Archive for integrity

Blackberry Summer

29720184Kenny was just five years old, his brother, Jack, was 8.  Most of Kenny’s life had been spent on tenant farms in upper South Carolina. It was a hard life.  Momma had been sick most of his life with something called Pellegra.   It made her act funny and her skin break out in summer. Her name was Mattie and her family lived a good distance away. She had gone to the hospital in Spartanburg this time because she was so sick.  Kenny missed his mamma, but he was beginning to have a hard time even remembering what her voice sounded like or the touch of her lips as they puckered and kissed him good  night.

They had lived in a different house every year of his life. Which ever farm owner would offer papa the best deal  for working his crops, papa would load  up their sparse possessions and move his little family a few miles down the road.  The house they lived in now, Kenny and Jack had nicknamed ” the smoky house” because the flue in the fireplace didn’t work right and the house always had a smoky odor and in the dead of winter, there was almost a blur to the air  from the smoke.  It was warm, though, so they didn’t complain. On one occasion, Kenny remembered he and Jack playing with corncobs out in the yard, pretending they were cars. Mama had been sitting on the porch with her two sisters, Bettie and Jettie and they laughed at the boys as they played. The sound of her laughter was all he really had now.

When papa took the boys to town on rare occasions, they hitched a ride because Papa didn’t have a car. The boys loved the bumping and puttering of the car as they drove the ten or fifteen miles to where the big supply store was. They were amazed at the electric lights inside the shops and the fancy furniture in the two story houses on Main Street. Sometimes, Jack and Kenny  were  invited in to a lady’s  house for cookies and milk  while Papa was at the farm supply store.

Kenny had been squirming for ten minutes at the table with the red checked table cloth. Jack finally looked at the  lady who had told them to call her Mrs. Salter and said, “M’am, I hate to bother you, but I think my little brother needs to use yer , um, facilities.

Mrs. Salter smiled and led Kenny by the hand to a room by the bedrooms that had an indoor toilet  and a sink inside. Kenny’s eyes lit up. Indoor plumbing! He’d seen it before but never used it.  He turned to see that Mrs. Salter had cracked the door and stepped away.

At first, Kenny just ran his hands over the smooth white porcelain on the sink, his green eyes wide and his mouth agape.  He turned to the toilet filled with water and proceeded to relieve himself. remembered that the handle had to be pushed down for the  contraption to run clean water in it.

Soon, Kenny was back at the table where Jack was finishing up his last sip of milk.

“I bet you boys know where some ripe blackberries are growing.” smiled Mrs. Salter.

“Yes’m” grinned Jack, “we sure do!”

“Well, you two look like good workers,” Mrs. Salter said with her hands propped  on her thin waist.  “I’ll tell you what, If you bring me a gallon of the best ones you can find tomorrow, I will pay you a quarter for them.”

The boys faces light up with a smile. “Yes’m, Mrs. Salter, ”  Jack called out, “we will have them here by lunch time, , the best you’ve ever seen!

The boys, thanked Mrs. Salter for the cookies and milk and headed for the door. They saw Papa coming out of the supply store and hurried to him. Kenny turned to Jack and whispered, ” She’s got one of them indoor toilets!”  Jack had time only for a look of surprise before they met up with Papa.

“Papa, Papa, Kenny called out, “Mrs. Salter said if we’d pick her a gallon of blackberries tomorrow, she would give us a quarter!”

Papa chuckled and said, “Well thats right good wages, boys. Those lowlanders don’t much like to work when they come up here in the summer, do they?”

“No, sir” Kenny replied, ” and she’s got an indoor toilet!”

“Now how do you know about that, young man,” Papa looked sternly at his younger son.

Jack came to the rescue and told Papa that he had VERY POLITELY told Mrs. Salter that Kenny needed to use the facilities when she had offered them a snack.

“Well, I guess you two have got yourselves a job!” Papa laughed as they walked back down the dusty gravel road toward their driveway.

And they surely did. Mrs. Salter and her sister, had cometo the “thermal belt” as Papa called the area between the sweltering heat of the lowlands and the cool foggy  mountains to the north for relief from the heat. q For weeks, the boys went out in their oldest clothes and gathered blackberries for the ladies.

One time, Papa’s sister had come down to stay a while and fixed the most delicious dinners they had ever had. Fried chicken, biscuits, ripe tomatoes! It was heaven!

The boys had been picking blackberries one morning and after delivering them, they saw the postman talking to Aunt Lena. Curious, they stepped up their walking time to hear the man  try to whisper to Aunt Lena.  He couldn’t whisper very well.

They turned their heads toward the Mailman and Aunt Lena, who had failed to notice them walking  up. The mailman motioned Aunt Lena over to his opened door. Naturally, the two curious little boys were right behind her.

“Mattie died today,” he said, his effort to whisper lost on his effort to speak loudly over then engine. Then boys both gasped, and suddenlyAunt Lena turned around and saw them. She took a deep breath as if she was going to fuss, but turned her head back towards the mailman, wiping a tear from her cheek.

“What happened,” Aunt Lena asked the mailman. “I though she was doing better!”

Well, I can’t say for sure, Lena, ” the mailman replied. “She took a turn for the worse last night and when the nurse checked on her this morning, she was gone.”

Aunt Lena turned to Kenny and Jack and put her arms around them, scowling at the mailman for letting them hear his news. Jack and Kenny looked at each other and then at Aunt Lena.

“Did he say our mama was gone? ” Jack said. Kenny was silent, acting a bit confused.

“Yes, honey, thats what he said, your Mama went to live with the angels.” Aunt Lena spoke softly as she brushed a tear from her cheek.

