Purple Is My Color: Pancreatic Cancer Awareness

Purple is my color…in November. Well, except on the Saturday of the Alabama-LSU game (which was this past Saturday). Other than that day, purple is my color in November, because the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has adopted purple as the color for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness, and November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

My daddy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in February of 2006. He died less than seven months after his diagnosis, on October 2. Our hearts broke when he was diagnosed, continued breaking for seven months, and shattered on October 2. But he was finally at peace, after a lot of suffering.

I remember exactly where I was when my parents told me Daddy had pancreatic cancer. I was driving up Colony Road, near the intersection at Carmel Road, in Charlotte, going to meet my friend, Wendy, for dinner with her, her husband, their son, and my daughter, the night before Wendy was scheduled for a C-section to have her daughter, Madison. I was devastated at the news from my parents, but I didn’t want to ruin the night for Wendy, so I dried up my tears and put on a brave face. Apparently, I was a better actress than I had ever realized, because they suspected nothing over dinner. We celebrated the upcoming birth of Madison (though she didn’t have a name yet, at that point).

I knew the prognosis for pancreatic cancer patients was not good. I knew my time with my daddy was limited, so we tried to make the best of it. We were fortunate to have a condo near my parents’ house in Alabama, so we moved down there for the last couple of months before he died. My brother came down as often as he could, and even though it was bittersweet, we had a lot of quality time together. We made the most of it, but we knew we were losing our daddy.

Daddy was brave. He even maintained his sense of humor. He worried about what would become of us after he was gone. He was sad he wouldn’t see his beloved grandchildren grow up. He encouraged us to stick together. And he often said, “I’ve lived a full life, and now, I’m spending lots of quality time with y’all.”  He was finding the silver lining till the end. Throughout life, he looked for the good. And in his final days, the good was that he had a family who loved him and loved each other. He knew it. We laughed. We cried. And then we laughed some more to keep from crying.

And here’s the thing. In the 12 years since we lost Daddy, not much has changed for pancreatic cancer patients. Most patients don’t survive one year after diagnosis, and very few survive five years…roughly 95 percent of those diagnosed die from it. It’s very difficult to diagnose, and it’s usually too late when it is diagnosed. It is considered by many to be the deadliest cancer, based on the general prognosis, but it gets very little press. Every time a friend calls me and tells me someone they know has been diagnosed, I don’t know what to say. The only thing I can do is offer prayer and refer them to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, also known as PanCan.org. We need more awareness, more funding for research, and we need more trials, and PanCan raises money for those things. They also raise awareness and on behalf of patients and families, contacting Congressmen and Senators, encouraging them to support bills that offer funding for research.

So, every year, since 2006, I wear purple in November. It might be just a purple handbag, purple pendant, or purple earrings, but I try to wear a little piece of purple every day…except the day Bama plays LSU…Daddy would understand.

***If you would like to donate to PanCan.org, please go to the website here. Call or write your Congressmen and Senators, encouraging them to increase funding for pancreatic cancer research.***

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Photo: pancan.org

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I Want Candy…My Favorites

I love candy. I love chocolate candy and sour candy. I love all kinds of candy…always have. In fact, when I was a kid, I loved candy so much that I actually tried to get the answer to the commercial question, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

When I was a kid living in Brewton, Alabama, Daddy took us to the “candy store,” which was really a locally owned convenience store called Murphy’s, every Saturday. He would give us our allowance, and we would go blow it on candy and Icees. I always got a Coke Icee at Murphy’s. We got $5 allowance. Back then, $5 would buy a lot of candy, but I never actually spent my whole allowance. I usually put back a dollar or two, but I could still buy lots of candy and save too. I also stashed candy in hiding places in my room, but my brother usually found it and secretly ate it bit by bit.

Later, after moving to Spanish Fort, we would walk to the TG&Y in the local shopping center to buy candy. Instead of Icees there, we got bottled soda…in real glass bottles. My personal favorites were RC Cola, Dr. Pepper, and Coca-Cola in the little bottle, what we called a “baby Coke.”

