Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Life and Death in a Corn Field

What if I told you that watching a field of corn grow could save your life? It sounds far-fetched but I witnessed it myself over the course of one hot summer.

My stepfather was one of those unlucky people who is born into a life of pain. At the age of 10 he slipped into a thresher on the family farm during the fall harvest. He lost his leg in the accident and spent a lifetime dealing with the phantom pains and difficulties with an artificial limb.

Years later he was severely burned in an industrial accident at the plant where he worked as a chemical engineer. The recovery was painful beyond belief and he endured the difficult process of skin grafting. His forearms were covered with skin that was as translucent and delicate as rice paper. Grafted skin does not breathe or perspire and it's damaged by the sun so even in the hottest weather his arms were always covered.

He bore all these challenges with grace and was living proof of the old adage, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. He'd need that strength when, early in retirement, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. It was a hard blow and we all felt like screaming, "Enough!! This man has suffered enough."

He was determined to fight the disease and was accepted into a study that offered experimental treatment. Only 52 patients were admitted into the program. The protocol was very, very difficult and in the end only 5 finished the entire course of treatment. Yes, my stepfather was one of those patients. We celebrated when the doctor determined the cancer had remitted. And so life continued for the next 10 years.

And then the hammer fell. The cancer had returned. This was the literal straw that broke the camel's back. But in this case it's wasn't a camel's back, it was my stepfather's mind that broke. I've been in that terrible place myself and I know it well. Your mind simply says, "That's it, I'm done. I'm powering down." He powered down to the deepest level of depression. It was a black time. We were living an hour away from their place and my mother was starting to break under the strain of caring for someone so terribly ill, physically and mentally.

He refused to leave the darkened bedroom. It matched his mind and his mood. He barely spoke and his face was a blank. This is known in psychological jargon as lack of affect, a condition where the emotions are so dead that they cannot even gather enough power to move a facial muscle. He was frightened, not allowing my mom to leave the house for the simplest of errands. He barely let her leave the room, preferring that she join him in the black place where he was hiding.

My sister and I would drive out to visit, allowing my mom some time to breathe and shop. Remembering some of the things in a psychologists bag of tricks I suggested to my mother that she insist he get outside at least once a day. We made a plan that he should sit in a chair on the deck for one hour. The chair faced the large cornfield next to their home.

Photobucket

What happened next was a miracle. No, it was a thousand little miracles all building upon themselves.

At first he protested, as strongly as a person in such a state can muster. Finally he obeyed and sat the in chair for an hour, quickly retreating to the bedroom after each session. It's hard to tell when the first spark was ignited, when the first awakening triggered a message and made a small connection to a cell in his brain.

Photobucket

The first thing that made him aware of something outside of his dark island was the warmth of the sun. One day he said to himself, "The sun is so warm on my face. That's a nice feeling."

He built upon that warmth. Next he heard a bee buzzing around the pot of flowers at his feet. Progress! Not only was he aware of the sun, a chink in the armor had allowed sound into his world.

I'm not quite sure when he became aware of the cornfield, but I do know that it was a big moment. His mind, trained as an engineer, kicked into gear and he said to himself, "I can't do much, but I can sit in this chair each day and follow the progress of this newly planted cornfield."

And that's what he did.

Each day brought new awakenings and each day he spent a little more time out of his dark room. Once he went out in the early morning and saw deer feeding on the few kernels which were remnants of the previous harvest. In midafternoon he noted that children played at the edges of the field and later in the season they crawled inside the cool shade of the corn tunnels.

Photobucket

He noted the leaps of growth. Sometimes it seemed like he was watching one of those high speed films. He started talking, sharing the events of the day in the cornfield. A sudden thunderstorm had threatened to hail on the crop and this was of much concern to him. A tornado ripped nearby but spared his field.

And then the moment came when he made a giant leap. It was the moment when an event in the cornfield triggered a feeling of joy, and the spark traveled from soul to brain and for the first time in what seemed like forever he felt joy. It was something that no amount of drugs or therapy could give.

What happened? He was sitting at dusk, watching the sun setting through the clouds. The cornfield was getting dark, entering it's mysterious hour. Suddenly there was a tiny light. And then two, and then thousands! Fireflies covered the field in a lacy veil of pale yellow light. He knew at that moment that he wanted to live.

This story has an odd twist. His made the decision to live, but on his terms. He'd refused aggressive cancer treatments, only allowing the least painful and non-invasive measures. He decided to find joy in whatever time he had left on earth and by making that decision he was asking us to help him on his next journey. And so we joined him on his journey.

