06/30/14

Life And Love After The Love Of Your Life Dies

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“I had real love in my life once with Doug and I would desperately like to have it again. I know this is a big trap…sex and intimacy are not one and the same thing. But I always wind up acting like they are the same. I always have it in my head that maybe my next sexual encounter will bring me love. It’s maddening.”

My friend Kevin is 39. He is living with HIV. He tested positive twelve years ago. Luckily he continues to be asymptomatic.

Kevin is a music teacher and member of a jazz quartet. He is currently single and shares his house with two roommates. His lover, Doug, died five years ago just one month shy of their tenth anniversary together.

gay-men

Kevin is trim and buffed. He works out at a local gym four days a week. He is boyishly handsome with tousled red hair. He rides a motorcycle and is a wicked pool player.

Kevin tells me; “Even though I’ve had many friends die of AIDS, I still have plenty of my own death stuff to deal with.” He reports that he has recently engaged in some questionable sexual practices. “That’s a sure sign that I’m shoving a lot of this under the carpet. And I know this kind of thing could be, well, a fatal mistake!”

Kevin was born and raised a devout Roman Catholic. His Boston Irish Catholic family had high hopes that one day he would become a priest. “I know I disappointed them and I don’t think they ever really got over it. Ya see, when I came out in college I left the church at the same time. It was a preemptive strike, if you want to know the truth. I wasn’t about to wait around for them to throw me out just because I was gay.” His inability to find a suitable spiritual home makes him sad. “Sometimes I feel lost and rudderless. I know God loves me, but the sweet and easy connection I once had with God as a younger man eludes me now.”

My friend Kevin and I meet for lunch about once a month. We talk about life and death and what makes us tick. At a recent lunch we started to talk about life and love after the love of our life dies.

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Kevin tells me; “My sexuality has always been a driving force in my life, but sometimes I simply feel driven. A manic pursuit of pleasure is no pleasure, if you know what I mean.”

“I do know what you mean. That’s how so many of us pursue our pleasure. It’s exhausting, huh?”

“Yep! Do you think it’s just a gay thing?

I don’t want to suggest that I’m a sex addict or anything, but I sometimes feel out of balance. I know a lot of this has to do with my relentless pursuit of love. I had real love in my life once with Doug and I would desperately like to have it again. I know this is a big trap…sex and intimacy are not one and the same thing. But I always wind up acting like they are the same. I always have it in my head that maybe my next sexual encounter will bring me love. It’s maddening.”

I smile knowingly and say; “I wish I had a nickel for every time I head a similar lament. We gay men, in the age of HIV/AIDS, have a unique set of sexual issues that need to be understood and addressed. Besides the obvious safer sex concerns, there are all the issues that arise with the death of a partner. Unresolved grief can and does cause sexual dysfunction. When a relationship ends with the death of a partner, the surviving partner has an array of new concerns. How and when does he begin to date again? If he is sexual with someone new, does this violate the memory of his deceased partner?

I frequently hear the same complaint. ‘I’m so lonely, but my grief is getting in the way of my having any kind of sexual feelings.’ As a therapist I try to help the surviving partner face these concerns as soon as possible. I often find myself saying; ‘Listen, I’m sure your lover wouldn’t want you to stop living. Choose life! It will be the best testament you could offer your deceased lover.’

It’s been my experience that if these concerns go unresolved for too long, the likelihood that they will develop into a full-blown dysfunction increases exponentially.”

I sense that I’ve hit a nerve in Kevin, but I push on.

“Kevin, you said you’re looking for a partner, but that you are only meeting men who are interested in sex. Searching for a life partner isn’t easy even under the best of circumstances. Looking for someone new after the death of a partner is even more difficult. There is always the tendency to compare the new love interest to the one who’s died, and that can be disastrous.

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On top of that, where does one go to meet a potential partner? One thing’s for sure, it’s not likely that you’ll find this person in a sex club or in a bar. I suggest that you look in a less seductive environment like a café or at the gym. An HIV support group might also be a good place to look. Or perhaps you could try a common interest club, like the ones they have for line dancing or playing bridge.”

