Our hearts beat on

notes

Cleaning out closets and drawers is a necessary evil. Especially when you are preparing to move. I make notes on scraps of paper and stick them in drawers and forget about them. Some are mundane: an address or phone number; a note about work or a household chore.

These notes stopped me cold. Seeing them again nearly two years later made the tears flow. I had jotted them down in a  tiny notebook I carry in my purse, a habit from many years as a journalist.  They were made in May of 2015 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lexington, Ky. while talking to a very honest and somber doctor who tended to my father when he came into the ER for shortness of breath.   Fluid. Infection. Cancer cells. An oncologist. Neurologist. MRI.  

“I can’t tell you it’s cancer, but all signs point to it,” he told us.  

At that moment, all our lives shifted to focus on our patriarch.  When the official diagnosis came a few days later it confirmed the early suspicions: stage 4 lung cancer. The kind that strikes non smokers. Non-small-cell lung cancer that had spread to the bone.

My father did not want to know the prognosis in terms of time. The doctors respected his wishes.  They ran tests, treated a mass on his spine with radiation and developed a treatment plan that included Tarceva, an oral medication taken by some patients if they are fortunate enough to be a genetic match. Thankfully, my father was a match. As a result, he was spared the suffering and side effects that often accompany chemo.

Watching my father died was like witnessing faith in action. For decades, he’d been a Sunday School teacher, a deacon in his church and an attentive husband and father.  He prayed daily and studied the Bible often. He openly shared his faith with anyone who would listen, including a chaplain who came to his hospital bedside to offer words of comfort  the day before he died.

As he dealt with cancer, he continued to be the leader of our family — constantly calling or texting to check on how we were doing. After he and my mother settled into their routine of doctor visits and monthly treatments and tests, they slowly resumed their normal activities: dinner at Red Lobster; church; visiting family and friends, and tending to their grandchildren.

Daddy was not interested in all the internet research my siblings and I were doing about innovative therapies and alternative medicine. He agreed to come to Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta for a second opinion but was opposed to any experimental treatments or trials. In his case, none were offered because he was responding well to the Tarceva.

Fred Duerson simply wanted to live the remaining days of his life as fully as possible. He took great joy in seeing his youngest granddaughter become a pharmacist, the first doctor in our immediate family.  He relished being able to attend my retirement party and one last family reunion in July of last year.

Then one August eveing a few weeks after his 80th birthday —  in the same hospital where we received that initial news — he died peacefully with his family by his side.

Not a day goes by that we don’t think about him, talk about him, miss him deeply. Grief is funny that way. Many days you feel fine. On other days  it’s all you can do to get through. Faith-based grief counseling  helped put my father’s life and death in perspective. Our loved ones are not our own.  I like to picture Daddy in heaven, reunited with his parents and siblings. Free of all pain.

The notes I found in the drawer the other day reminded me of the short, sweet text messages he sent to me during the year after his diagnosis.  Hello Angela, how are you doing today?   On some days, the message was a passage of scripture meant to encourage me. His favorite was Psalm 27.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?”

This Psalm of comfort is a great reminder of God’s love for us. We can rest on his promise that no matter what happens, his presence is a blessed assurance.

For more information on grieving and for a list of classes in your area, go to www.griefshare.org

 

“It will get better”

Fred Duerson’s granddaughter, Imani Tuck, and her Hampton University Concert Choir singing “Close to Thee” in Washington, D.C.     

My friend Gayle White is one of the smartest, most talented writers I know. She posted this on her Facebook page recently, for those of us who have lost loved ones. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my father, who succumbed to  lung cancer in August. I miss his encouraging text messages which often included scriptures, I miss talking to him about politics, about sports, about the family we love so dear. I know my father was at peace with everything that happened to him in the last 18 months. He never stopped leading and ministering to his family, even as he faced a diagnosis of terminal cancer. We’ve lost other friends too, in the last two years — Bernard Charles McNair Jr., a dear friend and neighbor; Mable Jean Lockhart, our wonderful first lady; and Pauline Knight Ofosu, a wise, blessed woman.  We remember them with warm thoughts at the holidays at and always.

Gayle’s post gave me hope, so I’m sharing it here.

