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Give me the beat boys and free my soul I want to get lost in your rock ’n roll and drift away… 

If you are reading this communication, I have left my body. I have a message for all of you, my beloveds,

When I die, don’t say that I “lost my battle.” I’m not fighting and I’m not losing. I am learning to enjoy every minute I have, I feel every connection deeply in my heart that is imprinted in FOREVER. No  Love can never be lost; it will be ingrained in the energetic/cellular collective.

With each physical loss of functioning, some other part of me became activated. I could FEEL more, I could SEE more, I could LOVE more. I learned humility, acceptance and understanding.

When I die, I will be moving across the threshold into Spaciousness. It is a sacred journey we will all be taking one day. And when it is your time, you will return Home and join me in LOVE.

Don’t just believe me, check inside and see if it is True. 

All my love, Aliyah

Please watch this Youtube Video: Akaal

Akaal means “deathless” and is a chant traditionally chanted to help a soul crossover, as well as to ease the pain of grief and loss.
   
Please watch this Youtube Video:


“She is a boat, she is a light
High on a hill in dark of night
She is a wave, she is the deep
She is the dark where angels sleep
When all is still and peace abides
She carries me to the other side,
She carries me to the other side…

And though I walk through valleys deep
And shadows chase me in my sleep
On rocky cliffs I stand alone
I have no name, I have no home
With broken wings I reach to fly
She carries me to the other side,
She carries me to the other side…

A thousand arms, a thousand eyes
A thousand ears to hear my cries
She is the gate, she is the door
She leads me through and back once more
When day has dawned and death is nigh
She’ll carry me to the other side,
She carries me to the other side…

She is the first, she is the last
She is the future and the past,
Mother of all, of earth and sky
She carries me to the other side,
She carries me to the other side…”

My body will be lying in repose at my home until our community ceremony on Wednesday, August 8th.  Information will be available on Facebook, as well. The community ceremony, which will be announced in more detail tomorrow,  involves a beautiful gathering, love offerings and an empowering sendoff with an open-air cremation. To someone who has not experienced this community ritual, it might elicit discomfort, but the opposite is really true; the family and friends feel supported, complete, and full of LOVE.

Loving you loving me loving all

Love is more thicker then forget. ~ E.E. Cummings

A year before Mark died he told Diana, “I want to go on a pilgrimage.”

Katrina had just destroyed the infrastructure of our beloved village and wreaked havoc on our psyches. Within twelve hours we had no electricity, no way to leave the horse farm where we were holed up by choice to protect the horses, no livelihoods, uncertainty whether Mark and Diana’s house had survived, and our futures were erased like an Etch-a-Sketch. Mark’s desire for a pilgrimage had nothing to do with Katrina, but had all to do with his inner knowing about his soul journey.

Mark and me at Jazzfest

When I saw Mark for the last time, he was lying on his massage table. I told him I didn’t want to cry (knowing he wouldn’t want me to cry over him) and he strongly concurred. Mark didn’t like to cause people pain. After all, we shared a profession that helped people through their suffering. In retrospect, I would have let myself cry a river despite his resistance, because the following day he would take his last breath.

A decade later, I find myself in a similar situation, sitting with people grieving my departure. Although, I am growing my capacity to be with other people’s grief, I still don’t like it, but I know it forces something in me to open that would otherwise stay closed.

I have been told by countless people that I need to be more selfish, “After all, this is your death.” I realize I have comforted others throughout my life, but it’s now time for me to be in the center of my mandala. I am at another threshold being offered a beautiful opportunity. The gratitude I feel toward my body keeps growing along with the teachings. Do I deserve to be in the center? After all these years and all my work, it comes down to this question.

By setting boundaries, deciding in the moment what I need and what I don’t, I am learning a new skill, or perhaps refining an old skill that has been underdeveloped. I really don’t have a lot of practice putting my needs before other people’s emotional needs and that is a requirement if one is to die consciously.

People have been sharing their sadness about losing me and to be able to feel their pain I have to feel my own pain. My strategy had been to dissociate, but now I am bringing myself back into my body. My children have been powerful, generous teachers in this practice. They need me to feel their pain fully right now. I have always been able to go deeper in life when my children’s well-being was at stake, because my love for my children exceeded my self-love. Now it is time for a recalibration. Now I need to learn to be Selfish.

It isn’t easy to feel my loved one’s grief, but when I remind myself that I am not causing it, it is more bearable. I now know how Mark felt.

What if I said I was excited to leave? Is that okay? How can I come to terms with the grief I feel about leaving my children and grandchildren and still be excited to leave, excited about where I am going?

My children and grandchildren and I just spent most of the summer together. We watched family videos, examined rocks, listened to each other’s writings, and shared our joy and our grief. I know that somehow it all fits together perfectly, the paradoxes and ambiguities. The part of me that has already gone knows I will be with them forever. It is just the part still embodied that fears otherwise.

I can feel the excitement before me, my beloveds in Spirit world are excited for my return. What I want to say to my loved ones still in bodies is to live your life well, love well, and listen deeply – I won’t be far away. And when the time is right for you to come Home, we will celebrate together.

Loving you loving me loving all.

 

 

If I cannot give consent to my own death, whose body is this? Who owns my life? ~ Sue Rodriguez (42-year-old woman with ALS)

In my work as an advocate for those who are facing death and wish to have choice on how they will die when death is imminent, it helps to be walking the walk myself, to understand on a visceral level what we all are facing. After all reasonable measures to extend life have been exhausted, there is a point where fear of dying and facing the ultimate grief can kick in and heroic measures may be utilized to keep the body alive at any cost. Some of these measures include: intubating the trachea for ventilation, CPR, inserting a nasogastric tube that goes through the nose into the stomach for short-term nutritional support, and a gastrostomy, a feeding tube that is placed surgically through the stomach wall for long-term nutritional support. (I heard a doctor who personally had this procedure say that intubating the trachea is one of the most painful procedures one can have.)

