CHATTAHOOCHEE CHILD – EXCERPT


 Dearest Readers:

Listed below is a bit of Chattahoochee Child:

PROLOGUE – Rhythms

October 2003

There is a rhythm to life, moving us at a pace we control by the decisions we make. When I was lost, and alone, I embraced the Chattahoochee River while listening to the melody of rhythms created by the symphony of dancing waters. As a child, I was fearful of the rushing waters of the Chattahoochee. Once, while standing on the banks of the murky waters, my mother shoved me, laughing deviously, reminding me of a witch.

“Mom,” I shouted. “You pushed me. I could’ve fallen into the waters. You know I can’t swim. I could drown.”

Her laughter reminded me of Boris Karloff. Evil. Cruel. Conniving.

“Well, if you drowned, I’d have one less child to worry about. Not that I worry about you, ever. You’re so independent. You seem to love being alone. But I know. You’re a stupid girl. Stupid girls cause trouble. You’re the thorn in my side.”

I crossed my arms and walked away while listening to mother’s hateful laughter.

Water has always held my passion. On the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, I feel embraced in the hands of God when I slowly allow my body to enter the sanctity of water in Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. While the water soothes me, I dare to find the courage to allow my body to float in the water so I can travel with the current to faraway places.

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It feels a bit strange to breathe oxygen into my lungs after my mother’s lungs no longer needed the breath of life. A part of my being was swimming in the waters, drowning, anxious to touch the bottom depths of the riverbed, to find the grief missing from her death. My mother failed to share her life with me. Now with her death, I realized we could never make amends. Although I made many attempts to bury our emancipation, she refused to move forward. Over 20 years ago, I cried from the loss and rejection of my mother. I did not feel a wall of grief pounding down on me after her death. Instead, I felt an incredible need to confront my sister and embrace the shores of the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, Georgia.

Now that she is gone, I’ve discovered I loved my mother, not because she was a good mother. I loved her for giving me life. Never did I approve of her mind control strategies, or for the emotional guilt she used to punish me by being so cruel. She was quick to remind me that I ‘wasn’t a good girl…I behaved badly…I asked too many questions, defying her authority.’

When she was angry at me, she called me ‘Little Miss Goody Two Shoes.’

’ She twisted her words and actions, making me believe I was worthless of love from anyone. I loved her because I wanted to love her. She was my birth mother. Without her bearing the pain of childbirth, I would not have life, and I am thankful for the precious gift of life she bestowed to me. As a child, I dreamed of her returning a mother’s love; instead of sharing it, she tortured me with the supremacy of her dependence. Once, she stated to me that actions meant more than words. Without a doubt, the actions of my mother spoke volumes! The more I grew up, the more she pushed to control me and never let me go. I retaliated in the manner safest for my sanity. I broke away from her web of destruction. As a grown woman, I lived with ‘survivor’s guilt,’ the guilt of surviving and escaping the misfortunes that were due to me just by being born.

“Life’s never a bed of roses,” Mom said to me as a child. “You and your silly big girl dreams ain’t nothing but a joke. You ain’t never gonna find no one to love you…NEVER!”

Before her death, I chose not to reopen the cycle of bitterness delivered by the hands and poisonous tongue of my mother. Rehashing my childhood would do nothing to help our situation. She was a melancholic, unkind woman who lived life in the dark shadows of her past. I wanted to move forward with her, to make peace with her, regardless. My fondest wish was for Mom to learn to love me. Most of all, I wanted her to learn to love herself.

The true test of life is how we educate ourselves to forgive our parents for the trials and tribulations of life’s disappointments. As children, we are born into the life we live. As adults, it is our decision how we choose to mold ourselves into the person we desire. We can take a step forward, to build our life into productive, respectable individuals, or we can reflect on prejudices of the past, living our lives in a shell as a mirrored imitation of our parents. I chose to break the mold, refusing to look back with regret.

Detecting Esophageal Cancer


Dearest Readers:

Although the month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, I wanted to share a story about my father’s battle with esophageal cancer. The month of April is the scheduled month for Esophageal Cancer Awareness.

When my father was diagnosed, medical professionals assumed he was a smoker. He never smoked – EVER!

DIAGNOSIS – ESOPHAGEAL CANCER

The diagnosis rings in your ears. Esophageal cancer. A thousand thoughts and questions race inside your mind and you find it difficult to cope, think or relax. You want a second opinion. You want to live and you want things to be the way they were, before your quality of life was questionable due to cancer.

