Sunday, August 7, 2016

"The art of living well and the art of dying well are one." Epicurus

Today is August 7, and on this day in 1981, I married Scott Rittman, the love of my life. Our marriage was busy-crazy, sometimes challenging, mostly fun, very intense, and never boring.  On that beautiful day we married, we were both 29 years old, and neither one of us could we foresee that cancer would someday divide us.   

I like to write about and share lessons I have learned in life and in teaching, and today I am sharing some life lessons I learned from my late husband, who not only taught me about living, but also about dying.

Scott was a huge man- truly larger than life in every sense of that phrase. When he entered a room, everyone turned to look. He had a commanding stage presence and a booming and soulful bass baritone voice.  On stage, Scott played so many leading roles: Daddy Warbucks, Sky Masterson, El Gallo, Freddy/Petruchio, and many  more. Scott was a renaissance man who could do most everything, and he did things well - gourmet cook/master chef; master carpenter; home/bank/mall builder; play all brass instruments and the piano; fly fish with a rhythm that could be set to a symphony; arrange flowers; fix small engines and mechanical things; fix a bird's broken wing; grow all plants; and charm anyone and everyone. He was a fun and loving husband, albeit a very stubborn man, especially
when it came to doctors. Scott had no real use for doctors, since he was NEVER sick.  In our almost 32 years of marriage, he had one cold and one broken leg. That is why a diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer was such a terrible surprise.

Throughout our lives, Scott was always pushing me - to be braver; to live more on the edge, to enjoy the experiences offered by life, to be what I wanted to be. He had a huge appetite for good food, good friends, good times, and he devoured the dish of life with a serving spoon, as though wolfing down a mixing bowl filled with Frosted Flakes (his favorite.) Our house was often filled with friends and cooking and dinner parties and picnics, and it was a great life. (One that I really miss.) 

There is a line in the film AUNTIE MAME that I feel personifies Scott's love of life.  Perhaps you have heard it? "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!"  Well, no one could ever accuse Scott Rittman of starving!  Friends loved to be around Scott  because of his joie de vivre attitude, and through his everyday examples, he taught many friends about living large.

Just as Scott lived well and shared his passion for life, he also set a great example of how to conduct the process of dying from stage 4 colon cancer. He offered lessons through the courage and positive attitude he maintained every single day. Scott should have lived oly 12 months  (at the most) after his diagnosis in December of 2009, but he was too stubborn to let go of life: instead, he lived for 30 months, in tremendous pain for the final 12 months when the cancer metastasized to his lungs, brain, bones, and pelvis. No amount of painkillers could provide any real relief, yet he never complained. Scott had a theory about why he was the one chosen to get cancer; and repeated that he was glad that I was not the one to be diagnosed with cancer, because I would not have been able to bear the pain, the vomiting, the chills, the terrible accoutrements of the disease and the treatments. Indeed, he thought he was chosen to be diagnosed with this illness because of his physical stamina, and he often said that it was better that he had this than any other loved ones, family, or friends. That was Scott- always the white knight swooping in to save the victim.

Sometimes we would hold hands at night and murmur our heart-to-heart deepest secrets. He would whisper, "I don't want to die.  I don't want to leave you." I would bite my lip and try not to cry in front of him, answering, "We have the best doctors, and we have faith." Then, I would get out of bed, saying something about laundry, and go to the basement to cry alone, because I knew I was watching my husband die, but I did not want him to know that I knew.

Scott was brave, so I was brave, too. Another lesson for me -  and for others. In fact, I heard these kinds of words so often from many friends : "Dede, I felt terrible this morning, but if Scott Rittman can get out of bed and enjoy life with cancer, I told myself that I can get out of bed and have a good day, too." Scott was always so pleased when I shared those statements with him, as he enjoyed helping others to love and live and appreciate their lives.  He faced every day and every treatment with courage - 48 chemos and 25 radiations- and he faced the side effects of each pain-producing treatment with that same courage.

We created a Caring Bridge site for friends to follow Scott's progress, and I wrote a Caring Bridge entry once or twice a week.. At Scott's insistence, I always put a positive spin on his trials, and thanked our reader friends and supporters with each post. Scott always read the entry before I posted it-he never wanted anyone to feel pity for his plight- we were just sharing information, and maybe the treatments and information we were discussing just might help someone else at a later time. (Turns out, this was true for many of our friends who had to deal with cancer after we did.  They chose our doctors, hospital, and more. Another lesson from Scott.)