“Live with the angels?” Kenny yelled. “My Mama wouldn’t  go live somewhere else!”

Jack looked at Kenny and  took his hand. “No, Kenny, that means Mama died. She ain’t coming back.”

“No!” cried Kenny. “She ain’t gone to live with no angels! Thats what they do in the Bible!”

Aunt Lena waved the mailman to go on about his duties and she knelt down beside them.

“You know your Mama’s been sick a long time. She was suffering. God didn’t want her to suffer, so he took her up to live with Him in Heaven, just like in the Bible.” Aunt Lena said softly.

Jack just stood there frozen, then grabbed Aunt Lena’s hand. Kenny was running down the driveway screaming, “Papa, Papa! Mama died, she went to heaven, like in the Bible!” he shouted through salty tears.

Aunt Lena heard the screen door squeak open just as they reached the wooden porch.

Papa just looked up at his sister. Aunt Lena nodded her head to say it was true. The four of them formed a knot of tearing, weeping family.

“Well, That’s it. mumbled Jack. We ain’t go no Mama.”  He slung his hands away from the others and ran up the steps to the porch.

Kenny gently let his hand slip from his Papa’s. He walked up on the porch where Jack was rocking back and forth in one of the wooden chairs. He looked up at his father and Aunt as they walked up the steps behind them. Nobody said a word. Papa walked quietly into the house, followed by Aunt Lena.

“What are you going to do, Furman?” Aunt Lena said to her brother. “You think Aunt Annie will take them?”

“Oh, no!” growled Furman, their daddy. “Ain’t nobody takin’ my boys! I will carry them on my back till moss grows on theirs before I give  them away!”

…………………………..

And he did.

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She Sliters Away

It had been a fine summer for Sylvia. No floods, plenty of insects, the birth of a new group of live young. But now, it was time for Sylvia to find a place to spend the cold, Appalachian winter.

She slithered quietly through an overgrown garden, eating a few snacks on the way. Her tongue waved as she became aware of the scent of water and rotting wood. Perfect! A fallen maple presented itself not far from a tiny mountain stream.

Sylvia continued on up the low hill from the garden and explored the space underneath the log. It had fallen several years before and had created small spaces in the damp soil which she could work on in order to make her winter home.

She took one last breath of cooling fall air before she began carving her winter home in what appeared to have been home to a worm at one time. Gently, she curled up inside the hole, her fertilized eggs ready to grow inside her as she settled down for a long winter’s nap.

Sylvia had seen other snakes like her-garter snakes with a print of different colors of brown and she knew she was both beautiful and harmless. Smart human neighbors left her alone to eat the insects that consumed their gardens or simply admired her grace, perhaps hoping to see one of her babies as it slithered away from her as it hatched, alive and ready into a new world.

Her life had not always been easy. Once, a human ran over her mother with a lawnmower and a human mom who happened to study amphibians happened upon her. Her mother had died, but the kind lady saved two babies who were only slightly injured and let them go in he garden when they had healed in about a week. Thus, she and her brother had survived.

Sylvia often spent warm spring mornings in the lady’s garden and the lady would come by and speak to her, never touching her, only whispering greetings. How Sylvia wished that she could say, “Thank you.”, but, alas, it was no to be.

One day next summer, Sylvia would find a quiet place and give birth to her young. She would not give them any maternal care, only wish them a good life and watch them crawl away. Such is the life of a garter snake. The lady who saved her would always remember her, always hope she saw Sylvia in her garden. Their lives were separate, but forever bound.

Hopefully, one day, the lady’s children would tell stories about the baby snakes and teach others to appreciate them and share their yards and woodlands with them. Such is the way with nature. We share the same world, but in separate realities. I wish you well, Sylvia, and hope I see you or your young next year!

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The Effects and Lessons of Loss-An Anology of Death

 

 

For many years of my young life, I escaped the emotional and physical costs of the death of a loved one who was a part of your daily life. In the past 14 years, it seems to have been nearly continuous, from aunts and uncles, cousins and friend, grandparents and parents to my precious 15 year old son.

I have learned that the deaths of different close friends and family affect us in entirely different ways. To see an older relative who has lived a long life and is now suffering gives us a sense of relief, that they are no longer suffering and are in, what we have been taught and hope, is “a better place. To Christians, and some other religions, that means Heaven.

When my best friend died at 48 after a 15 year battle with cancer, I could not help but feel cheated, for her, for her children and grandchildren, and later, as I faced deaths that were “closer to home”, for myself. I did not have the person I needed to talk to cry with, hug, and find comfort in her compassion.

I had several cousins and neighbors die in their middle-age, usually from cancer. I found myself looking at their lives, the happiness they had with their mates, and children, the love and attention their grandchildren would miss. I felt that they were cheated, they did not smoke, abuse their health or do dangerous things. It was a different grief process than I felt when my elderly relatives died.

I am an only child. I have lost both of my parents within the past 3 ½ years. It has been so difficult to walk into their house, the accept the not-so-good memories and embrace the wonderful support they always gave me, that I have often had to simply put their loss “in a box”, only to be opened at certain times, like birthdays, holidays or even the day they died. I spend a lot of time with my parents, seeing them most every day. When they were sick, I helped care for them, when they were sad, or scared, I listened. I helped them with their financial issues, memorial wishes, and settling estates. I would say it was the hardest thing I have ever done, but it wasn’t.

I lost my beloved son eight years ago at the age of 15. It was very sudden, a regular day, filled with normal activities for a teen-school, buss rides, ball games. On that day, I took him to a ball game and didn’t brink him home. I have written about this many times in my blog, and would love for you to look up the articles and read them and what actions I have taken since, but that is not what this article is about.

