The last words you will ever hear…

lastwords

As you know, for the last few weeks, I have been attempting to post positive, uplifting, or humorous stories because I felt that we could all use that in today’s current climate. I was on a good run, and then the rug was pulled out from under me once again. My father unexpectedly passed away! Yes, he was 91. Yes, he had lived a long, wonderful life. Yes, he was ready to go. But I had just talked with him on the phone, and he was feeling great…

I got the call late Tuesday evening from my brother and sister, telling me that Daddy had passed out, was unresponsive, and they were taking him to the emergency room. Once he got to the hospital, he was in a lot of pain, and having great difficulty breathing. After a few tests, they “thought” he might have had a mild heart attack, was in the beginning stages of pneumonia, and had a horrible UTI. The decision was made to transfer him from our little local hometown hospital to a larger hospital in a nearby town. Once there, he was stabilized, and my brother reported that he was resting better.

Since I live in another state, I was trying to get to the hospital as quickly as I could. I did not make it in time!! I did not get to see him or tell him good-bye!! I was devastated that I did not get to tell him how much he meant to me, or that I loved him beyond reason. But then, I thought about our last conversation on the phone the week before. The last words he ever heard from me were, “I love you Daddy!” And the last words I ever heard from him were, “I love you baby!” He knew that I loved him, with every fiber of my being, and I knew that he loved me. We had spent a lifetime sharing and showing that love to each other.

I have always lived with the knowledge and the belief, that when you leave someone, it may well be the very last time you see them. None of us are really guaranteed one more moment of life than we have. As a result of that knowledge, I have always made certain that my last words to anyone are of full of love and caring. I have shocked some people by ending phone conversations, email messages, and direct dialogue with “love you,” or “you matter to me.” It seems to take them off guard. Some don’t know how to respond. Others respond immediately with similar affection. My message is clear: I ALWAYS want those in my heart to know how important they are to me, and to know that they are loved – fully and completely.

This whole experience made me start thinking about the words we use with others, and what will be remembered when we are gone. Are you careful in what you say to others? Think about your last words to those you love…Were they spoken in anger? Hurtful? Cruel? Lies? Or were the words spoken in love, supportive, meant to inspire, lift up, or motivate? You never know when any of the words that come out of your mouth will actually be the very last words that someone will hear.

When they explained to my Daddy that there was nothing they could do for him, that there were no options, his response was, “Praise God! Thank you Jesus!” Those were his last words before he simply stopped breathing in his sleep. I think that says everything you need to know about the kind of man he was. What will your last words be? And will people remember them? Will they be happy or terribly sad with that memory? Maybe we need to give a little more attention to what we say…and who is listening. I think I will try to be even more like my Daddy…Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

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“Red and yellow, black and white…they are precious in His sight…”

It was late one night and I got the above message from two good friends…just a photograph that said “It’s a boy! It’s a girl!” I knew that there had been no pregnancy, so I was clueless as to what this meant. I wrote back, “WHAT???” My sweet friend and her husband had desperately wanted to have a child together, but it was not possible. They turned to adoption here in the U.S. and learned that they were “too old.” I just busted out laughing when they told me that! I could NOT believe that was valid criteria for THEIR adoption, but learned very quickly that it was. So, like many individuals in the United States, who want very much to share their love and lives with a child who desperately needs a loving family, they turned to the adoption of a foreign child.

After a very long process, they qualified to adopt a child from Ethiopia. Turns out, though, there were TWO children up for adoption – a little girl and her younger brother that the agency did not want to separate. So my friends became “instant” parents to two beautiful babies. I have watched their growth and “blossoming” in the love of their parents and family. I have laughed at their antics and “discoveries” in this new life. I have watched as they grow into their “personalities.” They have had a wonderful life…up until the past few months. At school, other children are now telling them that they are going to be sent back to Ethiopia, that they will have to leave their parents. They’ve endured others yelling at them, “Go back to Africa!” My heart can almost not take this! I can only imagine what their parents are feeling in the depths of their souls. I imagine my own little niece and nephew…how scared and confused they would be if someone told them they would be taken away from their parents…that they would be sent to a foreign place that they did not know or recognize. I wonder how could you console those babies? How would you assure their fears were baseless? I cannot come up with any solution that would “fix” that particular situation. I don’t know how I would deal with attempting to comfort a child’s very real fear regarding these actions. I mean, really, what could you possibly say? And how would you deal with the anger over someone else doing this to your child? I don’t think I would be able to contain that anger, because I am angry right now about how these two precious children are being treated, and they are not even MINE!!

