Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘dead’

A Woman of Heart

Excerpt from the beginning of the wonderful novel by Marcy Alancraig titled A Woman of Heart.

Back cover description:

After breaking her hip, 78-year-old Rheabie Slominski realizes that it’s finally time to share the secrets of her life with her granddaughter, Shoshana. Rheabie’s tales about the Jewish chicken ranchers of Petaluma, California, a vibrant cluster of Zionists, anarchists and communists struggling to survive the Depression, are populated b the most surprising characters: unhappy family ghosts, mysterious Guardian spirits of the land, and strange Uncle Mas.

“Could Grandma be slipping into Alzheimer’s?” Shoshie wonders. Yet, when the Guardians begin to show themselves to Shoshana and she stumbles on even deeper family secrets, everything she knows about herself and her history is called into question.

Chapter 1 – Unexpected Stories

RHEABIE

Every morning the past week, a wolf wakes me up from the kitchen. The minute I open my eyes, I hear it, walking back and forth. Yes, Shoshana, it’s you I’m talking, pacing like a caged animal. I know it’s hard to be here, taking care of a sick old woman, but enough already! Maybe you should relax a little? Just sit down?

I want we should visit. Listen, how often do I get the pleasure? Three stays in twelve years – and never more than a week. It’s not much.

Now, don’t get huffy. Did I say it should be any different? I know from the restless in you, my woman-what-loves-the-road. That itch to travel – it’s in those eyes of yours. Green – like the trees you love so much in Washington State. Seattle, Berne, Lydon – all the rainy places you’ve lived, they show in your face.

So listen, I understand how it must be hard, all this California sun here in Petaluma. September is the worst month, so hot and no fog. Still, we are trapped together in this little house, until my broken hip should get better, or I give up and die like your grandfather. You know the tsuris what happened the night I broke it. Giving up I don’t do. So maybe we can pass the time, telling each other stories? The truth, I’m talking. The real business of our lives.

I don’t mean the “everything’s fine, don’t worry” we both of us tell your mother and sister. I mean the big deal, Shoshana. All those surprising afternoons with a lover, for instance – I know you’ve had them – full of juicy business. Or those nights that broke apart in the sink maybe, like a tea glass whose pieces you couldn’t find.

Yes, of course, I’ve known my share and more, those kind of moments. These stories I’ve been waiting all your life to tell. Why? Because it was promised a long time ago, you should listen. By who? Never mind. That’s coming. And because even as a baby, the way you tapped your feet – so cute in those red corduroy booties – I could see you knew from restless. Only one year old and walking already. You lived with the same hurry and push what was born in me.

You don’t believe? All right, I’ll prove. Get out the photo album. The one what your grandpa put together – our early days on the ranch. You remember where it is? The left-hand book case, third shelf down. That’s right. Ach, so many memories. Look. This one, taken five years after we started here. You see? Me, feeding the pullets, in a hurry to get back to the kitchen. So much to do that day, for the camera I didn’t have time. “Enough already!” I swore at your grandpa. “The borsht is waiting!”

“Just one more,” he begged. “Smile.”

Notice the grin on my face, dolly, so strong and stubborn. Like I was biting back a curse, so much hidden behind those teeth. And did you ever wonder what I was seeing? Look at my eyes turned sideways, lost and lonesome. Hungry I was – for a glimpse of the Ukraine, a bissel of Terlitza, what I hoped might appear behind the barn. Oy, those were hard days. Like you, I was woman what did not know from home.

It’s not an insult, lovey, only the truth about us. Take a look at this one. Bent over the garden, showing my tuchis to the world. I was bigger in those days, yes, by a good thirty-five pounds; you could see me coming. I liked having hips back then, curves what meant something. Afraid I never was of zaftig thighs. But sorry I am to say, all that weight – it wasn’t all my body. Here’s the truth, dolly: I was a woman made big from carrying the dead.

Yiddish definitions:

tsuris – trouble, woes, worries, suffering
bissel – a little bit
Oy – a lament, a protest, a cry of dismay or joy
tuchis – buttocks
zaftig – juicy, plump, buxom

READ MORE OF A WOMAN OF HEART.

Perished and Present

Memorial Day – “a legal holiday in the U.S. in memory of the dead servicemen of all wars.”

That’s how Webster’s defines Memorial Day, but is that what takes place? Has this day of remembrance become just another holiday; another three-day weekend; a day of forgetting?