Tuesday, December 9, 1997 was the day I became an advocate for esophageal cancer. The endoscopy revealed a tumor, located in the esophagus. A malignant tumor…Cancer…the dreaded word echoed inside my brain. No! I screamed! It cannot be cancer! There must be some mistake! My father took such good care of himself, but like lots of men from his generation, he refused yearly exams and only went to the doctor when he was ill.

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer is a difficult cancer to detect. Many of the symptoms, such as coughing, difficulty swallowing {dysphagia), and indigestion are thought to be acid reflux. Esophageal cancer may start as tightness in the throat or pain in the chest. Recurring hiccups, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, or regurgitating food and weight loss, could be symptoms of cancer of the esophagus. Until my father’s diagnosis, I was clueless of the disease. Now, I serve as an advocate, to educate others, and to prepare families about this debilitating disease that attacks profusely, steals dignity and quality of life and can kill. I describe esophageal cancer as the silent cancer.

SYMPTOMS 

The symptoms of esophageal cancer rarely appear until the advanced stages of the disease. Unlike early detection of breast cancer and other forms of the disease, cancer of the esophagus is not able to detect by early screening. While it is recommended by the American Cancer Society to get regular physicals, eat a proper and healthy diet, quit smoking, if you are a smoker, and to maintain a healthy weight, esophageal cancer is a silent cancer that creeps up only after it advances. The major complaint from someone diagnosed with the disease is the inability to swallow or retain food. Social activities with friends and quality of life become a major issue.

Treatments for Esophageal Cancer

Cancer of the esophagus is a treatable disease in many cases, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and clinical trials. If surgery is an option, the procedure could relieve the excruciating symptoms and improve the quality of life for the patient. If surgery is not an option and quality of life is threatened, due to the inability to swallow or retain nutrition, the doctor may prescribe a PEG tube.

The Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy (PEG tube) is a form of life support for patients who are having difficulty with swallowing, or eating. Insertion of the PEG into the stomach is performed by an endoscopic procedure. With the PEG tube in place, liquid nutrition, along with medications, may be administered directly through the feeding tube, into the stomach. Introduced in 1979, the PEG tube has been used for an estimated 200,000 patients, serving as a form of nutritional support.

At the age of 84, Walter W. Perkins fought the battle of his life. His prognosis was not a good one. On two occasions, I prayed for a miracle to happen when he was near death, and on those two occasions, the miracle was granted. The doctors said he might live six months, if chemo and radiation therapy were successful. He beat their odds, battling this disease for nineteen months with stiff determination, faith, and positive thoughts guiding his way. Due to the location of his tumor, surgery was not an option for us. A few days after his diagnosis, he permitted the doctors to connect the PEG tube to his frail body. Furious that he could not swallow without regurgitating his food, he called his feeding tube an umbilical cord. His quality of life decreased at a rapid rate after his diagnosis of esophageal cancer. Fortunately, the PEG tube provided him the ability to regain some of his weight, extending his life until he became despondent and demanded to eat food again. His doctor consulted with me, letting me know that if he insisted on eating, he would aspirate his food and choke to death. For us, it was a quality of life issue. I did not fight the battle to override his decision to enjoy food again, even though I knew eating food would lead to his death. On July 6, 1999, while I was entering the nursing home for my daily visit, my father aspirated his food and was gone.

Before his diagnosis, I was naïve to the prognosis of esophageal cancer. This disease was not marketed or publicized whenever I read stories about cancer, and I called it the silent cancer, because it silently develops without many warning signs. When I expressed my guilt to the oncologist, I was told that esophageal cancer is increasing and is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing cancers in the world.

Additional treatments are based upon the type of esophageal cancer, location of tumors, and how capable the patient is to respond to treatment. In my father’s case, his age, fragile condition and the location of his tumor dictated his treatment of chemo and radiation therapy. After his second dosage of chemo, his treatment with chemicals and radiation were cancelled. The drugs had left him so weak we almost lost him. The chemotherapy had drained every ounce of strength he had. From this point on, the only treatment would be for the quality of his life.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

A new method of treatment for cancer of the esophagus is photodynamic therapy. PDT is helpful in some cases by injecting chemicals into the blood. Laser lights target the cancer by an endoscope procedure. A minor disadvantage of PDT is the light may only reach cells on the surface, and cancers that have spread are not treated.

Survival Rate

According to the American Cancer Society, the survival rate of esophageal cancer is low. New cases are increasing at a rapid rate. It is estimated that in 2008, approximately 16,470 patients will be diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. Deaths are predicted to total 14,280. The Five-Year Survival Rate is estimated to be only 34%. These statistics are not encouraging; however, with developments of clinical trials, drug therapies and the willingness to fight the battle of cancer, I am hopeful the statistics will increase soon.