A deeply personal message to my friends who have lost someone special since last Christmas: You may be absolutely miserable and feel stabbed a thousand times as big and small memories flow in. You have to get through Christmas just as you got through visitation, memorial service, and the rituals of death. Once you’ve made it, a major hurdle will be behind you. The Christmas day after Bob died was the worst day of my life, worse even than the day he died. The family tried to practice enough false merriment to propel us forward but the seconds dragged by. At the end of the day I felt as if I’d completed a huge obstacle course. Each year since then has become brighter and I truly love the story, the tree, the music, the anticipation, the generosity of the season. So, please know that you are in a valley right now but you will work your way out. And know that many people who have faced what you’re going through are thinking about and praying for you this year. With love, Gayle.

After Gayle posted her note, Mike King — another friend and former colleague, posted this response:

Exactly! Thanks for sharing. The light indeed returns, slowly, with subsequent holidays — especially when you are surrounded by your loved ones. But the first is indeed an endurance contest, despite the best efforts of friends and family. It WILL get better.

 

The 3:30 a.m. wake up call

jamonAustin (left) and his cousin Jamon

This time, it wasn’t a tweet in the middle of the night about a former Miss Universe. Instead, it was a 3:30 a.m. Facebook post from my daughter Carmen:  “Austin just woke up. He’s crying. I’m crying. Eek this is tough to explain.” Austin is my 10-year-old grandson. Like many of us, he was feeling the aftershocks of our new reality: President-elect Donald Trump.

Austin is a fifth grader in Cobb County, a mostly conservative Atlanta suburb. His school is predominantly white, but thankfully, he hasn’t experienced the sting of overt discrimination.  I pray he never will. His post-election tears, and the tears and fears of other young people are real. His concerns are for some of his Hispanic classmates. He’d heard Trump promise to deport people who are here illegally. Already, in schools across the country, Hispanic and Muslim children have been the target of bullying because of Trump’s campaign rhetoric.  After Trump’s win, Austin worried that his classmates who supported the president-elect would tease those students who wanted Hillary Clinton to win.

We were driving home from skating on Election Day when he told me that some of his classmates wanted Trump to win because he is a millionaire.   That doesn’t mean he’s a good person, I offered.  “My friends say Hillary Clinton had an affair.” No Austin, it was her husband who had the affair.  “Well why did she stay married to him? ”  Whew, this wasn’t a conversation I was prepared to have. But as parents and grandparents, we must always be ready to listen, explain and sometimes correct errors of fact.

The political and religious views of children are shaped largely by their parents. Austin’s classmates were parroting what they’d heard in their homes. Politics are often discussed in our home so Austin is very aware of how nasty this election cycle had become. He said early on that he didn’t like Trump because he was a bully.

This week, as I’ve listened to parents and teachers talk about the election’s effect on our children, I can’t help but feel sad. Our leaders are often role models for our children. Say what you will about President Obama’s policies, he has been an outstanding example for our children. He loves and respects his wife and daughters and has shown an unwavering commitment to education and mentoring.

Now comes President-elect Trump, who built his campaign on a lie about President Obama’s citizenship and has continued to sow seeds of racism and sexism. He has ridiculed women and disabled people, threatened to ban Muslims and created a culture of fear and anger.

My friend Charis, a teacher in suburban Washington, D.C. posted this on her Facebook page Wednesday.

Today was a hard day to be a teacher. In my literary magazine class I asked students to journal their feelings about America, the Election, and the president-elect. While there were definite varying opinions, so many of their responses hurt me to the core. This one came from the sweetest little girl, who also happens to be a Muslim and who proudly wears her hijab. Her last sentence moved me the most. #kindnessmatters

“I am really scared,” the student wrote. “America should have a better and kinder leader.”

As we endeavor to put this election behind us, let’s remember our children and listen to their fears and concerns for our country’s future. They are wiser than we know. And they soak in everything they see and hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please, don’t sleep on voting

fbi

If you can’t stomach the thought of voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, think about  James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. Or cast your vote with Viola Liuzzo in mind.

It would be easy to become jaded by the  insanity of this election cycle and decide to sit this one out. You  may be a young person who doesn’t see anything in these candidates’ messages which speaks directly to you.  Or you may view the major party candidates as so  disingenuous  you’re considering casting a protest vote for a third-party candidate.

