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Dick Clark died April 18, 2012 of a massive heart attack. He was 82 years old and is considered America’s “oldest living  teenager.” My question is, could his heart attack have been avoided? Could mine–or yours? Heart disease remains the number one killer in America. It steals the quality of our lives and takes our loved ones from us too, too soon.

We can’t get around the facts. Americans suffer some of the highest heart disease rates in large part due to our issues with obesity and lack of exercise. I’m the first to admit that it’s tough to get in shape, to give up certain foods and hit the gym on a regular basis, but I also know after witnessing heart disease with my dad that heart disease doesn’t just kill you fast, it’s something you suffer with, something that impacts the quality of your life for years, something that can alter your loved ones and caregivers lives.

If you remember, Dick Clark suffered a stroke back in 2004, which meant had arteriosclerosis. It silenced the voice we had grown to love and count on. What you may not know is that he also had type 2 diabetes. “Two-thirds of people who have diabetes die of either heart disease or stroke,” Dick Clark shared a few years ago. “That was enough for me to stand up and say, ‘Whoa, I’m in that group…’ ”

Dick Clark is truly representative of what is happening in America, and especially to our men. Dick Clark wasn’t particularly heavy, so is heart disease and all of its “side dishes” (strokes, diabetes) come with just the “build-up” (literally) of life? Just how hard do we have to work at staying healthy to avoid this early killer?

Do we give up fat? Meat? Salt? What else? Do we hit the gym 30 minutes a day? One, two hours? What’s it going to take? Diligence, yes, but also a bit of know-how. Quality of life over quantity.

First, *and I can only speak for myself, it’s time to drop all processed foods. They’re simply no good. I heard Heidi Klum say recently that she “avoids anything that comes out of a box or a bag.” I also need to have a few meatless days a week, but it’s not just about going meatless, it’s also about what you replace that meat with–heart healthy beans and steamed or roasted veggies.

What stands in my way?

Stress and exhaustion.

I reach for the bag or the box, for the greasy/juicy hamburger when I’m tired, when I’ve worked too long, when I’ve let regret and worry  (living in the past or in the future avalanche my thoughts and bury my body in oh so familiar bad habits.

As I grow older I am even more aware of how much I value sleep and how being crazy-busy (as I used to like to call it as if it were a badge I wore proudly) just isn’t cutting it any more. I used to equate busy with important, but even I no longer believe my own lies (illusions).

I’ve also found that I can’t bully myself into a healthier lifestyle.

It’s got to be about joy, not guilt or shame.

Eating beautiful, clean foods. Learning to celebrate with a bowl of cherries and a handful of almonds instead of a red velvet cheesecake (the occasional bite is fine, but restaurants won’t bring you just a bite!)

It’s about dancing any hour of the day  (I take Zumba classes). It’s about long walks, meandering bike rides, and even a few challenges–signing up for a 5-K.

It’s about laughing, and recognizing stress and exhaustion before it’s tied me to its bumper and taken me on a cross-country tour. It’s about turning OFF the media and crawling into bed for a glorious night’s sleep BEFORE I fall asleep on the couch at midnight in a TV remote surfing coma.

It’s about being content, letting go, forgiving, and loving what is. I still struggle, still get worked up, still default into panic mode, but I am finding that it’s lost its appeal. I’d rather lay down my frantic thoughts. I’d rather not get worked up about what s0-and-so said. More often than before, I’m choosing quiet joy.

I know that something–heart disease, Alzheimer’s, who knows what–will eventually get me. We don’t just die. We die of something, but that something doesn’t have to live with me and rob me of precious years, even decades. I’ve always said I want to go out big–a bungee cord that snaps or the rip cord that doesn’t rip when I’m 92. I want my friends to spread the word of my demise by saying, “You’ll never guess how the ole’ gal left this world…”

Can I prevent my own heart attack? Can you prevent yours? Is it too late?

No, I don’t think it’s too late, but it does take the proverbial wake-up call. It does take a deep, life-changing/thought-changing jolt that reminds us again and again, even when we’re tired, even when we’re stressed, to make that first, and then another, and then hundreds of little choices and changes, not simply to avoid “the big one,” but to live now–cleaner, sweeter and simpler.

I miss Dick Clark already, but I realize now that I’ve missed Dick since 2004–eight years that “America’s eternal teenager” struggled with the ripple-effect of America’s number one disease. Dick, I danced to American Bandstand all those years ago and in my heart we’ll always dance.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

Available on Amazon (hardback and Kindle)

Resources:

http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/04/18/dick-clark-had-history-heart-disease-type-2-diabetes-before-death/#ixzz1sURMLApY

http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

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My Daddy died at the average age men die in the US (78 years old), from the most common disease men die from–heart disease. Yet, Daddy was anything but typical. He was a big teddy bear of a guy who made my world right again.

