"Faith builds a bridge from this world to the next." This quote taken from E.C. McKenzie's "Book of Quips & Quotes" fits my feelings as I write this story.

During Jim's long stay in the hospital, I was writing our next story for the Generation page. I wanted to share my thoughts and feelings, what it's like to have your loved one in the hospital.

On Saturday, Jim lost the battle. I have feelings I can't describe right now, but I still want to share what it was like to be at Jim's side every day in ICU following his second surgery.

I would read, work puzzles, send out cards, always finding something to concentrate on so the negative thoughts wouldn't creep in. I read a very nice article on the Graham Crackers page in Hill City News, titled "Love ya." The article tells the importance of telling those you love that you love them while you can. You would be amazed at what those three little words, "I love you," and a smile can do.

Jim's name was on countless prayer lists. Prayers come in all sizes, praying for Jim's health to improve, praying he can visit with friends and family again. Even praying he will be able to see the new motel, the wind towers in operation and to eat real food again. When intern Melinda or Rev. Joel prayed with me over Jim, my spirits were given a lift. I was very positive and didn't give up hope.

I wanted time to stop so he could heal and we wouldn't miss the things we had planned to do this spring and summer, but time doesn't stop and wait until we can be part of it.

Jim and I have worked side by side, went everywhere together. People knew us as Jim and Opal -- not just Opal or just Jim. We were Jim and Opal -- a couple, a team, a unit. Rev. Joel called us a "Jopal." I got a kick out of that combined word and hoped we'd be called "Jopal" from now on.

It would have been real comforting if Jim was able to visit with me and the kids, but the vent tube in his throat prevented that. Also he was under sedation a good part of the time. When Jim would squeeze my hand, it touched my heart and gave me renewed hope.

I tried to be positive, positive, positive, positive! Positive words, positive feelings, positive prayers.

It was a long time and progress was very slow. Somedays it was two steps forward and one step back -- maybe only one step forward and two back.

Jim was a fighter, fighting for his life. I tried to be strong, I believed he would get well; I didn't give up. I prayed the Lord would guide the decisions and hands of the doctors, surgeons, nurses and anyone caring for him. The prayers lifted me each day. I saw the many small bits of magic and grabbed onto the positive thing. Continued to thank Lord for all his blessings.

If ever you have a loved one in the hospital for a long time, my advice is to not hold back your feelings. Tell everyone how you feel. It is so therapeutic to bring it out in the open. Express your desire for prayers and thank the Lord. Each gift, no matter how small, is a blessing. Being aware of simple gifts reduces the anxiety that builds up.

We have been blessed with wonderful pastoral care during this long stay and an endless number of friends praying for Jim and myself.

During this second month of hospital care, I observed these things: It's hurry up and wait -- when someone say's "I'll be back in a minute," figure 20 minutes.

There is more than one ICU area. One has strict every two hours, 15 minutes visiting time. The other is trying a new type of visiting hours -- an open, more relaxed idea. You may come in any time between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. if you follow the rules. It would be a shame to lose this privilege.

The waiting rooms have great coffee and hot water for tea, just help yourself. The Hays Daily News brings a newspaper each evening. The cafeteria food is really good, with many good choices.

This chapter of Jim's life has come to an end. He has crossed the bridge from this world to the next.

Opal Flinn, Ellis, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.