Uncommon compassion in Silverton, Colorado
My mother died on May 16, 2014 in the San Juan Medical Center in Farmington, NM. Her three-week stay there for renal failure had been a roller coaster of hope and despair with the doctors bringing her back from death several times.
But after they put her on the ventilator the last time, they discovered inoperable uterine cancer.
My brother, Tom, who was planting a new orchard, made the 700-mile-trip from Kansas three times to be with us. Although Mom had fought hard, we finally decided to take her off life support.
We held her memorial service in Blanding on May 23 and her graveside service in Minneapolis, KS on May 27. That week was a blur of houseguests, traveling to Kansas with two of our grandchildren, and the services.
In the weeks that followed, I took care of the necessary business that accompanies a death and threw myself into yardwork and caring for Mom’s home, but I felt a searing sense of loss.
Mom, who stood only four feet six inches at her tallest, had been wheelchair bound for 15 years, so I, along with home health aides, had taken care of her. Long-term caregiving can be difficult, and I wasn’t always patient, but I loved the little woman with a heart as huge as the Kansas skies.
After her death, every time I went to her house, I could see her sitting in her Jazzy, doing beautiful embroidery work, and looking up with a smile as I came through the door.
About a month later, hoping a change of scenery would do me good, Ted and I decided to go to Colorado for an overnight getaway.
Before Mom’s last illness, we had wanted to hike to the Highland Mary Lakes in the Weminuche Wilderness, so I made reservations at the Canyon View Motel in Silverton.
When we arrived Friday evening and opened the door to our room, we found a poem with Oggie’s name, two milk bones, and a cover sheet for the bed.
Feeling welcome, I settled into the rustic room, grateful to be out of Blanding with its haunting memories but still feeling an exhaustion that penetrated my bones.
Early on Saturday, we donned our hiking clothes and headed up the mountain in our faithful 1991 GMC truck. After we left the pavement, we bumped over the rough road, passing the Old Hundred Gold Mine and climbing until we reached the parking lot at the Highland Mary trailhead in Cunningham Gulch.
Even though I’m from the prairies, I love the mountains, not only because of their lush forests but also because their heights offer an opportunity to come closer to heaven, and I yearned to feel heavenly comfort.
Ted parked the truck, and we set out along Cunningham Creek which was swollen with runoff and tumbled over the rocks in powerful falls.
Each time we crossed the stream we threw stones and limbs into the water, trying to keep our boots dry while Oggie plunged in and shook herself with a spray of water on the other side.
We climbed until we were above timberline and came to a huge snowpack with water pouring out beneath it. We couldn’t see any footprints where other hikers had traversed it, and so, leery of navigating rotten ice, we decided to turn around.
Despite the fact we hadn’t accomplished our goal, it was a good hike, and when we returned to the pickup, we settled onto the cushy seats with appreciation.
Ted started the truck, shifted into reverse, and backed ten feet. The truck sputtered and died. Ted tried again to start it, and again and again.
“We should say a prayer,” I said.
Ted nodded and bowed his head as I offered a simple prayer for help.
“Sounds like it’s not getting gas.” Ted opened the truck’s door. “But we still have half a tank.”
While he looked under the hood, I wandered around the parking lot to see if any of the vehicles carried extra gas cans. Failing to spot any, I returned to the truck just as a hiker came down the trail.
“Something wrong?” he said, peering under the hood with Ted.
Grateful to let the men solve the problem, I climbed into the pickup beside Oggie. The fact our pickup wouldn’t start in the Colorado highlands seemed a small matter next to my mother’s death.
Ted checked the fuses under the hood. Our new friend, Ron, checked the fuses under the dash. They checked the hoses, wiring, throttle body, and spark plugs. Everything seemed to be in working order, but the pickup still wouldn’t start.
After an hour, Ron offered to take us into Silverton. Ted clambered into the front seat of the beautiful new pickup while I climbed into the backseat with Oggie, listening as the motor turned over with the hum of a well-maintained machine.
On the way down, we learned more about Ron who originally hailed from Mississippi. He worked as a maintenance man on an oil rig off the coast of Texas, putting in long hours for 14-day stretches.
On his two weeks off, he often traveled to Colorado to hike and explore.
However, the most important thing we learned was his compassion for complete strangers. After he offered us money, he said, “I’ll stay with you until we figure this thing out.”
At his words, despite the fact we were headed down the mountain instead of up, I felt heaven come a little closer.
“Compassion” to be continued...