Day 108 – Post Transplant

I don’t know if the old adage applies to writing or not – you know the one – if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all?

It’s been a little over a week since I drained my heart and wrote my Thanksgiving article.  At the time, genuine in my appreciation for all the good that has come out of this experience.  Unfortunately, those feelings have left me and I am nothing but an empty shell of bitterness and frustration.  As drained as I feel, I should have lost 50 pounds but I see this morning that I have gained 3 pounds in as many days. 

We finished watching 1883 last night and I think I drew more from that series than Yellowstone.  Now as I write, I think of the gravelly voice of young Elsa, the badass daughter of James Dutton.  I can only fantasize that the words I write would be as profound as the words she spoke in that show. 

The show documents the trials and tribulations of a girl coming of age while her family travels cross-country in search of a brighter future in a new land.  She experiences the worst of the worst, and the best of the best.  I don’t want to ruin it for those that haven’t watched but I think Sam Elliott’s character summed it up best when he told her father, played by Tm McGraw, that she had lived and done more in her life than most do in a lifetime.  It was a most brilliant 3-4 sentences that I wish I could recall in exact.  She was a force to be reckoned with.  There were no secrets with Elsa.  She was an incredible character who was a ferocious fighter and a passionate lover; all by the time she reached the age of eighteen.   I want to be her in my next life. 

There are so many things I wish to tell you but cannot.  My husband is a very private man and accepting my writing to the general public has been a stretch.  Who knows, maybe some of these darker moments of our experience will become chapters in the book I hope to write in the future where only readers that commit to the whole story will find a few hidden gems.  

He continues to find sleeping difficult.  It’s nothing to hear him up at 3 a.m. moving about.  Spilling his water on the nightstand and struggling to get it mopped up.  This morning he was up at 5 a.m. turning on the lights and rustling about the kitchen; making coffee that normally is cold by the time I get up.  I’m not a morning person.  I try hard to be; particularly in the fall when the temperatures are just right but at this time of year when mornings mean 19 degrees and pitch dark until 7:40 a.m. I see no purpose in getting up at 5 a.m.  Today I was just plain wide awake.  As expected, we sat watching television until he fell asleep around 7 a.m. leaving me to spend more time alone watching whatever show he had on at the time. 

Friday night was our friends annual Christmas party.  It’s always a good time with a great bunch of friends that I was looking forward to seeing.  Still as Friday approached, I sensed that he was nervous about being with so many people.  Commenting that it would be difficult to go to a party where everyone was drinking and he was not.  The closer we got to Friday, I lost all energy or interest to make the hour drive to the party.  Knowing he would not enjoy himself and that I would end up being the one to drive home when he was ready to leave early.  Answering so many questions and trying to appear happy and upbeat. 

I’m tired.  I’m tired of not sleeping all night.  I’m tired of being the one that is responsible for everything.   I’m tired of all the same stupid shows on television and constantly picking up after both of us.  He tried helping with laundry and that resulted in him washing his phone which meant I had to add filing an insurance claim for the phone and getting the new one set up with the representative.  I’m tired of being strong and upbeat and positive. 

So many well-meaning people have been reminding me to take care of myself.  I’m afraid after a life-time of being a people pleaser, I really don’t even know what that looks like.  Given a few hours of time, I don’t know what to do with myself.  I look at the ever-present “Things to Take Care of” list and see that there’s really nothing on there that can’t wait another day.  So, then what; the best I can do is pop in a piece of toast and sit down and write.  Hoping that as it has worked in the past, I can write all my toxic thoughts and move forward.  Leaving it all out there for you to read and digest with me.  Printed proof that I’m not this wonderful, amazing person that you all comment about.  That I’m actually ungrateful, self-centered and mean.

I look back and I see that it was June 10th that I wrote of feeling alone; that while I should be glad that he was alive I still questioned that he was really still with me.  Back then the pain was consuming him and he wasn’t present. Nearly six months later, with his transplant behind him he is no longer in pain but he’s still not “back”.  I think my frustration and sadness now revolves around my fears that he will never really be back.  As if the chemotherapy has stripped him of his dignity, his passion and compassion; his sense of time and common courtesy.  He is numb and has no spirit.  That twinkle in his eye that told me he loved me without words is gone.  The fact that he has no interest in holding my hand or putting his hands on my shoulders to comfort me even when I express the need for it.

