Category Archives: Death

#reverb13: Day Three

reverb13
Two of today’s prompts are really about the same thing for me, have the same answer. They are “Brave: What was the bravest thing you did in 2013?” and “What storm did you weather in 2013?” The storm I weathered and the bravest thing I did are the same: Dexter’s cancer and eventual death. I stayed with him when he was sick, was as present for every moment we had left together as I could manage, cared for him the best I could and eventually let him go, was there with him when he died. Even going on a walk sometimes I had to be brave — he might have a fit of reverse sneezing, give himself a nosebleed, one that I couldn’t stop, even a stroke was possible with his particular kind of cancer. At any moment, something could happen that would lead to the end of things, to a level of suffering that was too much.

I’ve said this before, but it is worth repeating: Loving any dog takes courage. In all likelihood, you will outlive them. It might even be your responsibility to make an end of life decision for them. No matter how it happens or when, you won’t be ready, it won’t be okay — and knowing that, you open your heart, invite them into your life anyway, give each beast the power to break your heart wide open. To love a dog, to love anything mortal, knowing you will eventually be separated, that you will ultimately lose them, is the purest form of courage I know. The magic, the medicine is that every time my heart breaks, it expands, gets stronger, and my capacity to love grows with it. Because of my grief, my loss, I have the heart of a warrior, open to both the tenderness and the terror of life.

The third prompt was a beautiful practice shared by Kat, “a life-changing practice I discovered with the help of Rachael Maddox during her gorgeous Do It Meaningfully challenge,” which looks like this,

Each day for 31 days, I sat quietly for a few moments with my eyes closed and my hand on my heart and asked, “Heart: what do you need?” And then I listened. Sometimes the answer cam in the form of a word. Sometimes an image. Sometimes a sensation. Try this today. What does your heart have to tell you?

So I asked my heart, “what do you need?” The response was a rush, a surge of energy. Then I thought of what it feels like to run, dance, stretch and flow through a series of yoga poses, how alive those things make me feel, how present, and then I flashed on what love, happiness, joy feels like, like when I come home from work and Eric and Sam are waiting for me and as I get close enough to the door Eric tells Sam “go see Mom” and he runs out to me, his whole body wiggling, and how good it feels to be all together again. My heart wants that feeling, being fully alive and awake, energized.

Day of Rest

Sweet, lionhearted Henry, a beautiful beast of a dog, died yesterday. Only one day before, his mom learned he had an inoperable tumor on his liver and was already very sick, too sick, and she’d have to let him go. I never met Henry, or his mom, but the pictures and stories she’s shared made me love him, and her, anyway.

Every loss like this is folded into my own. I almost can’t separate the sadness of losing my Dexter (or Obi before him) from the loss of every other dog loved and missed by someone, just like me. And certain dogs, for whatever reason and especially if they have cancer, touch that tender raw spot that I carry with me everywhere, always.

That’s what they don’t tell you about a broken heart — it’s not that it gets broken and then fixed, restored to its former state, but rather it gets broken open. Sometimes it feels like I’m walking around in the world not just naked, no clothes on, but with all my skin peeled off, my chest cracked open, utterly vulnerable and wounded, nothing to hide behind, no armor or mask or shield, no protection.

Oddly enough, this is an experience I chose. This is my path. You can armor up and numb out, run away or reject this way of living. It’s entirely possible through all sorts of means to disconnect from reality, to opt out. And yet, two years ago I made a distinct, conscious choice otherwise.

Committing to benefit others is traditionally called the path of the bodhisattva…the path of the spiritual warrior whose weapons are gentleness, clarity of mind, and an open heart. The Tibetan word for warriormeans “the one who cultivates bravery.” As warriors in training, we cultivate the courage and flexibility to live with uncertainty–with the shaky, tender feeling of anxiety, of nothing to hold on to–and to dedicate our lives to making ourselves available to every person, in every situation. ~Pema Chödrön, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

This is my path, to ease suffering, in myself and the world. There are days like today when I am feeling sad and a little stuck that I wonder if I can really do this, and yet when I give any attention to contemplating the matter, I understand that for me there really is no other way.