Memorial Day can be a powerful reminder and opportunity for honoring and remembering our dead; for paying homage to those who died believing that their lives made a difference; that their lives were sacrificed for the benefit of others.

In many respects, those who have died for this experiment in democracy are still living. They’re living in the water we drink, the food we grow, the ballot we cast, the policies we protest, the pains, sorrows and struggles of everyday life.

I respect the men and women who fought to end slavery in the Civil War and those, like my grandfather William, who fought in World War I, believing it would be “the war to end all wars”. I remember and give thanks to my father-in-law, who fought during World War II against the Nazis and lost his parents, grandparents, family and friends in the concentration camps. I thank my father, who went away for years to an unknown fate to stop the dictatorships of German and Japanese governments during the second world war. And I remember and honor all those who died in Lebanon, Panama, Viet Nam, on 9-11, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as those who returned from those conflicts and died from resulting disease, addiction or suicide.

Though Memorial Day honors those who have died during wartime, let us not forget the military women and men who have died outside of conflict; those who have died while training; while in transport; during missions of peace and rescue; and at home from illness, accident, governmental disregard or neglect.

Before we can ever proclaim, “Never again!” we must exclaim, “Never forget!” Never forget the soldiers and civilians who have perished. Let us honor they’re memory, by keeping them in our hearts and doing everything possible to prevent and end the wars that have caused such great sorrow and suffering. Take some time to bring out pictures, tell stories, make a toast, thank those still living and recommit our selves to the peaceful resolution of conflict.
Memorial Day reminds us that blood and tears are the same in any language. Every life is precious and every loss must be remembered, mourned and honored.

These thoughts and reflections are an excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

Land Minds – Part 3

Saint Catherine’s Baby (Excerpt) by Gabriel Constans

Land Minds – Part 3 (Conclusion)

Yosh watched in bewildered silence as Mark fought his way upstream, like a battered, dazed salmon, trying to jump one last time over the dammed waterway. He saw him floundering in unseen rapids then make a courageous ascent towards the pearly gates of luxury.

Mark reached the massive, brown, mahogany door, his chest heaving, as if he was preparing to give birth. His hand reached out between contractions, started to knock and froze in mid air. Whirling around like a drunk, he swayed towards the path, collapsed on the steps and screamed like a lanced bull. His glasses fell to the ground, cracking the right lens.

Yosh ran to his side at the same moment the monstrous door cracked open. A tiny woman in her early sixties, no taller than five feet and wearing a double-breasted blazer of black satin, stood her ground with a mixture of unabashed fear and annoyance. “What’s going on?”

Yosh answered nervously, not sure himself, “It’s um . . . it’s OK. He’ll be OK.”

She stared at these strange companions sprawled on her doorstep. “What do you want?!”

“We’re ah . . .,” Yosh stuttered. “It was a mistake; wrong house. Sorry. We’ll be going.” He tried to lift Mr. Keeler, whose head was buried between his knees.

“How . . . long . . . has she . . . lived here?” Mr. Keeler said between sobs. Yosh turned and asked.

The woman hesitated then replied, “About fourteen, fifteen years.”

Mr. Keeler lifted his throbbing head, wiped the liquids streaking his face and asked, “Who were the previous owners?”

“Wheeler or Bueller . . . something like that.”

“Why’d they sale?!” Mark shouted. “Where’d they go?!”

“How should I know? Listen, if you’re OK you better go or I’ll have to call . . .”

Mark raised his arms, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re going.” He began to rise and faltered. Yosh reached for his arm but had it pushed away. “Leave me alone.”

“Sorry. I just . . .” Mark was already half way down the path. Yosh turned and said, “Sorry to have caused you any trouble.”

By the time he picked up Mr. Keeler’s glasses and made it back to the car Mark was slumped in the front seat looking like a crushed can.

The can spoke, “Sorry about that.”

“No problem. Here’s your specks.”

Mark put on his glasses without noticing the damage. “I thought it would help. You know . . . face your fears . . . that kind of stuff.”

“You’re the Wheeler she was talking about, right?” Mark nodded. “You lived in this place alone?”

“No,” Mark whispered. “Can we go now?”

“Sure.”

Yosh pulled out of the driveway with an unintended lurch and headed downtown. When he passed 89th Ave. Mr. Keeler looked up.

“Have we passed 89th. yet?”