There is nothing as painful as loosing a child. There isn’t even a word for a parent who has lost a child. If you loose your parents, you are an orphan, if you loose a mate, you are a widow or widower. What are you when you loose your child? So much of what you are, what you lived for, looked forward to is gone, it is simply indescribable.

In my case, I not only lost my child, I lost my health. Within a few months, I was developing symptoms of Cushings Syndrome, a pituitary disease that has many scopes, causes and outcomes. My doctor kept insisting that what I was suffering from was “just stress”, even though I insisted that it was more than that. First let me point out that stress is not a “Just”. It destroys your health, your ability to function, to deal with work or your family. Never accept this excuse, no matter what you are suffering from.

It wasn’t until I had heart failure 8 months after my son’s sudden death, that a heart doctor started really examining me. He immediately wrote my doctor and told him that I had the typical symptoms of Cushings Disease (some types are called “Syndrome”. Evidently, I wasn’t important enough for my doctor to even read the report because 6 months later, when I went to the Cardiolgist, he was astounded that I had received no help and sent me to the Endocrinologist then next day. Again, I will ask that you read my other articles on my son’s death and my illness and return to the topic of grief and the different ways we, as humans respnd to it.

Men, women and children respond to grief in various ways. Men have a difficult time showing outward grief, having been taught during their whole lives that emotions are a sign of weakness. Therefore, they often take it out on others, especially those that they love them most. It is horrible for a woman to be fighting for her life, and not have the person who is supposed to always be there for her, him being emotional abusive, and often reverting to child-like things to get his mind off of his unfathomable sorrow.

Children under about the age of 12 often have a delayed reaction to grief. When they begin to think in a more adult-like manner, the grief that may have happened several years ago suddenly creeps in. The child may not be able to sleep, have irrational fears for their own safety or for the safety of those they love. They may regress somewhat in their behavior, their grades in school may suffer. It is very important that a child who has lost a sibling gets the help they need, and this can vary from child to child. Do not be afraid to explore your child’s needs with his doctor, counselors, siblings, your spouse or minister. I feel like it has been very difficult for me to be the mom I always was and still meet my child’s needs. Even when I felt that I was, I have realized even years later, that I needed to give him the chance to talk to those he felt comfortable with about his feelings.

The death of someone particularly close to you is often almost impossible to overcome. The effects on my health on top of my emotional grief, unfounded self-grief, and my blaming everyone from God to my child’s friends is something I still struggle with daily. Even though I have made some progress, he physical problems caused by the Cushings Disease will be with me forever, always reminding me of why I have to deal with them.

One of the best things we can do to help someone we love who is greiving is simpy to listen. Let them be angry, blame people, feel what they feel. Just getting these things out of their system for a few minutes can be tremendously helpful. Since it is difficult to deal with those who are grieving, especially over a child or a person to whom they were particularly close, we often cut ourselves off from them just when they need us the most. It is not easy to allow a person who is in the midst of grief to express feelings that we may not agree with, but we have to be able to, and, hopefully, over time, we can help lead them back to a better place. Simply learning not to blame themselves is a big step in finding a way back to a better place.

I don’t think I will ever heal from the emotional loss of my child and some of the circumstances around it, but I KNOW I will never get over the physical scars and pain that I have to live with every day of my life. I am sure that living with me is not easy for those I love. They try, and I am very grateful that they put forth this effort.

Eventually, we will all have to deal with loss in some form. Having our family and friends around us is critical in getting back to a place where we can at least function to the best of our ability. Each person’s reaction to grief varies just as their path to healing is different. Try to stand back and see what your loved one needs and be there for them, even if it is difficult for you. You, their support team can make all the difference in the world to someone suffering from loss. Take the time to talk to them, not only right after the death of a loved one, but years later as well. Send a card on the loved ones birthday or mention then on a holiday card. Help them laugh (or even cry) over some of the memories you have of their loved one. Remind them of the joy they had when they were with them and let them know that it is alright to be angry, sad, frustrated or even overcome with emotion.

One thing that has helped me is for someone to take me to dinner, on a walk, read favorite poems, or listen to music near the “anniversary” of their loss, but perhaps not on the exact day. Sometimes, the anniversary of a death, or even the persons birthday may be simply too emotionafor them to profit from your good intentions.

Remember, our day will come, and in that sense, if we have been there for someone else, it will be easier for us to accept the help of friends and benefit from it. Love involves the risk of hurt, whether from loss, breakup, moving away or simply from a child growing up and concentrating on their own life. Stand back and see if you need to “be there” or “give them space” because each of those times will come. I have found that when I lost my son, I often lost my friends as well, not from “meanness” but simply because they didn’t know what to do or say. Do not abandon your loved one in their time of need,no matter how hard it may be. Neither should you smother them, because they are having to learn to live in a completely different way than they did before.

Whether they are able to express it or not, the fact that you care will make a huge difference as the person who has experienced loss begins this new and difficult path. Simply knowing that you are there for them may be the best “medicine” you can give.

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The Heart of a Man

 

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 The Heart of A Man

 

 

 

 

We can move like the waves on the ocean,

Or dance, with only the moonlight

shadows reflecting the land.

I can feel like I love you completely,

But, still, I cannot understand

why I always feel love is hiding

deep in the heart of a man.

Across hills, we can journey together,

our souls become one with the light.

The whispers of autumn approaching,

yet we lie like two strangers at night.

For miles, we have traveled this highway,

and still I do not understand

what keeps the emotions so silent

In the heart of a man.