Quality of Life

All types of cancer create issues with the quality of life for the patient and family. Esophageal cancer certainly affects the quality of all. The American Cancer Society identifies four basic quality of life factors, including social, psychological, physical, and spiritual. Watching my father fighting esophageal cancer, I would like to add one more quality of life issue, the quality, and loss of independence. Before my father’s diagnosis, I watched an amazing independent man walking in his shoes. He lived alone in a retirement community and at the age of 83, he took daily strolls, cooked his meals, gardened occasionally and he enjoyed singing. After the diagnosis and the PEG tube insertion, he was observed by medical professionals to need skilled care – a term I became most familiar with as his advocate. Skilled care was a medical term that meant he needed the daily care of a registered nurse. His social life consisted of a roommate in the nursing home and the staff of medical professionals caring for him. He was too weak to go anywhere most of the time, and when he was able to go out with me, I had to be careful not to take him to restaurants or out for ice cream since he was receiving liquid feedings from the PEG tube and he could not swallow. His physical activity was non-existent because he was so frail. All that remained was the spiritual quality of life. Before his death, my father tapped into the spiritual side of his life, reading the Bible constantly, quoting verses, and singing religious songs, aloud. Before his death, the singing quieted. He coughed constantly and would lose his breath from the coughing attacks. In a whispering voice, he reminded me he was ready to go, if the good Lord decided it was his time. I noticed his voice was still hoarse and his eyes did not hold their usual sparkle.

Additional research for Esophageal Cancer is underway and I am hopeful that in time there will be a cure for all cancers. Cancer Aid Research, education, and advocacy serve as strong components to understand cancer. Esophageal cancer is usually diagnosed in the late stages of cancer, as was the case with my father. When I inquired about the stage, I was told he was in Stage Four. The outlook for this disease is not a good one. The survival rate is low. If you are a smoker, quit. If you have symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, pain or difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, non-stop coughing, heartburn, or hiccups, make an appointment with your doctor and ask about esophageal cancer. If you are at high risk, the doctor might suggest an endoscopy.

Serving as my father’s caregiver gave me a new perspective on life and the belief in miracles. Now I appreciate the beauty of a new morning sunrise and I can look towards the future while doing all that I can to educate others about esophageal cancer and care giving. The experience of watching my father suffer so much, still with a smile on his face, even when he was angry and in denial about his cancer taught me so much. He encouraged me to move forward with life. I have chosen my life’s direction, or perhaps it chose me, and I will do all that I can to become an advocate for those who battle this dreadful disease. My passion is one of hope so cancer will soon become a curable disease that is not silent. I still believe in miracles.

Sources:

Barbie Perkins-Cooper is a freelance writer who loves the journey and exploration of travel and health. She works full-time as an editorial photojournalist and has published numerous articles and photographs for regional, health and beauty and travel publications including the Travel Channel. Barbie resides in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband. She is the author of Condition of Limbo and Career Diary of a Photographer. Visit her website www.barbieperkinscooper.com

 

 

In Memory of My Father


Dearest Readers:

Below is an essay written before my father’s death – July 6, 1999

WALTER W. PERKINS

Mr. Sandpiper, 1998

Born an identical twin on December 19, 1914, Walter W. Perkins will soon celebrate his 84th birthday and he is the only surviving family member left of his generation.  His identical twin brother was named Lewis.  The Perkins Family included a total of six siblings, three boys, and three girls.  Growing up as twins (Lewis and Walter) shared more than most siblings and they were inseparable — virtually impossible to tell apart.   Known as The Perkins Twins, they sang harmonically in church choirs while preaching the gospel.  They traveled to many cities, touring as The Perkins Twins and found this to be their calling in life; however, their future together, billed as The Perkins Twins, was short-lived.  Lewis became ill at the age of 26 and died suddenly.

Because he loves meeting people and does it so well, Dad chose the hotel industry for his profession while pursuing his dream as a writer and poet.  In the early 1960’s he wrote a poem titled, Living Words, based somewhat on Sir Winston Churchill.  Living Words was published and today is on display at the Winston Churchill Museum.  At the age of 65, Dad retired from the Rodeway Inn, Atlanta, GA.  He is divorced and the father of four daughters.  Before becoming ill, he lived at the Canterbury House in downtown Charleston and took daily strolls for relaxation.

