Tag Archives: Children

When They Say It’s Almost Time…


Every so often, a person will say, “Well, I think it’s almost time for me to go.”

They say it with such introspection, I’m not certain if they are talking to me or if their internal monologue simply escaped accidentally. 

When my mother was preparing to make her departure, even before her cancer was diagnosed, she came to visit me at the home my husband and I share.  She had been here many times before and had seen the “Nana Room” we created just for her.  The single bed was surrounded by photographs of her family, some of which were nearly one hundred-years old.  I put her suitcase on the floor and watched my mother sit on the bed.  She looked around the room and looked almost lost.  I sat next to her and took her hand.  She began to cry.

I asked, “Mom, what’s the matter?” 

“Look at my family,” she whispered through her tears.  I began to cry with her.  As I scanned the room, as with new eyes, I realized she was not seeing the photographic faces I saw; she was seeing her mother and her father.  She was seeing her uncles and aunts.  She was seeing her long deceased cousins.  The veil was shorn and there was nothing I could do about it.

I said, “We have a wonderful family, Mom.  We’re very lucky.” 

Mom composed herself a little and said she was just tired and needed to rest.  As she laid on the bed that she said was one of the most comfortable on which she had ever slept, I closed the light and let her rest. 

I went into the living room and I said to  my husband, “I think Mama’s not going to be here much longer.”  

nde_295192702_stdI knew she was telling this room, and me, good-bye.  I knew she was giving me a heads up that the end was approaching and that she would be with her family very soon.  My mother and I were very, very close.

That following September, Mom called me to tell me that she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.   I took a leave of absence from the school where I was teaching and immediately moved to Dunsmuir to take care of her.  On November 23, 2005, Mama died.

That night, the day before Thanksgiving, some friends of ours brought over Thanksgiving dinner for us to share.  As we sat at the table, my brother, who had been battling alcoholism for thirty years, said that anytime he was supposed to go, he was ready.  He said that living the life he had, with homelessness, transience and alcohol, was underrated by most people.  He liked his life and although he knew he wouldn’t live as long as I would, he was going to live according to his wishes nonetheless.

He died March 9, 2006, three months and two weeks after my mother died, from a pulmonary embolism after thawing out from frostbite.

Three months later, in June 2006, our seventeen-year-old mega-chihuahua, Bootsy, (yes, after the amazing bassist, Bootsy Collins), decided he was going for a run.  He was nearly 20 pounds overweight from congestive heart failure, but he wasn’t going to be stopped.  He got away from my daughter in a mad rush and went running.  Bootsy had always been a dog of the streets, with the scars to prove it.  He loved his life. 

In later years, however, he had slowed way down as he was approaching his twilight years.  This night was different.  As a moderately healthy forty-seven-year-old man, I could not catch this old, fat, unhealthy dog.  He was going to run and there was nothing I could do about it.  He was trying to let go and he wasn’t going to allow anyone, even my husband who had shared a life with him for seventeen years, stop him.  He was going to go out in a blaze of glory.

By the time I got him home, with the help of young strangers at the gas station who helped wrangle him, he was exhausted.

It wasn’t too long after that he sauntered into our bedroom to lie down, barely able to breathe, coughing that watery cough of terminal lung congestion.   My husband slept on the floor with him that night.  When I got up the next morning, as was his custom, he began following me to the kitchen for his meal.  He never made it.  He listed to the right, fell on the shiny hardwood floor in the bathroom and after a couple of coughs, our beloved Bootsy died.

His message was clear and he was, sadly, correct.

The next year, in May 2007, my former mother-in-law, the woman to whom I always addressed as “Mother-in-law Dearest,” called to tell me that after years of palliative therapy, her emphysema and lung cancer was getting the best of her.  She had said this before, but this call was different.  Although I had been separated and divorced from her daughter for twenty-two years, we remained close. 

As she went into the hospital, she asked me to come pray with her.  Of course, I did. 

When I arrived, she asked me how someone knows if they’re ready to go?  I responded that there is an internal sense of closure that cannot be denied.  I said that if and when she was ready and she allowed the natural process to happen, she would go.

She closed her eyes, took my hand, and those of us in the room, three of her daughters, and my two daughters/her granddaughters, prayed together.  After awhile, the room went silent. 

After five minutes of heavy silence, she opened her eyes and said, “I’m still here?” 

We all laughed.  I left the room after kissing the woman who had been part of my family for thirty-five years and wishing her a wonderful journey home.  I told her that I would miss her terribly.

For the first time in all those years, she said, “I love you, son.” 

“I love you, too, Mother-in-law Dearest.”

The next morning, my daughter called to tell me that she had died with only my daughters present.

Each one of these individuals gave me a message that I chose to hear… thankfully.  They know better than I when their time is coming.  The children with cancer with whom I used to work many years ago taught me that lesson best.  They always, always knew when they were about to go.  It was just up to us to see the signs and listen to the message. 

With two of my aunts, recently, they both told me they were leaving in their own ways.  I heard them and told my husband.  Within the month, they were gone.

I just returned from my current mother-in-law’s house.  She had a message for me.  

Laden Sky at Dusk

Laden Sky at Dusk

To Think…


I just heard a video poem from a young woman on her roof about the slaughter taking place in Iran.  It broke my heart.  It made me think.