I was adopted at the age of four. My early years weren’t easy.

My birth mother suffered from schizophrenia (severely and eventually permanently hospitalized), and addiction to alcohol and gambling choked all the life out of my birth father. My sister and I lived with my father’s co-dependent/enabler grandmother and was abused by a boarder who lived in her house.

Not a great beginning.

I don’t share this with you to make you uncomfortable or to get sympathy points because my life didn’t stay that way. I was adopted and received layer after layer of personal healing and insights that allow me to incorporate this experience into my being.

Healing took a long, long time.

My adoptive Daddy was a big part of that. He was 54 and Mama was 50 when they adopted me. That’s taking a big chance–but it also shows what a void they had to fill.

He died when I was 23 years old. Too young for him to die–and too young for me. But he isn’t really gone.

He has become a part of me now–his songs, his stories, his gestures, his wisdom–I carry him every day.

I see him just like I did when I was six and playing baseball in the backyard–he was my “seated” lawn chair pitcher. I broke his garage window. Don’t know that he got too upset.

I remember the summer we had  a contest and ate 38 watermelons. He told me vines were going to shoot out my ears. I hoped they would. Every time my nose tickled, or I hiccuped, I got excited.

I remember when I was 12 and just starting to like boys–Daddy drove me to the skating rink each Saturday night and picked me up at 11:00. I know he really didn’t want to get dressed and traipse out that late, but he did. I remember when he asked me if that boy kissed me. I lied and said, “No, Daddy.” He knew. I knew. But I couldn’t say the words–not to my dad.

I remember when I brought home countless boyfriends and the disgusting look he’d hide behind his newspaper. No one was ever good enough for his little sweety-pie.

Eventually, one was, and I married him. He loves my dad as much as I do. That’s why we’re still married. He reminds me of that honorable man who changed my life and he’s the daddy to our three girls. His face lights up when his daughters just walk into the room. His face lights up when I walk into the room.

That’s why I keep him.

The power of a great dad changes a child’s life. And it keeps changing it. Even after our dads are no longer walking on this earth. Whispered wisdom, needed advice, family traditions and that sense of security never goes away.

I never got to be my dad’s caregiver the way I did with my mom. But I promised him we would take care of her. That promise got me through some rough times.

I hope you enjoy a short excerpt from my forthcoming book, SAID CHILD.

It’s about our night time ritual and coming home after church. (Being raised in church means I have many, many memories of life on the pew). Perhaps this excerpt will spark one of your own favorite memories.

The greatest thing we can do for our dads on Father’s Day is simply to remember.

Excerpt from SAID CHILD:

Daddy slid next to us after his usher and elder duties of collecting and counting the money were complete. We’d all squeeze into the pew making room and he’d have to pull on his coat a few times to get comfortable. He’d reach in his shirt pocket and in one continuous smooth move, a gold package of Butter Rum Life Savers appeared and the fleshy underbelly of my tongue salivated. I got one, he got one and he’d wink. Mama preferred peppermint. Peppermint reminded me of the nausea of backseat card rides.

I’d roll the butter rum disk around in my mouth and hold it vertical between my teeth, my tongue reading the raised letters as if in Braille. I’d lay my head against Daddy’s arm, recognizing the texture of his different suits, and then he’d put his arm around me and poke his finger in my ear. I brush it away and he’d smile without looking at me. I snuggled up waiting for my butter rum Life Saver to dissolve so I could get another one. As the preacher’s words droned on and on, I knew we’d never make it home in time to see the Sunday night Disney movie. We never did. Missing all my favorite TV shows was the worst part to me. I’d have to run a fever or throw-up to get to stay home.

Daddy covered my legs with his jacket and patted me until the sounds and lights muffled, dimming into soft shades of gold as I watched my eyelashes fold again and again, the world faded fuzzy, then black.

I barely remembered most of the car ride home on Sunday nights and Daddy would place me between the cool sheets long after I was too big to be carried, my lanky legs scraping the bed and the quilt slid in place. 

Daddy half-whispered, half-growled, “My baby done gone to sleep, Lord bless my little sweety-pie.”

He’d sing me to sleep and I’d always ask for Mr. Moon:  

Oh Mr. Moon, Moon, bright and shinin’ moon,

Oh won’t you please shine down on me.

For my life’s in danger and I’m scared to run,

There’s a man behind me with me with a big shot gun,

Oh Mr. Moon, Moon, bright and shinin’ moon, oh won’t you please shine down on me. Boom, boom, boom.

***

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

available on Amazon

www.mothering-mother.com

Family advisor at www.Caring.com

Syndicated blog at www.OpentoHope.com

www.kunati.com, publishers

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