When My Neighbor Died.

We bought our dream house four years ago. This is not to brag but rather quite an accomplishment from our previous digs only a few years before. You see, in 2010, when my life imploded, we lived in, well, a house broken into different apartments. At one point, Homeland Security raided the house. At another point, the man in the apartment under ours died and no one discovered the body for a week. My husband got a staph infection. Our friend Shelby was the only friend that would come in and hang out. It was preferred that we meet other people at their place.

Then, as life does, our life came together beautifully and we found a 120+ year historic home with a zen garden (that required a lot of work to become a zen garden). I love this house.

When we moved in we were greeted by a gruff looking kind man. He brought over a case of Miller High Life, which to him, was an act of kindness similar to a pie. He welcomed us to the neighborhood. He was full of life, jokes, and adventure.

Then the dogs and the fence.

Our neighbor had a dog when we moved in. His name was Earl and when people say owners look like their dogs, they really nailed this relationship. I believe Earl was our neighbor’s spirit animal. Then Earl died. This was devastating.

A few months later, they rescued two new dogs. One, Lucy, a terrier type with a hook nose, made our dogs crazy. They would have destructive fights at the fence. I would end up in tears. We tried every different way to stop these fights. It was frustrating and I grew to hate those dogs. I would side eye Lucy when she’d sneak that hook nose through our front fence to say hello. Her bark, it was like razor blades.

Then, a few months ago, I came home for lunch and the police were parked outside our neighbor’s house. They wouldn’t tell me what was happening but I was not leaving until I found out. Eventually, a family member came out crying. I asked what was happening and she tearfully stated that our neighbor had died unexpectedly in his sleep. He was only 50 years old.

I shared this news with my husband. We coped by blaring Bob Seger on our turntable and attended the funeral. We learned at the funeral how close he was to his grandchildren. This answered the always puzzling question about why he wore a baby monitor on his belt.

His wife is moving this weekend. They close today. A new, younger couple, is moving in. They don’t have dogs but they want dogs. The fence will probably still be a problem.

But, now that I have the longview, the fence was never that big of a deal. I would love to look at that hook nosed dog and have fights at the fence if that meant we could still have our handy, kind, funny, neighbor.

During the frustrating fence wars, I forgot the one truth of life, it all goes away. The only truth is change and loss. Damn.

Love

One Year To Live.

“What would it be like if I could accept life–accept this moment–exactly as it is?”
Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

I try to do a daily meditation. Currently, I’m listening to a podcast by Tara Brach where she provides hour long talks and short meditations. If you’re interested in these kinds of things, I would strongly recommend giving her podcast a listen. It’s free and it’s incredible. Click here if you’re interested.

Last week, one of my meditations was titled What Matters Most. She used our mortality to help the listener bring into focus what matters most in our lives. I was a little surprised by what came to mind (which is why I meditate). She asked, if you had one year to live what would you do. She also asked, if you had one month, and then one day.

It was the one year question that brought about an unanticipated answer. Before this meditation, I talked about how I would return to Hawaii and live out my days in paradise. Or, I would travel the world. However, the answer that came up for me, was that I would go home.

For me, home is a relative term. My husband and I have created a wonderfully comfortable and safe home where we are now. I love that it is home to so many people in my life. I haven’t had a structure that represents a home where I grew up for 16 years. But, the answer that came up for me was that I would return to lake town where I grew up. If I had one year to live, I would buy a home on that lake and surround myself with the people I love.

In the end, what matters most to me is quite simple. I want to be near the people and animals I love, I want to be in a place that matters to me, and I want to be near water. It’s funny how that all works out.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – T. S. Eliot

You Are Survived By Me.

“Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.”
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

I woke this morning to a text that my dad’s roommate “Bob” died. (we’ll call him Bob because persons with disabilities have the right to privacy). It’s been said that Bob has never had a bad day. It’s true that Bob was one of my favorite people in all the world.

My dad lived with Bob for about ten years. I looked forward to every moment I spent with his sweet soul. He was one of my most kind and loving men I’ve ever known. To the best of my knowledge, he did not have family in the technical sense. He wasn’t visited much if ever by people outside the home. This makes me sad for all the people that did not get to know the love and kindness that Bob radiated.

Obituaries are often a list of life’s accomplishments, such as so and so graduated from here and did this with his life. I never understood how that captured a person’s life.

Bob’s accomplishments were that he lit up a room. He gave the best hugs. He never stopped smiling. He asked you how you were doing. He remembered what you told him. He made the best of a clearly challenging life. He loved peppermint patties and sour cream. He liked to take seconds at dinner. Bob was kind and loving to every person he ever interacted with. He had a contagious laugh. He was genuine and you could feel it. After all, he never had a bad day. He seemed to know the secret to contentment.