Heroic measures is a legal term that to me is anything but heroic when utilized in avoidance of facing the inevitable, when a person is in the dying process. If these procedures would improve the person’s health or a person chooses this for themselves regardless of the outcome, I would completely support that personal choice. However, utilizing these procedures to avoid feeling the feelings that facing death evokes can actually prolong physical suffering and support our cultural fear of death. I’m not sure what is heroic about that. Often people feel compelled to do something, because feeling powerless is excruciating. I’ve been there with beloveds. It is not easy.

In order to dispel our cultural fear, talking about one’s impending death with our beloveds is essential. It is surprising how many people don’t. If the family can be courageous enough to face death straight on, which requires feeling our feelings and being vulnerable together, we can enter the Sacred together.

Many states have passed a law granting a person who is dying the right to choose how they can die to avoid needless suffering. The difficult discussions many people are having when facing their own mortality, or the mortality of a loved one, now includes the consideration of using MAID, medical aid in dying, if they meet the rigorous criteria for eligibility for this medication. Considering this choice can be less ambiguous when one is dying from an acute condition than when the condition is a progressive, degenerative neurological illness when end-of-life suffering can have a very different quality. With an acute condition like cancer, there is a more predictable trajectory depending on the aggressiveness of the particular cancer. With more chronic conditions such as COPD, ALS/MS, or others, there is more of a gradual decline, but during end-stage can have what seems like endless agony.

A DNR, or do not resuscitate, also known as no code directive for allowing a natural death, in my opinion, is a necessary paper to consider for anybody who chooses to exercise choice at a time when they are most vulnerable. I would consider it mandatory if you have a chronic illness that might require a 911 call and your autonomy is as important to you as mine is to me, where quality of life is more important than quantity. Most EMTs know to look on the refrigerator for a DNR. Many people don’t realize they can choose the level of suffering they have to endure. It takes a lot of Presence to be with an emergency in the moment and, if life-threatening, to move through it consciously. It is a big ask if one has not taken the time to contemplate our impermanence before things become emergent.

There is no right or wrong in my opinion. One must process through this rigorous part of the journey the best they can. At a certain point I decided I had lived in a victim framework long enough and I took my power back and got into the driver’s seat of my life, metaphorically. I began to realize that though I have much life force and a clear mind, my body was declining considerably and I needed to come to terms with the inevitable. It helps that I have a strong belief that our physical life is temporal and our soul is eternal. This understanding was hard earned. For some, letting go and letting doctors or family members make the decisions might be exactly what they need to do. It is not for me to determine what sort of death other people need.

Nobody who really knows me would say that I am a quitter.

Once I realized in 2007 that I was going to live alone with this degenerative, life-threatening illness in this harsh and magnificent desert town in Colorado, I gathered my resources, internally and externally, and began the sacred art of creating my life how I want it to be. Living alone for 18 hours a day and only being able to move from the neck up requires much creativity and fortitude, for myself and the caregiver. We have done it with Grace and much humor. It’s been a joy and a joint adventure with my caregivers and my family.

A few months ago, in a circle of women I had been meeting with for over ten years and with whom I have had a profound level of intimacy, I stated without fanfare that I felt complete. It was a strange sensation and a communication that came from an inspired, deep place inside mySelf. In a way, it felt like a proclamation. I was sharing my feelings about having the prescription that will release my body from the accelerating suffering. I realized that making that decision will take all of the courage I have inside me and, to me, that is true heroism.

Ironically, my digestive system began shutting down soon after this talk. (You know it’s bad when the hospice nurse cries for an hour giving you the diagnosis of gastroparesis.) I felt shock and grief stricken and wondered what happened to the part of me that felt complete. It’s like amnesia set in and my emotions took over. All of my human grief from living a full life arose: all of my attachments to the most important people to me arose, as did my attachments to my identity as a person of service to love, and even my attachment to this beautiful, struggling body; it all surfaced to be processed once again.

As I am writing, an adolescent mule deer peeked into my window. First, I saw velvety antlers and then a little face looked inside, curiously. It can’t be an accident that this young deer came at this moment, so close to my home, and peered into my window while I am writing this essay. The shamanic symbol for deer is that of gentleness, unconditional love, and kindness. The male deer, the buck, represents independence, purification, and pride. People have sought to identify with them ceremonially, wearing antler headdresses and imitating the deer’s leaping grace.

If you by chance connect with me in Spirit, you might notice me leaping gracefully through the clouds in ceremonial Joy. Rest assured that I will be finding a purer way to connect more deeply and in service to LOVE.

The highest form of wisdom is kindness – the Talmud

I grew up in an affluent, northeastern part of the country – up North we called it in Louisiana where I really grew up, and back East we say here in Colorado. My parents were a complicated couple. They did not appear to me to even like each other until they were in their 70s. After my father died, my mother was lost, which surprised all of us, except my mother.

My father was an affectionate man who disarmed people with his humor. He liked to tell the story of when he first met my mother – she was on her hands and knees scrubbing a kitchen floor with great effort. The next part of the story drove his point home when he added, “I thought she was a hard worker and that was the last time she scrubbed a floor.” His humor was lighthearted, but also could be quite sarcastic and cutting. We all developed some form of this humor in my family that has softened over the years. Now I see that it was a coping mechanism to deal with extreme angst that was undeniably multi-generational.

My parents were first-generation American born. Their parents emigrated from Eastern Europe, fleeing sociopolitical discrimination and religious persecution. Aunt Paulie was my grandfather’s sister who left Lithuania as a young girl and worked in sweatshops in lower Manhattan’s manufacturing district to make enough money to survive as an immigrant. Her intention was to bring her siblings from the oppressive regime in Lithuania to America, where the streets were paved with gold, as they were told in the old country. Although this was a metaphor, I think they took it quite literally as the young children that they were.