I have favorites. As a child, I would always pick some favorites: Tootsie PopsSpree, Pixie Stix, Zotz, Bottle Caps, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Fun Dip, SkyBar, M&Ms, Blow Pops,  and sometimes, a Hershey Bar…without almonds. I also loved Sugar Babies, Sugar Daddy, Necco Wafers and Marathon Bars. (They don’t make Marathon Bars anymore, but Cadbury makes a similar bar of braided caramel covered in chocolate called the Curly Wurly.) Good times. In addition to candy, I would top off my purchase with some Hostess Chocolate Cream-filled Cupcakes. *Necco Wafers and SkyBar were made by New England Confectionery Company, which went bankrupt and is now owned by Spangler Candy Company. The future of some products is unknown. I’m stocking up on SkyBar now.*

Obviously, our candy intake was never restricted. My parents thought candy was one of the small joys in life, and I feel the same way. Before my daughter was born, a neighbor told me the kids she knew who couldn’t have candy at home went crazy eating it at her house, so we always have it, and our daughter doesn’t go crazy over it. We have a designated candy drawer in the kitchen. Need a little pick me up? Grab something from the drawer.

My daughter’s candy intake has never been limited. When we visit different cities, we love to visit any candy store we hear about. Dylan’s Candy Bar is a favorite in various cities. The last two times we’ve gone to LA, we visited Candytopia, a candy museum. It was a temporary popup, but now it’s in New York and San Francisco. As we entered each room, we got different kinds of candy: Pixie Stix, Tootsie Pops, candy necklaces, and more! Plus, there were sculptures and portraits made entirely of candy! My favorite part: a giant marshmallow pit! Great photo ops!

I still love candy.  I now love Snickers bars in addition to all my old favorites. I can’t resist purchasing some of the more rare ones when I see them.

I’m placing an order for some Curly Wurly Bars from Amazon now. All the candies I’ve listed above are available from Amazon.com. I want candy!

***If you were a teen in the 1980s, you probably remember a song called I Want Candy by the group, Bow Wow Wow. It was a remake of a 60s song by The Strangeloves. Bow Wow Wow trivia: Boy George was an early member of the group before forming Culture Club. You can see the Bow Wow Wow video here.***

Learning to Drive

As our daughter’s 15th birthday approaches, so does the excitement about the driver’s learner permit. Yes, it’s exciting, but it’s nerve-wracking at the same time.

It’s a lot more difficult to get a driver’s license now than it was when I was a teenager. Our daughter doesn’t even have her permit yet, and we’ve already had to jump through some hoops.

In North Carolina, there are lots of moving parts to getting a learner’s permit. If no one tells you the different steps, it can be rather confusing. I’ve had to ask multiple people a million questions throughout the process, so hopefully, this will help some of you. This has been our process:

  • Register for Driver’s Education at age 14 1/2, if it isn’t offered in your school. (see bottom of page for contact info for three companies)
  • Send in payment for course.
  • Attend course and pass written driver’s ed test.
  • Go to the DMV for the eye test (if the company doesn’t offer it)
  • Schedule the driving portion of Driver’s Ed.
  • Complete the practice driving (six hours) with instructor.
  • Obtain proof of enrollment form from school.
  • Go to DMV on or after 15th birthday for written test and permit…take birth certificate, form from school, completed Driver’s Ed form, and Social Security card.

If I didn’t have friends who reminded me of things to do throughout the process, my poor daughter probably wouldn’t be on her way to getting her permit in a couple of weeks.

She completed the classroom/written test portion of Driver’s Ed the first week of June, getting it out of the way. She had to be 14 1/2 to enroll in the course. We then had to wait till about a month before her birthday to schedule the driving portion of the course. She had the first of two three-hour sessions this past Saturday, and she said everything went smoothly.

Anyone who has ridden with a new driver knows it can be nerve-wracking, but the only way to learn is through practice.

When the instructor arrived at our house, she told me that she usually stays in the neighborhood for the first two hours, and she never takes anyone on the highway in their first session. I wasn’t worried. I knew our daughter was in good hands, so I was very relaxed while they were gone. Plus, my daughter has practiced driving me around on private roads for months.I knew she would do well driving the instructor in the neighborhood.

When my daughter got home three hours later, she said she thought she had done very well, and she did go on the highway. She said that after they drove around the neighborhood a couple of times, the instructor said she was ready to get out on the open road. First, they practiced some parking skills at a nearby parking lot, and then they got in the interstate! Yikes! I love interstate driving, but some people hate it. I asked my daughter what she thought of it, and she said she liked it. Near the end of the lesson, they drove to pick up the next student driver and came home. She has her next session this weekend.