 

 

reprinted from beebeesworld Fall 2012-one of my favorites. Its been a rough week, but I wanted my friends to know I;m still out here, new friends please read some of my old entries listed on my home page!

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And Suddenly He Becomes a Man

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Today, he sits in the drivers seat as we listen for the rumble of the school bus, listen for the squeal of the brakes, and I watch him disappear into the bus as I scoot into the drivers seat.

If it were not for an error in the school drivers ed list, he would already e driving, so I am savoring these few extra moths when he has to be my chauffeur, my co-pilot.

Two or three years ago, it seems he played with Lego’s and played video games, this year his is studying computer coding and just finished an internship for the school system in this area. Where has time gone?

In three years, he has grown eight inches, and has almost caught up with his brother, who is 6’5” tall.

I miss my baby, we were so close. All of my children and I were close. The one I lost at age 15 when he collapsed while playing baseball, I dream of, eyes wide open , of who he would be, what he would be doing eight years later. I feel cheated, lied to. His death cost me more than words can describe.

I enjoy days with my daughters, chasing babies as I once chased them. They sigh and say, “I don’t know how you did it with six when two drive me crazy!” And I just smile and say, “Mom’s with lots of kids grow extra hands and endless hearts.”

The nus stop is beside my oldest son’s house, where he, his wife and three kids live. To see those little white heads running up to me and saying, “I love you, Beebee.” is a gift beyond compare.

Still, I have learned there is nothing like your own children. Grand kids as wonderful, but they are not yours. You and your own children have secret languages, know each others inner thoughts. You know how they like to be held, you can nurse them when they are fussy. You have your schedules, your speial subjects that you enjoy, things that arre privte between only you and yours.

Don’t get me wrong, grand kids are great, Not just because of the old addage that “You can send them home.” but that they are rather like a glimmer of your own child mixed with a gleam of their other parent. Sometimes you catch a familiar look or action that you remember from long ago-a smile, an impish grin, a silly giggle.

To see your last child. drive away in his own car, leave for college, get married, is so much more exciting to them that it is to the mom-left alone, feeling useless. A largely stay-at-home mom like me especially suffers when they have lost a child forever and have to watch that last living child spread his wings and fly. Your tears are filled with both relief and pride.

I was an only child. I learned about sibling rivalry from my own kids. I dreamed that my kids would grow up and be like the siblings I never had, but they didn’t. They are siblings to eachother-not to me, and I have to settle for being the mom who was once everything and is now, one who wove their being, but has found herself out of yarn.

I’m am surprised and proud of my youngest son. I was/am an old hippie, jeans and peasant shirts, leather sandals, guitars and Lynyrd Skynyrd. He dresses is suits and ties, has computer skills that make me feel illiterate, he worries that his teeth are shiny enough, that his shoes are clean enough. I wonder, sometimes, where I got him. Certainly, thank goodness, he is the opposite of his father-a Harley rider who enjoys road-side sales booths and collections of used clothing. At least my son and I think alike- finding joy in discovery, whether in nature, or in technology.

One day, it seems, a mother is looking into the eyes of a new life, never knowing what that child will become , And then, in the blink of an eye, that baby is a child, a teen, a young adult, a father or mother themselves. Life goes by much too quickly, sometimes bitter-sweet, just realizing that as they grew older, so did you.

Having to look in that dark glass of what might have been when we loose a child, is the worst pain a mother can feel, yet each moment spent with that precious child glimmers like a diamond. I don’t have another mother who is a close friend that has lost a child, neither can I can tell you how many times I would have liked to smack the well-meaning people who have , lost for words, remarked, “I know how you feel, I lost my sister, brother, friend,( fill in the blank). NO, they do not know and I pray they never will.

Next spring, watch the first pale leaves emerge from a flower, look at it each day as the green grows darker and buds start to form. Close your eyes and inhale the sweetness of the bloom, then let the flower go to seed and plant the seeds again next year. Life does not stand still, it must be protected and revered.

Read “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran if you want to get a beautiful picture of the phases of life. Read it to your children, sing to them, teach them poetry, and don’t be surprised when one day your grandchild repeats that poem or sing that song as he walks beside you along life’s path.

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As we Grow Old-Photo Essay

Young-Winter-Difficult Days

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IMG_0352My Dad-Late 1940’s, Winter 2013, and after his illness Summer 2014, Lesson-  Never waste time, treasure your memories, let the people you love know it-every day-Remember what they taught you, ask them to tell you the stories of thier lives, write them down, share them with your childrem, and grandchildren.  Smile as we see the similarities and understand that times and ways change over the years, Love and time are the most important gifts we can give.

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Days and Nights Alone

 

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Across the room, a picture of the two of you,

Its seems like yesterday, but its been 8 years,

in the purest hell. You- taken only four months later.

Your little brother now 6’3” and growing-

the girl who has his heart isn’t me.

I am alone in my heart-I’ve taken in my sick dad-

and the daily reminders of why I left home at 18

haunting my every quiet move, with doors down,

curtains up to accommodate walkers-hospital supplies.

Every time I think “life” can get no worse, it does.

I need you, I need your brother to be little again.

I want to teach 6 kids about bugs and butterflies

and play in the creek. I want to live, love, dream.

Tonight, if and when I close my eyes, please,

my beautiful young man, stolen for no reason,

come to me, be with me, let me remember life.

