Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘killed’

Brave Syrians Not Alone

Dear Friends,

This morning, 4 western journalists are home safe with their families, the echoes of the horror and heroism of Baba Amr still ringing in their ears. Over 50 Syrian activists, supported by Avaaz, volunteered to rescue them and scores of wounded civilians from the Syrian army’s killzone. Many of those incredible activists have not survived the week.

Abu Hanin is one of the heroes. He’s 26, a poet, and when his community needed him, he took the lead in organizing the citizen journalists that Avaaz has supported to help the voices of Syrians reach the world. The last contact with Abu Hanin was on Thursday, as regime troops closed in on his location. He read his last will and testament to the Avaaz team in Beirut, and told us where he had buried the bodies of the two western journalists killed in the shelling. Since then, his neighborhood of Baba Amr has been a black hole, and we still don’t know his fate.

It’s easy to despair when seeing Syria today, but to honour the dead, we must carry forward the hope they died with. As Baba Amr went dark and fears of massacre spread, Syrians took to the streets — yet again — across the country, in a peaceful protest that showed staggering bravery.

Their bravery is our lesson, the gift of the Syrian people to the rest of us. Because in their spirit, in their courage to face the worst darkness our world has to offer, a new world is being born.

And in that new world, the Syrian people are not alone. Millions of us from every nation have stood with them time and time again, right from the beginning of their struggle. Nearly 75,000 of us have donated almost $3 million to fund people-powered movements and deliver high-tech communications equipment to help them tell their story, and enable the Avaaz team to help smuggle in over $2 million worth of medical supplies. We’ve taken millions of online actions to push for action from the Security Council and the Arab League and for sanctions from many countries, and delivered those online campaigns in dozens of stunts, media campaigns and high-level advocacy meetings with top world leaders. Together we’ve helped win many of these battles, including for unprecedented action by the Arab League, and oil sanctions from Europe.

Our team in Beirut has also provided a valuable communications hub for brave and skilled activists to coordinate complex smuggling operations and the rescue of the wounded and the journalists. Avaaz does not direct these activities, but we facilitate, support and advise. We have also established safe houses for activists, and supported the outreach and diplomatic engagement of the Syrian National Council — the opposition movement’s fledgling political representative body. Much of the world’s major media have covered Avaaz’s work to help the Syrian people, including features on BBC, CNN, El Pais, TIME, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, AFP and many more, citing our “central role” in the Syrian peaceful protest movement.

Today, a dozen more nightmares like that visited on the city of Homs are unfolding across Syria. The situation will get worse before it gets better. It will be bloody, and complicated, and as some protesters take up arms to defend themselves, the line between right and wrong will blur. But President Assad’s brutal regime will fall, and there will be peace, and elections, and accountability. The Syrian people simply will not stop until that happens — and it may happen sooner than we all think.

Every expert told us at the beginning that an uprising in Syria was unthinkable. But we sent in satellite communications equipment anyway. Because our community knows something that the experts and cynics don’t — that people power and a new spirit of citizenship are sweeping our world today, and they are fearless, and unstoppable, and will bring hope to the darkest places. Marie Colvin, an American journalist covering the violence in Homs, told Avaaz before she died, “I’m not leaving these people.” And neither will we.

With hope, and admiration for the Syrian people and courageous citizens everywhere,

Ricken, Wissam, Stephanie, Alice, David, Antonia, Will, Sam, Emma, Wen-Hua, Veronique and the whole Avaaz team.

Nicholas Lives On – Part 2

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

In the fall of ninety-four, Reggie and Maggie Green were on holiday in Italy, driving peacefully through Messina with their children Nicholas and Eleanor (seven and four years old) sleeping soundly in the back seat. Out of the dark night a vehicle creeps alongside. They hear angry shouts and demands to pull over. Terrifying gunshots slam into the body of their car. Reg outruns, what turns out to be, Calabrian highway bandits. Upon arriving safely at their hotel they check the children, who they believe have slept through the traumatic incident. As they try to arose Nicholas they discover a horrible gunshot wound to his head. Two days later Nicholas is pronounced dead.

Without hesitation the Greens decide to donate his organs. This act, which to them is the only choice imaginable, soon catapults them into national and international attention. Nicholas organs go to seven people. Organ donations increase dramatically. Surprisingly, revenge is not in the Greens’ vocabulary, only the reporters ask about retribution. Reg Green says, “There is no sum of money that could give me back my son. Whereas justice heals, vengeance just creates new problems.” The Italian Ambassador Boris Biancheri tells them, “Your names and the name of Nicholas have become for Italians somehow synonymous with courage, of forgiveness and compassion.” Upon their arrival back in the U.S. they continued to advocate for organ donations and speak frequently in public about the importance of turning personal tragedy into life for others.

Nicholas Lives On – Part 2

REGGIE: And we both spend a lot of time with books. It’s through books that I learn about life. They tell you how life was and how it should be; what was foolish and what was effective. Those things get inside you I think and cause the reactions, which become instinctive.

When people say they thought that Nicholas was the brightest star in the sky or they saw him in a grove of trees or as an angel . . . I like to hear that . . . it shows their compassion . . . that they went outside themselves to find the most comforting thing they could think of and wanted to pass it on to us.

Such comments don’t convince me in any way, shape or form about any spiritual realities however. I have to look for concrete things which continue to do good. For example: organ donations are up in Italy by more than fifty percent. That’s hundreds of people walking around today who would have died by now. There’s a real sense of something good coming out of it . . . real hard physical good.

Life is a complete mystery to me; I’ve got to say. Death is a complete blank. I really don’t know about it or even have a hypothesis. What I’m trying to do in my life then, if you don’t understand death or the purpose of life, is deal with it on the level that I can and I know there are certain things to me that seem to be better than others: kindness is better than cruelty; full stomachs are better than starvation; making a joke is better than hurting someone. Those sorts of things have always struck me as I’ve grown up.

I’ve tried to concentrate on the things I can understand and handle. And this was one of them where one could palpably see good come out of it. We’ve since met all the people who received Nicholas’s organs. The difference in them is quite astonishing. The thought has come to me since, “We saved those people from going through the devastation we’ve gone through.” And you know, if you can’t do that then, come on . . . it seemed so obvious at the time.

