“The last names may not match, but the hearts certainly do.” –Unknown

Last month, November 9th, my stepdad- my second dad, the man who chose to love me as a daughter, my dad– drew his last breath on earth to return to his Eternal home.

Decades ago, he fell in love with and married my Mom; our bond grew quickly after that. https://wordpress.com/post/awhitlow2.wordpress.com/561

At first, I chose to keep my loss private, talking only with immediate family and a couple of my closest friends. I hold grief close to my chest, by the heart, needing quiet solitude until I can breathe again…and until I’m brave enough to start to let go of the fear. I’m fortunate that the people in my life who mean the most are understanding of that.

That damn fear.

Fear of sadness and fear of pain is always worse than the sadness or pain itself.

Mom and I made plans for me to visit and stay with her a few days before Christmas. It was my first time returning to their home since the funeral. On the drive there, I realized my biggest fear was the fear of change.

For several years prior to his death, our dad had health problems. They worsened exponentially this year, especially in the last couple of months. Because of that, their home had become filled with medical equipment, mobility devices, and hospice supplies. With help from family and friends, Mom had cleared away the equipment as well as LOTS of old computers, outdated computer accessories, ‘antique’ (but not in a good way) printers and printer supplies, and many various boxes of “I should probably save this in case I ever need it even though I won’t ever need it” stuff. Going through it all allowed Mom one-on-one time with my brother and nephew; talking about that time spent with them made her smile. She said clearing the physical space helped clear her mind of the helplessness she felt watching the man she loved hurting and the stress she had felt in her body.

For me, seeing the house uncluttered reminded me of when our dad was active, mobile, and pain-free. Those memories brought immeasurable joy.

For a couple of years, my siblings (Dad’s biological kids) and I started a tradition of ‘Sibling’s Lunch’ when we would meet at a local restaurant around Christmas. Covid happened, so we had to miss it for couple of years; some of us were able to meet this time. I was so afraid that things would be different among us.

I was right. It was different. It felt like our bonds were stronger and the love was bigger then it’s ever been. There was the usual light-hearted chatter and catching up on what’s going on in everyone’s lives. We celebrated the newest grand-child in the family, seeing photos to tide us over until we get to meet him in person, and sharing memories of our dad. Hugs were tight and “I love you’s” were abundant. I’d been afraid of change, but change happens constantly… so maybe that’s not really where the fear lies? I’m still trying to figure it out.

Tears came without warning for both Mom and me, and over “little” things, just like the little things that bring the brightest smiles. Lots of laughter happened too. I like to think the tears show us how much Dad mattered to us; hope is reflected in our laughter. Love is there always in times of joy and of sorrow.

One of the last times I saw our dad, when I was leaving to return home, he told me goodbye and said. “You’ve been a great daughter.” Being able to tell him “You’ve been a great dad,” was a gift. He was a gift.



There was a movie I watched years ago about the Vietnam War. What sticks in my memory the most is seeing the actors who portrayed the soldiers at the end of the movie… there were ‘before and after’ photos and video clips of each one. They looked much older and worn. Some were lost, some changed for the better, some for the worse, but ALL were changed in their own ways forever.

Many of us ‘experienced’ nurses- I hate the words ‘old’ or ‘seasoned’ so ‘experienced’ will have to do- desire to mentor our newer and/or younger nurses. We have the expectation that they can learn from us… our mistakes, our successes, our years of nursing practice. We celebrate their growth and achievements while hoping we played a part in it, however small.

What has happened over the past few weeks is something none of have ever experienced before. I pray we will not witness it again in any of our lifetimes.

On behalf of us ‘experienced’ nurses, I’d like for my younger fellow nurses to know this:

  • We’ve seen your strength, resilience, and courage.
  • Nothing (not school, not experiences shared by other nurses) prepared you (or us) for this. You went all in anyway.
  • We are proud of and grateful to you.
  • We have much to learn from you.
  • We admire you.

Well done, angels. Well done.



For all nurses- with love, respect, and gratitude (in response to Senator Maureen Walsh’s comments)

“I’m sorry to inform you that your father has had a massive hemorrhagic stroke. His prognosis is very poor.” I was at work that day twenty-one years ago, summoned to the nurses’ station for a phone call in the middle of a chaotic shift. With the sounds of call bells buzzing,  telemetry alarms beeping, and my fellow nurses rushing to their patients’ rooms, I gave the physician consent for a DNR order and chose goals of care for my Dad. I was taking care of five patients that day, three of whom were recovering from major surgery, and carried on to ensure they received safe care until the oncoming  nurse could relieve me.

