Originally Published: March 31, 2013 9:55 p.m.
When is enough enough? My friend's 79-year-old mother is battling lung cancer. One day he told me he was frustrated, because it seems his mom has "given up" and is refusing treatment. He said she has always been a fighter and didn't know what to make of this "new defiance." I said maybe his mom was just tired. "Maybe tired of living," he said softly. He asked me if I had any every experienced anything like this.
Last year, my 9-year-old horse became gravely ill with Cushings Disease and insulin deficiency. It caused the circulation in her front hoofs to just about stop, making walking very painful, rotating her bones down to the hoof wall. We had to put her on strict stall rest, and the vet did a hoof resection. We had special shoes put on and gave her medicine six times a day. Sometimes, Sedona would shut her lips tight, like a vice, and I could barely get the syringe into her mouth. Or she would shake her head so fiercely that the medicine would squirt out all over (me) and we would battle it out. Of course, my thousand-pound horse was usually the winner. She was a difficult patient!
One day last summer, I noticed Sedona had hobbled to the end of her stall and was staring out at the lush, green pasture and the other horses grazing. Looking for a sign of hope, I ran down to the corral and went over to Sedona and opened her gate wide. I put my arms around her neck and told her she could eat all the sweet grass she wanted. (Probably like offering cake to a diabetic). But she stood still, gazing out at the thick emerald carpet that was maybe 50 feet away. I watched, and then busied myself with chores, hoping she would venture out to the pasture. Finally, after a full 10 minutes, she slowly turned around, looked at her stall and walked inside the barn.
It was a defining moment. She had stared down the beckoning of cool grass, shady trees and companionship of her beloved pasture-mate, Baxter, to face her next journey. She walked with determination into her stall and lay down on her soft bedding. Baxter, out in the middle of the pasture, had watched her and came trotting into the arena up to her turnout, just as I closed her gate. He neighed and whinnied at her, as if to say, "Get up, you can do this, just try, don't give up."
Sometimes our loved ones make decisions that we don't like. They have had enough. We want more. Maybe they see a sliver of sunlight on a distant horizon that we could not yet imagine. Sedona turned from the familiar sweet pasture to take the next trail. My colleague's mother goes forward to embrace each moment with meaning and dignity, not worrying about fighting a disease, but instead peacefully living.
Today, there is a daffodil that proudly punched its way through dormant, cold earth to stand tall and beautiful. A songbird has traveled a thousand miles to arrive in our backyard. A towering cottonwood tree that stood still and gray is waking up and turning green. A cricket can be heard at night. Sunsets bathe ordinary skies with vivid reds and pinks. Something beautiful is happening right now. We hardly ever know what is coming next, but we still believe. We don't give up, we just go on.
My colleague's mother, Mildred, was driving about 10 miles over the speed limit last week and got pulled over for her first ticket in almost 60 years of driving. When the sheriff asked why she was in such a hurry, she said, "I am dying and trying not to waste time." The sheriff threw his head back laughing and said, "Well, we are all going to die. But if you keep speeding, you may see your maker sooner than later." Mildred said she laughed for a full minute while getting her ticket. Joy comes from improbable circumstances.
Sedona has passed on to the golden fields of heaven. Her buddy, Baxter has suffered greatly. He has kicked the barn, refused to eat, got a bleeding ulcer and his forelock hair has turned completely white in the span of three months. Nothing could comfort him, except time. He now looks at new budding grass with interest and has a little pony named Buttercup to help him through the lonely nights. But he is not quite the same. We look for the day that the clouds will break, his spirits will rise and the darkness will lift.
Mildred relishes life by doing crossword puzzles, feeding her birds, gardening and making her delicious bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches on homemade bread. She enjoys each day and visits with friends and family. Time may be short, but she is "living large." To my colleague, I'd say that "giving up," does not accurately describe his mother's journey. And as Mildred loves to say now, "life happens while you are getting a speeding ticket." Dear Readers, drive safely and enjoy the ride.
Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local realtor who lives in Skull Valley. Have a story or a comment? Email Judy at firstname.lastname@example.org.