 

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Life Upside-Down–Caring for our Elders

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It seems I have helped care for elderly relatives most of my adult life. HELP being the operative word here. I would have a “shift” which I shared with my mom when we were caring for my grandparents at home. There was no Hospice/Solace. We were pretty much on our own. My grandfather had a pacemaker ( he was on his third one when he died at 91) My grandmother spent 5 years in a wheel chair, passing away at age 96. We took grandma to the toilet, one of up holding her up with her hands locked behind our neck, the other pulling down her pants and sitting her on the toilet, cleaning her afterwords etc. Grandpa was mobile, but sometimes, his heart issues would cause him to just collapse on the floor. He would “wake up” after softly sinking to the floor and we would sit him down to rest.

When my mom had a health issue that left her weak and needing help, or when she broke her hip and had a hip replacement, my father was relatively well, and again, I was the HELPER, not the primary caregiver.

This time it is different. We have had a lot of trouble getting doctors to work with my father, just as I had after suddenly loosing my teenaged son. It seems they just don’t want to deal with the patient-passing them off to some other doctor who does the same thing-”We don’t treat that>” We were often referred to a doctor whose specialty was so far from my fathers real problem, it was laughable. My father had used catheters to urine for years, but it had gotten to where he frequently couldn’t “cath” himself. He would keep trying and end up with an infection. The doctor would prescribe antibiotics after examining a urine sample and schedule a re-check in a week or ten days at which time, dad would be “clear” of infection. A week or two later, it would be the same thing all over again.

Finally, in mid-May, father, very ill and in pain finally insisted that I call his “regular” doctor and hand him a phone. When he finally got though the annoying recordings and go to talk to a person, he simply said, “I need to see the doctor NOW!”. And surprisingly they had me bring him right in. That evening, after supper, the doctor called me and told me that dad’s calcium levels were extremely elevated, and to get him to the hospital ASAP. My father was living alone at the time, so my husband and I went to try to borrow a wheelchair from my aunt, who lived next door to him. She suggested we call an ambulance, because then they would take him straight in, and we did.

MY father had chronic Lymphatic Leukemia, one working kidney and several other intestinal issues beyond the catheterizing, so it took four antibiotics to get him over what ever the “Extreme calcium rise was”. Even though various doctors talked to us, all we were really told is that they didn’t know exactly why the “rise” in his calcium levels had happened. Since they ordered “small needle biopsies” on his abdominal lymph glands, we knew that the condition had to with his chronic condition.

One doctor came and talked to my father and I about the what kind of doctor he was. He asked dad if he knew what a “onocologist/Hemotologist” did and dad said, “Yes, they treat cancer”. The doctor tried to explain that at dads advanced age (87) and health, it would be more dangerous to do a biopsy where they had to make an incision than to just see what they came up with in the needle biopsies. They told us that he was the oldest patient they had ever treated with all these problems AND STILL FIGHTING.

I guess that is good, but the continual passing from doctor to doctor, and after this hospital stay from nursing home to the hospital again for pneumonia was very hard on all of us. I have not been in good health since the sudden death of my son, so the constant “visiting was very hard on me.”When dad started out on every IV antibiotic hey could think of to fight the pneumonia, my daughter and I were literally courted by Solace, even given a tour because they thought he would not recover. Solace was in a nice, new facility, but they don’t give even the very amount of therapy the “nursing homes “ do. It is not in their protocol. I hate to be mean, and don’t intend to be insulting to Solace/Hospice, who have been very good to us, but when dad didn’t die right away, they began shuffling to another nursing home for so-called therapy.

This made 5 transfers within five weeks and it was talking its toll on dad and our family. We had other serious issues to deal with as well. The nursing home conditions were not what we were told they would be. He was in a double room with one chair (which was moved for some reason) and a room-mate who mumbled all the time and kept the window open which upset my dad a great deal. My father was miserable and the “nursing home smell was awful.

With my heart overriding my head, I decided to bring my dad to my home and care for him. By this time he had contracted another serious bladder infection which required shots twice a day because dad’s lymphatic leukemia makes him unable to fight off infections. My daughter an I had to really fight to get him released to my home, with a hospice nurse giving thee morning shot, and my daughter, an RN giving the evening shot. It didn’t take long for me to realize that doing the right thing, certainly didn’t mean doing the simple thing.

By the time the shots were over, I was so exhausted that I often simply collapsed on the bed after picking up my teen son from his I.T. Internship with the school system. My daughters were good to help with food, and of course the RN daughter helped with shots, but the burden was mainly on me. My husband helped, but was often not at home. I am sure Hospice is tired of our calls, but we were often confused and left with conflicting directions from the nursing home’s medications, Hospices recommendations and trying to get my father to doctor appointments that he simply was not able to go to. By day 6, I was a wreck. A family meeting was called to see what more could be done to help me as the problems with my father being uncooperative and his short-term memory minimal.

This is where I am right now. If you have read this much of my blog, you are probably feeling a bit of the exhaustion that I feel. We still have no answers. The biopsies that might have told us a little more could not be done. Dad could come down with a serious infection tomorrow, or go for weeks, we don’t know.

My point in writing this long diatribe is two-fold. Number one, you are not superman (or woman)even when the conditions at nursing homes are not up to your standards, home care planning should be made with more care BEFORE the parent comes home.

Number two-make sure that the people who say they will help have a schedule of WHEN they will help and that they are committed to do it. In my cause the girls all work and/or have children under two. One daughter-in-law now had a sick newborn at home to care for-along with two older, active boys. The best of intentions may be hard to fulfill.

In closing, I commend all of the baby boomers like me, who are caring for parents, children and grandchildren. We deserve some kind of heroism medal, but that wouldn’t help either. Plan carefully and don’t let guilt rule your decisions, you are only human. As for me, I will just do the best I can and hope my help comes through.

