For the Love of Dakotah

May 31, 2009 at 9:02 pm 17 comments

Bill Pritchett 005The first two things you notice about Bill Pritchett are his sweet, cheerful manner and the twinkle dancing in his eyes.  Flash back to summer 2004, however, and you would have found him slumped in his easy chair in Guthrie, Oklahoma, trying to make sense of the death sentence he felt he’d been handed.  His wife DeAnna was taking good care of him, as usual, and he’d always figured that you’re way ahead of the game if you count your blessings, not your misfortunes.  But it’d been a rough couple of years and the ugly maw of depression had started to sink its teeth into him.

The first blows came in 1998 when Bill was diagnosed with fibro-cystic kidney disease the same year the doctors decided he needed open-heart surgery.  One year later, his kidney function fell below ten percent – which meant he would eventually need blood-cleansing dialysis treatments since his arteries were too narrow for a kidney transplant.  The grim diagnosis:  end-stage acute renal failure.

Bill did pretty well for a while, even after he started dialysis in 2001, but within a few years the fatigue threatened to swallow him whole.  “When I had to walk away from a 35-year career as an X-ray technician, I started thinking that I wasn’t much use to anybody anymore,” he recalls.

Bill tried to pull himself together by reconstructing other difficult times, like when his father left the family in 1949.  As a spunky eleven-year-old placed at the Buckner Orphanage in Dallas, he had at first resented what he perceived as “force-fed” religion.  “I had some really tough years, until I fully accepted Christ,” he admits.  “Then things changed for me.”  Just as he had learned back then to lean on the Lord, he now prayed for strength and reassurance, often returning to Romans 8, verse 38, to remind himself that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Still, it was no fun being shackled by such ominous medical pronouncements.  “I’m worried sick about you,” DeAnna finally said one muggy August afternoon.  “I go to work every day wondering whether I’ll come home and find that you’ve given up on life entirely.”

Her confession shook Bill out of his self-absorption and he decided that at least he could choose where he would spend his last days, even if he couldn’t do much to add to them.  “We need to move up to Minnesota, where we can be close to the kids and the grandkids,” he told his wife.  Whatever happened, he figured, things would be better for her having both daughters nearby.  Having a plan seemed to buy Bill a bit of serenity.

Once they got to the Twin Cities, Bill and DeAnna had access to excellent local health care, their new neighbors helped them find a church nearby, and their children and grandchildren were close enough to visit.  Spending time with family inflated Bill’s sagging spirits and he started to have a flicker of hope for the future.

He also started to suffer more side effects from his dialysis treatments – the muscle weakness and the crippling aches that travel from one joint to another.  When great-grandbaby Dakotah was born not long after they had relocated, it was a blessing that couldn’t have been timed better.  “I love all of my grandchildren dearly,” Bill says, “but the first time I held that five-pound bundle in my arms when he was just a few hours old, I sensed a special connection with this little boy.  I think God knew that DeAnna and I needed something to pull things together for us, to keep us going.  Something positive to focus on.”  Watching Dakotah grow fanned that ember of hope which the move had rekindled.  God’s “little blessing” was transforming Bill’s outlook like nothing else had.

When Dakotah was eighteen months old, Bill announced to his stunned wife that he wanted to go back to work.  “We could use the money to do things for the grandkids, and I think it would be good for me.”  Passing pros and cons back and forth for an hour convinced Deanna.  “If you really think you can manage it, then we’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen,” she promised.

After Bill took a job as a people-greeter at a local Wal-Mart for four, eight-hour shifts a week, it wasn’t long before he started to see himself differently.  He was able to help out coworkers when they were short-staffed in Sporting Goods or the Hardware Department, and he had a definite role to play in the lives of the customers.  “I greet a fair number of lonesome souls coming through those big automatic doors,” says Bill, “and sometimes spreading a little sunshine with a smile and a ‘How’re you doin’ today?’ can be better than handing someone a winning lottery ticket.”

Soon the regulars started slowing down long enough to visit, and young children would run up and throw their arms around him.  Being productive again made Bill feel better, both physically and emotionally.

