I just returned from a 9-day trip to the United States. My stepfather, Bob Daniels, passed away on August 22, so I went to Ponca City, Oklahoma to be with my mom for a week. Bob and my mom got together well after I had left home for college, so I never experienced him as a member of the family in the same way my younger siblings did. Still, I'm going to miss this talented and stubborn man who really had a heart of gold.
My mom faced a rough week while I was there, both as a result of the things that you would normally expect in the wake of the death of a spouse, as well as things that you would not. She's a remarkably strong person who reminds me of the 'Pioneer Woman' represented in a famous statue in Ponca City. After one particularly long day, I headed back to my room at 10:30, completely exhausted, but left my mom still carrying on with her household chores (caring for the many dogs and cats she has rescued over the years) well after midnight. She has a resilience that I'm afraid that I have not yet developed. I hope that her resilience continues to serve her, however, as she is now facing several enormous challenges as she adjusts to a life without her husband.
In Ponca City I ran into other people facing plenty of hardship as well. A jar sat on a counter of a pizza place in an attempt to raise money for an employee's medical attention. I watched two young women trying to come up with just $4 between them to pay for a prescription co-payment at the Walmart pharmacy--they ended up walking away because they didn't have the cash. I saw several young teenagers with babies, including a 15-year-old daughter of one of my mom's former employees. How they survive in an economy as bleak as Ponca's is a mystery to me. I also spent a lot of time listening to and watching CNN and the other cable news stations while I was there. Though I was already aware of the growing animosity to Obama and his plans for healthcare reform, I was shocked by how truly vicious some Americans have become in their opposition. There has never been this much division in American society during my adult life, and I worry about where it's all going to lead.
On my flight back to Australia I felt a little like I was escaping both my family's problems and the nation's. Life here in Brisbane is very good on many levels. And, I guess the price I'm going to pay for this good life is living with the guilt.