Category Archives: Death

Today, I say goodbye

1450922_10205930670894961_622139848023438804_n So many emotions and so many thoughts flying around my already ADHD brain. A friend died today after only three months since she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I have known her (and her family) since I was in my early 20’s when I moved to Augusta. Gosh, I was just a kid and still so fragile from living with my abusive dad. I was renting a room in an older couple’s home and was always looking for ways to earn extra money. I’ll never forget when Debbie asked if I could stay at her house to watch her two boys while she and her husband went out of town. Of course I jumped on the chance…I can’t remember the exact ages of the boys but I want to say they were around 8ish and 12ish. Before I was to stay that weekend she asked me to come over a week or so earlier so she could show me around and explain the schedule (while they were gone). At that time they had a dog named Avery. She was a big Golden Retriever. The day I came over for Debbie to show me around I clearly remember ringing the doorbell and hearing a deep voiced dog barking from behind the door. For those who know me know the bigger the dog, the more I love them. And so, when Debbie opened the door, I said hello to her but walked passed her to pet the dog. As I was on my knees petting the dog, Debbie chuckled and said, “Oh, OK..good. I’m glad you like dogs because well, we have one.” Not knowing her well at all back then I remember just smiling. However, thinking about it now it was strange of me to walk right past her into her house and kneel down to pet the dog.

During my weekend stay with the Katcoff boys I got to know Avery well. OR should I say Avery got to know me well… One afternoon Jason, the oldest son, came into the living room where I was watching TV to get me. He told me he had some bad news and was so sorry. I couldn’t imagine what he was talking about…he asked me to follow him into the bedroom I was using because he didn’t know how to tell me. When I got to my room I could see clearly for myself. It turned out Avery had eaten my entire box of tampons! And in fact Jason caught her in the process of consuming the box once the other stuff was gone. My first thought was I had killed their beloved dog with my tampons! And Jason (just a kid) was worried because the dog had gotten into my things. When Debbie and Gary got home I knew I had to tell them because I didn’t want something to happen to the dog. And so when Debbie asked how everything went I told her. She looked at me, looked at Gary and then said something like that’s funny Avery ate an entire box of tampons. For a while after that it was a running joke Debbie would tell others about. I’m happy to say my tampons did not harm the dog. I did laugh with Debbie later telling her that I was certain I had killed their dog and would never be able to baby sit again.

Another funny time was when I was driving Debbie’s son, Jason, and another boy home from a youth group meeting. While driving I noticed a woman up the way walking down the street. In my mind I could tell she was as naked as naked could be but I didn’t want to believe it. That’s when I asked the boys (who were in the back seat) what the heck the lady was wearing. They too didn’t want to believe she was naked but as we got closer there was no denying it. The boys began yelling, “She’s naked! OOOOH! YUCK!” as they put their hands over their eyes. The boys were chattering back and forth to each other how the woman had flab and how her boobs were droopy. I told the boys that was what real women look like. They were laughing hysterically. I was laughing hysterically. One of the boys told us that their parents would never believe them. And so when we got to the Katcoff home to drop off Jason we had to go inside to tell Debbie about what happened. As I started to tell Debbie, the boys cut me off. They started talking about how she had flab and how her breasts (which they refused to say the word but used their hands to say) were drooping. Debbie laughed along with us and also told the boys they described what a real woman looked like. And as she was telling the boys that, they started yelling “oooh” and “yuck” which made me and Debbie laugh even harder. Just as we got done Debbie’s husband walked into the house. Debbie said, “Hey Gar, you’ll never guess what happened to Jason today. He saw a naked woman walking down the street.” And to that we all busted out laughing…well except Gary who had no idea what we were talking about.

Even though I knew Debbie from helping out with her kids and later subbing for her art classes, I really got to know her on a more personal level after we were on a committee together. We had to put together a year book and spent an entire summer meeting every week to work on it. Folks, we laughed. We cried. It was better than Cats. We talked about our crazy families- about motherhood (as my son was just 2 at the time and always went down for his naps when Debbie came over), about our mom’s deaths and about our own mortality. When we’d laughed we did so all the way to tears. And when we cried we did so with even more tears. Debbie spoke about her mom’s death and about her own fears of dying. Today that is what I keep thinking about as the news of her passing begins to hit me.

