Hump Day Humor – 03/12/14

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.


closer, cleaner


heaven and hell


Seattle company makes art from ashes of the departed

By Lindsay Cohen

You can spend the afterlife anchoring a coral reef; give your loved ones a show as part of a fireworks display; even have your remains pressed into a vinyl record.

And now, a Seattle company will even take the ashes of a loved one – and create art.Artful Ashes1

“The memories will be there forever. That’s about all I can say,” said Kurt Murphy of Tacoma, who spent Monday morning watching the cremated remains of his daughter and father be swirled into glass hearts. “My daughter was a fireball and she was a ball of fire down there.”

The idea is the brainchild of Greg and Christina Dale, a Sammamish couple, who faced tough end-of-life questions a few years back when Greg’s father needed surgery. Greg’s dad survived – and so did the conversation.

“We just realized that everyone is looking for a way to hold onto the memories of their lost loved ones,” Greg Dale said. “The clients that buy these – it brings up the happy thoughts and the happy times.”

Together, the couple created Artful Ashes, which will create a glass heart or orb in a variety of colors and incorporate the remains of a loved one. Customers can go in person to see the object being created by a team of glassblowers in a Fremont studio.

Artful Ashes2Each object takes about six minutes to build. Artists use long steel rods to mold the glass, and then press each object into a tablespoon of the remains of a loved one. The contents are then spun together, creating a swirl of different colors.

Murphy was at the company’s studio Monday, which would’ve been his daughter’s 42nd birthday, watching artists mold several hearts for his family. His daughter, Tami, died in January after a long battle with brain cancer. His father passed away one hour earlier.

“The two of them together were just a huge part of my life,” said Murphy’s sister, Sharon Storbo. “We believe dad went ahead of (Kurt’s daughter) to show her the way to heaven.”

The Dales said they can create up to 100 hearts and orbs each day, and typically are in the studio twice a month. Orders require at least one week’s advance notice.

Teacher Crystal Flint of Seattle chose two hearts for her grandparents, who died within about a week of one another. Flint often brings the heart she made for her grandfather to work, because he was a huge supporter of education. She brought the heart made for her grandmother, Linda, to the Super Bowl, fulfilling a longtime dream for a lifelong Seahawks fan.

The back is stamped with a raised ’12’ – for the ultimate 12th Fan.

“I think the Seahawks may have been the most important thing in her life. (I was) second,” Flint joked. “The first couple of days (before the Super Bowl), I took her all around New York and saw all the sights. Luckily all went well, and she got in (to the game), no problem.”

Each object costs $185. Artful Ashes recently expanded to offer a similar service for pets called Rainbow Bridge Hearts.

“We created something in the symbol of love that would feel like a hug in their hands,” Christina said. “They see all the love that they feel in their heart.”

Complete Article HERE!

Aid In Dying, Part 1

“I asked my audience to keep that in mind that it’s this social dimension of the dying process that gives us the best context for understanding this delicate issue. I suggested that if we kept our discussion as open-ended as possible we wouldn’t be tempted to reduce the whole affair to the single issue of assisted suicide, because that does nothing but polarize the debate.”

There was a wonderful front-page article in the February 2, 2014 edition of the New York Times titled: ‘Aid in Dying’ Movement Takes Hold in Some States. The most astonishing about the article was that, not too long ago, this sort of even-handed presentation in “the paper of record” would have been unthinkable. I’m so glad this is changing. Because, despite where you stand on the issue, no one benefits from tamping down the discussion.AidinDyingphoto_medium

I talk about assisted dying frequently. Despite being the hot button issue it is, there’s a remarkable amount of common ground amongst the varying positions if one looks for it.

I was conducting a workshop on this very topic recently and before I could really get started, a man stood up and declared: “I need to say upfront that I am diametrically opposed to assisted suicide of any kind, including physician assistance. There’s just too much room for abuse. I can’t help but think about how things would be if we started eliminating the people we think are no longer productive. You could be sure that old and disabled people would be the first to get the ax. I’m afraid the tide of this culture’s prejudice against age and infirmity would overwhelm them. It is such a slippery slope that I don’t think we ought to venture out onto it.”

Not five minutes into the workshop and I already knew it was gonna be a bumpy ride. I asked the fellow for his indulgence and asked him to allow me to continue.

death midwifeI began by saying: “It’s my experience that very few people prefer to die alone. Most dying people express a desire to have company in their dying days. And given the option, most everyone would prefer the company of friends and family to that of strangers. Very few of us have the personal strength to walk this unfamiliar territory alone. We’re social beings, after all, and there’s nothing about dying that changes that.”