I remember the family photograph on my grandparent’s wall of my grandmother’s parents looking solemn and disheartened with many children by their sides, quite a few of whom had not made it. I didn’t quite understand how children could not make it, but I knew not to ask. I would get hints about the answers to these questions later in life when my mother would vehemently refuse to see Schindler’s List, or any movie related to World War II.

Aunt Paulie sat at her ancient Singer sewing machine, pushing the foot pedals rhythmically, as she spun her tales of the history of our family. When her brothers were to leave Eastern Europe, they told each other, We will meet in America, but they hadn’t specified which America. After all, my grandfather gone was barely seven at the time. One brother ended up in South America, raising his family in Chile. My grandfather, Benny, and other family members arrived at Ellis Island, the port of entry in North America to be processed.

My grandfather got a job his very first day in New York City, not even speaking the language. He drove a horse and buggy to transport New Yorkers to their destinations. My grandfather was an honest, hard-working man, who provided for his family despite many of the troubles they encountered, while bringing with him the history of the violent, oppressive pograms from Eastern Europe. Benny had hands almost twice the size of other men making him a valuable worker loading and unloading trucks. He built up his own fleet until the Great Depression where he lost everything. His hardships were unimaginable. He and my mother had a strong bond and he visited us in Pennsylvania frequently. Grandpa was not in a hurry and was the only person I knew who got traffic tickets for driving his old Packard too slowly.

I was unable to connect emotionally with most of my older relatives in my mother’s family, except Aunt Paulie, who has made an impression on me to this day. At her funeral, I noticed she was placed in a simple, pine box that deeply appealed to a part of me. The simplicity of this family ritual implanted a value I’ve carried throughout my life. Death can be simple and natural. Aunt Paulie had more strength than anyone I knew in my family. After all, she had been the catalyst that allowed our family to survive World War II. And she had more heart than anyone I had encountered in my mother’s family, to care to share that which was difficult. Remind you of someone? She took the time to talk to me about what was in her heart – a new experience for me during my many visits to the Bronx. I suspect her relationship with my mother cleared the way for this opening. My mother was the only daughter of brothers, identical to my own personal family configuration. (The photograph above is my mother and two of her three brothers.)

My father grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, also with Eastern European Jewish ancestry. His father was a socialist and, I suspect, politically part of the resistance. I can only tell my family stories from bits and pieces of what I have been told over the years and what I have intuitively pieced together. It could be somewhat inaccurate, but it is the Story I am left with. My father went to a socialist camp that he only told me about when he was in his 80s. Politics was not something we talked about in our family. Either there was too much pain from our family history or it was considered unimportant. I suspect the former was true.

After seeing his mother go without food during the Great Depression, my father decided to work through high school in his father’s used furniture store. (I was recently told that when she had a surplus, she left food on a table in the back of her apartment complex, so some stranger would not go hungry.) My grandfather was a craftsman and a humanitarian. My father didn’t seem to respect my grandfather. Perhaps he felt he was to passive, too nice to the customers who owed him money. Another family story – my grandparents would be walking down the street and see customers who owed them money and my grandfather would cross the street so as not to embarrass the customer and my grandmother would pick up a stick and chase them. Judging how my father told the story, he more related to his mother and thought she was a shrewd businesswoman, a quality he valued deeply. I see both of my grandparents in my personality, which helps me understand each strategy with compassion.

I have tremendous gratitude for the rich heritage from which I descended and have passed on to my children and grandchildren. We have survived tremendous adversity, where many of our ancestors met terrible fates. This essay is for them.

Ironically, much of the anti-Semitism began in Russia, twisting history to find a scapegoat in the Jews. This led to hatred and murder, forcing the Jews to flee. Sound familiar? The pattern of power over others is being played out all around the world. History repeats itself, if not made conscious through vulnerability resulting in empathy for others, whether they be Jews, black, brown, yellow, or red. My mother once told me that if it weren’t the color of one’s skin that led to the opportunistic division, it would be someone with red hair. I still remember her saying this, but now I better understand the context from which she spoke.

Russia seems to perpetrating this aggression without being constrained, which leads to more aggression or more resistance. You can’t have it both ways. The trauma of the oppressed is evoking empathy leading to demonstrations – that is the medicine. We must resist the predation and care for all the oppressed: those seeking asylum, those families being split apart, and those needing healthcare and equality in our own country. We are them and they are us.

Many family histories never get written down. I will leave this accounting for my children and my children’s children. May they understand their roots, may they access their own pure fire to clear the denial so history does NOT repeat itself, to burn off the resentment and bring themselves into balance to find forgiveness and, ultimately, kindness. May they find their own Way that serves their Highest Good and the Highest Good of all.

Peace requires us to surrender our illusions of control. We can love and care for others, but we can not possess our children, our lovers, family, or friends. We can assist them, pray for them, and wish them well. Yet in the end their happiness and suffering depend on their thoughts and actions, not on our wishes.~ Jack Kornfield

I didn’t realize what a tight ship I run, that is, until my children and grandchildren arrived for a visit. You have to realize that I live in a very controlled environment, where predictability assures safety. Gentle, lighthearted conversation, belly-laughing humor, along with deep intimacy and Presence is the norm. Enter four adults and two boys under the age of seven and we have a decibel level and chaos not common in my (probably) overly controlled physical space. Upon their arrival, each of my dear caregivers and friends comment on the physical and energetic difference of my living space.

And when my family leaves, they notice my fullness of heart bursting with a panoply of emotions including grief from the void left behind, the memories from our past that cannot be relived, as well as the relief that with each visit we have fewer unexamined or unresolved issues together. I am left with equal proportions of deep grief and deep joy.

