On Father’s Day, 2017…


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Angel Oak Tree, a gorgeous tree embracing Johns Island, SC

Dearest Readers:

Happy Father’s Day to all of the father’s in the United States of America. Today is a special day, to give thanks and celebrate our fathers. From the moment we were born, most of us had a father. Maybe you have precious memories of your father, and perhaps there are some, like me, who have — shall I say — interesting, sometimes traumatic memories.

As a little girl, I looked up to my father, sometimes squealing for him to scoop me into his arms. However, at five-years-old, I saw a different side of my father, and I must say, he scared me. At the time, we were living in the projects in Atlanta, Georgia. I hated the projects! My mother loved to go outside and gossip with all of the nasty, ugly, snide women who lived in the projects. On one crisp Saturday morning, my mother was outside. Sitting by the curb, legs spread wide open, wearing a dress. I couldn’t understand why my mother always told me to keep my knees together when I sat, wearing a dress, when she didn’t practice what she preached, but I listened and I didn’t dare open my legs wide in a dress. On this morning, Mom was laughing with the women, talking about the neighbors, the fighting and the ugly gossip always shared when wicked women get together.

I was sitting on the back porch playing with my dolly when Daddy opened the back door, screaming for my mama. She ignored his call. I looked at my daddy, seeing an evil look in his eyes. He pointed his finger at me, shaking it furiously he said: “You go get your mother and tell her I want to speak with her.” He paused, and then he screamed at me, “NOW!”

“Yes Sir,” I said, placing my doll on the floor of the porch.

I ran as fast as my little legs could move. “Mama, Daddy wants you. He’s been calling for you.”

She laughed, scratched her inner thigh and looked at me. “Well, girls I guess I better jump and go to him. You all know how these men in the projects get if the little woman doesn’t obey.”

They laughed. As Mama rose, Daddy met her. He shook her shoulders. Words were expressed, but I can’t remember exactly what he said. She laughed, then thrust her arms at him. He pushed her, knocking her down on to the concrete next to the metal trash cans. Mama hit her head on the trash can and when she fell she bruised her knees.

The gossipy, wicked women rushed away.

I struggled to help my mama up. I looked at my daddy, standing tall. Anger seeping from his eyes. I put my hands on his legs and said, “Daddy move away. Mama’s coming. Don’t push her anymore. That was a mean thing to do.”

I suppose one could say, on that day, I became the referee for our family. I was the middle child, but I refused to tolerate abuse and every time I was around, watching my daddy and my mother fight so dreadfully, I remember squeezing into the middle of the fight, placing my arms out to make them move away. I would always say, “Daddy. Mama. Stop this fighting. If you want to beat someone, beat me!”

When I was fifteen, I stopped the final fight. I arrived home from school. Excited to share that I had a lead in a musical! I was so happy and proud of myself on that beautiful Tuesday afternoon. Walking inside the house, I heard shouting and I knew, another round of fights was on. I listened to the shouts, cursing and the horror. I knocked on the door, then I pushed it open. Mama was bending down, gasping for breath. Her face was blue. Daddy stood, watching her, holding a stack of mail.

“You two need to stop this,” I screamed. “Look at her. She’s having difficulty breathing. You need to stop this fighting before one of you kills the other. One of you needs to leave.”

Daddy threw the mail in my direction. “Look at this. Just look at what she did. She bought a diamond ring and didn’t tell me. Now they’re going to garnish my wages. We’ll have to file for bankruptcy. Just look at what she’s done.”

I glanced at one envelope stamped with an orange Past Due notice.

“The fighting needs to stop before one of you goes to prison,” I said.

Little did I know how things would change.

The next day, I walked home from school, trying to work things out in my head. I knew domestic abuse wasn’t healthy in a family situation. I felt helpless. I had no one to talk to. None of my relatives would understand and I was certain if I said anything to anyone, I would become the trouble maker of our family. I remember hearing people saying fighting in a marriage was “normal”… “A Family Matter…”

Opening the door to the house, my mama was sitting on the couch in tears.  She rushed at me. “This is all your fault. I hope you’re happy now. Your daddy left us today. He’s dead. Dead. DEAD. I never want to hear his name again in this house and you are never allowed to talk to him, or mention his name again!”