I submit to you that neither is a viable option. Every election is an opportunity to make your voice heard. Voters in Cobb County did so recently when they sent Commission Chairman Tim Lee packing, in part because of his lack of transparency regarding the Atlanta Braves stadium deal.

And every election is a chance to exercise a hard-earned right. James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were attempting to register African-American voters in Mississippi when they were beaten and shot to death by the Ku Klux Klan.  Schwerner and Goodman were young men in their 20s who came from up North to help register black voters during Freedom Summer in 1964.  Chaney, a native Mississippian, had grown weary of conditions in his state, where he and other African-Americans  were relegated to second class citizenship.

A year later, near Selma, Alabama Viola Gregg Liuzzo was murdered by Klan members who saw her driving a black man from Montgomery to Selma. Liuzzo and her companion, Leroy Moton, were Southern Christian Leadership Conference volunteers helping to register black voters, who were routinely threatened and intimidated at the polls. Moton survived the attack by pretending to be dead. Luizzo, a wife and mother from Detroit, was shot in the face just shy of her 40th birthday.

Whenever I think about not voting, I remember something Rev. C.T. Vivian, a longtime civil rights activist now in his 90s, told me about why he and other protestors believed so deeply in what they were doing:  “We did it to fulfill our humanity.”

When you think about it, that’s not so different from today’s freedom fighters, who have taken to the streets to protest the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner to name a few. Voting in local elections ensures that the people who believe the same as we do lobby to improve police training and hire more officers who are sensitive to the needs and concerns of the communities they serve.

We are facing the most important presidential election in our nation’s history. Not voting on Nov. 8th shouldn’t be an option.

viola

Viola Liuzzo

 

 

 

 

A ram in the bush

cancer-jacket

Lap three. We are sweating, talking and laughing. I’m thinking it’s time for a rest, my legs are sore. Then a stranger, a beautiful brown woman with headphones and an i phone in hand, casually breaks into our conversation.

“I like your jacket,” she says cheerily.  This is the third time since we’ve been walking that someone compliments my jacket.

Several months ago my daughter gave me a bunch of cancer gear: T-shirts, jackets, a shawl, a head wrap, a tote bag — about 15 pieces in all. She picked up these items in the course of her work and gave them to me.  My plan is to donate them to an organization that is promoting cancer awareness or research.  I decide to keep the purple jacket  I’m wearing on the track this morning. It is adorned with colorful ribbons and the words “Hope for a Cure For All Cancers.”

The beautiful stranger tells my friend and I that she has just been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. We stop our walk and turn to embrace her as she melts into tears. She is afraid. Because her mother is a breast cancer survivor, she has taken a test to see if she carries the gene that causes the disease. The test was negative, making her recent diagnosis all the more confusing. Her doctor has given her medicine to shrink the tumor, her hair has fallen out. She is in her 30s and is the mother of four young children.  Her brother tells her that her diet may be the cause.  She is working out in hopes of losing weight and improving her health. She tells us she suffers from bi-polar disorder and eats to ease her pain.  Sonya and I listen, then do the only thing we know  to do. We stand on the track and pray with her. We touch and agree that while cancer may be the diagnosis, God has the final say.

Then we tell her our cancer stories. Sonya’s husband has been battling cancer for six years. Last year, he received a bone marrow transplant. There are dark days to be sure, but they are survivors, she tells her. I tell her about my father, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer last May.  He survived and thrived for more than a year relying on his faith and aggressively seeking treatment.

Our new friend has four children. She pulls up a family photo on her phone. She has much to live for.  She tells us that God put us in her path. Often when we are at the end of our rope, God places a ram in the bush — something or someone to remind us all is not lost.  As the three of us parted ways on the track, we felt God’s love and presence in our exchange. It’s important to remember that he never leaves us, especially in our darkest times.

 

Mabel Jean Lockhart: a woman of quiet strength and dignity, now at rest

Mabel Jean Lockhart

Heaven gained an angel on Sunday, and our church family lost a dear friend and quiet leader.

I’ve known a lot of first ladies in my time, but Mabel Jean Lockhart was different. Sure she wore the beautiful church hats and suits that most first ladies are known for but what stood out about her was not her outer beauty or regal bearing.  This woman was a nurturer in every sense of the word. She possessed a quiet  strength that may have caused some people to underestimate her power. Sister Lockhart didn’t preach alongside her dynamic husband. In fact, it was rare to hear her speak in church.

