded their ugliness past him like it was finery. Pa used to say, when we’d catch a glimpse of that ol’ goat, he was so poorly looking that he’d force a train to take a dirt road. I always smiled and nodded.
Pa died in the winter of my fourteenth
year. Later the same year, April I think it was, I came up on a sight which I
didn’t give much thought to ‘til last night. I was with our hired hand and his
boy, Junior Bascomb.
Junior was my best and only friend growing
up. He was two years older than me and I always thought of him as a kind of god.
I guess he must’ve known the answer to every growing-up question I ever wanted
Anyway, we rode up on one of the prettiest roses a man could ever want to see. Right next to that rose, laid out and dry, was the bones of that ol’ billy goat. I can remember Junior Bascomb saying, “Well, now, ain’t that the purdy’est rose you ever seen?” And his Pa answering, “It surely is.” I can remember how we all noticed the skeleton of that ol’ goat and sort of laughed when Junior’s Pa said the old billy would’ve eaten it sure.
Junior wanted to pick the rose for a
little gal he was seeing in town, but his Pa told him to leave it where it
grew. When Junior asked why, his Pa said, “Well, son, I think it’s kinda nice
for old Billy, onery cuss he was, to have such a purdy flower growing there by
And we rode on…
And I’ve been riding on ever since.
I’ll be fifty come June.
But, somewhere between then and now, I’ve come to look on that long ago day with a different view… and I guess my story is a little more than the story of an old billy goat and his rose. Just as a man sees things a tad different than a boy… because in my man’s soul I can almost see that old, lonely billy goat wandering through his empty days. That lonely little rose was solitary but splendid; nourished by a tiny stream and hemmed in by a few weeds.
I can see the old billy goat coming up to that little rose, and I can see him wanting to eat it, but he didn’t because he felt something just in looking at it that he hadn’t felt in years.
He felt younger, richer and less lonely.
So, he grazed all around the area and he
fell in love with the awesome intensity only an old creature can feel. The
sight of the rose made him spry and the scent of the rose put him in a romantic
mood. One day, he became so jealous of the weeds growing around his rose that
he tore them from the ground and gobbled them down in a frenzy that he hadn’t
felt in years. They tasted terrible in his mouth, but seeing them gone made him
feel pure in his soul. He had never been so happy. At night, the warm breeze
blew the fragrance of his rose softly into his nostrils and he slept well.
The summer passed well. Every day began
with the sight of his lovely, dew-kissed rose, and every day ended with perfume
But as summer ended and the rose began to
fade, the old goat began to eat less and less and worry more and more. When the
frost came, chilling and killing his love, it killed something in the old goat
too. One by one, the petals dropped from the rose into the dust and the old
goat followed soon after.
Every year, around spring the rose returned to bloom beautifully, beside the bleached bones of the old billy goat. Eventually, the sands shifted, covering both Billy and his rose…
But what is covered is not always
what truly matters finds a way to bloom again.
Even in the heart of an old cowboy.
For more about the life, times and music of Rick Sikes:
Or is it? Are you like me and feel that you have to work like a Trojan workhorse every day, day in and day out?
But what happens when we do? I can only speak from my own personal experience.
Creativity all but comes to a screeching halt
I find it hard to shut my brain off at night for sleep
I feel exhausted all the time
I get grouchy when I am not creating
I get tunnel vision
Here’s the truth of it. Most of us are ambitious and anxious to write great books and get them into the hands of readers. But, no matter how much we do, there is always more to do: more writing, more marketing, more admin. A writer’s work is never done.
I have one novel already written and two more in the series vaguely outlined and waiting. I fear I have failed miserably, as an author, this year. Yes, I put out several short stories and maintained my blog, but have not given much more than a glance toward my next full-length book. There’s a couple of reasons for that. I have been in this state of limbo since last year, waiting with bated breath to see if a publisher will take the first book of The White Rune Series. Guess what? I’m still waiting.
