The Unwinding of the Miracle
A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After
by Julie Yip-Williams (due out Jan 2019)

“I loved it!” What an amazing real-life story, both sad and inspiring. The author writes from her soul, sharing in details only someone who has lived the early life tragedy, followed by accomplished life from nothing to cancer tragedy at a much too young life. As a reader you will be on a roller coaster reading from one chapter to the next, knowing too early on what the final chapter will be like while still holding out that your anticipation is wrong and a miracle – as in the title – will change that ending as a surprise. But no, the opening reveal prevails and we feel deep feelings as we travel along on this life journey which, as the author reminds us, will eventually lead to death, a natural part of life as we know it all too well.

The sadness isn’t in the guaranteed death we all must face, but rather what we deal with in advancing to that human fate. And there is where the depth of this insightful life story touches us as it unfolds with anticipated impact on the family that will be left behind, two young daughters and a loving soul-mate spouse. The author raises some important questions as she faces the medical trials with their disabling side effects that change the quality of life and impact family relationships. Do we make decisions based on our own needs, even if that means a shortened life span, or conversely, take into account those who are affected by our passing that will leave them without motherly support in their important growing years and life events? How do we feel about the loved husband also left behind, wishing out of love for their best, but conflicted by natural human emotions about his finding another to fill out that left behind family life. The author shares her honest innermost thoughts and feelings in a very insightful reading of those conflictual moments compounded by the unavoidable physical body pain and drug induced mental challenges, especially as they relate to the high hopes and disappointments that come with that ‘giving it our all’ to preserve life for as long as we can.

I’m not giving anything away in sharing her eventual death, but in one final chapter written by her husband AFTER that death, we gain still more connection and insight into her and their amazing journey of life, however too short, but lived to its fullest despite early obstacles. And in that telling lies the inspiration of lives we all must face, lives of challenge and opportunity.

I strongly recommend this reading to anyone facing life’s daily journey (especially – but not only – if yours involves cancer, either yours or a loved one’s), and that’s each and every one of us. I eventually found myself sitting up reading late into the early morning hours for the final chapters, unable to put this awesome book down as those inevitable final days unfold.


With my renewed commitment to share via this blog regularly now, I thought a series on some general topics might be of interest.  Initial series topics would include things like . . .

  • Retirement Reflections
  • Hobby Happiness
  • Cookie Monster treats
  • Reflective Readings

. . . as some initial areas to write about that might be of interest to followers of this blog.

My granddaughter, Gail and I, having a great “cookie monster” day so many years ago (Gail is in her 2nd year of college now!)

Stay tuned to see if this renewed interest becomes the priority I currently feel for sharing amidst a busy life of many other ‘high priorities’ as I enjoy this fulfilled life as I live through my ‘eight decade’ as one doctor recently phrased it to my shock and surprise.  He was using that in the context of a compliment, saying “Mr. Gleason, you are an amazing patient, doing so well now in your eighth decade (as he was finishing an extensive month-long (expensive) series of internal testing for pancreatic cancer without finding any despite symptoms, a very good outcome I thought!)  My reaction was, “Hey, I’m not in my eighties yet!” only to step back and realize that when we are in our seventies, that indeed is our ‘eighth decade’ of life and in that realization, felt the blessing of his remark.  Each day I celebrate, as any good ‘Cookie Monster’ would, living a life extension through my 1994 heart transplant granted by the generous donation of a heart no longer supporting life in that donor, Roberto Quebas of Brooklyn, NY.

PS: In that doctor’s visit, the nurse who came out into the waiting area to find a Mr. Gleason to take back for his appointment was confused when I arose in response to her announcement, saying as we went into the clinic rooms, “Based on my file records of  age and conditions (many), I was expecting someone looking much older!”  Wow, she had made my day and so the doctor’s comments were just the icing on this cookie monster’s cookies today.

May your own life be filled with iced cookies today and every day.  As cookie monsters, we expect good things of life and in so looking for them, see them all around us and celebrate each with storytelling as in this day’s blog here.

I keep coming up with topics to share, BUT too busy living life to take time to post them here – that has to change since my heart filled life is too full to keep them to myself. So here goes for today, Aug 23rd, 2018.

“No lines!”

It’s a beautiful summer day here in southern New Jersey and I was off doing a few busy things that gave me something to share with you: there were no lines!