I asked my audience to keep in mind that it’s this social dimension of the dying process that gives us the best context for understanding this delicate issue. I suggested that if we kept our discussion as open-ended as possible we wouldn’t be tempted to reduce the whole affair to the single issue of assisted suicide, because that does nothing but polarize the debate.

I turned to address the man who stood up at the beginning of the workshop. “I thought it curious, sir, that you took the time to assert that you are opposed to assisted suicide of any kind, including physician assisted suicide. Is that all you thought we were going talk about?”

“Well, yes, that’s exactly what I thought. Isn’t that what assisted dying means?”

“Not the way I understand it.” I said. “It’s true, acting to hasten death in the final stages of a terminal illness falls under the general heading of assisted dying, but I don’t think it defines the concept. In fact, I believe that reducing the concept of assisted dying to a single issue would be a mistake for two reasons. First and foremost, it discounts all the other more common modes of assistance regularly being given to dying people across the board. And second, this more extraordinary form of assistance is relatively uncommon. So you can see why I’m so adamant about keeping the discussion inclusive and open ended. It just wouldn’t be balanced otherwise. I believe that the issue of proactive dying can become sensationalized, distorted, and even freakish if this option is not presented as an integral part of the entire spectrum of end of life care.”assisted_dying

I think a good metaphor for what I was talking about is the midwife. Like a birth midwife, a death midwife assists and attends in a myriad of ways. A midwife is the one who is most present and available to the dying person, the one who listens, comforts, and consoles. But a midwife may also bring an array of other basic skills, like expertise in the care of the body such as bathing, waste control, adjusting the person’s position in bed, changing bedclothes, mopping the person’s brow, or keeping the person’s eyes and mouth lubricated. A midwife may also be proficient in holistic pain management and comfort care such as massage, breath work, visualization, aromatherapy, relaxation, and meditation.

A midwife may take responsibility for maintaining a tranquil and pleasing dying environment. Often this means arranging the person’s home or room, not only in terms of the practical considerations, but also in terms of the aesthetic as well. This may include arranging flowers and art, reading aloud or playing music softly. A death midwife, like a birth midwife takes the lead role in the caring for and comforting the one who is dying. Without this kind of compassionate presence, few people would have the opportunity to achieve a good death.

Another guy spoke up: “That’s all fine and good, but I was hoping that we were going to talk about, you know, the more proactive aspects of assisted dying. I mean, I know I’m gonna want help in bringing my life to a close when the time comes and no amount of breathing exercises and adjusting pillows is gonna cut it. Am I making myself clear?”

“I understand what you are saying. You want some practical advice on how to end your life if the need arises.” I responded. “I can assure you that we well get to that. I just wanted to make sure that we all appreciate the context of our discussion.”

physician aid in dyingAn elder woman in the first row raised her hand. “I’m glad that you’re taking the time to help us frame the debate in this way because I’m confused. I have the same reservations as the first gentleman who spoke, but now I’m not sure my concerns are warranted. Maybe I need more time to figure out what it is we’re talking about when you say, ‘proactive dying.’ Is it euthanasia, assisted suicide, self-deliverance, what? And why so many different terms?”

“You make a very good point, ma’am. Unfortunately, there is no agreement, even among experts, about a common vocabulary for this debate. And thus the public discourse often generates a whole lot more heat than light. And the topic of proactive dying will continue to be a hot-button issue until we can come to a consensus about the parameters of the debate, and that seems like a long way off.”

I went on to say that I have trouble with most all the terms commonly used in the debate. I consider euthanasia is much too technical. Curious enough, at one time this word meant an easy, good death. Now, unfortunately, it is defined as mercy killing, a classic example of how language can be corrupted.

I also try to avoid using the term “assisted suicide” when I talk about someone hastening his or her death in the final stages of a terminal illness. The word suicide is inappropriate in this instance, because suicide usually denotes a desperate cry for help, which is rarely if ever the case for those facing the imminent end of life.falling leaf

Finally, I don’t much like the term self-deliverance either. It’s just one of those vague, contemporary euphemisms that does nothing to clear the air. In fact, when polled, most people haven’t a clue what self-deliverance means. I prefer the simpler, more straightforward terms ‘proactive dying’ or ‘aid in dying.’