The cancer went into remission and he lived a full and happy life for the next 4 years. When the cancer returned and it was clear that he was near the end his children traveled from Australia to say their goodbyes. I was with him the day before he died. Leaves were rustling outside his bedroom window.

"Can you hear that?" he asked. "Can't you hear the corn rustling in the field?"

"Yes, I can hear it."

70 comments:

Mary said...

Suzanne,
I remember your comment on one of my posts awhile back, on how sunshine could save a life. This was such a beautiful post. I am in awe of the trials your stepfather faced in his life, and his ability to overcome each one. It is a humbling story, and a reminder to count our blessings every day.
xoxo,
Mary
oh, and I loved the photos, too!

Heidi said...

How amazing Sue.... Nature is good for the soul, God never gives us more than we can stand. He always gives us a choice - either watch the corn grow or not, its up to us. What a great experience for you to witness his recovery. Although getting to that point was hard, the reward was obviously life altering for you and your family.

Have a great day and thanks for sharing this with us - reminds us to be happy for what we have NOT had to go through!

Simple Answer said...

God bless him. What a beautiful story.

Chris is *Refining Life* said...

Wonderful post Suzanne! Thanks for sharing that with us. I'll never look at a corn field in quite the same way again!

Louise said...

Beautiful, touching story.

jazzi said...

A wonderful story, Suzanne. And your telling was especially heart-tugging and uplifting!
Thank you for sharing.

Marie Reed said...

I am crying and speechles.

Deanna said...

What a wonderful tribute to him.

karey m. said...

i love this story more than you may ever know.

every word in it was absolute sunshine.

i'm in awe of your stepfather...and your heart.

Kendrawolf said...

What a beautiful story.

LIBERTY POST EDITOR said...

4 years ago my husband insisted we try to live on a farm, that it would be a good experience for our then 9 year old son. I thought he had sent me to hell. I was surrounded by 100 acres of corn. The corn grew so close to our home..oh I'd say within...10 feet. It's funny, now I miss that corn and your post today made me cry. Your writing is astonishing. xo

Bobbi said...

I may have to leave work - my boss just found me crying because of your post. What an inspirational story!

I've been in that deep, dark pit of despair - when my baby sister died 3 years ago. For 3 years, I shut down and became a different person. Nothing made me happy.

Then I started blogging, and day by day, I started to feel some joy come back into my life. I'm definitely not fully back to snuff, but I'm getting there.

Thank you so much for this post!

StitchinByTheLake said...

Suzanne your sweet story touched my heart. I can picture him there on the porch watching...watching...
It reminded me of my own father who was filled with joy always and even with diabetes and a really bad heart would have, I am convinced, have lived forever enjoying all the little things of everyday life. Except. Except my sweet mother, his bride of 63 years, was diagnosed with an incurable brain cancer and was dying before our eyes. He simply said, "I don't plan to live one day longer than her - I can't." And he didn't. Blessings, Marlene

GemStateMom said...

no words...cascading emotions.
Your story has touched me profoundly.

indicaspecies said...

Awe-inspiring!
You've narrated so well, it touched me to the core.

I reached here from Authorblog.

Jill said...

What an aching beautiful story. It brought tears to my eyes.

Karen said...

What a really beautiful post, Suzanne.

And what an awe-inspiring man he was and, for that matter, still is in the words you wrote about him.

Arlene said...

Your stepfather's trials on earth remind me somewhat of my father-in-law's. However we didn't have the life saving cornfield, nor did we think of doing such a thing. When he chose to let go, we could have done better in supporting him for awhile. But I will never forget the music on the night of his death. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Laura said...

Oh my goodness, what an amazing man and an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing this story with us. It is very inspiring, particularly right now for me.
Blessings,
~*~

Suldog said...

Magnificent story! Thank you VERY MUCH for sharing that!

Suzanne Bellerive said...

On CBC, Canada's national public radio, there is a listener-generated program called Out Front. It lasts about 15 minutes; listeners tell stories about their lives or experiences.

One man had a bad stroke and for some years, his wife said, his body was there but the rest of him was not. When his dad died and he inherited a bit of money, he bought a horse. The woman who both sold him the horse and kept it at her place for him to come and care for and ride, said she had doubts about selling it to him because she wasn't sure he would be able to care for it, he seemed so weak and frail.

