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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.

Hard times require serious dancing. – Alice Walker

No. I don’t have a pretty picture like a great ship sailing in stormy waters or an image of a physical body’s particles dissolving into eternal, ecstatic light. This is my latest injury. My right leg sustained yet another injury last Friday while transferring to the stationary bike. (I know it’s bad when the hospice nurse cries.) What will I do when my legs can no longer support any of my weight, when I cannot stand or ride my bike or even take care of the basic daily living skills? My body is known for healing quickly, but each injury is more debilitating and each recovery finds a new baseline with less ability.

The night before the injury, I slept ten hours which is nearly a record. My sleeping has been getting better and even my occasional naps are becoming longer. I’ve heard that as people move toward dying they sleep more. I believe we are given much preparation for our transition in our sleep, whether it is received consciously or unconsciously. The day after the injury I woke up from a dream that was partially autobiographical, but with dreamlike embellishments. I believe they – the Voice I’ve spoken of previously– wake me early some nights, because there is something I am needing to acknowledge and/or process that in waking hours I cannot access. In my dream, my former husband was becoming more distant from me with coldness and resentment. I tried to call him near, but he told me that he was closer to his new girlfriend’s family than my family. When he told me this, I cried desperately from the grief and fear of going forward alone with this illness. This was mostly biographically accurate, but I received it as a reminder to grieve. Being able to grieve is so important in our bittersweet, human lives and I believe it’s necessary to grieve well in order to truly feel joy. Since I began psychotherapy in my 20s and through fifteen years of Holotropic Breathwork practice and becoming a trainer, I have become more comfortable with grief knowing that joy is just on the other side. David was unable to process grief openly during the eleven years we were together. No one could navigate this curriculum without the capacity for grief/joy. I understand that this is an accelerated course in life and not for everybody. It is not a failing to be overwhelmed by my life. Believe me, I get it.

In her seminal book, The Hero Within, Carol Pearson, presents six heroic archetypes that exist in all of us. To access this best-selling classic with strong Jungian influence, click here. According to her teachings, we all have access to each archetype, or ally, and when made conscious they can elevate our self-awareness. The archetypes evolve developmentally as we evolve.

Suddenly in the dream, I slapped my face. Referring to Pearson’s archetypes, I realize that I have been avoiding the feelings of the Orphan archetype (vulnerability, innocence, fear of abandonment), wanting more the Warrior archetype (strength and physical persistence). This translates literally to my waking life. Authors like Carol Pearson and Michael Brown offer us so many tools to aid in our evolution.

By waking up 2 1/2 hours early, I had the time to explore the meaning within the dream. I remembered an earlier time when I sustained multiple injuries while I was avoiding the use of a wheelchair. If you know anyone with a progressive neurological illness, as the disease progresses and one’s equilibrium is affected, one may tend to wall-walk in order to stay upright. I became adept at wall-walking, that is, until I fell with my computer landing on my knee to avoid damage to my laptop. My kneecap cracked with the force. Still, I persevered and dragged myself onto the tractor. If will could have kept this illness at bay, I might have dragged myself up Mount Everest. Climbing off the tractor, I fell on my knee again and broke my patella in half! I have always minimized my injuries, that is until I couldn’t.

I required crutches and then a walker while the injury healed. Soon, I fell onto my computer desk and cracked my sternum! When I finally sat in the freaking wheelchair, I felt the relief of surrender. The dream last night and my time in contemplation allowed me to wonder if the series of injuries I’m experiencing now is an indication that I am needing to surrender once again.

The Orphan archetype, an ally that brings resilience and realism to situations through a willingness to feel vulnerable might be the exact medicine I most need now. Ironically, the illusion of abandonment is the pitfall of the Orphan when life is not met head-on. So it seems that these recurring injuries may be a message that I am needing to meet what is head-on.

Ultimately, letting go of my will means letting go of the illusion of control, an illusion we share as humans and seems to be a recurring theme in my life. Feeling the grief of what I am leaving behind is part of the work of moving from Orphan to Innocent to Warrior to Magician, to ultimately allow myself to be transformed, to be more of who I truly Am.

My dear friends tell me daily how courageous I am and what an inspiration I am for their lives. If you are reading this, you are one of them. I appreciate being received as inspiring, but I know everybody will be facing this level of surrender eventually in our lives. I am just doing it earlier than most, in slow motion, and reporting in real-time.