Each visit feels special in its own way, but the visit last March seemed particularly deep and a bit less fragmented than usual. There were less opportunities for long individual conversations, but more building of love and cohesion as a family unit. Perhaps because the boys are getting older there are more opportunities for connection that doesn’t involve physicality, of which I am completely and regretfully incapable. Jordan came a week early to have mama time – my boy and his mama – and a week later his girlfriend Emily, Casey, Kumar, River, and Luc arrived.

The background of this visit included a movie being filmed by Kumar with River, Keyahi, Luc and Amali as the stars. I was cast as the Oracle. 🙂 I have to admit that the Oracle participated in the game of Cards Against Humanity on two different occasions with adult family and friends during this visit. If you have not played this game, the liberation that results from this sort of catharsis cannot be measured by trips to a therapist or pharmaceutical medicine. Try it. You will be horrified and humiliated, but if you can weather it, you will experience the immense liberation that comes from casting out all of our inhibitions.

Luc, my four-year-old grandson, is an adorable handful. (He is the one under the table in the photograph.) I’m not sure what it is about second children, but I see this pattern over and over again. Although with Casey and Jordan, a milder version of the opposite was true, which was probably due to their wider age difference. Luc is the child who tests every boundary presented, often for his own safety, and at other times for his parent’s sanity. It’s a good thing Luc is so adorable, because his will is pretty fierce at times. Both of his parents adore him, have a high threshold for his willfulness, and continually provide him with love as medicine. Luc was the child who, at two years old, poked the cat eight times in order to learn she would scratch him every time when he didn’t honor her boundaries. Casey eventually needed to intervene, because he still didn’t get it. Casey and I have this sort of tenacity in us as well. When it can be harnessed, it is a useful life skill in an adult, but this quality in a child is not easy to parent.

First children are considered the hero child. Perhaps the second child needs to enter with a vengeance to show us who they are, possibly to topple the heroes from their perceived throne. My beloved caregiver and friend told me her theory – if they gave you your second child first, you wouldn’t have a second child. 🙂

Each time they come to visit we get closer and closer. There is so much gratitude for each visit, while at the same time the impending grief grows. The courage it takes for each of us to continue to open and not shut down in the face of the inevitable Great Grief is profound. I think my respect for them grows along with a certain capacity to hold the grief.

Luc is also the child who is completely uninhibited and forthright. He came to me and said, “You’re going to die.” Fortunately, after working with children for nearly a decade, I don’t get rattled by much. I replied, “Yes, I have to get my angel wings.” This gave me the opening to have the conversation with him I’d been wanting to have. I told him that I would be with him his whole life and he could always speak to me, but he wouldn’t see me with his eyes, only his heart.

Later that day, I had a similar conversation with his older brother, River. This conversation needed to be more sophisticated, because River is less in the magical thinking stage and more concrete. River has been precocious since day one and requires more Presence when engaging with him. If you have had one conversation with River, you know this about him.

This was a groundbreaking visit and auspicious in its timing, because my physical condition has begun to rapidly decline. I hope I have the chance to reinforce these beliefs, that as I move toward the end of my life, feel more like truths. Casey was a witness to these conversations and I’m sure she will reinforce them for the boys and for herself. Casey was the child who taught me about the other vibration. When one of her children is struggling, she can recognize the greater missions they have undertaken. I trust she will be able to find me.

Sometimes, children’s eyes can see what adults’ have forgotten. May they feel my love through the veil with their hearts and not their minds. And if they have trouble finding me, perhaps Luc can show them the Way.

To love fully and live well requires us to recognize that we do not possess or own anything – our homes, our cars, our loved ones – not even our own bodies. ~ Jack Kornfield

A very close friend of mine told me when her son was dying, droves of people wanted to come to visit him, but he had limited energy for visitors, which left her conflicted. Their hospice nurse explained to her, “It’s like your son is the guest of honor at a party and its rude to be the first one to leave. The presence of your friends, because of the love between you, forces him to go beyond his limits to attend the party. So you have to end the party.”

The party can mean different things to different people. For me, connecting with people means sharing where I am and seeing where they are and being there for each other. I am interested in others’ processes and cannot help myself from continually looking for an opening to strengthen our connection by identifying obstacles to self-awareness and self-love. After all, it’s been my work my whole adult life, however, at this point, at the end of my life, this practice is too other centered when I’m needing all of my dwindling life force to be more Self oriented.

This party metaphor really hit home for me. Not only is my friend a hospice chaplain, but she has been initiated by Death and also deeply initiated by what lies beyond the doorway called death. Her son died at sixteen and this experience did not destroy her; on the contrary, it was a springboard for her to experience different dimensions. We do have different curricula, don’t we? And we do draw those people to us we most need in our life to help take us to the next step in our development. If interested, she tells their story in A Swan In Heaven: Conversations Between Two Worlds.

I have many reasons to want to stay in this dimension. I have so many Beloveds wanting connection with me, deep connection. I feel insensitive wanting or needing to leave the party. And believe me, this body is not holding up so well.

Last night I finally said it, “I don’t feel like I belong here anymore.” And there it was. This no longer feels like my Home. My body is turning into bones with little connecting the bones. Still, I am reluctant to leave. Who wants to end their party, especially when we live in the illusion that we are truly losing something dear?

As I explore my reluctance, I see how many things I have completed in the last three months. If I listed them, it would exhaust you. Although I am confined to a body that is extremely restricted, I have learned that I am much more than my body. And that part of me has been: joyfully connecting with Beloveds, completing more and more legacy defining projects, and even forging new relationships.

Concurrently, I am getting increasingly more excited to see my Beloveds on the other side and they are getting increasingly excited to receive me. Still, what is before me is familiar and where I am going is unknown.

