Hi Y’all! I am sorry it’s been so long since I posted anything on our blog. My dad had a totally unexpected stroke back on March 3 which has been life-changing for us. And honestly, I’ve been struggling to decide how to write about the experience. I first wrote a long (of course) and critical post about our modern medical system and why I was an idiot for calling 911 and subjecting my dad to it. I was at the final editing stage when I mentioned the subject to Matt over dinner. With his usual candor, he replied, “Tasha, do you really think anyone wants to read about how broken our system is?” Since I had already painstakingly written 3343 words on the subject, he was lucky my wine glass was full or I would have hurled it at him. But by the time we finished our talk and I emptied my glass, I realized he had a point.
Even writing about the experience made me angry. Recounting all the absurd and dangerous practices that qualify as “care” that cost patients and taxpayers ridiculous amounts of money probably increased my own risk of stroke. Really though, I don’t want to be angry and I don’t want to write about things that will give other people reasons to be angry either. Hate and anger make people crazy. Just look at all these race-based shootings by and/or at the police or the hate attacks in France and Florida. We don’t need more to be mad about. Note: My original rant was not about the hardworking professionals who did their best for my dad, but about the way insurance, lawsuit-driven risk management procedures, pharmaceutical companies, and algorithms determine standards of care, the overuse of antibiotics, and the detriment of over-compartmentalized job descriptions and unnecessary administrative requirements burdening staff. Some of you hardworking medical professionals were my best advisors during this time because you know the challenges. Your hard work is appreciated especially now that I understand better what you have to deal with on a daily basis.
So, here’s my alternative posting, thanks to Matt’s intervention… My dad’s ten day hospital stint in Winston-Salem falls into the category of “shit happens”. It’s behind us and thanks to the location of his brain hemorrhage, my dad can’t even remember being there. And I feel extremely fortunate that Matt and I have managed to live our lives in a manner that made it possible for me to care for my dad at home after emergency treatment ended. Many people are forced to work too many hours and have too much stress built into their lives to be able to provide round-the-clock care for incapacitated loved ones. Some people have their own limiting health concerns and don’t have the physical stamina to care for someone else. Changing a 150 pound adult’s “diaper”, lifting them on and off the bedside toilet, massaging their body parts, giving them sponge baths, and moving their limbs to prevent muscle atrophy are time-consuming and highly physical tasks. If my dad’s stroke had happened a few years ago, when I worked in the legal world, I would not have been either physically or time-wise capable of handling those tasks. But homesteading has helped me reclaim my physical health and prepared me to care for my dad in countless ways.
I am really so thankful to have this “luxury”. It may not seem like a luxury some days, but it’s exactly what we meant when we gave up our city lives and began to “reLuxe”. We traded money for time. And things for experiences. And I am so glad we did because our lives have become much richer in what matters as a result.
Humans like to think we’re a special and distinct from the rest of nature. But I can tell you after months of taking care of my dad, from a physical perspective our needs are fundamentally the same as an animal’s. After the initial shock of his stroke and panic about what to do about it wore off, I realized that most of what I did for my dad was a perfect parallel to what I did for chickens, ducks, pigs, goats, and in some ways even worms and plants. I make his meals, clean his area, put on TV programs I know he’ll like, take him out for fresh air and sunshine, occasionally take him to town for distraction, help him with grooming, to the degree to which he is capable, I teach him how to do things to make it easier on me to care for him, etc. Humans need food, water, companionship, entertainment, and comfort. We aim for the elimination of pain, distraction from it when elimination is impossible, and the illusion of safety. On the Ranch, this is exactly what we provide for our animals. When I write up my chore lists and daily duties, I lump these activities into a category called “Care and Feeding”.
Yet, we differ from animals in that we can brood over our plight and wallow in self-pity. I have yet to see any of our farm animals do that. And we can also transcend our experience and transform tragedies into new trajectories. What happened to my dad is not really a tragedy, but more a normal part of life. Others have suffered, or are still suffering, much worse for reasons that make no sense like hatred and greed. It’s hard to see it this way when your life is transformed into something totally unrecognizable in a matter of hours. But in fact our bodies are built to decay. Our time, in this iteration of ourselves, is limited. We know this, but we seem to need to be reminded. And I have been. Watching my dad face his struggles with humor when he didn’t even know his name, or realized he needed the restroom but couldn’t get there on time, or when he finally got the spoon to his mouth only to discover he forgot to load it, has been one of the most humanizing and heart-breakingly beautiful experiences of my life.
My dad has always been one of my best friends. I have sought his advice for all my struggles and have always eagerly shared successes with him, wanting him to be proud, not just of me, but of his own accomplishment in enabling mine. Some days I wish I could talk to him like I used to, but since his language skills are still a tangled mess, I can’t. Even so, through his actions, the way he meets each day and each new obstacle (as there are literally thousands of things he has to relearn), he has perhaps demonstrated the most important lesson he will ever teach me. I only hope that one day I’ll be able to face life with such grace. And that’s what he has shown me.
Grace. The sublime gift of being, the simple elegance of meeting experiences honestly, and without anger. There are things we can change and things we can’t. The past for example, that’s done and gone. Megalithic systems like “health care” and Wall Street are facts of our world. To some extent we are stuck with them for now, though we can minimize use and work towards change. Climate change is real and we must face it. Whatever we are at our core, we are still clothed in skin, bones, blood, organs, and biology. Our bodies are vehicles that wear out and eventually fail. But we still have choices to make. We can meet our realities as my dad has. With grace. Or we can waste our energy being angry.
We can choose grace or anger or shades between. This is what makes us human. The rest, from my perspective, is just care and feeding.
I owe a lot of people gratitude and appreciation for all their support through this time. We’re now getting a bit more traffic on our site thanks to some of our writings with Dark Mountain (Matt) and Mother Earth News and The Grow Network (Tasha), so in the interest of preserving everyone’s privacy, I won’t name you in this blog, but you know who you are. So, to those of you who suffered my angry rants while my dad was in the hospital - I’m sorry! And thank you. You kept me sane. To those of you who have patiently listened while my dad chatted away about liver farts, fiddle faddles, and talked about himself as “her” and “she”, as if you had any idea what he was trying to say, thank you. You made me proud to call you friend. To those of you who cooked us food, visited us in the early days (when it was frankly painful to see), offered to take care of our animals or give Matt and I a night-off for a little romance, thank you. You gave me hope that we could get through this. We really are so lucky to be surrounded by such incredible community and family. It honestly makes me wonder why we can’t solve the world’s problems when there are so many wonderful people in it.
On second thought…maybe we still can. At the very least, we can meet what comes with grace and in the company of good friends and family.
(And to Matt - You are too good to be true, and yet you prove with your actions and constant support that you are. This is a paradox I may never unravel and yet am infinitely grateful for.)
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