Dad is a tall and proud man and he can recite poetry like a Shakespearean actor.  He is a lover of words and can paint a magnificent poetic picture while he recites the historical stories and events of times past.  An avid sports buff, he knows almost every popular football or baseball star by name, position and statistic and he can tell many interesting stories about sports, especially baseball.  If you do not care for sports, you will learn to find it an interesting fascination, just by listening to the stories Dad shares.

Dad has always loved the magic of words, and as a young man, he wished to make the family tradition of journal writing part of his daily activities.  He has an impressive collection of family diaries and his daily ritual includes writing the days events in his personal diary.  He started this ritual many years ago and has quite an invaluable collection of diaries.  He has researched our family genealogy, dating us back to the early 1600’s.  One impressive member of our family (distant but still very special) is the late Diana, Princess of Wales.  Our heritage dates back to the Spencer Family.

Today, Dad still believes in rituals and he records special things in his journal of diaries.  From historical moments, to births, deaths, marriages, and yes, even the sad times, are recorded as part of the Perkins History.  Significant events are recorded in “Strolling in Memories Gardens.”

As a father, he instilled many beliefs in me and I am proud to call him Dad!  He taught me to look inside of a person, to see the inner beauty and not just the face or the smile.  He encouraged me to believe in myself and to always “make it a good day!”  He has lived a wonderful and proud life and I have never been more proud of him than I have during this year.  Walter W. Perkins is truly my bright and shining star, my beautiful aromatic rose, and he is the most loyal and dedicated father, family and friend I have ever known!

Sun Sets in Hawaii
Dad spoke of sunsets and sunrises, sharing with me that he was in the sunset of his life. Maybe that is why I have such passion for sunsets. Rest in peace, my precious father. How I miss you!

Barbie Perkins-Cooper

December 19, 1998

Grief – Just When Does It End?


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Dearest Readers:

July 6 is always a day of remembrance for me. Truly a day to spend the entire day in tears, or a day to give thanks. Why? Allow me to explain. During the stressful days of my dad’s terminal illness with esophageal cancer during December 1997 until his death on July 6, 1999, I have felt such a loss.

Dad kept telling me he was in the sunset of his life. I wasn’t ready to see the sunset. I did not want him to leave me.

I’ve had people tell me I need to move on. “Get over it. Life goes on…” Etc. ETC! It isn’t easy! Today is July 6, 2018 –19 years since the death of my dad. I remember the day, as if it was yesterday. After a demanding day at work, I rushed to visit him, like I did every day. I spoke to the nursing home earlier in the day. “Dad was doing fine,” they replied. “Fine!?!” If he’s in a nursing home he isn’t fine. Yes, he was as well as could be expected; nevertheless, over the last six months of his life, I watched his body slowly shutting down. First it was the weakness from esophageal cancer. His inability to retain his food. His legs grew weaker and he fell – LOTS. Each time the nursing home reported the falls to me, like they are required. And each time, I prayed a sigh of relief. Just one more day. Please God, give us one more day.

In March, his heart grew weaker, and I realized the end was near. I stopped praying for a miracle. In my nightly prayers I prayed for God to find a special place for my dad, to use his talents, his voice, and yes – even his temper. Dad could be a tenacious man when he wanted to be!

During my daily visits after March, I noticed Dad no longer walked me to the door, to kiss me goodbye. He simply waved his hand as he closed his Holy Bible. No longer were the visits welcoming or fun. He appeared to be angry at me, always waving me away after about 10 minutes of our time together. His roommate told me Dad was mean to me. “You deserve better,” Dudley said. “He is so mean. He should appreciate you.”

I smiled at Dudley. “Don’t you understand,” I cried. “Dad is dying. He’s angry at life.”

Sometimes when I arrived after a long, hard day at work, Dad would grow arrogant. “Just get out of here,” he shouted. “You know you don’t want to be here. Just Go!”

I admit it. At times, his anger got to me. I would leave the nursing home in tears. I did not understand his anger towards me. After all, I visited every day. Just what is the matter with him, I asked God while tears rushed down my face. Doesn’t he know I love him?

Dad and Dudley were the odd couple of Sandpiper Convalescent Center. They teased and complained, always trying to compete with each other. For a while, Dad had the upper hand since Dudley’s body no longer moved and he remained in the bed, or a special wheelchair. Dudley had difficulty with speech too, but after visiting Dad so often, Dudley and I were able to communicate without a problem. After March, Dudley had the upper hand as we watched Dad sit on his bed, or remain in his bed most of the time. Gone were his daily strolls with his walker.