The following Saturday, Mama moved us to Columbus, Georgia. Four children. One adult, living in a two bedroom mill village with our grandparents. To say we were crowded for space is an understatement.

I had to follow the rules:

Church on Sunday.

Wednesday night prayer meetings at church

No makeup (I broke that rule)

No rock n’ roll music, only Christian music

Go to school

Nothing more.

I hated this new life and rebelled. No, I never did drugs. Never tried alcohol. I rebelled by staying alone, taking walks, retreating to the Chattahoochee River. At school, I became a wallflower, refusing to try out for plays, musicals, or anything interesting. I wrote to my dad, letting him know I loved him.

Never do I really remember celebrating Father’s Day for my dad as a child. As a grown up, married with a child of my own, I chose to make Father’s Day special. I bought cards for my dad. When he visited us, he was different. I actually heard him laugh, and I watched him playing with my son. Gone from his demeanor was the anger, hatred, and abuse. Never did I hear my dad say anything ugly about our mother after their divorce. He was truly a changed man. No violence. No shouting. Just a kind, and loving man filled with Laughter and Happiness within himself.

In December, 1997, my beloved father became ill with esophageal cancer. Serving as his caregiver until his death on July 6, 1999, I truly saw a beautiful person within his demeanor. On one occasion, he thanked me for what I said on the last day before my parents separated. He admired my strength to serve as the referee. To my knowledge, no one within our family circle knew about the domestic “family matters” of our family.

As a writer, I’ve written many articles about domestic abuse. How it changes a family. How it paints a vivid, horrifying picture about marriage and I vowed to myself that no one would ever abuse me. I suppose I overlooked another side of domestic abuse – the verbal abuse, and for years, my husband who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] from Vietnam, would get into rages, shouting at me. Once, he shoved me and when he did, I fought back, standing firm to him, letting him know he had to stop his rage, or I would end the marriage.

I’m proud to say, we worked those issues out, and now, we do not scream, shout or verbally fight. Our home is a happy home. Father’s Day is always special. I give thanks to God for guiding me and giving me strength.

And so, on Father’s Day, 2017, I give thanks to God for all He has given me and my family. It is my wish for all of you reading this, to please take a moment to give your father a bit of special care and love on this Father’s Day. Although I am still sick with bronchial asthma, I will find the energy to make this a most special Father’s Day, to my dad in Heaven, and to my husband while he sleeps.

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to all the fathers!

Thinking of Sir Shakespeare Hemingway


035Dearest Readers:

Yes. I know, I’ve been a bit negligent with writing in my blog. If you recall, on March 7, 2017, I lost one of the loves of my life. My little Sir Shakespeare Hemingway. My life appeared to stop after losing him. I cried. Oh…How I cried. The tears were an endless, rushing ocean of tears I referred to as a tsunami.

My friends didn’t understand. Heck. I wasn’t certain I understood. I kept telling myself that I had to move on. After all, after the death of a loved one, life continues. The sun still shines. The rains pour. Bills are due. Life continues. But how? How could I learn to live without little Shake n Bake?

I do not have an answer to that question. I still called his name. I looked for him outside, resting on the corner of our lot, where he always rested to get his sunshine. He loved sunshine. I clapped my hands three times, so he would hear me and realize he needed to come inside, only he wasn’t there. I prayed for God to guide me and to ease my grief. I needed a sign and one morning, a fly flew into my coffee cup. Shakespeare knew me well enough to realize I wasn’t a bit of good to anyone without my second cup of coffee. On that morning, I picked up the coffee cup, ready to sip the second cup, only to find a fly floating in the cup of hot, fresh coffee.

I laughed! “Shakespeare,” I screamed! “You sent me a sign. Thank you. Thank you.” Tears rushed down my face again. Another torrential endless waterfall of fresh tears I could not stop.

I must explain. The water bowls for my dogs are strategically placed in the kitchen, bedroom and where I write. If Shakespeare was thirsty and something was in the water bowl, he refused to drink. He would place his paw in the bowl, attempting to remove a dead fly, or a bit of dirt. If that didn’t work, he would kick the bowl over, to let me know he wanted CLEAN water, not a dirty bowl!