“Yeah, just now.”

“Damn! I’m sorry. Do you mind back tracking and taking 89th West?”

“No, I don’t mind. I’ve got a couple hours to kill.” He took the next exit, turned back North and veered off at 89th. “Where we headed Mr. Keeler?”

“Jasper Memorial.”

“You mean the graveyard?”

“Yes, the graveyard; the yard of graves; the grave . . .”

After a few bends and turns they arrived. The metal plated sign over the brass gate read JASPER MEMORIAL PARK – LAND OF REST.

Yosh didn’t feel very rested. “What the hell am I doing here?!” he wondered. “I hate these places.” The last time he’d been to a funeral was his grandfathers. They dressed up in ironed pressed suits on a sweltering hot summer day and listened to a bunch of Shinto Priests in stupid hats talking gibberish for over an hour. It had been unbearable.

Mark looked like a hunter scanning the horizon for prey. “There, by that big white cross!”

“Which one; they’re everywhere?”

“That one; next to the hedge of oleander.”

They parked, turned off the engine and disembarked.

“Please, wait here,” Mark said.

Yosh went back to the car, leaned against the side door and watched Mr. Keeler venture towards the hedge with his arms wrapped around his tightly packaged body, as if he was holding a large pillow to cushion some sudden charge or blow.

Mark was not aware of his spineless body heading towards oblivion. His mind swam with familiar fears as his gut plunged like a boulder falling over a waterfall towards sharp rocks below. His eyes were awash in a salt marsh of tears. He almost fell over Charlene’s headstone, bruising his knee. He knelt on the soft bosom of grass and begged to not see . . . to not see the blood . . . the mutilated bodies . . . the horror. He pleaded to view them before . . . before the insanity . . . before his nerves were injected with a murderous rage . . . before he became a walking corpse of memory. He reached out and felt the cold smooth stone of the adjoining marker. Through the blur he saw Jasmine’s name, as clean and fresh as if the engraver had just laid down their chisel.

“My sweet child . . . I’m so sorry.” The wildfire in his heart burned more acreage, jumping between his ventricles and valves like a flaming jackrabbit. A sudden snap and he swore a two-ton elephant had jumped on his chest. He keeled over, clutching at his lungs, gasping for oxygen and space.

Yosh sprinted to his side with the speed of the young.

“Mr. Keeler! Mr. Keeler!”

Mark squinted and felt air rushing back in to his lungs like a long lost child. He gulped in relief and languished in the momentary freedom from pain.

“You need a doctor!”

“I never felt better.”

“Mr. Keeler I . . .”

“Mark.”

“OK, Mark. Don’t fool around. You need medical attention and . . .”

“Look Yosh . . . it is Yosh?” Yosh nodded; shocked that Mr. Keeler remembered his name. “It’s just a little heart attack. Believe me, it’s nothing.”

“Nothing?! Look here Mr. . . . I mean Mark, this could be serious!”

“It would be a blessing. I’ve never had the guts to do it myself.”

This man once had everything he’d dreamed of. How could he talk about suicide? Then he saw the headstones and read, “Charlene Keeler. May 18, 1952 – February 10th, 1984. Beloved wife, mother, daughter and friend.” He turned and recited the eulogy on the matching stone. “Jasmine Keeler. November 27, 1977 – February 10th, 1984. Beloved Angel Child.”

Mark heard the words “Angel Child” and looked at Yosh’s clean-shaven face. His stunned silence begged an explanation. Mark swallowed, felt his Adam’s apple rise and fall, took hold of any remaining capacities within his possession and ran zigzag through the mind field of his memory.

“I got home from work around six in the evening.”

“Work?”

“I was vice-president of research at Lupin Technology.”

“Lupin? Oh yeah, satellites and stuff, right?”

“I got home around six, threw my bag on the chair and called out for Jasmine. She usually hid behind the sofa or curtain, waiting to pounce. She never thought I could hear her or see where she was. When she couldn’t stand waiting and jumped out, I always acted surprised. Then she’d throw her arms around my neck, give me a big hug and kiss and tell me all about her day. That evening I waited and waited, but nothing happened. No giggles, no movement, no sound. I called again, ‘Jasmine! Charlene!’ Nothing. Charlene’s Audi was in the driveway so I knew they were home. Then the adrenaline kicked in. I looked more closely and saw open drawers and broken glass. We’d been robbed. ‘OK,’ I thought, big deal, we’ve got insurance.’