Dad had been a patient at a rural long-term facility in Northwest Louisiana, hours from where I live in New Orleans. When I left work to pick up my three-year old son, my Mom was already on her way from Alabama to my home; she didn’t want me driving by myself knowing that my Dad was dying. I made two phone calls to Dad’s nurse along the way… checking on his status, his vital signs, the medications he was receiving. The information she gave me during the second call let me know there wasn’t much time left, and I asked her, “Will you please tell him I love him? I may not get that chance.” Her beautiful response was “I sure will, sweetheart. I’m going in his room right now.” Knowing, truly knowing, that a nurse, a lady I’d never met but a nurse, would be with him in his final moments when I couldn’t brought immeasurable comfort and peace.

It was only by God’s Divine timing that I was able to be with my father one last time. I entered Dad’s hospital room and saw how very well he had been cared for… he was in a comfortable position, clean, had oxygen on, was being monitored, and was receiving IV medications to alleviate any distress. His nurse greeted me and then gave me privacy to say goodbye with the assurance that she was right outside the room if I needed anything. She came to me when the monitors alerted her that Dad was gone. Though I don’t remember her name, I will never forget her sweet face, the way her own eyes filled with tears, and how she hugged me tightly as she said, “I’m so sorry, baby.”

It’s because of Dad’s nurse and all the nurses like her that I’m angered by Senator Walsh’s comments:

“I would submit to you that those (small hospital) nurses probably do get breaks,” Walsh said. “They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”

We nurses do put patients first, Senator, whether we work at a “small” rural hospital (the only place for miles patients have to go if they are involved in a major farming accident, have a baby with a 104 degree fever and seizures, or have had a hemorrhagic stroke) OR if we work in a hospital with the capacity for advanced care (like life-saving transplantation.) There is no sitting around and ‘playing cards’ going on.



Whatever It Takes


photo-1484100356142-db6ab6244067 (1)It’s funny how our minds work, and the way we never know what random memory might pop up during conversations about something else. My nephew and I were talking about looking forward to seeing each other on Easter (we don’t get to be together often enough) and about music. In a family with some really talented singers, we always joke that we are the ones who can’t carry a tune despite never giving up trying… repeatedly…  loudly. I suspect he really can sing but holds back to spare my feelings! Talking with him reminded me of what happened with one of my patients years ago.

Adam was a 35 year old man who had received a transplant several days before I took care of him. He had been in relatively good shape prior to surgery so the team and I were eager to get him up walking. Unfortunately, he was not eager at all. He would walk once a day, sit in the chair for maybe 30 minutes, and then he was done. Finished. No more.

His sisters and I tried everything we could think of to make him increase his activity; they would plead, beg, threaten… I tried compassion, empathy, bargaining, and taught him about the risks of post-op complications until my mouth had gone dry every single time I went in his room. He’d laugh, blow us off, say “maybe later”, or sometimes just refuse to speak altogether.

By the end of my third shift with him, his sisters had gone home to take a much-needed break. I totally understood as my own patience was wearing pretty thin too. At 6:00 pm, armed with last-ditch determination and a co-worker by my side, I entered his room, saying “Okay Adam. The time has come. Up you get, we’re going for a walk. You had your pain pills a half hour ago, so let’s do this!” His response, as predicted, was a yawn, a stretch, and a “Mmmm, maybe later.”

“No! No later.”

He started laughing which led me to doing the unthinkable.

I said, “Adam, if you don’t get up right now, I’m gonna start singing. I’m serious. You don’t want that.” My coworker, always a great team player, jumped in enthusiastically and told him, “Yeah! We’re gonna sing Ebony and Ivory!”

I think it was pretty fair that we gave him to the count of three to make his move. When that didn’t happen, we burst out singing as loudly as possible with “Ehhhh-bon-eeeee and Eye-vor-eeeee, live tooooo-getherrrrrr in puhhhhrrrr-fect har-monnn-eeeee!” Before we even got to the word ‘Ivory’, Adam had his hands out scrambling to sit on the edge of the bed and pleading, “No more! For the love of everything good, please stop singing! I’m getting up!” When the three of us got to the hallway, everyone was gathered around wondering why we laughing so hard!

