Linda’s Story

Shock is a merciful condition. It allows you to get through disaster with necessary distance between you and your feelings.

Lisa Kleypus

About Linda McDandel

Monday. Monday’s come and go. But, this particular ordinary Monday would forever change the destination I was bound for. This ordinary Monday was anything, but ordinary.

Time tends to have a measure of its on – and we never realize the finality time holds until we are face to face, breath to breath, with its’ master clock. We always believe we have more time. More time to do everything we desire to do and more time with those we love to do it with.

When it was still Sunday, January 8th, 2012 – before Monday January 9th, 2012, life was great. My husband, Mark, and myself went to breakfast that morning with some friends. We drove separately, but pulled up in the parking lot side by side. On the sidewalk in front of Mark lay artificial poinsettia flowers. Well, he picked them up and handed them to me through my car window and said, “Linda, here are some flowers for you, just picked them myself.” I laughed and he smiled back with a little chuckle. I thanked him and put them on the seat beside me as I was getting out of the car. Little did I realize just how special those artificial flowers, that never saw death, would mean to me. We had breakfast and headed home to our ocean front condo to hang out.

We were so happy to be living ocean front. ( A friend had let us rent for a generous low rate) Mark surfed all the time. In fact, he won the NSSA National Championship in 1978. He was known as Mark the Shark. So living in the condo, ocean front, was special to us. One reason is because we had lost our home and all our financial security after the real estate crash. I had not worked in 16 years or more outside the home while raising my son Robert and taking care of the Homefront. I was also heavily involved with our community through non-profit work, and had created a non-profit organization to help women who found themselves in the most desperate of circumstances, giving them a place to start over.

Mark and I felt like we had a place to heal from all the stresses. My son was getting prepared at the same time to go in the Navy. He had a year wait. Robert, was my only child. He was two and half when Mark and I had gotten together, and he loved Mark as his dad. So, here we were, ocean front, rebuilding our lives. Mark was continuing in the real estate market and selling fire wires, surf boards, for extra income.

I decided that I would start personal training again. I was a trainer years ago. I have always loved fitness and been heavily involved in continuing to stay attuned with the industry and working out myself. I also wanted to become a health coach and life coach, so I pursued and received those credentials through certifications and, of course, got re-certified as a personal trainer. On my way to having my own business career, I was excited. It would give me an opportunity to contribute financially to the home and fill up the void of the empty nest syndrome from my son leaving. Now all I needed was a name for my new venture.

I will never forget this moment. Mark and I were walking our dogs on the sidewalk that was ocean front giving us a view of the shore as we conversed on that beautiful sunny November day. Mark was always great at coming up with business names. As were enjoying our stroll, I asked Mark what he thought I should name my business. He offered a couple of names, and I was not interested in any of them. I said, I want something feminine but strong. He said, “I know.  Name it Sweet Strength – because, you are sweet and strong.” It made me smile. I said, “That is perfect. I love it.” Little did he know I would need that Sweet Strength to get me through the next few years, but God knew. He always knows and prepares you for what is coming.

Now back to January 9th, 2012 – two months after Mark named Sweet Strength, six months after my son had gone in the Navy. A year after my scare with breast cancer. Mark was now 53 and I was 50. We were loving our new honeymoon time in our beach bungalow. It was the day that forever changed the way I would look at life and live my life. It was Monday. The Monday, after our special Sunday of artificial flowers, playing ping pong, and romancing. God gave us a special day. He’s just like that if you let Him. But this wasn’t an ordinary Monday. It was the Monday that life brings with it unexpected experiences that forever change us, after which one could say “That was the Monday my life was like this, and this Monday my life is something different.”

I was studying in the office. And Mark came in and said he was going for a run. I went against my gut, my intuition. My gut told me to get up and hug him goodbye. I didn’t. I didn’t usually get up and hug him goodbye, because I would see him in just a few minutes, right? “Have a great run”, I said. Why didn’t I get up and hug him? It haunts me to this day. I sat there in my chair, the distance seems so foreign now.

About 40 minutes later, I heard the door open, then this loud bump and a grunt. Then a thud. I yelled out, Mark are you okay? I went in the kitchen to discover Mark in convulsions, blue, fingers curled up. It’s a sight anyone would love to forget. He was swelling in his face and his body. I thought he was having a seizure of some kind. I called 911 and they asked if I knew CPR. Yes, I did, but I couldn’t think what to do. I was just in shock. My mind couldn’t conceive of what was happening. I tried breathing for him and did chest compressions waiting for the ambulance. It seemed as if time stopped and the seconds were hours, but they arrived in a few minutes. I was screaming at Mark not to die. I was breathing into hollowness. I was saying, “Breathe Mark, come on. Breathe.” The 911 operator kept asking me to feel for a pulse. My mind would play tricks on me. I would feel a pulse and see him breathing, but the reality was he wasn’t breathing. It was a complete nightmare. I could not grasp it. . . .forty minutes ago he was standing in front of me with his navy blue jogging pants and matching jacket on talking to me. His voice. Talk to me Mark, please let me hear you voice. I never got to hear his voice again. Please God don’t do this. Please don’t let him die. In times like this you beg . . . you plead . . . and hope that God would work a miracle, he had before. The ambulance got there and worked on him. They finally put him on a stretcher and told me to follow them to the hospital. I asked, “Is he going to be ok?” They said, “Ma’am, he’s not breathing on his own, but we will do the best we can.”