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The Gifts that She Left

 

Together, we sing a special song, “Morning has Broken” as we sat together at the Celebration of Life of a woman who was taken before her time, but faced her illness bravely, with unbounded love from her family and friends.

I will always remember our talks as we strolled down her driveway or stood admiring each others gardens. She was a school counselor, a mother, a wife, a friend. Only a few years ago, she was full of life, taking the vacations of her dreams, planning additions to their house, planting new flowers. It never occurred to anyone that her dreams would be stolen by illness.

As a mother who has lost a child, I still feel the unfairness of my friends and cousins who have lost their battles with disease as adults. It seems so wrong, they had so much yet to give. I lost my best friend of 35 years to cancer when she was just 48. Oh, how I could have used her shoulder to cry on in the times yet to come!

Today, though, I look at the gifts that my friend and neighbor left for us to keep her alive within our hearts. Every time I see a flower blowing in the wind, I will smile and think of her. When I see a child walk across the stage to accept their hard-earned diploma, I will think of her. When I see her husband, walking, alone, I will see her there beside him. I believe with everything inside me that her life will always hold more meaning than her untimely death.

I struggle to allow myself to have these feelings for my 15-year-old son. I STILL struggle. I will always struggle. But somehow, now, when I see the sunrise up into the brilliant magenta sky I will think of her, perhaps laughing and talking to my son in a different realm. Perhaps the most important gift she left me was the realization that no matter how much time we are given on this earth, there will be those who love us-present tense-LOVE us, and that kind of love does not die as the sun crosses the sky and night falls upon us. It simply becomes a different part of our lives.

 

 

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My Father-A Man Among Men

29720194     My Father-A Man among Men

 

I started this story many years ago, but this week, in honor of his 87th birthday and Father’s Day, I have revised it and added a little sentiment. You see, this will be my father’s last Father’s Day or birthday, if he even lives another week and a half. I found out this week that he has terminal cancer. I have spent the last month in a downhill spiral with him. I have gone from trying to keep him from driving, to trying to keep him able to walk, to admitting him to hospitals, therapy programs and now, the hospital again. Rather than change what I wrote before, I decided to leave it, and simply add the thoughts that come to an only child whose mother is dead when she is loosing her father too.

 

This is the beginning of the story I put on wordpress last year. With some additions that came to me as I wrote this year, tears running down my cheeks.

A few years ago, I wrote this story for my father on Father’s day. I had hope to put it on my blog, but it didn’t happen. I found it today after I got home from my third day accompanying my father to a surgeon and decided that I wanted to honor him every day. It was time to write the blog. My father did not have cancer this time.

I had been looking for a poem that I had written my father years ago, when I felt so young and innocent. Life has never been particularly kind to me, bu the last ten years have seen so many changes in my world that it has been hard to hold onto who I am. I realized more than ever that the only way that I have made it through these time was the love and strength I had received from my father (and my mother.)

Within these past ten years, I have lost my best friend and three cousins to cancer. I saw four of my children marry in only four years and have been blessed with seven grandchildren, with number eight due next week.. Not long after my second child got married, I lost my precious 15 year old son very suddenly while he was playing baseball. I lost my health because of this loss and have come close to death myself five times. Not quite four years ago, when I was still recovering from a hip transplant, I lost my beloved mother. The grief that my father felt after 61 years of marriage took a tremendous toll on him.

This story, however, is about my father, one of the most amazing men I have ever known. My father never had an easy life. His dad was a tenant farmer in Upper South Carolina and then Western North Carolina. His family moved nearly every year when he was young. They moved six times in his first six years. He and his brother would nick-name the houses. For instance, my dad would call the house they lived in by a nick-name so that  he and his brother would remember the houses and the places they lived . One house, they called the “smoky house” because the chimney flue was faulty and the house would fill up with smoke.

He and his brother, who was three years older were out earning money doing chores when they were in grade school. They were raised by their dad, with some help from a maiden aunt. She was kind, but very strict and religious. Their dad spent a good deal of time in a Veteran’s Hospital in Tennessee and they would be passed among aunts and uncles while he was ill. His mother, who had been sickly most of his life died when he was five years old. During the 1920’s, it was practically unknown for a single father to raise his children. They were fortunate that this maiden aunt agreed to come and help him raise them. She cooked them good meals and allowed for a a woman’s influence in their lives.

My father has told me stories of his life since I was a child. I would beg him to tell me a particular story. I called him, “Huckleberry Ken” because his life had been so full of both hard work and mischief. After becoming a parent myself, I suggested that he should write down his stories, so that we could pass them on to his grandchildren, along with others who had enjoyed his art of storytelling.

He took my suggestion, and with me acting as editor, he published four books about his childhood, teen years before World War Two, his time in the Navy in Guam, and his years working on both the Highway and Railway Post Office. He has another book that we never officially officially published. Today, I got a check in the mail for someone who had read about his books and ordered some of them.

Helping him with his books was both a chore and a privilege. I has to order photos from museums, obtain permission to use them, hunt down friends he had known 50 years before and record their stories, then scan and edit everything on the computer. In the early 1990’s a home computer was much more complicated than it is today. Ironically, my laptop computer seems more difficult for me to figure out than that old, but expensive computer that we used to prepare his books for publishing. I often wonder why I ever suggested the idea of publishing the books. To my father, it was the dream of a lifetime. Still, I look upon those difficult days, when I had a house full of little children to deal with as well, as some of the most hectic and yet some of the best days of my life.

