Welcoming Deaths and Treasuring Lives

It’s an interesting time for me, when it comes to life passages. While I’m fine and not going through a life change, I am privileged to know people who are heading toward the end of their time on this earth, as well as people who are honoring lives of loved ones whose spirits left before their bodies did. I’ve never been one of those people who feared death or worried about it much, but I have always been intrigued about the legacies our loved ones leave behind. So, I’m going to share some stories that have been causing me to think. Some readers who are mutual friends may be familiar with some of these, but I’m not naming names.

Coincidentally, I spent some time this afternoon with my friend Holly, who’s documenting graves at Walkers Creek Cemetery. This one was like a jigsaw puzzle.

The Strong Spirits

My colleagues at La Leche League tend to be people of great fortitude and spiritual depth. My very first role model in living a good life while facing death was my mentor, Roberta Bishop Johnson, who shared many insights and nuggets while she dealt with breast cancer in the 1990s. She made sure she was participating in the lives of her friends, offering up ideas, and sharing her love for her family right up until when she passed. That stuck with me.

Two of my other long-time LLL friends are nearing the ends of their journeys here with us, and both have been incredibly open about sharing their ups and downs, feelings about their bodies and what’s happening to them, and coming to terms with the fact that things are winding down. I really appreciate their openness and willingness to share.

Not everyone is up to doing this; I’ve known people who didn’t share what was going on with them at all, which is a completely understandable option, but takes away their friends and families’ ability to share life with them as fully as possible while they are here. But I get it; people don’t want to appear to whine, to bring others down, or to share the painful details.

For me, learning about how these two women have made sure to do things they’ve always wanted to do, while they can (one married the love of her life, and one made sure to get in travel with her children, especially to the beach), how they carefully planned for things after they are gone, and how they enjoyed their friends and family to the fullest all contributed to making me much more comfortable with dying on your own terms. I’m not saying they are lucky, but they do have the luxury of knowing what is happening and being able to plan accordingly. I know my dad would have liked that chance, so much.

One thing that comforts me greatly about knowing I won’t have these friends around much longer is that I know their spirits and legacies will remain. After Roberta passed away, I could still hear her tell me what she thought about what I was doing in my life. And I also still hear my dad (and tell him stuff; I can’t help it). We will feel these generous friends with us for years.

This tree growing around a t-post reminds me of the struggle to fight unwelcome things growing inside us. Sometimes you just have to accept them and keep growing anyway.

The Ones Whose Losses Happened before Death

Another set of friends I’ve learned a lot from in the past few weeks are two dear local friends whose mothers passed away recently, but had been gone in spirit since an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. These women felt like they’d lost their parents long before they actually passed away.

One just had the memorial get-together with her extended family, and it was more of a nice gathering to share good memories and enjoy each other. The mourning had happened years ago, when they lost her personality, or essence, or something. The other friend seems to have gone more into business mode, of taking care of details. She had been so kind to her mother, though, even with the difficulties of COVID. Who could blame her for feeling some relief and just wanting to move on to the next phase?

I feel a lot of sympathy for these people and their families. They’re sad, yet relieved that their parents aren’t dealing with confusion now (though, I know some people with dementia who are happy just as they are…it varies so much).

Takeaways

Watching all these events as a third party, not intimately involved like families are, has taught me some lessons, maybe not consciously. I think the reason I’ve gotten a second horse and plan to start lessons again is that I want to do these things while I still can. And getting a swimming pool installed and making the ranch house look better, too, were things I’d been putting off or giving up on. But, if I can’t have fun now, when am I supposed to?

To show how far I will go to make things fun, I spent quite some time trying to line up my head and my hat so it would look like I am wearing a tiny cowboy hat.

AND, as I’ve been telling myself for the last couple of years, I need to recommit to being with people who bring me joy and make my life pleasant, go places and do things that expand my mind, and take the time to find the fun in whatever I’m doing. I think that’s the key to enjoying whatever time we have here in this life–enjoying where you are and who you are with NOW.

With love in my heart for my friends heading toward big transitions or recovering from them, I invite you all to do something fun with someone you care about.

