Thursday, May 03, 2018

How a city girl, gone country grieves (and raises cows): Old TImes

 How a city girl, gone country grieves 
(and raises cows)

I met Kimberly through farming. She, like me, has been dropped into this life and is learning to love it just like me. She is a Christian, however, our pasts are nothing alike. I've asked her to share her story on my Blog over the next weeks or months or however long it takes. It is filled with much grief and loss but will hopefully make you laugh and smile and grow and grieve along with her.

If we measure the character of our society by the way we treat our elderly, we are in serious trouble.
I’m not sure where to begin. I’m angry, appalled, frustrated, mortified, and yes again angry. This is our last week in a nutshell. While it had some redeeming qualities, it breaks my heart to tell this story.
My husband’s father now lives in TN with us. We moved him down from PA last weekend. He had an opportunity to unload the farmhouse he’d lived in for 27 years with his wife, my husband’s mother, until she left him and filed divorce 8 years ago. Since that time, he had been alone. There are three other siblings; one in the wind (sister), one about 30 min from dad and one about an hour from dad. Not a single one checked in on dad, his living conditions or his health. When the one brother did visit it was to use the garage for his own needs and not stay long. This is the tip of the proverbial iceberg of a tragically deep and wide boulder of an issue.
When we arrived to pick up dad, he was in a state. It was hard for him to leave the only home he’d known for nearly 75 years. It was hard for him to let go of something he’d worked hard to keep, even if just barely. The living conditions were, at best, poor. He had been eating out of cans for over a year, his only hot meal was what the family that bought the house from him delivered the day before. I think he may have had hot meals when he visited his one son, but those occasions were so rare he’s not sure he remembers eating. His wood stove had been sold out of the house while he was still there as a vain and despicable attempt by ‘family’ to force him to sell the place sooner and move out. This last winter (we all know how long this winter has been!) he survived the coldest nights sleeping in his vehicle with it running to stay warm. I could continue, but the stories are so heart-breaking it would make you sick.
Within 24 hours, we noticed dad seemed to come alive. He was a little gray when we picked him up, and by the time we arrived in TN he was getting rosy in his cheeks. We stopped and bought his first new clothes in many years. He slept in a bed for the first time in decades. He has his mind about him; he’s so terribly conditioned from many years of an abusive relationship and neglectful children.
We were some of those children once.
Admittedly, it was always ‘the wrong time’ when he would call my husband. After a few attempts, he’d call me. I rarely answered and just passed him back to my husband. “Call your dad. He’s blowing up my phone too.” After witnessing WHY he was so desperate to connect with us, I am ashamed. I am angry with myself. The ‘we didn’t know’ excuse is so wimpy and I take responsibility for my ignorance. While we really DIDN’T know how bad things had gotten for dad, I have made it my mission to console, guide and help him for the rest of his life with us. As long as we are able, this gentle old soul will never see the inside of a rest home, will have food, shelter, family and love.
Have we forgotten that we are COMMANDED by the Lord to see after one another? Have we forgotten how we became the men and women we are today? Are we so self-focused that we cannot see the real mission field begins at home? I realize many folks do not have a choice; the mental and physical conditions of their aging parent warrants a facility designed to give them the best care and comfort. Yet for those of us with folks like dad, who has his mind but maybe struggles with a little anxiety and some physical impairments, he’s still able to shower and care for himself; what say we of these?
We already share our home with my 89 year old mother. I am extremely fortunate that to date she is still capable of managing her personal care. She no longer drives and has lost sight in her left eye and can’t hear worth a dime, but she is sharp in her mind and enjoys being a part of a very active family. Adding dad, almost 75, who is quiet and quite happy to return to a farming atmosphere is the icing on the extremely complicated cake of many layers and flavors!
I am calling you out. I am not demonizing; I can totally relate to the constant chatter, repeating myself a dozen times, the extra layer of stress being sure she eats, drinks, where she is in the house, will she be alone anytime during that day, what appointments does she have, etc. I relate to frustration when we don’t see eye to eye and she doesn’t get that she is incapable of doing certain things. It’s like a child but worse; she has lived. Watching her deteriorate, even at a slow pace, is heart-wrenching. New discoveries of what she can no longer do then the revelation of what she can still do, and so much more than others younger than her age. It’s literally a day to day carousel of emotion; all on top of marriage, children, farm, businesses, faith-walk and now dad.
I know one fact that most folks are terrified to admit; all families are dysfunctional. Dealing with aging parents reveals the absolute worst in some families. It reveals the selfishness of our younger generations, like the businesses that turn over to the next generation just to watch it railroad into the dust from which it came. Some of the most atrocious acts of neglect today, while appalling, are not new. That’s the tragedy of the whole thing. Some families literally IGNORE their family members until they die, then rifle through the remains of their legacy for a little cash value. I have seen this myself and I’m disgusted and mostly saddened. Regardless the lives of these folks, their histories, these are still people. Make peace with the past already, material things don’t last and physical people don’t either. Which of these are really more valuable?  Dreadfully, I believe the former is true for more families than one can count.
What can we ‘look forward to’ then? I am no more sure of the future than you. I just know that my conviction is to share our story, as each chapter emerges, and pray someone will discover and help their family members. Check in on them, even if they are crotchety old monsters. A lot of the time, loneliness will create that defensiveness.  One of the most heart-breaking things dad has shared is those many hours he spent just staring at the floor, wondering what he did to make his children ignore him. If that doesn’t pull your heartstrings, well, you must not have a pulse.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”  1 JN 4:11 KJV
Until next time, 

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