By Guest Writer
Fall of 1997 was no different than any other. I was a perfectly happy 9 year old, the oldest of three, and only girl. My dad farmed with his brother. Late nights in the field harvesting corn and milking a barn full of cows twice a day was a normal part of dairy farming. When a seemingly healthy 34 year old dairy farmer goes to see the family doctor that time of year saying he’s been having some headaches, and has been tired it’s not exactly alarming. More likely than not it’s due to pulling long hours and not enough sleep.
In our small town of mostly Amish a fundraising meal at the local fire company was common, and something to look forward to—the food is amazing! My grandparents would often help serve, and because my dad volunteered with the ambulance, we would go for supper and left overs were sure to make their way into our fridge. One particular night we came home from a meal and some of my dad’s family had stopped in to eat more and just hang out. Dad and his brother went out to check on the cows like they did every night. On his way back to the house, my dad was running and had collapsed. I remember my uncle running in the door yelling “call 911,” seeing my mom run out the door, the ambulance coming, and family keeping my brothers and I away from the door. He was rushed to the hospital and in the few days that followed life as we knew it would forever change.
After many tests, it was discovered that he had a brain tumor that was fingered through his brain. It had caused a grand mal seizure which caused him to collapse the night before. Brain surgery was done to remove some of the tumor but not all of it was able to be removed. It was cancerous, and there was no cure or way of removing it all. That first hospital stay would last a full month before he could return home. My brothers and I bounced around between family members as my mom tried to juggle taking care of her husband, and the three of us. He was able to come home just 4 days before mine and my brother’s birthday.
In the few years that followed, he would endure several surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy treatments to try and contain the spread of the cancer. He received a special kind of glasses that only a few people in the world had to correct what the cancer was doing to his vision. For about a year and a half of that time, he felt well and was able to continue working. Due to the uncertainty of his form of cancer, the cows were sold, my mom ended her small bed and breakfast business, we moved off the farm, and he worked for a dairy feed company.
Never did he complain nor lose his sense of humor or joy. His faith was not shaken, he made the best of the situation, and continued to set an example for his family— it was contagious. He was well loved and respected. The community and church surrounded our family with an incredible amount of love and support. For the first I can remember, I saw Christ’s love in others and felt a sense of peace in struggles. At the age of 13, I stood beside him as he took his last breath, surrounded by his family. Even at 13, the realization that all the major life events to come I would have to do without him was dreaded. He would not be there teaching me to drive, seeing my graduation, walking me down the aisle, or having children.
My mom had gone back to work as a nurse, and we found our new normal as a family of four. As I sat in class my sophomore year of high school, I was asked to go to the office. I was informed that my uncle was on his way to pick me up. I knew if my uncle was leaving his job as a guidance counselor at a neighboring high school to pick me up, something was seriously wrong. I was dropped off at my house, my uncle explained that my mom had fallen off the roof in an attempt to surprise us with Christmas lights when we got home from school. He needed to go to the hospital and find out what was going on. I noticed a large puddle of blood on the driveway, and as I entered the house there was a trail of blood from the garage to the kitchen table. Wanting to have it cleaned up before my younger brothers got home from school, I got to work. Thankfully, after ten days in the trauma unit after a major blow to her head, she was ok and made a full recovery. Her head injury has led to teasing and many jokes over the years, but we are also humbled knowing it could have turned out completely different.
I wasn’t exactly quick to look to God for guidance or comfort as a teenager, nor did I have any interest in talking about the events of my life. I hated the awkwardness of pity or people not knowing how to respond. I give my dad full credit for his example in having the mindset it could always be worse. I still tend to feel this today—no matter what may come my way I have so much to be thankful for.
As an adult, I found myself back in the lifestyle I loved and missed, married to a dairy farmer who also worked with his dad and brothers. On the most beautiful spring Sunday, my brother-in-law stopped at our house after church. Ready to leave, he looked at my 9 month old resting on my shoulder said, “bye little one,” and walked out our door. A little while later I was feeding her lunch and heard my always calm husband answer his phone, kick the coffee table, and run upstairs. My heart sank as I yelled to ask what was going on. His brother, who had just been standing in our house an hour or so before, was dead. I now would walk through loss with my husband and his family that I loved so much.
Once again, it was like a hug from Christ himself saying, “You all are loved,” as the community and church showered us all with love and support. Farms do not stop for a tragedy. Cows still need milked and cared for. People showed up to help however they could without being asked. I now saw loss in a whole new way as I grieved the loss of a brother-in-law. I wasn’t 13 anymore. I was a married woman with a child. I had a new view of my grandparents losing their son and my dad’s siblings losing a brother. I watched my husband, and his family grieve—everyone’s pain and loss showing in different ways, yet all clinging to their faith for comfort. Farmers practice faith in their day to day all the time, and when it came to something tragic it was no different. I saw this in my family and now in my in-laws.
God showed me his grace and mercy in the moments when I wanted to scream, “How could you? Why would you put anyone through this?” Let me just say I had many moments like that. In the storms of life, we will never walk alone. He is always by our side. I love when I get little reminders of that at random. Several years ago one of the owners of the construction company working at our farm came to me and said, “You don’t remember me, but I knew your dad well, and I was one of the EMT’s with him in the ambulance the night he was taken to the hospital.” There is so much comfort in knowing our time on earth and the things thrown our way that cause pain are not going to last forever. I have had ups and downs in between, and I am sure there will be more, but I will always have Someone by my side and will never walk alone.
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