I figured they must be in the back calling the police. I went to the kitchen, stepped on to the marble-colored tile floor and smelled Charlene’s perfume. It was a mixture of rose and sandalwood. She got it special made from some fragrance shop or aromatherapy place. Of course, when she wore the stuff it didn’t smell anything like it did from the bottle. It was sort of like . . .” his voice drifted off.

Yosh listened, as his composure crumbled like the wall of Jericho.

“I looked out the window, to see if they were in the garden, then went around the chopping block and stubbed my toe. I looked down and saw I was standing in a pool of blood.” Mark’s hands twitched. He stared through Yosh as if he was a cloud of vaporous gas. “It was Charlene. Her neck was cut in half. I moved backwards running into the wall, leaving a trail of bright red foot prints.”

Yosh sat down, as Mark’s description leveled his belief in humanity like a wrecking ball. “My God.”

“Then I saw Jasmine. Her skirt covered her pretty head, like she was trying to hide. I slipped on the blood, crawled to her side and uncovered her face, half-expecting her to yell ‘Surprise!’ Her eyes were plastered open in fright. I tried to lift her up and felt something warm and wet oozing from her chest. Her last ounce of blood covered my hands. I grabbed her arm, which was nearly severed and hung like a piece of string cheese.

“Please!” Yosh interjected. “That’s enough!”

“I must have screamed or yelled. Someone called the police. Somebody’s hands were pulling me away from Jasmine’s drenched little body. It was like being sick on a broken down carousel that kept going round and round and I couldn’t get off.
They caught the guy. There was a trial. He was sentenced. I asked a friend to sell the house and send my checks to my uncle’s old place in the mountains. I’ve been there since.”

Neither man moved. Shadows fell upon their faces and slithered into the undergrowth that covered hundreds of souls.

“Let’s go,” Yosh finally said. He helped Mark to his jellyfish feet.

“Where are we going?”

“To the doctor,” Yosh said, walking towards the car, their arms draped around one another like old war buddies.

“No thanks. Let’s go home.”

“Where’s that?”

“You know; that old place next to Mr. Matsuma and his sister,” Mark winked.

Yosh helped Mark into the silver Civic. Mark looked out the window, across the recently cut grass, his family’s death bed. A breeze drifted through the window carrying his dreams to their graves of dirt and dust. He kissed his palm and blew his heart in their direction. “If only the living was as easy as the dying,” he whispered.

Yosh turned onto the highway and headed towards the sanctuary of living trees and solid mountains of iron and granite. His city business could wait. He had to deliver Mr. Keeler, Mark, back to the woods . . . back to safety . . . back to his shattered life of fierce independence . . . of living out his days without interference, threat or judgment. He thought of his fiancée, Rosita, of how he would hold her, protect her and care for her with a new found fierceness she would never understand.

THE END

MORE STORIES

Don’t Turn Away

Every day, thousands of people die and/or are injured, tortured, starved and/or neglected. Thousands of people are also born every hour. Some are people we know personally and most are folks we’ve never met. There is only one of us here on the planet (a living organism), so whatever is happening to another is also happening to us (who we call you and me). It can feel overwhelming.

“I” suggest that instead of turning away or only focusing on the positive and the future, that we take it all in, honor the lives of those presently suffering or dead and give full voice to grieving our losses. It is by honoring and remembering the dead that we can truly be fully alive.

Here are some headlines and information from one day of stories, not including your own. If we are all one, then these stories are about our brothers, sisters, lovers, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and friends. It’s not something to read quickly and then turn away. It’s our family.

Girl Charged with murder in death of baby.

Coroner’s Report: Santa Cruz woman was strangled, beaten.

Police Search For Teen After Woman Shot Killed.

Syria: ‘Six killed’ in Deraa as troops tighten grip
.

US tornadoes: Death toll rises as more bodies found.

Fatal Bomb in Morocco Shows Signs of Al Qaeda.

Roadside Bomb in Karachi Hits Navy Bus.

Argentine writer Ernesto Sabato dies, age 99.

Violence in the age of innocence.

UN: Sri Lankan Bloodbath Much Worse Than Government Admits.

