Saturday, November 14, 2009

Surviving the Aftermath

A person never knows what’s around the next corner, in this journey of life. It’s a good thing our family didn’t have a clue about what was about to happen to us in July of 2000—our daughter’s severe burn injury--or we wouldn’t have been able to face it.
During that spring and early summer we were doing typical ranch tasks, taking care of the cattle, branding the calves and giving them their vaccinations, then turning the cows and calves out for summer pasture in the mountains. One of my main summer jobs was riding daily to check on the cattle—making sure they were staying in the right areas, checking gates to make sure they were shut, checking the water troughs and fences. Daughter Andrea often rode with me. She and I were often putting miles on young horses that needed training and experience. If there were any problems out there, the two of us could handle it—moving cattle, fixing a section of fence the elk tore down, patching a water trough or cleaning out a spring box to get more water coming into a trough.

That spring Andrea also helped Lynn with some tractor work. She and her baby girl spent many hours riding in the tractor to harrow the fields. Little Emily enjoyed going along with mom in the cab of the big tractor, in her car seat. She had her bottle for snacks and if she got tired, the motion and noise of the tractor lulled her to sleep.
Andrea and I were riding range the day before the accident. Andrea was riding her mare Breezy, helping me find and round up 5 cows and their bull calves to bring home. We had a really nice ride in which I had a good visit with my daughter. It was a bit challenging to find and gather those 5 pairs and get them home from the mountains—because the cows didn’t want to come down from the range, but a very successful roundup thanks to our good horses.

Then the night of July 5 we were plunged into that dark abyss, when Andrea was burned. She began the biggest challenge of her young life—to stay alive. One of my biggest hurdles to face was all the “what ifs…” What would I do if she perished? My daughter was in many ways my best friend. Not only did I love her as a mother loves a daughter, but she was also good help and a true partner in our ranch work. She was my partner in working with the cattle and training young horses (and my whole life style would be devastatingly changed if she was no longer here). She was also a wonderful companion; we had such good times together while calving, working cattle, training horses.

That summer was a blur of despair and hope, with Lynn spending most of the time in the burn ICU with Andrea, and me staying home taking care of Em and trying to keep the ranch going. Emily, at 2 years old, couldn’t understand why mommy wasn’t here, or where she was. We tried to explain about mommy’s “owies” and bandages. We gave her a doll to bandage and put stickers on the doll. Em also put stickers all over herself, to be bandaged like mommy.

Em helped me do chores, trundling along with me while I fed the horses, and the bulls in the corral. She especially enjoyed going with me to feed the mare and foal, out in the pasture. While I fed the mare hay, Emily picked grass and weeds to stick through gate to “feed” the baby horse. The foal would always come up to the gate and dutifully nibble whatever Emily offered.

We had a lot of help and support from friends and neighbors that summer, and cards and letters from many people we didn’t’ even know—people who had heard about the accident. Some sent donations to help with Andrea’s medical expenses. Em quietly played in the livingroom or watched children’s programs on TV while I wrote thank you notes to answer every card, letter, and gift of help. We used a photo of Andrea and Emily on the thank you notes—a nice picture that had been taken just a month before the accident.

After several weeks, when Andrea was no longer in such critical condition, we were finally able to take Emily to Salt Lake for a visit--to see her mom in the burn center. This was a major turning point for little Em because she was able to see and hug Andrea and knew that her mommy still existed. It was easier for her after that—talking to mommy on the phone, hearing Andrea’s voice. Em and grandma managed to mark time a lot better and “hold the fort” at home until mommy could come back to us.

More details about those challenging weeks can be found in my book Beyond the Flames. In future blogs I’ll give more frequent updates on “life after the burn” and how things are going now with our family.