We go to a lot of organ donating meetings and I have never met anyone who’s ever said they regretted it. Most people say it’s helped them a lot. In fact, most meetings we go to someone will come up and say, “I wish I’d done that.” Because they sense that somehow we got something back from it.

The worse thing about Nicholas’s death, besides the loss, which is terrible, is that he never reached his potential. To me that’s the most awful thought. It does subside after awhile, though it’s always there. The fact that he never got that chance is the thing that I find most difficult. It’s not just one’s own dreams having been unfulfilled; it’s the fact that his dreams weren’t fulfilled. To me that is the worst thing about it. He never got to live to his potential. But . . . we have all the memories and he was a wonderful little boy and because of that I think we can deal with it.

As you know I’m a father late in life and I always wondered what would happen . . . that I might not get to see him as an adult or know how he’d turn out in the end.

People that have helped have tried to give what they could. Whatever they’ve done seems to be the best possible. If they’re budding poets, and every Italian turned out to be a poet, they write a poem. Someone wrote music, part of a piano sonata to Nicholas. Somebody else did a full-scale choral work. People reached down inside and found the essence of what they wanted to do. That is very comforting; that it made people feel that way. One man sent us a book about Eskimos written in Italian, of which we don’t speak a word, but that was what was important to him.

And we’ve been very active in all this. Whenever the flame dies down I pour some more gasoline on it. What I didn’t want to happen was have everybody very sympathetic about it for a couple days and then comes along the next tragedy. I was determined to use whatever resources I could. I was a journalist and dabbled in PR for a time so I had some skills. My idea was to make it stick; to etch it on people’s minds; to not have it forgotten. We’ve written articles by the dozens, traveled all around the country, spoken to all kinds of audiences. The universality of the response was not just from mothers and fathers, but from admirals, writers, police.

I think there are a lot of elements to this response, a sort of mixture that’s made the alchemy . . . an innocent child for one thing. I think we were able to get across a sense of what he was like. We had a photograph of him in my camera and that picture was sent around the world , so right from the beginning people knew what he looked like. And we’d tell stories . . . Maggie would tell stories. People built a picture about him fairly early on. The fact that we were foreigners in their country and they didn’t “protect us”, as it were, also struck a chord.

All those factors came together. And though neither of us are Catholic, the Catholic Church has been hugely supportive. The Pope blessed the central bell that’s in the memorial bell tower. Catholicism itself, at some level, probably has a theory about all this. The official position certainly is very supportive.

MAGGIE: One reason has to be that Reg was a journalist and therefore had no fear of the press. Some people are afraid to talk and don’t know what’s going to happen. We were willing to talk to people right from the beginning. The day after we got back to the states we were on all three morning shows (television). It’s hard to be willing to do that about organ donation because it’s always the result of a loss and some families aren’t up for it. A good part of it is being willing to be in newspapers and on TV. All the stories we’ve encountered talking to other donor families . . . they always have some cruel twist or the child had a lot of promise . . . any of them could have been that sentinel.

Reg was on the phone from the hotel room to the London Times as soon as we found out Nicholas had died. They did a terrible story and got three-quarters of the facts wrong, but he still thought of talking to them like that.

REGGIE: That’s right. Many people will say, “Not now, we need to think about it.” Or, “We’ll get back to you.” The press isn’t like that. They want immediate information and if you haven’t got it the story will get written anyway, so you might as well get it accurate.

I made a conscious decision when we came back that, “We can do some good here.” I really made a point of going out and trying to get as many people interested as possible. I saturated the market. As a result there are very few talk shows or magazines that the story hasn’t been in. Of course, there’s always the feeling when you go on television or in a newspaper, wondering if your doing it for self advertising. I try to examine myself closely and although the attention is flattering, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was doing some good. I can’t get rid of the fact that I’m pleased if Barbara Walters wants to talk to me but I’ve tried to do a rational assessment of whether it will help or not.

And we’ve been on all kinds of shows. You know that one called The Other Side? A guy on the day before us was a private detective whose job was to track down vampires. You wonder if this is the right kind of an audience, but on the other hand, perhaps it’s the very people who wouldn’t otherwise consider it. The National Inquirer called and one always has to worry . . . because they do distort the facts . . . tabloids have a tendency to do that. We talked for an hour and a half and a very sober article came out of it. So, a lot of people read this that might never even think of organ donations.

MAGGIE: In a way it helped too. Those first numb days . . . when we visited the Prime Minister and President of Italy and went on the Italian equivalent of the Jay Leno Show . . . that helped prepare us for the future when we were talking to The Rotarians. There was a sense of, “We did that” and nobody’s looking for the bad in us, so we can deal with it.

REGGIE: It doesn’t bother me if people are looking for the bad and as far as I can tell there isn’t any of that here . . . on this particular topic. As far as this is concerned our motives are clear. Whatever people make of that, that’s fine. And if at the end of the day people decide they wouldn’t want to donate their organs, I for one wouldn’t want to change their minds. People have really strong beliefs. For some people it’s wrong. They should not be forced into it.

I was in Italy last week talking with a journalist and he said, “You know, not everybody sees it like you. My grandmother, for instance, is terrified of donating organs because she thinks she wouldn’t go to heaven.” And a chaplain I met said, “A lot of these splinter groups in Italy, these fundamentalist groups, are against such things.”

I don’t like coercion. I’d like it to come from the heart. The use of coercion just raises the whole tone of society. Being agnostic I can’t rule out the fact that these people may be right. I know it seems ridiculous now but it was a very strong belief at one point. A week before his death we were in a church in Switzerland, with Nicholas, and there was a painting of a man who wouldn’t get into heaven because he was deformed. Of course that doesn’t occur to me, but if somebody believes that, it would be terrible to try to force that person into something. I much prefer the other method, which I see is working, of information and raising awareness.

All polls in this country show that something like ninety percent believe in organ donation, almost nobody is opposed to it. When it actually happens of course the actual decision is much more difficult. The key to it therefore is giving information and that approach is much more likely to get results than coercion or pressure.

