My father became ill when I was only three years old. When I say ill, I don't mean a case of a cold or flu. I mean bed ridden for the rest of his life. My visits with my Daddy would be at his bedside. On the rare occasions he would be able to be at home, I chereish the memory of walking around the yard with him as he picked up bobby pins and nails, etc with a magnet he had tied onto the end of a string. He was unable to bend over. When he died, (I was nine years old ) there were thirteen major things wrong with him. I don't recall them all, but I do know that he built too much blood. If he happened to bump his arm, hand, leg, etc. he would bleed through his pours. Also, he had been in a coal mining accident when he was just a young man. His chest was crushed, and he had only 1/4 of a lung that worked. That portion of his lung was filled with black lung disease. Every breath he took (even though he was on an oxygen tank) was a breath I can still hear in my head. One that was raspy and strained.
One day his doctor came in and asked, "How are you doing today Mark?" Daddy replied "I'm doing fine. Just fine." The doctor said "Mark, everytime I come in and ask you that, you always respond the same. I'm your doctor. I know damn well how hard it is on you to just try and stay alive." To that my dad replied "But doc, I don't have to look far to find someone worse off than me."
My mom was a widow woman who was left by the deaths of two husbands with nine children to raise. Living in rural Vernal, Utah in the early 1900's she was not afforded the luxury of an education. She made it to seventh grade and then had to drop out because they lived too far away from town for her to attend school. Because of this, she was left to raise her large family on minimum wage. She worked every kind of job she could to keep food in her children's mouth and a roof over their heads. She graded roads with a team of horses (she would take her children with her and sit them under a tree while she graded.) She worked as a bakery helper and cleaned the bathrooms of the Union Pacific railroad, and as an aid in a nursing home. Whatever she could get, she accepted wtihout pride.
During my entire life, I never once heard my Mom complain about the hand in life she had been dealt. I never once remember her getting up and complaining about needing to go to work or what a burden she bore in life. She would do it and keep a sense of humor and take care of her children....children who would love, respect and stand side by side at her bed as she suffered with Alzheimer's disease and then died.
My brother Henry was forteen years old when he had to quit school to help his mother care of his siblings. Henry was a very bright boy, good looking and fastidious. He loved having his white shirts ironed and my sister Mary was more than happy to take care of that for him. Henry worked in West Vaco mine outside Evanston Wyoming. Every penny he made helped feed and care for his sisters. When I was fifteen years old, Henry came down with cancer in his mouth. It started out as a small sore which spread. He was taken to the hospital in Salt Lake City where they performed surgery, needing to place a tube in his throat for him to breath with. Once out of the hospital, the cancer started around where the tube had been inserted. It ate his entire throat away. You could actually look at his neck and see the back of his throat. Mama and I went to Green River to take care of Henry so his wife Lue could work and provide for the family. Mama bought a small canvas cot and cut a hole in it and placed a pan underneathe. Henry could lay on the cot on his stomach and let his throat drain through the hole and into the pan. You could actually smell the rot of the cancer. He could no longer talk, and when people would come to visit him they would say "How you doing there Hank?" and Henry would put a big smile on his face and raise his thumb into the air signifying he was doing fine.
What my parents and brother taught me was there was no room in life for self pity. You have the choice to face what life forces on you with grace and gratitude or with feeling sorry for yourself. Each one of them faced life's challenges with grace and dignity. I am proud to be their daughter and his sister.
I guess this is why, (no I know this is why) I have little tollerance for anyone who is absorbed in their own self pity. If one looks outside themselves, they will see there are many who have things much worse than they could every expect to bear.
The strength of my Dad and Mom and brother has buoyed me up in my own life. I have lost them and my brother Chris my sisters June, Mary, Emy and Fran. When I lost Danny in 2011, for a while I didn't think I could make it through the pain I felt. But as I walked through a small graveyard in Dubois, Idaho I remembered I was not the only one who had felt such pain. There had been others throughout time and there would be more throughout time to come. I am but one student in the classroom of life.
Danny and I worked hard our entire lives. With our hard work, we were able to acheive much and ended up losing it all. I have the choice of seeing our financial lives as either a success or a failure. I choose to see us as successful. I will take pride in the fact that we chose to work. We chose to try. We chose to learn and when the rug was pulled out from under us, we chose to get back up and hand in hand face the coming morrow. I will not waste my time in worrying what others thought of us.
As a child and teenager, I know our family was looked down upon and perhaps even shunned. After all, we were the ones that had dead cars parked on the lawns of our houses. We were the ones that dressed in hand me downs or stuff given us. Our meals consisted mainly of bread and gravy, pancakes and potatoe soup. We seldom had meat. My little mom had to work all the time. She didn't have time to fix fancy meals, nor did she have the ingredients. We had to make do with what we had. I didn't eat in a restaurant until I was fifteen years old. I had my first piece of pizza then and was embarrassed that I was with friends and didn't know how I was suppose to eat it.
But none of that mattered, not at all. For looking back I know I had what was most important. For what I did have was love. My Dad had loved me. My Mom loved me. My siblings loved me. and with that love, I didn't need anything else.
Life isn't fair. (At least perhaps through our limited perspective of how life should be, it doesn't look fair.) But, perhaps it is only an illusion, a trick of smoke and mirrors. Perhaps we can't see how truly fair it is in the great scheme of things. Perhaps we are judging it by the house we live in, the food we eat, the car we drive, the clothes we wear. These after all, is what we use to consider our self-worth. Instead, we should be considering our self-worth by how we handle what life throws at us. Do we handle it with self-pity, or do we handle it with grace and dignity. The magician of life has us looking at one thing, when what is really important is what we are being distracted from seeing....It is not the destination that is important, it is the journey and how well we deal with it.