9 August

Carol Rising

by Jon Katz
Carol Rising

They say when a loved one falls, another rises. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. They say we learn the most from darkness. The mysterious “they” say so many things, some of them are even true.

Ed was quite honest about himself, I  have always appreciated that quality in him.

He said he wished he had spent more time with Carol, paid more attention to her, listened to her more. Ed was never that much of a listener, he was a talker, a lecturer, a teller of stories, an artist making magic. A confident, even arrogant man.

He loved being challenged.

He said he learned from his father to talk and work, not to listen.

It is easy to underestimate Carol, she can be shy and quiet, and she often deferred to Ed. And Ed often talked right over her.

I have this feeling that one of the only men who really listened to Carol for much of her life was her father, who she loved dearly. i don’t know about her sons. But Carol is not a shouter. Ed was a shouter, and if that wasn’t loud enough, he bellowed.

I think Carol is used to not being listened to, not being  asked, not always having her opinions respected.

When she joined my writing workshop, I was surprised at how well she wrote and how little regard she had for her writing. She was startled when I kicked Ed out of the class right away, she asked me if he could come back, but Ed was not surprised.

He said he knew it was a good decision, that Carol would grow much faster in the class without him. He was right. Carol dismisses praise, it rolls right off of her, as if it were an alien language.

It is surreal to come to the farmhouse every day and see both of them changing, they were so close and so together for 47 years, now they are on big and beautiful trains, each moving rapidly in the opposite direction from the other.

Every day Ed is changing, getting smaller.

Every day, Carol is changing, getting bigger.

She seems very much in charge now, in so many ways, of  Ed’s decline and imminent death, and of the transition of the farm to some of her children and their families. No one has her experience and knowledge, not yet.

Carol, like Ed,  knows the dairy business inside and out, she knows cows. She knows when the inspectors come and when the calves are sick or hungry.

There is no one to push aside her opinions now.

And I believe people are listening to her. She is no longer My Farmer’s wife, she is The Farmer. I see her children come to her every day with questions, seeking advice, letting her know what is going on.

She has navigated the awful trauma of Ed’s diagnosis and decline, she is very much a reluctant warrior, but a warrior  still. She never quits or breaks.

She seems out of shock now, away from bewilderment and confusion. The strong woman inside of her is emerging, you can see and hear a little more of it every day, even while her heart is breaking, and her husband is literally wasting a way.

Ed has strong opinions about everything, and an iron will. He has a fixed way of doing everything, his stamp is on everything, he took over almost every crisis and managed it,  and he thought his way was invariably the best way.

Carol still calls him My Farmer, and always made it clear that she saw and still sees herself as the farmer’s wife, not the farmer. But I have been there almost every day, and I see  Carol’s transformation, right there in front of me.

In recent weeks, I have seen Carol suffer terribly, but I have also seen her grow stronger every day, on her blog, in her writing, on her farm, caring for Ed, learning to accept what is happening.

In hospice, there is always the point where someone shifts from trying to keep someone they love alive to trying to end his or her suffering as soon as possible.

I sat with Ed for a half hour today, it was hard to sit with him, he has deteriorated so much, he is hallucinating and fights restlessness and agitation and pain and begs almost constantly for help.

Carol can’t bear to see him like this in the same  way he can’t bear to be seen like this. She is holding up because she has to and wants to.

Carol was hoping until a few days ago to see Ed get up and walk or ride in a wheelchair around the farm. Now, we all know  Ed is never getting out of that hospital bed, and almost all of us simply wish for it to end so Ed’s suffering can end.

Today, I felt the absence of hope,  there is a big hole in that farmhouse, it has been replaced by compassion.  No more talk of miracles and magic, of beating the odds.

And soon, the bright light and a thousand tomorrows.

Watching Carol tend to Ed is a testament to faithful and enduring life.  Her love for him is so pure and unfettered.

She answers each of his cries, strokes his forehead, keeps him warm, gives him liquid medicine now and soft food because he no longer knows what a pill is or how to swallow it.

She never loses patience with Ed, speaks softly, brings him soothing drinks and whatever food he will take. She rubs his arms, kisses his forehead, holds his hand. Like the hospice nurses and aides, she is always touching him and talking to him.

It is said the dying need to be touched, when I sit along with him I often take his hand.

So Carol is changing  along with Ed. They are still together, in sync.

She is  clearer and more certain on her blog, her and Ed’s Bejosh Farm Journal.  She is no longer bewildered by what is happening.

She talks about the farm now with authority and expertise.

Even as Carol writes about her confusion and agonizing choices, she seems to me  be clearer and more confident. She no longer has the air of someone who doesn’t expect to be listened to. She makes herself clear. She makes hard decisions, every day.

Every day seems to me to get harder and more painful for her than the day before, I won’t even try to describe Ed’s agony today, it is almost unbearable for me to see, and I don’t talk to him because I don’t believe he wishes to be seen by me in this way.

We are in the testing time, the darkness of the soul. Beauty and release and light are next, they are standing outside of the door, they are just around the corner, waiting in their white robes.

Ed is suffering now, concedes Carol, “We are having trouble with this time of transition, as they call it.”

Tomorrow, I’m spending the afternoon with Ed while Carol gets her hair cut and does some errands. I’ll bring a good book and a  heavy heart, it is hard for me to see him like this, but so much harder for him.

“It is very difficult to see all that he is going through to get to his place in heaven,” wrote Carol on her blog today. “I know it is selfish, but when you love someone it hurts to see the difficulty both physically, mentally and emotionally, it causes them to get to where they’re going.”

I wanted to tell Carol that she doesn’t quite understand what it means to be selfish.

According to Merriam-Webster, being selfish is to be concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure or well-being without regard for others.

Carol is very far  from selfish, she is drowning in concern for others, especially Ed, she is excessively concerned with everyone but herself.  She doesn’t need me to see this, she will get there.

Carol is learning about selflessness and selfishness. To wish Ed a speedy end to his  agony is an act of pure love and empathy, there is nothing left for him on this side of the world. Release is nothing but a gift.

I suspect she knows this now, but it not, she will know it soon enough.


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