There are still some days when getting motivated to punch that time clock isn’t easy, especially when his work shift falls on the same day as one of his three weekly dialysis treatments.  That’s when Bill bows his head in gratitude, thanking God for the reminder not to start making excuses.  “I know I’m not anything special; I’m just doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” he claims.  Yet through the gift of each workday, Bill gets proof that investing a little of yourself yields mighty generous returns.  “That builds me up again, so I have more energy to play with Dakotah and spend time with my family.”

If Bill and DeAnna needed any more evidence that they had been led to where they were meant to be, it came in February of 2008.  They had picked up three-and-a-half-year-old Dakotah the day before, and on this bitter-cold morning Deanna was hearing paralyzing news.  There had been a fire in the trailer house where Dakotah lived with his mother, and she had succumbed to carbon monoxide and smoke inhalation.  “This little fellow so loved his mama,” says Bill.  “We didn’t know how to even begin to tell him the sad news that she had left this earth.”

Slowly over the days that followed, Dakotah’s father helped him reach an understanding of what had happened.  “Mama’s gone to be with Jesus,” he explained.  “You know who Jesus is, right?”  “Oh yes,” Dakotah would respond with enthusiasm.  “He’s me and Grandpa’s friend!”

Meanwhile, Bill and Deanna tried to offer comfort and distraction.  Just like his great-grandpa, little Dakotah was facing a whole new future; he would need his family and his faith more than ever now.

“I joke that we headed north for the mild winters,” Bill quips, “but it was really an answer to prayers for guidance that led us here.”  He’s had some more medical adventures since the move, including surgery for malignant polyps and treatment for bladder cancer.  “But I am blessed with a wonderful team of doctors and nurses at the local V.A. hospital,” he says with his signature off-kilter smile.

“I still feel drained and discouraged now and then, but knowing that God put that little boy in my life – inspired such intense love in me – for a reason; that He has a purpose, a mission for my life, that gives me peace.  And it makes me ask myself, if God loves me that much, how can I ever give up hope?”

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Entry filed under: People of Faith and Courage. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Attitude and Perspective

17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. andylarose  |  August 7, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    We need the media to focus on stories like this as reminders of why we were put here. Somebody once said that if you want to forget about your problems for a while think, about someone else’s.

    Reply
    • 2. kirkhams  |  August 13, 2009 at 9:20 pm

      Dear Andy Larose,

      I am delighted that you enjoyed reading about Bill Pritchett. He is a truly lovely human being, who carries his burdens with grace and humility. You might also be interested in taking a look at Brian and Ellen’s Story, the latest entry on my website, http://www.yourrecipesforlife.com. You can read about the challenges and successes of this inspiring young couple under the People of Faith and Courage tab, and while you’re there you can check out some new entries under Advice for Life and the Musings of a Midwestern Foodie.

      I appreciate your visits and your comments. I’ll keep you informed about new posts on a monthly basis, or as something new and exciting hits my little corner of cyberspace.

      S.W.K.

      Reply
  • 3. andylarose  |  August 14, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    I appreciate that you acknowledged my comment!

    Reply
  • 4. renee  |  August 17, 2010 at 10:04 am

    just a note to say Bill is doing well. he has his good days and his bad days. we almost lost him last year. he fell in the parking lot after dialis. so deanna now drives him. he is still at walmart, they have been so good to him.
    dakotah is now 6 and starts 1st grade in sept. he is doing great.
    i want to thank you for such a wonderful artical on them. i will have to print it out for them.
    renee
    bills daughter

    Reply
    • 5. kirkhams  |  August 17, 2010 at 2:22 pm

      It was my honor and privilege to get to know Bill and to share his story with others. Thank you for the update on his condition and on Dakotah’s progress. We will keep you all in our prayers.

