First Sex Ed. The Death Ed.

In Sunday’s New York Times (February 19, 2017) a wonderful article quietly graced the bottom halves of pages 6 and 7.

First, Sex Ed. Then Death Ed.

The title drew me immediately, and the contents didn’t disappoint. The author is a doctor who practices critical and palliative care in a California hospital, and she is drawing a parallel between two relatively taboo subjects. Sex and Death. We aren’t taught to discuss or even research sexual safety, alternatives, procedure, S.T.D.’s. That isn’t cool. And we assuredly are not taught to think about, never mind discuss, end-of-life wishes. That is morbid. We prefer to believe, beyond hope and reason, that we will not be the ones to ever die.

How ignorantly indulgent and self delusional can we remain?

“The sooner we start talking about how we die, the better.” Dr. Jessica Zitter writes. She means having conversations not only with her dying patients, often too late, but with high school teenagers. This allows students to explore the future deaths of relatives and/or friends, have discussions about death, loss, cancer, dementia, and see films about unrealistic rescues, respirators, and restraints.

After which they play a game called “Go Wish”.  Students are asked to identify their most important preferences and values. There are talks about strategies that can be used to communicate these preferences to health care teams or family.

How much longer will we remain illiterate? Should we care about another’s dying wishes or bother to learn how to communicate with them?

It is never easy to usher in conversation on topics that society would rather not discuss. Yet, without those uncomfortable and difficult conversations, how will we ever reach a time when death is treated consciously, humanely, and lovingly?

I, for one, open up the discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Depth and Honesty

Writing friends are different from regular friends, it doesn’t take the same amount of time to get to know one another because we share ourselves in serious, heart heavy stories. Even when we use humor.

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The Write

My writing life is close to a blank slate of late. This can be viewed in varying ways. Is it open, available, and receptive or is it simply nothing?

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It is both.

After giving myself a hard time about not writing often enough, I’ve concluded this is neither a good or bad situation, it simply is. And, for me, it is nothing new (although at times I long for those intense expressive days).

I’ve been this way since my early teens. I know there are popular philosophies stating that one must write daily, keep the muscle oiled and taut, which makes perfect sense, for someone else. Knowing ourselves is essential to understanding what will and will not work. We are not cookie cutters of one another and I wouldn’t want to be.

At differing points in my life I’ve journaled, wrote three sentences a day, blogged, composed a memoir, sent poems to loved ones. But momentarily, I am blank. Spurts of inspiration occasionally occur and a poem arrives. But that is the extent of it for now.

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And I am okay with that. When I have something to say, when it is fiery or painful or loud or insistent, I write. Until then, I’ll explore elsewhere.

Life is short, and we all deserve (even our own) kindness.

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Today

Today a nor’easter barrels into Connecticut with the force of a bully. The aftermath will deposit 10-18 inches of snowy white powder on every conceivable surface.

Today horrific highway conditions show tractor trailers jackknifed and cars stranded on streets and roadways. The danger is pervasive, there is nowhere to go, no errand that can be run.

Yet peering out the window is magnificent. It’s beautiful and peaceful.

The snow is magical for me. As a child growing up in Brooklyn, my cousin and I would climb atop ten foot mounds hoisted on sidewalks by Department of Sanitation trucks to clear the streets. Those snow-day treks were adventures in exploration and physical prowess ending in warm baths and hot chocolate. Later,  I learned to ski and then drive in those slippery conditions.

The woman versus nature theme was emboldening and humbling. Nature with her irrational and random powers to pull and harm and Wendy with her human frailties and mental capacities wanting to overcome what might stand in her way.

Today I have no such need or desire. I stay inside where it is warm, where it is safe. Where food will satisfy hunger, heat will satisfy warmth, and where walls and windows are protection from the elements.

Today, I am happy to be still and see the beauty from within.

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Forgiveness and Self Love

I’ve decided to forgive myself. I have generations of women I’m carrying along with me. That’s okay, they deserve forgiveness too.

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It’s been a long time coming as forgiveness – in my case – is also tied up with being in the present. Not forgiving myself had the unintended consequence of keeping me stuck in my past and in my mind’s future. This recurring predicament happened because I too easily slipped into those time slots as though they were current. In these time/space continuums, I’d allow a past or possible future issue to live in my present and alter my equilibrium.

This forgiveness, which has taken me so long to achieve, and which I know is more than a one time occurrence, I simply chose to grant myself. Today.

I want to spend my time in the present, the here and now. This lesson has piggybacked on the forgiveness lesson, both needing acknowledgment and acceptance to show themselves. I fought the idea of forgiveness partly because I didn’t know how to achieve it. I was in the past where I could not affect change, or in the future where I had no power.