However, the horse lady and the wife both said that as he cared for that horse and began to ride it, the change in him was incredible. Within weeks he came back to life.

Horses. Cornfields. Who knew?

Jen said...

What a beautiful, meaningful story. Thank you so much for sharing. It was just what I needed today!

Janet said...

What a poignant post; thanks for sharing it.

Janet

BittersweetPunkin said...

Oh Suzanne...what a beautiful post...

Rene said...

Oh my..you needed to post a "have a kleenex handy" warning on this one! Also a "don't read this at work at lunch" warning. I really could have used both warnings. This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this story!

lifeinredshoes said...

Thank you.

CrazyCath said...

This is beautiful, powerful. I came here via authorblog, where allan cook nominated you for post of the day. I am so glad I came. It is beautifully written, full of love, insights and your words still wrap around the man in the story like a comfort blanket.

Thank you for sharing this.

American in Norway said...

Your post...like your comments are always so powerful---& beautiful.

Thank you for always showing me the positive in things....
Hugs..T

Anonymous said...

This is a masterpiece.

Beverly said...

And, some people don't believe in miracles! This was truly the story of a miracle. God bless you all.

Cindy La Ferle said...

This is truly one of the most beautiful essays I've read in a long, long time! And the music playing today, well, it was just perfect. What a fine writer you are, Suzanne!

Dejoni said...

This is the most beautiful post I have ever read. What a touching story.

Tiffany said...

Deep breath. This story touches my soul. I am going to send all 2.5 of my readers over here to read it themselves. That way I can also find it again to read regularly. Beautiful. Precious. Inspiring.

Thank you.

Cottage Rose said...

Suzanne; What a beautiful story about your stepfather. It is so wonderful to see how the Lord works to help those in need. And by you and your family. I too have to live with pain every day, not as bad as his, so when I have a bad day I will surly think of him and how strong is was. Thank you so much for the story of strength, Love, and family.
Hugs;
Alaura
ps stop by my blog I have an award for you.

KatKit13 said...

beautiful story. just beautiful.

quilly said...

That was a beautiful well-written story celebrating life.

Robyn said...

Oh wow Suzanne, this is a remarkable piece of writing. Thank you.

Carol VR said...

My dad has also lost a leg (due to cancer). Depression is an amzing thing and I believe full circle that you ultimately decide your fate and hear true to every word you spoke in this post.

I'm gald your step dad found his inner peace.

J'Ollie Primitives said...

Thank you. A beautiful and beautifully written story. It's amazing, the amount of sheer will people posess. I remember my mom signing up for hospice and an Elderhostel tour of New England lighthouses on the same day. She had a vast amount of sunshine in her life ~ she made the sunshine herself. Your dad sounds like he had the same spark.

Suzanne said...

I would like to thank everyone for their kind comments today. Thank you.

It was so amazing to me that when my stepfather announced his decision not to seek cancer treatment that no one in our family attempted to convince him otherwise. No one begged him to fight till the end, because we respected his decision to LIVE till the end.

We are faced with some difficult challenges in life and I'm always astounded by how people can rise to the challenge.

Thank you for visiting here today.

- Suzanne

Jenni said...

This post brought tears to my eyes and the haunting music made it all so vivid. You have a way of telling a story that makes it feel personal.

Rechelle ~Walnuthaven Cottage~ said...

Thank you for sharing his story. I'm humbled and amazed at his courage and strength. I will never look at corn, fields or the sun quite in the same way. I have to agree (now) that it's all life giving.
Hugs.

Caffienated Cowgirl said...

Thank you for sharing this story. Farmers and ranchers thrive on their livelihood...as long as they have a link, they have the ability to survive.

Tara said...

Suzanne

Such a pwerful story--my Dad id being treated for cancer now--how wonderful to know someone who retained their dignity throughout as my Dad is trying to do!

Cabin Creek Farm said...

I am so touched by your step fathers life and of his strength to choose to feel the sun and watch the corn grow!
thank you for the reminder to be thankful for the blessings in my life.

Hot Tub Lizzy said...

Gosh... that was beautiful... what a wonderful man

Heather said...

OH my stars. What a beautiful story. Sometimes, making the decision to live is hard. Not just physically live, but emotionally live. It makes me happy to think that the last years of his life were spent enjoying the wonder around him.

Now I need a tissue.

Shelly G & Hope P said...