#augustbreak2013 Day 19

White

dexterspawprintThe pawprint, the box and the ashes inside, all white. I have two full sets of these, one for Dexter and one for Obi, both lost to fatal cancers, treatable but ultimately incurable. Over the past four years, two of them have been spent living with, loving, and letting go of a terminally ill loved one. It’s been hard, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, to love that much, to hurt that much. And yet, to do so, to open my heart to them, love them so big even though I knew they would ultimately leave me, break my heart, to be there as a witness when they did, is a precious thing, a horrible, terrible, brutal, tender, beautiful thing.

Three Truths and One Wish

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1. Truth: Death is real. And it’s not always pretty. It doesn’t always happen painlessly at the end of a long, well lived and loved, full and finished life, with the one who’s leaving in a comfortable bed with candles lit and soft music playing and loved ones all around. It strikes those who are much too young, it is sometimes accidental, sudden, brutal, tragic. Sometimes it’s just not fair, not kind, not easy. But no matter how it comes, how it goes down, every mortal will go, be gone. No matter how well we love or how faithfully we care for each other, we will lose or be lost.

2. Truth: I am still trying to figure out how to live in a world where this is true, where what we love will die. Where we intentionally allow ourselves to be wounded, invite it, where we strip completely naked and hand the one we love the sharpest knife. I have seen death, understand it, have even felt a sort of peace in that moment of letting go, knowing that loved one has been released from their suffering. And yet, I am still trying to figure out how — how to fully surrender to this truth, accept it, stay open to it. Love unbound from form can feel almost like rage, running wild with the desire to smash and burn and break and scream, longing mixed with a strange confusion that insists someone must be to blame, must be punished, so much fierce energy with no place to go.

3. Truth: We are here now, together, and that makes all the eventual pain worth it. As much as I grieve those I have lost, I would not give up the time I had with them in order to avoid this suffering. And there is so much about this life to love. As I was reminded by one big heart today, when I reached out in my confusion, “and yet laughter and yet barbecued chicken and yet a glass of cold water on a hot day, Louis Armstrong, fresh raspberries,” and another reminded me that Winnie the Pooh says, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Magic is all around, waiting for us to notice and be amazed. On our walk this morning, a butterfly, busy feeding on a flower, let me get closer than I’ve ever been and stayed still so I could take a picture. Ram Dass says “we are all just walking each other home,” and when I can remember that, when I can slow down and see the vivid color and surprise of a butterfly, I feel myself soften, feel the whole tight knot begin to unwind.

One wish: That we stay awake, rather than denying or disconnecting, that we recognize our limitless potential, that we stay open to the connections that heal us, notice the magic and cultivate the medicine.

We are all just walking each other home.

Something Good

1. Before and After, a beautiful poem and image from Vivienne McMaster.

2. This quote from C.G. Jung, “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.”

3. Be Cool & Don’t Be An Assh*le on Elephant Journal. I love this. At the entrance to my paid work office, I have two postcards. One says “Don’t be a jerk” and the other says “The time is now.”

4. We All Die and How I am Finally Becoming the Person I Betrayed at 19 from Girl on Fire.

5. The confrontation waiting to happen, wisdom from Seth Godin.

6. Andrea Scher’s start a foolish project on Jessica Swift’s blog, (Andrea’s new course, Start a Foolish Project, starts on July 1st, so there’s still time to register).

7. Speaking of foolish projects, this weird and wonderful ninja art installation I discovered on our morning walk. I have no idea what it means, but I give you “Plastic Animal Butts.”

8. Bryan Kest: A different kind of yoga teacher on The Examiner. This is the kind of yoga teacher I want, want to become. Just some of his wisdom shared in this article,

“Most people bring their shit to yoga and turn their yoga into shit.”

