Sparring to Tears

boxing-gloves-mdHello Darlings,

I’m here at the North American Vegetarian Society’s Summerfest.  I only have a few minutes to write this so I will get right to the chase.  My BFF, Marty Davey told me this story and I had to share.

My esteemed colleague, Guy-whose name I won’t use, MS, RD, alphabet soup and I have become friends and one liner sparring partners.  Like two bad comedians fired from the Borscht Belt.  We usually agree on nutrition aspects, but have had head to head parsing of dietetic hair splitting.  We both are giving presentations at Summerfest.

Guy’s presentation was about well-known vegans going back to eating animals.  He was making a point about a celebrity’s diet and I made an astute comment, but one that would be more of a question from a dietitian and somewhat over the heads of the audience.  It dealt with the positive aspects of eating nuts and seeds.  So, Guy, in taking back control of the room, humorously referred to me as Nut Woman.  We all laughed.  Well, when the shoe fits . . .

The next morning I sat at a table of friends and new folks, including Guy who was in a semi-heated discussion about the previous night’s keynote speaker.  Many of us were not impressed with Mr. Keynote, and Guy’s counterpoint in the breakfast discussion was singing Mr. Keynote’s praises.  Because I have studied conflict resolution, I found the third side of the argument – “Girls, girls, you’re both pretty.”  I tried to show where both parties were correct and had agreement.  Then, cleared away the egos and blandly showed where there was a parting of the ways. An agreement to disagree.  We did end up having a semi-pleasant breakfast.

At one point of this discussion of diet and chronic disease, Guy and I both brought up dead relatives who may have been helped by what we now know.  Guy said it was his deceased mother’s birthday.  We quipped about how you can NEVER help your parents.  They are your parents.  You will always be their child.

At my presentation, Guy was in the audience and shot me a barb or two in the beginning of my spiel.  They were fun and short and didn’t distract.  My presentation was some of the info contained in the book I’m writing, You’re Not Dead, Yet: Nutrition for the over 50 crowd.

It covers different nutrition aspects and then we go into what you need to do as a vegan or vegetarian should you go into a hospital or long term care facility.  I start with talking about some dead people – My great aunts, my grandmother and how they died of chronic diseases.  I come from a large Irish Catholic family with 13 great aunts and uncles on one side.  You name the disease, I’ll name the relative.

Life was good.  I was making jokes, people were attentive.  Then, I got to my last 3 slides.  The first is a photo of a woman in her late 50’s-60’s with a dog.  I begin to talk to this group of older folks about how they have made a choice for themselves and the planet deciding to have a compassionate eating pattern and give themselves the best health.  The next slide are photos of my sisters.

I got welled up and couldn’t speak.  I ran through this part of the presentation about 10 times the night before just fine.  Now, the words couldn’t make it out of my throat.

The audience waited.  Then, told me to take my time.

Finally somewhat composed, I said, “My sisters’ are all widows.”  Using the laser pointer I indicated each sister and the ages of their husbands’ death and cause. Heart attack, liver failure, heart attack. All under the age of 60.

The next slide had the names of all my first cousins who never made it to age 53.  Heart attack, kidney failure, heart attack, lung cancer, lung and breast cancer. Then, a photo of me crossing the finish line of a marathon at age 53.

I wound up the presentation requesting that the audience, when speaking with friends whose lives revolve around doctor appointments, medications and old useless health ideas and diets that maintain the pharmaceutical industry to say, “You’re Not Dead, Yet, so why are you filling your head and you grocery cart with dead ideas and dead products?”

We are the first generation of vegetarians and vegan that will end up in some facility and I am honored to be among these vanguards.

At the next event, 10 minutes later, Guy told me that he had never seen me like that.  I was always a funny, satirical, esteemed opponent.  I was trying not to be embarrassed about losing it at a presentation, nodded and sat to watch the speaker at this event.

Dinner was to be all of the dietitians at Summerfest eating together and picking eat other’s OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbrains.  I grabbed tables for us since I couldn’t reserve any in advance and saw Guy.   I showed him the tables.  He put his food down and dropped his head.  With tears, he said, “Today is my mother’s birthday.”  She had been an obese, uncontrolled diabetic.”  She died before Guy was out of college.

It was a familiar familial pain.  I gave Guy a big hug and we shared some tears over family members who we could or never can help.  We just have to accept them wherever they are in their life.

Guy is now my long lost Jewish brother, or so he told me.  Oy, the qveching I’ll hear at the next Summerfest breakfast debate.  But, then my father did always buy bagels for  our eggs and bacon brunch after Mass.

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