So Shakespeare!

In four days, Shakespeare will be tucked safely inside my heart for three months. Yes. The tears are flowing again, and even though I am blessed with other dogs, I cannot stop these tears at times.

This week I’ve been super busy caring for my husband. He awoke on Wednesday with chills and fever. Knowing enough about medicine and health to understand that when one has chills there is normally an infection inside the body. I mentioned this to my husband. Of course, he grumbled, called in to work and stayed in bed. I decided it was best to ignore him. After all, I had planted the seed that he probably had an infection, or maybe…  he had pneumonia.

About 15 minutes later, he walked into where I was sitting at the computer. “I think I should go to ER.”

“That’s probably a good idea.”

Shutting my computer down, I changed clothes. Off we go to the infamous Ralph H. Johnson VA Hospital, ER. No doubt, this day will not be productive for a writer.

We arrived at ER about 8:30, maybe a bit later. Checked in to ER and waited. Moments later, someone calls his name and we enter ER. Those of you who know what it is like to go to a VA hospital will understand just how long it takes to see doctors. That didn’t happen for us. The doctors arrived, checked him over, ordered tests, chest x-rays, blood work, etc…Etc! At lunch time (1 o’clock or so) Phil mentions he is hungry. The nurse (a wonderful, caring male nurse) mentioned he would order him some lunch. Phil suggests that I go to the cafeteria and get some lunch since I haven’t eaten either.

“Oh, no.” I said. “I remember how disastrous their salads were the last time we were here. I’ll be OK.”

When the lunch arrives, it is much to my surprise, lunch for two. I seem to recall that when Phil and I were chatting earlier about my going to the cafeteria, I mentioned they would bring him lunch, but the wives, or caregivers who were with the veteran were treated as second-class citizens. “They do not consider how we might feel or we might be hungry and hesitant to leave the area since our veteran is sick.”

Oops. Looks like my voice must’ve been heard I say quietly as I open the box to a hamburger steak, lightly covered with gravy. Well done, limpy vegetables and cold egg noodles, but what the heck. I’m hungry! Believe me, I’ll not complain. It was a most considerate thought for the nurse to order two lunches!

About 2pm, the doctor returns. The diagnosis, “a bit of pneumonia.” When he shares the diagnosis, I think to myself  — Is that like a little bit pregnant?  I remain quiet. Listening…

Today, Phil is resting still. Earlier, when I checked on him, he was coughing. How I pray this ‘bit of pnuemonia’ leaves him soon, and I pray I do not get it. I’ve had pneumonia three times as an adult and when I get it, I am sick for weeks.

And, so today, while at the computer, I attempt to write again. Something I haven’t done much lately. At times, I don’t feel like a writer anymore. I suppose I’ve allowed myself to be lazy about writing. I must change that behavior and get myself back to the busy-ness of writing.

For now, I must go make my infamous homemade waffles for Phil and I to share for breakfast, or maybe an early brunch.

I’ve made a promise to myself this week. A promise to write more on my blog and a promise to get the story of “Chattahoochee Child,” completed.

I simply must WRITE again! Maybe in memory of Sir Shakespeare Hemingway who always rested curled at my feet when I wrote. I still find my left foot moving ever so slowly next to his curled little warm body so I can rub him while writing. Only now…that precious little boy isn’t there. Will this grief ever leave? What can I do to make it leave me? I don’t have any answers, but my heart is so full of his love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dearest Caregiver…Becoming the Parent to A Parent…


