Who Will Wear My Dead Husband’s Clothes?

It took me a long time to find a new home for the belongings he left behind.

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My husband and I shared a narrow, shoebox-shaped closet in our home here, his clothes facing mine from double-hanging wardrobes mounted on the walls. After he died of pancreatic cancer on Nov. 1, 2017, a month after his diagnosis, I’d often wander into the closet to search for his smell on his shirts. My mother caught me one day sniffing his shirts and crying, and said, “You can’t keep doing this forever.”

“What should I do?” I asked.

“You need to find the right people to give his clothes to,” she replied.

I packed his shirts, slacks, shoes, belts and ties into the gunpowder-gray suitcases we’d bought for our trip through western Ireland years earlier. That same day, a Federal District Court judge in San Francisco ordered the Trump administration to keep on renewing the permits that gave young undocumented immigrants permission to temporarily live and work in the United States, as prescribed by the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

I noted the events in my journal in short, unemotional sentences: “Cleaned closet, packed Mike’s stuff away;” “Good news of the day: DACA still alive.”

I parked the suitcases in a corner of my garage, where they stayed for 16 months, gathering dust as the president made a mess out of the country’s already messy immigration system.

In these months, my daughter’s nanny, a naturalized citizen, lost her brother in Mexico, where he had been deported last year after living illegally for 26 years in Phoenix. (His wife and three children still live here.) The nanny said that he’d died of a broken heart.

Also in these months, accounts of Central Americans released from immigration detention and dumped at the Greyhound bus station in town began showing up in my news feeds, followed by reports about Central Americans lost in the punishing desert that straddles the Arizona-Mexico border, or about children falling ill and dying in overcrowded Border Patrol stations.

I had written articles of my own about the conditions inside these stations during my stint as Phoenix bureau chief for The Times. I’d also written a report in 2014 from inside a makeshift shelter that the Border Patrol had set up for migrant children in the border city of Nogales, Ariz. Then, as now, despair had led thousands of people to leave their home countries in search of what so many of us in America take for granted: the right to live without fear of being kidnapped, tortured, killed.

What I saw at that shelter stayed with me. The children sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder on the floor, in dirty clothes, under blankets that looked like sheets of aluminum foil. These memories, and the new crop of migrant stories on my news feeds, only added to the grief of losing my husband at the relatively young age of 44 — and to the anguish of raising our daughter alone and far away from my family, in a country that is legally my own but that has made it tough for me at times to feel that this is the country where I belong.

My husband was a proud American, the son of a nurse and a gas-meter reader born and bred in a blue-collar mill town in Central Massachusetts, where, like him, almost everyone was white. He was curious enough about the world to marry me, an immigrant from Brazil. When our daughter was born, he spoke proudly about the jumble of heritages coursing through her veins — Scots-Irish and French Canadian from his side, and indigenous, Portuguese and African from mine. I sometimes called her “a mutt.” He called her “the perfect American.”

He was an optimist and in the days right after Mr. Trump’s election, he kept his glass-half-full attitude, telling me that the unorthodox president-elect might be just what was needed to get things going in Washington. But that didn’t last long. I remember the glum expression on his face as he checked the new president’s Twitter feed while silently sipping his coffee. I urged him to find another morning routine, to check out of social media for a while.

He told me, “I wished Trump knew the immigrants we know, all these good, honest people.”

One morning this spring, I logged onto his email for only the second time since his death. I typed my name in the search field, watched the results populate the screen and scrolled through the messages, contemplating the simplicity of our life, the tenderness of his words, the intimacy we shared, all of it contained in subject lines: “cool summer camp ideas,” “add to nanny to-do list,” “miss you while you’re away.”

One such line caught my eye — “The toll it’s taken,” it read. The message, dated Nov. 16, 2016, was in the drafts folder. I clicked it open.

I haven’t been sleeping well since last Tuesday. I’m really upset about the election. Was in denial there for a few days and tried to put a good face on it. But I just need to express how angry, frightened and disgusted I am. You know me — I don’t like to emote — but I am really crushed by this. So deeply disappointed in my country and in many people that I know.
I’m sorry. I love you.

Just that week, I had received a text message from a friend, asking if I might be willing to volunteer as a Spanish-English interpreter when the next group of Central American migrants seeking asylum arrived at her church. The church is one of dozens to have banded together to offer a safety net of sorts for these migrants, giving them basic health checks, some toiletries and clothes, and making travel arrangements so that they can reunite with relatives already settled in the United States. I was on the fence about it, in part because I was afraid to face the migrants’ sadness.