My dad was the good student, the hard worker, his dad’s “favorite”. His brother had more difficulty in school and would probably be labeled “ADHD” in this day and time. When the school would send home letters about his brothers lack of progress, my father would read them and tear them up, knowing that his brother would be unjustly scolded by their father and realizing that no one at school would follow up on the letters. In the decade when he and his brother were students, kids from impoverished families were looked down on by teachers and administrators. Many of the children had parents who could not read or write and children started school with little knowledge of “reading, writing and ‘rithmatic” as it was often called. Often, in rural areas,there was a shortage of materials and children who could not pay for books, never received any. There was little chance for these children to get an education when no one could help at home and no one at school seemed to care.  Most of the children from poor families has quit school by their early teens, with boys working late shifts in factories and girls staying home to work on the farm. Many girls were married by their mid-teens. Though there were child labor laws “on the books”, it was easy to lie about your age and not be questioned.

Once, when my father was in the 5th grade, he decided to change schools. After hearing from friends that a nearby school was better than the one he was attending, he made up a simple plan. All he had to do was walk a little further and catch another bus. Without ever discussing it with his father, he simply started the new school year at his “new” school. It was nearly Thanksgiving before his father found out, and since my father was doing quite well in his “new” school, his father just let it ride.

When my father and his brother were still in grade school, they would be out looking for jobs on weekends and in the summer, in order to get enough money for “soda crackers, a can of Vienna sausages and a soft drink for lunch.” In summer, it was easy to pick berries and sell them to the wealthy families who would come south “to summer” in the low country of the Western Carolinas.

He and his brother learned to work hard for very little pay. Often, they were asked to tear down old barns and storage buildings, and do odd jobs. When a wealthy resident or better yet a local contractor would ask if they could “fix cars, lay brick or haul cement”, their answer was always, “sure”. It was in this way that country boys like my father and his brother got most of their “education”.

When World War II was on the horizon, my dad and some friends headed north seeking manufacturing jobs that they had heard were plentiful in the growing automobile industry. A few of them stayed, but my father and a friend, who owned a car, did not. They came home and found work in the construction business, taking any job they could get. They learned to drive trucks, build houses, and any other job that might lead to a “step up” on the employment ladder.

Not long after returning from their adventure “up north”, my father received his draft notice and decided to join the Navy before the decision of which branch of the service he would be drafted into wold no longer be his choice.

His brother had injured his knee when he was a child and did not pass the physical to be placed into the “service”. One of my father’s most poignant memories was hearing his dad’s last words to him as he boarded the bus for basic training.

His father had bowed his head, hiding a tear and whispered, “Son, I don’t think I will ever see you again.” He didn’t. While on Guam during the Christmas holiday of 1945, my dad was called into the chaplains office and told that his father had died of a heart attack. He still has the letter hr received four days later from his father, saying that, “everything was fine.” Communications were very slow in those days but the letter was profound, his father’s prediction had come true.

Upon landing in Guam in the fall of 1945, my father was asked by his commanders if he could drive a truck. Even though he had never held an official driver’s license, he replied confidently, “Sure.” and thus found his job with the Navy would be that of a truck driver as our military men struggled to wipe out the final skirmishes of war and rebuild the devastated countries that had been left in its rubble.

His book about this time of his life is titled, “Two Hundred Thousand Boys on a Rock Called Guam. On the cover is a photo of he and two friends sitting on the top of a captured Japanese submarine, the “rising sun” that was the Japanese flag was seen right below their young, smiling faces. To me, this book is the story of a group of boys being thrust into an unthinkable situation and showing their determination and fortitude. It is the story of “boys” becoming “men”.

My father did not come home from World War II with the ticker tape parades and tearful families rushing up to their ships as it was shown in the newspaper. He got off of a bus in Upper South Carolina and walked several miles down a dusty unpaved road to an uncles’ house where he had lived for a while when he was a child. When he got there, tired and thirsty, no one was home. After walking to a country store to get a soda, he returned to his less than excited family who had been away selling produce. He stayed at their house one night, and realizing he wasn’t wanted, he took a bus to the home of a friend in Western North Carolina, hoping only for an invitation to supper and a bed for the night.

 Surprisingly, the reception he got there was one of love and acceptance. The idea of a third son to help around the farm seemed good to the father, Mr. Jackson. A warm smile came from his wife, Mabel, who had always loved my father as if he was her own. Aunt Mabel, as I was taught to call her, had always had an affinity for this long, lean, hard working young boy. Hoping only for a good nights’ sleep, he stayed there four years, until he met and married my mother.  Mr. Jackson taught my father the skills to help him get construction and truck driving jobs, and was happy to have him “pay for his keep” by helping out around the farm. My father earned enough money to buy an old truck, which he nick-named, “Old Hully”. This allowed him to move up the ladder in the construction business to the hauling of materials, rather than carrying the heavy rocks and such to the construction site. The Jackson family called my dad, “Kenny”. And the name stayed with him in that neighborhood throughout his life.

My father had always valued an education and enrolled in a local Junior College under the G.I. Bill, which had allocated him funds for attaining an education. He took a double major in Accounting and Truck management at the Business School in the larger town nearby. It was there that he met my mother, who was also taking Accounting, riding the bus to night school while working in a bakery during the day.

When they married several years after meeting, my father was working at a Trucking Company and my mother still held her job at the bakery. They soon moved in to a small house on the street where my mother had grown up. I wasn’t born until nearly six years later. I had my father under my spell even before I was born, but when he laid eyes on a little girl with golden curls, his heart melted. After growing up with men and living in a home with only sons, having a little girl was both frightening and a blessing to him.