Lee Mun Wah – Color of Fear

Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

“Your mother’s been murdered!” The woman who gave you birth and taught you the meaning of love, care and family is dead. Her life intentionally ended by another man. This was the cold reality Mr. Lee, his father, grandparents and siblings had to face in 1985. Feelings of fear, anger, rage and revenge soon replaced the numbed existence of shock. Instead of letting these intense, understandable reactions control his life Mr. Lee searched for answers. He began to reach out, to confront and explore the ingrained, unconscious attitudes that lead to hate and violence and discovered a way to shift the imbalances of power, heal the wounds and open our hearts.

As a seminar leader, speaker and filmmaker, Mr. Lee’s work has been highly visible, effective and utilized throughout the nation. His first film Stolen Ground, about racism towards Asian-Americans, won special merit at the San Francisco International Film Festival. His second video, of a weekend encounter group for men, The Color of Fear, won the 1995 National Education Media Award for best social studies documentary and has been used in thousands of organizations and businesses to deal with and discuss prejudice, bias and race. Mr. Lee’s current project, Walking Each Other Home, provides both an example and a means for Americans to understand, accept and support our honest differences and realities while honoring the unique, compassionate spirit within us all.

LEE MUN WAH:

I was born in Oakland, California at a time when people were living in mixed neighborhoods. I had a real glimpse of what a community could look like with all different ethnicities. My parents were very poor, though as a child I didn’t know that. Some of the distinct things I remember were that there were very few Asians in my classes and very few or almost no Asian-American or African-American teachers. When I noticed this consciously it became a real loss.

I was born into a very alive, dynamic family. I always thought that all Chinese families were like this. It wasn’t until later that I realized my father was a very unique man who really believed in going out in the world and creating what you wanted. He influenced me greatly in that way. My mother was very warm and personable; very intimate and in that way created my sense of family, of being close to people.

A lot of these life experiences prepared me, without my knowing, for the type of work I do now, when I talk about the country having a national relationship. It’s about how a family treats each other. I don’t think it’s just a sense of family, it’s also part of our Asian, Chinese culture . . . that we’re there for one other . . . that we respect and honor each others needs . . . the warmth, security and safety of a family . . . being up front and honest . . . trying to be a good person in the world and with those you meet. A number of people have that in there culture as well, but I don’t think many have made the connection of family into a larger community, in a global or workplace perspective and I think that is the missing link.

The American thing is often, “Me, me, me!” Business is first and task oriented and not loyal to workers. When business is down or they’re “restructuring” and they lay you off, they’re actually saying, “You are no longer needed, the company is more important.” It isn’t about taking care of the people who work for you but about having them compete with each other. I don’t run my family or workplace that way. And when I go out into the world that’s something I work for, to change that paradigm.

I don’t think you can legislate an end to racism. You have to have a change of heart. That’s why I talk about a relationship. It’s the only real connection we have. Often, we don’t act until there’s a crisis. What we need to realize is that the crisis is happening every single day and there’s always something you can do to address it.

We’ve never understood culture in this country. We think it’s the food, the costume or the holiday, but we don’t touch what it really means to us on a spiritual, emotional, ancestral way. When the American Indian tells us that it’s not enough to pass the sage around the room but to really understand where that comes from. To understand the relationships and the way we treat each other; that it’s really expressed in our movements, in what we don’t say, the way we hold each other, the way we wait for and acknowledge one other. We don’t take the time to really look, to really experience. Americans want everything fast . . tangible. The American Indian is right when they say, “You want my customs, my rituals and my land, but you don’t want me.” What we do is we use people and cultures. We use them when it’s convenient, for a service, for artifacts. Rarely do we take the time to understand how we relate to each other.

We don’t look into the realm of what we don’t know. I think that’s the part I’m talking about. When I do workshops I have people look around the room, listen to silence; listen to what’s not being said, to bodies that are talking all the time. We usually don’t listen to the nonverbal, to the energy in a room, to the impact of our ancestors that have brought us to this place. We are very present and future oriented but don’t pay enough homage or respect to the past. When are we open to learn from other cultures . . . to integrate values from other cultures? When companies say they’re multi-cultural or multi-racial I ask them to name one cultural factor they’ve integrated, that they see as practical, as useful, that they use every single day.

