A Letter to My First Girl

by on December 3, 2011 · 72 comments

in From the Soul, Life Events, Popular

My dearest Debbie: this is so scary, your cardiac arrest. Seeing you on Thanksgiving Day connected to all those tubes and machines buzzing and beeping and ringing, with their blue and green and yellow lines zigzagging across a bank of screens, dancing and flashing “vital sign” statistics like storm troopers – I thought I would die, baby. That was so surreal, so not you.

I cry to the universe, stunned, with a simple question on my tongue, like a character in the old time movies: “What’s the big idea?” I mean, really, what genre of karma is this that has you in such a dark valley between life and death? And I can’t help but recall when you got here.

Remember that historic day in our lives? January 4, 1957. You were in a nursery just a crying and flailing your arms like a tiny brown Leonard Bernstein and I stood there, a child myself, eighteen, shaking in my Chuck Taylor Converse All Star Basketball Shoes, wondering what was to become of me and you in this father/daughter arrangement we were getting into, against a background of pictures of Bible icons placed in the recessed spaces along the walls: guardian angels, the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, nailed to a cross.

But there was such a lovely aura about you that said: “Hey, Pops, there ain’t nothing to it. Look at me. You can do it.” And by and by I learned the nuances of your cries, instinctively, which cries were about food, which cries were about mood, about just not feeling at ease, about the need for diapering, or a simple kiss and hug or a little playful tease. Those were the intricacies but you immersed me in the basics too, teaching me lessons like it was better for your skin and your disposition if I spent less time cursing and lamenting the changing of your wet and poopy diapers and more time actually changing them. So simple, so less stressful. Never-the-less still smelly.

Oh, what a master teacher you were, pointing out and asking questions about things in the neighborhood I had never paid attention to and I’d lived there for two decades before you entered my life. You gave me a different spin on my place in the Milky Way. Hanging out with you made me realize that there was no way I was going to bring you up in a “We don’t serve, Negroes” world. None of that Jim Crow nonsense for my little girl. “No sirree, Bob,” as those rednecks would say. Forget that.

So the next thing I knew I was helping organize Students for Equality, S-F-E. We took on a range of inequities and that came to be a lifelong lifestyle for me.

And I don’t know how I managed trying to alter this society in between being a father to you and Guy and Teresa and classes and basketball practices and games and running Tucson’s “Colored Swimming Pool” and working a series of janitor jobs where everybody was the kind of “Big Boss Man” fool Jimmy Reed used to sing about in the blues. I somehow got through all that without, although I had to bite my tongue a few times, bowing or shuffling because I knew that Mr. Man, as Mr. Reed would tell him in the song, wasn’t so big. He was “just tall, that’s all.” Girl, I had to learn to stand tall. I hope to shout: You taught me what dignity is all about.

And, voila, one day, I’ve got a B.S. in P.E. and then a M.ED and we all packed up and headed for the sea. The mighty Pacific. San Diego.

And shortly after we arrived life for us unraveled, didn’t it, baby? I’m so sorry. All that noise. All that anger. All that unreasonableness. Craziness. That was so devastating to me because all I wanted in life was a happy family much like Dick and Jane’s, in fact.  “But Life,” as my Aunt Lillie used to say, “be that way, sometime.”

But in the midst of the dysfunction we squeezed in some precious memories, didn’t we? Softball. Track. Good Citizen and Smart Kid Assemblies. I can still see you playing the clarinet in that Elementary All-Star Band. I remember, in particular, a spat we once had that clued me in on how hip you were. You said: “So, here you are raising your fist in the air talking about Black Power and Power to the People and all that and I want to go to the black school down the street and you’ve got me in this school that’s mostly white.” You didn’t want to hear my take about all the enrichment activities and parent involvement in your school compared to a school that had no such environment. Holla! Talking about Daddy Power!

Then there came that day you chose to live with your mom and I’ve never felt so hollow. Then your friends became everything and it seemed we would never get back together again and then you became pregnant at nineteen. Man, was that a familiar scene, one that surely wasn’t in my hopes and dreams for you but thank God for la maze as helping you bring Cedric into the world was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. With his birth I realized that I was a root of our Family Tree which said ever so loudly to me that I had the responsibility of leaving all my progeny a legacy of good deeds being carried out on this earth. How else is the world better served?