I found the courage I needed in my husband’s unsent message to me.

By then, the migrants at the church had come and gone. But I knew that another group would be around soon.

The next day, I got a text from my friend: “It looks like 11 a.m. Please don’t tell anyone.”

I put the suitcases in my car and waited for instructions.

“When you get here, ask for me directly,” she wrote.

I drove south and west from my house. On the way, I listened to Bruce Springsteen’s “The River,” the album that my husband played for me on our first date. I cried. I talked to him.

I got off in a part of the city full of warehouses and big, empty lots. I walked into the church. Just as my mother suggested, I had found the right people to give his clothes to.

Complete Article HERE!

As her grandparents’ love was tested by dementia, a photographer focused on their bond

“When the nurses told Else that Poul could die soon, she stayed with him all the time at the nursing home, sleeping on a mattress next to his bed,” said Sofie Mathiassen, the recipient of this year’s Bob and Diane Fund grant.

By Olivier Laurent

Sofie Mathiassen’s grandparents — Poul and Else — always kept a journal, jotting down in a sentence or two — sometimes more — the small joys of each of their days together. Eight years ago, Poul was diagnosed with dementia and Parkinson’s disease, and, for the past four years, their granddaughter has been photographing their daily lives in Denmark, creating a record of Poul’s last moments on earth.

The work has won the Bob and Diane Fund grant, a cash prize dedicated to raising awareness through photography of the medical crisis around Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“I have always been very close with my grandparents and spent a lot of time with them throughout my childhood,” Mathiassen said. “So, when my grandfather began to get sicker I started photographing him. I wanted to keep him as I knew him, and I could see him fading away from me and from my grandmother and the rest of the family.”

Poul, 82, at the dinner table with his wife, Else.
Else, 83, at the dinner table with her husband, Poul.

Mathiassen’s photos show the bond between Poul and Else as one’s dementia becomes overwhelming and the other works to hold onto what’s slowly disappearing.

“Their story is just one example of what many families are going through,” Mathiassen said. “I hope that people see the love before they see the disease.”

“Photographing your family takes a certain risk and vulnerability,” said Getty Images photographer Chip Somodevilla, one of this year’s judges. “And Sofie has shared her world with us in an intimate and beautiful way. Denmark may have a sophisticated welfare system — but dementia still has the same impact.”

Mathiassen will receive $5,000 to publish her images in a photo book in 2020, said Gina Martin, the fund’s founder and executive director, said.

Poul and Else Mathiassen in their house in Skanderborg, Denmark.
Dinnertime at Poul’s nursing home.
A mural at Poul’s nursing home.
One week after Poul died, Else celebrated her 84th birthday. She lives alone in their house and plans to stay there.

Complete Article HERE!

Death Doesn’t Discriminate, So Why Are We Afraid of Living?

By Dielle Ochotorena

If you knew what day you would die, what would you do? Would you be more ambitious and try to do everything you didn’t get to do or wanted to do? Would we fall apart and die at the hands of ourselves? Would we say goodbye to our loved ones? Would you welcome death with open arms? Would you hold a funeral for yourself? Would you try to cheat death? Would you keep living life the same way until you died? Would you try to leave a legacy? To build something that will outlive you? But most importantly, would you live?

Yes, I know, we’re young, scrappy, and hungry and not throwing away our shots (I couldn’t resist these Hamilton references), so why would we even be thinking about death and legacies at this age, doing so you’d have to be obsessed with death or a goth. But here I am, an otherwise healthy twenty-one-year-old college senior talking about death and dying when most people would think, “well she hasn’t really lived yet so what does she know”. And they would be right, I know nothing about death and while I’ve had people in my life die, I don’t know really know how it feels to die. Because you don’t feel death and you don’t feel like you’re dying until you’re actually dying; you feel grief, sorrow, and despair and while that’s painful, that’s not dying. But it’s my job to provide a perspective into topics we don’t like to talk about and most often don’t even think about.

Our mortality is much closer than we think it would be, we can die tomorrow and never live to old age like the generations before us. Many things can kill us today and in the next decades. To put things into perspective, according to scientists that by the year 2050, human civilization would collapse if nothing is done about battling climate change. With rising world temperatures from carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, globally we would have more frequent and intense heatwaves, crop failures, more severe extreme weather storms like hurricanes, and massive plant and animal extinction with habitat destruction and pollution caused by rising sea levels and human destruction.

