Reflections On July 6th of Every Year…


Dearest Readers:

Today is a day of remembrance for me. On July 6, 1999, while walking into the nursing home to visit with my dad, he was slipping away. The story below is a remembrance written about him last year, on the anniversary of his homecoming. July 6, 2015, is the 16th anniversary of losing him.

After losing my dad, what did I learn about the dying process, you might ask. Simple. I learned that when we lose a significant person in our lives, we must walk through the grief, embrace it, and move on with our lives. Believe me, it isn’t as easy as some people think. And so, today – I will share my thoughts and memories of someone who influenced my life, helping me to move on without him. Today is a day of much melancholy and gratitude to my dad. Words cannot express how much I miss him. Later, I will go outside and pray for God to give me guidance as I reminisce about my dad.

Last night I sang “Dance With My Father Again,” at karaoke. in remembrance of him. After I sat down, two people came over to thank me. “That was so powerful,” both of them said, wiping tears from their eyes. I suppose I failed to recognize how powerful a performance can be to a singer, entertainer.

On July 6 of each year, I remember:

July 6 is always a day to remember for me. 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.

I’ve had people tell me I need to move on. “Get over it. Life goes on…” Etc. ETC! It isn’t easy! Tomorrow is July 6, 2014 – exactly 15 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.”

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 way 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 into 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. July 6, 2015, is only hours away. 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 in the morning 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. Today, July 6, 2015, 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!

Flying the Friendly Skies, Next to a Stranger


Dearest Readers:

Today, while allowing my silly right knee to rest, I’ve decided to write on my blog again. The subject today is about traveling. Flying the friendly skies, next to a stranger.

As a travel writer, I have journeyed to many exciting, beautiful destinations within the Southern and Southeast region with a stranger sitting next to me. Once, I sat next to a flight assistant traveling to a close friend’s wedding. We discussed our lives, sharing information from our professions. She inquired as to what destinations I would recommend for a girlfriend’s getaway vacation.

“Gosh, there are so many,” I said. “Gatlinburg, Tennessee has so many great cabins where girlfriends can play together. The cabins are amazing, filled with so many luxuries we are accustomed to in our lives. Another location is Rosemary Beach, Florida.”

She interrupted me, grabbing her handbag to get a pen and paper.

Jotting notes quickly, I mentioned additional destinations. Memphis, Tennessee, not just Elvis or Graceland country. Hot Springs, Arkansas. Beaumont, and Port Arthur, Texas. Daytona Beach. Of course, Charleston, South Carolina, but since I live there, I don’t consider it a destination, but I do write about Charleston a lot. Myrtle Beach, SC is another fun destination with much to do. My mind rushed with ideas and she continued writing, excited that I was sharing so much. Sitting next to her, our trip was nice. I do believe this young, vibrant and beautiful woman was one of the most pleasant people I’ve sat next to while flying.

On one occasion, flying to a destination I will keep to myself, a rather large, older gentleman sat next to me. At first, I thought he was a gentleman. Later, I decided, he did not even comprehend the definition of a gentleman. Removing his jacket, he placed it by his knees. He was such a large man that a lap did not exist! My nose sniffed a disgusting aroma. Body odor. I turned my head away. Squashing his large body into the aisle seat, he nodded hello, struggled to buckle his seat belt, sucking and pushing deep into his belly, and when he accomplished that ordeal, he chose to get comfy. A little too comfy. His right shoulder pushed me — almost into the window!

Moments later, his head rested on my shoulder. I tapped him. He ignored me. I moved my shoulder, hoping his head would fall to the other side. It did not. He moved closer.

“Please,” I said. “Do you mind?”

He ignored me. I was thankful our flight time was a short distance. I continued to push him away, but his body insisted on getting closer. I stretched my head to see if any seats were vacant. They were not. Our plane was one of those puddle jumper types, so moving to another seat was not an option. The flight attendant walked by. She stopped when she noticed I was hovering by the window.

“You shouldn’t sit so close to the window,” she said.

“What choice do I have?” I asked, nodding my head in his direction.

She struggled to awaken him, but he ignored her. She motioned, ‘I’m sorry,’ and I nodded, while my mind ticked the minutes of this flight away.

Undoubtedly, that flight was one of the worst flights of my life. After that ordeal, I was hesitant to acknowledge those who sat next to me. If they spoke first, I nodded, and if they wanted to chat, I opened a book.

Last year, I sat next to a College of Charleston student. He was young, blonde, tall, handsome and friendly, wearing jeans and a College of Charleston T-shirt. When he sat down, he introduced himself as Richard, telling me he was a college student and this was his first flight. He was headed to San Diego. My destination — Hawaii. Our flight together ended at Dallas. During our time together, never did we stop talking. I truly hated to see our flight end. He would graduate this year. His major was Political Science. My mind drifted for a minute, picturing him running for office in the future — taking a step forward to lead our nation into changes that are so needed. He mentioned that he was gay and wanted to help educate the public about gay leadership and how narrow-minded some people can be about someone ‘coming out.’

I shared a story with him about a friend I had in high school. Charles and I dated for about six months. He bought a beautiful Camaro convertible and together, we rode along the back roads of Georgia, talking about future dreams and adventures we wanted to share. We were young. Free. Innocent. The future was ours! On one Saturday night, dreams ended for Charles, when he drove his car into a tree. He was killed instantly. At the funeral, his ‘partner’ — commonly referred to as ‘his Uncle Don’ revealed that Charles was ‘dealing with demons inside his head. He had a secret that he never wanted to share. Charles was gay, and that is why he drove his car into a tree. He did not want to ‘come out of the closet and admit he was gay.’ Uncle Don choked up a bit while speaking about Charles. “We were partners,” he said. “Charles was afraid no one would understand.”

I was sixteen at the time. Young. Innocent. Not able to understand, but my eyes opened wide after the funeral. I missed Charles so much. He was a great friend. Funny. Trusting. Kind. One of my best friends. His death was such a tragedy, but during those years, gay freedom was unacceptable, at least, in the Deep South. I made a vow to myself that I would never ridicule the gay community, and I would embrace them with my respect and love. The loss of Charles left me with a new respect for what it is like to be gay. Some of my dearest friends have been gay and I love them as a close member of my family.

When our flight landed, I tapped Richard on the shoulder. “Be proud of yourself, and what and who you are…Never be afraid to make change. America needs you! Think of Charles and the tragedy of his loss, and teach America about how wonderful the gay community is…Be proud. I slipped him my business card and hugged him.

He smiled. “You remind me of my mom. At first, she was hesitant to accept that I’m gay, but now, she accepts me and loves me.”

“And she should. You have the future in your hands. Make the most of it for America.”

I’ve thought about Richard and Charles a lot since that day. Remembering Charles and how reserved he could be at times. During my high school days, the gay community was a hushed, ‘closet’ community. People were afraid to admit what was inside their hearts. Now, America is changing. I cannot help being curious as to what Charles might have accomplished if he had lived. And I cannot help but think about his future. Such a loss. Such a tragedy.

After meeting Richard on a jet, headed to Dallas, I am hopeful that my next flight I will be blessed to sit next to someone who is so excited about his future, and I pray that I never sit next to another ‘gentleman’ again! His coziness was a bit too close for me, and I did not appreciate him sleeping and snoring on my shoulder. Let’s don’t even discuss his ‘body odor!’

Some things are just left better unsaid, but I hope I never sit next to another ‘stranger’ again!

May your journeys and flights be enjoyable. As for myself, my ‘adventures’ always give me something to write about. The ‘pros’ and the ‘cons,’ and I do get to meet some ‘interesting’ characters, along with some amazing people, such as Richard!