In case anyone noticed, I missed the deadline for my last Lagniappe column. Our household has been in a bit of a turmoil recently. My wife’s mother, “Poochie” Dowers, passed away two weeks ago. She was 83 and not in good health. So while it was not a huge surprise, it still had a huge emotional impact.
Poochie lived in DeQuincy with her husband “Sarge.” (Everybody in DeQuincy seems to have a nickname, and if you use their given names, people often don’t know who you are talking about). Cathy and her brother and sister had recently tried to talk Poochie into considering a reverse mortgage option in order to have around-the-clock care in her home. Her health had been declining, and she needed more assistance than her 90-year-old husband could provide.
Her demise started three weeks ago when she fell and broke her ankle. They rushed her to the hospital where she could only have one visitor a day because of the coronavirus. Then complications set in due to her heart problems.
She was moved to the ICU and it looked like she might not make it through the night.
My wife Cathy was in a frenzy. Poochie and Sarge had three children, 13 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren. Family was everything to her, and she had not been able to see them for nearly two months because of the coronavirus. Cathy and her siblings did not want their mother to die alone in the hospital.
They managed to get her released to home hospice on Thursday, and for the next three days there was a steady parade of family and friends, food and flowers to say goodbye to her. So Poochie passed the way she had always wanted — surrounded by her family.
Funeral arrangements are always emotionally trying, but they are especially difficult during a pandemic. They say large family gatherings that mix the young and old are a prime environment for spreading the virus, and Southwest Louisiana had just reopened its economy amidst warnings from the health experts that such mixed groups could lead to an outbreak of the virus. Everyone at the funeral was wearing facemasks and trying to social distance, but it was nearly impossible because it is human nature to want to embrace someone who is hurting emotionally.
While all this was going on in DeQuincy, the national news was painting a surreal picture of our country in chaos. Trump supporters were demonstrating against the corona lockdown and refusing to wear facemasks while leftists were protesting police brutality and calling for defunding the police. Some blacks were tearing down historic statues and demanding the removal of anything they considered a symbol of white supremacy while white supremacists were arming to the teeth and calling for a race war (a “boogaloo” in the parlance of social media).
With the 2020 presidential election just four months away, uncertainty and confusion reign. While President Trump has a lock on the Republican nomination, the polls show him trailing the presumptive Democrat nominee, Joe Biden, by a wide margin. But Biden, who would be the oldest person ever to run for president, has promised to name a woman as his running mate, though he did not say whom. So, several female Democrats are now jockeying to see who might become our next acting president.
Meanwhile, Trump is itching to get out on the campaign trail and hold mass rallies and doubling down on motivating his base to go to the polls rather than appealing to moderate swing voters, a tactic likely to produce a record turnout among African-Americans. (That is how John Bel Edwards became our governor).
When I was growing up in the 1960s, there were three broadcast news channels — ABC, NBC and CBS. All three of them competed for the middle of the political spectrum where most people dwelt. This meant those on the left thought the networks were too conservative while those on the right thought they were too liberal. But it also meant we were all pretty much on the same page when it came to what was going on in the world.
It is different now. Today most people get their news from cable TV, where they have an array of choices spread across the political spectrum, or from the Internet, where there are umpteen sites espousing conspiracy theories and spreading unfounded rumors, including some surreptitiously operated by foreign governments for the purpose of sowing confusion and discord among the American people.
This can make civil discourse difficult. It is as if the U.S. has become a political Tower of Babel where we don’t speak the same political language, we don’t agree on basic facts and we can’t get a consensus to get anything done.
Poochie’s passing reminded me of the importance of family. I am a Yankee by birth, although I have lived most of my adult life south of the Mason-Dixon line. Up north, people tend to have small, nuclear families that are highly mobile and spread out across the country. Over the years, we often lose track of our siblings, nephews, nieces, and other family members. Down south, especially in Louisiana, people tend to have large extended families that get together at every opportunity: Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, Mardi Gras, birthdays, weddings, and, yes, funerals. That doesn’t mean that we all like each other, but we put those disagreements aside, and in times of trouble come together and stand side by side.
What our nation needs right now as it faces multiple challenges is for people to unite and come together as one. Democracy works on the principle of consensus, not domination; one does not always get everything one wants. But we get more of what we want by working together and cooperating than by tearing each other down. As Jesus said: “if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25).