Dang! Animal Issues! Plus Sweetness

I have to admire Trixie. She came over and trudged through the scary clay mud to take a look at the new horses. It was obvious she couldn’t do their feet, but she wanted to take a look at Remington, especially.

He immediately took to her and started showing her where he hurt. It was so endearing. She is concerned about his old head injury and his limited vision in his right eye. But she said he’d learned to compensate.

Nonetheless, Trixie doesn’t want to do much with Remi’s neck until she sees the x-rays Kathleen has. But she did a few things for him, and at the end he yawned and yawned. He obviously felt better.

Meanwhile, Goldie wanted to play with Fiona, who was having none of that. Much kicking and donkey attitude ensued.

Dusty was fine, other than having an oddly shaped butt and needing to gain a couple hundred pounds. That was good to know. Trixie recommended supplements.

Then it was Drew’s turn. Trixie thought he may be younger than three, but I think his owner was right; he’s barely 3. Other than being thin, she said he was in good shape, EXCEPT his eye was all goopy. What the heck?

After goop was wiped.

While Trixie was looking Drew over, perhaps the sweetest thing I’ve seen in YEARS occurred. Goldie, who had already herded loose cattle today, came up to us. She sniffed all over Drew as if to figure out he was in pain. Then she licked his face!

Hmm. You smell funny.

Then my heart melted. Drew must have spent ten minutes being kind to Goldie. He licked and licked her back, licked her sore area where she is in heat, and carefully nipped her all over.

You are my friend.

They spent a whole lot of time calmly standing nose to nose. It was so dear. I could not love these two animals more. The both are so full of love and gratitude for their nice new lives.

You smell so good.

Because of the eye issue, as soon as Trixie left, we loaded poor Drew into the trailer AGAIN and rushed him to Dr. Kildore in Rosebud. They were great to let us in. The vet found he had a lot of debris in his eye, so he numbed it, flushed it, and got everything out. His cornea is not scratched. Whew. He needs ointment in his eye for a few days, then should be okay.

I’m staying here forever.

We still had trouble getting Drew out of the trailer. I wonder what has caused it? Once he was out, though, he held no grudges. He is such a wonderful soul.

Drew Goes to the Doctor

I think Drew, my new colt, is annoyed with me. He had to go to the vet today, and I don’t think it was his favorite experience so far. He is really glad to be home.

Home at last.

It took us forever to get to the vet, who was in Waco, because we were behind a wind turbine propeller. Wow, it was slow. Thankfully, it stopped for a minute and we got past it.

Moving roadblock.

The vet place was nice, an all-equine practice. I was too busy paying attention and hoping Drew wouldn’t be too traumatized to take pictures, but I took a lot of notes! Here’s what I learned:

  • Drew is 14.1 hands high. That’s short, but he should end up about 15 hands, which is just fine. (A hand is 4 inches, and height is measured from the top of their shoulder, not their head.)
  • He is right at 3 years old, so I decided his birthday will be July 1.
  • Drew is not a red roan. He will be gray at adulthood. It will be so fun to watch him change!
  • He needs high-protein feed.
  • His facial features are a star on his forehead and a snip on his nose.
  • He is healthy as a…you know what.
  • He has a great face.

The people at the vet place were all so nice. A friendly old vet and a really helpful technician who gave me lots of helpful information. I sure appreciated it! Drew did not appreciate three shots, one nasal spray, and oral wormer. That’s why he’s pissed off.

Nice place

I enjoyed talking to some folks when I checked out, then we headed back, making better time. We had a fun stop at the Rosebud Feed and Seed. It’s a cute place and has its own brand of feed! We also found the brand of high-protein feed the vet tech recommended there, too.

It’s also fairly local!

By the time we got home, we were all wiped out. Poor Drew didn’t want to leave the trailer until Chris cowboyed him out. Now he is very happy with both grass and space to run.

What about my other precious beloved equines? Well, now that Andrew is vaccinated and wormed, I can bring Apache and Fiona here! That excitement should commence tomorrow. Sara sure is glad, so the paddock can rest until Aragorn arrives.