I am seeing that many people visit me with different intentions and expectations. I tend to want to meet all their expectations, to focus on their needs over mine; then I find myself completely exhausted. Many are unaware of their own unconscious intention to keep me at the party. Who wouldn’t? I am an awesome person, a good friend, and an interesting character with a good sense of humor when I don’t take myself so seriously, which is becoming more of the time. Still, staying at a party after it has peaked is not in good form.

Staying at the party after the musicians have left and the food is put away just because it is hard to say goodbye, to me is an avoidance of what is, a rejection of the natural process, or worse, a refusal to truly be with myself and my circumstances with honesty and courage.

My body is shutting down. There is no ambiguity about that. My Home is shifting, my breath is becoming much more shallow making it difficult to even write, my last creative outlet. Large parts of the day, I cannot even communicate audibly. I have stomach pain most of the day due to gastroparesis, the shutting down of the upper digestive system; the lower shut down years ago. And, I feel sleepy much the time.

One of the greater disappointments I feel at this time, besides “leaving” my children and grandchildren, is where my effectiveness in working with others has become so fine tuned, that all I need to do is say a few words and there is spontaneous change and transformation in the other person. After a lifetime of service, it has taken much inner work to get to this place of working with others so effectively. I have been questioning why I couldn’t stay to help when it is most needed? I have just been sitting with this question.

A few days later, I had the last event of my life in my home. My intention was to offer a profound Shamanic Journey by Peter May to a few people who had been reaching out to me, but I didn’t have the energy to receive them. Jordan and Emily have been here for the past month to care for me at this time and I thought this would care for them, as well. During the journey, I heard an amazing answer to my question. I heard, “When you are fully in the other vibration, you will be of more service than you ever have been while embodied.” As soon as I heard this, I knew it to be true.

Being between the worlds is a profound, sacred, yet awkward place to be with more uncertainty than I’ve ever encountered. May I be here in Grace.

Your body is the church where Nature asks to be reverenced. ~ Marquis de Sade

Dispelling the Cultural Phobia Around Death

When faced with the inevitable challenges life brings, I have tried to meet each trial head-on, once I was able to tap into the hard-earned resources I have acquired through the years. The diagnosis of progressive multiple sclerosis in 2003, presented me with the greatest ordeal I would have to face in life. Mysteriously, when the symptoms began in the late 80s, I instantly grasped the profound level of disability that would eventually evolve from this illness. This resulted in the greatest fear of my life, yet I slowly began to move forward with the willingness to simply not know.

I and my family are coming to terms with the shortening of my life that used to be an abstract concept, but has become very real recently as my organs are beginning to shut down. Little did I know when the symptoms began, there was no treatment for this neurological disease. Meeting my death at 64, has presented my greatest challenge as well as my greatest opportunity. There may be no treatment for many of the these devastating neurological illnesses, but we ARE developing options to meet an inevitable and sometimes premature death, with more compassion, awareness, and humility. As our culture begins to meet death with greater acceptance, we are better able to care for ourselves and for each other. In doing so, we will be better able to meet our final transition with Grace and awe, knowing we are coming face-to-face with the Sacred.

Meeting the Unknown

When I recently realized my organs were shutting down, it took a while for my mind to grasp the significance. My modus operandi for meeting each physical challenge has been to just keep moving forward. Most of the acute obstacles to moving forward were in the form of injuries that had to be addressed immediately. Concurrently, there was the constant background noise, the signs of a continual downward trajectory in functioning. Injuries were easier to manage, because they had: the initial injury, a recovery time, and then finding a new baseline. Functional decline was more difficult to deal with. I was continually strategizing: being vigilant to avoid further injury, listening deeply to my body to what was wanting to be heard, and attending to the changes required. Due to the efficacy of this strategizing, I, and my beloveds, had become lulled into a form of denial that somehow strategizing could actually keep my body going, ad infinitum.

At this sacred time of shutting down a vibrant, generous, and loving life, I have begun my life review, which is a common practice once the shock and grief abate. Looking back, I am aware that I have lived a good life, yet as with any life well lived, I have also made many questionable and downright poor choices along the way. However, with this broader perspective, I am realizing that there really are no mistakes. Each supposed mistake was a learning experience that provided an opportunity for acknowledgment, forgiveness and led to more educated choices in the future. For me personally, it is about discerning how to live my life with greater integrity, authenticity, and grace as I move toward the doorway we call death.

It was merely ten days ago when it became obvious that my digestive system could no longer process foods as it had. Concurrently, my appetite plummeted and it was clear where I was in the trajectory of my life – that I was facing my death. I began to grieve acutely, revealing an understandable level of denial. I am aware of the many times I told clients that some denial is necessary during times of great change. I recognize that I could not have lived such a regenerative life without this ability to compartmentalize. My body was no longer wanting the fuel that would sustain it, so I knew my days were being drastically shortened and that I needed to consider my options carefully.

The Many Options Open to Us Now

Since Colorado passed the end-of-life options act last November and I had gone through the arduous process of securing the prescription, I had the comfort of knowing I had the safety net it afforded, should I begin to suffer needlessly. Another option would be to do V-SED – voluntarily stopping eating and drinking, a process my body had already begun. Although not eating felt voluntary on a certain level, I knew in my heart of hearts that if I were to live in full integrity, it would mean following the direction my body was leading. MAID and V-SED are both viable options, but they just felt too abrupt for this body at this time, given my lack of pain and suffering, at least at this time.

I knew my soul was ready to go and I wondered what it would take for the rest of me to let go and follow. My body was already beginning the process of letting go, but my mind had been strategizing for many years in order to live alone with this condition that demanded continually being in survival mode. Rejecting food appeared voluntary on the surface, but what I knew internally and was afraid to admit, was that it actually was involuntary and I felt to force it would be out of integrity. I knew my soul was ready to let go, to move on to my next adventure of going Home, but I felt conflicted, because it would cause others so much pain. Was I betraying my beloveds? Was I betraying my body? How could I possibly share this with others and feel their grief along with mine, when each of ours was so raw?