I drove to the hospital in a daze, and they took me to that damn sitting area, where I had been once before – with a friend who had lost her mom. That’s the “It’s over room”. They took you there when there was no more hope. No more wishing, hoping, or prayers. The “your-life-will-never-be-the-same room”. It was done. My husband, 53 years old, was gone. My mind flashed back to the man I shared vows with. Words, ’til death do us part, hit me like a brick being thrown through a window, breaking it into pieces ~ but the window was my heart.

Eventually, I had to leave that room, and Hospital staff led me to where his body was. I was so grateful to go back there to see him. I guess I was hoping to find him alive. That it all had been a horrible mistake, that he was ok. But, it wasn’t a mistake. He was at peace. His body was done with this time on earth, and his spirit was just beginning. For me, he was the body that I could touch and feel and see and hear, but now he was a spirit that I could not touch, feel, hear, or see. Not that night, he was just a shell I had to say goodbye to.

Thus, change begins just like that. Just like that. Just like that. In one day. One run. One life gone. How could it be?

I wanted to stay in that cold hospital room. I wanted to stay with the empty shell, lie in those white sheets. I wanted to cuddle with him. I wanted to feel his arms around me, hear his voice, see his blue eyes. The body that once had life, laughter, smiles, tears, anger, and pain, was a shell now. I wanted to stay there until the nightmare was over. Until I woke up and everything was like it was before Mark went for his run. But, I had to leave. I had to do what other people did when they lost loved ones: make arrangements. That seemed ironic. Arrangements for whom? For what? What was to be arranged. My life, my son’s life, the funeral, the paddle out? Letting Mark’s friends know they had lost Mark? Arranging what, for God’s sake? My life had just been arranged to something I couldn’t bear, life without Mark. I didn’t want to arrange anymore. I wanted to rearrange everything to be the way it was before Mark’s run. Couldn’t we just rearrange.

Well, the time was short between arranging my life to a new normal that year and being thrown into two more family tragedies. The following October my brother’s wife, of 34 years died suddenly, who was like a sister to me for years and my daddy died that same year on New Year’s Eve. It was a rough year for lack of words to describe it. I lost my mom last year and I miss her so much.

So much transpired within me over the last years that changed me completely that I wrote a book about it. The book is called Sweet Strength, Seaside Awakening. One of the reasons that I wrote a book, is one, a week before Mark died, he said, Linda you need to write a book. I said, Mark, what am I going to write a book about. He said, Linda you are such a great writer and you have a lot of life experiences, write a book. So, one it is to honor my husband and two it is to inspire others to know that if you have a heart beat you have a purpose. That it really doesn’t matter what you are going through or how challenging your circumstances are that you still have dreams to live out. We have to learn to move forward in the midst of the heartache, pain, and challenges. You will have to find a new normal, because you will never move forward with the old normal. The book is divided into two sections, bereavement and inspiration. There were many times during the last four years that I wanted to quit. But, I knew that I had a purpose and that was to inspire and give my life to helping others move through their grief, loss, and changes in a positive forward movement with purpose and passion.

What helped me move most of all was keeping my body healthy and strong, eating the right foods, and helping others by personal training and coaching. Helping others enabled me to recycle my pain to inspire others to hope. Keeping my mind positive and learning to find the treasure in the trash. The Sweet Strength that comes from within. The stronger I was in the gym, the more I was able to live my life and not let the grief label, the self-pity label or the depression label get sown on. The more I helped others, the stronger I became.

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I like to tell people. If you look in the mirror and your body is falling apart and you are not taking care of yourself emotional and mentally then when challenges come, and they will, you won’t be able to get back up or it will take you a long time, but if your body and mind are strong and healthy when life threatens to take you under you will be able to build the stairs to lift you higher.

Since Mark’s death, I knew that I had a choice. I had a choice to die in my grief, financial loss, change, or I could live in a new life and find a new normal. I did that. I learned to surf, I started an LLC for my company, I trademarked Sweet Strength, I entered my first Master Figure Competition at 53, I ended up doing four. I moved to a new city to get a new start, I joined toast masters, I wrote a book, I flew out of the country for the first time by myself and now I am now the sole owner of Sweet Strength Fitness/Wellness Studio in Mount Pleasant, SC. I am remarried to a man I knew in high school who is also working along beside me at the Studio and have two new step children in my life. My son, Robert, is serving in the Army and I am so proud of him.

Everyone has a decision to make in life, because you are either moving forward or going backwards, there is no neutral ground and no one can choose life but you. Everyone says Linda you are so strong, inspirational, positive and optimistic. My response, I work at it every day, because I made the choice I wanted to live and give to others. It takes work, but for me it’s worth it and it will be for you too. If I can so can you.