I have another very dear, close, lifetime friend who married an African American – she was, and is, a very white caucasian. Unfortunately, the marriage was not successful, but they had two precious, absolutely drop dead gorgeous, biracial daughters who I have had the privilege and honor to watch, and share their lives, as they grew to be wonderful, loving adults and mothers themselves. They are simply family to me, and I love them with a full heart, unconditionally. I have nieces and nephews who have dated, and do date individuals different from their own ethnicity and culture. I have Hispanic friends who fill my heart with joy. They work hard, are not on welfare, and have values that are very similar to mine. Although I am from the “South,” and “southern” through and through, I WAS NOT TAUGHT PREJUDICE!

Children are so wonderfully cute and adorable when they are babies. The thing about children though, is that they grow up into adults. And what was “tolerated” as a child, is not always tolerated and accepted once they become adults. Like being Ethiopian…or African American…or Hispanic…cute as babies, but not so much as adults…But here’s the deal, remember the song we learned as children in Sunday School? “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they’re all precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I have to believe that! I have to act on that! If God made us in His image, then doesn’t that mean that every race and ethnic group is in HIS image??

The God I was taught to love and serve dictates my actions…to feed someone who is hungry; to give them clothes when they have none; to provide monetary support if that is necessary; to treat them as equal, human beings with dignity and respect; to LOVE THEM AS I WOULD LOVE MYSELF!!

Most of you know that I lost my Mama to Alzheimer’s, and I have shared some of those stories from our journey. During one Doctor visit, they were giving her yet another Mini Mental Status Questionnaire. One part of the test asked her to write a sentence. (And with each test, her sentences got shorter and shorter, until there were no sentences at all.) On this particular test, she wrote “I love all people.” I knew this to be true, for that is how she lived, and that is how she taught me. “I love all people.” How profound! And wouldn’t the world be such a better place if everyone practiced this? For you see, they ARE precious in His sight, and as a result, they MUST be precious in my sight also! Maybe we could all be a little bit more loving and accepting during our journey on this earth. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

The sweetest lady took care of me last night…

Those of you who have followed this blog have noticed that I have been “quiet” for a while. Every now and then you simply need a little time to “refresh” yourself, and I guess that is what I have been doing. “They” tell us that most individuals conduct a “self-analysis” of their lives every 10-12 years – to determine if we are on the “right path;” or if our accomplishments have been what we strove to attain; or simply if we are “happy.” This self-examination often coincides with those birthdays that end in a “zero.” I have always been off schedule in that my self evaluations never coincide with the BIG birthdays…So I guess that is what I have been doing for the last 9 months or so. I keep thinking that maybe people are tired of my stories and that I should stop, but then I get an annual report that indicates I have thousands of followers in 77 countries. Those numbers simply take my breath away! I am humbled, and think, that maybe, just maybe, people need to hear some of my truths…and some of my craziness. So……I am back for a while. Hope you enjoy, and if you do, please become a follower, and leave me a comment now and then. I love hearing from you guys!

Most of you know that my Mama is the main reason for this blog, that she had Alzheimer’s Disease, and that some of the stories involve our journey through that living hell. Today is such a story. We tried to keep Mother at home, as long as possible, taking care of her ourselves. My Father was the main caregiver, with help from each of the children. Each month, I would go down and stay with them for a week or two at a time.

On this particular visit, Mama certainly recognized me, and during the days, we would visit, laugh, and love on each other. Each night, I would sleep in a bed right next to hers so that I would be able to hear if she needed something, or attempted to get up by herself. On this night, she woke up around midnight, needing to go to the bathroom. We kept a potty chair at her bedside during the night to make everything easier and more comfortable for her. I got up and helped her get out of bed, and assisted her with both verbal direction and physical assistance. When your brain is atrophying, and signals are being neither sent nor received, something so simple as going to the bathroom can become a huge challenge for both the caregiver and the person needing care. It took us a while, but with patience, compassion, and simple communication, we were able to accomplish what she needed.

The next morning, Mama woke up early, all bright and cheerful. I jumped up, went over to her, gave her a kiss and said, “Good morning!” As I was helping her up for that first cup of coffee, she looked at me and said, “The sweetest lady helped me all night long! She was so nice!” I looked at her and said, “Mama, that is wonderful! I am so glad that someone sweet was there to help you.”

Now, as we know, I WAS THAT SWEET LADY! In the night, she never knew, or recognized, that it was her own daughter providing care and assistance. And for me, it just did not matter! I did not care WHO got the credit for providing the care. I was just glad that she saw me as someone who was caring, sweet, and willing to help.