Kevin thought for a moment and responded. “I’ve considered all those things and have tried them all too. But then I begin to think; what happens if I meet someone who is HIV negative? I don’t want to get attached to guy who might reject me just because of my HIV status. That’s why it’s less of a gamble if I keep the connection more casual. So you see, I’m in a double bind. I want the intimacy that comes from a long-term relationship, but I’m afraid of the rejection. Or, what if I infected him? That would be the worst. And, even though I’m doing okay now on the medications I’m taking, but what if I get sick later? I don’t want to put anyone through what I went through with Doug.”

“If ya focus on the fact that you could be rejected for your HIV status, or infect a partner, or get sick and die yourself you simply won’t be able to live each day to the fullest. And all the love you have to give will die on the vine, so to speak. Fear is ruling your life, not pleasure, and certainly not love.

So many of my friends with HIV consider themselves damaged goods. That’s no way to approach the rest of one’s life. I understand the stigma, but HIV is simply a chronic illness like any other. Nowadays it’s manageable and there’s very little to interrupt one’s quality of life. Do you honestly intend to live without the intimacy you need and desire and sabotage the very thing that will enrich your life, just because you’re afraid? Gosh, I hope not.”

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06/22/14

Man’s Best Friend To The End: Resting In Peace Beside Your Pet

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by Beverly Amsler

Mountain View Cemetery, a resting place in Vinton, Va.

Peanut, Bootsie, Choppie, Sassy Mae. They’re a collection of names engraved into the flat stones marking the graves of dogs and cats at Mountain View Cemetery, a resting place in Vinton, Va., run by Don Wilson.

“We see people coming to visit and pay their respects and remember their pets in this section just as we do in the rest of the cemetery,” Wilson says.

Across the country, there are cemeteries for people, and cemeteries for pets. But in the past few years, some states have passed laws allowing cemeteries to create sections where pets and humans can be buried next to each other. Virginia is about to become the latest state allowing cemeteries to designate sections where pets can be buried next to their beloved owners.

Pets have been buried at Mountain View for four years now, in a section separated from human plots by a row of short, green shrubs.

Starting in July, Wilson, who runs five cemeteries, will able to designate a separate section of land in them for humans who want to be buried beside their pets.

Tom Rakoczy and his wife moved from Ohio to Virginia so they could be buried in a plot next to their 11 dogs.

“For my wife and I — our dogs, they’re our family,” he says. “Loved ones could come with two legs or four legs. And our dogs, for the last 40 years of our marriage, have been our family. We have no human children.”

Virginia joins a growing number of states, including Pennsylvania and New York, where cemeteries are allowed to create special pet-human burial sections.

The law was spearheaded here by Kelly Farris who owns a funeral service in Abingdon, Va. A few years ago, he and his family set aside some land for a future “Garden of Loyalty.”

“I think that we’re just progressive and we thought of something with the help of our clients, basically. To me it was a commonsense thing to do,” Farris says.

He currently has a waiting list of 25 people. When the law goes into effect, he can start the burials. Pets will have to be in special caskets, he says.

“Just like for humans, they’re going to have to be in an outer burial container, because we got to maintain the appearance of the graves forever,” he says. “There are pet caskets; there’s companies out there that we use that have caskets designed for different sizes of [animals]. Primarily it’s cats and dogs that we’re working with.”

In Pennsylvania, cemeteries have had separate pet-human sections for the last eight years.petlawn8

Hillcrest Memorial Park, in western Pennsylvania, was the first to set up this type of cemetery, and owner Tom Flynn estimates that 80 people and pets have been buried in what he calls the “People and Pets Garden.” He says some of the pets buried here are waiting for their owners to join them. Some owners already buried here are waiting for their pets.

“People buy ahead of time so they can be buried with their pets. Some people even exchanged their lots in the cemetery for lots in the ‘People and Pets’ section. It’s over a hill; it’s probably the prettiest part of the cemetery,” Flynn says.

In Virginia, the new state law doesn’t require cemetery owners to set up a joint pet-human burial section. It merely allows them to.