Always Something with Chickens

I knew it had been too long since we had any chicken drama. They certainly know how to get themselves in trouble, even with all these dogs guarding them. They can’t help it; they are chickens.

On Saturday, I noticed that Barbara, the dark black new hen that should lay very dark eggs, was sitting a lot. Now, lots of the chickens were sitting, because it was hot. But she was sitting a lot. On Sunday, I noticed she was dragging one of her legs. Oh no, she had hurt herself in all that rain and slop. And I quickly realized the other chickens were pecking away at her and pulling out her feathers. The only good thing about that is they weren’t pecking Billie Idyl (who is fine now).

Speaking of rain, you can see how high the water got on Monday

So, I took the advice I was given and let the other new hens into the big pen a week earlier than I had planned to. That led to a lot of squawking and chasing. Eventually, everyone has come to terms with the bigger flock, though each sub-flock sticks to itself, like rival street gangs or something. If a bug shows up, though, they all go for it.

Old chickens in front, new ones in back.

After a day of rest, Barbara seemed happier and was eating and drinking, but her leg kept folding under. So, when Kathleen, etc., came back yesterday, we decided to pull a Dr. Pol. That means we have been watching a LOT of veterinarian shows on television. The three of us got together and got a splint on Barbara. My job was holding her. She was good.

Barbara in her first splint

The splint was some flexible wire, with bandages under it to cushion her leg, and wrap around it. The first one had a bent leg, as shown above. She had a hard time with it. I realized that is not how they usually hold their legs. So, we redid it more straight.

That’s better.

This makes it easier for her to lay down and rest, and she can hobble around to get to her food and water. She seems okay for now.

We’re okay, too. Thanks for asking.

My hope is that Barbara heals up and can get around soon. This morning she had obviously moved around a lot, and was standing. Good signs. I know she stands a better chance without all the pecking and trying to flee pecking. And these new ones made it 6 weeks before any accident, so not too bad.

Call me Stumpy

By the way, it’s time for all the swallows to fledge, just like the purple martins at my friend Donna’s house. We have dozens and dozens of them flying around right now, including ones who have nests around our house. This morning, I looked out the window by our stairs, and saw at least ten of them sitting on the roof.

A few of the barn swallows, seen through the screen.

Upon closer inspection, I saw it was two families, four parents and their chicks, who had just fledged. Some of those babies were figuring out how to stand on solid surfaces. It was so cute, and really made me feel better as I set out to face yet another difficult day at work.

What’s My Problem?

My brain is not working, that’s my problem. Somehow, I’ve allowed myself to fall into a pretty deep hole of depression, low self esteem, or hyper-protectiveness to where anything I try to do that even remotely resembles work is a huge hurdle. Anything that has drama, misunderstandings, unkind behavior and the like makes me want to flee, and it’s spilled over into my volunteer work the most. It’s hurting my head to write this, but I’m going to, anyway. Someone has to say something, and perhaps if it’s me, I’ll feel better and more like keeping on.

“What is happening in her head? Ooh, I wish I knew!” (paraphrasing Pete Townshend in Tommy)

What’s happened is that one of my “triggers” has been triggered. It bugs me, because I’ve worked really hard to get past it, but I’m getting the idea that I didn’t get past it; rather I buried it. I’ve talked about my issues with La Leche League before, but I’m going to briefly re-hash a bit to explain why I’ve been so messed up for the past month or two.

First, I love the friends I made in LLL. Love them to pieces. They are some amazing people. But, the organization itself keeps repeating its mistakes, as if no one learns from history (which is probably true). In a majority-women organization with a strong, focused mission, many people get “power” for the first time. And it really screws up some people’s senses of right and wrong, and for some reason empowers them to bring new things into the mission (like natural childbirth, co-sleeping, baby wearing, etc.)

Continue reading “What’s My Problem?”

Stress Dreams: A Cry for Help You Can’t Answer

One thing that becomes clear to me is that if I try to squish down stressful situations and pretend they don’t affect me, my anxious brain has its own ways to beg to differ. It’s all well and good to consciously remind yourself that the only things you should concern yourself with are things you can do something about. But some part of you (probably hanging out somewhere with those unconscious biases, over in the unconscious stressors area) still feels stressed about those things.

