Can we talk?

My son is dying. That’s a simple, unhappy, unwelcome fact. Sometimes he has good days, visits a friend or his brother and family; more and more often, though, he has a string of bad days. We’re in the middle of one of those strings. He’s nauseated. He aches all over, like the flu, he tells me. He’s listless. He hurts. He’s unsteady on his feet, holding onto me while he makes his way to the bathroom or his bedroom. He’s fallen twice in the past week. And when he called me to his room at 3:30 a.m. Sunday, he thought he was dying.

We talk about his funeral and what he wants, all the time knowing that a proper, in-the-church funeral won’t happen until there’s some resolution with the pandemic. We talk about what we think happens after death. Is there nothing? Is there something? If there’s something, what do you think it looks like, mom? Will I see my grandmothers? My aunt? Will I know them?

What once might have been philosophical conversations have suddenly, too soon, out of order, become real. Become imminent. I search for words of reassurance, comforting him as well as I can, helping us both come to terms with the inevitable.

Then, today, a phone call from an old friend of his. A man he’s known for years, a former neighbor, a man older even than I. Martin was sleeping in the recliner next to me. I told him, when he stirred at the ringing of his phone, “It’s Art.” He didn’t want to talk. It quit ringing, and immediately started up again. When it began for the third time, I answered his phone.

Art loves Martin like a son. I know that. Martin was there when Art’s son Mike died about 30 years ago. Martin and Mike had been good friends, and his death was prolonged and sad. Another young person dying out of time. Art and Martin bonded and have remained close over the years, although they don’t talk often – Art’s still in Miami, we’re in Portland.

Over the weekend, Martin’s dad had told Art how ill Martin is, that he’s dying. Art was calling to insistently, stridently, tell him that he knew how to cure Martin’s liver cancer. He’s cured himself of MRSA and a cancer on his face. His friend lived several years after a terminal cancer diagnosis by using this miracle method. It seems that Art knows what the finest doctors in the best cancer hospitals in the PNW don’t: the cure for cancer is baking soda. Just mix it in water and drink it three times a day. And – hey! what’ve you got to lose? Well, peace of mind for a start.

I – according to Art – have been brainwashed by the medical community. The CT scans, the MRIs, the blood work? The liver eaten away by cirrhosis? The metastases? Pah! For some undefined reason, the doctors don’t want to listen to Art and his baking soda cure.

I listened. I was polite, as my mother taught me to be. Told him that I would convey his message to Martin and let him know that Art wants him to call back. I did all of those things. And Martin said he’s not going to call him. I feel kind of sad about that, but Martin’s an adult and gets to make his own choices. But, frankly, we’ve been on such a roller coaster around here that I completely understand my son’s reaction.

So, here’s what I want to talk about: If you know someone is dying, from cancer or anything else, offer your good wishes, your prayers, a memory, a bit of levity. If you believe in miracles – I do – keep believing. But keep those beliefs to yourself, keep your miracle cures, that x number of your friends have had success with, to yourself.

This dying business is hard work. A lot goes into making peace with it, especially when you’re in what should be the prime of life. And when you do that hard work, when you begin to reach a place where you can face the unknown with even a little more courage than when you started on this path – well, it’s not a kindness to say, “I know how you can be cured,” or “I know God is going to heal you; God told me.” Because no matter how well-meant those words are, no matter how much you believe what you’re saying, it unravels some of that hard work. And you have to start all over again to reach that place of beginning to accept. You may think it’s a kindness, a ray of hope, but it isn’t. It’s actually hurtful. And it not only hurts the person who, in the midst of illness, has done that hard work, it hurts the ones who have sat with him, listened to the fears, cried lonely tears, and been quietly thankful to have seen the beginnings of peace and acceptance on the face of a beloved child.

Then and Now

Twelve years ago, I sat in the living room of our next-door neighbors’ home, surrounded by friends, and openly wept as the United States elected its first Black President. That I, a woman bred, born, and raised in the segregated South, should have lived to see such a wondrous day, was almost too much to take in.

I had donated money, made phone calls, and pounded pavement in support of Barack Obama’s campaign, something I hadn’t done since 1960. As a 13-year-old, I had proudly stood on busy street corners with my mom entreating those passing by to vote for John F. Kennedy. Then, as in 2008, my imagination had been captured by what could be, what was possible, with a young, charismatic President in the White House. Then, as in 2008, my candidate won. But then, in 1960, I don’t recall shedding tears, but being happy and thankful. In 2008, my tears were of joy, of hope, of relief – and a smidgen of fear for what might happen to this young man. A Black family in the White House was sure to bring out the worst in some people, so I prayed continually for his safety and for a successful administration.

As we all know, Obama was re-elected to a second term in 2012, and, as with most presidents, his administration was a mix of successes and failures. Never, however, did I feel that he was working in bad faith. He was a man who cared about our country and worked – often against blatant obstructionists – to move us forward.