Adam has done great with his transplant and comes to visit me at the hospital a few times a year. It’s great seeing him healthy and enjoying life! For some reason he always declines my offer to sing for him.



A Fill Up


img_1273After seeing something like this several years ago (and thinking each January 1st that I’d do it but not following through… thoughts and ideas seem to stay in my head a long, looong, painfully long time before there’s any actual action), it’s finally in our house.

The idea is to paint a pretty jar, bottle, or catch-all, write down special memories that happen throughout the year, then read them New Year’s Eve.  Many of us reflect on struggles we’ve had during the current year as we welcome in the new one, and I thought this will be another way to honor the good. There’s always so much good… a great conversation with a friend reminding us we are loved, a car ride with a son who makes us laugh so hard our sides ache… and I don’t want to forget those moments.

So the first day of 2019, I sat at the table with a little clay pot, armed with ambition and positive thoughts, surrounded by paint bottles and brushes, then remembered I am NOT an artist! Not even a little bit. I spent the next few days brushing on uneven coats of paint, letting them dry, discovering they were indeed not dry as I left many thumbprints thinking “Lemme just check and see if it’s dry…nope, not yet,” and making plenty of goofs with paint dripping where it wasn’t supposed to go.

Realizing that it would be July before the paint job would be ‘perfect’ and that would be just another way to justify in-action, I decided the little pot was finished and on came the over-thinking phase. What should you call it? Why do you have to call it anything? But if you do call it something, come up with a good name. Merry Memories? Beauty Bucket? Cheery Chamber?

Finally I decided on Happy Pot- one because it made me smile, and two, because the name was safe since my son is no longer school-aged. I can only imagine being called in for a teacher’s conference if we’d started the ‘happy pot’ years ago:”We have some concerns. Austin says ‘Every time we come home from doing something fun, Mom goes straight to her happy pot. She loves her happy pot!'”

Taking the gloves off finally…

Sometimes it helps me to look back so I don’t go back… I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of love lately and reflecting how the more you give love, the more you have. This was a worry filled time in our family a few years ago. I’m grateful to God for pulling my brother through.

Middle-Aged Musings: a Collection of Writings

boxing gloves

When I was a young girl, one of my uncles taught me how to throw a punch. Since I was always a bit of a loner, he must have sensed I’d need to be a fighter.  He wanted to make sure I grew up strong and confident, ready to face any battle… neither of us could have imagined the battles that I would wage against myself.

Almost 34 years ago, my mother married my step-dad, and our families merged. It takes a special man to love a child that another man created as if she were his own- that is what he has done. Though I still had my father at that time, he treated me like I was another of his daughters and welcomed me into his family. He had four grown children (three daughters and a son) who graciously accepted my mother and me even though they must…

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The Great Escape

“The horses are out.” I’d seen one of the guilty culprits passing by the window after he and his partner in crime had evidently found a weak spot in the fence.

“Well shoot!” My step-dad really did say ‘shoot’ as he jumped up, but I was thinking another word might work better. “See if you can grab Scamp and I’ll get in the car to go find King.” So off we went, headed out opposite doors leaving Mom by herself on Christmas morning.

All my life, my mother has been a very organized woman… everything in its place, house impeccably clean.. and she always made sure that Christmases were perfect. We had been in the living room in front of the fireplace opening gifts while the breakfast casserole she’d made hours earlier while everyone was still sleeping was baking in the oven, the glorious scent of cinnamon and fresh coffee in the air. It was an unusually cold day and we got to enjoy the fire without the air-conditioner running- Mom did this often; she always wanted a fire Christmas morning and we lived in the Deep South so we had to get creative. I was a senior in high school that year. Looking back now, I think she knew there wouldn’t be too many more holidays spent at home so each one became more precious than the last.