I’m excited for her, and nervous for us. I remember when I was learning to drive. It was exciting thinking about the freedom that was coming my way! I’m sure she feels the same way, but first, we have to make sure she knows what she’s doing. We have a year to help her practice to get her prepared.

It was a lot easier when I as a teenager. We took Driver’s Ed at school, and then when we turned 15, we could test for our learner’s permit. That was it. I don’t even think we had to show any proof that we had taken Driver’s Ed. But Driver’s Ed at school was fun. We had driving simulators. They were nothing like real driving, but they were fun!

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LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

I remember some of the driving mistakes I made early on when I was learning to drive. My poor Daddy. Our house was at the top of a hill, so if you backed out of our driveway in one direction, you were backing a little downhill on the road. One day, with my daddy in the car, I forgot to put the car into Drive after backing out, and I stepped on the gas pedal, sending us speeding down the hill backward! Somehow, Daddy stayed calm, and I got things under control. He probably never wanted to drive with me again, but he did. Another time, I stepped on the gas instead of the brake as we turned into a street. And somehow, we survived it.

I’m sure when Daddy was teaching my brother to drive, it was much less stressful for him. My parents had caught my brother driving a friend’s car when he was just 14, so there’s no telling how much driving experience he really had when he got his permit. It wasn’t funny at the time, but Daddy laughed about it years later.

Later, after I had my license, he taught me to drive a manual transmission on a Jeep we had…another adventure, but not one my daughter is likely to have, since so few manual transmission cars are made now.

So our adventure in driving is about to begin. It’s difficult to believe. I remember when our daughter first started walking, and we said she didn’t have walking around sense. Will we feel the same way about her driving?

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DRIVING SCHOOLS IN CHARLOTTE (I’m only listing companies my friends have used):

Helms Driving School…Website:   http://www.helmsdrivingschool.com/Services.html

Jordan Driving School…Website:   http://www.jordandrivingschoolcharlotte.com

Faulkner Driving School…Website:   http://faulknersdrivingschool.com/about-us.aspx

 

 

 

 

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What Is Home?

The world is continuously changing, and people are more mobile than ever before. People move halfway around the world, all over the country, and within states. But with all that moving, what is home?

When I was growing up, my family moved several times…from Florida to Alabama and then a few times within the state of Alabama. Every time we moved, our parents sat us down and said, “THIS is home now. MAKE it home.” And we did. Wherever we were, it became home. We didn’t refer to our old city as “home.” Our parents made efforts to help us join the community, and we hit the ground running.

Charlotte is a growing city, so naturally, there are lots of people always moving into the city. They come from all over the world, and most people I talk to love it. We were on an American Airlines flight the other day, and the pilot came on before we left Miami to go to Charlotte and said, “We are about to go to Charlotte. If you don’t want to go to Charlotte, you’ve probably never been there.” And I immediately thought, “He’s right!” Charlotte is a lovely city.

But if you move to Charlotte or any other city/town, it’s never going to feel like home till you start acting like it’s home. It’s a lesson I learned as a little girl, but lots of adults haven’t learned it. The first way to make it feel like home is to start CALLING it home. I can always tell when newcomers are going to be slow to get acclimated, because they keep referring to their old city as “home.” To me, that might be “where I’m from” or “where I used to live,” but my new city is home. My new house is home.

I have a friend who once told me she was homesick the entire four years of college. In talking about it, she told me her family lived about an hour from her college, and she would pack up and go “home” every single weekend. When she said that, I realized that was likely the problem. She hadn’t fully committed to being a part of the community at her school. Without that commitment, she was homesick. And the continuous going “home” just reinforced it. We talked about it, and she said she probably should have gone somewhere farther away. Maybe she would have become a part of her college community if she hadn’t been able to go back to her parents’ home all the time. College should start to feel like “home,” even if it is a musty old dorm room.

School age children who move often seem to assimilate into a community much faster than adults. Because they go to school, they are grouped with new people immediately, and more often than not, they find a friend group.

At most schools, I think new parents have more difficulty than new students. The first thing I always tell new parents I meet is to become a part of the school community. It’s an easy place to make friends, but you must put in some effort. If you’re an introvert, you may have to step out of your comfort zone for a little while to get started. All you need is one familiar face to start feeling comfortable. Find a face. You can do that by attending parent events and sporting events. But if the opportunities are there: volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! If you are giving your time to the community, it becomes your community.

I’ve known friends who moved as empty nesters, and the ones who started volunteering or attending events were the ones who started feeling like their new home was “home” soonest.