But get her alone and she would give you an earful. A devoted, wife, mother and grandmother, we shared some special conversations over the years. In most of those chats, she was encouraging me in my journey as a wife and mother. I’m sure she did that for countless women, men and children in our church and beyond.

We became grandparents around the same time nearly 10 years ago, meeting the birth of our grandsons with great joy and pride. Whenever we talked, our conversations always turned to our children and grandchildren. She loved her family in a way only a mother can.  Her love for her husband, Pastor Benjamin Lockhart, and his love for her, was a great example for our church family. He often called her his peacock, but she was his partner in every way.  Her strength and passion for the word of Christ girded him for servant leadership.

From her pew on the center right side of the church, she watched everything that happened. Fiercely protective of her husband, particularly as he dealt with his own health challenges, she was always quietly directing. When he went a little too far, or did a little too much in worship, her expression told him it was time to calm down —  to take his seat and rest for a while. In those times, a smile would cross my face. Like me, she wasn’t good at hiding her true feelings. You always knew where she stood.

I will always remember our last conversation, which took place about a month ago when my husband Joe and I stopped by to visit her at her home. We talked about the return of her cancer and my father’s recent cancer diagnosis. She made it clear to us that she was doing just fine because her soul was anchored in the Lord. We looked at old photos, chatted and laughed. We prayed for peace and strength. That day, as always, confidence and assurance radiated from her being.

While Illness may have taken over earthly body, her soul was at rest. In times of trouble, our faith is what grounds us. Our dear first lady knew that well and spoke it boldly.  She is safe in the arms of her father now. No more pain, no more suffering.

Here’s why the “Black Lives Matter” movement matters

marlon
By MARLON A. WALKER, GUEST BLOGGER
     The explainer had become a debate rather quickly.
     I posted a note on Facebook about the meaning of the Black Lives Matter movement, activism which has come under fire by those who feel wronged or left out of its purpose.
Immediately on my posting was grumbling by two white friends about thugs killing cops and a movement pushing black as the superior race.
     But that’s just it: the movement isn’t about uplifting or highlighting anybody specific. Its purpose it to ensure black people are seen as humans and equals in a time many feel black people are wrongly targeted for crimes at disproportionate rates.
     But how do you explain that to someone who isn’t in the head space to receive it?
     Since 2012, there’s been Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Jordan Davis and Eric Gardner. Freddie Gray. Walter Scott. Sandra Bland. The story plays out the same way: black person, dead at the hands of someone white, or of some authority, unsure if the force used was necessary. Even when it’s clear the use of force was excessive, charges rarely come.
How is that right?
      The reaction locally plays out of feelings left to fester from years of a relationship gone awry. In North St. Louis County, Mo., officers in municipal police forces go untrained, often because of a lack of funds or resources. The goal for many of them is to gain employment in the larger agency, either the St. Louis City or the St. Louis County police. People feel there’s little buy-in from the officers with the community. Bottom line is when you don’t care, you don’t care. 
     So when Michael Brown was shot to death on Aug. 9, 2013, activists began developing a plan to attack what they saw as a gross mistreatment of black people at the hands of authority figures. Others reacted from their own place of hatred for a police force they never felt was with them.
     Opponents of the movement group the marching and debating with the looting and vitriol about getting back at cops and white people. If it’s done in the name of (insert victim’s name here), surely it was for the same effect, no?
     And they hang onto that as a way of discrediting a movement meant to shine light on the disparities in how often a black person loses his or her life in an incident with law enforcement that, on the surface, never elevated to the level of force used.
     Sadly, some people will never understand the motivation behind a movement meant to remind others of our equal value. It’s as if they never saw the law on the books that only counts black Americans as three-fifths a person, or that our right to vote will some day have to be renewed again.
     Viola Davis said it best Sunday night, while accepting the Emmy for best leading actress in a drama: “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win Emmys from roles that are simply not there.”

     Black Lives Matter seeks to open eyes to the fact that even in 2015, with a black president leading this country, disparities in opportunities and how we’re treated by others persist.

Marlon A. Walker is a K-12 education reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has covered communities, municipal government, crime and higher education for several newspapers and magazines during his 10-year career.