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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.

 

 

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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.

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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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