I suppose I was counting the days down, knowing my dad and I would not share another holiday together. No more birthday parties. No more Christmas trees, Thanksgiving and holiday dinners together. Tick. Tock…How I wish I could make this clock stop and save my dad.

On the moment of his death, I was walking in the corridor of Sandpiper Convalescent Center. A nurse I recognized approached, pushing an oxygen tank. I remember speaking with her, saying Uh, oh. That isn’t a welcoming sign for someone. She nodded, never saying a word to me.

I placed my hand on the door of Dudley and Dad’s room and so did the nurse. Quickly, she nodded, telling me not to come inside.

I screamed.

“Oh, Dear God, No. Please…please….Please God, NO!” I cried.

Someone grabbed me, walking me to a chair and I sat down. I knew. The clock was stopping. My dad was dying.

I heard a voice say, Barbie. We can bring him back.

“No,” I cried. “He’s a DNR. I must honor his wishes.”

Moments seemed like hours. At 6:15 a nurse approached me. “I’m so sorry. Do you want to say goodbye?”

Yes, I nodded.

I waited a few minutes for my husband to arrive and together, we walked in to Dad’s room. Dudley was eating dinner. I could not speak to him. I touched my Dad – his body as cold as ice. His skin clammy. His eyes closed. I kissed him. Told him I loved him and I would never forget him. “You’re still here, inside my heart,” I cried.

I have no idea what happened next. I was numb. Dumbfounded. How would I live without my Dad?

After his funeral, I joined a grief therapy session and learned to move forward. Still, as the day of July 6 of each year approaches, I feel an incredible emptiness. Grief. Heartache. I ask myself, will this pain ever leave?

I think not. Today is July 6, 2018. Nineteen years today… Just how can it be 19 years? These years have flown by — just like someone opened a window, tossing these years without Dad outside. I must keep myself busy, remembering my Dad, Walter W. Perkins, and the goodness inside of him. Yes, he had moments of temperamental ups and downs, but he was my dad. As a child, I always looked up to him. I held his hand. We sang. He taught me how to harmonize and he always reminded me to “Make this a good day.”

I ask you how? How do I make each day a good day without my dad?

When do we stop grieving over those we’ve loved and lost? When does the heartache end?

After my dad died, I felt like an orphan. I have learned to move on and to recognize that each day is a gift. I plan to have a serious heart-to-heart discussion with my dad today while drinking my morning coffee. I will lift my head high, looking into the Heavens and speak softly to my Dad. Yes, I will probably cry, but now, the tears are good, cleansing tears because I have learned to move forward. To make the most of every day. July 6, 2018DSC_0230-001 is another day without my dad, but I am so thankful that I was there for him daily while he battled cancer. Yes, I miss you, Dad. I was blessed to share one more day. Thank you, God for giving us one more day!

Illegal or Legal Immigrants


Dearest Readers:

Immigration. Illegal? Legal? What about the children???

For all of you viewing just a photograph of a child crying — why don’t you read the full story?

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/border-patrol-agent-involved-dramatic-photo-girl-crying-at-border-speaks-out/

The mother was being searched. Both were exhausted. People are assuming the worst. Yes, my heart aches whenever I see a child crying; however, as a writer, I like to read or confirm the “real story.”

I haven’t spoken publicly about this scenario until now. This is the United States of America. Most of us have a history of immigrants; however, Most of them were legal – not illegal. My ancestors came to America from England in the early 1600’s. On my father’s ancestry, we are related to the Spencer family. When my father showed me the documents, I smiled and said “I’m related to Lady Diana? Well, I always knew I was royalty!” My father chuckled! As for the illegal immigrants,  I cannot fathom any mother leaving her children. There is another unrelated story after a father speaks out, saying his wife and one child left to seek a ‘future’ in America. She left her older children. I ask you, how can a mother leave her children? I could not.

As a professional journalist, and a member of SPJ – Society of Professional Journalists, I must follow the SPJ CODE OF ETHICS. I’ve always researched, confirmed and written my stories with information to back what I say. I do not dream up or allow my bylines to practice “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Years ago, while in Los Angeles, my friends and I took a bus tour to Tijuana. I was excited to find some jewelry. I was warned not to speak to the children who would approach us. Well, let’s just say – I have a soft spot for children, and when they approached me with flowers, I smiled, gave them a dollar and told them to keep the flowers. One little boy rushed over to me, after I was out of one dollar bills. When I told him no, he spit — in my face! I mentioned this to the bus driver and he laughed. “I warned you,” he said! When we left, we got the bus driver to give us a brief tour of Tijuana. I was flabbergasted when I saw stacks of cardboard around the area. The cardboard was used to build a cardboard home. I’ve never forgotten those images. I never will. No wonder they want a better life in America. Who can blame them? I wasn’t a professional photographer at the time, so I do not have images to prove what I saw.