Life since those days seems a blur. I see us getting together every now and then, you and your kids and my new family, for birthdays and picnics and such but the closeness we once enjoyed seemed to fade away. Until the other day. What a day. Did we have a good time or que? All day. Good food. So many laughs. Like old times when I pushed you around the neighborhood. You’ve always seen the funny in the world. We must have discussed every facet of the America we’re residing in today: the ridiculous shameful embarrassing behavior of the women on Basketball Wives, Occupy, Gay rights, Obama, the kid rapper, Astro, who had the meltdown on the X-Factor Show…

But it was the clearing of the air that was most gratifying for me, letting old misunderstandings and unintended sins committed against each other go. Have you ever executed so many fist bumps in your life? Didn’t it feel good just letting our love for each other flow? It gave me such a glow. It got me walking around chippier than I can remember being in a long time, especially since losing Nancy, that beautiful woman of mine, and living in a dark hole that was so hard to climb out of. Our getting together not only made my day but it made the next day too because I didn’t get the word about what had happened to you until Thanksgiving,

And, Lord, that phone call about you being in a coma on life support transported me to a degree of surrealism unlike any I’ve ever experienced.

But so many people, Debbie, are wishing you well and praying for you from the depths of their hearts, from a range of religious and spiritual beliefs. I am so heartened by this outpouring of love for you and our family.

A dear friend of mine, in particular, said to me: “Endure whatever comes with as much grace and compassion and acceptance as you can muster and mix the bittersweet with joy.”

And these past few days I’ve been a mustering fiend. And your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and our friends and your mom and me and some wonderful doctors and nurses are doing all we can to wean you off those ICU machines, massaging your feet and hands, stretching you, singing to you, playing you music, trying to signal your nervous system that everything is okay, trying to touch places in you that will reestablish your connection to life, to us.

We cheer every time you move a toe or a finger or nod your head or cough or sneeze or open your eyes narrow or wide. We see it all as you trying not to go to that light and the more you resist the closer we come to fulfilling our mission of helping you stay alive. That, for me, in these moments, is my mission in life.

Oh, I love you so. Stay with us, sweet girl. Pretty please. With sugar on it.

{ 72 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Anna Daniels December 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Ernie- I’m holding you and Debbie in my heart.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 3, 2011 at 7:08 pm

And a great and loving heart it is.

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avatar Gloria Tyler-Mallery December 4, 2011 at 10:55 am

Ernie – at this time all I can offer is prayer for you, Debbie and the family. During a time of trouble or calamity, it is sometimes difficult to remember the promises of God. The pressures of the moment may seem overwhelming. You might find it helpful to read, meditate on, and pray the entire chapter of Psalm 91. Sit with Debbie and read it to her. May God continue to bless strngthen all of you and we thank Him for healing.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 4, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Thanks so much, Gloria: I will take heed to your suggestion as Debbie’s faith is strong.

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avatar Annie December 3, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Ernie, I have tears in my eyes. Wow. Thank you for so openly sharing this moment and your past with the world. You write with courage and a father’s unyielding love, both of which are unmistakable. I wish the best for your dear Debbie, the rest of your family and you.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 3, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Thanks so much, Annie. Your thoughts mean a lot to me.

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avatar Paula Dycaico December 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Ernie, I am so sad for you and your family. I will have you all in my heart as you go through this difficult time.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 4, 2011 at 12:40 am

That means a lot to me, old friend.

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avatar Debbie Terry December 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm

You, my friend, are a special man. I so wish for you to have more precious time with your first girl.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 3, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Your wish for me to have more precious time with my first girl matches my wish precisely.

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avatar Shelley Plumb December 3, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Ernie, Just looking at the photo of your precious Debbie is enough to know what a beautiful woman she is. I will think only good thoughts about her recovery and please know that you both are in my thoughts. Sending healing and peace.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 3, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Thank you as healing and peace sounds so healing and peaceful.

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avatar Yvette Porter Moore December 3, 2011 at 7:32 pm

My heart goes out to you and your family. What a wonderful letter! Very touching.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 4, 2011 at 12:45 am

Thanks, Yvette: I thought about you one moment when I wrote this piece because you have been doing so much research on your “family,” and I was thinking of all the stories, good and bad, happy and sad, intriguing and mundane in our histories.

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avatar Christian Warren Cullen December 3, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Dammit Mr McCray, why you gotta make me cry like that? Please give Debbie my best. FB me if I can be any help at all.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 3, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Thank you, buddy.

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avatar Shannon Albinio December 3, 2011 at 9:11 pm

My thoughts and prayers are with you, Debbie and your entire family. Sending you lots of love and hugs. Love you Big Ernie!!

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avatar Ernie McCray December 4, 2011 at 12:42 am

Love you back, Shannon.