Envying butterflies. They eat a lot, then sleep a lot. After that they just have one job, they do it, and then they go to butterfly heaven.

Usually I feel okay during the day, sort of observing what’s going on and doing my best to let other people’s problems be their problems and not take things personally. That’s a major triumph right there! I do a lot of deep breathing, just like I do with the horse. People, horses, they’re all things I can’t control, only offer information to.

At night, though, I have a completely different type of dream when I’m feeling anxious and overwhelmed than when things are just normally stressful. First, it’s the dreams about being in school and not knowing where to go or what the test is about. Then I’ll be at a large conference trying to avoid the scary people. Lately I dream about trying to get dressed in fancy clothing, but having forgotten how. That sounds like a COVID dream, doesn’t it?

I also think I’m trying to cover up my insecurities and put on a more professional/fancy face, but failing. People try to help me, but that makes me end up dressed really funny. I tend to end up going out to the party, meeting, or whatever half dressed. That’s a work-based interpretation. It means that all this hashing out of the same problems but only coming up with half-assed solutions ends up creating something totally unworkable. Hmm, that’s what my colleague L. and I talked about just today!

This is how I feel. All “extra” and woozy.

Otherwise, I’m overwhelmed with baby animals, adult animals, and their excrement. Duh. That’s literally true at the ranch, and figuratively true with my work and family life.

The dreams partially come from having so many animals in bed with me, and partially come from my problem of wanting to take care of everyone who’s helpless or needs comfort. Even when I consciously tell myself I can’t help people who don’t want to be helped or comfort everyone who’s hurting, my heart wants to anyway. Oh, stop it.

For me, I get physical symptoms only when my subconscious’s other ways of communicating don’t work. Right now they’ve been screaming at me for a week or so, and that’s led to my favorite anxiety symptom: chest pains. That means I need to do something NOW or I won’t be fully functional. I also get weird feelings like everything’s in slow motion, which makes it hard to talk. Usually, I can get through these and still do what I need to do, but it takes so much energy!

My mind and body are crying for help, obviously, but there isn’t a darned thing I can do to make today any different. I just have to get through today and see what tomorrow brings. We can’t always cope, and that’s actually fine. Sometimes we have a right to have an anxiety attack. It helps to know they will pass, and things can get back on an even keel.

Hope you aren’t having the ups and downs I am today! If you are, know you aren’t alone, because I’m surrounded by people in the same boat!

Ways We Cope with Stress: Featuring Plants

Because I’m so darned introspective, I’ve been examining how I cope with stress these days. I find that I can only handle a subset of the priorities I could before, and I avoid duties that appear like they’ll bring on more stress. That’s how I’m coping now, to the detriment of a couple of projects. But, as I look around I realize mine is only one way to cope. I also notice it’s not just us people who cope in different ways, so rather than call out people today, I’ll illustrate my points with how local plants are coping with the stress from Winter Storm Uri.

A perfect example is how some trees have died, some are struggling to come back, and some look fantastic, and this difference can happen in the same types of trees.

Some of us seem to deal with stress as if it’s not there at all. These people are often deeply grounded, have been through a lot, or have lots of support (roots!). These people, just like the Ashe juniper trees, often support others.

Others retreat and focus on one thing at a time, and try their best to do it well, like a rose bush with just one perfect flower.

Only one blossom, but it’s a good one.

There are people, and I know quite a few of them, who not only handle stress well, they thrive on it and so some of their best work when there’s a lot going on. Sometimes doing something is a way of coping and staying busy (I’m guilty of this), while others find challenges energizing. They enthusiastically bloom where they’re planted!

There are those, and who can blame them, who go into hiding, and only begin to peek out when the danger is over. Even then, they go slowly. It takes a lot out of people and plants to get their bearings when a stressful situation begins to ease up.

Stress tends to scatter some folks, too. They try this method of coping, and that method of coping, trying to find one that will actually work and get them through the hard times. I see this a lot in stressed oaks, which start putting out new growth all over, and not just at the ends of their branches. Some pop up along old limbs, and other pop up from the roots (very common).