1st: went to the post office to mail a dozen of our TRIO transplant books for children to a lung transplant program out in California, expecting to have to wait in line at this busy site.  Imagine my pleasant surprise when I went in and was the only customer being greeted by the agent with a big smile (honestly he only smiled when I complimented him on his smile, then it grew and showed a wonderful positive attitude towards life) and friendly conversation as he handled my package.

2nd: on to a local bank to deal with two issues arising from that bank’s takeover of the original small one, again expecting to wait in line and have to transfer to a bank officer to resolve the issue.  No line, but instead a bank teller, not behind some glass protecting window, but out in front greeting me with an offer to help.  Explained my two issues, she looked up the account and ‘Voila!’ issues resolved easily and promptly.

3rd: Today is Thursday.  Stopped for a much needed haircut at my local barber shop, knowing I would have time to read my Kindle books while waiting my turn since this is “Thursday is our busiest day!” sign warned me to better come another not-so-busy day.  “Next!” was all I heard since there was only my barber on the phone warning a caller that “Thursday is my busiest day!” with nobody in the chair nor waiting in his outer wait area.  Nice chat, great cut, happy newly trimmed Jim!

4th: Went from the barber to the nearby Taco Bell since it was exactly noon and there we always get free soda and inexpensive foods, this time a Mexican pizza for just $4.  It’s lunchtime so I have my Kindle book to read as I would be waiting in line for sure now. Not so!  Nobody in line, my food was immediately prepared and once paid, delivered for some quiet reading time by the sunny window seat.

Finally, 5th: Stopping by for some light grocery shopping at local Aldi’s – between noon and 1 there would certainly be a wait in this line given a popular time for others shopping too.  “No line!” again, just a very quick checker with a friendly smile (encouraged by my complimenting her on ‘that friendly smile!’ which makes anyone smile so matter how their day is going once you do that.  Works EVERY time!)

So what are the chances, five stops, NO LINES on a beautiful busy summer Thursday?  I am so blessed and my cookie monster outlook on life like this allows me to celebrate each and every event with myself, the agent and now, you!

PS: “Cookie Monster” outlook – what’s that you ask?  Go to my book’s chapter explaining that self-created concept and see if you too might be a “Cookie Monster” at http://www.transweb.org/stories/heart/s3_p10.shtml or a slightly different version from the book, ‘A Gift from the Heart’ found at http://www.rjwitte.com/changeofheart/GiftFromTheHeart/Section3/Chp-43-COOKIEM.pdf

What an amazing life this continues to be, now 74 years on this planet earth, life extended through the donated gift of a heart in that heart transplant back in October of 1994 for yet 23 years so far.  In growing up, someone who was 50 was ‘old’ and even as a young parent visiting aging relatives I saw some who in their mid-50’s were retired, spending their days sitting in a comfortable chair, watching TV.  Life for them was just waiting for that final date with destiny, death.  In those days use of the word ‘cancer’, for example, was avoided, instead it was the ‘Big C’ at had only one outcome, death.

How different life is today, at least in my personal experience, having overcome prostate cancer, skin cancers and even kidney cancer (and a recent concern for pancreatic cancer that after many extensive tests they could never find despite symptoms!) thanks to modern medicine and the blessing of great support teams who watch over my medical issues, taking care of each event as it comes with advancing age.  Who would ever have foreseen living to their mid-70’s from the perspective of our busy lives in the past decades.  Both for myself, and in conversations with family and dear friends, this is a common reaction of surprise when we stop and realize, “Wow, how did I get to this age?”  Even 75 is no longer seen as being old as we continue living active lives, even when those advancing years come with changing perspectives on what is no longer easy  or possible as the body begins to show signs of wear with those year of service.

It was in this context that recently I was set back on my heals when my wife reacted to something we were talking about with “Well, you may live to be 90.”  “Ninety?”  “Ninety!”  What a new and shocking thought.  At 74 now, I did that quick arithmetic and realized that ninety wasn’t all that far away anymore.  “Wow!”  Never had I stopped in my busy days to ever consider such a possibility.

Florence at 100

With Florence celebrating 100th birthday

Yes, we had family and friends who lived to ripe old 90’s and even 100’s, but others died or are facing death even today while in younger 70’s or younger.  I have always accepted the fact of life, admitting in public presentations even, that “When I was born I realized that I had only one guarantee and that was that someday I would die.”  Simple fact – nothing to worry about – never losing a moment of life worrying about that eventuality.

