Monthly Archives: November 2012

why i’m unusually comfortable with death….

Last night, I turned on PBS and caught a show about the suicide assistance program, Final Exit Network.  I wasn’t really looking for a program to get interested in yet I found myself oddly attracted to the high emotion of this episode giving options to end one’s life with dignity.  In a nutshell, Final Exit Network provides support and guidance to candidates looking to end their life because of extreme circumstances of intolerable illness.  They have been lauded as compassionate by scholars in ethics and heretics by religious groups and physicians who oppose an individual’s right to choice to the timing and implementation of a dignified death.  As I’m watching this, I clearly see both sides.  There are many issues at play here and it is a complex subject that few even wish to visit.  Those special individuals who are willing to extend their compassion to a person who asks to die, are clearly in touch with the sensitive and personal issues involved as to why someone would seek out the means to end their life.

I got it immediately.

Their stories spoke directly to my heart.

Until one directly deals with madness and horror of pain; emotional~physical~spiritual~relentless~daily~mind bending pain that isn’t relieved even though one has exhausted their finances, resources and partners.  Because until a person deals with this pain on a day to day, minute by minute way of crawling through life, I realize that the “unaffected” won’t get it.  And that’s fine, because the “unaffected” are living productive lives with good enough health to not feel the burden that the “totally affected” person does.  It isn’t a place that one visits until they have to and once they have to, one doesn’t waiver as much.

I recently had an “episode” brought on my the perfect storm of triggers.  It put me in a place that most would call mental illness.  Since I don’t thoroughly subscribe to that label, I did something entirely different this time upon the suggestion of my friend Heather.  I surrendered to the madwoman.  Blindly, I charged into this event with a headstrong, full of steam and hope approach, calling in all the divine helpers I could find.  Basically, I told it that I was in control and taking over from here.  I told it to FUCK OFF and walked straight into the madness.

Now here’s the really interesting part.  In this swirling anxiety ridden mania that I felt, a story emerged.  I actually took the wheel of this runaway train and channelled it into something productive.  And for the first time, I think I’m really onto to something here.  The outcome was a story I’ve known my entire life and one that I lived and almost died through.  But this time, I was my mother.  I became her, feeling her feelings and seeing the exact places that she was.  I have some thoughts and explanations for this but that is an entirely different post.

There was a time when I censored myself heavily regarding these mystical occurrences but not any more.  They are simply part of me. I now let them flow and even have the nerve to write about them.  A force greater than I is wanting to come through, a story is begging to be told.  Once I rode through the mania and channelled the story, a peace ensued and I share that story with you now. And finally, I’ve come to understand that embracing the dark doesn’t mean succumbing to it.