Bob is survived by a home filled with men who loved him. And, men that never understood how he could be “so damn happy” all the time. He is survived by home staff that loved him. He is survived by my husband and my brother. And, my sweet Bob, you are survived by me. My heart breaks knowing that I will not get to share time with you again.

I will never forget your sweet, kind, and loving soul. You were a gift to this world. I am better for having known you. Thank you.

Hey Bob, we’ll be seeing you then.

Love.

“Your skin,
Oh yeah your skin and bones,
Turn into
Something beautiful,
Do you know,
You know I love you so” – Yellow, Coldplay

Meet Joe Black.

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
Mark Twain

I tried an intervention this week and I wanted to share it with my lovelies on this beautiful snowy morning. But first, I will provide you with some context for the intervention. My life has been visited by much death. From an early age, I lost grandparents, aunts, and friends. In September of my senior year in high school, three young classmates died in just three weeks. This was followed by more untimely loss in years to come.

In fact, one funeral I attended was so traumatic that I swore off funerals for several years. It was just too much to see my peers lying in coffins. The Grim Reaper is never far from where I sit. I know all too well that each moment is borrowed and The Reaper could cash his check at anytime.

This was never more evident than when I worked in cancer care. For almost two years, I worked with patients living and dying with cancer. This was coupled with two traumatic losses in my personal life. In therapy we talk about once you know something it is really hard (if not impossible) to unknow it. I know that I will die. I know that every one I love will die. Interestingly, knowing this has not been a burden. Without a doubt, knowing this has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. Death keeps it all in perspective. 

There is a Buddhist proverb that asks, “Imagine a bird on your shoulder every morning asking you if today was your day to die, would you be okay with that?” I can’t remember a day in the recent past where that question has not come to me. Most days the response is: I think so.

The Grim Reaper Intervention.

Imagine that right now The Grim Reaper has arrived to take you to the other side. However, the Reaper is feeling generous today and he offers you a deal. If you can persuasively argue why you should get more time he will consider your argument. And, depending on your argument you may get a year or several more years. It better be a good argument.

For those of you with a faith system, I understand that Heaven doesn’t sound like a bad place to land but consider with me all that you have here on Earth that has yet to be said, done, and resolved. If you go now, you’re gone from the people and places you love. 

As you argue, he asks:

“But why haven’t you done that already?”

“Why aren’t those things important to you now?”

“If you love them why don’t they know it now?”

“How do I know that when I leave you won’t go back to the way things were?”

“But you waste so much time worrying about nothing, why should I give you more time to waste?”

Remember you are pleading for your life. 

How would you answer? Do you deserve more time?

So far, it has been an interesting intervention in practice. I strongly believe that a constant awareness of death forces us to live. It is always there whether or not you want to face it. I suppose because I have experienced so much loss I have worked through most of my fear of this. I encourage you to consider your own mortality. It is the most intimate relationship in life. 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. – Dylan Thomas

 

Love.

Cover image taken from: https://www.etsy.com/listing/205345446/sleeping-with-the-fishes-funny-lil-grim

We Need to Talk About Domestic Violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

I’ve heard people say it’s not domestic violence if he doesn’t hit me. Physical violence is emotional violence and emotional violence is physical violence.

I’m going to use the male pronoun throughout this post but this does not suggest that men are never victims of domestic violence.  Also, we are starting to understand the dynamics of domestic violence in same-sex relationships.

Although, I plan to talk more specifically about anger and violence in later posts. I think that for men and women fear, sadness, shame, and other feelings associated with vulnerability manifest in anger and violence. Culturally, we do a poor job of teaching children healthy ways to manage emotions and the results have been catastrophic. This is not an excuse for the behavior but context from which to understand.

Domestic violence is often misunderstood because it is so complicated. Often, the relationship dynamics don’t start with outright physical or emotional violence. Slowly, through emotional manipulation and guilt the people in the relationship become isolated. Also, the person that is abusive is not always a monster. In fact, he/she can have many amazing parts to their personality. This makes the situation extremely confusing for the victim because “He’s really sweet most of the time” or “He feels really bad when he hurts me” or “I know he loves me”

When someone hits you it isn’t just physical. When someone hits you it affects you emotionally in ways that can not be quantified. Your self-worth is demolished. Your sense of safety is destroyed. Your trust in yourself is shattered. This is all in addition to whatever physical pain you’re experiencing as a result of the act of physical violence.

This is when denial and making excuses is dangerous and possibly deadly. If you’ve ever said “He only hit me once and he didn’t mean it or it was an accident or he was drunk or I was acting badly” please get help now.