4102127_iran555

To think that in 2009, our world children must see their peers shed their blood or lives for the right to have a voice in their own country.

To think that in 2009, our world children are dying because they fear that being considered gay is so shameful that it is better to die than be perceived in that light.

To think that in 2009, our world children must die because they haven’t received the simple netting necessary to keep away malaria.

To think that in 2009, our world children must die because there is a two child limit in some places on the planet.

To think that in 2009, our world children must die because of such pervasive overcrowding or inadequate funding, they haven’t enough to eat or adequate medical care.

To think that in 2009, our world children must die because criminals are so bent on making money they will sacrifice our little ones to attain it, while the government does so little.

To think that in 2009, our world children are allowed to witness murder and sexual content in their games and television, yet the same parents who permit that do not talk to them about their own spirituality, whatever it may be.

To think that in 2009, our world children are dying all over the world for choices we, as adults, have made.

To think that in 2009, our world children have not learned that their dreams really can come true because we, the current decisionmakers, have not facilitated the manifestation of those dreams.

To think.

A Child’s Voice


As someone who has been teaching vocal music since the late 1970’s, I know how empowering it is for someone, anyone, to find their voice.  In the last eight school years of teaching sixth through twelfth graders in a classroom setting, I have had those lessons amplified exponentially.

Watching Oprah’s show today about bullying, particularly sexual bullying, I was brought to a new level of awareness, especially in light of my most recent post about the progress we have made since the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969.   My feelings on this subject are fervent and immediate. 

Children today are being bullied by taunts of “fag,” and “faggot,”  and many other derogatory terms for homosexuals.  It is my opinion that even worse than the derogatory words being hurled at them is that children are being called, “gay,” as though it was something of which the child must be ashamed, whether they are gay or not. 

When I was young and being taunted with the terms of the day, “sissy,” “homo,” and “queer,”  we were taught to just ignore the cruelties.  Even as I was rearing my own children, I taught them the same lesson.

What I didn’t know at the time is that this guidance is a way of saying to the child that they should ignore how they are feeling, allow others to say what they will, and pretend that there is no impact on them from others’ actions and words.

We know better now.  We recognize that words can hurt. 

Carl's and Jaheem's mothers on Oprah.

Carl's and Jaheem's mothers on Oprah.

Eleven-year-olds Carl Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera, the latter of whom, incidentally, carries my birth mother’s surname, committed suicide because they could no longer hold up under the weight of their fellow students’ obscene cruelty.   These two boys, from different cultures and different cities, each, on their own, decided that death would be better than living the lives they had at school. 

For each parent reading this, a child chose death.  That means something to us.  We immediately go to that place of imagining how horrific it would be if our child were to take his or her life.  Yet, do we imagine being the parent of the bully? Do we ask ourselves, “Would my child stand by and allow that type of bullying to happen without saying a word, let alone perpetrating or supporting the abuse?”

How often have we heard, “Kids will be kids,” or “Kids can be so cruel?”  A million times; yet, our children are dying at increasing numbers. 

As a society, we are obligated to see what is truly happening and teach our children to have a voice.  We must, today, right now, speak with our children and let them know what our expectations of them are in the same way we do about cigarettes, drugs and sex. 

“You may not bully other children in the classroom, on the playground or anywhere else.  If you see another child being bullied or called names in person or on-line, I expect you to take some action.  It is worse to know that you did nothing and someone was injured or died than being called a ‘snitch.'” 

We must talk with our children about being bullied.  It is no longer acceptable to allow our children to “toughen up and take it,” or “ignore it and it will go away.”  We must teach them to develop and maintain their sense of self-worth, as well as their priority for self-preservation.

In the school where I taught vocal music, there was a student who was referring to something bad as, “gay.”  I am a gay man and felt obligated as a teacher, minister and citizen to educate that student about the impact that this reference had.  It was clear that there were other students who understood what I was saying, but there were those who simply did not understand until I used some vivid examples.

They understood then.

It is not enough to know that our child is not a bully.  It is not enough to believe that it is happening elsewhere.   We must address this issue directly.  We cannot neglect the welfare of all children.

I can tell you firsthand that it is happening at the school where I taught.  It was happening daily.  There are minimal actions taken by the administration to stem that tide; however, by my assessment, it is not enough.  Our school is actually a mild example of what is happening in a more obvious and dynamic way across the country.

For those of you who are parents, I’m asking that you speak to your child about this topic.  Perhaps, you can watch the Oprah episode with your child.  If you see your child withdrawing, make sure you speak with them directly.  Contact a mental health professional if you sense anything is significantly and consistently wrong.  Watch their eating and sleeping habits.  Have their friendships ended?  Are they quieter than ever before? 

For those of you who are teachers, listen closely to the language your students are using.  If they call one another, “fag,” even as a joke, one must understand that it is the same as using other vulgar terms to refer to our brothers and sisters.

I know that everyone becomes very busy in their day, but our children are telling us who they are and how they feel if we take the time to listen.  The parents and teachers I know are incredible individuals, down to the last one.  We get busy, though.  It’s the nature of our lives. 

Sometimes, we must simply take a deep breath and listen with a new ear.  That is, categorically, how our children learn to value their own voices… by being heard by those who love them.

Together, we can be secure that our children are safe, heard, proud and strong while making sure we no longer hear about a fifth or sixth grader who has committed suicide.