Our hearts beat on


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


Kids know how to keep it simple


A large bowl of water. A container of bubbles. A ball and bat. A swimming pool or a swimming hole. Even a sprinkler.

There’s something magical about watching children at play with simple things that don’t cost a fortune. It fills us with joy and memories of our own childhoods.

I spent the first few days of vacation hanging out with my 7-year-old grandson and my 1-year-old granddaughter. Next week, my nephews, ages 4 and 10, will arrive from Kentucky for a little Auntie Angela and Papa Joe time. When these four cousins get together, it is noisy, chaotic and sheer fun. They will miss cousin Lena, but of course they will carry on.

We all have our special rituals. Grant loves to go to Target. Aaron, his little brother, comes right in and says “Auntie Angela, I’m hungry.”

I try to cook their favorite dishes – spaghetti or lasagna. Aaron loves veggies, Grant hates them. Papa Joe makes pancakes all around.

Austin will eat anything that isn’t nailed down. Ditto for little Ms. Olivia.

Once their bellies are full, they go back to the business of playing. Since it’s hot, they want to hit the pool. Forget the Georgia Aquarium or some other expensive attraction, give these kids a ball and some water and they are happy as clams in sunshine.

Last weekend,  Austin had one mission in mind: getting to the pool. We swam at his house and again in our neighborhood pool. A couple of weeks ago while in the pool, he turned a flip and chipped his tooth on the bottom of the pool. Since this happened on my watch, his mother was not happy with Mimi. My response: “How was I to know he swims with his mouth open?”

That’s a boy for you. Girls can be rough and tumble too.

Olivia likes nothing more than chasing her big brother around and she already has the battle scars to prove it. A cut lip, a swollen eye. It is not pretty. We pulled a long forgotten bright blue nylon play tunnel from the basement. Olivia wasn’t sure what to do with it, until her big brother showed her how to crawl through. And he didn’t just crawl, he ran-crawled – to her screams of delight.

We were mesmerized at how this simple activity brought them so much joy. Back in our day, we would play jacks or marbles for hours. In the evenings, it was kickball or tennis. We caught lightning bugs, sat on the porch with our Aunts and went on Sunday drives with our parents.

Aunt Pauline made the best hamburgers on the planet. Uncle Mack polished our shoes. Aunt Cakes fattened us up with her famous pies and cakes. When we were older, she taught us how to make pull candy. The temperature had to be just right for this winter ritual. Aunt Cakes would pour the hot sugary mixture into plates on her back porch. Our job was to pick it up and pull it until it turned from brown to white taffy.

Not long ago, a friend reminded me of how much fun we had as teenagers making pull candy and molded mints out of cream cheese and confection sugar.

Forget expensive toys. The needs of children are simple: a safe place to play, the watchful eye of an adult and plateful of good food.