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avatar Lois December 3, 2011 at 11:33 pm

As Christian Warren Cullen says, “why you gotta make me cry like that.” I can’t think of what to say. I am so saddened. I remember a song by Leon Russell that goes something like this, “with all of its troubles and all of its joys, life is a bittersweet waltz. ‘ My hope is with both of you. Thank you for bringing us into your life.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 4, 2011 at 12:42 am

Thanks for accepting the invitation, for helping me dance the waltz.

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avatar Leda Olinger December 4, 2011 at 1:32 am

You are one of the biggest heroes in my life…I’m certain you are in Debbie’s! Thank you for sharing these thoughts as I believe there is not one father and daughter who could not relate to your experience. Godspeed.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 4, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Thanks so much Leda; you played a big part in my personal history as Muir was something truly special, wasn’t it. Give my regards to your family.

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avatar Sara Gurling December 4, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Ernie,
My heart breaks as I read this. In my own life I have known this pain (this exact pain) and also the hope and love and sorrow and inspiration.

I will be thinking of you and your daughter. Peace and love.
Sara Gurling

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avatar Ernie McCray December 5, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Oh, it is a pain isn’t it? I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, as they say. Thanks for your peace and love.

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avatar Brenda December 4, 2011 at 8:34 pm

If I could send all the angels in this existence, they would be with you and your sweet baby girl…and, actually I can ~ all it takes is two…and obviously, so many more sending the same desire..
My love prayers and sincere desire for fate’s purpose and will to you and your loved ones always, Ernie! Sharing is caring…and that is a given! <3's and strength, which you already possess…O:) ~

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avatar Ernie McCray December 4, 2011 at 9:18 pm

I love your eloquent sentiments, Brenda.

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avatar JMW December 4, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Can only wish the best outcome for you and your family and that I could make you all laugh.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 4, 2011 at 9:19 pm

The best outcome would make us laugh with joy.

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avatar Peter December 4, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Wonderful words from a wonderful person. Hang in there Ernie because we all need you to stay with us too!

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avatar Ernie McCray December 4, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Hey, I shall survive if it’s up to me but I feel like one of those old Negroes in the old movies, singing: “Nobody knows de trubble I seen.” But if you thought I could dance before, watch the jib I be doing if my precious baby survives – if my back doesn’t go out on me (smile).

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avatar pamela kobusch December 5, 2011 at 2:28 am

I’m with Anna, Ernie. I don’t know what else to say.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 5, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Hey, I’ll take your sentiments no matter who they’re combined with.

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avatar Gwen Pierce December 5, 2011 at 7:18 am

Beautifully written Ernie. Debbie truly has an amazing father. You and your entire family have been such a blessing to us all. I’m so sorry for your pain. We’re all praying for Debbie to come back soon. If you need anything I’m just a phone call or email away.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 5, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Hey, thanks. I feel you.

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avatar wendyEllen December 5, 2011 at 8:42 am

Well Jan 4th is a double special day..My daughter was born on that day in the old Balboa Navy Hospital …what a teacher she has been to me. I’ll be sure to pass through when I arrive. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 5, 2011 at 12:26 pm

I can feel it and it feels good.

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avatar Frank Gormlie December 5, 2011 at 9:01 am

We’re standing here with you Ernie in Debbie’s darkest hours, as the thoughts that you have expressed here shine light into all of humanity’s corners and enlighten all of us in this journey we call life.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 5, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Hey, dude, that was quite poetic. Thank you, my brothuh.

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avatar Ikenna Anyanwu Kokayi December 5, 2011 at 12:08 pm

While I know that men and women practice medicine I sincerely believe that ALL healing is from God. I am in concert with the many who desire a total recovery but I also believe that death is often a part of the healing process and God has all of eternity in which to respond. I am comforted by my faith in The Healer. In our limited space of Now, I humbly suggest to you my brother, that you allow the memories so beautifully articulated to “trump” this temporary instance. Whatever happens: Debbie IS fine! Now say it proudly: Hotep. Ase. Heri.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 5, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Thanks and no problem: Hotep. Ase. Heri.

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avatar Linda Taggart December 5, 2011 at 3:36 pm

My heart and prayers go out to all of you. Ernie your writing, your stories are what draw us closer. Thanks for sharing your life.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Thank you, amiga. Sharing my life is what’s helping me get on with it during these times.

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avatar Barbara Asaro December 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Dear Ernie, I send appreciation for your beautiful story and am uplifted by your tremendous courage. I pray for the best and highest good for all concerned. May God bless your family. Barbara

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avatar Ernie McCray December 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm

We need a nice blessing and thanks for asking for it for us.

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avatar Debbie December 5, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Hoping your beautiful daughter will soon open her eyes which will bring a warm smile to your face and heart. That is my wish for this season :-)

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avatar Ernie McCray December 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm

I love the way you wish, Debbie.