As I raced out the door, the rush of ice cold air bit into my lungs. The morning sky was a solid, heavy, dark gray and there was nowhere for the sun to peek through. The worn out fleece sweatshirt and pants were no match for the freezing wind and I was relieved my horse came to me when I called for him…

…I’m pausing the story for a second here. We had gotten Scamp a couple of years earlier and I fell in love with him. Mom told me a full decade later that she and my stepdad would watch me from the window with a mixture of amusement and genuine irritation as I called out from the bottom of the field. They’d hear “Scaaaa-yaaa-uump,” (because no word is really just one syllable when you’re from Alabama), and would start saying to themselves, “Why  is she calling to him like a dog? Listen to that. ‘Scaaa-yaaa-uump’ He’s never going to come to her.” Sure enough though, they were wrong, and I’d hear the thunder of the horse’s hooves as he’d gallop to me. Every. Single. Time!…

I stood holding onto Scamp’s halter, shivering and waiting for my step-dad to reappear with King. It wasn’t the ‘first rodeo’ for either one of them, so King was likely to be close-by.

My mother has done many wonderful and extraordinary things for me…never has my appreciation for her been greater before or since as suddenly feeling a heavy weight on my shoulders and instant warmth when she came outside and placed a thick hunting jacket around me. I think she had even put it in the dryer right before so it would be extra warm.

It wasn’t too long before I saw the prodigal son returning. Dad was driving his old big four-door Mercury very slowly, leading King along beside the car with a long rope holding it out the window. Fortunately our road saw hardly any traffic back then!

I don’t remember what happened next, but based on history presume that the fence was repaired quickly. My step-dad had lots of practice grabbing the roll of barbed wire and come-along and could repair a downed fence wire lickety-split. He was equally adept at jumping a car battery with almost no light available- he passed on that skill to me as we had lots of opportunities with the old Mercury!

I think I kept that jacket on for hours and we were really excited to have a story to tell when the rest of the family came over later.

Scamp and me. I was 17 and he was 4.





The Little Things- A Brother’s Love


“Mom, what if my brother doesn’t know how much I love him?”

After I came home from work last night, my son was uncharacteristically quiet for a long time until he somberly posed that question. “I think he knows, honey…tell me what’s going on.”

A little backstory here: After we divorced, Austin’s dad had another son; he and Nathan are five years apart. The family has had unimaginable losses over the past several years, losing both of Austin’s uncles on his dad’s side a few years ago and then his grandfather last month. Nathan leaves for boot-camp tomorrow and Austin is scared of losing him too.

“We all three went bowling today, and when Dad and I were in the car, he started talking about his brothers.” His voice began to falter. “I’ve told Nathan I love him but what if he doesn’t know? I’ve been a shitty brother.” The tears were welling up so he couldn’t say any more… but he still needed to talk, even if talking meant just hearing another’s voice.

“I’ll bet Nathan would have a different take on that.” I got a shrug. “You drove in the middle of the night to go pick him up when PawPaw was dying so he could say goodbye.” A slight nod. “And you helped him through it after… You’ve told me over and over again how much fun you guys have smack-talking and kidding around. And picking on your Dad!”

A real chuckle here… “Yeah, we do. He is pretty easy to pick on!”

“You show Nathan you love him by having fun together and letting him know you like being around him. And you’re smart to tell him you love him.” It was my turn to have a breaking voice. “Remember when Uncle Hank – (my brother) –  was so sick a few years ago? We didn’t know if he’d make it and I kept thinking about all the times I could have said ‘I love you’ but didn’t. When I finally got the chance to say it again, I told him I loved him and guess what? He already knew.”

There have been many times in my life I’ve been so weighted down with regrets that I couldn’t move forward. Two years and twelve days ago in my sister’s backyard, Hank said the following words to me and they changed my life: “Learn from them and move on. You’ve already lived the story. Stop opening the book and re-reading it.” I was able to share them with Austin last night.

This morning, Austin said “I called Nathan last night. We had the best talk ever!”

Thank God for brothers.


We get by with a little help from our friends…


One of my favorite scenes from The Full Monty is where Gaz and Dave find themselves stuck in the middle of a canal. They see a man approaching, walking his dog, and it may be an opportunity to get help. This is how the conversation goes:

Man: “All right?”

Gaz: “Aye. Not s’bad.”

Dave (after the man has walked by): “Not s’bad? Not s’bad?! That’s not much of a chuffing SOS, is it?”

Why is it so hard to ask for help? We often seek to be the helpers but don’t want to be the receivers. Maybe it’s pride, vanity, stubbornness… in my own case, it’s definitely all three along with my ego and not wanting to be a disappointment- it’s stupid, really.