As I am sitting with the predicament, a new option has appeared. I could eat and drink only when there was the desire and open to my body’s natural timing. I could find the courage to completely let go of control, and see how this new way of being could serve me (and also serve others). Taking this option meant suspending any sense of knowing and opening to my loved ones’ love and generosity when I am the most vulnerable! This meant that I had to fully embrace being the recipient of so much love that it would stretch my remaining feelings of unworthiness that I knew I still harbored. To me, receiving love and not feeling deserving represents the last frontier of my arduous and sacred Work.

It is essential to clarify that this slow moving illness that is accompanied by very little physical pain is extremely unusual. If I had unbearable pain, acute cancer, ALS, or if I had less support or fewer resources, I would choose MAID in a New York second, as we said in New Orleans.

Given my propensity to struggle with letting go, I decided to write a love letter to my body/mind in the hopes it can finally relax and let go. Although it is very personal, I graciously want to share this with you, my devoted readers. Thank you for your unyielding support over the past months and years.

Love Letter to My Body

My dear loving body/mind, my precious vehicle for this lifetime,

You have served me well. Thank you for being a body with so much endurance and so much forgiveness. I am humbled at your service.

You have taken so many insults, so much abuse, and you have met it all with so much grace. You have had your bones broken, twisted, forced to go beyond your capacity, but you have served us well.

You grew two of the most amazing children I can ever imagine. And from them came amazing grandchildren and perhaps there will be more. I, Aliyah’s soul, will be watching, listening, ever giving my two cents, but always loving.

You have weathered quite a curriculum to teach me how to better love and that I am worthy of being loved. The former, I came wired with the ability, but the latter was more hard earned. I guess that is why it’s called a “curriculum.”

You have fulfilled your Sacred commitment to me with generosity and grace – I release you with loving gratitude. You are free to do what bodies do. You have served me to the utmost and I can’t imagine any better body to carry me through this life.

I will not force you to eat when your system does not want to digest. I will not trick your body with medications, I will let you shut down with as little struggle possible. I will help you let go, if your mind pushes you beyond your limits due to the guilt from perfectionism that has plagued you, or an unrealistic belief that you are necessary to lessen others’ grief. I will not abandon you. I will help you let go of needless suffering with whatever resources I have available to me with the same generosity you have afforded me.

Your mind has served me well. It has helped me be the first person in my family to have an advanced degree and use that in service to others. What better joy in life can there be? You have helped me to strategize an impossible curriculum with impossible circumstances. Without you I could not have accomplished living alone unable to move from the neck down for as many years as I have, touching so many lives. I learned to receive love and the greater challenge was I learned to ask for help.

Without my body and mind, I would have left long ago. We did really really well!

It is almost time to completely let go, to scatter joy to the earth, the air, and water, especially the water. We can know that we did what we came here to do. We can let go and let Love!

Weekly, Crestone’s Threshold Choir comes to sing a cappella at my bedside. Here is an example of one of their songs:

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. – Joe Klass

Ram Dass and Reb Zalman

I have always been an independent person. I have jumped off mountains in California and Maine with rappelling gear, I rode my motorcycle to Key West alone for weekends in college, and I learned to jump my very large thoroughbred horse when I was nearly fifty years old.

Today, I find myself unable to move from the neck down with continued weakening of any peristalsis in my body’s alimentary canal that moves food North to South, or East to West if lying horizontally, an asana I assume throughout much of the day and night.

My sense of autonomy has always been important to me and is fiercely defended by my will – condolences to my parents and gratitude to my husbands. One of the most difficult parts of aging and/or disability is losing one’s autonomy. 90% of the people who choose to end their life using medical aid in dying (MAID) is due to loss of their autonomy.

Erik Erikson, a German-American psychologist whose work was covered extensively in my Masters degree program at Tulane University in the 70s, developed a theory of human development comprised of eight stages from birth to adulthood with each stage ending with a developmental crisis that led to the next stage. He was best known for coining the phrase identity crisis.

Stage II of Erikson’s model involves developing a greater sense of self-control. It has been commonly observed that when individuals age, they revisit the psychosocial stages of development from childhood. Often children end up parenting their adult parents either physically, emotionally, or both. I believe multigenerational healings can occur during this reversal of roles, when unresolved issues from the past resurface to be healed. Occasionally, the trauma is too great to be reworked or it is just not time, which can be overwhelming. Families get through this time the best way they can. Perhaps, if people can cultivate a sense of empathy, either through counseling or other support systems, working with these crises can be extremely restorative.

In this essay, I will explore my own personal experience of how Erikson’s second stage Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt has manifested to clear residual shame and doubt during the end of my life. Each stage has its own particular challenge, it’s crisis of identity, but each stage moves toward healing, interdependence, and communion/love.

For me, letting go of control has always been a challenging requirement in this theater called life and often I do it kicking and screaming, with sometimes bone shattering consequences, quite literally. During major transitions, letting go and trusting the natural process of life has been a challenge for me. Giving away my power to external sources of authority in lieu of trusting my own inherent wisdom has been a related and recurring life lesson. Mediating between the two tendencies of deferring authority and needing autonomy during this end-of-life time has been challenging.

Last week, I experienced a sense of anxiety so huge that with my level of frailty, it could have ended my physical life. Nevertheless, I decided to sit with the fear, not an easy ask. This is probably one of the hardest spiritual practices, to sit in the place of not-knowing. (Ironically, all I really can do is sit, but I could have distracted myself, or quite honestly, having the lethal prescription, I could have chosen this as my exit point, if the suffering was too great.) There is no right or wrong decision. Each has their own sovereignty to decide for themselves. Instead, I decided to just BE with it to see what would emerge. Fortunately, I also have been given healthy doses of determination and stamina to meet these areas of limitation.