The bell tower is a part of all this too. It was made as a memorial for Nicholas. It isn’t anything I would have thought up myself. When I first heard about it, it took my breath away. A sculptor in Italy wanted to produce this tower; at first with the idea that there would be only one bell. He was designing a bell for the United Nations Fiftieth Anniversary, which was a private venture and made from melted firearms collected by the police. He said he wanted to design it and wouldn’t charge anything. In addition to that he put in innumerable hours trying to get the right kind of steel structure, the right stones for the wall. He drove all around California looking for what he needed and just wouldn’t take a penny. Once we mentioned this in Italy and got one of the big magazines to support it, bells started to appear. People would rush into their house and come out with a hundred-year-old bell they’d give us. Sometimes they’d be from people who’d lost a child or some other loved one, but often just people who were touched by the whole idea. There are church bells along with cow bells on it now, and we keep getting them. There are over a hundred and thirty bells and we have no more room. Now we’re having to think about what to do next. There’s a real sense that people have taken to a lovely idea . . . which is the preciousness of life.

The Papal Foundry, which has been making bells for a thousand years, offered a bell. It’s a very big bell. The Pope blessed it before it left Italy, even though neither of us are Catholic.

It’s there for the children and a way to remind people of the power of organ donation . . . that it can save lives. And, on a more spiritual note, it reminds people of the impermanence of life . . . of using life for whatever good you can. You know, I think that’s a thing about both Maggie and I have come to separately . . . even though we don’t believe in any particular cause to go out and say, “You’ve got to do this or that.” We prefer to say, “This is what we believe; what we’ve done.” Maggie leads by example. She doesn’t talk about it much; she’s very diffident about her capabilities. Her example is the thing that struck me when I first met her. I’ve never known such honesty, gentleness and purpose . . . they sort of transmute themselves.

If you go back to what has influenced me most, it’s the example of people doing their thing; not telling you about it, but doing it. I always knew about death. It wasn’t a strange concept. And if you’ve got a set of beliefs, you should stick to them. Don’t throw out a whole lifetime of thinking or believing just because something happens.

I always knew there was violence in the world. I always knew there were catastrophes . . . but because it then happened to me doesn’t mean that suddenly the whole world is wrong or different than yesterday. Now, it may be a good world or a bad world, but it’s there all the time. If you believed in God before you shouldn’t stop because he’s not being “good” to you in this particular case. Or, if you don’t believe in God, you can’t all of a sudden start inventing one. I never believed in deathbed repentances, especially someone else’s deathbed. Certainly you’ve got to let events modify what you believe and indeed they may revolutionize it, but it’s not something that ought to be done lightly or wholesale in an emotional state. I don’t know exactly what it is that gives Maggie her strength, but she has continued, as far as I can see, as far as her religious beliefs are concerned, to not be very different than how she was before. I think this is bigger than religion . . . it’s about all life.

I’ve always known there was violence and poverty. There is a random quality to these things . . . if I’d gone left instead of right this might never have happened. I get strength from the belief that people are fundamentally decent. I’ve seen a lot of cruelty as a journalist. I’ve seen miserably self-centered behavior, but I think people in their core are decent and they want to do the right thing. I also think people are very lethargic. They want to do something but never get around to it. In general though, there’s a wellspring in most people of wanting to stand up tall. I’ve experienced hundreds and hundreds of people who have that human sympathy. They’ll write to us in order to be comforting in some way. The letters have been such an outpouring of compassion and sympathy. A lot of them say, “I’ve never said this before” or “I don’t know how to say this . . .” and then say something with simple eloquence and depth.

I’ve learned a lot going through this about people I already knew. It turns out that a very good friend of mine had lost his brother and family but never spoke about it. And I never knew that before; even though I’d known him for over thirty years! I realized that there is a lot more behind peoples’ faces then we give them credit for. They’re often harboring the memory of some terrible thing that happened. They hide an enormous amount of death. It makes you more sympathetic to life.

Tolstoy said, “To know all is to forgive all.” I always thought that was a real nice idea. To be fair to myself I’d say I knew it before, but Nicholas’s death intensified it. The more you know about yourself . . . I’d say if there’s one key to everything it’s to “know yourself”. Just to understand yourself. If you know your own workings then you understand others much better.

In a sense though Gabriel, what I find is that to give people a “how too” in this kind of thing . . . I don’t see that there’s a kind of recipe you can use. It takes a long, long time to create who you are and how you react to whatever. If I was going to try to preach to anybody it would be on those kinds of lines.

MAGGIE: This is one of those situations where getting information out there helps. I suspect that one reason the donation rate is so low in Italy is because you’re expected to be prostate in grief . . . screaming and shouting. We were forgiven for not acting like that because we were foreigners. They would be made to feel guilty for appearing to be rational enough to make such a choice at a time like that. They now see there are many ways to grieve and choices that can save lives.

THE END

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

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Nicholas Lives On – Part 1

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

Nicholas Lives On – Part 1

In the fall of ninety-four, Reggie and Maggie Green were on holiday in Italy, driving peacefully through Messina with their children Nicholas and Eleanor (seven and four years old) sleeping soundly in the back seat. Out of the dark night a vehicle creeps alongside. They hear angry shouts and demands to pull over. Terrifying gunshots slam into the body of their car. Reg outruns, what turns out to be, Calabrian highway bandits. Upon arriving safely at their hotel they check the children, who they believe have slept through the traumatic incident. As they try to arose Nicholas they discover a horrible gunshot wound to his head. Two days later Nicholas is pronounced dead.

Without hesitation the Greens decide to donate his organs. This act, which to them is the only choice imaginable, soon catapults them into national and international attention. Nicholas organs go to seven people. Organ donations increase dramatically. Surprisingly, revenge is not in the Greens’ vocabulary, only the reporters ask about retribution. Reg Green says, “There is no sum of money that could give me back my son. Whereas justice heals, vengeance just creates new problems.” The Italian Ambassador Boris Biancheri tells them, “Your names and the name of Nicholas have become for Italians somehow synonymous with courage, of forgiveness and compassion.” Upon their arrival back in the U.S. they continued to advocate for organ donations and speak frequently in public about the importance of turning personal tragedy into life for others.

REGGIE: Nicholas was a very gentle and intellectual boy. He had the usual tantrums every kid does, but he was unusually well behaved. I was already in my sixties when we had him and was astonished at how easy he was growing up. He didn’t seem to cry much.