My heart breaks for the people so desperate to cross the border illegally. I do not know if most are criminals, drug dealers, etc. I haven’t confirmed those comments many people have stated. If they are ILLEGAL, they are teaching their children one thing – and that is – in America, you can break the law, just to cross the border! I do not believe ALL that is on the Internet. After all, anyone can post fake articles, or stories. Just because you read them or view the images on the Internet does not mean they are true. So, to my fans, I say, let us all be careful. Images can be made into amazing photo-shopped images. Videos can be edited! Remember, “if it bleeds, it leads…” does not mean it is an image to really believe!

How I wish our media would stop being so critical about immigration. This is America! We support LEGAL immigration, not ILLEGAL immigration! DSC_0013My two cents worth on this steaming, scorching day in Charleston, SC.

I will pray for those who are missing their children; however, maybe next time, they need to enter the USA as legal immigrants – NOT Illegal!

Remembering “Mama”


Perhaps this essay will be another chapter in “CHATTAHOOCHEE CHILD.” [My latest work-in-progress]:

Mama wore her best house dresses when she was in a good mood, which wasn’t often enough. Those days, it felt as if the sunshine from the window kissed the living room with colors of the rainbow, at least for me. 

Mama would smile at me and say, “Honey, can you curl my hair?”

After I shampooed her hair, I curled it with jumbo rollers. My fingers shook as I rolled her hair. If the curl was too tight, she’d get a headache.  She screamed in pain while her hands slapped my face. If it was too loose, the curl would flop and she’d remind me I had no talent to style hair, or do anything right. Her actions spoke volumes about her lack of love for me.

Sometimes, she smiled into the mirror, nodding with delight when finished. During those special moments with her, I took the time to make my Mama up with makeup. Her skin was olive, as smooth as a baby’s behind. No wrinkles or age spots. When I lined her eyes with black velvet eyeliner, she could equal the beauty of Cleopatra or Elizabeth Taylor. I never understood why Mama failed to make skin care and make up part of her daily routine. 

Mama never believed in routines. She lived her life only for the moment and the next handout from someone else. 

“It don’t matter to me or to your daddy if I fix myself up,” she said. “He don’t care about me. Why should I?”

Never did Mama hug or kiss me with her acceptance. I dare not ask if she liked her hair or makeup. I knew better. The sting of her palm on my face told me when I was not meeting her approval. I prayed she wouldn’t notice my anxiety, or my trembling hands. When I asked how she wanted her hair styled this time, she looked in the mirror, scratched her head, pulling the gray strands out. 

“Stupid girl, you should know how I like my hair styled! Cover the gray roots,” she said. “Tease it high. Don’t let nobody see how gray I’m getting. I don’t care how it looks, as long as the gray roots ain’t showing.”

She refused to get her hair colored, afraid the chemicals would do something to her brain. She said, “Cancer runs in our family. We can’t take a chance to get that disease ‘cause it kills. My great grandmother had head cancer. She had such bad headaches her mind was gone. Don’t you put no chemicals in my hair.  I don’t want my brain, or my head fried with cancer. You listen to me, Rebecca Sue. Don’t let nothing fry my head.”

May, 2002 was the last Mother’s Day I shared with my mother. Reportedly, she suffered a fall at Savannah’s apartment in early April. Savannah shouted at her, shoving her down the stairs. She was in a hurry, and she was tired of taking care of her ‘old lady,’ so she chose to leave our mother suffering on the floor. That afternoon a home health nurse came to check on our mother, discovering her lying face down, her clothing soiled from body fluids and feces. Her face was pulled down to the left side, left lip bruised and battered. When she struggled to move, she could not. The nurse documented her condition, diagnosing a possible stroke.

The home health nurse phoned me. “I suspect your mother has suffered a stroke. She’s at E-R now.”

“I’ll make arrangements and leave later this afternoon. It will take at least eight hours before I can be there,” I said. “Where’s Savannah?”

The nurse hesitated, suggesting I should speak to the doctor on call when I arrived.

I knew something was questionable. This was not the first time my mother had injuries while under Savannah’s care.

On Mother’s Day, Mom was still in the hospital. On that morning, I arrived early, placing a pale blue gift bag on her bed. Her eyes opened. She glanced at the bag, struggling to speak.