“Yoga is meant to free us from our agenda,” he explained, but most people bring their agenda to class. In yoga our body is talking to us. Most people aren’t listening because they’re trying to make the pose a certain way. Your job is to quiet your mind and figure out where you should be in the pose.”

“The only thing yoga will tell you is wake the f#?k up.”

9. The Practicality of Forgiveness from Create as Folk, pure wisdom from Laura Simms.

10. Validating your pain is the first step to getting stronger, wisdom from Danielle LaPorte.

11. The Best Foods To Help You Eat The Rainbow & Boost Your Energy on MindBodyGreen.

12. Make Me: Paper Patchwork Art on Decor8. I am itching to try this. As you may or may not know, I have an aunt who is an amazing fabric artist and I have a large collection of quilts, bordering on obsession, and yet I am not a seamstress myself, haven’t yet learned the art form — but scissors, glue and paper I could do.

13. Reasons to Avoid the Beach from Jason Good.

14. 6 Conversations You Need To Have With Yourself and 4 Reasons to Hold On a Little Longer from Marc and Angel Hack Life.

15. Spit & Polish: Romping with Laurie Wagner from Jennifer Louden. I’m registered for this workshop, knocking on wood and keeping my fingers crossed that everything works out and I get to go. These are two powerful, compassionate and wise teachers.

16. Everything you could want for a nuclear fallout from Kleenex to unappetizing cans of ‘multi-purpose food’: California couple discover perfectly preserved 1961 fallout shelter 15 feet below their backyard.

17. 15 “Summer Camp Style” Friendship Bracelets You Can Make Right Now. It doesn’t matter how old I get, I’m still a sucker for these.

18. The Unicorn: A Motel, A Metaphor + Meth from Feed Me Darling.

19. On Getting (and Using) Another Chance, an older post from Lisa Congdon that’s worth another look.

20. Some Fucking Writing Tips from Matt Haig, (obviously if you are bothered by the language in the title, do not read this post).

21. How I Got Fired from the Job I Invented from Turner Barr. Idea theft, intellectual property robbery at its worst.

22. 10 Vegan Foods Packed with Protein from One Green Planet.

23. Healthy Living: Part Two from Decor8.

24. 5 Of The Coolest And Most Powerful POV’S On The Block (And Why This Matters To Your Business) from Jac McNeil.

25. 344 Illustrated Flowcharts to Find Answers to Life’s Big Questions on Brain Pickings.

26. Amber Valletta: Blaze Your Own Trail on The Conversation.

27. A Better Way to Die: Bringing together medicine and spirituality for end-of-life care, shared by Patti Digh on her Thinking Thursday list.

28. Who to Fall in Love with First: 6 Ways to Love Yourself and 9 Ways You May Unwittingly Deprive Yourself of Love and Fulfillment on Tiny Buddha.

29. Living the Tiny Home Life: An Interview With Tammy Strobel on Mother Earth News.

30. This quote, shared by Positively Present Picks, “Now and then its good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy” ~Guillaume Apollinaire.

31. Shared on Susannah Conway’s Something for the Weekend list: Naturally Ella, this tempeh sandwich recipe from Thug Kitchen, and How to Make an Origami Elephant.

32. She’s Fierce. She’s Blunt. And Sadly, She’s Also Right. on Upworthy.

33. Dharma 101: Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. {eBooklet} on Elephant Journal.

Day of Rest

This is what the river looked like just two weeks ago. The water was low and filled with dark ash from last summer’s fires, green algae growing in the stillness, with a spot in the middle where the bottom was completely exposed, the trees at the edge reflecting off the quiet surface.

To see it this morning was a reminder that things change, ebb and flow, always arising and falling away, constantly shifting, beginning and ending.

I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity. ~Gilda Radner

I woke up this morning in the still dark, two warm dog bodies smashed against mine, and I started to worry. I was thinking about all the things I needed to do today, all the things that needed done this summer, all the work and the projects and the play I keep trying to stuff into every minute of every day and how there is just never enough time.