I know that I need to be patient and more understanding of all that he’s gone through but it’s hard.  I’m not a patient woman.  I can’t imagine what it’s like for people caring for people for years on end.  That requires more than I have in me.  It’s been an entire year since he felt good and was the man I fell in love with and married.  It’s been an experience I know he doesn’t deserve so I’m left feeling like it must be my punishment for the life I’ve led.  The hurt I’ve inadvertently caused others.  When will it end? 

I think maybe we put too much emphasis on our 100-day goal.  The illusion that there would be light at the end of the tunnel once we reached that mile-stone.  Yet here at day 108, it feels as if nothing has changed.  We are still waiting for things to feel more like they used to.  Instead, I think I have to realize that nothing ever will be the same again and I’m not ready to accept that. 

Life has it’s way of sending you signs when you need them; reminders of a bigger picture and a power greater than you and I. A cardinal just landed outside the window, as if to stop and tell me something.  Maybe a reminder that it could be so much worse. Telling me to that I need to put on my “Elsa” pants and keep going.  For better, for worse; in sickness and in health.

This was taken by Alli – my sighting wasn’t this brilliant in color but the message was clear

Post script: As I sat rereading and making adjustments to this; my phone rang and it was a friend that I hadn’t heard from in months. She said she just had a feeling that I needed a call. Explain that…..

Satisfaction vs Gratification

I woke this morning with a mission.  I wanted to find out what the official difference between gratification and satisfaction was by definition.  I think we tend to use the terms simultaneously but do they really mean the same thing?  I’ve been asked over the years why I have to be involved in everything and am constantly over-committing myself.  Well, I find that gratifying, I guess.  Why do so many people retire and pass away within a short period of time?  Or pass away within a short period of time after a loved one does? I think it has a lot to do with being satisfied and feeling gratification. indicates that satisfaction: [noun] is the payment through penance of the temporal punishment incurred by a sin. Reparation for sin that meets the demands of divine justice.  Wikipedia’s definition of gratification carries a much happier connotation. Gratification is the pleasurable emotional reaction of happiness in response to a fulfillment of a desire or goal. It is also identified as a response stemming from the fulfillment of social needs such as affiliation, socializing, social approval, and mutual recognition. Gratification, like all emotions, is a motivator of behavior and plays a role in the entire range of human social systems. Wikipedia

A topic of conversation in the over 50 crowd is the younger generations need for instant gratification.  After doing my research about the meaning of these words I think we have that all wrong.  They are expecting instant satisfaction as if working a couple years is penance enough to have that brand new 3000 sq foot house and shiny new vehicles. Unfortunately their limited experience keeps them from knowing what true gratification feels like.  I have to believe that our parents thought the same thing about our generation and their parents about them.  Has anything really changed or is it just that we are now the ones looking in the rear-view mirror?  If this generation is like this, it would have to mean that they were trained or raised to expect this.  Not that we did it, but we all know many parents that did right?  I mean we, ourselves, can’t be to blame, can we?

I think probably my dad is the reason I am a gratification junky.  He has always been one to create and make things from scratch.  Wood, metal, automobile parts, other people’s junk.  He derives great pleasure from working with his hands; and making things and seeing the final working product.  The cider mill is a great example of that.  When you see that, you can’t help but want some of that.  That’s probably why I can see such potential in his large shop full of scrap and broken-down equipment.  It could all be something someday.  My mode of transportation is a little different. I create by cooking, sewing, working and writing but I manage to achieve the same results. 

Farming flashback

We need to lead by example and show our children and grandchildren the art of gratification.  Collecting unemployment and welfare is satisfying; it will pay the bills.  Our penance for doing time on this earth.  What everyone needs is a chance to experience gratification instead.  The high of working to achieve a goal.  That goes back to if you love your job, it won’t be work.  Find something that is gratifying and not just satisfying.  I think that’s why I have always said that I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.  It’s because I am always looking for the next big high.  That thing that gives me such joy in completing it.  Right now, I feel like writing is that thing.