I am moving into the next level of this heartbreaking and joyfully sacred path we call life, which includes death. May I do it all with Grace and Gratitude. Namaste.

“Joy is the most infallible sign of the existence of God.” – Stephen Colbert1924-Ford-Model-T-PO

At my friends’ design, I began a five day personal retreat. Due to my physical constraints, I modified it to be solitary, and concurrent with my nine friends’. For me, beginning a new year is always joyful and auspicious. Consciously honoring the passage of another year is a feat I choose to highlight. During my first meditation I had some fond memories beginning in my latency years through adulthood and I wanted to share them.

Someone said to me the other day, “You have an engineer’s mind.” I never really thought about that, because psychology and spirituality are so central to my Being. However, mathematics was my best subject and I did very well in statistics, a subject that I notice was cringe-worthy to others in graduate school. I was the person in the family who frequently assembled washers and dryers and the toys for the children. Upon seeing a hammer at a friend’s house when he was around six years old, Jordan excitedly exclaimed, “You have a hammer like my mother’s!”

My family was a doing family. I haven’t identified with doing for quite a long time, given my physical circumstances, but I remembered my father collecting antique cars. He had a 1929 Model A Ford and a 1924 Model T Ford touring car. I remember around age eight filing the rust off of tiny parts of the engine that was splayed all over the garage floor at the lake where I grew up. Doesn’t everybody work on antique cars and learn mechanics by osmosis? I was horrified when my father acquired a 1950 Silver Dawn Rolls-Royce. My 16-year-old self found it ostentatious and refused to ride in it in daylight. It was actually pretty cool, as the turn signals raised out near the side doors and were lighted. The back seats had a glass desk that dropped down like tables on airplanes. The class tabletops were perfect for separating lines of cocaine, but that is for another blog entry (that will be very short, if you’re curious). My wheels ambulated a ten year old 1962 Willy’s Jeep, my first car. I could take the top and doors off and it was like my Barbie camper as a child. The problem was that it needed a ring job that was worth more than the car, so I had to carry a sixpack of oil around with me. The muffler occasionally fell off and I needed to get under it to clamp it back on, so I always needed tools. What do you mean, other 16 year olds didn’t have this avocation?

I guess we were a mechanical family. When people complain about automobile repairs, I notice that I know quite a bit about the parts, just not much about the inner workings of the engine. I learned to drive a stick shift in my younger older brother’s GTO. He was a good instructor teaching me about the friction point between the clutch and the acceleration and compression when braking, but his car was losing the clutch and if I let it grind at all, he was furious with me so I learned to drive a stick shift very quickly. For a while during college when visiting home, the Rolls-Royce became the party mobile. The transmission was on the column in an H design, very fun to drive. I guess I took for granted that other people didn’t know to be extremely careful when cranking a Model T to be sure you don’t dislocate your shoulder.

My older older brother sold Snap-On tools for a while, an excellent quality tool. He also worked on foreign cars and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. I didn’t get to drive any of those, but I was an avid passenger. While down with the flu in college, I put a Harley-Davidson model motorcycle together in my spare time when not studying math. Perhaps that was preparation for purchasing a Honda 350 modified dirtbike to avoid hitchhiking.

Understanding my propensity for recklessness on my motorcycle, I sold it after six months. I tended to bungee cord my fashionable chunky high heels on the back of the bike and ride barefoot. I never told my children about this behavior until they were beyond the age of danger. I didn’t want to glamorize recklessness. I did however always wear a helmet with a face shield, which came in handy when riding a few hours down to Key West on the weekends from college. I was fortunate that the worst calamity with my motorcycle happened when I got off and forgot to put the kickstand down. I know, that’s why I sold it. I knew the statistics for fatalities in Dade County were high. Math.

During the late 90s, I learned to drive a vintage 1950 Ford tractor pulling a bush hog. A few years later I graduated to a new Kubota tractor. I soon learned to drive a two horse trailer with living quarters to take my horse to the veterinarian at the LSU vet school. I happily could drag the arenas on the horse farm with the harrow and mow the fields for hours at a time. Riding the tractor was almost more joyful than riding horses.

It surprises me when I know things that other girls don’t know. Growing up with brothers did have its advantages.

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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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