Another woman spoke up: “I’m having a hard time with this too. I mean, it’s all so confusing and there are so many subtleties to consider. I guess I’d have to say that I’m not particularly comfortable with the notion of assisted suicide or, as you call it, aid in dying. But I wonder if I’d feel differently if I were in unbearable pain. And taking someone off life support; isn’t that technically assisted dying? Where do we draw the line between what is acceptable and what isn’t? And who is going to make that determination?”

I responded: “The simple answer is that doctors and lawyers are generally the ones who make the call. That is unless individuals are granted the right to choose. But even then, medical and legal concerns can and do trump a person’s wishes.”

(We will take up this topic again next time. I’ll discuss how best to approach one’s physician about aid in dying among other things.)

Cemetery Art – 03/07/14

The task of interpreting the symbols on a headstone or memorial is a daunting one. Although most of the symbols that you will see DO have a textbook meaning, it is quite possible that the headstone or memorial you are looking at was put there simply because someone liked the look of it. Therefore, it will have no meaning beyond the taste of the deceased or those left behind to morn. The point is that many people choose a memorial motif not for its textbook meaning, but simply because they like the ornamentation or design, because it feels “right” or appropriate.

Sherwin B. Nuland, ‘How We Die’ Author, Dies at 83


Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland, a surgeon and author who drew on more than 35 years in medicine and a childhood buffeted by illness in writing “How We Die,” an award-winning book that sought to dispel the notion of death with dignity and fueled a national conversation about end-of-life decisions, died on Monday at his home in Hamden, Conn. He was 83.

The cause was prostate cancer, his daughter Amelia Nuland said.Sherwin Nuland

To Dr. Nuland, death was messy and frequently humiliating, and he believed that seeking the good death was pointless and an exercise in self-deception. He maintained that only an uncommon few, through a lucky confluence of circumstances, reached life’s end before the destructiveness of dying eroded their humanity.

“I have not seen much dignity in the process by which we die,” he wrote. “The quest to achieve true dignity fails when our bodies fail.”

In “How We Die, ” published in 1994, Dr. Nuland described in frank detail the processes by which life succumbs to violence, disease or old age. Arriving amid an intense moral and legal debate over physician-assisted suicide — perhaps the ultimate manifestation of the concept of a dignified death — the book tapped into a deep national desire to understand the nature of dying, which, as Dr. Nuland observed, increasingly took place behind the walls of the modern hospital. It won a National Book Award.

Dr. Nuland wrote that his intention was to demythologize death, making it more familiar and therefore less frightening, so that the dying might approach decisions regarding their care with greater knowledge and more reasonable expectations. The issue has only intensified since the book was published, and has been discussed and debated in the medical world, on campuses, in the news media and among politicians and government officials engaged in health care policy.

“The final disease that nature inflicts on us will determine the atmosphere in which we take our leave of life,” he wrote, “but our own choices should be allowed, insofar as possible, to be the decisive factor in the manner of our going.”

Beyond its descriptions of ruptured embolisms, spreading metastases and bodily functions run amok, “How We Die” was a criticism of a medical profession that saw death as an enemy to be engaged, frequently beyond the point of futility.

In chiding physicians, Dr. Nuland pointed the finger at himself, confessing that on more than one occasion he persuaded dying patients to accept aggressive treatments that intensified their suffering and robbed them of an easier death. One of those patients was his brother, Harvey, an accountant who died of colon cancer in 1990 after receiving an experimental treatment with no reasonable chance of success.

Looking back on that episode, Dr. Nuland wrote that he had mistakenly tried to give his brother hope, failing to acknowledge that disease, not death, was the true nemesis.

He was born Shepsel Ber Nudelman on Dec. 8, 1930, in the Bronx, the son of Orthodox Jews who had emigrated from Russia. (He adopted the first and middle names Sherwin Bernard when he went to kindergarten.) His childhood was spent in a tiny South Bronx apartment with his parents, his older brother, his maternal grandmother and a maiden aunt, in an atmosphere permeated with sickness and death.

A brother died before Dr. Nuland was born, and at age 3, he was hospitalized for diphtheria. His mother, the emotional center of his family, died of colon cancer when he was 11. In his memoir, “Lost in America” (2003), he recalled with striking vividness the bad smells and bloody pads that came from his mother’s room.

Dr. Nuland’s adolescent years were dominated by his father, Meyer Nudelman, a garment worker who was incapacitated by chronic illness, physical infirmities and his resistance to a new way of life. He terrified the family with his explosive rages, never learned to read or write English — Yiddish was the predominant language at home — and could not walk more than a short distance without his son’s help.