So, why couldn’t I force myself to work on the next one while I’m waiting? That would be the smart thing to do. I guess the truthful answer is I need to feel like it is worthwhile. Yes, I know. Everything we are inspired to do is worthwhile in some way or another. Maybe the better word for it is validation.
In telling Rick’s and my stories, I had passion. I was driven to get the story down and out into the hands of readers. I need to feel that burning passion again.
I’m open to any advice. My sister tells me that if you don’t write a story, you lose it. I don’t want to lose them because they are good stories. Such a dilemma.
Then I have to ask myself this question. If the publisher that currently has the manuscript passes on it, what then?
Yes, I know I can self-publish, but I don’t have another $2,000 to $3,000 to invest with little hope of ever recouping. Since I suck at cover design and formatting, I’d have to pay for both of those services plus editing. If anyone ever said writing and publishing books is easy, they told a big lie.
So, the bottom line to all of this is that I took a break from working on the novels. Is that good? I suppose only time will tell.
How about you? Do you take breaks? Do you have books waiting to be published? Please tell me I’m not in this boat alone.
Everyone who leaves a comment will be entered into a drawing for my latest collection of short stories, “Two Shorts and a Snort.” I’m giving away three eBooks.
This book consists of two short stories and one poem from award-winning author, Jan Sikes, in response to a writing challenge from the RAVE REVIEWS BOOK CLUB.
How far will one man go to satisfy an obsession? The price could cost him his life.
It is possible to pray up a baby? Frank and Mary Pyburn are convinced that is what they’ve done.
Friends Instead of Lovers:
Sometimes it’s better to remain friends instead of giving in to desires and crossing a line.
I am often asked the question, “When did you first start writing?”
To the best of my memory, I was around eight when I wrote my first string of words that made sense. I had an alcoholic uncle whom I adored. He lived with us off and on throughout my growing up years and occasionally he’d twist off, so Mom would make him move out. During one of those episodes, I was worried about him, so I wrote a gospel song about Uncle Luke finding Jesus.
But, before that, I can remember loving anything written. I loved the Dick and Jane books in first grade. I loved fairy tales. I loved reading and devoured books of all kinds. In fifth grade, I checked out the Grimm’s Book of Fairy Tales so many times they had to make a new library card.
Ah, the smell of libraries. I still love them. I never outgrew my love for reading. It was my entertainment, education, and adventure. And it still is!
Fast forward many years where I found myself in a serious songwriting vibe. My late husband, Rick, was a singer/songwriter and several years after we’d married, he pulled his vintage Martin D35 out from under the bed and returned to writing and playing the music he loved.
I wanted desperately to join him. I loved singing harmony with him, but I wanted to play. We had a second-hand/antique store, and some guy stopped in one day and sold Rick an old banjo. He took the instrument apart and put a guitar neck on it to create a Gitjo. And it was on that instrument I learned my first chords.
When he saw I was dead serious about learning, he bought me a 3/4 size Applause guitar for my birthday. I was fifty years old. So, NEVER let anyone tell you are too old to learn something new!
And it took off from there. I played on that little guitar every day and we wrote songs every day. When I’d get home from my day job, I’d hurry to put supper on the table so that we could toss around ideas, chords, melodies, and lyrics. It was an exciting part of life for me. We booked gigs and I got to play and sing on stage with him. We built a recording studio so that we could record our songs, and we published our own music.
But, now those are simply fading memories with pictures and CDs to prove it all happened. And I moved on after his death, in another direction of writing.
Compelled to tell our story (his and mine) I began to write books. And, I decided that I would continue to promote our music by releasing a music CD with each book that matched the time period of the story.
The first book, Flowers and Stone, was a HUGE learning curve for me. I am often tempted to pull it down and rework it and I may some day.
Set in 1970, this is the beginning of an epic love story with a musical twist as Luke Stone and Darlina Flowers (our fictitious names) travel the roads of Texas with Luke’s band. It is real and raw with a devastating conclusion.