One of the great things was he was such good company. He seemed to be interested in everything. Going out with him on my back or with him sitting next to me in the car was very fulfilling.

He was rigorously honest. When we came back from Italy, after he’d been killed, Maggie said, “I never remember him telling a lie.” I said the same thing and thought, “We better not tell anybody, because they’ll think it’s too much.” But of course now we’ve told everybody. I just couldn’t resist . . . I wanted to do my best. I didn’t want to deify him . . . because there’s always that temptation. Whenever I’m asked to describe Nicholas, that always stands out . . . his honesty.

He loved games and dressing up to play different roles. Robin Hood was his most enduring . . . he kind of owned that role. Maggie always made a big thing of Halloween, getting dressed up and all. They’d make things from scratch weeks beforehand. Nicholas was terribly proud of his costume. Everything had to be exactly right . . . he was awfully fussy. His gentleness was very pronounced . . . he wasn’t a rough boy.

MAGGIE: He was quite comfortable playing alone. He was a little bit different from the other kids but it was never a problem for him or the kids either. They liked him. He was different but he wasn’t a stranger. He was very friendly and willing to play with anybody. He never noticed that people did things differently then he. When he wanted to wear his bowtie, that’s what he wore. He never got caught up in Ninja Turtles or that kind of thing. He was more interested in reading Robin Hood with his dad or Treasure Island.

REGGIE: It didn’t strike him as strange that he was doing this. Like Maggie said, he never noticed that they weren’t doing the things he was. He wasn’t a leader exactly, but he had such good ideas that people often ended up doing what he was doing. Eleanor (Nicholas’s younger sister) still misses him. Early on she would say, “It’s not so much fun anymore without Nicholas to play with. He isn’t here to show me what to do.”

She was four when he was killed. We haven’t gone out of our way to talk about him but we haven’t closed off either. If the conversation turns that direction we let it go that way. Her attitude is sort of wistful. She says, “Do you remember when Nicholas did this? Wouldn’t Nicholas have liked that?” Her memories are surprisingly accurate. She spoke of an incident that occurred in Canada, three or four years ago now, and her memory conformed to what I recall as well.

She was on the backseat of the car at the time Nicholas was shot but slept right through it . . . which is what we thought he had done. She awoke to find that he’d been shot at the same time we discovered it. She doesn’t remember the horror of it . . . the loud angry voices and the shots themselves, which could have been quite terrifying.

When we came home she went back to sleeping in the same room where they’d both slept. She’s had no nightmares and no more tantrums than her father has. There are no obvious, as far as we can see, major psychological scars.

MAGGIE: I’ve heard of families who lose a child and then never speak of them again. They don’t dare say the child’s name to the mother for fear of upsetting her. I can’t understand that. We have many pictures of Nicholas around. Coming across an unexpected photograph can be difficult, but most of the photos are comforting.

REGGIE: One doesn’t want to forget. I mean, if the price of reducing the pain is to forget, then I don’t think it’s worth it. I always remember as much as I can. Day by day the memories fade a little. I try to write things down on paper. Those photographs to me . . . although there is a shot of pain about coming across one unexpected . . .or you know, a piece of clothing . . . something that has a special significance. I saw some of his books the other day and it is hard . . . but they’re very precious also.

MAGGIE: Eleanor has adopted Nicholas cowboy boots. They were an important element in many of his costumes. She wore them until she finally outgrew them. Either they mean something to her or she just felt, “Now they’re mine and I can do whatever I want with them.”

REGGIE: I don’t think of Nicholas being “present” in a spiritual sense. I’m agnostic, which means I don’t know, but it’s very unlikely that he’s somewhere, as it were. To me his being lives only in my memory. I sometimes try to think about something that happened, because it’s a precious memory for me . . . just as it would with other things as well. You know . . . like, “What did my friend and I do that weekend back when? What did he say?” I like that. I play with those old memories.

MAGGIE: In some ways I’m quite childish about it. On important occasions I sometimes credit Nicholas with arranging the weather . . . that he would be delighted with such. Like when it rained after the drought or when we had perfect weather for the dedication of the bell tower (a memorial for Nicholas) after worrying about it for several days. I kind of indulge myself in not being rational about it.

There are some things I feel I ought to do, like put together some photographs and write down memories for me and for Eleanor, which I still plan to do.

In a way we’ve been given a gift by being able to talk about Nicholas to a lot of people. With Reg giving speeches to groups or people like you, we get a lot of opportunities. People say, “I’m sorry to intrude”, but really it’s an opportunity for us to speak about him. Everyone likes to talk about their children and I think everybody whose lost a child would love to, but some people don’t get a chance or don’t know that it would be good . . . how helpful it would be.

REGGIE: It was thrust on us. As soon as Nicholas was shot the hotel was crowded with journalists from Rome, from all over Italy, to ask about the story. It was the lead story on the television for a number of days. It was even bigger news when we decided to donate the organs, which we thought was a purely personal decision. After the first days of questioning about what we might have done to be unsafe or draw the robbers to us, etc., the only question then was, “Where have you donated the organs?” From the time it took us to drive back from the hospital to the hotel they had already heard about the donation. They also asked, “Don’t you hate Italians?” Or, “Does this mean you forgive the killers?”

It was obvious to us over the first few days that this was a major thing for Italy and it could have major effects. We were seen by the Prime Minister. Everybody we met said something about it, particularly in that part of Italy. It was quite clear that we were seen as a symbol for change . . . certainly in Italy. When we came back to this country there was a mass of people at the airport as well, with the same questions. It wasn’t just an Italian issue, it was worldwide and it was obvious that we were in a position to do a lot about it.

Every year five thousand families donate organs in this country, even though it’s far less than needed. A lot of people have gone through what we have.

We simply thought, “He’s gone, there’s no way of bringing him back. Anything we do can’t possibly hurt him, but it can help other people.” To donate just seemed so obvious. We didn’t even have a discussion about it. One of us just turned to the other and said, more or less, what I just said and we both agreed.