Carol and I have been talking. We can’t know what we’d do in Debbie’s shoes but the dignity, strength and bravery she showed during these last month’s of her life really were something else. She was forced to retire from a job she loved without any closure or real good byes. She handed over her classroom to me and through her support wanted nothing more than to see me take it over. She’d text me, call me, e-mail me to remind me to do this or that with her students…to have them apply for this or that art contest…to make sure her AP students were on track and had their portfolio’s completed. I would send her text messages with pictures of her student’s artwork, of the display cabinet and anything else I knew she’d like to see. I also would text her and e-mail her for advice to which she always would respond quickly to help me. During my last visit with her I was only going to stay for a little bit but ended up staying much longer. She had a sense of urgency to tell me anything she could think of about her classroom…about her students. She told me to not be afraid to fail those students who refused to try. She told me we are there to give the students every opportunity to be successful but they have to care and do their best. She told me to not hesitate to write up the students when their behavior was bad and she told me about certain parents she had met. And of course she ended with encouraging me and telling me I have a lot to offer the students. Gosh, I have to be honest. I think I would have been pissed off that someone else had taken over my classroom (even if I knew the person) especially without having had any closure. However not Debbie. Oh no not Debbie! Instead she did everything in her power to help me and support me. She even continuously (whenever there was an opportunity) would tell the administration wonderful things about me and would tell them they should hire me. I never did tell her how much that meant to me. It’s not been easy to fill her shoes. Her students and staff loved her. They were rightfully loyal to her. She really was beloved by all at the school where she taught. I never told Debbie but I had a particular problem with one of her classes. The students as a group refused to bring in their homework. So, the principal came to talk to the class. He told them a story about how Mrs. Katcoff failed the assistant principal’s son because he chose not to do the work. I know it wasn’t the moment to smile but I couldn’t help it. His story made me smile. I know the students thought I was being caddy but I wasn’t. I smiled because that was Debbie. That was Mrs. Katcoff.

The last time I spoke to Debbie was just last Friday when she called to tell me she was having a meeting and she didn’t see artwork from my students. It turned out the woman who had them had car trouble and didn’t make it to the meeting. It was something though. When Debbie called she sounded like herself…her voice was strong. It was hard to believe she was so sick and that in just a week she’d be gone.

I have been at awe these last three months when I have watched Debbie live life to her fullest. She maintained as much normalcy as she could. Even through bouts of nausea and pain she went on outings with her grand kids and spent time with family, friends and many of her students. As for me she took time to comfort me, guide me and teach me until she physically could no longer do it. Debbie, it’s going to be really hard to walk into YOUR classroom tomorrow. Your absence will be felt by all. I’m going to miss being able to reach out to you for your advice…to be able to send you a text with a picture of something only you’d appreciate. I will think of you when I open a desk drawer and see your stash of napkins, skinny girl popcorn and chocolate raspberry coffee you left for me. And for the next months as I see different reminders of you in the classroom I will do my damndest not to cry. Thank you so much for all you’ve given and taught me. I won’t ever forget those things OR you.


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Posted by on January 25, 2015 in Death


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How do you say good-bye?



I’m in shock. My father in law passed away just a short 3 weeks ago…just a few short weeks shy of his 61st wedding anniversary. He had been in the hospital having some tests done to see what was causing him to pass out. They discovered 4 blockages and were talking about doing surgery. NEVER did anyone think this could happen. Of course it was the elephant in the room when he was in the hospital but damn, this could never happen to Edward. So what he was 82, had diabetes, sleep apnea and was over weight. He was a tall, big, strong man. He’d be fine, right? He couldn’t die. Yet he did and I cannot wrap my head around it.

When I think about the first time I met Edward, I smile. It was 1997 and it was Mother’s Day weekend. Carol and I had only been dating a month and she invited me to her parent’s house for their Mother’s Day gathering. It took a lot for me to feel awkward but I did that day. I felt Mother’s Day was a family thing and I wasn’t family. I was really nervous about going but Carol insisted.

That Mother’s Day was the first time I met Carol’s daughter, parents, siblings, niece and nephews. Everyone was very nice and so polite. Their world of politeness seemed so foreign to me. I know that sounds crazy but my background was vastly different. My family had no problem interrupting a conversation, talking over someone and voicing their opinion right then and there which usually included insulting the family member being spoken to. If you were going to make it in my family you had to have a thick skin and learn how to play with the big boys. It was just a way of life. And so, needless to say I know my personality was a bit (lets say) strong for their tastes. At that time I had no filter. What I felt is what I said. And if someone said something I felt was wrong, I let them know it. Listen, I admit it. I was rough around the edges and I didn’t know when to back down. And so, that day when I met each of Carol’s family members one by one, they one by one walked away from me until I found myself alone in the living room… where Edward sat also isolated from everyone else. I had already known from Carol that her dad wasn’t the sociable kind. Not only was he not so sociable BUT he was frustrating to have a conversation with…hmmm…sound familiar? That was no coincidence I ended up alone in the living room with her dad. Bashert, I say. It was funny because neither of us even cared why we ended up alone. After all, the problem was everyone else; NOT us.