Her heart leaps from her chest when the kitchen phone rings harshly, shattering the silence of her usual household day.  She must have drifted off to sleep when she sat down to rest for a moment and wait for the coffee pot to finish percolating.  Her day is usually peacefully quiet, save the occasional phone call from a neighbor friend or the dog barking to announce a truck passing by the road out front.  She blinks and tries to steady herself as she waits for her pulse to resume its normal beat, shaking off the images of the place she just visited while asleep in her mother’s sturdy rocking chair.
The phone has stopped ringing now but she knows it was Doris.  Doris is the only person that will let the phone ring for at least 15 times full well knowing that any respectable farm woman would have to put down her dust rag or put down the pan of beans she was shelling before making her way inside to the kitchen.  
She’s fully awake now and glad that there is some hot coffee waiting for her.  She yanks the plug from the wall and lets the percolator relieve itself with a puff of steam.  Damn coffee pot.  How many years is this damn thing going to go on, she’s had it since her wedding which was a full 25 years before and would certainly love to get one of the modern ones that she’d spied in the Sears Roebuck catalog.  She adds a jigger of milk and a spoonful of sugar, stops a moment and dumps another one in.  Its that kind of day that she feels she needs extra sugar.  She goes to the porch and lets the screen door slam behind her.  Today she doesn’t care. Usually when the kids are home, she painstakingly makes sure it doesn’t slam because she knows that she can’t fuss at them without setting a good example.  That’s just the kind of woman that Louise is.  
Her coffee is steamy and sweet, just the way she likes it.  There isn’t a care about the excess sugar intake or the mid morning nap.  There is no never mind about the future, what her kids will do this summer soon as school lets out or whether she’s staked the tomatoes good enough.  All she can think about is tomorrow.
~~~~
The doctor said it was a uterine mass.  It would need to come out and soon.  
His words played over and over in her head.  She wonders if she should have asked more questions in the doctor’s office or if there was more to what he was telling her.  All she can see is the bulbous man coming into the exam room after she’d finished getting dressed and put together.  He sat down with a harumpf, fished in his shirt pocket for his Lucky Strikes, put one between his lips and lit it.  She sat there proper in her good dress, legs together, nylon hose sticking to her and the garters making an impression in the back of her thigh that would last for hours.  
Good god, would that man at least turn the window fan on.  She doesn’t object to the smoke because she’s a closet smoker herself.  Plus everyone she knows smokes; young, old, pregnant or not.  Its a breeze she’s aching for because she knows herself well enough to know that she gets woozy in the high humidity and she’s barely holding it together anyway.  He grunts when he reaches forward and clicks the fan on, letting the steel blades start their acceleration.  Finally the breeze reaches her and she feels like she can finally stop holding her breath, that she isn’t going to fall out in a dead faint.  
“Mrs. Hauner, can you get in here next Monday for an operation?  You have a uterine mass that I felt during the exam that we need to get out.  This is why you haven’t had your monthly cycle”.  He stops for a moment to take a drag from his cigarette while he glances at his clipboard and some notes he’d written outside.  He shakes his head and says, “Nope, pretty sure this isn’t menopause, just the mass that is messing things up.  We’ll know more after the operation”.
With that he stood up, paused briefly as if to see if she wanted to ask anything or have a reaction.  When she didn’t, he continued to tell her that the nurse would be in to make
the arrangements.
~~~~
From her porch seat, the conversation didn’t seem very eventful.  When she replayed it over in her head, she liked to reassure herself that the doctor didn’t seem upset, therefore, she shouldn’t be either.  He’s done this kind of operation many times before and from the appearance of the new hospital at the edge of town, it would seem that they had things under control.  But why then, has she been in a cold sweat since the words were delivered to her that morning?  Was she reading something into it like her husband had told her that night when she gave him the news?  No matter how many times, she replayed the words, there was a cold, eerie feeling that crept up the back of her neck and grabbed her around the throat.
She finished her coffee and stood up to go back into the house.  For a moment, she paused to look, as she always did, at the front yard flowers that she so lovingly planted this spring.  They look good.  Her gardens always looked good.  
Plopping the coffee cup down on the kitchen table, she continued on to the back of the house to her bedroom.  She admired her freshly smoothed bedspread, put into place hours before at the crack of dawn.  The breeze was blowing nicely in through the back bedroom windows and she wondered how long she could leave the windows open before the humidity made it impossible.  
Louise slowly opened the door to the closet and gazed at the beat up brown suitcase.  She hated the sight of it.  To her sister in law, “the world traveler” it meant adventure, escape and respite from all things Southern Illinois.  Theresa jumped at the chance to travel and any man who would take her.  In her eyes, the god forsaken town they grew up in deserved to be left behind and she fulfilled that every chance she had.  Unfortunately the last husband left her as quickly as she had left town and the suitcase became available.  Louise didn’t travel or leave the farm except to visit a sister that lived several hours away, mostly when she’d just had a baby and needed some help with the kids.  But even then, a paper bag and her overnight kit always sufficed.
She was relieved that the kids were still in school for the day and the house was quiet.  She didn’t want to have to face that suitcase with all the daily hubbub going on because she found herself barely able to think even with no distractions and dead quiet.  Louise grabbed the handle and set it down on the bed without taking her eyes off of it.  Her reality was sinking in and the more it sunk, the heavier she became.  As if in slow motion, she reached down and popped open the two snaps and lifted the lid.  As it opened, Theresa’s perfume and cigarette smoke wafted out, causing her nose to wrinkle for a moment.  Her wooziness hit her and the room lifted and started to spin a bit, she tries to settle herself down by speaking out loud to herself in a scolding sort of way.