Wilson of Mountain View Cemetery has no plans to create one; he doesn’t have enough land, he says. But, like most businesses, cemeteries are supply and demand.

Wilson says if there’s enough interest, he’ll reconsider.

Complete Article HERE!

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06/21/14

The ministry of burying the dead

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By Heidi Schlumpf

pallbearers When I heard that my friend Linh’s father had passed away, I knew I wanted to go to the funeral. Her father, who had fled Vietnam with his family during the war, had been especially kind and welcoming to our son, who was adopted from Vietnam. He had made us feel like family.

The funeral Mass was at his home parish, which was about an hour from my home. The pastor from that church, as well as from the parishes that are the base for Vietnamese Catholics in Chicago and from the local Divine Word Missionary community, concelebrated. There must have been almost a dozen of them. Parishioners from his parish and beyond were there too, as well as almost 100 family members, who wore traditional white headbands. The church was packed.

Since the liturgy was in Vietnamese, the only responses I could join in on were “Amen” and “Alleluia.” But the eulogy by the youngest son was in English and brought tears to my eyes. I was sad for my friend, for her widowed mother and for her children who had lost a grandpa.

At the end of the funeral, we were invited to the cemetery for the graveside service, to be followed by a luncheon. I assumed it was only for close relatives, but everyone else seemed to be going, so I got the “Funeral” sticker for my car and joined the procession.

At graveside, there were more prayers and songs — again in Vietnamese. Then the massive floral arrangements, which had been brought from the church, were dismantled, and the flowers distributed to people in the crowd.

The gravediggers were called to lower the casket into the ground. Next, they backed up a nearby crane and lowered a cement slab over the casket. We all waited patiently. Then we all threw our flowers into the casket-sized hole in the ground. While everyone stayed and chatted, visiting nearby graves, Linh’s 6-year-old daughter tossed every last flower into her grandfather’s grave.

What a powerful and moving example of “burying the dead.”

Burying the dead seems like the lonely stepchild of the corporal works of mercy. The others — feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, and visiting the sick and imprisoned — are embraced by Catholics committed to social justice, with entire ministries and even nonprofit organizations created to try to meet those needs.

But burying the dead? That ministry is usually left to priests, close friends and relatives, and the dedicated parishioners (often retired women) who sing at funerals or serve post-funeral luncheons in church basements.

Catholics of all ages — especially social-justice-minded ones — should remember that burying the dead is just as important as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. Being part of a proper burial not only maintains the deceased person’s human dignity and is a service to the survivors, it also benefits the church and broader culture by offering ritual and meaning when people need it most.

Although burial of human remains in the ground may have begun as an efficient way to dispose of decomposing bodies, it acquired ritualistic and religious significance early on. For Catholics, burial of the deceased is not only a sign of respect but connected to our belief in the resurrection of the body. Burial is still preferred to cremation, which is now allowed by the church, “unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (Canon 1176).

To be clear, I’m not just arguing for comforting the sorrowful — a related spiritual work of mercy — although certainly Catholics should consider spending time with widows or widowers, praying for those affected by the death of a family member, or perhaps volunteering at a hospice or hospital.

No, I mean actually attending wakes and funerals, including burial and graveside services. I know funerals are often held during business hours on weekdays, inconvenient for working people, but what could mean more to a family than their faith community accompanying their loved one to a final resting place?

The other six corporal works of mercy are taken directly from Matthew 25 (“Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters …”), the parable of God’s judgment. Burying the dead was added to make the list a spiritually significant seven. The admonition to bury the dead comes from the Old Testament Book of Tobit, whose namesake is exiled for his righteous work of burying the dead, especially criminals.

Like Tobit, we should help bury not only our own deceased friends and family members, but others as well. This could include attending funerals of those in our community whom we did not know well in life, or even assisting, financially or practically, organizations that help low-income folks with funeral expenses (which today run in the thousands of dollars).

In our death-avoidant culture, it’s understandable that attending funerals is something many prefer to avoid. But I can’t think of anything more merciful than helping to ritualize the end of a life. My friend’s Vietnamese community has it right. Complete Article HERE!