The turning point for me (after my mother was murdered) was when I wrote a play in which I acted out facing my Mom’s murderer. It also helped to look at the context from where it came. I tried to find and talk to the man who killed my mother, to no avail. On the day we finished The Color of Fear he was sentenced to life in prison. He’d killed four or five other women in addition to my Mom. Before that I had continued trying to contact his family. It turns out that some of his relatives lived in a home we’d been renting. It was really shocking. I talked to the woman who lived there and she said a cousin of hers had killed someone as well. When she went to his trial she had to leave because all she could see was “The little boy I’d grown up with”. She told me, “You may never know why he did it.”

Had my mother not been murdered, I’d never had made the film (The Color of Fear). I began to really see and sense that perhaps there was a meaning to this. It serves my healing and in many ways it’s healing for this country as well, because surely if I can go through this then others can open their hearts and have compassion as well. I’m not so sure hatred or guns or bars do any good . . . it only makes fear larger. Fear is not something you can protect yourself from, you have to walk through it. CONTINUED

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A Picture of Success

An excerpt from the book Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call. Interview with Sybil Anderson-Adams.

Her life was the picture of success. Her husband was an attorney, they were drawing up plans for their dream house and she recently quit her teaching job to spend more time with their three young, healthy, happy children. Suddenly, the rug was pulled out from under her feet and before she knew what hit her, her life was turned upside down. What started out as a headache in court, turned out to be a leaking aneurysm. In spite of the doctors’ assurances to the contrary, within three weeks Sybil Anderson-Adams husband, father of her children, was dead. Without comprehension or time to have said good-bye, she struggled to survive and make sense of the incomprehensible.

As a result of her desperation and need to find answers, she reached out to her friends, neighbors, doctor and church and formed a support group for young adults who’s partners had died. The first meeting brought together twenty-five people who’d previously thought they were alone. With her need and ability to communicate her process and grief to others, she continues to open the door of life for those who thought it had been slammed in their face and locked shut forever.

SYBIL ANDERSON-ADAMS: When I arrived at the hospital the doctor said, “I have some bad news to give you. Your husband stopped breathing.’ I’ll never forget those words. ‘He stopped breathing.’ He finally said, ‘I’m sorry . . . he’s passed away.’ It was then that it hit me . . . like a wosh. (she hits her chest with the palms of both hands). I doubled over . . . just like you see in the movies.

After the shock had subsided I realized I didn’t know who I was anymore. It was the loss of identity. I was the type of person who always had my entire life planned out. Before Neal died, I’d never really had a traumatic event. I had things all figured and scheduled . . . which, as you know, gives you a sense of control. But I had no control over this one and that was my undoing. I had to decide where I was going; who I was. There was an urgency. I remember going to a counselor and saying, ‘When will I not feel this way? When, when, when?!’ The reality was so strong that I wanted it to be over. I didn’t want to cry anymore.

Then one day I remember making a decision. it was something one of my kids said. You know, ‘Out of the mouths of babes!’ One of my sons says, ‘If you hadn’t stopped and talked to Dad that one day long ago, you might never had known him or gotten married.’ I said, ‘You know, you’re right.’ And I had this vision where I decided that whatever came up I’d say, ‘Yes!’ That I would do things no matter how hard it was. When my kids had stuff they needed to do . . . cub scouts, swimming . . . I made a decision that no matter what, I wasn’t going to hide at home anymore, I was going to go. And what I found was that doing that made me stronger, even though a lot of the events I attended were absolute disasters! Taking some kind of action made me feel brave. it gave me confidence.

I remember sitting with another friend who was at that same juncture. She said, ‘I hate this. I want to be out of here.’ I felt the same at the time and replied, ‘Yeah, just get me out.’ And that’s one of the reasons I started a support group and keep it going to this day. I needed those people so bad. They were my reality. If somebody else could make it, so could I.

For awhile I could only live for the day. The future was nonexistent. I’ve met many people throughout the years that say the same thing. hey said, ‘Good-bye” in the morning and their spouse was dead by the afternoon. It changed my whole concept of how I look at things. I laugh more often now. We’ve got three teenagers and one in early adolescence. They can make you laugh or cry. If I wasn’t able to laugh once in a while our life would be one miserable hell.

I think all survivors make that decision at some point. You have to decide to live. My kids forced me into it. I’d be in bed with the covers pulled over my head, not wanting to get out and one of them would come in and say, ‘What’s for breakfast?’ What are you going to do; I couldn’t stay in bed? I had to get up. I was the only one they had left.

