Cantankary: If Not Now, When?

Expecting New Year’s resolutions from me? Nope, I’m not the type. I am so thrilled to have survived another year that I’m holding on for all I’m worth. Not giving up anything. Running like the devil is on my tail. I even get windburn when I’m typing at the computer. That’s when it happened.

Just my annual check-up. Don’t you hate it when women of a certain age talk about their health issues? Me, too, even to a physician’s assistant. It’s an off-year for the pelvic, so it starts on a high note. I need a mammogram which reminds me of my biggest fantasy fear; that I sneeze. You’re welcome.  I don’t lie about my foot; it’s undeniably creepy and she pokes at it like a cadaver in a lab. We talk about my chronic thing which, predictably, remains chronic.

Did I mention I turned sixty-five last fall? It’s my first Medicare appointment so they gave me a blood draw, a couple of shots for old people, and an eye test with my glasses on, which I failed because I had to cover one eye but when put my hand under my glasses, I poked myself. The nurse walks the distance from the eye chart down the hallway to me to demonstrate that I can just cup my hand over my glasses.

I got lost on the way back to the exam room, but that could easily have been my recent vision impairment and not my age. Now I wait, gathering whatever flimsy shreds of dignity have dropped down around my ankles like so much worn cotton underwear. That’s it. I should have told them I was a poet.

And that’s when the PA came into the room and handed me a lime green DNR order for my fridge. Do Not Resuscitate. A living will is the kind term, and I should have had one of these with me at all times in my twenties. I have put DNR orders up on my parent’s fridge twice. It is a rite of passage, my first DNR. It is a reminder that I am not special. I will become prey to the most common and ordinary thing in the world, I will die.

Alert the media, call out the national guard, I will not get younger and my hair will not get thicker, although I am growing a decent beard.  “Are you retired?” the Physician Assistant asked.  I told her no and that I worked outside. She was not a hard sell. Not that I don’t know what lotion is, but I could still file a hoof with my bare hands. The PA doesn’t weigh that much more than a bale of hay, now I consider my options.

“What do you do?” she said.

Perhaps I will need to consider laying down my dream of dancing the lead in Swan Lake. On a draft horse in a tutu, (the horse, not me.) Clearly my sense of humor is aging like a fine bottle of fruity pink wine, no worries there. Still, when I’m out mucking in the herd, I have a habit of looking around, reckoning ages, and knowing animals never die in chronological order, any more than we do. It’s crucial to have a real plan for their care, I do work in a dangerous job, even if I’m on Medicare.  I look for signs of mortality, they call it anticipatory grieving. It won’t happen, but I cheerfully hope they all die before me.

I mourn my animals and yours with respect and honor. It can’t be overstated. They deserve our tears. At the same time, I can’t help but notice they do this whole death and dying thing so much better than we do. Xenophon, who was one of the first to write about compassionate training around 400BC, said, “Excess of grief for the dead is madness; for it is an injury to the living, and the dead know it not.” I bet horses taught him that, too.

Cry it out, you must mourn those you love, human or horse, forever. Mourning is exactly as common as death and death is as common as dirt. I don’t think mourning was ever meant to be a calling, but rather a call to action. How do we honor their lives?

Is there some goal you’ve been talking about doing forever? Do you bring it out on sad days to remind yourself it’s one more thing you have failed at? Do you take every opportunity to look in the mirror through swollen eyelids, with food at the corner of your mouth, and make excuses why aren’t you writing, learning to fly, galloping across Siberia? Do you still want that dream or has it become a bad habit; a dead fish you use to beat yourself over the head with? Does it work as an excuse to season other dreams with despair, maybe a way that you die a little every day? Because none of the rest of us care, we’re too obsessed with ourselves, and you could lose a hundred ugly pounds by tossing that rotting mess tied around your neck. Hooray, a new lease on life!