The second book in the series, The Convict and the Rose, is not only the story of Luke’s determination to survive many years behind prison bars, but Darlina’s own struggle to survive in a prison of her own where the bars were invisible. It is inspiring with a lesson in turning a negative situation into a positive one. This book garnered my first writing competition award – First Place in the Biographical Fiction Category from the Texas Association of Authors!
Ah, the reunion. Finally, Luke and Darlina earn a chance to build the life they’ve always dreamed of. But, the struggles are real and the price of love is high. Home At Last won two First-Place writing awards.
Then, all too soon, it’s over. Twenty-five years seemed like nothing. But, this is not a book about death. Instead, it is a book about living and wringing the most out of every moment – ‘Til Death Do Us Part.
I never stopped learning as I moved through this writing journey. I always strived to make each book better than the one before, while continuing to tell this true story. Thank God for my older sister, Linda Broday, who helped guide me along the way. I took classes. I learned about POV and head-hopping, sentence structure, show-don’t-tell, and passive voice vs. active voice. And guess what! I’m still learning and still striving to be better.
I released one more book, a beautiful expression of poetry and art. It is a combination of poems from both Rick and myself and pieces of his amazing artwork accompany them. Discovery is available in hardback, paperback, and eBook.
Is my writing journey over now that I’ve told this story? Oh goodness, NO! I’m almost done with my first fiction novel, which I’ve entitled When Two Worlds Collide. It has been so much fun to create and live vicariously through these fictitious characters. I’m fully invested in them and their story as it unfolds in my imagination.
I also write for two magazines. Buddy Magazine is the Original Texas Music Magazine for which I interview artists, review CDs and feature innovative, creative, and talented musicians. The Oklahoma Farm and Ranch Magazine has a music section and I have the honor and privilege of filling it each month.
When I began this crazy journey by writing Flowers and Stone, I had no idea that it would take four books to tell the entire story. I also had no idea all I would learn along the way. But, I knew I had a story that begged to be told.
I started out by writing in first person. It became glaringly obvious that I couldn’t tell the story this way. When a close friend mentioned that I should consider telling it through fictitious characters, a light clicked on. That was the perfect solution for me. So, I chose to tell the story through Darlina Flowers and Luke Stone. In doing this, I was able to separate myself from a deeply personal story and tell it through their eyes.
Here are the top FIVE things I’ve learned over the past four years:
DO NOT forego professional editing! That is number one and the most important. It doesn’t matter how wonderful and talented you are at writing, you cannot edit your own work successfully.
Spend a good deal of time and thought about your cover. People really do judge a book by its cover.
Write your blurb. Then delete it and write it again. Cut out extra words and tweak it until you are saying precisely what will sell the reader on your book in the fewest amount of words possible.
Get ready to market! I have never been a salesman, so marketing does not come naturally for me. But, through marketing conferences and trial and error, I have found that basically marketing consists of FOUR things: Visibility, Consistency, Honesty (honesty about yourself and about your books) and Networking.
Keep writing! Don’t think that because you’ve written and published one book you can sit back and reap the rewards. If you have a true passion for telling stories, you must keep writing. There are millions of books out there, but here’s something I want you to take to heart: NO ONE WRITES LIKE YOU! We are all unique and individual.
One Reviewer wrote: “As I close this amazing book by Jan Sikes, my heart aches for the hand Luke and Darlina have been dealt. Flowers and Stone is an amazing, fast paced story of two people who against all odds have found a true and binding love. The love story they create with one another is heart-gripping, turbulent, and heartbreaking. This is a true story of two souls brought together, soulmates, who were given the chance of true love until society and the justice system decided, differently.”
A FIVE Star Review: “Luke struggles to adjust to life behind bars, going from a successful career as a musician to another number in the system. I thought this story might be bleak as a result, but it is far from depressing. Watching Luke cope to his new existence and rise above the situation made for riveting reading. And as Luke’s life unfolds, Darlina grows from a young, naïve girl to a stronger woman. Her journey has many ups and downs, strewn with doubts, hardships and new experiences. Through it all, she keeps in touch with Luke. And that’s what really resonated with me—the undying love these two hold for each other despite the separation they’re forced to endure.”