I sat and felt more and more fear until it was beyond overwhelming. I called my very skilled caregiver/fellow traveler to be with me, revealing yet another challenge in my life – asking for help. I just knew I could not go there alone. She tenderly affirmed she was there, completely present, and available for whatever I needed. With someone I trusted deeply to hold the container, I went there.

It was like entering a dense orb of anxiety that had been suspended in time. I was transported to the pregnancy with my first child, which had been one of the most joyful times of my life. Once it was time for her birth, however, I found myself feeling completely alone and unsupported, with no sense of trust in the natural process. Feeling that vulnerable, I asked the doctor for a cesarean which started a series of events that spun completely out of control. I was given a general anesthetic that upon awakening left me in tremendous physical pain and completely disoriented – Where is my baby? Two days later, when the confusion began to clear, I demanded they bring my baby to me and called my mother who got on a plane immediately. The doctors threatened me, because that was the 70s and they didn’t yet have the practice of rooming in, nevertheless, I persevered – alone, helpless, and disoriented, I persevered. Two days post cesarean, I developed a postpartum depressive reaction, the likes of which I’d never before experienced. I just did not have the internal resources to integrate the trauma. This was before midwives and doulas were welcomed in hospitals. I felt completely ill prepared for the onslaught of feelings of fear, helplessness, and shame.

Just recalling the memory makes me cry all over again. Then I realized that this orb of unresolved feelings, now relegated to my unconscious, were familiar and had recurred a few times later in my life. Each recurrence left me with the exact same feelings – fear, helplessness, and shame. It began to make perfect sense that it would resurface as I was preparing for another major transition – dying! With this awareness, I felt gratitude that this ominous trauma had reemerged into my awareness. I felt in awe of the natural order of life during this auspicious time. When confronted with the end of one’s life, the holes in our souls caused by past trauma can become more evident, along with the neurosis that had taken up residence. These are the places that most need our love and acceptance for healing. In our culture, I’m sure these karmic appointments often get medicated away. Again, no right or wrong. For me, this was an important piece to clear before my final transition of birthing myself through the doorway called death.

At this point, I would like to digress to the timely issue of aid in dying in our culture. Personally, I am grateful to have the safety net of having the prescription in my possession, whether I choose to use it or not. I am grateful I was able to open to my greater suffering necessary to meet the emotional crisis presented at this sacred time of transition. When I secured the prescription, I made an agreement with myself that I would not use it to avoid anything emotionally uncomfortable, but because I was ready to go forward. I intuitively know I don’t need to endure needless physical suffering. It is my style to confront obstacles for my greater good. I wouldn’t begin to make this decision for others or take it away. One of Erickson’s criticisms has been that he excluded the emotional and spiritual aspects of development. I don’t have that limitation in my toolkit. If you know me, you know I am fierce with passion and determination to fill these holes in my soul with love and joy (and anybody else who crosses my path).

During the aging process, losing one’s independence and sense of control in life can lead to despair as the body deconstructs. In his own words, Erikson reflected on his view of his life now in his 80s, You’ve got to accept the law of life, and face the fact that we are disintegrating slowly. Deconstructing the developmental stages that were so hard won when we were young is a mirror image which requires acceptance and letting go of will. From a spiritual perspective, one needs to shift from the egoic level to the spiritual, which is not a path for everyone. Sometimes, what is called for is just planting seeds and that is enough.

In their ninth decade together Erickson and his wife, his lifelong collaborator, expanded their theory which included issues that arise during the old age years. They identified the conflict during this stage as Integrity versus a Sense of Defeat (despair). The fruit of this tension can ripen into wisdom. The Ericksons further posited that the lessons during this time of life involve developing empathy and resilience, that having the courage of our convictions to move toward greater wholeness dispels the ominous sense of despair that so plagues many elders. This is not unlike Viktor Frankl’s theory of attributing greater meaning to adversity, a practice he developed while in the concentration camp with his family in the 40s.

In his seminal work, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi described the importance of mentorship in one’s older years, or as he called it spiritual mentoring when he wrote From Age-ing to Sage-ing. (It should be noted that Reb Zalman was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi until he experimented with the “the sacramental value of lysergic acid” in 1962. His experimental style along with the cross-cultural influence, which included feminism and LGBT rights into Judaism, mysticism, and a rainbow prayer shawl he designed, inspired me to reconnect with my Jewish heritage in the 80s.) He traveled with other rabbis to India to meet the Dalai Lama. His holiness was interested in knowing how the Jewish people had survived with their culture intact, a significant issue for the Tibetan Buddhists in exile. If this interests you, read Beyond the Ashes, written by a rabbi ordained by Reb Zalman and Jew in the Lotus, a book that chronicled this journey.

If you read my last essay, you likely understand when I describe the anomalous quest of those of us who need to reach the summit of the Himalayas. Having been a psychotherapist and in therapy myself much of my life, I have had the privilege and opportunity to develop a huge capacity to ride the suffering with the faith that in doing so, I would eventually find liberation.

During the height of my anxiety, my prayer was for PEACE. Reb Zalman spoke clearly about anxiety, how it helps the ego become more translucent and transparent, to remove the opacity so the divine light can shine through. These words hold such TRUTH for me now.