Dearest Caregiver:
My heart breaks for you as you so suddenly see yourself walking in the shoes of a caregiver. Sometimes, these shoes are high heels. You go to work as a professional. You work all day while wondering ‘how is my mother or my father doing today?’ Maybe the shoes you walk in as a caregiver are flats, or comfortable sneakers. It doesn’t matter what you wear on your feet, your ache is a recurring ache your feet and body do not understand.
You wonder — just HOW did this happen? Maybe you didn’t understand your parent was ill. I didn’t in 1997. Yes, my dad had lost weight. Foolishly, I took it that since he lived on a fixed income, perhaps he could not afford to eat as healthy as he should. At Thanksgiving, I asked him how he was feeling. Mr. Independent, an affectionate description I called him sometimes, was much too independent and proud to ask me for help, and so I took his response of “I’m fine,” as the truth. Three days later, he phoned me after work, telling me he thought he had cancer. He needed to go to the doctor.
We rushed to ER. After seven hours of diagnostic testing, the ER professionals suggested my dad needed to see a gastroenterologist. Two days later, I screamed when the doctors told me my dad had esophageal cancer.
“How can this be?” I asked. “How can my dad be sick?”
My dad lived in an affordable retirement community. He had many friends there. Sitting down to grasp the heartbreaking news, I recognized I was so wrapped up in my professional life, I did not recognize my dad needed me. He was 84-years-old. Living alone, he walked all over the sidewalks and streets of historical Charleston, SC. Never did he ask for money, or anything from me. He excused my busy life. He was proud of me since I worked in the educational field. He understood I didn’t have time for him. He understood that not only did I work ’40-hours weekly’ my weekends were devoted to recruiting students for the university almost every weekend.
I heard myself whispering as I wiped tears from my face. “Dear God, I’ve been such a fool. My dad needs me. He NEEDS ME.”
I took a leave of absence from work. An endoscopy was performed on Dad. He had a tumor on his esophagus. A tumor that was too difficult to remove.
I met with an oncologist. He suggested Dad needed chemo/radiation therapy and a feeding tube. He could not keep food down. He was choking and extremely weak. Dad weighed 130 pounds. Previously, he tipped the scales at 175. The oncologist wanted to know what I wanted them to do. He stressed Dad needed the feeding tube since he was malnourished. If he didn’t get some form of food intake, he would probably die within two weeks. I looked up, tears still gushing down my face and I said, “My dad is an independent man. He needs to make that decision.”
Dad fought to live from December, 1997 until his death on July 6, 1999. During that time, my focus was my dad. When it was suggested that he needed ‘skilled care,’ I inquired as to what the definition of skilled care was. Suddenly, I was learning a lot about serving as a caregiver. I was the “Parent to my Parent.” I made decisions about his care. I found ways to jump through the hoops to get him the care he needed and deserved. I learned a lot about diplomacy, refusing to take “no” as an answer. My dad and I became closer than ever. I visited him daily regardless of where he was. He moved from hospital to nursing home. Back and forth again and again as he weakened and I found ways to save his nursing home room and roommate. Never did I let Dad know the hoops I jumped through, just to get him the care he deserved. I met with nursing staff. I found an Ombudsman, a young and caring medical professional who shared her knowledge with me so I could get my dad the medical care he deserved.
I am hopeful things have improved since 1999. After Dad’s death, I wrote “Condition of Limbo,” describing in detail what it was like to serve as a caregiver in a community that appeared to be ever so negligent where caregiving was concerned, along with the medical care.
Now, I have several friends who are becoming the “parent to a parent,” and they ask me what they should do to make certain their mother or father is cared for properly. After listening to their story, I’ve decided it might be easier to share my experience on my blog:
I continue praying for your family, your mother/father and you, hoping each day will be a better day for all of you. Many times, it isn’t. What I share at that time is for you to fight and pray…to believe that tomorrow will be a better day. Yes, clichés. Clichés helping us to see the sunshine while the pain you are feeling is almost indescribable. It is true you should take care of yourself; nevertheless, right now, you probably are losing sleep. You are too afraid to give in to sleep, in the event ‘something happens to Mom or Dad.’
As I’ve stated previously, I walked in similar shoes when my dad became terminally ill with esophageal cancer. I blinked my eyes as I realized I was now the ‘parent to my parent.’ Suddenly I was making decisions my father was much too ill to make. You wonder – how do I do this? How do I make decisions HE/SHE should be making?