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Later on my walk with Dexter, feeling sad about his eventual death, wishing again that it’s easy for him, still anxious about having so little time, I realize three things, Three Truths coming to me a few days early.

1. Truth: That’s really all we ever want for anyone in the end, (including ourselves), for death to be easy.

2. Truth: Dexter carries no sadness about his own death, if he even thinks of it, has any awareness of it at all.

3. Truth: In every way that I am stuck, struggling, not free, I am my biggest obstacle.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns…We may want to love other people without holding back, to feel authentic, to breathe in the beauty around us, to dance and sing. Yet each day we listen to inner voices that keep our life small. ~Tara Brach

As I was walking, I was noticing shadow and light, the wabi-sabiness of the world, of life. Wabi-Sabi is a concept I’m a bit obsessed with right now. Essentially it is acceptance of that which is impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete, and beyond acceptance, being able to see it clearly, to understand it as beautiful, to love it even. This is the reality of our lives if we are brave enough to open our hearts to it.

This stump is wabi-sabi. It is what remains of a tree no longer alive in the way we understand that particular animation, and yet it is surrounded by life, anchored in it, present with it. In this sense, what does death even mean? Where do we begin, where and when do we truly end? If we are made of love, come from love, live surrounded by and imbedded in love, can we ever really be separated? Aren’t we always completely and utterly free?

I’d like to think so. My wish is to believe that, to trust it, to accept it — all of it, with open eyes of full awareness and an open heart full of compassion.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.
~Rumi

Day of Rest

If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you already know that taking a long walk with my dogs at Lee Martinez Park is one of my favorite things. Before we got dogs, when Eric and I would take walks together, we spent a lot of time talking about how great it was going to be once we had dogs (and we always intended to have more than one). We were totally right. It’s the best.

One of my favorite parts of the walk is all the other animals we see. This morning, we saw a turtle sitting on a log floating in the middle of the river. We also saw a heron sitting high in a tree over the same stretch of water. Sadly, we also saw a dead Mountain Bluebird.

There’s a den of baby foxes along our regular route, and this morning the bravest of them all had a duck carcass that he was quite proud of.

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When there are kits, Dexter insists on checking on them every walk. Even if they aren’t out, he wants to sit and watch the den, has to be pulled away from it.

This Sunday was such a different day than just one week ago, when Dexter was so sick and weak and didn’t want to eat. I spend each day immediately after something like that being thankful for another day, a day when no one is suffering, noticing the bravest of the kits, laughing at how he prances with a duck hanging from his mouth, too young to be quite sure what he’s even supposed to do with it.

Straight Talk From Fox
by Mary Oliver

Listen says fox it is music to run
over the hills to lick
dew from the leaves to nose along
the edges of the ponds to smell the fat
ducks in their bright feathers but
far out, safe in their rafts of
sleep. It is like
music to visit the orchard, to find
the vole sucking the sweet of the apple, or the
rabbit with his fast-beating heart. Death itself
is a music. Nobody has ever come close to
writing it down, awake or in a dream. It cannot
be told. It is flesh and bones
changing shape and with good cause, mercy
is a little child beside such an invention. It is
music to wander the black back roads
outside of town no one awake or wondering
if anything miraculous is ever going to
happen, totally dumb to the fact of every
moment’s miracle. Don’t think I haven’t
peeked into windows. I see you in all your seasons
making love, arguing, talking about God
as if he were an idea instead of the grass,
instead of the stars, the rabbit caught
in one good teeth-whacking hit and brought
home to the den. What I am, and I know it, is
responsible, joyful, thankful. I would not
give my life for a thousand of yours.

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What is so magic about walking, being outside in the raw, real world is it reminds me that life is a cycle of seasons, of birth and death, of waxing and waning, hibernation and blooming. It helps me to not feel so anxious about the way things work–impermanence, mortality, the nature of change. The sun rises every morning, the flowers bloom again each Spring, and there are still baby foxes, learning how to feed themselves, how to be foxes. I can live in that world, even as it continues to break my heart.