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06/20/14

WRITE YOUR OWN OBITUARY

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I have an interesting exercise for you.

I want you to write your own obituary. Just like you would want it to appear after your death. You can be as creative as you like.

Obituary

Try to remember that this is just an exercise, okay? A wise man once said that we are unable to manage what we cannot measure. And this is an opportunity for you to take measure of who and what you are. Give it some thought. As the saying goes: Things that are difficult for us will tell us more about ourselves than the things we do with ease.

Take some time over the next week or so to review examples of obituaries and death notices…they’re in all the newspapers and online. Now write your own obituary. You died today. What would you like to say about yourself and your death? Model it upon the ones you researched or be creative and design your own. Remember, this is just a snapshot of who you are at this moment. It would be interesting to compare this obituary with the one that you might write at the next year or when it is truly needed.

“Life doesn’t cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”
— George Bernard Shaw

Excerpts From World Class Obituaries:

Ronnie loved spur-of-the-moment trips in luxury cars to Vegas with his friends. We would also like to thank the people who issued his credit cards.

 

Allison studied cooking to prevent recurrences of memorable culinary disasters and fend off resulting “blond” jokes.

 

When you remember Brett, remember he was more than a great set of biceps; he was also an incredible set of pecs.

 

She is remembered for her endless capacity to love, her romantic ideals, her wit, her sense of humor, her homemaking and her ability to accessorize.

 

Jenette is probably shrieking from the other side now that her true age has been published.

 

Handsome and tailored to a fault, he somehow still managed to wear too much jewelry.

 

William, the proud owner of an outrageous giant poodle named Orbit, could often be found in his red pumps on Bernal Hill or high in the Sierras.

 

Here’s to short skirts, tall hairdos, seamed stockings, and bad attitudes!

 

He lived in San Francisco according to the Gospel of Mame and believed implicitly in the virtues of room service and frequent flyer miles.

 

Ron loved collecting ‘50’s memorabilia as well as dining out and drinking Merlot and driving his treasured 1961 Cadillac — sometimes unfortunately in that order!

 

She lived by the words of Alice Roosevelt: “If you haven’t anything nice to say about someone, come sit next to me.

 

Weary of reading obituaries noting someone’s courageous battle with death, Mike wanted it known that he died as a result of being stubborn, refusing to follow doctors’ orders and raising hell for more than six decades. He enjoyed booze, guns, cars, and younger women until the day he died. So many of his childhood friends that weren’t killed in Vietnam went on to become criminals, prostitutes and/or Democrats. He asks that you stop by and re-tell the stories he can no longer tell. As the Celebration will contain adult material we respectfully ask that no children under 18 attend.

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06/15/14

Break it to me gently

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A man who goes on vacation, leaving his house and the care of his beloved cat to a friend. Two days into the vacation the man calls home to see how things are going. His friend tells him his cat is dead. The guy is stunned, he’s devastated. He yells at his friend for being so insensitive.

“That’s not how you tell somebody about death. You break it to him gently over a couple of days. For example, when I called today you should’ve told me my cat is on the roof and that you can’t get her down. Then in a day or two you could tell me the cat is off the roof, but in the hospital, recovering from its fall from the roof. After a few more days, then you tell me my cat is dead. That’s how it’s done.”

The friend apologizes and hangs up the phone.

A couple of days later the guy on vacation calls his friend again. “So, how is everything going?” “Fine,” says his friend, “except your mother is on the roof.”

 

getting back up is living

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06/11/14

Hump Day Humor – 06/11/14

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Humor takes the sting away; it humanizes us; it helps us keep our perspective. Humor enriches us; it educates us; it brings us joy. Humor doesn’t dissolve the pain or make our life any less poignant, but it does help make things more bearable. That’s my philosophy, and I’m happy to share it with you on a weekly basis. I hope that if you enjoy what you see, you will take the opportunity to share it with others.

 

death in swiitzerland doesn't look good looks so natural modern life placebos

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