There’s a sizable minority of people that donate, but it is difficult. People tell me that parents come into the hospital distraught or angry. A lot of them are angry at whoever “did it” or at the hospital for not somehow “saving them”, or at their husband, wife or self, for not having prevented it. Anger is often a powerful deterrent. People kind of lose their minds on occasion. They can’t cope with it.

We had a couple days to get used to it. Nicholas was in a coma for two days. We didn’t give up hope, but he was obviously not going to live. In fact, as soon as I saw the bullet wound I thought, “This is very, very serious.”

Our overwhelming feeling was of sadness, not anger. I was just so sad for the world . . . that it could do something like this to such an Innocent child. Nicholas had never hurt anybody in his life. He had no malice in him. It seemed like such a sad thing to have happen. That was my emotion throughout. I don’t ever remember getting angry about it . . . not even at the trial.

The reason I reacted this way must have been due to the influences of my childhood . . . mothers . . . fathers. I was an only child and had the right kind of books and lessons. My mother was very strong and sympathetic. She didn’t like to blame other people or look around for a scapegoat. School . . . all the books one read . . . everything gave me messages about the person I wanted to be. I always regarded railing at fate as being a weak sort of response. I’ve never believed that fate singled me out for blame or praise. I always had a happy life.

MAGGIE: I always thought that Reg was very intellectual about virtue and those things. I don’t know how he’s done it, being agnostic, but he seems to have done so very thoughtfully and established a code of behavior for himself . . . of some deep truth. It struck me when I first met him that he was one of the most virtuous people I knew. And luckily, we didn’t have all the religious talk. So, I don’t know if he used the power of intellect at that time to deal with it or not, but he already had a strong foundation.

I was raised as a Presbyterian but have always been quite casual about it. But I found at that time that it was quite necessary to pray and I found that being in a Catholic country . . . with all the trappings of faith around . . . was very comforting. (She mentioned later during lunch that she repeated the Lord’s Prayer when he was killed, as well as, “Do unto others and forgive them their trespasses.”) It didn’t send me back to church, but the comfort and support . . . of what lay beyond and what hope there might be.

My father died when I was eight, so I expect my mother was quite an example of dealing with that. The strength of raising a family by yourself and being very poor. And I suppose it was kind of a shock to find out that things can go wrong. I’ve always expected the worst. I find that a help really. Reg can be out for a walk and I’ll start to wonder if I can hear ambulances. That’s just the way I am.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

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Le Ly Hayslip

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

LE LY HAYSLIP

As a child she knew only war. She was threatened with execution and raped by the Viet Cong; imprisoned and tortured by the South Vietnamese; starved near death; forced into the black market to survive; and lived with the grief of losing brothers, father, cousins, neighbors, friends and relatives to the violence that ripped her country apart for decades. Le Ly lived through hell on earth and chose to heal the wounds, work for peace, and with the help of her ancestors, rebuild the land that gave her birth.

Le Ly was the first voice in the West to speak about Vietnam from the eyes of the Vietnamese. Her book, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places gave the people of Vietnam a human face. The adapted movie by Oliver Stone increased awareness of what the war had done to individuals and families in Vietnam and was the beginning of an outpouring of humanitarian work for reconciliation and rebuilding between the two countries. In 1989 Le Ly began The East Meets West Foundation which started programs for displaced children; primary health care for over 150,000 patients; Mother’s Love Clinic, with over 1,000 babies delivered; construction of eight schools in remote districts; built over thirty-eight homes and income-generating projects for families; thirty renovated or new built wells; scholarships for educating children and orphans and; a loan program that’s provided for over one hundred and eighty five needy families.

LE LY: The East West Foundation started in 1987, with one hundred dollars, after I saw the poor people in Vietnam. I could not turn my back and walk away from what I saw. If I did not see it at all it would be different, but after you have been there you see and you feel touched. You can’t lie to yourself and say, “I am not going to do anything.” “Doing something” is not just talking but rolling up your sleeves and working.

When I came back from Vietnam in 1986 I lost my sense of having everything. I just had it with the living style. I owned a restaurant, I had a couple of houses rented out, three children . . . but I got really burned out, so I started to let go. I sold the restaurant and houses and moved into a small home.

I’m not working for anyone, just doing the thing I really wanted to do, to write and tell the story. While I’m doing that everything is coming back to me. The more I’m writing the story the more I’m saying to myself, “How could I not help? I was there, I was one of them!” I am lucky enough to get out and then I went back and they are still there, with things worse then it had been. That is when I really committed myself to do what I can. At that time I didn’t know if the book was going to work but if it did well I committed to myself to have all that money go back to where it is coming from. Without the war in Vietnam, without my life crises, I can’t tell the story, right?

So I make that my commitment and I not only sell the house and sell the restaurant and put the time into working on the book, but I work seven days a week and twenty-four hours on the foundation, then eventually my income from my bank to the foundation account so it can do its work. I know who I am. I know what I stand for and I know the principle of what I’m doing.

I recently returned to Vietnam and stayed for almost four months. I saw all the old villages that were leveled by Americans, including my own. I saw the foundation of the house, temple and my school and around it the bamboo and banana trees. The foundation is what they lost. The tree is still growing. The bamboo and the banana tree has sprouted again. The soul of the ancestors is all that remains of foundation and the bomb crater next to the graveyard. I walked through that ghost town with my cousin and he pointed out to me, “Do you remember? Remember who lived here? Remember Uncle so and so lived there? Remember Auntie’s house? Remember the big tree here we use to play on?” You know I’m looking around I feel ghosts. I feel chill in my bones. I’ve been back to Vietnam thirty-six times but never saw these places until then.

I dealt with the refugees from those villages. I helped them with what I can, but after a time I said, “Leave it there.” I went back and saw that they are refugees because they moved lower land people to higher desert land. This land happened to be in my village. They can’t grow anything there. It is sand beach. They cannot survive there. The last thirty years they cannot call it home. They can’t move back because there is land mines and even if there weren’t they having nothing to build with. They fought so hard against the French to save the house, the temple and the ancestor worship places.

That is when I feel my pain. For many years I feel the pain. When I wrote the book I feel the pain of what the war had done to these people. When I work with them and help them, I feel the pain of the poor, the needy, the suffering they have gone through. Now it is a different pain, a different loss. We have fire here in U.S. every now and then. People describe their pain, people feel their losses, and people act or describe the hurt. Vietnamese lost not only one or two houses to fire, we lost the whole village! The places we lived for thousands of years!