      Reply
  • 6. Renee  |  June 29, 2011 at 3:24 am

    just want to give you an update on Bill and Dakotah. Dakotah turns 7 in a few months and will be in 2nd grade. he is such a sweet and careing boy. He was top of his 1st grade class. Bill is still hanging in there. He did have a bad fall a few weekends ago and still looks like a victom of a bad mugging. his face is one big bruise. he started kemo yeserday 6/26/11, he has bladder cancer. he has had many surgeries on his dialis arm. and he is still a greeter at wal-mart. he has his good days and bad ones. but he always has a smile for everyone even when his pain is great. i dont know anyone who has endored what my dad has.

    renee
    bills daughter

    Reply
    • 7. kirkhams  |  June 30, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      Thank you, Renee; I really appreciate the update. I have been looking for Bill every time I go to Wal-Mart, but his schedule is different now, and I keep missing him. I agree that your dad is one very inspiring fellow and I know that his story touches others in a meaningful way. I keep your family in my prayers, and I’m delighted to hear that Dakotah is doing well.

      God bless you all, and thanks again for letting me know how things are going. I’ll send Bill a note this week, since I don’t seem to run into him very often these days.

      Sue Anne Kirkham

      Reply
  • 8. Renee  |  September 22, 2011 at 6:06 am

    Sue ann,
    Bill is in the VA. they do not know whats wrong. they are doing many tests. he is not doing good at all. he may not make it out. if he does he will go to a nursing home. but then again he could walk out of there tomorrow. he is a stuborn man. he worries about everyone.
    just wanted to let you know.

    renee,
    bills daughter

    Reply
    • 9. kirkhams  |  September 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm

      Thank you so much Renee. I’ve been looking for him at Walmart lately, and wondering how he was doing. I will amp up my prayers for your family, and – as you said – he is strong and filled with good will. I know God has a reward for him, no matter what the outcome of this current crisis.

      Again, thank you for letting me know. I really do appreciate having the update.

      Sue Anne

      Reply
  • 10. renee  |  February 8, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    sue,
    an update on bill.
    hes not doing good today. he wont be going back home. we are talking hospise now. he goes into these deep sleeps that no one can wake him from. he is not eating. the cancer has spread. we do not want prayers for a recovery. we want prayers for a swift and peaceful death. dad is/was a good man hes lived a long and fullfilling life. but its time for him to go home to be with his lord. we will miss him dearly and deeply. as he is loved by so many. he touched many hearts and people throughout his life

    Reply
    • 11. kirkhams  |  February 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm

      Dear Renee,

      I had made a note on my to-do list last week to email you and check up on how your dad was doing. I’m so sorry to hear that he is suffering, and I understand completely your desire for him to be released from his agony. My prayers are indeed with you all.

      Reply
  • 12. renee  |  February 8, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    i told him once… that i picked him to be my dad, and that i am very proud to be his daughter. of course he cryed, but thats my dad.
    so please dont think we want him to die, as we dont. but its time for him to go be with his mama, his beloved granny and his Lord. because we will see him again one day and he will be healthy again.

    thanks sue
    renee

    Reply
  • 13. renee  |  March 14, 2012 at 3:38 am

    dear sue,

    just to let you know that at 7:15pm March 13th, 2012 my dad Billy Pritchett, passed away.
    he has gone to be with is Lord.
    Thank you for doing the story on him.

    renee

    i will let you know when we have the memorial get together to selabrate his life

    Reply
    • 14. kirkhams  |  March 14, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      Thank you Renee. I had been watching for a newspaper announcement, and I appreciate your contacting me. I am so sorry for your loss, but comforted knowing what peace he now enjoys. Surely there was a celebration in heaven when he entered there, a good and faithful servant of his Lord.

      He was a wonderful man, and it was an honor and a privilege to be able to share his story with others. Perhaps some day we will find a larger audience for the article, and many more will be touched by his bravery and his sweetness.

      Thanks again for letting me know. I will watch for the details of his memorial.

      Sue Anne

      Reply
  • 15. renee  |  May 8, 2017 at 6:39 pm

    Dear sue,
    its been 5 years since dad passed away. mom is doind good she is so busy. i dont know where she gets her energy. Dakotah will be 13, he is such a young man now. i miss my dad so much, but i talk to him almost every day. i will try to keep you updated from time to time
    renee

    Reply
  • 16. kirkhams  |  May 8, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    Oh, Renee. I can’t believe it has been five years. Thank you so much for staying in touch. I look forward to hearing about your mom and Dakotah in the future. Please give her my love and may God bless you and your family as this “little guy” grows up.

    Reply

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