The Bluebird Effect
How one man's loss sparked his passion, and how his passion helped his grief
By Miriam Orr
A t first glance, Ron Rudolph's home, tucked away in a quiet cul-de-sac in Corcoran, is picturesque and quaint. Atop a hill, overlooking the other homes around, the home is quaint, complete with a garage-turned-workshop and a beautiful lawn. To anyone, the home looks perfect and complete.
To Ron Rudolph, however, the home is missing a great deal.
The Rudolph journey
Ron Rudolph found himself pacing the floor at 1:00 a.m., unable to sleep and emotions flaring. Idle hands, accompanied with tossing and turning in bed, had found him both exhausted and anxious as the house around him was far too quiet and…empty.
Empty, not in the sense of lacking belongings, but because Ron had just buried his wife.
Ron has made his home in Corcoran, where he has resided for over twenty years, made his living at Scherer Brothers Lumber, and developed his love and passion for woodworking. Here, Rudolph and his late wife, Pat, raised three children: Kristy, Nicole, and Peter, who attended school in the area while Ron and his wife worked to support a family.
Life was good. Pat worked as a nurse at North Memorial Hospital, and Ron continued his work with lumber, as they raised their children and pursued their version of the "American Dream."
Then, in 2004, the news came – Pat was diagnosed with breast cancer.
When they received the news, Ron explained that the first emotion was fear, almost immediately. "It was scary," he stated, "We weren't sure what would happen. We'd heard stories of others going through this, so we weren't sure where it would end for us at all, at first."
Pat was a trooper, however. She underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments after her diagnoses in 2004, with Ron and their family right by her side. It was difficult, Ron said – the trips to the cities and the shuffling of schedules was rough, but the hardest part was watching Pat grow weak from treatments, and endure a grueling surgery.
Shortly after her treatments and surgery, Pat went into remission, and was clean of cancer.
"We thought we were okay after that," Ron shared. "We were so relieved, thinking we'd kicked it with the treatments and the surgery. She was healthy and went back to being herself."
It was July, 2016, when Ron and Pat were on their annual 4th of July trip when he noticed that she wasn't acting like her normal self. They were walking by the water, Ron remembers, when Pat was suddenly very dizzy and unbalanced.
"She stumbled into me, and said she was really dizzy," Ron explained. "It was so unusual, so we decided to take her to the hospital."
There, with the help of an MRI, they discovered a brain tumor.
The bluebird effect
"It was a tough journey, after we found out about the brain tumor," Ron states quietly in his workshop, sitting on a faded barstool in a typical working man's jean-jacket and boots. Not far from him is a skill-saw and a stack of cut planks and other assortments of wood.
The tumor, which doctor's found in Pat's brain, was located at the base of her brain, in the area that controls speech and balance. Ron commented that since the diagnoses, Pat had not been able to balance properly and her speech was affected by the tumor. The family, again, underwent rigorous radiation treatments, Ron working full-time at his job, and also as the primary caregiver to his wife.
Treatments, however, couldn't beat the tumor. Eventually, Ron dedicated himself to home hospice, which he did for a while, but was unable to fully provide the extent of care that Pat would need around-the-clock. As her condition worsened, the last six weeks of her life found Pat in a hospice home, with Ron going to see her every day.
"It was so difficult." Ron was teary-eyed. He was quiet for a long moment, contemplating his next words, before continuing quietly. "No one ever thinks about that, putting your loved one in hospice. It was surreal, especially since we thought we'd had this beat once."
Ron had the opportunity to retire from his job, which would've allowed him to be home more and take care of his wife. However, Ron stated that going to work was the best thing he could have done, because it helped him cope with the process, and realization, that he was going to lose his wife, the second time around.
On January 11, 2018, the Rudolph's said goodbye to their wife and mother, which brings things around to a restless widower in the early throes of 1:00 a.m. With a heart heavy with grief and far too many thoughts, Ron Rudolph found himself sitting in his woodworking shop, desperate for something to break the cycle of tormenting sadness.
"I was looking around the shop for something easy that I could make," he said. Ron gestures around his shop, pointing to a birdhouse mounted on one of his shelves, "I saw that bluebird house, and realized that I could do that pretty easily, so I just started rummaging for the materials and cut myself some boards."
That first bluebird house came about easily, Ron commented, and helped him be able to think on something other than his grief. It kept his hands busy and his mind focused, as woodworking is a demanding trade and requires focus and concentration, skills that Ron has been honing for almost forty years in the industry.
He had built somewhere around a dozen bluebird houses before one of his daughters, Kristy, caught on. Soon, Ron was selling the birdhouses, by word of mouth, for around $10.00, until Kristy posted them on Craiglist, and the demand almost doubled.
"This was just something I discovered that could get my mind off my loss," Ron shared. "It wasn't anything fancy – just simply something I love doing, that came natural, and helped me focus on something else. It's helped me process and get me out of the house, which is just flooded with memories."
It's been a little over four months since the family's loss, and things are very raw. Sitting in his workshop, Ron is at home and comfortable, though his face shows every ounce of grief and loss that a husband could emanate. Around him, however, are stacks of supplies – as well as completed birdhouses. Actually, there are 77 of the completed pieces, to be precise. And, every one of them are sold.
"There is such a demand for these," Ron explained. "I'm not sure if it's because bluebird houses are the thing in demand, or if people are just touched by the reason behind their construction, but regardless, it keeps me busy, and that's what I like."
Not only do the birdhouses keep Ron's hands and mind busy, as well as help him process his grief, but it has also tied four generations of their family together. Ron's father, who is 90 years old, comes and helps him work in the shop, as do his children and grandchildren.
"Time is really the ultimate healer in this situation," shared Ron, "but it is also the enemy here. I simply needed something to kill time, and this is what just so happened to unfold. It's brought my family together in a time that has been hard for us, and that is special for me. This has had such an affect on us."
Since February, Ron has built approximately 500 of the bluebird houses, but it doesn't stop there. As the season unfolds, he's expecting the busyness to grow. He works at his own pace, however, and isn't in the business of supplementing income. He stated more than once that the project, and the publicity, is about helping others process loss, and maybe somehow managing to give them an escape.
"I don't want this to be about money or a business." Ron said. "I want this to inspire someone else, and show them that there is a way to process this, and time continues to tick – this is a way to fill up that time, and get yourself back on your feet, at least for me. That's the end goal."
For now, Ron and his family are staying close in the wake of loss, and continue to process the loss of a loved one. For inquiries, Ron asks that you contact him online by email, at RRudolph50@hotmail.com, and asks that you take into consideration his commitments and process of grief, and how that may affect his working schedule.
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