Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Friend Who Wore Purple

Life goes fast. It is so important to remember that, and to rejoice in every day. Life should be lived to the fullest, friends should be treasured, and every day should be celebrated. Good people help to make our journey through life all the better.

This picture was taken at the Field to Table Dinner at Franklin Park Conservatory last September. 2011 was the third year for this event that celebrates agriculture in our community. Franklin County Farm Bureau serves as a sponsor for the dinner, and I had the pleasure of attending the event with several of my fellow board members from the county. The gardens were beautiful, the food was delicious, and the company was wonderful as we dined under the stars! In particular, I remember the moment this photo was taken. On the right is Angie, my "sister-in-slaughter". In the middle is our friend Jeff. Jeff was his usual convivial and fun-loving self that night! Jeff & Angie both happened to be wearing purple, and as we proceeded to the dinner tables after cocktail hour, he cavalierly offered his arm to Angie so they could walk to dinner together in all their purple glory! Our group was seated next to several executives from Battelle that evening, and I recall fondly what a great adventure we had! This night has been at the forefront of my mind for the past ten days, since my friend Jeff passed on. It was such a happy, lighthearted evening of celebration -- and I was blessed to share it with people I care so much about.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Jeff during the time we served together on the Franklin County Farm Bureau board. He was a hard worker, with firm opinions, but ready to learn new things. Jeff was dedicated to assisting young people through his efforts to promote the county fair and the state fair. He was ever-present during 4-H events at our county fair, helping his own children and others. Jeff was full of life, with a hearty laugh. He was the senior member of our young farmer group, and always added to our discussions. I had a great deal of respect for the fact that you always knew where you stood with Jeff, and especially that -- even when he disagreed with me on a principle or questioned a decision I made as county president -- he could state his opinion clearly without ever compromising our friendship. Jeff's greatest achievement is his family: he has three amazing children. They are intelligent and hard-working like their father, and are a true credit to him.

Jeff's family indicated that he did not care for flowers at funerals. They asked that donations be made to the Franklin County Farm Bureau on his behalf. That board recently met, and is discussing ways to honor Jeff. At the last board meeting that Jeff attended, his final action as a board member was to move to make a donation of $1000 to help build a tilapia pond at an orphanage in Kenya that Franklin County Farm Bureau has supported over the years. It is the hope of the board members to have a plaque placed at this pond, naming it in honor of Jeff. In addition, the board members are considering ways to honor Jeff at the county fair. I hope this will include bidding on the market animals of his children during the livestock auction. And bidding. And bidding.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Of late, I have been thinking a great deal on bad relationships. What would you do if you were in a bad relationship? What would you do if that person belittled you day after day, mocking things that are important to you? What would you do if that person threatened to evict you, but also threatened to ruin the business you had built if you did leave your home? What if that person hid your medication from you? What if you caught them kicking your sleeping dog, or if they made numerous threats to shoot your dogs? What if they picked up the other line while you were on the telephone and yelled at you, while you were in the midst of a conversation? What if they took neighbors into your bedroom -- without your permission -- to join them in mocking how you lived? And what if this person was your grandmother?

I have considered whether to post anything on my Grandmother's continuing decline. I do not wish to hurt her or members of my family in any way. Everything I write, however, is truth -- and this blog is about the realities of my life as a farmer. One of the most difficult aspects of that life is managing my relationship with my grandmother, who is the legal owner of the house where I reside and the land where I farm. Caring for Grandmother does become increasingly difficult, and I know it impacts me. I do not find anything shameful about the mental changes that my grandmother is experiencing; we all experience mental & physical challenges. This is a part of being human.

During my childhood, my grandmother did a great deal to provide care for me. As a child, I spent the days with my grandparents while my mother taught school. I could usually be found tagging along after my grandfather in the barn. If my grandfather was working in the fields, Grandmother would sometimes pack a picnic lunch and we would meet him for a lunch break. In the summers, I would help Grandmother plant her vegetable garden. Grandmother was always a very skilled homemaker: she would can items from her garden, she was an amazing cook, and she was a skilled seamstress. She worked very hard to raise her children and assist her husband with his family's farm. My happiest memories of my grandparents are from our trips together. The picture above was taken circa 1981 on a hike in Wyoming.

I want to keep these happy impressions of my grandmother from my youth. I recognize that mental decline has dramatically altered the personality of Grandmother. One can observe that Grandmother knows on a certain level that her mind -- as well as her body -- no longer functions as she wishes. This has to be scary. We all must grapple with the knowledge that life is a terminal condition, however, this sense must be even more amplified as one ages. I endeavor to remind myself of these things, and show patience. It is a struggle, though, when Grandmother's frustration manifests itself with anger directed toward the individual she sees the most: me. It is a struggle to remind myself not to engage when she yells at me with painful, angry words.

I recognize that what I experience is no different than the stress that other caregivers feel. Angry outbursts, obsession with the past, disregard for personal privacy . . . these are merely manifestations of age-related changes to Grandmother's mind. I also know that the mischaracterizations and confabulated stories that Grandmother tells are not due to malice, but to changes in her brain that she cannot control. While it can be difficult to be an on-site caregiver, I do believe that my presence allows Grandmother to stay in the home that she loves. I am the member of my family who can most easily fulfill that role, and I want to do what I can to assist my family despite any difficulties.

Please do not take this post as a request for sympathy. I have made all the decisions that took me to this point and I own that responsibility. If anything I am asking for patience with me and consideration with Grandmother. Please recognize that things she says are often not completely factual, that she doesn't mean to get confused or repeat things, and that her memory is progressively failing. Please do not hold this against her, as she cannot help the physical & mental changes that are transpiring. And please have patience with me. I recognize the mounting frustrations and insecurities that are piling up on my psyche. I realize that the stress I carry impacts my attitude, and I sincerely apologize if I ever seem short without meaning to be.

I feel extraordinarily blessed that I have such a wonderful group of friends that support me through life's difficulties. Often, I am amazed by how small gestures can mean so much when a person is struggling. Receiving an upbeat text from a friend, feeling welcomed when I arrive at work, being appreciated for my participation in a meeting -- all these things keep me going when I am at a low point and I am most grateful for them! I sincerely appreciate the support that I receive from those around me!