This post brought tears streaming down my cheeks... It has been so smokey here in No. California that we have stayed inside...I miss the evenings outside... Tonight we are going outside... No matter what... even if it is just for 5 minutes... Thank you for sharing such a lovely story:)
shellys.hut@gmail.com

Sand Flat Farm said...

Suzanne - What a lovely way you told such a tragic but uplifting story! Thank God for your beautiful gift of writing, and thank God for the renewal of your stepfather's life. THank you for sharing this story. I love it. I can relate. I've been there in that black place, too, and my husband used to force me to go sit outside in the sunshine and listen to the birds. I got to where I would take my Bible with me. It's like the warmth of God's face shining upon you. Blessings to you- keep looking for that pie! Vickie

Blessed Mama of 4 said...

It reminds me of Job, not so much of the trials, but more so the realization of God's soverignty. Your stepfather delighted in creation and his place in it, what a beautiful testimony, thank you for sharing it.

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Oh my, Suzanne! This needs to be published. I know that you say that blogging is publishing, but I mean real live, honest to God publishing. Please. Send this somewhere. It's powerful stuff.

Rue said...

That story gave me chills Suzanne. Thank you for sharing it.

rue

Life on Bonnie Lane said...

Very touching story. Of course, I'm all teary at the end, but just have to say that your dad sounds like one heck of a man who sure did not deserve to go through all he had. I am so glad he was able to find his way out of depression so that he could truly live his last days with his family.

Kady

Ritch in Love said...

That was one of the most beautiful posts I've ever read. This summer my husband is running a marathon in honor of his mother who fought breast cancer in a brave fight, yet lost, 4 years ago. Michael is a member of Team Duke, which is the John Wayne Cancer Foundation. He just posted about it last week. http://ritchinlove.blogspot.com/2008/06/courage-strength-grit.html
Copy this link and you can read more about it.

The W.O.W. factor said...

Thank you for sharing this amazing story of life & love & choices! It's an extraordinary piece of work! Sent warm chills through my heart, tears filled my eyes, and a smile appeared on my face for the I know that "peace" fell upon all of you. I've been there.

Lynn@ The Vintage Nest said...

What a beautiful and humbling story and so well told. There is a lump in my throat. Someone told me I should hop over and meet the Farmer's Wife and I am so glad I did. Hope you are having a wonderful weekend. ~ Lynn

TSannie said...

Just beautiful words. I'm grateful you shared this. Thank you!

Farmchick said...

Oh my....what a poignant story. Your stepfather sounds like a wonderful person. You are one talented writer my dear.

Cindy L said...

Thanks for sharing this one again. It's such a beautiful piece, and it's worthy of publication in a literary journal or major glossy. I'll be thinking of places/editorial contacts where you can market this over the next couple of weeks and will contact you offline.

fishing guy said...

Suzanna: What a wonderful story to share, life is precious and you must live it with an positive attitude. I have fought Prostate Cancer and am fine now. It was a hard thing to face.
I'm visiting from Louise's site and am her other country music encounter.

Moannie said...

That was a most beautifully told story of an amazing man.
Thanks once again to David for finding you.

Sandi McBride said...

Powerful memory powerfully told.
Sandi

Lee said...

This moved me. I feel like I can sit beside your father and see that corn field. What a blessing that was.

Congratulations on making David's Post of the Day! Well deserved!

Peace!
Lee

CrazyCath said...

This was nominated on authorblog (in David's absence I think) in July and I commented then. David has put it at the top of his POTD today.
Seeing it a second time does not lesson the impact. This is without doubt one of the best pieces on the web.

imbeingheldhostage said...

wow, definitely one of the best I have ever come across. This was really beautifuL!! (going to go thank David for sending me now)

Vee ~ A Haven for Vee said...

Congratulations on your award today from David's Post of the Day. Just wonderful...

Maggie May said...

I am so glad that I came from David Mcmahon's POTD and I read your powerful post. It was so moving and inspiring and at times I felt so sad.
I'm glad he rose to the challenge though...... and is still inspiring people through this story.
I will always think of this post when I see corn growing now!
Thank you and congratulations.

Lew said...

A hard life, well lived! Your step-father was an amazing man. I remember that my grandfather found relief from the pain of cancer in the darkness of his bedroom. You have told his story beautifully.

RiverPoet said...

What an amazing man. I'm so glad that in the end he decided to fully live rather than die in fear.

I can hear the corn rustling.

Peace - D

Shari from Big Yellow Farmhouse said...

This a wonderful, powerful, moving story - and some of the best writing I've ever read. Thank you.