Heaven and Earth was the first voice that ever came from the Vietnamese side. Americans wrote about what they did, felt or believed in, but not about Vietnamese. I wanted to describe from Vietnamese experience, how we get from here to there – to be prostitute, refugee, Viet Cong or whatever. I was a young kid, what did I know. So that is the book as a first voice, then the movie and then it was a big impact. It did not do as well as we hoped it would, probably because it was about Vietnam, was from the “other side” and a woman’s story.

I keep going with much help. I’m never alone. I cannot live without spirits. That means knowing that whatever I do, whatever breath I take, whatever words I say . . . they know about it. The spirits have no boundaries. They are like wind. I communicate with my ancestors very clearly. It’s as real as when I talk to you. I have no problem with that. Wherever I live, or work I have to have them with me. Whether you believe it or not is up to you.

They do not control things. I cannot ask you to protect me if I walk out the door and I know somebody is going to kill me. I can’t ask you to protect me because you don’t have any army with you, you don’t have any power. But if I make a call to police they can help me. It is the same with the spirits. I cannot ask my brother or my father to help me when they are just like us, but I can ask my great, great ancestor who was a king, who was an emperor, to protect me. There are good and evil just like there is here, so it depends on how good I do on this plane. If I do all the good work, the high scale side will protect me. You can call it angels or whatever. My thought has to be clear. It has to be peaceful and it has to be clean for them to guide me.

Everybody has choices. The choice they make will help with their energy if they make the right choice. Right now I’m writing about the villages that I visit and all the ghost stories I have been told by the people I’ve been talking to. I feel moved. I feel hurt. I feel pain. At the same time, I feel good because I speak for them. I speak for those who are voiceless. That is helping me and that is when I knew that they are with me. I have to “keep the channel open” and that is what it’s all about, to really keep the flow going through. If I was a hateful person with much anger and condemned the whole world, there also is an entity like that. There are two forces, Yin and Yang. If you have negative flow you have negative flow. It’s like the banking system. If you have positive flow, everything goes smoothly.

People with black, yellow, red, brown, or white skin all have our ancestors. Our ancestors come in all forms. You can call it God, you can call it angel, you can call it whatever. They are there. But we have to take a look at our life here to understand there.

In his death my father taught me how to live. He knew that if he kept living it would draw me back to the village. And with the note they found in his hand we discovered he was going to be killed anyway. One way or another he would die. But the question was where . . . how long? He died so I could be free and wouldn’t go back to the village, so I could go on with my life. But if I am not intuitive enough I may not find the way on the path he provided. I have to walk it carefully.

Every one of us makes that choice. It depends on what we make out of it. Living with the ancestors I have no problems. Living with the real world I have the problems. I know the rules. I know what law I need to obey, spiritual law. That is all I need to know. From Uncle Sam to Uncle Ho, there are many obligations. It is hard. But nothing is impossible.

Many people write about their life, their hatred and their anger. All that does is make some people feel like them so they can put on the uniform, the gun and fight. They start it all over again. That is what I would call negative energy. Every time you think of doing something, energy goes out like a chain link fence, it hooks together. That energy multiplies, bigger and bigger. The other world also has a negative energy that hooks into your negative energy and makes a person down here do things which are harmful. It’s like when you turn on a radio in your house or car and you are looking for these waves. When you tap in with that station they have their own frequency. That is what comes to you the listener, whatever you choose. I would rather tune in to the positive. I like the light that is in me and that energy out there is the same light.

MORE STORIES OF TRANSFORMATION

When Animal Friends Die

They say cats have nine lives. I wish that were true, but the facts contradict such myths. Everything dies, including the felines, dogs and other creatures we choose to care for and have in our lives. Most animals tend to have a shorter life span than humans, thereby increasing the chances that our beloved friend will stop breathing long before we leave our mortal bodies behind.

To add insult to injury; is the often callous or dismissive attitude and comments of others when we’ve lost a non-human friend. People don’t always understand the emotional impact losing a pet can have. They disregard our pain when we try to talk about the cat or dog we’ve had for fifteen years getting sick and needing constant attention. They scoff at our tears, when our affectionate tabby is lost or killed by a car. They belittle our sense of shock and disbelief when the dog we loved and cared for tenderly for the last eight years suddenly dies.

Yet, for some, pets, animals, and companions (which ever you prefer to use as a label for non-human creatures) are some of the closest and endearing connections we experience in life. Being responsible for any of the varied creatures placed in our care takes time, attention and devotion. And, just like people, such continued time and attention creates attachment, bonding and lasting imprints.

The love and commitment we give and receive from our animal friends, in some respects, are quite unique from that of other relationships. Sometimes, they are the only living beings that love us unconditionally and don’t argue, judge or hurt us in any way. They also provide forms of communication beyond words. There desire to be touched, patted, combed, and talked to provide warmth, softness, connection, meaning and continual reminders of enjoying the present moment.

A lady I recently met was shocked when told by her veterinarian that their beloved kitten had cancer and should be euthanized. She refused and is currently seeking a vet that will give Hospice-type services for her cat and provide whatever is needed to make sure her family friend dies comfortably at home enjoying as many precious moments that remain. Like human beings, there should be an alternative for animals beyond that of further treatments or mercy killing.

Losing a pet also reawakens other losses we’ve experienced; whether recent or long ago. When a cat of ours, named Sushi, was killed by a dog a couple years ago, I unexpectedly found myself remembering my childhood collie, named Pinky and the grandmother I used to visit when Pinky was still alive.

The loss of your animal friend should be treated the same as that of a human.
Talk about the loss; share your pictures, memories, tears and grief. Walk, run, swim, workout, hike, bicycle, dance, play or listen to music a couple of times s a week by yourself or with a friend.

Breathing exercises, visualizations, relaxation, stretching, meditation, affirmations and yoga have all been shown to relieve stress, anxiety and positive endorphins to help the body heal.

Relax in a hot tub, hot bath, shower, sauna or sweat lodge and let the emotions seep from your pores and evaporate with the steam.