In the United States, unlike the rest of the world, life expectancy rates have dropped steadily since 2015 due to drug deaths and an increase in suicide rates. While yes, the Baby Boomer generation is getting older and they account for a significant number of deaths, it’s an increase in deaths by individuals between the ages of 24 to 44 that are the most pressing and made the most impact on the calculations of life expectancy. The 10 leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, and suicide. Suicide and unintentional injuries have seen an increase in numbers, both are highly preventable deaths. The leading causes of death for those aged 1-24 years are mainly caused by external causes, not chronic health conditions. Unintentional injuries accounted for 38% of all deaths, followed by 13% for homicides, and 12% for suicides.

I hate to be a downer by talking about death and the real plausible reasons we how might die. But it’s eye-opening, isn’t it? Our lifelong struggle to learn how to really live is being held hostage by two notions: our mortality and the sheer dread and denial we have towards it. Dying is easy, living is harder. I can’t offer you a plan on how to live but I can plant that seed in your mind of why you need to live. While yes you could die of the aforementioned things above and I’m sorry to scare you into thinking you might die sooner rather than later, but that’s my whole point: to scare you into living.

I think it’s safe to say that we’re all just temporary fixtures in the universe, here for a set time but not made for forever. I want us all to live, to stop worrying that it will be the end of the world if you fail that exam, the dread of not getting into that graduate school program, the anxiety of possibly not having a job after college, to stop playing it safe and go out and experience life because you don’t know when it ends or when your friends will no longer be by your side. Stop thinking about the future in terms of the goals you’ve set for yourself because that’s not what most people will remember of you and what you’ll remember of your life. You’re running out of time so stop waiting for it, for that future you aren’t even sure you’ll have.

Think about the fun stories you’ll never get to tell because you weren’t brave enough to go experience it, the many versions of yourself that you won’t become because you’ve played it safe with life, the many places you’ll never go to, and the people you’ll never meet who will make an impact in your life and maybe even fall in love with. So, go. Go take that class you want to take, apply for that job you’re not qualified for, take that spontaneous trip to New Orleans, get that tattoo, try those foods you were too scared to try, make some regrets and learn from them, and meet new people who will change your life forever. Go make some memories.

Complete Article HERE!

How Jewish Rituals Helped Me Mourn My Miscarriage

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I had a miscarriage this summer — and it broke me in more ways than I could have imagined. At my nine-week appointment, I discovered, to my complete surprise, that I was experiencing a “missed abortion” – a pregnancy loss in which I’d had no miscarriage symptoms whatsoever. Not only did I have to make medical decisions while in shock, but I also struggled intensely to make sense of what I was feeling emotionally and spiritually.

With help, I recognized that I was deep in the throes of grief. Jewish tradition provides an incredible structure for mourners to grieve the death of a loved one. Yet nothing is prescribed for my miscarriage grief. When grieving, it can be harder to make any decision, large or small. I craved a prescription for what to do; that might have left me with fewer heart-wrenching decisions.

Nonetheless, I found healing and comfort in adapting Jewish rituals and traditions.

In honor of October being Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, here are some of the lessons I learned:

  1. Jewish tradition teaches that we are not obligated to mourn a miscarriage or even the death of a baby who lives less than 30 days. In fact, we are taught that up through 40 days after conception (this would be just under 8 weeks pregnant in today’s terms, since counting begins at the woman’s last period, not at conception), the embryo is considered to be merely water (Yevamot 69b). This does not describe the emotional reality of many pregnant women or couples. Even in those early weeks, the connection to the embryo can be incredibly deep. And yet I recognize that mourning a miscarriage is not the same as mourning the death of a child or an adult. I didn’t lose a baby that I’d held. I didn’t even lose a fetus. I lost an embryo (the transition from embryo to fetus happens in the 11th week), but that embryo was supposed to make me a mother. That embryo was supposed to grow into a fetus. I would have delivered a baby, named and held my child. That embryo had a due date. I had a timeframe sketched out already for when I would start looking at daycare options.
  2. The specific grief of a miscarriage is different but still very real. In order to cope with my grief, I needed to mourn. The ancient rabbis likely believed that having a prescribed set of mourning rituals for a miscarriage may have been a burden, since families could experience multiple miscarriages.
    Today, too, families may experience one or more miscarriages. While miscarriage rates may or may not have changed since rabbinic times, many things have changed: birth control has led to less pregnancies; at-home pregnancy tests help women find out that they are pregnant much earlier than even several decades ago; because of ultrasound technology, pregnancies feel much more “real” when a future parent sees an embryo or a flickering heartbeat at a fairly early stage. All of this leads to pregnant people (and their partners, if applicable) who are more likely to experience grief when losing a pregnancy. The Perinatal Grief Scale was developed in 1988 to help clinicians diagnose and care for their patients’ grief. What if certain rituals of mourning were opportunities to grieve, instead of a potentially weighty obligation placed on the family? Michael I. Norton and Francesca Gino, faculty at Harvard Business School, conducted experiments to measure the impact of mourning rituals. They determined that rituals are incredibly effective in reducing grief because they allow mourners to regain a sense of control, at a time when it feels like they have lost any semblance of control of their world. For me, rituals like burial and mikveh also helped me find a sense of validity in my grief. I needed concrete physical acts that also stemmed from Jewish tradition to help me recognize that my loss was real and mattered, both in my own eyes, and perhaps more importantly, in the eyes of Jewish tradition.
  3. Rituals may be traditionally absent, but Jewish rituals, modified from other contexts, are emerging. Not everyone marks time and life cycle through Jewish liturgy and ritual, but I do. Each person will find what is meaningful for them in coping with a miscarriage. In the first few days, I felt compelled to have a way to externalize my pain. 

When an immediate relative dies, the mourner tears their clothes or wears a kriyah ribbon. I chose to let my nail polish chip away naturally over the coming weeks instead of taking it off my fingernails once it started to chip. I looked unkempt and that felt appropriate. People should know that something was awry. I whispered kaddish once while tears streamed down my face – it felt both rebellious and cathartic. I realized that I needed a burial of sorts, echoing how we address a loved one who has died. 

With the help of Sinai Memorial Chapel, I arranged to bury my embryo, unmarked, near newly planted trees in a cemetery. I chose not to be present for it, but it was comforting to know that it was returned to the earth. I also visited the site a few weeks later with a friend and buried a piece of paper on which I’d written my due date, and some other dates that would no longer be shared with this baby – I had envisioned a baby costume for this Purim, and had imagined that this Passover would be my first as a parent. None of this was halachically prescribed or encouraged but these acts helped me say goodbye.

 

Some new Jewish rituals for mourning a miscarriage suggest planting a sapling. But for me, this didn’t seem fitting. A sapling would grow into a larger plant, but my baby-that-should-have-been was never going to grow. While I yearned to one day be able to grow a different pregnancy, that wasn’t what I wanted out of this ritual. I needed a ritual that was solely about loss before I could begin to think about new life again.
  4. The cultural norm is to keep the pregnancy quiet through the first semester — but that’s not always helpful. Miscarriages are common, but it feels incredibly lonely.* The Jewish community has a superstitious relationship to the evil eye: if you tell others about your blessing (of pregnancy), the evil eye might overhear and change your luck. Soon after the first trimester, you start to show, and the secret is out, so the concern about the evil eye lessens a bit then. When I miscarried, only a small group of people knew about my pregnancy. How could my tight-knit Jewish community support me through this trauma when only a handful of people knew that I was pregnant? We have been trained to not publicly reveal pregnancies until we are past the first trimester, and yet that first trimester is when 75-80% of miscarriages occur. And they happen more than we realize. 20-30% of pregnancies end in a miscarriage, and the statistics only increase as women continue to have children into their late 30s, 40s, and beyond.   One the one hand, the more people you tell about your pregnancy, the more people you feel like you need to ‘un-tell’ should you, God forbid, miscarry. On the other hand, those people are the ones who can hold you – feed you, check in on you, and let you fall apart with them. 

