By Helen Douglas
I recently attended the funeral of a dear and trusted friend whom I’ve known since we were school chums in fifth grade. That was a long time ago.
Her name was Marion. If anyone was to ask me what she died of, I would be compelled to answer that she died of a broken heart.
I know that is an obvious answer in most cases, but not when it comes to Marion. She buried her husband of 60-odd years in June of last year, and I never saw her without hearing the words, “I miss him so much, Helen.”
You may think, well, wouldn’t anybody? Yes, but I’m not talking about just anybody. This is a story close to my heart and about my friends.
They were high school sweethearts and nothing ever came between them. They adored one another more than any other couple I have known, right until the day they died. I loved them both and miss them so much.
It was perhaps 40 years ago when Don discovered he had multiple sclerosis (MS). He had been an officer in the Vietnam War. Even before he retired, he had the symptoms. It would be years before they would learn what it was.
Without question, Marion was as much a hero as he. She brought up the two children and kept a beautiful home when he was away and followed him around the world when possible. (A lot of people did that, I know.)
With children, that was not an easy task. But you would never hear a complaint from this strong couple. They were proud parents, and they were proud Americans. They knew they had a duty, and they carried it out.
As the years wore on, MS started to rear its ugly head. It gradually stole Don of his strength, but never his dignity. One never heard a hint of complaint from either of them.
The last five to 10 years of their lives was one struggle after the other. He eventually became 100 percent disabled. I watched as she lifted him from chair to wheel chair, to the car or van, then to the bed or to the toilet. She cared for his every physical need like many in her position. In the meantime, she suffered the onslaught of two types of cancer, both of which required major surgery. Still, she carried on like the good soldier she was and never complained. Not once.
It was agonizing to watch. I sometimes wished she would scream, “This is so unfair!” It was awful.
Here were two brave and selfless people who raised two more beautiful people, did everything God and country asked, ran the extra mile for those in need, and still, they were bombarded with more suffering. Life knocked them around like a dinghy in choppy waters on the high seas. One couldn’t help but wonder, whatever did they do wrong to deserve this?
The only consolation was that they were examples of the strength of the human spirit. Where one was weak, the other was strong. If there were tears of sadness, there were smiles of joy. And they had one another.
During our trips to see a doctor – I often drove them – Don would tell me stories about the Vietnam War and the wonders of a chemical defoliant known as Agent Orange. “We loved it,” he said. “We could see everything. We had no trouble finding the enemy because they couldn’t hide. There was no forest for them to hide in. We didn’t know we were killing ourselves or the horrors we would suffer and that it would be a slow death.”
Whenever Don and Marion spoke of his illness to doctors and nurses, they didn’t say “multiple sclerosis,” they would say “Agent Orange.” Both of them said that. Don may have left the war behind, but Agent Orange never went away.
I am going to share a link with you that will tell you where that great chemical hides its ugly head today. It isn’t a lie. It isn’t designed to scare you. It is simply a truth. The descendants of Agent Orange remain with us today.
That legacy was explained recently at www.huffingtonpost.com.
“After a decade and a half of heavy use of these Roundup-promoting crops, many farmers began to see that Roundup was becoming less effective. It stopped killing the weeds. The weeds had adapted, and Roundup-resistant weeds were growing at an alarming rate.
“Farmers, increasingly desperate, began using more herbicides and mixing in more toxic herbicides. Soon, large conventional corn and soy growers realized that they needed an alternative to Roundup. That’s what Dow Chemical was waiting for. The company had genetically engineered new generations of GE corn and soybean varieties that are able to withstand spraying of 2,4-D. The big prize for Dow Chemical is to have their 2,4-D replace glyphosate as the go-to chemical of choice for these non-organic farmers…
“Vietnam War veterans will recognize 2,4-D as half of the highly toxic mix that made up Agent Orange. … Veterans exposed to it suffer a wide range of illnesses, including cancer. The Vietnamese Red Cross estimates that nearly 1 million people have experienced health problems as a result of Agent Orange.”
It’s no surprise then that people are calling Dow Chemical’s new crops “Agent Orange” corn and soy.
How many more good people will we allow to suffer because of these chemicals?
Helen Douglas is an artist and entrepreneur who lives in Hulls Cove.