This motte of oaks is sending out new sprouts all over the limbs and trunks.

When stress is really causing problems in living your usual life, though, sometimes starting again in a new place might help, like the redbud trees I’ve seem who look pretty sad up top, but have vibrant new growth farther down their trunks.

How many of us know people who have no choice to start over, even when that, too, is a struggle. I saw this poor tree with no leaves or other signs of life on its branches, but that hadn’t given up completely, and was starting again, hesitantly, and perhaps slowly. But, it’s still THERE! I count those of us who are in this situation as stronger than they realize.

I’m coming back!

Many of us fail to thrive during stressful periods. And it’s hard to say who’s going to cope well and who’s going to fall apart. One thing I noticed was that often there are two or more trees of the same variety near each other, and one looks great, while another struggles or succumbed to the weather? What’s the difference? You can’t tell on the surface what internal resources a tree or person has. That’s why we need to be patient and not blame people for their problems.

Same tree (an oak), different success rate.

I think flexibility, along with resilience, makes a difference in how we weather the inevitable Winter Storm Uri events in our lives. People who lived very rigid, inflexible lives really have had trouble with pandemic changes, just like a plant that’s been groomed into a stiff hedge with no choice in how it grows may have more trouble in a winter storm.

There are hundreds of these around the office, all very sad looking.

Those of us who aren’t well situated in the first place or already have anxiety issues may cope by throwing things every which way. A lot of the plants I seem seem to be reproducing like crazy, trying to grow, and growing in weird ways, like they’re trying ALL the options to make sure they’re making a good, healthy, happy impression. This has to take a lot of energy, and I wonder how well they’re going to do if they keep all that extra-perky energy up. I’ve noticed some crashing and burning of late…maybe a bit by me, to be honest.

This inland sea oats has come back strong, and has generated dozens of little buddies, just in case things don’t work out.

Now, some of the trees, and some of the people don’t make it at all through intense stress. I know more than one person who seems to be hanging by a thread right now. Some of us are just out of our element, like tropical trees (palms and such) that look pretty awful right now. I can’t fault them, and can only offer support and virtual hugs. And I will honor those we have lost.

We salute you, fallen non-native and non-cold hardy tree.

Looking at all the ways we humans and plants deal with unexpected stress is a good exercise for me. I can easily see the parallels among us, and what’s most clear is that there’s no right or wrong way to cope, nor are we all going to cope equally well. So, I’ll try to be patient with those who are struggling, including those who cope differently from me. I hope you can, too.

Happy COVID Freedom Day to Me

Today’s a milestone that never could have happened before this year. It’s been two weeks since my second COVID vaccine, so my immunity has officially kicked in. I am free to move about the country now! I even gave myself a bouquet of wildflowers to celebrate.

Toadflax isn’t a beautiful name, but it’s in the snapdragon family, which is cool. This stuff is everywhere right now. Small but mighty.

Look, I know this doesn’t mean I’m immune, nor that I can’t transmit the virus if I somehow became infected (no idea how that could happen, since I haven’t been going anywhere). But it does mean I don’t need to have that fear hanging over my head if I need to go to the grocery store or want to do something fun. And I WILL wear a mask when going to crowded places, because I’d prefer to avoid getting even a mild case, seeing all the long-term effects those around me are experiencing.

Even a cute, little bug is a bug, right?

I look forward to being able to hang out with vaccinated friends and have a chat, with coffee or wine. I can sit on the porch with Mandi again! I will feel okay traveling and seeing my relatives who are vaccinated. To be honest, I simply feel lighter and freer than I have in over a year. And by gosh, I’m going to go HUG SOMEONE. How rash!

Small things CAN be beautiful, both hanging around with friends and a tiny blue-eyed grass blossom.

There’s still plenty to do right here at the ranch, though. I’m still reading all those books on bias, knitting away at my current project while waiting for the yarn for my supporter gifts to arrive, and hanging out with the animals. It’s a full life, right here on the ranch. That’s especially true at my favorite time of the year, when every day brings new flowers (also, the swallows have returned!).