Put together a collage, altar, memory book, picture frame, treasure box, video or CD of your cat, dog, bird, horse or rabbit.

Have a service or gathering. Memorials and/or funerals; provide validation of your relationship with that being; acknowledgment that their life was of value; and societal affirmation that all living creatures are to be honored and respected.

If you’ve lost an animal friend, at any time in your life and would like some additional support (outside your circle of family and friends) contact the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals), an empathetic therapist or your local grief-counseling center.

Do I Have The Guts?

I know it works. Millions of people around the world have risked life and limb to make it happen. But I don’t know, when it comes down to it, if I have the courage or moral strength to do it myself. In country after country, against the world’s worst governments, tyrants, military invaders and dictators, people have put their lives on the line by confronting the violent use of repression, intimidation, torture and imprisonment with nonviolent weapons of non-cooperation, civil-disobedience, strikes, sit-ins, rallies, vigils, politics and boycotts.

The question is not whether nonviolence works, but why it hasn’t been acknowledged, advocated, taught and put into practice more often? No other form of conflict has created such long-lasting and peaceful results as that of nonviolence.

Nonviolence is far from a passive activity. It requires deep introspection, continual self-awareness, strategizing, commitment, patience and direct and in-direct action. People actually have less chance of getting killed by using nonviolent tactics than they do by using violence.

As seen throughout history, it is imperative that the means match the ends. If you want a peaceful society you can’t use violence to create it. If you desire less hatred, bigotry and vengeance in the world, you have to see it in yourself and practice removing it from your own life.

A Jewish man, known as Jesus of Nazareth, repeatedly and adamantly advocated love and nonviolence and was willing to suffer torture and death by the Romans for his beliefs. His actions and words have since influenced the lives of millions.

About five hundred years before Jesus, the Buddha of Gotama preached an end to the caste system in India and contrary to all rules, laws and expectations of his time, accepted students from all castes.

In 1905, an Eastern Orthodox priest led over 150,000 Russians to the capital to protest the government. That march led to the first popularly elected parliament in that nation’s history.

In the early 1930’s, Mahatmas Gandhi first called for mass civil disobedience against the British. His call for active Satyagraha (truth force) resulted in India’s democratic independence in 1947.

Danish citizens refused to aid the Nazi war effort and forced the Germans to end blockades and curfews during their occupation of Denmark.

Without picking up a single gun Salvadoran’s forced their longtime military dictator into exile in 1944.

Martin Luther King, Jr., using many of the non-violent tactics of Gandhi, helped mobilize Americans to end racial segregation in the South and fight for civil rights nation wide.

Cesar Chavez peacefully rallied farm-workers to demand better working conditions for the men and women that harvest our countries food.

Laborers went on strike, won the right to organize and with the help of the Catholic Church and Solidarity, nonviolently brought down a totalitarian form of communism in Poland.

A group of mothers marched in the capitol of Argentina demanding to know the whereabouts of their abducted sons and grandsons. After years of being intimidated, tortured and imprisoned themselves, their persistence helped oust the countries military junta.

In the Philippines, in 1986, a coalition of citizens outraged with the government supported assassination of a returning exiled politician, massed to support his widow Corazin Aquino. After defying continued brutality, censorship and threats by the Armed Forces under Ferdinand Marcos, the people, with the help of The Church, struck at the conscience of military officers who eventually refused to follow Marcos’s orders.

South Africans waged a decades long nonviolent campaign to end Apartheid. Their actions eventually led to the freeing of Nelson Mandela and a democratically elected government in which every person’s vote had equal value.

Over 100,000 students in the Czech republic sat down in the streets demanding freedom. Their example set off a wave of protest that washed away totalitarian regimes in Hungary, Bulgaria, Mongolia and East Germany.

At the turn of the century the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was defeated and his security forces neutralized by a general strike and nonviolent uprising.

These examples are but a few of the many inspiring practical applications of nonviolence, but how does somebody become brave enough to do it? How does one get to the point where they are willing to risk losing their job, go to prison, be assaulted or killed? How do we stand up to evil without becoming like those we confront? How do we separate evil acts from the people perpetrating them and still stop their actions without demonizing them in the process?

I like to think that my life and what I am doing with it make a difference. I tell myself that working as a counselor, a writer and volunteering in prisons and overseas helps others. I believe raising healthy children, working with human rights organizations and using non-polluting energy for my car and home, all have an impact. Then again, they are all safe and convenient.

Sure, I’ve marched in protest rallies against different wars and been arrested for blocking nuclear weapons facilities, but I knew the worst thing that would happen would be a couple of hours in detention or an overnight stay in the slammer. If I faced the prospect of years in prison, large fines, torture, a criminal record or being exiled from my country and family would I have done the same thing? I doubt it. Am I willing to stop paying taxes, get fined and go to jail? No. Am I spending time organizing other citizens to insist on less military spending and greater humanitarian interventions around the world? Perhaps, a little. Am I fully putting my body and deeds where my heart and beliefs lead me? No.

The reality is that I pay others to protect me with violent means. By paying my taxes I pay for law enforcement and military personal to carry and use weapons to theoretically keep my family, community and nation out of harms way. The money I pay to our government helps research, design, produce and use weapons of mass destruction and military intimidation and violence.

If someone threatened my son, daughter or mate, I believe I have the guts to stand my ground and resolve the conflict nonviolently without striking back, but I’m not sure. And if someone threatened my neighbor or community, I doubt I would have the same brave resolve to “fight back”, as I would with my immediate family.

I like to see myself as an advocate for justice, peace and freedom, now I’m not so sure. The justice, peace and freedom I seek are made in the context of a comfortable way of life and don’t require me to go out of my way to achieve them or make any great sacrifices; yet, all of those who have preceded me have been willing to do just that. They all took a leap of faith. They saw that they were not separate from anyone else on this planet and what they and others do or don’t do, affects us all.

When it comes down to the nitty gritty and I have to practice what I preach, I hope I can make that leap. I hope my faith in non-violence and love carries me through any and all circumstances and situations. In reality, I won’t know until or if, it happens. It could be that everyone is scared, even petrified, when faced with harm, but they act anyway. Perhaps that is what courage is all
about.