A FIVE Star Review: “Although Luke’s transition back into civilian life wasn’t easy for him, Darlina, and their two girls, they never gave up believing in second chances and living life to the fullest through all their hard work and endeavors. Many heartaches, losses, and struggles met them head-on, but for Luke and Darlina there wasn’t any mountain to high for them to scale.”
A FIVE STAR Review: “What a joy and what a sorrow. There is a gambit of emotions to be experienced in ‘Til Death Do Us Part, the concluding chapter in the Darlina Flowers and Luke Stone series. This story of love that knows no bounds will hold you captivated from being to end…Written from the heart, this is a book (and a series) that shouldn’t be missed. From hurdles to triumphs, it will make you believe in steadfast love. I had shivers about the owl hoots, especially at the end. I applaud the author for sharing her story with us and hope to see this series made into a movie someday.”
This poetry and art book is unique in many different ways. First and foremost, it was written and compiled by Rick Sikes during the fifteen years he spent in prison. The original documents were typed on onion skin paper. Remember that? 😊 It covers all topics from the deep dark loneliness of prison to a crazy and perhaps twisted sense of humor. It was a means of maintaining sanity in an insane setting.
The other thing that makes this book unique is the artwork found inside. Rick called them pen and ink drawings, but the proper name for this type of art is Pointillism. It is comprised of thousands of tiny dots made with a simple ink pen. He later added color to the drawings. Because the originals were black and white, I currently have two editions of the poetry book. One is hard cover and full color and the other paperback and black and white. I am in the process of getting this beautiful book formatted for ebook and it will be available soon.
I would LOVE it if you would take a look at the BOOK TRAILER for this beautiful book!
I hope you’ve enjoyed a preview of my books.
This tour is brought to you by the RAVE REVIEWS BOOK CLUB – a community of authors and readers who are constantly creating new ways to PROFILE, PROMOTE & PROPEL our members. You mean you haven’t joined yet? Well, you can…right here, right now, today!. You’ll not find another organization like this anywhere on the planet.
For a complete list of participants in the Block party, click HERE.
Once again, thanks for stopping by and don’t forget to share your thoughts and comments at the bottom of this post. Good luck on winning my giveaways! I’ll see you at the next stop of this awesome BLOCK PARTY!
‘Til Death Do Us Part is the fourth and final book in my series of true stories about a Texas musician who was a pioneer in the outlaw music movement long before it had a name.
Blurb: Veteran Texas musician, Luke Stone, has cheated death more times then he cares to remember. He’s been everything from a simple farm boy to a rowdy roughneck, a singing star to a convict and finally a husband and father whose goals consisted of building a home and raising a family…which he did.
Now, with a chance for a second music career, he knows the sand in his hourglass is running thin. His anchor in life and true love, Darlina, stands at his side determined to help make the dream a reality. But, his aging body is sabotaging every effort and the only thing that keeps him going is sheer will power and the love he has for Darlina.
When faced with being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, Luke draws on every resource to continue to function and contribute to their home and to society.
This is a story of inspiration, endurance and most of all undying love. When Luke and Darlina face life-altering situations that would destroy a lesser man and woman, they draw on each other’s strength and determination to face them.
Will fate allow Luke to sing his last song?
I am SO proud of this award. When I decided to publish this book, people told me, “Poetry doesn’t sell.” But, I didn’t publish it to sell thousands of copies (although, of course I’d be thrilled about that). I published it because it is such an incredibly beautiful expression of a man’s heart and soul not only through words, but through art. And, I believe there are others struggling who can find encouragement and hope within the pages of this book.
When Rick Sikes found himself inside the walls of Leavenworth prison, with a long sentence ahead, he had some decisions to make. It took several years, but he finally made up his mind to think and act positive in a negative situation. He became determined to accomplish something worthwhile even though imprisoned. And, this book is just one of the things he completed. The artwork is what he called Pen and Ink drawings, but the technical description is Pointillism. Thousands of tiny dots made with a simple ink pen are what make up the art.