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This is a lesson I have learned and forgotten more than once. I was acutely aware of time when my parents were terminally ill because being in the present was the only timing that mattered. The severity of the situation helped keep me there, it was more circumstantial than zen on my part. Still, I experienced it. Then life settled down, and back I went to old familiar ways of being.

On January 20th, I will be celebrating a five year anniversary with the man I plan to spend the rest of my life with.

When my mother told me shortly before her death that I should be with someone who has integrity, is generous, accepts my children, and treats me like a queen – I understood but that didn’t make it happen any sooner. It took another two years. Get thee not riled my feminist friends- being someone’s queen is not a bad thing, it’s glorious when offered authentically. It can signify devotion, love, and respect.

And most of us, men and women alike, deserve that.

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My mother, you may remember, was one of the first women other than nurses to join the US Army so her feminism and heroism and courage must not be misjudged. She was exceptional, political, difficult, honest and she loved me without reservation.

So for now, feeling content and protected in the moment is where I choose to remain. I’ll also work to stay conscious so as not to give myself a hard time when I realize I have not. I will meditate, gently make corrections, and continue along the road. Sometimes you have to take a breath, stay committed and open, and see what happens.

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The More I Know…

Today, still in pajamas by mid afternoon, with snowflakes thick as confetti streaming past my window, I sit down to write. I’ve had a mild stomach virus since yesterday, and have been reading Elie Wiesel’s memoir All Rivers Run to the Sea.

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History is fascinating, something my mother always told me and something I chose not to consider as a young woman because I found it boring and her annoying. Another example of youthful foolishness or perhaps just a time/space continuum it’s taken me decades to embrace and catch up on. A neophyte I remain and I will never stop missing her.

No matter who you are, or what you like, if you haven’t read any of Elie Wiesel’s work, as a member of the human race you owe it to yourself to do so. Not only is he erudite, and a resonant writer, he stands for global citizenship. He rears at injustice and suffering (and he’s had his share), chooses to learn, stick with his community, holds himself and others to a high standard, and fights for a better tomorrow.

Thoughts tumble, like the snow storm, making it hard to hold on to any of them. A gestalt of white swirling and descending, precipitation and gravity, a whirr of silent particles – beautiful and secret. The speed of descent is beyond my ability to decipher. I want more time, I often want more time.

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Snapping photos with my phone, I try to catch the flakes falling. Without a zoom I fail, even though the sky is expelling them with a vengeance. Accumulation on trees, roads and lawns is significant. A neighborhood washed clean.

An interesting aspect of history is how often specifics of human behavior are repeated (genocide, war, hatred, injustice). It remains a menacing problem and there is no simplistic or consistent answer – each point in time declaring details that deserve an independent evaluation, even when it looks like we recognize it. Variables are wide and many and staggering.

Reminds me that no matter how much I learn or think I know, there’s always room for more. And that makes me glad to be alive.

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Ties That Bind

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Finishing last week’s New York Times Magazine section (I know, it takes me way too long to read stuff and we aren’t even discussing the books!) I came upon an article on friendship. The author was discussing a friend he had in Ireland when he was a child, and how he hasn’t seen him in decades. He has no photo of his friend, doesn’t know if he’s alive, living on Mars, singing in a rock band. There was no social media to preserve their young faces.

During the holiday season in particular, but truly more often, I think about how loosely the word ‘friend’ is used. Has technology degraded the meaning of the word? “She has 4036 Facebook friends.” Really? You don’t know half of them. Friends that follow you on a screen but know little about your real life; like your favorite color, whether you like cats or dogs or both, what books you read, when your heart last broke. And if by some fluke one did have 4036 friends, how exhausting it would be to repeat your story that many times. Ugh – kill me now.

Acquaintances and followers are not friends, they are just names. Friendship has a depth, a richness, that cannot be rushed, or counted in Likes, it must be cultivated and that takes time. Instantaneous friendships are not friendships. They require no commitment, there is no loyalty. These ‘friends’ will not show up when you lose your job, your baby is sick, or your parent dies.

And we have no one but ourselves to blame. Friendship and its many iterations is a slice of life, for good friends-family members-spouses, it can be a big slice, with lots of layers and flavors. Andrew O’Hagan, the author of this article, states: “…it’s the art of friendship that warms you in the various winters of your discontent…”

Friendship is powerful, let us not dilute the concept with superficiality and distance.

When you are in trouble you don’t need 4000 people, you need a few good friends, who can make the difference the other 4000 can’t.

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