However, if you’ve moved to a new city and are still calling your old city “home,” well, you likely aren’t fully committed, and in my experience, you could have a long row to hoe.

I’ve always felt our parents did us a big favor whenever we moved by reminding us that we had a new “home.” My own daughter has always lived in Charlotte. She will be going off to college in four years, and I hope I will be able to instill that in her. I hope she will understand that her college is her home. Frankly, I hope she will be at least a few hours away so she has to become a part of things on campus, wherever that might be. On most campuses, Parents Weekend is usually about six weeks into the year, and that is done by design, so the students will make the effort to assimilate before seeing their families again.

Then there’s the old saying, “Home is where the heart is.” I don’t know who came up with that, but for me, “Home is where I decide it will be.” Bloom where you’re planted.

Daddy’s 80th Birthday

My daddy died a couple of weeks after his 68th birthday, in 2006. Pancreatic cancer. Today is his 80th birthday. It makes me sad to think he has been gone so long and to think about what he has missed, but it makes me happy to think how happy he would be that my brother and I have remained close. He would be happy to know my brother and I have great relationships with our extended family, and he would love that I have come to know our cousin, Ardrue, over the last couple of years.

Daddy worked hard to make sure we had the things we needed and most of what we wanted…within reason. He was practical, but some indulgences were allowed. According to Aunt Katie (Daddy’s younger sister), Daddy was a quiet young man…and serious, making it interesting to me that he made a living in sales and was good at it. He had to step outside his comfort zone (quiet) and talk…convincing companies to purchase his product. I don’t remember him as quiet. At home, he was jovial. He loved telling stories about his childhood. He loved goofy jokes, and he loved wordplay. He mellowed with age, so I can only imagine what fun he’d have been if he had made it to 80.

My nephews were crazy about daddy, whom they called Big Ken (he was tall). My daughter was almost three when he died, so she doesn’t remember him, but she loved him. I think being a granddaddy was his greatest joy. After he retired, he had time to spend with them, and he laughed and smiled when they were around. When they were infants/toddlers, he spent a lot of time holding them in his lap, reading to them or talking to them. As my nephews got older, he played baseball with them, had Easter egg hunts, and let them pretend to be waiters at Cock of the Walk (a fried catfish restaurant) while he sat out on the back porch, repeatedly placing his pretend orders for hushpuppies and fried catfish.

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My 2-yr-old daughter enjoyed Easter egg hunts with Big Ken too…all year. Other times, he would take spoons outside for her to dig in the dirt. He had built a bridge across the Civil War mound in their front yard, so my daughter spent a lot of time running back and forth across the bridge. Daddy was amazed that she never stopped running.

Today, he’d be proud of his grandsons…one working hard in college and the other making his way as a writer. He would enjoy watching my daughter play sports.

When we were growing up, he enjoyed watching sports on TV…there was always a baseball or basketball game on. If sports weren’t on, he was likely watching Sanford and Son, Cheers, All in the Family, or The Jeffersons. He loved to laugh, and those shows made him laugh, without fail. As for dramas, he loved Lonesome Dove, and one of his favorite movies was Cool Hand Luke.

He peppered his language with things we called “Bascom-isms,” named after a place he lived as a little boy, Bascom, Florida. I wish I had written them down over the years, because they’re difficult to remember. I was reminded of them recently, when I posted on Facebook a picture of the sun shining while it was raining, and captioned it, “The devil’s beating his wife.” It was something Daddy said, and lots of people from the south say it. We learned it as, “The devil’s beating his wife with a frying pan,” while others apparently said, “The devil’s beating his wife behind the door.”

Here are some things Daddy used to say:

Ned in the first reader. Daddy said this all the time. I called Aunt Katie to confirm the meaning. In our family, Ned in the first reader means someone who is poor at what he/she is doing. It means Ned never advanced beyond the first reading level, meaning he wasn’t good at reading or he wasn’t very smart. For example, let’s say Suzy and Jane are doing the same job, and Suzy gets three times as much done as Jane in the same amount of time. Daddy would say, “Suzy makes Jane look like Ned in the first reader.” Or if someone is trying to learn to sew but can’t even thread the needle, we might say, “Bless her heart. She’s like Ned in the first reader.”