“Okay, I’ve gone this far.  I’m getting ready to go the hospital and I’m going to be fine.  I don’t have to think about my kids being left motherless if something goes wrong because it won’t.  And the doctor didn’t mention having the cancer that her neighbor ladies are always talking about taking someone unexpectedly.  And even though I don’t know anyone personally that doesn’t have their uterus, I heard about Arlene’s sister who couldn’t have children because of this same thing and she’s just fine”.  
She takes a deep breath and wills herself to believe everything she’s just repeated to herself and begins to fill the musty suitcase with a nightgown, slippers, cold cream and other essentials for her week long stay.  With her task completed, she lowers the lid and snaps the suitcase shut, setting it beside the bed.  One step closer, one more thing off the list until tomorrow.
~~~~
The early morning sun cuts in through the venetian blinds of the hospital admitting area and emphasizes the green linoleum floor and how clean the Sisters of St. Joseph keep it.  She smiles to herself thinking how those gals do take pride in their work and momentarily understands why her sister Helen might enjoy being a Catholic.  She spies her husband outside the window having a smoke with the groundskeeper who is also a drinking buddy at the local tavern and a cousin.  Briefly, she imagines what it would be like if she were viewing her life without her in it.  Would her husband and children continue on like before only with one less place at the dinner table?  Would her absence even be noticed?  And like it or not, Louise realizes that she’s been thinking more along the lines of dying than living through this.  
The light from the center of the ceiling is blinding her. So bright that its burning her eyes.  She squints and tries to shield her eyes but the nurses tell her to leave her arm stretched out so the IV doesn’t get kinked.   They also tell her its necessary for the doctor to see what he’s doing and give a little canned laughter of “you sure do want him to see what he’s working on down there” which doesn’t comfort her a bit.   They are robotic in their movements and she’s feeling the full effect of the pre-op shot they gave her in her room.  Louise doesn’t like this feeling at all which is why she doesn’t drink except the occasional snort of Mogan David that she keeps in the back of the Frigidaire.   
She feels the medication working against all of her coping skills.  She’s losing control. Until this very moment, she has steeled herself against the bad news. Her intuitive feelings of impending doom were screaming. Louise tensed her body hard and fought to regain her centeredness, slamming down every ounce of emotion and stuffing it down her throat.  From there, she didn’t care where it went as long as it went away.  She figures it feeds that uterine mass but would have to deal with that later. 
But the grip is loosening on her self control and she doesn’t like it.  It is unfamiliar and unsettling and harsh.  The cold metal table underneath her has chilled her to the bone and she realizes that she is not only shaking, she is almost convulsing in her movement.  Every word that she’s wanted to say her entire life of silent servitude is now stuck in her throat and she can’t breathe.  A panic spreads over her and in a fit of uncharacteristic behavior, she finds herself trying to escape.  She notices that they notice her.  Her periphery is suddenly full of nurses heads with white pointy hats holding her down as she feels a pinch of another injection in her thigh.  A white cloth comes down over her eyes and stops over her mouth. She takes one frantic breath of the toxic smelling anesthesia and the world goes dark.

the baby floats.  floats in darkened, buoyant bliss.  a little girl.  transitioning from the heavens.  growing, floating, connecting to her new world with every breath and heartbeat of the mother that carries her.  she wants to feel nothing but the beat of her own heart and the arms of the Divine spirit that is lovingly embracing her.  but a primitive feeling, too much for the infantile synapses of her nervous system spreads through her.  she learns about danger from a cellular level.  she is not safe now nor will she be for a very long time.
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I’m the dissenter….

Recently I read a conversation on Facebook where a friend was crying out in pain due to her family shunning her.  Her pleas were confused, angry, sad. By her standards,  she’d been loyal and loving in her gestures toward her family over the years but they had chosen to ostracize her for reasons that they wouldn’t share with her. This challenged many feelings inside her.  She questioned her reasons for staying true to herself, thinking maybe she should have been softer with them, perhaps even more enabling.  Many times she’d reached out attempting to find a common ground with them, something to build a new foundation upon, to no avail. But the bottom line of her pain was that she missed them.  Terribly.  Her emotional loss visits her often.  And I felt her pain even from where I was sitting 1000 miles away.

If you change out the players and setting, you have my exact family situation.  Since my friend and I feel many of the same feelings towards ourselves and our families is probably why we’ve stayed close.   It’s also why this post struck so deeply.

As hard as I try to maintain contact with my family, they just aren’t motivated to return my gestures.  As I’ve grown and learned more about myself, I’ve been able to temper my anger toward our abusive upbringing that we all were subject to.  I, above anyone else, know the deep wounds etched in our young psyches.  I guess I always figured that this fact would make me safe to them.  I understood. I got it.  I was one of them.  Yet somehow, sitting in one of my many therapist’s offices over the years, I convinced myself that if I healed, worked hard, found the solutions for us and held up the light of illumination that they would somehow follow me along that hallowed and healing path.  My fractured reasoning combined with a dogged and desperate approach to enforce my fractured reasoning would result in many, many failed attempts and lots of heartache.

