It was the last day of March, and the phone rang while I was in the shower. I expected to hear from the post office bright and early as our first meat bird chicks were due to be picked up. But this was a bit earlier than expected, and no one left a message. When I checked the caller ID, it was my brother Cory. There was no good reason for him to be calling me at 6 AM. I called him back, hoping maybe it was just a butt dial. It wasn't.
Our brother Ryan had had a heart attack.
He didn't make it.
My brother Ryan had just turned 34. Younger than I. He had a good job, a beautiful wife and two small children. He was fine one day, taking his family fishing, and gone the next. No warnings, nothing. Just gone. Not only was there an enormous hole in his family, there was a gaping wound in our larger family as well. Ryan had done the unenviable job of being the head of the family for my Mom, my brother Cory, my three sisters and I after our own father passed away at just 48. My Dad's passing was expected, he was terminally ill for months, and it was crushing. This? This just couldn't be, and yet it was. I threw some things in a bag and made the long drive to North Caroliona to be with the rest of my family while we struggled to plan a funeral and make sense of it all. Dan joined me a few days later for the services. We would return home soon after, since the beginning of April is a terrible time for farmers to be out of state, and truthfully, there simply wasn't much more we could do for anyone there. But I came home shaken and numb. Doing the minimum to take care of the animals and seedlings was all I could really bear, even the minimum seemed like too much some days. There were only so many things I could handle, and as the list was pared to its most basic, blogging understandably (I hope) fell to the wayside.
If you have to struggle with big questions of life and death, spring on a farm isn't a terrible place to do it. There are new seedlings and new chicks and new calves, new life all around and...hope. I felt as though maybe I was getting back on track. After feeling like I was behind all spring, I had been starting to feel better and was feeling motivated to press on and try to make it a good summer at the farm. And then, in early June, I felt as though I was coming down with a summer flu or something. Achy, chills, headache. Tired. Beyond tired, drained. One day literally all I could manage were morning and evening chores, I spent the entire day on the couch. Obviously something wasn't right, especially with the addition of crushing headaches that peaked in the night and subsided in the morning. As they started to come on Friday evening, for the 3rd or 4th day, with each night getting worse, I went to the emergency room.
The CT scan came back with nothing, my blood work was for the most part unremarkable, I was seemilngly healthy except for the aches, fatigue, and headaches. With the additional fact that I'm outside pretty constantly, the ER staff concluded that the most likely diagnosis was Lyme disease. While it would take 10 days or so for the definitive test results, they could start me on the month-long course of antibiotics immediately. So that's what we did. I was a trooper and never missed a day at the farm stand, but it was rough, especially that next morning. Unfortunately, though the antibiotics had given me some relief from the aches and pains, and the fatigue was beginning to subside, that came at a price. The side effect was that I was highly sensitive to the sun. I'm already really prone to burning, and this made working outside for the most part unthinkable except very early or late in the day. Even standing under the sky light in the farm stand required me to wear long sleeves and a hat and put sunscreen on my hands. It was a stressful time. The fatigure abated gradually, but as I felt better, I could do less since I could not handle the sun exposure. Research into Lyme was scary, because although 2/3 of folks who get it seem to recover fine, 1 out of 3 don't and have lingering effects. Except some doctors don't believe chronic Lyme exists. Again, everything seemed to pause for me while summer on the farm rolled along, whether I was able to be part of it or not.
I used some of this down time to take a rare trip to North Carolina in the summer, to lend a hand to my family as best as I could, and to meet my new little niece, Aelynn, as my sister Laurel gave birth to her first child in May. When I returned and the antibiotic course was over, I hoped to try and catch up with everything going on at the farm. July is always busy, and of course by now I felt so far behind there would be no catching up. Certain things just would not happen. The lovely assortment of annual herbs I planted in the wet spring didn't germinate, and although I had wanted to do a second planting of basils and dill and cilantro, it just didn't happen. Things like that were a disappointment to me, but for the most part the farm did OK, even well, thanks to my husband and his brother doing their best to pick up my slack. Ironically, when I was finally ready for the sun, I spent most of my days inside anyways. July and August mean an overwhelming garden bounty, and that translates into canning season for me. Pickles and bruschetta and salsa and more, hundreds of jars each week. And suddenly it was fall, and the garden offered up truckloads of beautiful pumpkins for carving and heirloom squash for eating. It was as though, just when I was ready to finally enjoy being outside, the garden was winding down, preparing for the inevitable frost. I felt as though I had lost a whole year.
I know this paints an awfully gloomy picture, it was a very difficult year for me, and I know there will be more difficult days ahead. I am hoping for the best with my health and so far have not had any sort of relapse, but with death, there are always going to be days when that loss feels fresh and sharp. But a year is full of triumphs and tragedies, even if some overshadow the others. Lots of good things happened, too. My niece, Aelynn was born. The farm stand and our Etsy store both had their most profitable years to date. We added new bloodlines to our herd of Dexter cattle and flock of Katahdin sheep by bringing new breeding males here.
And now, as the snow blankets the farm and I turn my efforts to indoor activities once again, I find myself motivated to try and continue to tell my story. I'm going to attempt to stay motivated and keep the posts updated on a regular basis. The upside to time off is I feel I have some new things to share. Stay tuned!