When I did tell people who didn’t know that I had been pregnant, I had to tell them three secrets at once: (a) I decided to try to become a parent (b) I had been elated that I got pregnant (c) I am now crushed because I had a miscarriage and now I need you to be gentle with me. Sharing pregnancy news – whether about a new pregnancy or a pregnancy loss – is an incredibly vulnerable act. Don’t be too afraid of letting people know before you cross the first-trimester finish line, if those people would not only celebrate with you but also support you through your fears or even a loss. Let’s change the stigma around revealing a pregnancy while it is still uncertain. The uncertainty doesn’t go away entirely until you hold a baby in your arms.
  5. A miscarriage is related to, but not identical to, infertility. Trying to get pregnant again may feel intensely different than before. 
For weeks, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d done something to cause this, even though I was reassured again and again that running too much or taking a redeye or that sip of coffee would not cause me to miscarry. 
People told me that it was a good sign that I was able to get pregnant. While there might be medical truth to that, as much as I wanted reassurance that I would eventually, God willing, be able to carry a pregnancy to term, I need to mourn this particular loss – this particular baby-to-be that I carried and would never become a baby that I could hold in my arms. I went to the mikveh before I tried again, so that I could acknowledge that my body, which was supposed to create life, had in fact held a sort of death. I needed to immerse and wash that away in order to be ready for new life again.
  6. A miscarriage is not (always) the same as being sick. 
My mental and spiritual health were compromised, but thankfully, in my particular situation, I was never worried about my physical well-being. This may not be true for other women, but I did not want to benschgomel (a call-and-response moment during an aliyah to the Torah, often said when you survive a potentially life-threatening experience) both because of this gratitude for my health throughout and because I was not sure that I wanted to acknowledge my miscarriage quite so publicly. 

I associate gomel with surviving in the face of fear, but I had not been afraid. Instead, I had been devastatingly sad.
  7. When in shock and grief, decisions are exponentially harder. Prescribed rituals or other things to do or not to do can help you move through that. 
When an immediate family member dies, Jewish tradition prescribes very specific and concrete changes in order to grieve the life lost. 

I have been working on compiling resources for rabbinic colleagues to help their communities mourn miscarriages, perinatal losses, and neonatal deaths, but there isn’t a definitive set of do’s and don’ts. In the midst of what can be a deeply chaotic and heart-wrenching experience, rabbis can help by developing a concrete set of ways to mourn. Had I been steered toward taking several days to fully grieve in a way that parallels shiva, I believe that I would have healed more easily.

Grieving my pregnancy loss was incredibly challenging. And yet, a foundation in traditional Jewish mourning rituals eventually helped me find ways to adapt them that felt honest and appropriate for miscarriage. As I moved through each day, I also found myself experiencing deep, profound gratitude for the people in my life who showed up for me over and over again.

May we find ways to cushion the pain of pregnancy losses with community, ritual, and tradition.

Complete Article HERE!

End-of-life doulas and ‘death cafes’ are changing the conversation around dying

End-of-life doula Nathalie Bonafé leads a death cafe on the last Tuesday of every month at Koffee? in New Haven.

By Cara McDonough

The term “death doula,” which a lot of people use when describing Nathalie Bonafé, makes her job sound edgy. But the proper name for what Bonafé and her company A Gentler Parting do is “end-of-life doula.” And while the job does involve helping individuals and their caregivers face the existential mysteries of the great unknown, end-of-life doulas spend a lot of time facilitating the practical duties that surround the event.

These doulas — who, like birth doulas, are focused on ushering individuals from one phase of life to the next — aren’t as common as the hospice and palliative care workers we associate with end-of-life care. However, they hope their work, approaching death with compassion but also a pragmatic business sensibility, will become more mainstream.

In fact, Bonafé and her colleagues refer to what they do as “a movement.” In addition to their primary responsibilities, they also conduct free workshops, seminars and discussions known as “Death Cafes” to get people talking about death more often, making it a less taboo topic.

Bonafé, previously a molecular biologist, was trained at the New York City-based International Doulagivers Institute. While end-of-life doulas do not provide medical care, she and other doulas offer a wide range of services: Bonafé can help a client do anything from write a living will to downsize his or her home. After a client has passed, she can help create “legacy projects” and facilitates grief management. Rates vary greatly from client to client, she says (most end-of-life doulas seem to average several hundred dollars for typical services).

While the actual client might be the individual facing death, an end-of-life doula can prove invaluable to that person’s family, health care team and legal counsel, too, Bonafé says. The doula serves as an unaffiliated advocate during an “emotionally charged” period, she says, providing crucial support and planning.

Ingrid Harrison of Affordable Personal Services & Pet Care is a former veterinary technician and New Haven County-based end-of-life doula who specializes in keeping clients with their pets.

“I have seen firsthand with my clients, family members and friends that if there is no plan when you become debilitated or pass away, it can have a disastrous outcome,” she says. “Having an end-of-life doula makes for the peaceful passing that everyone deserves.”