This event made me wonder how we view ourselves when helping another person(s), and why we choose to help someone else. I am not referring to just health care, or physical assistance. I’m talking about ANY time we provide help, whether it is giving someone directions who is lost, holding a door open for someone out of courtesy, slipping someone a little cash to cover an unmet need, lending physical assistance when friends are moving into a new house, or just listening when someone needs to talk. It could be ANYTHING!! Do we provide help because we want recognition or credit that we “did a good deed,” or because it makes us look good to others? Is it a selfless act, wanting nothing in return? Or do we want “credit where credit is due?” I often wonder if we would be as generous in our giving, if we knew no one would ever know… A.M. Burton, grandfather to Amy Grant (a well-known gospel singer), stated the following: “Life is made up of golden chances, opportunities to do good. One lost is lost forever. If we miss doing a kindness to a friend, we can never do that kindness again. If we might speak a pleasant word, or offer a bit of worthwhile counsel or advice and fail to do so, we can never have just that opportunity again. Giving is a way of life.” I want my giving and helping to be selfless. I don’t need the recognition or credit. I want it to be given out of caring and love. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

 

My Mama and the FBI…

I don’t really know whether this is just a “Southern” thing, or not, but whenever I mention this particular “event,” most people from the South, if they were raised in a small town, readily identify with what I am about to say. It was not uncommon in the summer (or Sunday) afternoons, for my Mamaw Barber to swing by and pick up my Mama and us kids to take us riding “around town.” The ride ALWAYS ended with a drive-by, or swing-through, the local cemetery. All us kids were jammed together in the backseat (usually laughing and/or fighting – but ALWAYS having a good time…), but we would get really quiet as we rode solemnly through the grave yard. We would hear Mamaw and Mama commenting on the different people, whose names appeared on the various headstones. Comments such as, “You know his wife has remarried, don’t you?” Or, “She used to make the best apple pie around!” Or, “Do you know whatever happened to….?” It was as if they were visiting old friends. For my part; however, I was always thinking…”WE’RE IN A CEMETERY!!!”

(Now, as an aside, I have to tell you that our neighbors ran a little hamburger stand just down the street from where we lived, and my Mama, at one time, worked there. She pretty much knew everyone in town, so when someone came by that she did not know, it got her curiosity up. So, it happened one day, that a stranger, a man no one in town knew, began coming by the hamburger stand and, of course, would order a meal of some type. This began a daily event for him and my Mother.)

On this particular evening, Mamaw picked all of us up for the traditional ride around town. As we were riding around some of the neighborhoods, Mama got all excited when she recognized “the stranger” sitting out on the front porch of one of the houses we had passed by. She began sharing how this man had just started showing up everyday at the hamburger stand, and how “mysterious” it was that no one seemed to know where he came from…or what he did…We all listened with delight, but did not think too much of the situation. However, we teased Mother unmercifully about being a detective and made fun references to her “unpaid” role as an FBI agent.

After a month or so, a black sedan pulled up to the hamburger stand, and two men, in black suits and sunglasses, got out of the car. They approached the window of the hamburger stand, where my Mama was waiting, with a smile, to take their order. Her “detective” radar and energies were on high alert. One man approached the window as the other one stood to the side. He identified himself as an agent with the FBI, and wanted to ask Mother a few questions. He was asking about a specific man…a man who turned out to be Mama’s daily visitor at the hamburger stand. The FBI agent pulled out a photograph, and asked Mama if she had ever seen this man. She immediately told him that she did recognize the man in the photograph, and, even better, she could show them where he lived!! The FBI was more than gratified, took the information, and left. We never saw the mysterious stranger again, never knew what had happened to him, or why he was being hunted by the FBI.

That story has given our family more laughs than you can imagine! We lived in such a little town, and everyone just knew everyone else (and all of their business, it seemed). Whenever a new person moved into our area, we got to know them, and it usually did not take more than a day, to determine their life history. We were a “community” in every sense of the word. Neighbors knew all of the kids that should be present, and went on alert when the “normal crew” did not show up. Parents did not worry about their children being outside, or down the street, because they knew some sweet, caring neighbor was watching. It really was a “village” helping to raise the children, and protecting them.

That “neighborly” philosophy has followed me all of my life. No matter where I live, I have always gotten to know my neighbors – not in a nosey, “in their business,” sort of way, but with genuine and sincere interest. I chose my current neighborhood with purpose. I wanted that “old-fashioned” feel of community. I wanted to pass neighbors and friends each morning on my daily walks, to stop and chat and “catch up,” to watch their homes when they were out of town, to have them watch my home when I was out of town, and to just drop by for impromptu visits. I can’t begin to imagine living next door to someone I don’t know…or even attempt to know…or speak to when I pass them on the street.