Scott was taken by ambulance to the hospital for his final week of life. I posted on The Caring Bridge that we were at THE END, and that we would appreciate emails or prearranged visits, or the sharing of any stories and favorite memories I could read to Scott. Scores visited, and Scott received over 250 email messages of love and remembrance and thanks. The kindnesses of friends made us feel blessed, even under the worst of circumstances. Scott was so thankful. 

One of our oldest friends came to see Scott at the end. He could not understand how Scott could die at 59 when he was still alive at 89, and he began to cry. Scott comforted him and called me in the room to "Take care of Leo.  He is upset." Even in death, Scott showed his true character through his concern for the feelings of others. He was days from dying, and worried about someone else.  I have never forgotten that selfless and altruistic lesson. 

I wrote Scott's obituary from my IPad, as well as his eulogy, and I was able to read both to him before he slipped into his final hepatic coma as his liver shut down. We decided together about the clothes he would wear, and what kind of casket to buy, and what he wanted for his funeral and wake. (This sounds matter-of fact as I write it, but know that it was not.  I am sobbing just remembering all of this, but Scott did not want me to have to make these decisions alone.  He was always there for me in life, and he was there for me while dying.) We decided that he would have his final performance as well; that I would play the recording of his singing of YOU RAISE ME UP, which he had sung in church 10 months earlier. (If you want to hear it, click here. he only had 60% of his voice because of the chemo treatment 4 days before, but he still sounds beautiful. )  I made it through the eulogy presentation without crying, because as Scott's wife, I wanted to comfort the throng of friends who were mourning his loss with me. If I had cried, I would have dragged everyone down, and we both wanted his funeral to be a celebration of his life.  If Scott could be strong while dying, I could continue his strength and legacy through the funeral.

Scott left this earthly world when I stepped out of the room for 5 minutes, protecting me in death, as he had protected me in life. I was not surprised. 

When two people marry, there is no crystal ball to view the future, and in this life, no one is guaranteed a golden and problem-free existence. The best couples can do is to learn from each other, to give their best, and to share what they have learned with others.  I was blessed to have Scott as my husband for 30 years. Being his wife made me a better person; so does being his widow and remembering our lives together. His zest for living and his grace and courage while dying are enduring examples set by an extraordinary man. I miss him every minute of every single day, and I am so appreciative of all that Scott taught me.  

Scott Rittman showed me that this statement is true.  "The art of living well and the art of dying well are one." Epicurus

Here are a few favorite pictures from our wedding day, for those who are interested. 

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions. 

Rittman Publishing, LLC ®

Visit Dede's webpage for complete details on her award-winning book, STUDENT TEACHING: THE INSIDE SCOOP FROM A MASTER TEACHER.  Many colleges have made the book required reading. 
Signed copies are available Dede is also a national speaker on The Three C's for Classroom success: Confidence, communication, and Creativity; Avoiding Teacher burnout; and many other inspirational topics. 

I LOVE writing. And I love writing children's books- my newest passion. Although it will be a ton of work, I am looking forward to selling my books.  Since I was a secondary teacher, I know that I have much to learn about elementary students, and I will have to follow my own advice and be my genuine self.  However, I also know that I am passionate about helping kids who have to wear glasses, and that GRADY GETS GLASSES sends a positive message. I am willing to work hard and do all the things that also made me a successful teacher for 37 years. I remain inspired! 

Elementary teachers in Western Pennsylvania and beyond - I am willing to come into your classroom in person or as a virtual field trip through a group called Field Trip Zoom.  Check them out! 

Teacher friends- let me know if you want me to read GRADY GETS GLASSES at your school. I am willing to come in to discuss the creative writing process, why writing is important, and personal fulfillment through writing, along with reading my book.  I would appreciate the exposure, and I would make signed copies available for purchase in your classrooms following the reading.  Please email me at .  The website IS UP AND RUNNING!!!.  Signed copies ARE available!   Grady plush toys are ordered! 

Please like Dede's new page Grady Gets Glasses for updates about her children's book. 

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  1. Well, yes, I'm a man, but I cried as I read this post. They were what I call "tears of joy" when I recall my own wife of 48 years who, like Scott, lived and died courageously and without complaint, hiding her fears behind her sweet smile.

    I love Dede's honesty. I love her living his legacy of always putting others first. And I wish I had half his skills. When I fished as a 12-year-old with my Uncle Al, I hooked myself instead of a porgy and said goodbye to fishing rods. I can't fix things. I call servicemen instead. But different highs for different guys. I get mine out of writing. --

  2. Boy, could he sing! I wanted to applaud at the end and could hear the ovations he must have gotten in all the plays he appeared in. Enjoyed the wedding fotos, too. Quite a couple -- and a life of love couldn't help but follow. --howards