As for the Death Cafes? Again, sounds edgy, although the concept is anything but. Bonafé holds them on the last Tuesday of every month at New Haven-based coffee shop Koffee?, describing the gathering in flyers as “a safe, respectful space where we can share our beliefs, curiosity, fears, and stories — and maybe gain a little insight into our mortality.”


End-of-life doula Nathalie Bonafe helps families and individuals deal with the death process, from grief management and emotional support to document organization.

There are usually about 10 participants at each meeting, of different ages and from diverse cultural backgrounds, ethnicities and religious beliefs, she says. One young man joined a recent group after he’d finished a date at the coffee shop because he had recently attended his first funeral and wanted to share thoughts.

People hear about the events through word of mouth, social media or the official Death Cafe website deathcafe.com, which includes events all over the world; there are over 8,800 Death Cafes held in 65 countries, according to the site.

“People leave the meetings with big smiles and a heart full of joy to have been able to share their stories,” Bonafé says. “As the moderator, I ensure that the space is a place of respect and lack of judgment.”

Dawn Whelan operates My Last Gift in Staffordville. Her services, in addition to many like those provided by fellow end-of-life doulas, also include destroying paperwork “not intended for public view” after a client has died.

She says that death is the “one thing we all have in common” and is honored to serve her clients and the community through her work and the free monthly webinar she’s created — DASH — allowing individuals to discuss death openly on a regular basis.

Whether at “cafes” or online, discussing death can help dissuade fearfulness, says Sharon McCullough, an end-of-life doula based in Southington. Her company, Sharon Cares, also offers free discussions on death at a local wellness center.

“People live as if they will recover from all diseases and incidents and are angered by anyone who even starts to talk about the idea that treatment is not curative. This leaves many families stricken with anger when a loved one dies,” she says. “As a doula, I am able to be a witness and support through the struggles of this very natural part of life.”

Dr. Kathleen Leinhardt, a physician who treated one of Bonafé’s clients, saw firsthand how the emotional and logistical support offered — providing food, music and companionship, while also helping organizing home health care and hospice services — changed her patient’s experience. “Nathalie truly took on the role of a surrogate daughter,” she says. “End-of-life doulas can be an invaluable help to those who lack family or whose family lives far away. More than that, though, they can serve as a guide to both patient and family through the emotional and logistical process of dying.”


Nathalie Bonafé shares what she’s learned as an end-of-life doula.

Everyone has a story.
When I spend time with people toward the end of their lives, I am always amazed by the stories they share with me: what/who really mattered to them, where they grew up, their relationships, places they called home, visited, loved, their daily activities, their passions, their beliefs. I find that many express their grace and humanity alongside their vulnerability.

Everyone wants validation.
People want to be seen, heard and understood. No matter what religion, beliefs, education, socio-economic status, mental or physical abilities people have, everyone I encounter is receptive to a smile, compliments or being listened to. People at the end of life want to be witnessed and remembered as the young and strong and able people they used to be. They also want to be remembered as loved, decent, loving human beings, without judgment.

People tend to die the same way they chose to live.
People have a lot more control over the way they die than one can imagine. For instance, a very private person will prefer to spend the very last instants alone or in the arms of a very trusted person; a person who was a natural caregiver will die making sure that the most sensitive/fragile people in their lives are sheltered from shock and pain. Likewise, those who understand the benefits of planning a little, and learn the notion of “letting go” during their lives, tend to find acceptance and inner peace more easily than most.

Listening is more powerful than speaking.
Compassion, understanding, forgiveness and love can be expressed very simply. Similar to the way a frightened child will find incredible comfort and reassurance in your open arms, people in grief, whether facing their own mortality or that of a loved one, want a safe, intimate space to shroud their pain and fears. Learning to build and offer such a space to others in need of such reassurance has been one of the most sacred, humbling and profound discoveries of my life.

It’s worth living to learn.
Life is hard. Every day, we get disappointed, we either feel hurt, or we hurt, we misunderstand, we get angry, we win sometimes, yet we fail a lot more often than we win. Still, we learn throughout it all. Think about it this way: since it is scientifically proven that novel experiences give us a rush of dopamine, the “feel good” neurotransmitter, we can turn the pain and changes in life into growth and love and more rushes of dopamine. Intense moments of joy and excitement are rare. Pay attention and enjoy them; they are precious.

Complete Article HERE!

We’re looking at death all wrong. Here’s why.

Can a shift in the way we treat death and dying improve our lives while we’re still here?