It seems we have become millions of little islands to ourselves…only interacting with whoever we live with, or whoever we work with. When did this happen, and is it a good thing? I don’t think so. I think the more we invest in relationships, and genuine caring, we begin creating those wonderful neighborhoods and communities, where we love, argue, support, defend, protect and share…all for the common good. I think I will make more of an effort to love my neighbors, and leave the “investigating” to the FBI… Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“I don’t want to be a burden…”

Most of you know that I began this blog as a way to deal with my own grief…while watching my Mother slowly die, literally and figuratively, of Alzheimer’s Disease. Those who loved her beyond reason, had to stand by and watch her descend into that living hell. She remained home, with family, until we could no longer give her the care that she so desperately needed. One of our strategies, to keep her home as long as possible, was to “share” the responsibility of her care among the four children and my Father. Part of my responsibility (and honor) was to stay with her and Daddy, one week out of every month (more often, as I could)…

Mother had gotten to a point where she could not bathe herself, go to the bathroom by herself, or feed herself. So, on this particular day, it was time for her shower. I found it easier (and safer) to just get in the shower with her, and gently bathe her as we talked, laughed, and reminisced. Some times this was a difficult task for her, in that she could not follow or understand anything that I was saying. Other times, bathing was easy, and she would assist me with her own care.

We were both in the shower, drenched from head to toe, and she placed her hand on my arm and made me stop. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I never wanted you children to have to do this. I never wanted to be a burden.” Those words broke my heart and I struggled to find just the right thing to say, to convince her that she was never a burden to us. With a smile on my face, I said, “Mama, didn’t you tell me that when I was a baby, while nursing, the only way you could get me to go to sleep was to let me pinch the skin under your arm, and roll it back and forth between my fingers?” She smiled so sweetly with the memory, and said, “Yes, that’s right.” I asked her, “Didn’t it hurt?” She said, “Yes, but that motion somehow soothed you, and you would go to sleep every time.” I then said, “Didn’t you spend countless, sleepless nights, sitting by my bed, or laying beside me, or just holding me, because I was so sick that you would not leave me alone?” Again, she said, “Yes, I did!” I continued to tell her that there were too many examples to count, too many memories of selfless sacrifices that she had made not only in my behalf, but for all of her children. I asked her if she considered being our Mother a burden. She looked at me in shock, and said, “No! I loved all of you, and I wanted to take care of you!” I then explained that we were doing the same thing for her now; that we wanted to take care of her, out of our love for her. She smiled through tears, and said “OK, then! That’s settled.”

Some times the greatest gift we can give someone is to simply accept their help and caring. Those who are being cared for DO feel like a “burden” to their family. You have a choice as to how you are going to make that person feel…You have a choice as to HOW you are going to give that care – either out of guilt or out of love…and your actions will indicate which choice you made. Have you let your parents, or loved ones, know that they are NOT a burden? Or do you let them know how inconvenienced you are? I tell families and caregivers all the time, “It’s not that you just gave the care, and got it accomplished, but rather, HOW you gave the care.” Do you make them feel guilty? Let those individuals, the ones you are caring for, know that providing care and assistance is an act of love… I don’t ever want someone I love to feel as if they are a burden to me. Caring should be given freely, from the heart. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Is that punch SPIKED???

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Sunday was Father’s Day!  I am so thankful that I still have a wonderful “Daddy” to honor and celebrate. He will be 90 in the fall of this year, and is doing well. We are going to have a HUGE party to celebrate this monumental occasion. He is already excited, telling everyone within listening distance that he is going to be 90!!! “90,” he says with wonder…he cannot believe it!  Most of you know that he was a Minister (preacher) for all of my life, which does make me a preacher’s kid…and I don’t want to hear any grief about that…lol! He pastored small country churches. I am certain that much of my love, respect, and passion for elders was developed in those little churches, because small country churches are FILLED with older adults (who sing really, really loud…). This week’s story is about an event that happened in one of those churches…

Just like in larger, metropolitan churches, babies are born, couples get married/divorced, and people die. As a result of those life events, my Father conducted numerous ceremonies for his church members. As the pastor’s family, we were not expected to attend the funerals; however, if it was a “joyous” occasion, like a wedding, we put on our “Sunday go to meeting” clothes, and got to attend. My Mama always made sure that we behaved and conducted ourselves in a manner befitting a “preacher’s family.” Although we had to put on those socks (with lace), patent leather shoes (that always hurt your toes) and wear the scratchy, “stand-out” petticoats (to look like a little lady), we always looked forward to going because of ALL THAT FOOD!!!