“Don’t care” has neither home nor master. This is something Daddy would say if we answered, “I don’t care.” I think it means that if you “don’t care” about something, then you stand for nothing. You should always care. Daddy’s mother used to say it to him when he was growing up. She was right. We should never say we “don’t care.” Maya Angelou once said, “Can’t Do is like Don’t Care. Neither of them have a home.” The meaning is the same…you should never say you can’t do something, and you shouldn’t say you don’t care about something.

You can make three days (or any time reference) standing on your head. This was Daddy’s way of saying “you got this.” If we had three more days of exams, it’s something he would say to remind us something was do-able.

I hope my brother will call me and remind me of some of Daddy’s sayings, because I feel like we keep his memory alive, in part, by keeping these sayings alive.

If Daddy were here to celebrate his 80th birthday today, I would call him and sing the birthday song from The Little Rascals. The episode is called Feed ‘Em and Weep, and it’s about Darla’s friends bringing gifts to her dad on his birthday…when all he wanted was a quiet evening with family. Daddy thought Alfalfa and Spanky were hilarious, and he looked forward to my singing every year…and we would laugh. To see the clip of the song, click here.

Today we celebrate his birth 80 years ago. He loved sunflowers, just like Mother did, so we will use some from our yard as our centerpiece for the day, and I’ll have a tomato sandwich. Maybe I’ll make the Sour Cream Pound Cake his mother used to make. Our cousin, Ardrue, gave me the recipe last year, and it is delicious.

Remembering Daddy

With Father’s Day approaching, I’m thinking about Daddy. His grandchildren called him Big Ken. He has been gone now for 12 years. Pancreatic cancer. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

We will order new flowers for my parents’ gravesite. I’m not big on visiting cemeteries. Never have been. Daddy was a good cemetery visitor. I don’t know if it made him feel closer to his parents, or if he did it as a sense of duty, but he was good about visiting cemeteries. My brother is good about it too.

It’s not that our family ever made a big deal about Father’s Day. My parents always said they should give us (children) gifts at Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. They didn’t give us gifts, but it was their way of saying they were happy to be our parents.

If Daddy were here now, he’d say the same thing again.

But he’s not here. I’ve said before Daddy was funny and charming. He could also read people very well. When we were in a group somewhere, he knew if someone looked uncomfortable, and he would try to bring them into the fold. He was good like that.

I got my love of sports from my parents. My daddy liked all kinds of competition, and he always believed second place was just the first loser. We spent a lot of time watching sports on television, and it wasn’t unusual for us to attend sporting events whether we knew participants or not. When I was a little girl, we would go to minor league baseball games, high school indoor track meets, football games…any sporting events. There were even times we would be driving down the road, and he would see information about a sporting event…and of course, we went. I sat outside at a lot of hot baseball games in Alabama.

I really think basketball was his favorite, though. He was tall, and he had played basketball in high school. He understood the game, and he loved watching college basketball. I don’t remember watching a lot of professional basketball, but we watched a lot of college games on television. In a state devoted to football, my daddy loved NCAA Tournament time.

We also watched a lot of Atlanta Braves games and Chicago Cubs games. WTBS, also known as Superstation TBS, at the time was owned by Ted Turner, who also owned the Braves, so they broadcast their games. In fact, we knew a lot about the players, coaches, the announcer, and the team, because they were on television all the time.  While I enjoy baseball, as a teen, I mostly enjoyed looking at some of the cute players. When the Braves played the Dodgers, I tuned in to watch Steve Sax, who was quite the looker, but Daddy thought he was a terrible second baseman. He might even be the player about whom Daddy once said, “He has messed up second base so badly that no one will ever be able to play it.” Cubs games were broadcast on WGN, so we knew all the Cubs too. This was before Wrigley Field had lights, so all their games were day games. Often, there would be a Cubs game on our TV in the afternoon, followed by a Braves game in the evening.Good times. Daddy loved it. Our summer is all planned out, but next year, I’m taking my daughter to a Braves or Cubs game.

Daddy also loved wordplay and trivia. He was a walking wealth of useless knowledge like me and my brother. We know all kinds of stuff that doesn’t matter one bit, till someone asks a question like, “On The Andy Griffith Show, who took care of Opie before Aunt Bee moved in?” The answer there is Rose. All that trivial knowledge comes in handy sometimes, though…I’ve bonded with lots of good folks over trivial information.

In the early days of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, when Regis Philbin hosted it, Daddy and I loved watching it when I visited. We were watching together when the first big winner answered the winning question: Which of these US Presidents appeared on the television series “Laugh-In”? The answer, of course, was Nixon, and Daddy and I both knew it…because, well…useless trivial knowledge.