“B-Blue skies,” she muttered. Her right arm moved to touch the bag. I reached inside the bag, removing a blue gift box. I opened the box slowly. Mom’s eyes blinked as she struggled to smile, admiring the cultured pearl earrings inside the box.

A few minutes later, I placed the pierced earrings in her ears. Mom sighed, touching the right ear with her right hand. She slurred ‘thank you’ and fell back to sleep.

I stayed with my mother all of that Mother’s Day, feeding her and making her comfortable. That Mother’s Day was the last Mother’s Day we shared.

On September 11, 2002, my mother died under ‘questionable circumstances.’ Savannah spent that night with her at the hospital. When Savannah phoned me in the late evening of September 12, she appeared intoxicated. Her last slurring words to me were, “Do you think they’ll do an autopsy?”

Two years after her death Garrett and I drove to Columbus. We dropped by the cemetery to see my mother’s grave. The years of mental and physical abuse from my mother were buried with her. I placed a bouquet of red roses on her headstone, kissed it and whispered, “I know we were never close, but I hope you’ve found peace now. May you rest in peace, Mom. I loved you.”

Thinking about my childhood, the physical and mental abuse, I found it strange that Savannah was repeating the vicious cycle of physical abuse while I found peace, refusing to allow violence or abuse of any kind within my family.

On Mother’s Day, 2015 I reflect on my mother, our estranged history together and the questionable circumstances of her death. Savannah buried her in a closed casket. Due to another bout of acute bronchial asthma, I was unable to get to the funeral. Perhaps there was a reason for an autopsy to be performed, but now, my mother rests in peace. I hope and pray she died peacefully. Mother’s Day is always a day of reflection, sadness and curiosity and I pray that all mothers will have a wonderful day enjoying motherhood.

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LEARN TO CONTROL YOUR DIABETES, BEFORE IT CONTROLS YOU


Late one evening while watching TV with my husband Phil, I reminded him to check his glucose level. His reply was the usual, ‘I’ll do it later.’ Knowing him as I do, I was frustrated. He has the tendency to procrastinate, so I chose a different approach. “Why don’t you check mine and let’s compare.”

Never did I expect my little psychological game to backfire. Pricking my finger, I waited in anticipation. When the meter flashed 468 on the screen, I laughed. “Something’s wrong with your machine. I do not have Diabetes. I do not have any symptoms. I’m fine.”

“You’re always tired,” my husband said.

“Isn’t everyone? If someone else walked in my shoes, they would be tired too.”

While it was true I was always tired, I suffered from insomnia and never felt rested. I worked ten-hour days at work and at home, working as a professional and moonlighting at night pursuing my writing career. My fingers were not numb, I didn’t suffer from increased thirst, and I certainly did not have unexplained weight loss. My mother had Diabetes so it does run in the family. Unexplained weight gain? Could that be a symptom?

The next morning I visited the doctor’s office, confirming the diagnosis of Type II Diabetes. My glucose level at Dr. Knepper’s office was 362. When he opened the door to discuss my condition, I was in tears. How could this happen to me? I ate properly, at least I thought I did. I did not exercise, and fast food was a part of my weekly meals, due to my crazy work schedule. Dr. Knepper reassured me I could recover and he encouraged me to learn all I could about Diabetes.

“I’m a writer,” I said. “I can become an advocate, if needed.”

Soft spoken and kind, Dr. Knepper nodded. “Let’s take it slow for now. We can get this under control. I want you to focus on your food intake, and what you are eating. Watch carbohydrates, increase your water intake and exercise. Check your glucose level at least three times daily and keep a record of it. I want to see you in three months. We’ll do blood work to see what your A1C level is.”

I had a lot to learn about Type II Diabetes. Leaving his office armed with a handful of prescriptions, a meter, booklets, and a fearful look on my face, I chose to learn all I could about Type II Diabetes.

That afternoon, I performed a Google search, typing in the key word of Diabetes. The wealth of information was informative, especially the web site of the American Diabetes Association, http://www.diabetes.org/home.jsp. I was able to click on information about Type II Diabetes, condition and treatment, a listing of resources, and so much more. Recognizing it was time for me to make a lifestyle change; I started building a plan of attack.

My New Years resolution for 2005 was to join a gym and lose weight. After the diagnosis of Diabetes, I was motivated and determined to change my life. I stopped visiting fast food joints for lunch, choosing to eat fresh vegetables and healthy snacks, instead of chocolate, or desserts. After work, I drove to the gym, worked out, and learned more about proper nutrition. I attended a nutrition class with a Diabetes nutritionist, asked lots of questions, and changed my diet, discovering the art of portion control.