We had a saying in our house, ‘Life sucks.’ It was kind of our motto for awhile. The kids would say, ‘Life sucks!’ and I’d look at them and say, ‘Yeah, then what?’ They’d answer, ‘Then you die.” I’d continue, “So, then what are you going to do about it?’ They’d look at me, roll their eyes and say, ‘Come on Mom.’ It’s made them real. They see a different reality then most kids.

Life has become a really interesting place. Neal’s death and where my life has gone since, has added another dimension. God knows I wish it hadn’t happened, but without it I could have lived until I was eighty-five and never discovered this! Life is such a gift, though I’m not thrilled with the way I had to really find this out. I love being in this state of mind. I’m doing things that I never knew I could or would do. There was a point two years after he died when I realized, ‘My God, I can do anything!’ I survived something that at first glance seemed like an endless hole of despair. I didn’t think I’d ever climb out . . . but I did.

Are You Dead When You’re Dead?

How we feel, believe or think about what happens to us after we die matters. It matters because our thoughts about the after-life often effect how we react too and live in the present.

If one believes that their physical reality and what they see, feel and experience with their senses is all that exists, then the thought of its termination and our bodies decline may be frightening, if not down right terrifying. If someone’s faith tells them there is something that continues beyond the known physical realities of the world or takes them to a place of peace and happiness, they may be less inclined to fear their own mortality or that of others.

Both ideas and beliefs, that something continues beyond death and that nothing does, may also help us live more in the moment and appreciate the short, precarious lives we live or create continuing anxiety about how things are or where we would rather be.

The reason the word may is italicized, is because there is no omniscient law of nature, physics or human response, that such beliefs in life after death or solely in the material world, causes only those stated or expected reactions. We are far more infinite than the stars in our complicated, yet simple, desire for understanding, comfort and reassurance about the unknown and what happens to us after we die.

When I was a teen, I used to believe strongly in reincarnation. At the time, it made sense. As I grew older my beliefs shifted from Yoga and Eastern traditions to Quaker activism and social responsibility. Then it changed again and again, from the Catholic Church to Judaism and from Eastern Buddhist belief in transgression and karma, to natures continual recycling of all forms of matter, including human beings. Whatever I was practicing or following at the time, was my reality. Each exploration into the afterlife or spiritual nature of humanity gave me some answers and experiences I could hold onto, make sense of and say, “This is it! This is the truth! This is what happens!”

In my early work with hospice and later as a chaplain at the hospital, I met a number of people who had been clinically dead and revived or resuscitated. After hearing their stories and reading research that had been done with thousands of others who had had similar experiences around the world, I “knew” that some part of our consciousness or awareness as human beings (at least in the first few minutes) continues.

Most recently, after my acquaintances with a number of people whose cultural background and/or religious practices, has worshiped and spoken with deceased ancestors, I have begun to send blessings to and bring into the present, those in my family who have preceded me into death.

Because of my work as a grief counselor I have been granted the opportunity to explore the question of life after death with many people. Here are some of the answers, thoughts and beliefs that have been shared.

“Those who believe will find everlasting peace with Jesus and the Saints.”

“God is the only answer. I know they are with God.”

“My loved one always felt at home by the sea. When we scattered their ashes in the bay, it felt like he had been buried in his church.”

“As a Tibetan Buddhist, I know my wife went through different Bardos (spiritual worlds) and gained enlightenment. She is such a compassionate loving being.”

“When we’re dead, we’re just dead. There’s nothing more and nothing less. That’s why it’s so important what we do while we are living.”

“I believe there’s a white light and the peace and joy are indescribable.”

“The bible tells me there is heaven and hell. I hope I’ve lived a good life and go to heaven. I know my son is there waiting for me.”

“My sister has come to me several times and told me she’s alright. I have no doubt that she’ll be there to meet me when it’s my time.”

“The Lord is the way, the truth and the light. I will be with my Lord Jesus.”

“Maybe I’ll see my parents when I die, but I don’t know. I tend to believe that something better is waiting, that there’s something more than this, but I couldn’t say for sure.”

“It’s all chaos. There is no rhyme or reason. I have no idea what will happen after I die.”

What’s your experience been? What do you think happens after we die? What have you been told? What does your family believe? What does your religion teach you? What do scientists propose? How has the media portrayed the after-life? Is death less frightening because of your beliefs? Do you think anybody “really” knows before they die what happens after we stop breathing? How does your belief or thoughts about life after death effect how you live your life now? Does it matter?

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