My father worked two jobs most of his life. He worked in the insurance industry, but decided not to move to Ohio when the company transferred there. I was nearly five years old when my dad was offered a job with The Life of Georgia Insurance Company in Atlanta. Hoping that my mother would be happy in Atlanta, where her mothers’ family lived, he took the job and rented an apartment. Most of the time, my mother and I remained in our new house that he had built in our home town, and my father came home on weekends. When he moved our family to Atlanta, my mother was miserable. It wasn’t long before dad turned in his resignation and came back to our home town hoping one of his applications would be in the mail.

Surprisingly, an application did await him. It was for a job at the Postal Service! The hours were bad, the schemes, where an employee had to put cards into the correct hole in a large stand-up desk were a nightmare, but my dad was up to the challenge and while keeping his part time job with the Tennessee Valley Authority, he passed the test and got the job! His early years at the Postal Service lead to his book about his years riding a highway mail bus that was so long that it required a bolted back section to traverse the country roads, and his years working on a railway mail car, sorting mail and throwing it out onto poles made for this purpose in rural areas. These jobs often required “lay-overs” of several hours or even a whole night and the Postal Service rented out rooms for their employees to rest in as they caught their next “run”.

My father’s job at the Tennessee Valley Authority was my favorite. He often let me help him decode the machine-made charts from places up in the mountains with lovely names like “Sunburst”, which sparked my poetic soul. There was a secret phone number with a coded message on it that told the depth of the river at different locations. Dad trusted me with the number and I would call to check the gauges which sent a piece of equipment down into the different rivers and let out a series of beeps to tell the worker the depth of the river. The office also held volumes of books filled with photographs of the famous 1916 flood which devastated our area and caused several deaths.

More importantly, the TVA office was where I saw my first computer! It was in the late 1960’s and the machine took up a whole room. Its only job was to make the charts that we read to compare the depths of the river at different locations. The most exciting part of being “daddy’s girl” on his TVA job, was that I got to ride with him to observe and record data about floods that occurred in Western North Carolina. I loved telling my friend the stories of seeing houses, flooded up to their porch rails, with a cat sitting forlornly on the roof.

Being a girl, and an only child, I had to be my father’s “son” as well as his daughter. That meant I got to learn all the “boy” jobs, unlike my friends. My father taught me about the stock market, investing and he shared his love of learning with me. We played geography games, such as “who could name the most states, state capitols, or fill in a blank map”. We read books together, he taught me the love of reading and learning. He helped me with my homework. He would stay up hours doing math with me, a man who had only a 7th grade education before he took a double major at a Junior college. He would wrap my curls around his finger and assure me that if he didn’t know how to help me with an assignment, he would learn it with me.

We worked in the garden, build sidewalks and fancy brick walls and made crafts out of wood. He taught me the names of the flowers, trees and insects where ever we went. Although I spent many hours with my mother, aunt and grandparents next door, it was my father who taught me about life beyond our valley.

I had thought about sending a copy of this story only to my father, but later decided that it would make an interesting blog. ab A little girl and her devoted father would make a heart-warming story. He always reminded me of Abraham Lincoln, which did not please him. But he was tall, with curly, dark hair and a serious face, much like our 16th President.

My hope now, years after I first wrote this letter, is that my children and grandchildren will look back on this simple tribute to my father as one of love and respect. At only a few days from 87 and in extremely poor health, he still commands our respect, still teaches us the lessons that he has learned in his life and still remembers our names. Last night, as I left the hospital, he had not spoken in hours. He turned to me and touched my hand. “We live and we die.” he said simply. I kissed his cheek, fighting tears and he said, “Goodbye, Brenda. “ I honestly didn’t know if I would ever seen him again, he was so very sick. He slept all morning but this afternoon was able to listen as his youngest grandson (my youngest son) told him that he had been awarded an internship in his school’s district office. It was an honor only two kids were chosen for . My father looked up and whispered, “I knew I didn’t save all that money for college for nothing and smiled at my 15-year-old son, nearly 6 foot three, tall and thin like my father, who lay before him, sometimes cringing in pain. My father has been generous with his help, strict with his rules and filled with an unequaled devotion to his family.

Though he has not always been agreeable with our modern ideas, he has tried to keep up with technology, taught us to invest and “save for a rainy day”. He reminded us of HIS “Golden Rule” which is “Who ever has the gold makes the rules.” and that, of course , was him.

I cannot imagine having a father who loved his errant, non-conformist, self-proclaimed “hippie” daughter with any more patience and unabashed devotion than he has had with me. It goes without saying that he has had this same love and patience with my children and grandchildren.

I can only hope that in years to come, that my children will have even half as much love and respect for me as we all have towards him. As the old saying goes, “He has learned to turn lemons into lemonade.” The gifts that my father has given have been many, but none were more important than his time. He chose being with me over friends or hobbies. When I asked him what “the most important thing that we had , as young people in this crazy world ” and he would squeeze our hands together and softly say, “Time.” You can’t buy it, or even earn it, but you sure can waste it.” I wish I had listened more closely to his simple wisdom. I feel so fortunate that I have had so much time to spend with him.

This past few weeks , doctors have told me that I was fortunate that he had lived past his very close bout with death, when I was 11 years old. Many doctors and nurses said that it was so rare to see such resilience in a man with a body that had been in pain for nearly 50 years, that they were all amazed by him, that he could smile, still hope, still say “It wasn’t easy, but the rewards were greater than the pain. Next June, I will try to honor him by remembering his determination, his talent, his stern but loving voice. I will try not to cry, but instead, to tell my children and grandchildren what hearty stock they came from and simply, to live to make him proud.

 

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