Trina 2016

Heart transplant in ’94

Over the years I have actually come face to face with my own death many times, and lived to tell about it.  At 18, almost killed in a truck crash, at 50 almost died of a failing heart while snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef off Australia (had an interesting laughing conversation with God during that event), then there was the heart transplant in ‘94, and most recently, even though I didn’t know its severity at the time, of emergency gall bladder surgery this past February with all the complications resulting in a 9 day hospitalization and a dire medical forecast given to my wife that “Jim probably will not leave this hospital alive.”  Not knowing that last forecast while I was hospitalized, I just kept living each day to my best and today am fully recovered, feeling younger than I have in years with a knee and hip replacement that makes pain free mobility possible again.

Jim Gleason at the river

“My mind (and heart) remain open to the possibilities . . .”

90!  I honestly don’t know what to make of that thought.  I continue to live each and every day to its fullest, so even reflecting on the daily challenges put forth in the book I am reading, “One Moment to Live: Thirty Days to a No-regrets Life”  But that eye opening moment of my wife’s comment keeps coming to mind.  What would you do different if you knew you only had 30-days to live, the theme of that book, doesn’t give me moments of regret.  I look back on a very blessed life lived fully, from childhood through to today, and accept the unknown of a tomorrow as yet another exciting adventure, an opportunity to serve and enjoy the many wonderful people in my life.  What more can one ask for in life.  When I see the trials and challenges those around me are facing, I count my blessings and am thankful to a loving God for these many gifts.

TGA 2012 Jim in pool thumbs up

Today and tomorrow are yet more examples of how I feel each day in rising, as I repeat my favorite mantra: “Wow, another day above ground.  This is going to be a great one!

In closing, I pray and wish that for you too, a new day of love filled living, coming closer to reaching your fullest potential.

Bless you for your role in my wonderful life.  Thank you for being YOU!  As Oscar Wilde has said: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”


After a recent emergency surgery and complication post-surgery issues resulting in a nine day hospital stay, I returned home to recover for what was forecast as a six to eight week timeframe. I am happy to report their prediction was right on and today I feel completely back to normal life after that interesting recovery coming through what I now recognize as several stages. Thanks for all your concerns/prayers of support, those prayers were answered!

Looking back over those weeks, I offer the following observations or lessons learned. Coming home was most welcome despite the fine care received at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. I learned afterwards that during those 9 days there were times when it was thought that I would not come through this alive (a prognosis shared with my wife, but not myself until I had come home for a while). But that was not to be this time around. Coming into the house was a careful and somewhat painful transition, but with a huge snowfall predicted for that night, we just beat it in time. The next days and nights were spent enjoying my swivel and adjustable lounge chair that proved amazingly comfortable, allowing Pam the bed alone so she could get well-earned night’s sleep before going off to work each day. I enjoyed much sleep and rest just as the doctor ordered, clearing my often busy calendar of anything that would hinder that process. But the frustration was in the loss of appetite, a sign of phase one in that recovery process. Getting on the scale I found I had not only recovered from my pre-hospitalization dehydration weight (had lost 15 pounds leading up to the event), but added a few more in what I assume was water retention for a total increase of 20+ pounds. With little desire to eat, that quickly went off but I do wish I could enjoy food again.

The next stage found my appetite back looking for tasty foods. With each idea – ice cream, cookies, orange juice and Cran-flavored juices (we eventually had 8 or more Ocean Spray Cran-flavored quarts in the frig!) no matter the food or drink, nothing fulfilled that desire, how frustrating a search. So weight came off (Yeah!) and I was enjoying the restful vacation which slowly turned back to taking on voluntary tasks of purpose as opposed to tasks of commitments, so no stress and lots of procrastination with the excuse of ‘I can do that tomorrow.’

