The summer of 2005 was hectic as usual here on the ranch. Lynn and I were pinch-hitting for Michael and Carolyn (we call ourselves the battery backup!) and helping out as much as we could—after Michael’s horse accident (with his arm in a cast) and Carolyn’s knee injury. I helped ride range and move cattle and Lynn helped irrigate. In our job (as cow caretakers) none of us can afford to be sick or laid up. We take on this job as a full time every-day-of-the year commitment. The cows own us, not the other way around! But us crazy cow people seem to thrive on this type of dedication. I think it serves us in good stead for learning the important lessons of life.
Michael got the pin and screws out of his finger in June and was trying to get some of the motion back. The broken joint healed but was very stiff. The piece of bone with the tendons attached healed back to the main bone (the pin was holding the broken joint together until it healed). He was riding his horse again, though for awhile he had to get on one-handed, which is no small feat on a young, skittish horse.
One weekend I helped him and his kids for two days, riding to move their cattle from the low range pasture to the middle range pasture. Carolyn finally got back on a horse for the first time since her knee injury, and helped move cattle the second day. Her knee was still in a brace, but getting more range of motion with physical therapy. The doctor told her that if she was careful and did physical therapy to strengthen it, it might heal without having to resort to surgery.
Andrea and kids were doing well that summer, though Emily and Charlie had their tonsils out in hopes to reduce the amount of colds and ear infections they were always getting. While Charlie was recovering from having his tonsils out he stayed overnight with us--and enjoyed helping feed the bum calves--while Andrea and Mark went to Missoula to have Emily's tonsils out and tubes put in Sammy's ears; the doctor was reluctant to take her tonsils out right then, wanting to do it when she was a little older.
Em was pretty sore after her tonsil surgery, but looked forward to staying with us for a few days when she felt better--to make cookies and do a lot of fun things, like petting the horses. She went with Lynn and me on our evening hikes, and also enjoyed working on her "book" while I worked on mine. She started making a "book" when she spent the summer with me when she was 2 ½ years old, cutting out pictures from magazines and catalogs and pasting them in a spiral notebook. She spent hours doing that. Now she still cuts out pictures but can also write captions for them.
My book projects were keeping me very busy that summer. I finally got The Horse Conformation Book finished (and the illustrator did a WONDERFUL job!) and it had just been published. My Getting Started With Cattle book was in its final stages of being published. Stable Smarts, a book of handy hints for horsemen, was going through editing and illustrating. I had also just gotten the proofs (to check) for my book on Understanding Equine Hoof Care and horseshoeing. I was also asked to do a small book on raising beef cattle, and was trying to work on it in the early mornings before chores (with a goal of doing at least 3 to 4 pages per morning, so I can meet the deadline) and then working on articles and phone interviews for articles the rest of the day, sandwiching in any cattle work that had to be done.
For instance, one morning we had to doctor a lame cow with a foot infection, trimming her foot and giving her antibiotics. At least our smaller herd needed less attention. I was no longer riding range every day in the summer (our small herd stays home on closer pastures, and I only ride to move them occasionally, or to help our kids/grandkids move their range cattle) and I can devote more of my day to writing. I miss the more active lifestyle of earlier years, but don't mind being able to make up the income difference with my writing. We still have a few cattle of our own and are able to help the kids with theirs.
That summer the parents of one of the boys who was severely burned in August 2000 in Yellowstone Park (not long after Andrea’s burn injury) planned to make a trip to Yellowstone to see where their life-changing detour began. I wrote to Liz, and said, “You shall be in my prayers and in my heart as you make that pilgrimage. Yes, it's been an epic journey thus far, and how far we have come! My heart goes out to anyone who is burned, and we instantly rally into support mode to try to help. I keep hoping my book BEYOND THE FLAMES will be of help to some who are facing these challenges.”
I thanked Liz for all her letters during the years we were both trying to cope with our children’s burn accidents, and told her she had truly blessed me with her friendship. “We share so much, having "gone through hell" with our injured children (and come through it and into the light of hope and joy and blessings). It means so much, lending one another much needed support, and because we seem to understand one another so well and have similar thoughts and feelings on so many levels. A friendship like yours fills a gap in my soul. "Meeting" you (though we have never met in person) was one of the most cherished gifts that evolved from our pilgrimage through the burn ICU with our children.”
“As we gradually get farther out from that traumatic time, I realize I am finally able to "let go" a little more and relax back into some sort of normalcy in relationship with my daughter that I nearly lost. I realized the other day that even though she has impairments and fragility from the injuries (always more susceptible to pneumonia, for instance, with her impaired immune system) she is no longer so quite so fragile and vulnerable. Or perhaps she is just a lot more determined, and also at ease with her situation, and I can be less of a worry-wart. I find myself more comfortable now with letting her live her own life. We talk often on the phone on days I don't see her, but now I find I can sometimes let a whole day go by without worrying if I haven't "checked on her to see how she's doing". Perhaps this is a more normal, healthy thing, letting go and letting her do her own thing and just being available if she wants to talk or needs something. I've finally moved out of the position of support/caregiver to just being "mom" again, and that's a good thing,” I told Liz.
The door that opened for Lynn and me (after several others slammed shut, with Andrea's injury) as we slogged through the scary detour and out into the light again has been a wondrous turning point in our lives as we channel our energies into trying to help other people. So many people we know (and so many others that cross our path now--maybe not by accident) are suffering from cancer or battling some other kind of tough challenge and we feel we’re supposed to be part of the support crew/cheering section to help in some small way to encourage/inspire/lend strength, etc. It's as though the detour we were thrust onto the night of July 5, 2000 ultimately gave us a mission. We find ourselves happiest when we can help someone else, even if it’s just in a small way, to try to brighten their day. It's part of those ongoing lessons, helping me try to focus on others instead of myself. Sometimes it's overwhelming and I feel very, very not up to the task, but I am thankful that God gives me new strength every morning.
Liz was battling breast cancer that summer, and doing better. I told her I was glad she was feeling stronger physically. It is so hard to be strong in spirit when we're weak and hurting in body! I am such a wimp, and can't function very well mentally/spiritually when I am hurting or tired. I am truly inspired by people who can keep going emotionally and are strong spiritually when they are hurting in body. I pray that as I get older, tireder and more decrepit the good Lord will grant me the grace to be gracious and not cranky!
Liz had just hosted an 80th birthday party for her dad, before his surgery, and her mom was in seriously failing health. She was hoping her mom could find a peaceful transition as she slipped from this life into the next. Watching our parents grow old and fail in mind and body is hard, but it also helps us gain more insight into the paradox of life and the bittersweet journey we make, and ultimately gives us more understanding and acceptance of the Love we are given that can carry us through.
Our empathy expands as we gain more experience with the cycles of life, with illness and pain, tragedy and death and loss. Liz and I agreed that our friend Laurel's loss (losing her daughter in the same burn accident that nearly claimed Liz’s son) is unimaginable, since we had not lost a child, but our empathy for Laurel is great--and more full than it would be if we hadn't gone through our own hard testing.
Meanwhile, we were having a good summer, here on the ranch. Our drought was over for awhile; we had some good rains and the hills were still green. We had an amazing crop of grass on the range and the cattle were doing well. We’d not had a summer this green and lush since 1976, and we were very thankful for the moisture.