It will happen again and it will be worse. 

There is the shame spiral of stuckness: “how did I end up in this situation?” and “what do I do now” and “where can I go” and “I don’t have any money” and “what about my kids” and “if I leave he’ll kill me.”

If you feel like you can’t leave a situation because you’re scared of what he’ll do, you are in an abusive situation.

If someone calls you stupid, fat, bitch, worthless, whore, (or anything of that variation), you are in an abusive situation.

If your partner forces you to have sexual relations when you don’t consent, you are in an abusive situation.

If someone actively cuts you off from the people you love and/or makes you feel guilty when you connect with other people, you are in an abusive situation.

If someone is following you, calling you, or continues to solicit attention from you and you don’t want their attention and/or the attention makes you uncomfortable, you are in an abusive situation.

Even if your parter never hurts the children involved they are being affected in ways that researchers are only beginning to understand. Witnessing domestic violence is child abuse. 

If you have any concerns that you might be in an abusive situation, you might be in an abusive situation. You may not fit squarely into one of the above categories but if your gut says you are not safe YOU ARE NOT SAFE!

And you should get help right now. I mean, stop reading this blog post right now and call someone you love and tell them how you feel.

If you don’t have someone to call, this is a link to the National Domestic Violence 24/7 hotline.

Tell people what’s happening. Tell all of your safest friends and family. Go to a therapist immediately. Talk to your doctor. Put together a safety plan for getting out.

And, if your partner suggests to you that the situation is abusive and you make her feel guilty or bad for feeling that way, you are being abusive.

If someone asks you to stop calling them or texting them and you do it anyway, you are being abusive.

If someone is afraid to leave you because you have made threats as to what you will do, you are being abusive.

If you feel like you might be being abusive, this is not healthy for you and the best thing you can do is get help immediately. Call a therapist. Talk to your friends. Tell people you love and trust that something is wrong and you need help immediately.

A relationship should always feel safe and open. I will never own my partner and if he decided he did not want to be with me anymore it would break my heart and destroy me but I have to let him go because I don’t own him.

He is his own person, always.

Even if I desperately want him to stay he always has the freedom to leave.

I can not guilt him into staying. That is abuse. It is emotional manipulation. 

If you ever find yourself in a domestic violence situation please, I beg you, get help before something disastrous happens.

Please. Please. Please.

Love.

2

Image from: http://vcgcb.ca.gov/victims/dv2013kit.aspx

You Are Going To Die.

Bonnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, attempted to ascertain the most common regrets her patients had when they looked back on their lives. In her work she discovered that there were five regrets that came up most often for people in their last days. The original article and several interpretations of her work have been floating around for years and I know that I’ve shared them before.

Here is what she discovered are the top five regrets of the dying:

1.) I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself not the life others expected of me

2.) I wish I did not work so hard

3.) I wish I had the courage to express my feelings

4.) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

5.) I wish I had let myself be happier

Please take a moment and consider the items above.

I’m reminded of several other quotes by people facing their mortality or working with those facing mortality:

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”
Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

“What is the most appropriate thing to say to a friend who was about to die. He answered: tell your friend that in his death, a part of you dies and goes with him. Whenever he goes, you also go. He will not be alone.
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

“We run after values that, at death, become zero. At the end of your life, nobody asks you how many degrees you have, or how many mansions you built, or how many Rolls Royces you could afford. That’s what dying patients teach you.”
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special. – Jim Valvano (thanks Rik)

Let me highlight what is NOT on that list:

1.) I wish I had more stuff

2.) I wish I had newer things

3.) I wish I fewer people to love

4.) I wish I made more money and spent more time at work

5.) I wish I did what everyone told me to do without ever offering up an opinion on what might actually make me happy.

The truth is we are all going to die and we have no idea when that is going to happen. Maybe it’s morbid, maybe it’s because I have experienced a lot of loss in my life, or maybe it’s because I spent some of my own career working with death and dying, but knowing that death is imminent gives me the courage to try my best to live a life that I love with the people that I love.

“Once people’s days truly are numbered, their priorities do seem to shift. According to research done on socioemotional selectivity theory, older people are more present-oriented than younger people, and are more selective in who they spend time with, sticking mostly with family and old, close friends. Other studies have shown them to also be more forgiving, and to care more for others, and less about enhancing themselves.” – The Atlantic, Julie Beck, 2015

I think death forces into perspective a great appreciation for life. Frankly, I don’t think we talk about death or grief enough in this culture.

Okay, now pause and check your pulse and take a breath.

Both of those work out okay?

Good, that means you still have time.

Love.

regrets-of-dying

Image from: http://nhne-pulse.org/regrets-of-the-dying/