For a while, I was just plain pissed.  After all, I was one of them, how could they turn their backs on me?  I had gone through divorce from an abusive partner, poverty that left me selling my possessions including my car, a child to care for and a tender spirit that had given so much that she’d lost herself completely.  They turned their heads, they wanted nothing to do with me.  When the anger began to wain, the depression ensued, medications were taken, anxiety filled my days with my child.

This was a painful, painful time and the healing took the form of one minute after another, one hour, then one day.  My trust eventually extended to several women friends who gradually over time replaced my family of origin.  We created our own family gatherings, raised our children and moved on piece by piece.  But this was hard, hard work.  And dammit…I didn’t want a replacement for my sisters, nieces and cousins, I wanted THEM.  They were the ones that my heart stayed attached to, they were the ones whose blood my body recognized simply by standing close by or thinking of them.  What I realized is that there aren’t enough curse words, things to be broken or tears to be shed that will make another person return to you if they don’t want to or simply can’t.  And it was in this last phrase that I finally took another step toward healing.

My family can’t be around me.  They just can’t.  And they don’t.

I don’t exactly know why or do I have any explanations as to my conclusion but have had many possibilities given to me by loving friends, sponsors and therapists.  One thought is that I am the one person in the family that left.  I am the dissenter.  Like the little girl in the photograph, she’s the one who is standing up, preparing to separate herself from the circle.

In their eyes, I chose to honor myself, putting my individual needs over the group’s needs, get the hell out making sure that my life and my daughter’s life would never reflect that stagnant, cesspool upbringing that I had.  I had left the cult and the cult like thinking that defined us. Following this line of thinking, my family then shunned me as a religious community might shun those who no longer follow the thinking of the group.  So maybe, we were really just simply a sociological~philosophical~anthropological~spiritual textbook example? That’s the cunundrum, its all of these truths but  it. is. not. simple.  Have I overthought and personalized a situation that perhaps historically has happened throughout time?  Believing I was not unique actually made me feel a bit better.

I search for reasons behind the fact that they can’t be around me.  My friend and Inner Bonding facilitator, simply states that they are too wounded.  Their inner child feels too wounded to be able to give any love back to me at this point and maybe never.  But what does that mean for me?  That I never know them again?  That years go by and people die and new babies are born and the children get married and I’m never, ever a part of this?  I was wounded too but found a way to free myself, why can’t they step up and do the same?  We could lift each other up instead of giving up and staying so stuck, perpetuating the same cycles over and over.  They have the same ability that I did to throw off the blinders and go out into the world and experience other ways of life outside the cult commune.  Wow, look who just showed up!  The angry cheerleader strikes again!  I want to inspire them with my chosen set of values, yet when they don’t respond, I’m pissed.  Hmmm…..

Actually, I’m hurt and sad.  I miss them and I want them whole and happy.  I want to see their children and have them know my daughter.  Then, I’d like to throw in a family reunion where we all have T-shirts printed the same, with a rainbow overhead, while we frolic the day away proclaiming our undying familial love for each other.  Insert my family as interesting, well read, politically moderate and non-racist individuals who love themselves and perform altruistic work for a living preferably with an environmental flair.  And you can see where this goes….off into fantasy land. But since this is reality and the previous scenario is not going to happen, I learn there is absolutely nothing to do about it.  Except to pray for their peace.  And well, there is that acceptance part.

Using my best  DBT (Dialectal Behavior Therapy) skills, I stay as centered as I can and allow the feelings to wash over me.  My mantra being that I must accept myself and my family for who they are and what they can give.  Just accept….with compassion….the place where we are at this given moment.  Send them love.  Send me love.  Breathe.

My niece responds via text  “damn, I miss you”.  She has read the quarterly upbeat newsletter type thing that I do.  Actually she confesses that she received it a week before but looked at it with dread for days before opening and reading it.  That puzzles me but I let it go.  My newsletter is similar to what families send out around the holidays, updating family and friends that they don’t see in person throughout the year.  I’ve chosen this method of communication by default.  Since we don’t have family reunions or holidays together or even Facebook connections, it is my safest, best and most creative way to stay in touch.  The subjects are benign and safe.  This issue was about the dogs in our lives.

Here’s the other thoughts that I try to release from my heart….How can you miss someone and let that be the overriding feeling?  As in, I miss you so much but will do absolutely nothing about it.  I will simply choose to sit here and miss you and deny myself the experience of trying to work things out or even let myself think that I deserve a chance at happiness?  I’m going to tell you just enough to let you know I still think of you,  making the move to reach out and give you a quick, elusive, snippet of love and then yank it back so fast that you won’t even really know it was there.  An illusion, a wisp, a fantasy that can be denied.

I mailed out 12 of my newsletters to my family a month ago and to date, I’ve received one text of  “damn, i miss you”.

Breathe.  Breathe.  Give yourself love and compassion and then extend it to them.

Related articles:

6 Steps of Inner Bonding

Dr. Margaret Paul,  Do you chase when someone withdraws?


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