Are you testy about letting go? Is your dream not rotting but just resting? Are you waiting for permission from the universe? That’s what wrinkles and a sagging belly are for; the less-than-polite reminder that the clock is ticking and you aren’t dead yet. Dreams are great but living them is much better. It will not be easier next year, you will never know everything, and yes, you will stumble. Again, as ordinary as dirt. If you want to learn to swim, you must get in the pool. You’ve lived long enough to know that nothing of any value ever comes cheaply. Is it time to pay up on that dream? It’s just a fact; people younger than us die every day. If not now, when?

Sometimes all this positive just-do-it attitude is painful, even demeaning. Sometimes it just isn’t physically possible or financially doable. The dream is there but the timing is wrong. Or you’ve aged-out of the possibility. Don’t go weepy about it. Do something you can be proud of. You can still write hate mail to the BLM, to The Jockey Club. Not satisfying enough? Hang out at the courthouse and glare at those who deserve it. Take knitting if you can get the needles past security. We’re very scary when knitting.

Maybe we renegotiate the deal. Okay, if dancing the swan part is out, what can we have? I’m cranky that the coquettish ingenues get all the good roles. What are my post-Cinderella options? Wait! Aren’t we just right for being Fairy Godmothers? How sweet would it be to launch a young woman with my dreams on her way? Wasn’t that always part of the dream, that someone appreciated what we did and maybe gave a leg-up?

With an old donkey as my mentor, I plan to continue aging cantankerously. I am going to die, but not just yet. I still have a few thousand horses to meet because I am really starting to figure them out. But it’s time to pay it forward and bring horse-crazy girls along to the barn. They are our legacy. I think I’ll take to wearing a cone-shaped hat with a musty lavender veil just in case.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm

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Anna Blake

58 thoughts on “Cantankary: If Not Now, When?”

  1. Well the lavender veil will look just Fabulous with your silver hair. I vote go for it!

    Another great one Anna. Thanks. It reminds me I have several of your previous posts in a folder awaiting my response. Write Shelley, write!

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  2. fabulous Anna. as one of a similar age i get it all, and horses at differnt stages surrounding me, and old, sick and unhappy folk too. you just never know. anbd thats probabaly a good thing!

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  3. Oh, Anna! Thank you, again. This one for me, reinventing myself at 70 years young, after repressing so much of myself for so long, don’t understand why. More time with my mares, they know a thing or two about living each day!

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  4. I love your posts, and appreciate the sentiments here. But as a nurse, one who has plenty of experience with palliative care, and is currently taking care of my quite healthy 97 yr old mother, I just can’t fathom the idea of someone getting you to sign a DNR at the age of 65!! It smacks of ageism to me. Of course it is only reasonable to make plans for the future, but in the absence of any major, life-ending conditions to make a DNR a prudent choice, this looks more like a health care system that doesn’t want to put in the resources to look after an patient who is just aging normally. Sorry, don’t mean to hijack your comment section here, but this small thing you noted REALLY bothered me!! I hope you stay around for many more years, and many more blogs. And I am SURE that it will be the horses that will keep you healthy and active.

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    • Yes, after being shocked when I got the directions with the DNR from the hospice, getting one myself… yikes. But I want everyone safe probably because I am that active. I appreciate your thoughts, Henny. Just one part of health care that scares me.

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    • I’m a retired nurse-midwife and that DNR thing jumped out at me too; I’m 10 years ahead of Anna and have never been presented with a DNR – maybe because my doc of decades knows that I’m still riding, and he wouldn’t dare?😱😂💜🐴

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    • A DNR doesn’t need to be a “Do not ever resuscitate”. It should state your wishes for various situations, the level of treatment you want etc. Some places use a DNR the way an Advance Care Plan should be used. All horse riders and handlers should have an Advance Care Plan. It tells our friends and families and medical teams what we want done when we are not in a position to do so.

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  5. Wow, that was excellent Anna! Except for the PA who hands out DNR cards. I will ask my primary care doc; whom I love dearly what that’s all about. I do have a LIving Will that specifies my wish to not go on if I’m in bad shape. I’m in my mid 70’s and retired from an outdoor job….landscape design. I miss it sometimes but now have time to work in my own garden, read, hike and spend time with my family of two leggeds and four leggeds..sadly no horses. I did that when I was a kid..a horse crazy girl.