There was always a dictionary around, because we loved talking about words. I remember quizzing each other on the meanings of prefixes, suffixes, and root words when I was growing up. We were weird, but honestly, that silly game we played probably helped me on standardized tests.

Daddy was a good storyteller too. We loved hearing stories of his childhood, because he was born in the 1930s, and the world made some huge leaps in technology and everyday life between the 1930s and the 2000s. He grew up in the Florida panhandle, a rural area, so his childhood had been very different from ours. He told stories of telephone numbers that started with community names…like “Greenwood 368,” and having to ask the operator to connect them instad of dialing the number.

And there were always stories of “ice cream on a stick,” Eskimo Pie to you and me. When he was a little boy, you could buy “ice cream on a stick” for a nickel at the local store. Often, Daddy didn’t have a nickel, so he was out of luck. As an adult, any time he found a nickel on the ground, he would comment on how that would have bought an ice cream on a stick when he was a child. He remembered where he came from. Therefore, when his grandchildren visited, he always shared ice cream on a stick or popsicles with them. It would have brought him great joy as a child to have it, and as an adult, it brought him great joy to watch his grandchildren enjoy it.

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At some point in his youth…I’m not sure of the age…maybe in high school…he worked at a full-service gas station, so he made sure I knew to tip the attendants when I stopped at one. He also made sure I knew about cars…how to check the oil, tire pressure, water levels, and how to correct all that if needed.

When I lived near my parents, I tried to visit them every Sunday evening. We would have dinner, and before I would go back to Mobile, Daddy would have to check my car. Interestingly, he seemed to always wait till I was walking out the door to leave. He would grab his tire gauge and a paper towel and walk out to my car. He had to check the tire pressure, and he always had to check the oil and water levels. Back then, I would get aggravated that he was slowing down my departure. I would wonder aloud to Mother, “Why does he always wait till I’m ready to go?” Now, though, I look at it differently. He was in no hurry to see me drive away. I smile thinking about it now.

And before I drove away, he always made sure to take me hand and press some money into it. Sometimes it was a $20 bill…sometimes more, but he always wanted to make sure I had “WAM”…walking around money. He continued that tradition with my nephews as well, and when they were really little, they knew he always had toys in the trunk of his car. Of course, Mother had helped him pick them out, but Big Ken got all the credit. He found so much joy in seeing them run to the trunk of the car, and then watching their little faces light up.

I also smile thinking about how he would love that I am growing tomatoes this year. He loved a tomato sandwich as much as anybody does. There are quite a few on my tomato plants now…they should ripen next month, “good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” And if I get the opportunity to cut a giant red tomato off the vine, when I cut into it, I will think of my daddy and smile.

My daughter would have enjoyed being around my daddy. He died just before her third birthday, so she doesn’t really remember him. She was crazy about him, and he was crazy about her. He always had a way with kids. My nephews were eight years old when we lost Daddy, and they were heartbroken when he passed. In his retirement, he had loved spending time with them…scavenger hunts, dinners, playing baseball in the yard…good times.img_7188

If he were here now, he’d be proud of all of them…and he’d be proud my brother and I look out for each other.

We miss him, and we will honor his memory this Father’s Day. I’m going out to buy a box of Eskimo Pies, and we will all sit out on the patio Sunday afternoon and enjoy our “ice cream on a stick” in memory of Big Ken.

Behind That White Picket Fence

When my daddy was sick and dying of pancreatic cancer in 2006, I learned a lot.

One thing I learned is that we never really know what someone is going through. I remember leaving my parents’ house one evening after spending time with them when he was sick. They lived in a traditional southern style home with a white picket fence. Yep, a white picket fence.

On the outside, everything appeared to be normal…quiet, peaceful. On the inside of that house, it was anything but normal. I remember thinking, “People driving by have no idea how sad things are inside my parents’ house right now.”

It made me think. It made me look at people differently.

As I drove out of their neighborhood that evening, I looked at each house I passed and wondered if everything was OK. I wondered if there was anyone else experiencing the sadness we were experiencing. Were the people in the corner house feeling OK? Was anyone lying in the floor of their house waiting for help? Were people crying around a dinner table because of illness or divorce? Were any of the neighbors having financial problems?

