A year after husband's death, former Carter County resident puts life together in Norway

By Greg Miller
STAR Staff

A year after her husband, Rick Garrison, died on the operating table during a liver transplant, former Carter County resident Alison Meyer-Garrison is working to put life back together in Norway.
   Alison is drawing unemployment and looking for a job. "The problem is anyone over 45 is considered to be a senior and it is difficult to navigate my way into the work force," she said. While readjusting to the Norwegian culture, Alison has been selling some of her arts and crafts at local shows.
   "The Norwegian government is socialistic and takes good care of the populace with free education, hospitalization, as well as other benefits, which makes our taxes high. But we seem to get a good return on our investment so I believe it all evens out in the end."
   Although drawing unemployment is difficult for Alison, she says she learned many years ago not to complain. "I am happy for that which the Lord has granted me," she said. "He granted me a gift of love. He granted me Rick. He granted Rick me. Maybe it wasn't meant to last too long. But for me, it will last a lifetime. It changed my life for the better. And I do believe Rick was a very happy man the last few months of his life. He would have liked to have a few more years. He felt he owed it to me. A more courageous person I have yet to meet. And a moment in time with him was enough to last a lifetime. He was just that special."
   Rick died during transplant surgery at Thomas E. Starzl Transplant Institute/Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, and not all of his medical bills were paid. "Seeing Norwegians do not have to deal with health insurance problems, I found it interesting that Rick's health insurance policy had a $500,000 limit on coverage," Alison said. "The three-day operation cost $560,000 limit. I am working on the remaining balance from all the years he has been covered by this policy plus the remaining $60,000 from over here. The total amount is an ordeal in itself.
   "The average liver transplant operation usually costs $350,000, but we had two livers flown in, as the first liver did not function. The operation added up to much more than we had anticipated and, of course, neither of us could have anticipated such an outcome."
   Alison notes that she and Rick were "very close" and says she experiences overwhelming emptiness in numerous ways. "Many episodes trigger a memory of Rick," she said. "What would he have said if he heard this, or what would he have done if he saw that? I constantly contemplate what he would have done in every situation. It gives me a sense of safety to know I can still use and benefit from his logic though he is no longer here.
   "I remember asking the family a few days after his death, 'What am I going to do without my guy?' It felt like the tragic Romeo and Juliet play but in a very different setting. I couldn't understand how I could live without him by my side. I miss Rick and speak of him to my family and friends daily."
   Rick, who was 47 years old when he died from a malfunctioning liver donor organ, added poetic expression to Alison's life. "When I fell in love with Rick, he inspired me to write poems about him because he had an almost fatherly way of protecting me because I had come from Europe after 30 years of living outside of the USA," she said. "He was concerned about that and tried to give me a soft landing as I began the journey of living in the USA again.
   "I wrote about 14 poems dedicated to Rick. They are published here in books given out by The American Poetry Foundation. I also spoke for 15 minutes at his memorial and read one of the poems entitled 'Without You.' After his death, I wrote a few related to his passing and being on my own.
   "Rick's greatest personality trait was his sense of humor. He was gifted with the ability to extract from everyday situations something positive or something humorous. He even asked the surgeon a minute before being rolled into the operating room: 'Will I be able to play the piano when I am finished, Doc?' The surgeon smiled and said, 'I don't see why not.' Rick laughed and said, 'Well, I couldn't before!'
   "I miss the man who said, 'I love you' many times a day. I was very lucky to have a husband who could speak so tenderly to me. He was a romantic, a Romeo, and I felt like Juliet in spite of all the fears we had about the outcome of our future together. We led a very hectic lifestyle due to his illness. But we did well considering the situation and received a great deal of help and support from family and friends in Elizabethton."
   For the first six months after Rick's death, Alison was "in bed sick with a virus on my balance nerve (vertigo). My world seemed to be spinning out of control, but I 'got up' in June and began to face the world. Lo and behold, what a different world! And in a different country!"
   In August, Alison began attending a therapy group for younger widows. Every other week, she drives 2-1/2 hours one way from the island to attend the sessions. She says The Guide to Living Your Life sessions provide her with perspective and are "giving me the strength and courage to start my life anew."
   Although Alison says Rick's death was the "most devastating personal event" she has ever experienced, she is no stranger to tragedy. "My father was a New York policeman and I was forced to move to Norway as a teenager to live with my grandparents to protect my life that was threatened by the work my father was involved in at the time," she said. "Two years after my arrival in Norway, my mother called me and told me that my father had been murdered on the job, truly one of 'New York's finest.'"
   Alison lives on Karmony Island on the southwest coast of Norway. Karmony means the island of Man and Woman, she said. "It is a very historical island. We have a copper mine down the road where the production of copper was used to build the Statue of Liberty. The population is 30,000. We have a bridge that connects us to the mainland.
   "Life here is entirely different from living in Carter County. The Norwegians are more restricted in their expressions of their emotions. Maybe that comes from living in such a cold, dark climate. Three languages are spoken here. I can speak two of them fluently but can only write one. The third language is spoken by the Laplanders who resemble Siberians and live north of the Arctic Circle tending their flocks of reindeer as their primary source of income. They have their own government and are a lot like the indigenous people of the United States, the Native Americans.
   "The climate on the southwest coast isn't extremely cold, due to the Gulf Stream that comes up from the Gulf of Mexico warming the North Sea. We do have polar bears but, of course, they are found north of the Arctic Circle where I lived once, with temperatures that can fall to 50 below zero."
   Alison misses living in Carter County. "I miss the people of Carter County, the love, the giving, the friendliness, and the beauty of the natural world," she said. "I miss Rick's (my) family very, very much."
   Alison plans to stay in Norway. "My main concern is to establish a foothold for myself in Norway," she said. "I would like to have somewhere to go each day. I would like to have a job with a paycheck, something that will help me regain the spark to my life."