On this particular occasion, we had made it through the ceremony and had gotten to the reception without any incidents. Mama got us each a plate, filled with wedding cake and ice cream, a few peanuts, and a few of those wonderful “wedding mints.” She got us all together in one place, told us to stay put, and she went off to get our punch. Daddy, of course, was across the room talking and visiting with his members and the bride/groom’s family. Mama finally returned with the punch, sat down, and took a sip of the punch. She looked at me with horror on her face, and said, “The punch is spiked!” She then said, “Get over to your Daddy and tell him NOT to drink the punch!!” I ran over to get him, but he had already had THREE cups of punch, saying how good it was! Once we explained the situation, he immediately stopped drinking the punch and sought a way to remove himself (and us) from the vicinity. We could hardly stop laughing, trying to get to the car. (Daddy did NOT drive home that day!!) My Daddy had never tasted ANY alcohol, so he really was an innocent.

In today’s world, there’s not many grown children who can say that their Father never smoked, drank, cursed, or abused them in some way, whether physical or emotional…but I can! My Father set a true example for his children to follow. He never said, “Do as I say, not as I do.” He continually said, “Do as I do!” By living that sweet, pure life before us, he gave us the most wonderful example to follow. My Father took this responsibility to heart. He and Mother wanted (and planned for) all four children. He taught us wrong from right. He lived his life the way he wanted us to live ours…and we heard (and saw) that message loud and clear. We live fuller, more complete lives because of the lessons he taught us. I can’t think of any other person who truly emulates the word, “Christlike.” And no matter how old I get, he will ALWAYS be my “Daddy.” Let’s celebrate those Fathers every day – not on just one day out of the year. And stay away from that punch…Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

But…that’s NOT us!!!

Ferris-Wheel

Still summer…so I am still in vacation “mode….”

Some of my best childhood memories are the family vacations that we took. Our family was not rich financially, but Mother and Daddy were able to save enough to take us on a few wonderful vacations. As I look back on the experience now, I am not certain how they were able to afford them. We would load up everyone; immediate family, cousins, uncle, and take off! We would have a carload full (no station wagon, just a regular sedan), and we were squeezed in. It did not matter though, we would laugh from the time that we got into the car, until we returned home, several days later.

One of the more exciting vacations took place when we went to AstroWorld in Houston, TX. Oh, as kids, we just could not contain our excitement over being able to go to this new amusement park. All of us were “riders,” and we had viewed brochures detailing the rides and attractions at AstroWorld. It was our plan to ride everything!! Mama would go with us on some of the “calmer” rides, but Daddy rode every ride with us.

They had a huge ferris wheel from which you could see a view of the entire park, as well as much of Houston. Since I worked part-time through high-school, I had a little “extra” money, and had bought a small, inexpensive camera prior to the vacation. It was my goal to record every wonderful moment of that vacation. When we got to the ferris wheel, I gave the camera to Mama, showed her how to use it, and asked her to take a photo of us as we came around. I told her that we would be waving our arms and hollering so that she would know it was US! We went up, got to the top, and began to come down on the other side. I told everybody to start hollering and waving arms to pose for the picture that Mama would take. When we came around to where she could get the shot, we all noticed that she did not have the camera up, aimed in our direction. She was smiling so big, and giving us the “thumbs up” sign. I knew right then that she did not get our photo, but had taken a picture of another family. We kept trying…each time we came around, we would whoop and holler, trying to get her attention, and hoping that she would take another picture. Each time, she would just smile and wave. 

When we finally got home and had the pictures developed, it was confirmed…we had a great picture of someone else’s family. Mama felt so badly, but I assured her that it was the best picture of the entire vacation, and something that we would all remember. We had a good laugh then, and continue to have a good laugh whenever that photo is mentioned.

We spend so much time attempting to make situations in life “picture perfect.” And…if the usual happens, life situations are NEVER absolutely “perfect!” Do we miss the wonder of those imperfections by focusing on what was “not right?” Does striving to be “picture perfect” make one less satisfied with the reality of their life, even when that reality contains much good in it? And are things truly, really that bad? We took so many pictures during that Astroworld vacation, all “picture perfect!” However, you know the only one that I remember in vivid detail?? The one that my Mama took of the other family…I can still recall the way that “other” family looked on the ride. I remember how we were whooping and hollering trying to get Mama’s attention so that she would know which “ferris car” to capture. I remember laughing so hard when we realized that she had captured someone else’s family. I remember her laughing along with us at her mistake. Such good times…and the memory of that one photograph will be in my head for always. Why do we waste so much time worrying when something doesn’t happen exactly as we planned it? Why lose those moments of your life with that stress? I try to always go with the attitude: “One day we’re going to laugh about this….” And you know what, we usually do! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…