Have you ever been in a restaurant and received terrible service? It’s human nature for us to think, “What a lousy waiter.” But in reality, that waiter might be a great waiter who is going through a terrible time. We don’t know what kind of problems he may have at home. We don’t know if his wife or child might have a terminal illness. We don’t know if he can’t pay his bills. We don’t know if he is dying.

I remember when my daddy first started having symptoms in mid 2005. He was experiencing rapid, unexplained weight loss, which we attributed to the horrible hip pain he had been having. We had no idea it was pancreatic cancer, but we knew something was wrong.

At the same time, my maternal grandmother was in the early stages of dementia, and my mother was having to drive back and forth from the Mobile, Alabama, area to Birmingham, five hours each way, to get her evaluated and help get her settled in an assisted living facility. Daddy couldn’t go with her, because he wasn’t able to sit in the car for that long.

No one had any idea.

That September, right in the middle of all this, my husband’s beloved grandmother died. The funeral was in Mobile. The day before the funeral, my mother had to go back to Birmingham, to meet with medical professionals about my grandmother’s care and to get the house locked up. It couldn’t wait. On the same day, my daddy had to get an epidural for the hip pain. It was a terrible time for my husband’s family, and in a different way, a terrible time for my family.

My parents were very private people, so very few people knew what they were going through.

With Mother out of town, my daddy was incapacitated because of the epidural and his hip problems. He was in terrible pain. There was no way I could ask him to keep a two-yr-old during the funeral, and there was no way he or my mother could attend. They said prayers for my husband and his family, but their own issues were big…bigger than anyone outside the family knew.

I’m sure there were some people who thought they should have been there or that they should have kept our daughter while we went to the funeral, but again…you never know what someone else is going through. One person even mentioned it. I just thought, “Bless his heart…he has no idea.” My parents were dealing with two different major health crises in two different cities. Even though we didn’t know the extent of my daddy’s illness, we knew something was wrong. And my grandmother, well, that was just sad. My poor mother was exhausted from driving back and forth…taking care of people at both ends of the state. There was no way my parents could have done anything differently than what they did.

As very private people, my parents would not have wanted me to tell anyone what they were dealing with, but it was a very difficult time.

No one could have known.

When my daughter was starting first grade, we had a “meet the teacher” day. All the parents gathered in the classroom. The teacher announced she would need a room mother for the school year. My friend whose child was also in the class turned to me and said, “You should do that!”

Unbeknownst to her, my husband was scheduled for brain surgery that September. I said, “Oh, I can’t. My husband is having brain surgery soon.” She was horrified. She’d had no idea, because no matter what my family was going through, we had to continue putting one foot in front of the other. I had been living life as usual, but something big was looming over our family. Of course, I told her not to be horrified, because we hadn’t told a lot of people.

This past December, when my mother died, I kept it quiet for a while in Charlotte, because I needed to process it emotionally before dealing with it publicly. I remember going to a meeting at school in early January and running into a friend. I saw her and said, “I have something to tell you, and when I say it, I need you to not ask questions and immediately change the subject.” I didn’t want to cry in public, and I didn’t want to make a scene.

She handled it perfectly. I said, “My mother died at the end of December.” She did exactly as I asked and immediately asked me about something else. Yay! Lots of people would have thought it was strange behavior, but she knew what I needed. I needed to keep going.

That friend and I have known each other for ten years, and until I told her, she didn’t know what was going on with me.

We really never know, do we? Maybe we should take that into consideration when someone forgets to meet us somewhere or forgets to return a call. Maybe that terrible waiter just needs someone to be kind to him.

How many times have you had a friend tell you they were getting divorced, but you had no idea there was a problem in their marriage? I’ve had two friends surprise me with this news in just the past few years, and I actually consider myself to be a pretty darn perceptive person. These are friends I saw regularly at least a few times a month, and I had no clue anything was wrong.

Often, we keep our private lives just that…private.

I know that after my mother died, I dropped out of life for a month. I gave myself permission to stay home, sit in bed, and do nothing for a month. On February 1, I rejoined the living. During the month of January, lots of people still had no idea what was going on in my life. I was grieving my mother, but I wanted to do it privately.

So, as you go through your day, try to remember that lots of people are dealing with terrible things…every day…everywhere. It might be your neighbor who was just diagnosed with cancer. It might be your child’s teacher who has been cranky lately, because her husband lost his job. It might be your friend who hasn’t told you she’s having marital problems.

Often, there are things we do not know. Let’s try to give people the benefit of the doubt.