My son and I moved into our neighborhood almost 15 years ago; our neighbors, Wendy and Mike, were among the first to welcome us. Through many joyous celebrations and some tragedies, the most heart-breaking being the loss of their daughter to cancer, they and their son Jeff have become family to us… a very real family. We know each other well (the good and the faults), speak the truth when needed with unconditional love and without fear of losing friendship, and always have each others’ backs.

A few months ago, I had roof damage. Making the decision to not make a decision (one of my worst faults) and thinking I would eventually make the right decision, I’d ignored the problem and it had become more extensive. My deductible is high and I was scared of the cost.

Jeff came over one morning and this was our conversation:

Him: “I saw your roof.”

Me: “Yeah. It’s not so bad.” (Channeling my inner ‘Gaz’)

Him: “It is bad. Don’t be stubborn. Do you need some help?”

Me: (screaming in my head ‘NOOOOOOO!’): “Yes.”

Jeff took the tape measure he’d brought over out of his pocket and we went outside to survey the damage. He made a list of what was needed, did a rough calculation of supply costs, asked me if I could afford it, and then we were off to the hardware store. On the way, I told him, “I’m glad you came over when you did. I was thinking about arson.” He replied, “No one in our family has gone to prison yet, and we’re not letting you be the first.”

Over the next several days, we worked to replace rotten wood and repair the structural damage so the roof didn’t leak any more. Actually I’m using the word “we” too liberally… Jeff and Mike repaired the damage. I handed them tools, held stuff, and gave them water.

It wasn’t long before the next difficult but inevitable conversation took place; I needed a new roof. Jeff broke the news, patiently explaining that if I delayed I could have a few good months before there was further damage but that it might get worse instead. He hugged me through all the very dramatic whining and tears that he’d known were coming, and when I finally said “Let’s do it,” told me he’d already contacted five different contractors for estimates and the first was on his way.

I have a new roof, the bank account has made a recovery, and I’m so grateful for my neighbors.

Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” My prayer for Jeff, the friend who has become my little brother, is that very soon he knows his worth and sees himself through the eyes of all of us who love him. That will  be a glorious day.







Joy Full

After all these years working as a transplant nurse, it is still really fun taking care of patients who have received a new kidney, especially those from a living donor. Some patients have been on dialysis for years, going to the same center three times a week for several hours.  I love listening to them call their dialysis units to share the good news and hearing the excited shouts of jubilation on the other end of the line! We’ve had parents donate a kidney to their child, child to parent, siblings, friends, in-laws, church members, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, and co-workers.  It is the gift of life and is both incredible and humbling to witness.

After I received report from the recovery room nurse on my patient, a 71 year old lady who received a kidney from her daughter, I went to the daughter’s room to let her know her Mom was doing well and was on her way up. Even though she was in pain, her smile was beautiful when she heard the good news.

When my patient came to her room, I met her husband and another daughter while I got her settled and did an assessment. After telling her Mom she loved her, the daughter asked where her sister’s room was, and said, “I’ll be right back. There’s a whole bunch of us coming.”

Very soon the room was filled with one of the sweetest, kindest families I’ve ever met. The love in there was so palpable it was breath-taking. When we receive a patient with a new kidney, we are in their rooms almost continuously the first eight hours- taking vital signs, performing assessments and interventions, adjusting medicines and IV fluids; the family was so warm and welcoming, they made me feel like I was one of them.  Her sons were excited every time I emptied the urine from their Mom’s foley catheter and they saw how well the kidney was doing, asking “How much is it now?”

Later in the evening, the family went to get some food and make phone calls; only the husband remained, not wanting to leave his wife’s bedside. He spoke of how blessed he felt that each of their seven children was able to be with them for the surgery, and how although they had all been tested, it was only the one daughter that was the perfect donor candidate for her mother. He shared his faith in God with me, saying that his wife’s kidney function was only at 8% for months but she had been spared having to go through dialysis prior to transplant.

As I worked with her, my patient searched with her eyes for her husband if he stepped out of her line of vision for even a second and he continued to stand at her bedside. I offered to pull the recliner closer to her, saying it must have been a long day and asking if he wanted to rest. He beamed and said, “No. There’s been no such thing as time today. Only joy!”


nature flowers garden plant
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