Then I discovered the secret taste bursting fruits in those small green, red and purple seedless grapes! Talk about your easy snacks, just picking a few off the stems throughout the day. Wow, they were so tasty and good. Later we discovered that grapes could be kept frozen and taken a few icey cold and tasty bursts of flavor as snacks too. We kept a pound or so of each (especially when found on sale for $1.99/lb vs. the usual $3.99 or even $4.99/lb prices) that were added to every possible meal – grapes cut in half were added to different flavored Special K cereals – we had as many as 7 different flavored cereals in the kitchen cabinet to choose from each morning. That grape/banana cereal mix along with a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice (even tastier than the usual bottled OJ) got each day off to a great recovery start. When it came to making a lunchtime salad, those same grapes (I don’t know why I kept cutting them in half) became the flavor burst on the bed of lettuce, grape tomatoes, cran-raisins, shredded Italian or Mexican cheese, Pepperoni slices, apple slices (how did apples get SO expensive, like $3.99 a pound!), banana slices, Italian croutons and of course Thousand Island (or Catalina) dressing. I so wish I had taken a picture of what had become a mountain of a salad, so tasty and colorful!

Speaking of those expensive apples (seriously, one apple would come out as $1 and more at those prices!), I found myself treating them like gold. Cut in half to create two separate servings from each, with three types of apples in the fruit bowl at one time – I tried to compare the texture and unique flavors of each both in those salads or sliced with peanut butter, another recovered appetite treat. In that way three apples would last more than a week of flavorful enjoyment. In the earlier weeks, I was not allowed to drive, so when those privileges were restored, as Pam told one men’s cooking demonstration at our church, Jim’s favorite hobby became shopping trips to the local Acme.
Free at last! Fully motivated to get engaged with my normal busy schedule and tasks again with that appetite back to full normal, I have put back on a few of those lost pounds, but am watching that carefully. The surgery and its serious complications are now but the latest part of my long and complex medical history, a story to be shared to those who would listen over a shared lunch meeting (smile!)
Go try those grapes, frozen or fresh and see if you agree at that amazing treat!

PS: I’m out of grapes right now and am finishing off the last of those eight Cran-flavored quarts, moving forward with a new resolve to move away from the daily sweets I so love, focusing on healthy foods and further weight loss in the weeks to come. Wish me luck!

PPS: They recently came out with a Cran-pineapple flavor that is to die for – temporarily overtaking my Cran-grape and Cran-cherry favorites!

On a less personal story, while at that Washington DC conference last week I had a conversation with another attendee and in sharing the story about encountering a fellow attendee from the same small Edgewater Park NJ town, she shared her own ‘small world’ encounter traveling to this event.20170330_135722

She took a flight out of Denver to get here where she found herself seated next to a fellow traveler on his way from L.A. CA, not too busy scoring college blue book exam papers to engage her in polite conversation.  Seems her daughter is attending a small college some half hour from L.A. so when she discovered he was a college professor, she was surprised to also find out that he taught at that very school.  Naturally she asked if he happened to know her daughter by name.  Him not being sure, she shared a phone picture of her daughter.  “Ah yes, ” he acknowledged he not only knew her but realized that she was even taking one of his classes.  Reaching down to the small pile of blue book exams, the very next one he was scoring was her daughter’s exam paper.  What a ‘coincidence’ – if you believe in such things.

She couldn’t wait to get off the plane in Washington to call her daughter back in L.A. to let her know that she scored an ‘A’ on her exam!

I swear this is all TRUE, strange as it may seem to you.  It really is a VERY small world as I am sure you have discovered in your own life, yes?  You only have to be open to life’s adventures and have that  conversation with that stranger who took this later flight when his was weather delayed the day before when he was scheduled to fly.  And then to sit next to his student’s mother and to share in conversation that brought out this unique ‘blue book’ connection.   And then to be sharing that story with me the next day over a conference lunch, so I could share it with you here now.

I live in Edgewater Park, NJ, a 3 sq mile ‘township’ with little more than 2000 families living here.


Attending a meeting down in Washington DC last week, you can imagine my surprise in chatting with a new found friend at the art museum reception when he replied to my answer to his question of “So, where are you from?” saying that he had originally lived in that same tiny town area.  Mentioning our currently living directly across from the Beverly National Cemetery, he cited his home was on a nearby street from there.  What are the chances, huh?

Yes, we need to live our lives like we all live in ‘small town America’ never knowing who we may encounter in our world of travels.  And do you see that Edgewater Park phrase on the banner (“…town with a big heart”) – what a great place for this heart transplant guy to live!!

But as you will see in the next posting, part 2 of this topic, it can get even smaller . . .

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