In 2016, I was originally a big supporter of Bernie Sanders. Deep down, I didn’t really think he could win, but I liked most of his ideas and felt that, even though a lot of them would never make it through Congress, he would move us in the right direction. I was disappointed and angry when the DNC put the full force of their money and power behind Hillary Clinton; however, she would be the one I would support. I couldn’t imagine in my wildest dreams that my country would elect Donald Trump. He was an obvious opportunist, racist, misogynist, and xenophobe. Surely we would continue to move forward and not revert to our shameful past. We’d come so far and we were so much better than that, weren’t we? Obviously not.

As the returns came in and it became obvious that I share this nation with people who were still living in the mid-20th Century, people who cared nothing for progress, or their neighbors, even people in their families, I was too stunned to cry. I was numb. I was angry. I was disbelieving. Surely there was an error somewhere.  It wasn’t until two days later, as I lay on a bed at my chiropractor, that the bottled up feelings were finally freed. Once again – though for a far different reason this time – I cried openly. After that welcome release, a righteous anger overtook me and I vowed that I would protest this misbegotten administration at every turn. My first act was to join The Women’s March in Washington DC – you can read about it here.  I took to Twitter and Facebook with a vengeance. I wrote emails and letters to Congress. I spoke out against him at every opportunity. I even joined the Portland Raging Grannies when Trump refused to condemn white supremacists in the wake of the murders of BIPOC by police officers, and in support of Black Lives Matter.

And as we entered the 2020 presidential campaign, I supported Elizabeth Warren. I still liked Bernie, but felt more drawn to Warren’s ideas and her passion. Besides, it’s past time for this country to elect a woman, and Liz was my choice. But once again, my candidate appeared to be too far out of the mainstream and the DNC selected Joe Biden. I’ve never been a big fan of Biden, frankly. Oh, he’s fine as a person, and is certainly the antithesis of Trump, but he just didn’t seem like he’d be as progressive as I’d like.

As we moved through the campaign, I worried.

As election day approached, I worried.

As returns started coming in, I worried.

When it started looking like a repeat of 2016, I went to bed, too stressed to even watch. When I woke up Wednesday morning, things were looking up. And as I stayed glued to CNN over the next several days, it started looking better and better, though still a nail-biter.

Finally – Finally! – Biden was declared President-elect, and I began to breathe more easily. Deep, cleansing, healing breaths. No tears this time, and no joy, either; just relief. Peace.

Last night, though. Saturday evening, as I sat prepared to hear Biden’s acceptance speech, Sen. Kamala Harris spoke first. Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. And as she spoke, as she invoked the memory of her mother, of all the women who had gone before, preparing the way, as she spoke of the little girls watching, knowing that they could aspire to be anything, anything at all…

Well, I began to cry.

Happy unBirthday, dear granddaughter!

It’s been one of my life’s greatest joys to live near my youngest son, Ben, his wife, Briana, and their children, Grandson Addison and Granddaughter Drew.

From shortly after the kiddos were born until they reached the age when they could go to preschool – about two years old – I was privileged to be their “Granny Nanny.” I have not only had the pleasure of watching them grow and learn, but have established a closeness with them that fills my heart. We’ve established traditions that I’ve worked to maintain. One of those traditions is that each year for each child’s birthday, their gift from me is a day of shopping followed by an overnight at Gran’s house. It’s always been great fun for me and, I think, for them.

Since Addison’s birthday falls just before Christmas, we usually have our birthday outing sometime during the week after Christmas, although it’s sometimes been as late as mid-January. Drew, however, was born in June, shortly before my own birthday. That has always meant we could plan her birthday treat some time during our shared birthday week.

Until this year: The Year of COVID-19. Which was closely followed by my son’s diagnosis of liver cancer. Needless to say, there have been no overnights due to my current lack of sleeping space, and COVID has been preventing me from wanting to go into a mall for shopping or a restaurant for lunch.

Drew has been extraordinarily patient – not at all the way I was at age 11 – and we decided several weeks ago that part of her belated celebration would be to watch “Hamilton” together – her choice. Last week we planned to celebrate in two parts, since we couldn’t have an overnight, and that we would start this weekend. So this morning, her dad brought her to my house for Drew’s unBirthday, Part I.

First, we made and decorated cupcakes – because what’s a party without cake? Besides, her uncle had wanted white cake and I had bought a mix and some icing. After deciding what colors we wanted for the frosting, Drew and I went to work.

While the cupcakes baked, we shopped online for her very late birthday presents. She already knew what she wanted – books – so we cranked up for the first one, then over to for three more. She’ll be getting books for the next four days, and she kept her purchases within her birthday budget. As an added bonus, our Amazon purchases resulted in a donation to my church.

After the cupcakes had cooled, we created some vibrantly-colored deliciousness – a few for us to have here and the rest for her to take home and share with her family. Of course Uncle Martin will have his share, too!

After all our hard work, we fixed lunch and plopped down in the family room to start watching “Hamilton.” We only made it about halfway through. before it was time to take my girl home to get ready for her cousin’s fourth birthday party. Neither of us minded too much because it just means that we’ll have another day together to finish watching the show!

When we got to her house, she told her parents that she had gotten four books and made cupcakes for her unBirthday – and that she’d gotten a “birthday President.”

Funny. Smart. Creative. Curious. Loving. Compassionate. That’s my girl. I’m blessed in so many ways.