It is my hope that anyone facing adversity find the same comfort I have found during this sacred time. Here is medicine for all who are facing life’s sacred transitions. It is a trailer from Ram Dass’ documentary Going Home:

The task is not to live our life in which we never got our hearts broken. The task is to become larger with each heart break. – David Whyte

In a past essay titled Mountain Metaphor, I described Michael Brown’s brilliant metaphor about life choices. Click here for the original or below is a [paraphrased] excerpt:

Some people feel deeply drawn to the Himalayan Mountains, so much so that they might have a photograph of the mountain range on their refrigerator and they are happy with that level of appreciation. Fewer people might have a picture book of the Himalayas on their coffee table and they are happy with that. Even fewer travel to India to see the Himalayas in the distance and they are happy with that. Some will go to base camp at the foot of the mountains and they are happy with that. Still fewer will have to hike all the way to the summit. Going to the summit is not for everyone. It is important to hear this with no judgment, no right or wrong, no hierarchy. People merely have different needs and capacities during their lives, different soul plans in each lifetime.

Recently, a dear being died after a prolonged struggle with multiple sclerosis after living a life of deep contribution, especially to young people. Since our first conversation in 1990, she has been in my heart and just a few steps ahead of me in this illness curriculum. While in my 30s, she was the first person to affirm my greatest fear, that my subtle neurological symptoms were likely early signs of MS. There are worse things to get than MS, I remember her telling me knowingly, because she had been diagnosed a few years before. Somehow, it was easier hearing this from her, someone who was, part of the club to which she would sadly welcome me when I was diagnosed at 50, than a doctor who was emotionally removed and outside of the club I now had the dubious distinction of being an intimate part of. As her illness progressed, I observed her Grace as the fear of my future grew, exponentially. For many years doctors told me my concerns were nothing, that I should just get on with my life. If I had known then, that this was the most progressive form of this neurological illness they call MS, and that there was absolutely no treatment, I don’t know how well I would have lived my life. I eventually stopped going to doctors who were, many inadvertently, peddling false hope in the form of pharmaceuticals with scary, permanent side effects. It would be many more years before I could find my own Grace and eventually Gratitude for this arduous curriculum. Today I am grateful to my friend and others I have come to know who have blazed the trail for me. This essay will explore how friends and their beloveds can help each other through the most perilous parts of our journeys if we can be open to the changing forms.

When my husband who had been with me prior to my diagnosis, during my diagnosis, and after my diagnosis, left our marriage after we moved to a new home in a new state, I was emotionally devastated. He had always been a fixer and when it became clear that this could not be fixed, he moved on. Although I came to understand this as a necessary parting of our paths many years later, at the time I was devastated. (Did I say that already?) At the time, the thought of living alone in a big house, in a new community, with a degenerative illness was more than I could bear.

I was reminded of a powerful and effective intervention in my psychotherapy practice when an individual was presenting with Major Depression (acute depression that leaves the person unable to eat or sleep), because they were brokenhearted after their long-term partner had left them, if they were able to feel the grief deeply and let in the necessary support from others, they might realize that they, in fact, had been the one who left the relationship first, emotionally. With this awareness, their partner had no other choice but to leave. If this can be acknowledged, there is often an existential shift and the grief may disappear completely. The story of having been left shifts into a whole new story of having ignored one’s own needs which unconsciously set up the leaving in order to avoid being the one who leaves. Byron Katie, founder of The Work, a powerful process for decreasing suffering in the world, describes this as the turnaround. If you are not familiar with Byron Katie’s worksheet, check it out. It could change your life.

When I heard my friend’s husband had moved on, it triggered my own feelings of having been left. [Caveat: This is MY projection. I know her husband and he did not in any way move on or away from her. His commitment to her I found exceptional and I have told him so many times.] All of my feelings from ten years ago resurfaced as if it had just happened. With that level of grief, I knew I needed to speak to my friend directly, to go into deep meditation, not too different from what I learned in Gestalt therapy in my late 20s and that is exactly what I did. Whether one believes it was she who came forward, a projection of mine, a symbolic story, or a Guide speaking on our behalf, it doesn’t really matter; I know that the information I received was not in my awareness before this auspicious meeting.

I was able to hear from my friend something very personal that only those in such a club could share. She told me that we had agreed before we took bodies to go all the way to the summit, no matter what the cost. And she continued that we had actually left them, because we had to in order to get to the summit! She told me that our partners had their own paths they needed to follow and that we are all still connected exactly as we should be, despite what our consensus reality indicates. In the past, I remembered seeing a photograph of my former husband’s new partner playing lovingly and joyfully with my former grandchildren. At first I felt heartbroken, betrayed, and unworthy. Then, it occurred to me like a revelation (the turnaround) that I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing! With that realization, all of the grief disappeared and what was left was a sense of honor, dignity, and self-respect much greater than the grief I’d previously felt. I also experienced gratitude toward his partner for being able to be there for my loved ones I’d never gotten to know. My friend reminded me that she and I were, indeed, fulfilling our soul agreement and so were our partners.

During a time of self-doubt, Terri Daniel, an author, educator, and end-of-life advisor who became a dear friend once told me, Your life is an expression of the highest possible commitment to spiritual awakening. I am reminded of that quote by Donna Roberts ~A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words. Thank you Terri, you have been there when I most needed you.

In my heart of hearts, I know I had no other choice but to aim for the summit. She and I had gone to the summit and our partners supported us according to our respective soul agreements. Her husband had once told me that the three of us were in the same lifeboat together. He and I have had many soul-level conversations over the years for which I am deeply grateful. Perhaps she was telling me that we were in the same soul family and her husband used the lifeboat metaphor to express this. Friends – we just cannot do this in isolation, can we?

I am not special. Everybody has their own zenith they must reach at some point in their life or lifetimes. Perhaps our summit is indistinguishable from our eternal Home. Martin Luther King, Jr spoke of the promised land in his mountaintop speech. I want to end this essay with this speech that he tearfully, fearlessly, and prophetically delivered the day before he was assassinated fifty years ago:

VISIT THE BLOG FOR MY NEW BOOK – MEET ME BY THE RIVER!

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Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. more...

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