All this talk about gratification and satisfaction leads me to another current buzz word.  In my youth, I don’t remember much talk or use of the term narcissism.  If I enjoy writing and look forward to seeing comments and responses, am I going to become a narcissist?  I remember when a high school friend posted something on Facebook about her ex-husband being a narcissist.  I had to look it up.  Was this person one, was that person one; was I one?  I think the key is excess.  In order to be a happy person with success, you have to have a little pride and look out for yourself but how much is too much? 

One of our hospital selfies from September

I think we have social media and technology to blame for a lot of this.  Everyone taking selfies and comparing themselves to others.   I had a girl’s night a few years ago and invited ladies from different friend groups.  We were going around the table and they were all telling a little about themselves.  One of the gals made the comment, what do you want to hear?  The Facebook version or the truth?  Then when Facebook became the mode of communication for the old people, the movers and shakers moved to Instagram and TikTok.  Even the names tell us it’s all about instant satisfaction.  I’m not knocking technology; I can’t imagine going through what we just did without it.  If I didn’t have Facebook to notify 300 people what was going on with Scott’s progress, I would have gone crazy taking phone calls.  Or what if I had to write letters to let people know how he was doing?  In all the years I have had a cell phone I have never run out of data or maxed out my plan but I did it twice while in the hospital.  After that I got a little better at remembering to switch to the hospital’s WIFI.  I spent a lot of time while he slept on my phone and computer. One month I had over 900 texts.  Crazy. 

In the marriage counseling world, they talk about your “love bank”.  When your spouse does something that makes you happy, they are making deposits, when they screw up, they are making withdrawals.   You might also be familar with Gary Chapman’s writing on the five love languages. The idea is that we all have a love language; the one thing we relate to or enjoy the most. The five languages include acts of service, gift-giving, physical touch, quality time and words of affirmation.  Being married to a person whose bank is filled by service; it can be pretty easy to keep their bank full.  You just let them do and do and do; it makes you both happy.  Until things reach that point where service becomes work that is no longer appreciated.  Without work and effort by both partners, things can easily get lopsided and one person finds their cup running over while the partners well is running dry.  When your marriage is nothing but a long standing over-drawn bank account you finally make the decision to close your account and probably hold onto your cash for a while.  Eventually you find a bank with the features and benefits you find more pleasing based on your past experiences with the old “bank”.    Still, it’s a challenge to not manage your “money” like you did in the past and some find themselves making the same mistakes again. 

As we see all the signs of the Christmas season creeping in and running over Thanksgiving, take some time to really think about your life.  Enjoy time with friends and family.  Give some thought to what you are doing and consider making time for something that you find gratifying.  Throughout this journey, people are always telling me to take care of myself and make time for me.  Strangely enough, what I have gone through with Scott is right up my alley; something that as horrible as it seemed some days, was providing me a way to exercise my love language of acts of service. Learning new things and pushing myself further than I thought possible allowed me to feel more gratified than fear or frustration. Being able to retire and spend the entire time in the hospital with him allowed me to give him what he needed; my time and encouragement. Seeing him through the whole process has allowed us to fill both my love bank and his.            

Life After Retirement

Well, that didn’t last long.  We haven’t even been home for two weeks and I’m already soul searching; trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up.  All my life I have wanted to help people.  If my job didn’t allow me to do that on a daily basis, then I assumed active roles in non-profit groups that would.  For most of my life I was helping farmers to be more profitable or in many cases trying to keep them in business.  Giving them that loan or helping them to restructure to breathe life back into their operation was very rewarding work.  When I wasn’t doing that, I was helping families obtain funds to buy or build their dream home.  I wonder if my talent for writing (assuming that I have some and people aren’t just trying to be kind) comes from years of pleading others cases.  Nearly thirty years; presenting convincing written narratives of why my customers should be granted a loan so they could continue to live out their dreams of operating the family farm. 