While I sat on the couch in the living room Edward was in his recliner chair reading a book… he had all of his accoutrements (beverage, snacks, assortment of reading materials, writing utensils, crossword puzzles and TV clicker) on the side table next to him so he wouldn’t even have to get up (anytime soon) and be forced to be sociable with everyone in the kitchen. And so there I sat… quietly. After a good 10 minutes Edward peaked over his book and looked at me. He smiled and then went back to reading. Another 5 minutes went by and he peaked over his book again. I suppose my presence was a bit menacing so after the second time he peaked over his book he finally spoke to me. He smiled again and then asked me my name. I suppose at this point he felt obligated to talk to me and so he continued by asking me how I met Carol. I told him we had a painting class together at college. Now, it probably would have sufficed to have stopped there but of course I didn’t. I continued to tell him how much I hated painting and because of that I wanted someone to paint my paintings for me. I told him I thought Carol would be the perfect person. Folks, I can still see the surprised look on Edwards face. He was stunned…not about my bluntness but by what I was saying. No way in hell would his daughter be caught cheating. He knew he had taught her better and he knew she would never do it.

With a half cocked smile (as if to say this girl is crazy) Edward said in his classic way, “OK. That’s interesting. And why do you think Carol would have cheated for you?” In my own selfish cocky way I answered, “I just had a feeling.” Edward clearly was not happy with what I was saying. Not that he told me so but it was evident in the questions he asked and his facial expressions. The interesting thing was he knew his daughter and he knew she did not do my paintings for me. It didn’t take long before Edward couldn’t take me anymore. While sitting in his chair he hollered into the kitchen where his wife, Carolyn, was. He asked her when lunch was going to be ready. When Carolyn told him it was ready, he politely excused himself leaving me by myself in the living room. Now folks, I bet you’re thinking that was the beginning of the end of that relationship. You’d be wrong, though. Believe it or not that day was the start of a beautiful relationship between one tough punk kid (that be me) and one tough old man (that be Edward).

Time and time again during our visits to Carol’s parent’s house I found myself sitting in the living room with Edward while everyone else was in other parts of the house. Edward was always in his chair and always reading his book. But, the more often I came over the more quickly he’d stop reading to engage in a conversation. The conversations were usually political in nature AND were of topics we were polar opposites in philosophy. He knew how to push my buttons and I knew how to push his. Oh, what I’d give to go back to those days to be a fly on the wall.

As the years passed I began to change. I slowly learned how to communicate in a manner that was more tolerable (lets say). I began enjoying socializing with Carol’s family and being a part of the their conversations. And so, my time in the living room with Edward lessened. Over the last 5 years or so mine and Edwards conversations changed. He would tell me about his upbringing and about some of his hardships. It was during this time we both learned how similar our upbringings were. We were both abandoned by our parents and really had no supportive family to speak of. As a result we were both bitter in our own ways. For the first time we shared our stories and laughed about our similarities (and the differences). Our ages were vast but our lives were familiar to the both of us. What I loved was during this time he’d often tell me how proud of Carol (his daughter) he was. Her illness scared the hell out of him and he worried she’d never recover. He was not one to talk about her illness but I could often get him to talk about it. It made me feel good that he recognized that even though I was a hard shell to crack, I was somehow able to help his daughter and she was able to do the same for me. For whatever reason our relationship worked and both Carol and I were better people because of it. Edward saw that (in time) and accepted me into the family. Even though he had trouble calling me his daughter’s partner, he did introduce me to others as his daughter. He even was able to let go of his hard ways and place me on the Breland family tree. Folks, I cried the day he did. It was the most special gift Edward could have ever given me. Not simply because he did it. It was because I knew what it took for Edward to do it. He was a traditional man who felt marriage was between a man and a women. AND more so he felt strongly not to recognize any relationship that the government did not recognize. And yet, folks, he did it. He was able to see my love for his daughter as well as my love for her family. I took their last name and we gave it to our son. He saw that our relationship was no different than that of his and his wife. That meant the world to me. My biggest regret was that I never thanked him and I never let him know how much that meant to me. I may have changed in many ways over the years but my ability to thank Edward was still so very hard. I do hope Edward knew what it meant to me.