A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death

  • These days, for the most part, the concept of death is consumed by health care and medicine.
  • However, as humans we need to view death as more than just a medical event. It takes into account our psychology, spirituality, philosophy, social worlds, and personal lives.
  • This reconsideration should also apply to the way we treat people who are dying. Life is in the senses, not just our physical capabilities.

BJ Miller: Health care, medicine in our country is a giant, colossal thing. And it’s got a ton of momentum. And medicine has become– the domain of death is more or less ruled these days by health care. In times past, it’s been the church, or the family was the sort of center of all this.

These days, it’s mostly medicine. But what’s really important in all this is that we people, we humans, we patients, loved ones, we need to kind of take back the subject on some level– that dying is not just a medical event. It’s way bigger than that. It is all-encompassing. It’s where everything comes to account– our psychology, our philosophy, our spirituality, our social world, our intrapersonal lives– all of it. The medical piece is a little itty bitty piece. It just gets too much attention.

So I’ll just think about the emotions for a second. For one thing, to remind ourselves– for me, the difference between emotion and a thought is you can control your thoughts. You can’t really control your emotions. Emotions are much more slippery. They’re going to have their way with you. So you ignore them at your own peril.

That’s one thing to get across. But I also say that to let us off the hook. The way you’re feeling, on some level, isn’t your fault. And one of the things I see that happens a lot around this subject– again, we’ve talked about how one can be made to feel ashamed to be sick, ashamed to be dying, like we’re failing, somehow.

I want to make sure that we all understand, there are certain things that are way beyond our control. And that means– that may be hard to swallow, but it also means we’re off the hook. It’s not my fault, the way I feel. I shouldn’t have to hate myself or be embarrassed about it. So let’s set some ground rules.

And there’s this other layer that is particularly vexing, which is how others start treating you. And it’s very common, under the banner of sanctity or wanting to protect someone, to– I watch people, they stop telling jokes. Maybe they think it’s sort of sacrilegious to try to be funny around someone who’s sick. Or maybe they don’t talk about their own joys that they happen to have in their day while their colleague is meanwhile miserable with a fever or something. They don’t feel like they should talk about their own joys. Or I don’t know, whatever it is– pick anything.

But one of the things that ends up happening is we end up accidentally making life even harder for each other by keeping the truth of the situation at bay. All right? So these are the ways we die before we have to die. We die before we have to die because no one tells jokes to us anymore because they don’t think we’re going to want to laugh, or that sounds perverse.

Or maybe our partner stops the intimacy. Physical intimacy might dry up, or sexuality. The idea that a disabled person can be sexual, that’s still a novel concept. Just look at most exam rooms in a doctor’s office or in a hospital. Most of them are not even wheelchair-accessible.

My mother uses a wheelchair. They used to just assume she wasn’t having sex, so they wouldn’t offer her a pap smear.
And so one of the things you want to avoid if you plan for your death is you want to– ideally, we come to our death without piles and piles of regret. So when I’m working with patients, especially upstream of their death, I’m always encouraging them to feel things, enjoy the body they have while they have it, appreciate their body while they have it, because it’s someday going to go, and you’re going to miss it.

So touch is just profound. It’s elemental. It is, even if you think about, I think, the scourge of dementia, for example– and a lot of us are terrified of this eventuality. We’re going to lose our minds. Yeah. And it’s hard. And that is a very difficult prospect. And I’m also pretty convinced that there’s a life on the far side of our intellect.

And for me, that life is in the senses. As long as I can feel something, I’m interested in being alive. I’m even more interested in that than a thought.

Complete Article HERE!

A Personal Día de Los Muertos Journey

By Joseph Leahy

A transplant to Los Angeles since 1988, Joseph Leahy was familiar with mortality. His family was in the funerary business. His family often took him to the cemetery as a child. “I’ve spent a lot of time around death and dying,” Leahy said. It was only when he moved out West, however, that he discovered the traditions of Día de los Muertos and identified with it. His enthusiasm for the celebration was so much so that his altars were often lauded in the early years of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s annual celebrations. Today, he continues to honor its sanctity with a yearly ritual commemorating his loved ones through a personal altar made at home and with the help of his daughter. His appreciation for the sacred tradition has also influenced his work in the HIV positive/AIDS communities. Apart from his yearly personal altar, Leahy has also helped these communities celebrate the ones they’ve loved and lost through meaningful remembrance.