We still own the store and I could spend all the time I want pouring over the numbers and making spreadsheets; sharpening my proverbial pencil to make it as profitable as possible.  Sure, one could say that I’m preserving the legacy that predecessors have worked so hard to build, and that’s something.  I’m providing a good hot meal at a fair price and affordable catering for those looking to feed their friends, family and co-workers.  I pay my taxes and provide employment for a handful of people; and try and treat them as fairly as I possibly can while still being the boss.  I donate when I can and our annual cutest dog contest generates a little money for the local animal shelter.  Santa and Mrs. Claus visit the store each year and that’s great fun for us too. I enjoy it, but it’s not the rewarding feeling that I am looking for.

Having retired on a Friday and moved into the hospital with Scott less than a week later, I really didn’t have time to process my retirement.  Working from home remotely meant my co-workers sent their well wishes via text or email.  No packing up or saying good-bye.  It was just over and with so much on my mind it was on to the next crisis.   Since moving down here, having the job and the store didn’t really allow any time for charity work.  I did a little writing for the local newspaper for fun but that was about it.  Unfortunately, after a life-time of always having too much on my plate, what do I want to do for fun?  Sure, I enjoy sewing and I should spend some time organizing my house and decluttering but what after that?  I don’t need a job; but I need to be busy.  Busy doing something that makes a difference.    

As difficult as it is being a caregiver and basically living on a couch in his hospital bed for the greater part of his 40-day stay, one might say I was in my element.  I had a job and I was fully committed to it.  Needless to say, it was probably the most critical job in my life.  Doing what I could when nurses weren’t around and learning to be his nurse once we headed out.  Balancing my store duties from afar, making sure bills got paid and that he had everything he needed to get through this thing that meant life would go on.  I was needed.  Now that he is feeling better and recovery is staring us in the face, I feel a little lost.  Strangely I never felt lost when my kids left the nest, I knew that I had raised them in a way that they could have successful, happy lives and I was excited for them to get out and experience that.  Having Scott start to want to get out and about is a little more nerve-racking.  A reminder of the days when we were taking the training wheels off the big bikes, or handing our children keys to the car or truck. 

Scott and I talked after my last article that alluded to the fact that we were workaholics.  His point was that it isn’t work if you love what you do.  That is certainly what farming is all about.  You love what you do; it’s all you want to do.  It can be part of you at an early age.  A fellow farmer can see it in a young person; a child farmer is born with an old soul.  When I saw that in a young person or felt it in their commitment, I would do anything I could to help them survive in farming.  Sadly, the future of America’s farmers is questionable.  It’s a lot of hard work for little money for the average farm.  The level of financial investment it requires now days is staggering.  Not to mention the need to be good at a multitude of things.  Now more than ever, a farmer must be an impeccable money manager.  Even the best farmers with the best animals or ground have faltered over the last few years of terrible prices.  Prices haven’t risen on the farm like they have at the grocery store or meat counter.  A large percent of the increases in food costs are covering wages and transportation costs at the packers and processors and not ending up on the family farm.  What little that does make it back to the farm goes out the door to cover higher feed costs, fuel costs and inputs for our fellow crop farmers.  Add to that the rising interest costs and rumors of a diesel shortage and we could really be heading into big trouble for agriculture and ultimately everyone. 

After a long wait, we are finally watching Yellowstone.  The portrayal of the passion that it takes to run a large farm is accurate.  The idea that it takes a lot of money to run a ranch like that is also true.  One shouldn’t assume that where there are big houses and shiny new pick-ups that there is a lot of money being made.  There’s a good deal of the story line I hope is just that – a story.   In my world, not many farmers and ranchers are appointing family members to the highest offices of State government and killing everyone that gets in our way.  Still, an hour or two of Kevin Costner will never be something I will say no to. 

The view from my kitchen window – the calves love to sun themselves in my rock garden at our version of Yellowstone

I’m really enjoying writing.  It’s great to create and get things off my mind.  While writing is helping me; I don’t see that it will help others to the extent I would like.  I’m considering doing some You Tube videos as a way to try and help others that are going through cancer.  This is a big step as I have always enjoyed being the one behind the camera; so being on camera would be a challenge.  Maybe my readers have some ideas for making my retirement rewarding as well as relaxing.  Feel free to leave me your ideas in the comment box.  I would love to hear your feedback.  For those that know me, I’m sure it’s no surprise that I’m already ready to take on something more to do.