Much to my surprise, I learned that sugar was not necessarily the enemy for people with Diabetes. Portion control, monitoring glucose levels, and limiting carbohydrates were the keys to success for Diabetes management.

Checking my glucose levels three times daily encouraged my husband to monitor his levels. He was diagnosed with Diabetes in 1992 and he rarely monitored or practiced portion control. My determination to get my Diabetes under control encouraged him; however, when his levels were higher than mine were, he was defiant.

“I don’t understand. You had the same thing for dinner that I did, and your levels are lower. It’s not fair,” he said, shaking his hands.

“Portion control,” I teased. “You had seconds. I never clean my plate. You go back for seconds, and you always snack late at night.”

“Whatever,” he grumbled.

Our competitive game of Diabetes management was underway and this time, I was the winner!

Three months later, my doctor was amazed how quickly my A1C level had dropped from 8.5 to 5.4. His goal was ‘6.5, but that could take a year,’ he said to me in February 2005. ‘Now, you’re my new poster child for Diabetes.’

Pleased with how quickly my eating and Diabetes management habits changed, I was still a bit annoyed that I was not losing weight. Inches were falling off of me. In three months I dropped two inches from my chest, four inches from my waistline, and two inches from my hips. My weight failed to drop at all.

“It’s hard for a Diabetic to lose weight, especially if you have insulin resistance,” Dr. Knepper said. “Don’t get discouraged. Your A1C level is great. I’m amazed how quickly you got it under control.”

“Insulin resistance,” I moaned. “Is that why my glucose level is so much higher in the morning?”

“Probably. Keep doing what you are doing, and don’t get discouraged. I’ll see you in three months.”

In June 2005 my position at the university ended when the campus relocated. With the closing of that door, I chose to open a window to my writing career. Now I had a bit of freedom to do what I wanted to do. I walked my dogs every day, worked out three to five times a week, and my weight decreased. By August 2006, I had lost a total of 26 pounds, and many inches. A1C levels were averaging 5.9, cholesterol levels were decreased to a healthier level, and I had more energy and self-confidence. Dr. Knepper was amazed and so proud of me. He had no idea how proud I was. Meanwhile, Phil’s A1C levels continued on a dangerous roller coaster ride. His doctors prescribed additional prescriptions and insulin injections. His reluctance to change his eating habits with portion control inspired me to continue monitoring my eating habits and glucose levels. Horrified of needles, I was determined not to join him. Each time he reached for his injection, I left the room.

Controlling Diabetes is now a lifetime commitment for me. My daily routine is a personal allegiance to educate myself and the public about the proper steps to Control Diabetes. My doctor is pleased with how quickly I was able to get my Diabetes under control. As for myself, I am proud of my new willpower. Before Diabetes, I procrastinated about life, my health, and my writing career. I made excuses for everything. Now, as a Diabetic, I want to do all I can to educate others, while educating myself. Diabetes is not a death sentence, but a way of life. A condition that can be monitored and managed through exercise, proper eating habits, portion control, and modern medicine. I plan to live my life as a healthy diabetic. So can you.

Daily Rituals to Monitor Type 2 Diabetes

  1. Seek professional care. Follow your doctor’s advice and learn all that you can about Type 2 Diabetes.
  2. Monitor glucose levels. I check my levels every morning, afternoon and evening.
  3. Exercise. Take daily walks. You will learn to appreciate the little things in life again – like hearing a chirping bird, saying hello to neighbors, and enjoying the freshness of morning air.
  4. Change your eating habits. Instead of going back for seconds, do not. Learn to eat slower, while enjoying the taste of food.
  5. Get regular physicalGulf Shores, AL 2008 082s. I confess, I did not, until Type 2 Diabetes knocked on my door. Now, I follow the advice of my doctor, and myself.
  6. Do not get discouraged if you have difficulty losing weight. Keep active and have a daily exercise routine.
  7. Visit the web site http://www.diabetes.org/home.jsp and learn all that you can about Diabetes. Knowledge is power.
  8. Diabetes is a lifestyle change, not a restriction of distasteful meals and social restraint.
  9. Think of portion control. Working as a professional photojournalist, there are times when my willpower is put to the test, especially during luncheons or special dinners. When dessert is placed before me, I eat one or two bites and leave the rest. Portion control is the key, not a constraint.
  10. Monitor. Your food intake. Your glucose levels, and your weight. Even a small reduction in weight is better than an increase.