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avatar Carrie Peery December 5, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Ernie, your dcaughter is in God’s hands and I pray that he will allow her to remain with you and your family. She is so beautiful. Your words still command attention. God hear them. Love , peace and best wishes to you and your family. L, C P .

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avatar Ernie McCray December 5, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Thank you, my friend. I can feel your love and I know you know my pain.

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avatar Lynn E. December 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Ernie,
Thank you for giving us the honor of joining the circle of love around your daughter. Love.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 5, 2011 at 8:43 pm

You are most welcome.

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avatar Tommy December 6, 2011 at 12:21 pm

From the Johnson Family our prayers and Love go out to you and your family.
God will take care of you…………………

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avatar Ernie McCray December 7, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Ah, thanks. We do need to be taken care of at this moment in time.

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avatar Evonne Schulze December 6, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Dear Friend, You said it for all parents. Your overwhelming love and compassion has been a strength to many of us over the years…now know that we are all here for you and Debbie and family at this time., My love,prayers and good wishes are with you.
Most fondly, evonne

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avatar Ernie McCray December 7, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Oh, Evonne, I’ve felt your love for so many years and it feels good to still have it in my life. Mil gracias.

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avatar Willie J. Horton December 6, 2011 at 5:43 pm

Ernie,
I’m still praying for Debbie and your family. Keep hope alive, because hope and fear are inseparable.
Willie

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avatar Ernie McCray December 7, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I can feel it, amigo.

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avatar Steve Kaplan December 6, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Hang in there Earnie. Our hopes and prayers are with Debbie and your family.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 7, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Kaplan hopes and prayers are among my fondest.

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avatar Dianne Lane December 7, 2011 at 8:05 am

It’s all been said so well. Just want to add another prayer to the pot for Debbie and all of you. And thank you for one of the most precious letters I’ve ever read.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 7, 2011 at 12:27 pm

There can never be enough prayers in the pot, I always say (smile). I’m glad the letter resonated with you.

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avatar Sunshine December 7, 2011 at 4:34 pm

Ernie, the love and bond you and your daughter have, and so openly share with us here, is Love in its truest form. It is unstoppable, immeasurable, and fully pleasing to God. Oh, how I wished and prayed for a relationship such as you two share with my own father. My heart is saddened that you are experiencing this immense pain, yet please know your words of fatherly devotion touch a special place inside this little girl’s heart.

“When we are facing the impossible-to-comprehend and are driven to God for answers, He is always enough.” May His grace and care and strength be your constant companions and may your daughters healing be swift, miraculous, and baffling to the doctors. You and your precious family are in my prayers.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Oh, I would love it if Debbie baffled the hell out of those doctors.

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avatar Sunshine December 7, 2011 at 6:02 pm

^word

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avatar Ernie McCray December 7, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Word up!

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avatar Eric Chase December 7, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Ernie my heart thoughts and prayers are with you, Debbie and your family. The love you have for your daughter and your arrangement of words and speech are very powerful

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avatar Ernie McCray December 7, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Thanks much for your heart thoughts and prayers. Can’t get enough.

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avatar Raffi December 8, 2011 at 12:42 am

Ernie,

My prayers are with you and your family. Thanks again for coming to our class, it was a wonderful and amazing experience, and I’m sure your daughter shares the same affable and down-to-earth personality that you have. I’m praying for her speedy recovery, and strength for everyone around you; I know these are trying times.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 9, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Thanks much, Raffi. Debbie is down to earth and we want so much for her to stay here on earth and that’s what my energy, the vibrations I’m sending out to the universe, is dedicated to.

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avatar john December 9, 2011 at 12:46 am

The week before Thanksgiving, my best friend Jeannie, who was 55, had her third heart attack. She passed away before the paramedics she had called could arrive, they could not revive her.
Give your daughter a big hug and make sure she follows every instruction her doctors give her. Even though she knew better, Jeannie continued to smoke cigarettes up until about a month before her death.

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avatar Ernie McCray December 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm

When Debbie, less than a month shy of 55, gets through this I’m hiding every cigarette in the world.

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avatar Sheila Bender February 10, 2012 at 6:41 pm

I am reading this over a year later . I believe that Debbie made it. I find myself praying for her and for all of us in this vulnerable, changeable life. I love you letter to your daughter, Ernie, which becomes a letter to us all about life, about love, about continuance and being “roots” in our lives.

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avatar Ernie McCray February 11, 2012 at 12:10 am

She cognitively is coming along quite well. It’s going to be a while, a journey, but I see us getting there.

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