All I can suggest for you is to take each day “one day at a time.” When meeting with medical professionals for “skilled care” — a description they do not identify or describe. Skilled care means 24-hour nursing care…make certain you document the dates/times, names, titles, and most important, document what they say. Save these notes. They might become important at a later date — according to the Medicare and Insurance regulations.
How I wish I could be there with you. While I do not proclaim to be a professional regarding ‘caregiving’ walking in those shoes in 1999 was a wakeup call for me. Please get some rest. Ask if the hospital has an atrium, or a chapel. Step inside and let the tears flow. That is what I did one afternoon at Roper Hospital in Downtown Charleston. Their Atrium was newly built. I found a balcony, and there, I cried. I screamed and I shouted for God to listen to me. No one but God could hear me when the rushing traffic congestion drowned out my heartbreak.
I’m sending virtual hugs to you, and I am praying, repeatedly. God is there. This too shall pass. Praying for your mother or father to become strong enough to get to the rehab center, and I am praying for you to rest and get additional emotional strength.
You might ask yourself: “What do I do if my parent comes home. Is he or she able to care for themselves? Do I hire a nurse, or do I move in?”
In a perfect world, you might ask other family members to help. Unfortunately, I did not have that luxury. I was estranged from family members at the time. Fortunately, I swallowed every ounce of pride I had to find my family and to let them know our father was terminally ill. I am happy to report, I have one sister I stay in contact with now and we are closer than ever.
Walking through life when you become the parent to your parent makes one stronger. I would like to say it is a wakeup call to the importance of family remaining close; however, life does have a way of changing us and at times, the true character of a family member can be revealed. Sometimes good, but most of the time – bad. While my dad battled cancer and grew weaker, I actually had one sister write Dad a letter — stating something to the effect of: “I’m sorry you’re so sick, but I have to work so I can’t come to see you.” Her next statement in the letter was: “So tell me Dad…am I STILL in your Will?”
Thank God she lived eight hours away. I wanted to strangle her.
Watching my dad slowly melting away from life taught me to take each day one day at a time, and to slow down to appreciate the little things in life. I visited him in the nursing home daily, unless my bronchial asthma kicked in. On one occasion, Dad was reading his Holy Bible. When he saw me entering his room he screamed at me. “You get out of here,” he shouted. “I want to read my Bible.”
I felt rejected. How could he speak to me in such a manner? Didn’t he know I loved him and wanted to be with him?
After researching caregiving, I realized my dad was detaching from me. He did not want me to see his pain, or to watch his body slowly fading away. On the day of his death, I had a dream/vision in the early morning. I phoned the nursing home at 3:45am, inquiring how he was doing. They checked on him, reporting he was sleeping soundly. That afternoon, after a stressful day of working later than I planned, I entered the nursing home at 5:45pm. I ran into a nurse pushing an oxygen tank. She looked away from me, moving next to me.
“Ooh…that isn’t a good sign,” I said. She nodded. When she placed her hand on the doorway of my dad’s room, I screamed. I knew what was happening. The nurse pushed my hand away from the door. “You stay here,” she said.
Someone moved me to a couch. I sat down, tears pouring like an endless waterfall from my eyes and I sobbed uncontrollably. I knew the day of dad’s departure from me was here. I also knew I had to let him go.
After his death, my independence kicked in. I managed to plan the funeral. I moved like a zombie, without emotion or pain. I prayed for God to give me strength. Now 17 years after his death, I still miss him. There are days when I feel totally empty of emotions, and I have days where he is tucked safely inside my heart. I do not regret serving as his caregiver and I am proud we became closer and closer as he slowly melted away from me. Today, I am proud to say I was his daughter and I am pleased to share my experience with others who unexpectedly become:
THE PARENT TO A PARENT.
If you walk in similar shoes, I would love to read your experience and I am praying Medicare changed many of the regulations after 1999. If you are a caregiver, may God bless you as you care for a parent who taught you how to walk, how to talk and how to become a strong, independent and proud adult. Once my dad pushed me in a stroller. When he became so ill with cancer, I helped guide him with his walker, and later I pushed him in a wheelchair. But only once! He hated a wheelchair, refusing to sit in it again.
Yep. That was my dad. A proud, tall, striving to be independent 84-years-old man. Never did I see his elderly age. All I saw was — my father…My Dad! How I miss him!