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  6. This is great, as always. It is standard practice to ask patients about living wills, DNR, etc around here. I think it’s a good idea for every adult, regardless of age. Either we make the decisions about end of life care or the health care system will. ( This from someone who hasn’t taken care of any of those pesky little details yet.)

    Two thoughts come to me upon reading this:

    – Aren’t you already OUR fairy godmother ?
    -We have all the time we need and not a moment to waste.

    Thanks, Anna !!! I think we all need to go out laughing !!!

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  7. I feel better now. Just finished signing up for Medicare this morning. The past few months have been quite a head trip. (Do people still say that?) No more. So to start , I will kiss every horse, donkey and dog I see, on the lips….ignoring their calming signals just this once. Thank you!

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  8. Swollen eyelids? I have been whining to myself about that as I’m moving from 81 to 82! Guess I better pull my head out of wherever it is & wake up. Would love to kiss a few horses & donkeys but I guess I’ll have to settle for my residents – a dog and cat.
    This was really great – as Valery said – just keep on keeping on. One foot ahead of the other – the only way!

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  9. O K, I’m always saying this is the best one yet. Does this one resonate because I’m further down the slippery slope than you? Because getting in a medical setting makes so uncomfortable that I want to run? Because I can relate to all the things you say?
    Keep writing! And occasionally make them as side splitting in places as this one! We all need a good laugh!
    Maureen

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  10. You are brilliant and wise, Miss Annna. You never cease to impact and amaze me.

    I can’t quite wrap my head around how much your posts resonate with me. I f’g LOVE you! (Shamefully, in this case, because you’re 65, and – although not by much – you are older than 63 year-old me!! How novel!)

    Thank you. For for your brilliance, candor, wit, and wisdom. My horses and I are all benefitting immensely.

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  11. That was an awesome read, and very timely. I’m a few years ahead of you and sometimes feel like I’m falling apart at the seams! But we heal and keep on keeping on, especially since we have our beloved critters who we passionately care for and enjoy; where our barn is our happy place. Just 2 days ago I was all numbed up with lidocaine in the dermatologist’s office…one who specializes in ‘cutaneous oncology’, as it says on the big sign at the building, to remove a spot on my upper lip, of all places. aack So, I’m laying there, and they turned on a huge bright light and covered my eyes with a thin towel. I knew it was to protect my eyes, but I thought of a horse…then my thoughts went to calming signals and I started taking some nice slow deep breaths, focusing on my arms relaxing, my legs, my feet, and especially my shoulders. Calming signal videos played through my mind, which truly helped me through the surgery. First thing after a 4 hour ordeal, I went out and checked the barn. I appreciate your work…..all is well.

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    • Oh Joyce. Good job of breathing on through… I have written about having things burned off, too. Luckily not on my lip. Heal well. I probably joke because of anxiety; in other words it’s a calming signal.

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  12. I’m sitting with my father in a hospice on the other side of the world, waiting for the inevitable. I was going to say sadly waiting but I’m at peace about it – most of the time! Reading this made me laugh out loud. Thank you for your beautiful writing, so full of wisdom and lightheartedness. I felt like it was written with me in mind, lots to gently reflect on. Much love and blessings to you Anna and I look forward to many more to come.

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    • Oh Judy. I’ve learned over the years that whatever I write about hits home as it will in each persons reading of it. Gallows humor can go either way so I’m glad that you got a laugh and I’ve sat in your chair, the range of thoughts is huge. Best wishes for this precious time… Thank you.