Getting closer to 60 inches of entrelac, so I can start the lace border on this wrap.

I hope you and your circle are starting to become more fully vaccinated. I know we all want to see friends and family sooner rather than later!

Even the trees are blooming! This is black willow that’s grown up by the driveway.

Plans for Today Cancelled

I had so much confidence that I’d have few side effects from my second COVID vaccine. But, while it’s not as bad as last time, just a couple hour after I woke up I got the bone tiredness that’s common. So, Sara will ride my horse today and I will read knit, and nap.

But, at least I have a nice new bed set and valances for the dogs…I mean for me to sleep under.

I ordered these Western linens (on sale, too!) to see if they’d make me like my brown walls better. They do look good with the headboard Lee made, and the valance looks pretty good, though we plan to stretch it out a bit. We also have valances for the windows, but need something to hang them on.

The dogs always enjoy morning walks, even when it’s cloudy and breezy.

It’s a windy, gray day, anyway, so I’ll be okay inside. The clouds were really pretty, in a gloomy way, this morning, a nice start to the last day of Standard time.

Is it important for your clothing and dog to match your knitting? I think it’s classy.

I’ll get back to my knitting and resting at the Hermits’ Rest. I hope someone listens to the podcasts! Enjoy my lisping. You will also get to enjoy music from my son, Declan Murtagh, on the podcast. It’s just what I wanted!

Spring Support and Hopefulness

Hey! Thanks to all of you who sympathized with my being so hopeless and sad right now. You all rightly pointed out that many things have led to our collective urge to just sit and stare ahead. There’s even astrological reasoning! This afternoon, Sara postulated that because we are seeing light at the end of the tunnel, all the stuff we’ve been holding in has started to leak out. Yeah.

Carlton is tired of being confined to his backyard. We understand.

Today I was getting a bit concerned about myself. I kept having trouble concentrating, and somehow managed to leave Austin late. Partly I was distracted by welcome signs of life coming back.

Ferns are popping up!

I enjoyed lots of redbud trees and pear trees. I’m so glad they made it. And the first thing I spotted when I got to the ranch was an Indian paintbrush!

I looked and looked for these last weekend!

I’d heard bluebonnets are blooming at last, but didn’t spot them until I got to the hill leading down to Walker’s Creek, where they are beautiful every year.

I sure hope to get prettier bluebonnet pictures soon!

I was still pretty squirrelly when I got to the ranch. I was nervous about getting my second COVID vaccine, so I forgot my vaccination card and panicked because I couldn’t find my paperwork. Uh, it was in the car. Then I drove off, leaving a can of drink on the trunk. That’s gonna make a mess when I open it, I’m sure.

I took off like a startled heron.

But! I got to the vaccine place! Turns out I was supposed to be there yesterday. But, they let me in. The shot didn’t hurt, and so far I have little pain. Maybe I got all my reactions over with last month.

Fully vaccinated, I’m now exhausted.

The other part of the day that made me feel supported and hopeful was that I went to the drugstore in Cameron to pick up my precious drugs, and got to see Mandi at her new job as a pharmacy assistant. Yes! After we had to let her go, she made good use of the time and got her certificate back. See, some people DO use their unemployment to get training and get a job. I’m so proud of her and will hug her in two weeks.

Signs of spring. Can you see the birds?

Once I got home, I took a nap and felt fine feeding horses. We had to give them the nastiest wormer of the series we are giving this spring. Both Apache and Lakota made some sad faces and rubbed their faces on the ground. Tomorrow if I’m not having reactions we will reward them with grooming and riding. They are shedding big time. I need it, so I hope I feel less scattered and more centered.

One last photo. Crow poison is beautiful, despite its name.

Little things like signs of spring and the promise of future hugs help. But knowing I’m not alone and have wonderful, supportive friends everywhere to feel a sense of community with is the best. Sincere thanks to all. We’re in this together. That’s helping me know I can crawl out of this hole!


Want to support my blog and podcast so I can keep going? Your monthly donation would help cover my blog expenses. I can assure you that on a blog as little as this one, the ads only give me a couple of dollars a month, so even a dollar makes me happy!