Dr. Nuland regarded him with fear and shame, emotions that would take a deep psychological toll later in his life.

While still in high school, Dr. Nuland and his older brother changed their names from Nudelman, separating themselves from a weak, angry man who, Dr. Nuland wrote, represented “everything I so desperately wanted to be rid of.” They chose a name first adopted by a cousin, Willie Nuland, a physician who looked after the boys’ parents when they were ill, and whose compassion and competence pointed Dr. Nuland toward his career.

Dr. Nuland received his bachelor’s degree from New York University in 1951 and went on to study medicine at Yale, attracted by its distance — geographically and culturally — from the old-world Jewishness in which he grew up. Reading about spinal cord diseases as a medical student, Dr. Nuland discovered that his father’s crippling illness was tertiary, or chronic, syphilis. Dr. Nuland felt anger, and then pity. “I now had some perception of the tragedy of his life,” he wrote in his memoir.

Dr. Nuland received his medical degree from Yale in 1955. Electing to specialize in surgery, he set his sights on becoming chief surgical resident at Yale-New Haven Hospital, entering a Darwinian competition for a position seldom occupied by Jews. In 1958, Dr. Nuland won the coveted appointment. Four days later, his father died of complications of syphilis. Mr. Nudelman never knew the source of what led to his father’s death.

“I think that one time, before he was married, Meyer Nudelman was very unlucky,” Dr. Nuland said in a 2003 interview with The New York Times.

Mr. Nudelman’s death fulfilled Dr. Nuland’s wish to escape his father, but instead of liberation, he felt intense guilt and shame. Plagued by feelings of unworthiness, he felt himself becoming his father, assuming Mr. Nudelman’s hunched shoulders and shuffling gait.

By his early 40s, his depression had become so severe that he was institutionalized for more than a year. Senior psychiatrists recommended a lobotomy, but they were overruled by the young resident psychiatrist who had been assigned to his case, who insisted on electroshock therapy. By early 1974, it was clear that the treatment had been a success, and as Dr. Nuland recovered, according to his memoir, he started to make peace with his father and, perhaps, himself.

Dr. Nuland’s first marriage ended in divorce. In 1977, he married Sarah Peterson, an actress and director. Besides his wife, survivors include two children from his first marriage, Victoria Jane Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and Andrew; two children from his second marriage, Amelia and William; and four grandchildren.

From 1962 until 1991, he was a clinical professor of surgery at Yale, where he also taught bioethics and medical history. He was a surgeon at Yale-New Haven from 1962 to 1992, when he retired to write full time.

Dr. Nuland’s books include “Doctors: The Biography of Medicine” (1988), “The Wisdom of the Body” (1997), “The Doctors’ Plague” (2003) and “The Uncertain Art” (2008). He was a contributing editor to The American Scholar and The New Republic.

“How We Die,” which won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1994 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction in 1995, has sold more than 500,000 copies worldwide. In its concluding chapter, Dr. Nuland confessed that he, like many of his readers, desired a death without suffering “surrounded by the people and the things I love,” though he hastened to add that his odds were slim. This brought him to a final question.

“And so, if the classic image of dying with dignity must be modified or even discarded,” he wrote, “what is to be salvaged of our hope for the final memories we leave to those who love us? The dignity we seek in dying must be found in the dignity with which we have lived our lives.”

Complete Article HERE!

Meditation – Contemplating The Crumbling

Contemplating The Crumbling

I am contemplating the crumbling that comes into every life, the kind of falling apart that softens all our edges, even the sharp forbidding angles we think will keep us safe. The kind of disintegration that has to happen if something new is to take root.

Sometimes it happens quickly- a blow to the solar plexus that leaves us breathless and on our knees.abandoned farmhouse

Sometimes it happens slowly, like erosion. We don’t notice until one day we find our house sliding down the muddy cliff and into the sea.

We name our contribution to the process, self-sabotage. But what if it’s the way the Sacred Wholeness within and around us softens our weathered crust to give us a glimpse of our tender and unadorned centre.

So we might remember why we are here.

Maybe we could be a little less adamant about holding it together, about deadlines and to-do lists, about doing our mantras and mudras and meditations. Maybe we could learn to trust the crumbling when it comes, allow ourselves to fall apart so we do not have to induce disintegration with self-neglect and ambivalent lovers.

I am contemplating the crumbling that comes into every life, the kind of falling apart that happens when the ice thaws and the rivers flow and new life emerges.

Oriah House (c) 2014

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