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From 4 September 2005 Issue

A Long and Good Life
By Greg Lawson - ParkStRanger@aol.com

I haven't been able to focus much on writing during the last few months, my father had a major stroke in late July. I have traveled back to Tennessee a couple of times in the last month to see him and to help my Mom. He had been taking care of her for the last few years, she has advanced osteoporosis and can't get around without a walker. Long ago she stopped calling to tell me when she broke a bone, it was happening way too often. Two years ago she had a successful surgery for colon cancer, she has also had a few mini-strokes.

My father had not been in good health either, he has diabetes, heart problems, and now he is still in a hospital slowly recovering from a stroke. We hope that he will soon be able to move to a care facility where he can receive medical support and rehabilitation.

Cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, these are major diseases that I read about every day as being prevented or ameliorated by a vegan diet. It makes me so sad that I was never able to convert my parents to a plant based diet.

As Mom and I were by his bedside, one of the first full sentences my father was able to express a few weeks after his stroke, with tears in his eyes, was "I'm sorry I did this to you." "Oh no, honey," Mom said. "It wasn't your fault, these things just happen, it wasn't your fault."

I kept my thoughts to myself which were "Yes, Dad, if you hadn't eaten steaks and hamburger all your life, you might not be here." Cold thought, but I'm sorry, I think it's true.

I was less able to keep my thoughts to myself in a few conversations with my Mom when we were at home. Needless to say, I cooked all our meals during the time I was home and it was all vegan. Mom really liked my tofu scramble with vegan sausage for breakfast or berries and soy yogurt, the soups I made for lunch and the plant based foods I cooked for dinner.

One night, after we had both shared a bottle of wine, she asked me "Greg, you have you had your blood sugar tested lately?" And I said, "Mom, every time I visit, you and Dad have used his diabetes test kit to test my blood sugar and it is always fine."

"Well," she said, "you need to have yourself tested for diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer because you have a family history of those diseases." "No, Mom, I will never get those diseases," I said. "I will get lung cancer because I like cigars. I will get liver disease because I drink too much wine, but I will not be getting any of the diseases you mention because they are caused by eating meat, not a genetic predisposition, and I have not eaten meat in 30 years. In my work, I have met many dietary experts including Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of the China Study, the largest study ever made of diet and disease, Brenda Davis, former head of vegetarian nutrition for the American Dietetic Association and many others knowledgeable about disease prevention by proper nutrition. Please don't talk to me about medicine."

As soon as that statement was out of my mouth, I felt I had gone a bit far. Mom had worked for doctors all her life as a medical assistant. I'm sorry, I'm just a layman, but most doctors don't know beans about disease prevention.

"We have had a good and long life," Mom said. "We are both over eighty, and have had good lives, nice cars, a boat, a house in the mountains." "Mom," I said, "eighty is young, you shouldn't be thinking about dying now. The maximum life expectancy for humans is 120 years, why are you willing to give up at eighty?"

Mom had actually gone vegetarian a few years ago and her conversion was a source of joy and pain for me. She stopped eating meat after she saw a special on television about how we feed chicken litter, newspaper and other unsavory things to cows and how animals are treated on factory farms. She had previously read all my collected articles from Animal Rights Online, but I am sad to say, they weren't what changed her. It was a show on television that did it. I really need to put down my keyboard and pick up my camera.

Mom gave up vegetarianism after a brief attempt because it was too hard for her to cook meat for Dad and a separate meal for herself. Thirty years ago, when I went vegetarian, I might have made a difference if I had only known how. I still don't know how to best convert people, but I keep on writing and speaking and trying. I wish I knew how, I really wish I knew how.

During my last visit, I took my Mom shopping at the local Kroger's to stock her up on food until I can return again. For the first time, she drove around one of those little carts for the handicapped. I walked beside her, trying to prevent her from knocking over displays and placing items in the basket for her.

I had a real ethical crisis moment when Mom asked me to reach for a pound of bacon and put it in her cart. Up until then, she had filled her basket with foods I had turned her on to, soy yogurt, soymilk and other dairy and meat alternatives. I should have said no to the bacon, but I put it in her cart. She is eighty years old now and set in her ways, I went ahead and put the bacon in her handicapped cart basket. I find it hard to believe she even asked me to do that, she knows what a vegan activist I am. Next time I visit, I won't.

One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I wasn't able to find the right way to persuade my family to go vegan. It really hurts to see all my family and some of my best friends suffer from the results of a good and long life of eating animals. Sure, we all die, many of us prematurely. I would like to die in my sleep after a long life, and not by something with claws reaching up from under the bed.

I guess I should think about my mom's advice and have a checkup by my friend Dr. Jim Gibson, vegan M.D., but I feel he would only find sub-clinical depression and a broken heart.

Go on to A Dog Sits Waiting
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