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  13. From recent experience, we all need to have documents in place so we and our animals have the best possible outcome in life’s crazy changes. Make them pretty detailed. Give yourself a chance if at all possible. Example, feeding tube till you can recover enough to eat. Have an advocate, in person and in writing that will make good decisions for you till you can again or can’t. Talk about the tough questions. Are your loved ones, the non human ones, set up in a trust or a will In case you leave the planet before they do? Do you have a plan for what happens to them if you don’t make it home from the feed store one day? This is a little beyond a DNR, just something that has come up in my life lately. The human world has gotten so tied up in legalities. Please remember to go along with it enough to get paperwork in place. Your heart and brain can then rest easy in case you don’t get to pick how the rest of your life goes! Thanks Anna, sorry for going off course! Just a little sidetrack in my life last year that brought these issues up. The years continue to gallop on so we must make them good ones! 💛 TAZ

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    • It isn’t that simple, is it? A DNR for someone elderly with a terminal disease is different than a young woman who has an accident. Age, prognosis, so many factors. Above that, care for our animals… Great comment, thanks, Taz.

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    • Taz, well said! I did the same thing for my 4 horses and 2 cats a few years ago. In my barn and at the house are the contact names and numbers of friends and family (first responders) who agreed to provide care until my boys can be placed in their new home. It also might be helpful to post a feeding schedule, especially if you feed different supplements for each horse.

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  14. Snorting and stamping my feet, even some tail twitching! All you write oh so true! As I said to some other girls of similar age recently, I’m too old to tolerate much b.s. anymore, just don’t have time for it.
    PS chafing at the bit cos we’ve been in one place too long while avoiding bushfires, keep trying the calming signals but need a good gallop across some bushland!

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    • Annie, I have been thinking of you, so glad you checked in. The fires are all over the news here and I am sorry you are stamping and pushing at the gate but so glad you are okay. Thanks!

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  15. Siiiiiiiiiighhhhhhhhh… and another year has flown by for me where lack of finance has shelved my pony dreams. Again. Since I was 12yo.

    I turn 57 this year. DNR sounds like a jolly good option sometimes 🙄

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    • Lisa, no kidding. That is a long dry spell. When I was without, I volunteered at a program so I could bury my had in a mane now and then. I hope you have a way to ease the longing, but of course there is a horse in your future. You’ll find a way. Take care, Lisa. Hang out with us for now.

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      • Thank you Anna, I admire your assuredness (if there’s such a word!!) in “but of course there is a horse in your future”. It brings me to tears. I’ll be sure to hang out with you folk for now, thank you!

        I get my horse fix where I can. Last year I volunteered for a local RDA group. The horses were really shut down, but I managed some beautiful connections with them nonetheless. The people were a real challenge though – the stable manager had an issue with me connecting with the horses and she gave me all manner of reasons why I shouldn’t. I don’t understand people like I do horses!

        This year I want to find somewhere else to hang out. There aren’t any horse rescues near me though.

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    • Don’t give up hope. I was about 15, and just last year at 65 I got my riding donkey after having a couple of smaller ones we got for packing, but only after I could retire and have time for them. Your equine dreams may have a different shape, or not, but stay open to however it might appear. I didn’t think I would ever ride as an adult, wasn’t really focused on that as a goal, but, ironically, it was a physical problem with achy feet that led me to riding. But I loved just the company of the donks, and oftentimes that’s all I need. The riding is just a side benefit. I love how Anna found a way volunteering. There are so many rescues that need helpers or, some, who just like visitors.

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  16. Well Anna, I did my first Advanced Directives/DNR when I was pregnant with my first child. I think that I gave myself 3 days to “come back”. My philosophy then was to get another mother figure in place quickly for my anticipated offspring. Since establishing myself firmly as an old gray mare, I have procrastinated in changing my directives to be “kinder and gentler”. I think I would need more time now to fight my way back to the living. I guess these things are necessary, but I envy my equine partners who are not bound by these rules. Clip clop on!

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  17. Today is my Birthday – and I’m 72 years old (OMG – never would have thought I’d make it this long). Something more important to think about is that – even though I’m only 7 years older than you – those 7 years WENT IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE.

    I sure am glad I’ve been reading this blog for a while now! Even though the years moved fast – I have improved this “horse crazy life” of mine by thinking about all the wisdom you have been kind enough to share with us all!!! THANK YOU!

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