Over the last two years Edward and I didn’t have as many conversations…more often than not he would be asleep when we visited. And if he woke up while we were there it was only enough time for him to mosey into the kitchen to get a drink, say a quick hello and then disappear again for another nap. BUT even during those times we’d sneak in a discussion here and there. By this time though they changed…in a good way. We no longer had this need to prove our points or to push each other’s buttons. We could disagree and be alright with it. We understood our views came from our different upbringings and that was OK. It just didn’t matter anymore to have to be right. OK, so I’m sure it helped I was no longer that smart ass kid and I was able to let go. I think too it was because we had gained a love and appreciation for each other and a level of respect for what we each had experienced in our lives. Or maybe we were simply tired of those intense conversations. Which ever they were a far cry from that first discussions we had. To think that only took 17 years to happen… a testament to both of our strong personalities. We don’t give up so easily but I’m glad we did.

Listen, through out those seventeen years Edward and I had many heated and interesting conversations. Man, did Edward know how to press my buttons and I knew how to press his. It almost felt like an intense game of chess. He’d make a move and then I would. He’d make a point that I couldn’t respond, he earned a check mate. And visa versa. Both of us never shied away from giving our opinion as well as telling the other how mistaken the other one was. However neither of us ever lost our temper nor did we hold it against each other (at least publicly). OK, so we may have gotten mad and we may have even given each of our spouses a mouth full later, but that never stopped us from engaging into another debate. It truly was amazing how alike we were.

I grew to love and respect Edward for who he was. There was never a doubt he loved his wife and would go to great lengths for her. No doubt he loved his children even though he may not have known the best way to show it. And there’s no doubt he loved his grandkids even though he had a hard time relating to them. AND even though Edward and I had many arguments I really did grow to love that man as a father…all of his warts and all. After all he did the same for me. Now, isn’t that what family is truly about? Unconditional love…which is what he gave to our son. No, Judah was not his blood relative but he saw him no different than his other grandchildren. My heart melted every time our son called him Papa (and Gram). Something else I wish I had thanked him for.

Damn! I’m going to miss that man. His tall, large stature…the way he’d waddle into the kitchen after a nap to get a cup of iced tea which he’d pour into a styrofoam cup (he had brought home from a restaurant a few weeks prior). I’m going to miss his endless talking about the family tree and about his relatives. I’m going to miss how he’d smile when he would talk to Judah about something philosophical. I’m going to miss bringing over our dachshund, Moses, who Edward would hold in his lap and let lick all over his face. The belly laugh he’d give while Moses licked him was priceless. I’m going to miss how Edward would holler for Carolyn… he’d often leave the “lyn” off and Carol would answer instead. Edward would then deny it up and down when Carol would tell him he said her name. I’m going to miss his smiles and laugh when he’d talk to Judah. AND most of all I am going to miss our long winded conversations that often got our feathers raised.

I had a dream after Edward died where he and I were talking. I couldn’t believe how much he had changed. Edward was happier than he had been in years. He told me he no longer felt depressed and weighed down. In my dream he was laughing, smiling and telling jokes. He wanted me to tell Carolyn (his wife) how much he loved her and that he will never leave her side. He wanted me to tell her that he is in a good place and how he is finally free (from the restraints of his body). He wanted her to know how sorry he was for not being able to be the husband she wanted and needed him to be. He knows he didn’t support and love her as he should have but he didn’t know how. That was a great regret of his. BUT, he wanted her to remember those happy times. Those times they’d laugh and laugh about the silliest things. Those meals Carolyn would make that were so bad and how Edward never said a word and just ate them. In particular Edward spoke about the time he fell out of the bed. I remember in my dream holding my ears and telling him that was just too personal. (I did ask Carolyn about this and she told me about a time when she was changing the sheets on her bed. She was only wearing a shirt and underwear and Edward came into the room to grab her. When he did, it startled Carolyn and she jumped. That made Edward jump and when he did he somehow got his foot caught in the sheets (that were hanging down on the floor) and he fell down breaking his toe.)

Listen, real or not it doesn’t matter. What matters is it was comforting to have this dream. As much as I know many of us will miss him (warts and all) I do feel comforted he’s in a place where he is free and so so happy. I also feel strongly his spirit will live on in each of our memories.

You Edward, we love you and miss you.






Posted by on April 19, 2014 in Death, Dying parent, Parent's death