Keeping Joe Alive

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

Alexandra’s only child, Joseph Matteucci (age 17) was killed at a youth baseball game on May 15, 1993. During a melee between teams, in which Joseph was trying to extricate his friend, he was struck in the back of the head with a baseball bat, which had been swung in a fit of anger towards another boy who ducked. Two days later Joseph died of his injuries. It was the first game related death in little league history.

As a result of her son’s death Alexandra Matteucci created a national organization, The Joseph Matteucci Foundation for Youth Non-Violence, which envisions the “youth of America discovering the power of standing for peace, respect for life, and passion for living.” Their endeavors include a mediation training program taught to and for high school and middle school children; a sports emblem program designed to educate parents, coaches and players of the importance of good sportsmanship; and a scholarship program which supports educational opportunities to students who demonstrate an ongoing commitment to peace activities on campus. In addition to starting the foundation, Joe’s vital organs were donated to a 44-year-old construction worker, a 38-year-old lawyer, a 13-year-old girl and a 57-year-old man.

Alexandra Matteucci: “Joseph continues to live with me. He is very much a part of this foundation. He has been an inspiration to me all my life, showing me unconditional love. He was very wise for his age. I shared all my problems with him. We were very connected. I was a single parent since he was a year old. I even felt a spiritual connection to him before he was born . . . in the womb.

Joseph’s death was a symptom of how our society deals with violence and aggression that can lead to violence. Our anti-violence program is really about bringing the young people, the coaches and the parents together prior to a season in a single event that’s mandatory. I talk about what happened to my son, how and why it happened and ask everyone to stand and take a pledge. The pledge is, “Play to win. Play safely. Win or lose fairly. And be cool.” Then they sign the pledge and put our emblem on their uniform. Some of the teams incorporate the pledge in their opening day ceremony and their fund raising events.

One of the things I think that makes an impact on these young people is that I talk about Joe. I show pictures of him. They realize who he was and they come away very touched. When I go and talk about him in the schools, I tell them there’s a part of Joe living in each and every one of them and that every child and every parent is important.

Our program now teaches conflict resolution in the schools right along with our safety program. I read this article in the paper about an incident where two neighbors got angry at one another over parking and one of them went over and killed the other with a bat. He had very similar injuries to what Joe had received. I remember saying to myself, “Here’s another example that it’s not about baseball, it’s about anger.”

The impact of having someone taken from you, especially a young person, is so overwhelming that fortunately your body and your mind have the ability to save you. It takes some time before you’re ready to realize the immensity of the loss of your child. It’s so humbling. It’s an experience I can’t even describe in words. Not having that child in your life is difficult to comprehend. There are so many things that go through your mind.

What helped me most were people that sent articles and books or folks that would listen to what I had to say about my grief, that would allow me to talk about Joe. People don’t realize that when you’ve had a loss you want to talk about that person. The first reaction from most people is they avoid talking about it with you.

I’ve realized what great gifts our children are. They don’t really belong to us. We don’t own them. It’s humbling when you realize you can’t control everything. I have memories of holding Joseph in my arms and saying to him, “As long as I’m here Joe nothing will happen to you,” but that’s not always true. They’re going to go places and be around people that aren’t always in your control. You have to trust that you taught them to have a sense of what’s right and wrong.

Though he’s gone physically, he and I are still connected. Our relationship continues. I think Joseph came here as an old soul. In a way he’s my teacher. Since he graduated so early he must have been ahead of the learning cycle.

When Joe was killed it opened me up to my soul. It helped me release myself to my life’s mission. I said, “God, I don’t know why I’m here; I’m obviously not understanding it. It’s too painful and debilitating. I don’t have any purpose in my life any longer. So I’m giving my life to you and to Joseph and whatever consciousness is out there. My life is yours. ou take it. You open the door and show me the way.”

When I did that, I realized the doors are open . . . there is a purpose. What I do now comes very easily. It’s very spiritual. It’s not something that’s coming from me; it’s coming through me. Isn’t that amazing? I find that I have more love now than I ever have.

When Joe was seven or eight, he gave me a card for some occasion or other. I opened it up and started crying. Inside the card was a drawing of some trees on a hillside, birds flying and in his handwriting it said, “Mom, I love you. I love being around you. You are like oxygen to me and I’m a tree. You are also as beautiful as a tree.”

Losing my son in that way was the painful beginning of a new, more open life. And he continues to live through every child he touches. With his story being heard over and over again it brings him to life. It’s Joe’s message, Joe’s story and I’m the vehicle . . . the messenger.”

Deathbed Conversions?

I wish death happened like it used to in the old movies. You know, those deathbed scenes were everyone gathers around, makes amends, say their good-byes and drift off with visions of God and the angels dancing in their eyes. But it rarely does. Deathbed conversions are few and far between.

When death approaches or has taken place, most people live their faith, their beliefs (or their disbelief) in a God or the hereafter the same as they have the rest of their lives. If they believe in some creative force that is more than what we can see, they continue to do so through sickness and loss. If they believe God has a plan for everything that happens and that Jesus is their savior, they continue to do so until their dying breath. If someone feels that there is no God, supreme being or spiritual meaning for anything on earth, they hold on to that belief even after their loved one’s body is buried deep in the ground.

A friend once told me, as their mother was dying, that no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t make herself believe the same as her mother had all her life. She desperately wished she could. She wanted to understand and connect with her mother before she passed on in a way she had never been able to. She said that for awhile she pretended to believe as her mother had, but she knew she was pretending. She even went to her mother’s church and read the same readings and scriptures, without any change of heart.

A client I met with for several months repeatedly expressed her frustration that her husband had never believed in God and she couldn’t understand how he had gone to his death without accepting God into his life. For over forty years she had tried to convert him and get him to go to church, always believing that someday he would see the spiritual light.

A member of my family had an understandably difficult time when my uncle killed himself and sincerely worried about his soul, wondering if he was suffering as much after death as he had during life. They prayed that God would forgive my uncle and provide the serenity that had always seemed to be just beyond his reach. The only way they could make sense out of the tragedy was to believe that he was “in a better place”. They had always believed that God provides happiness and peace and used that faith to provide personal comfort, safety and meaning.

Belief in God, a Great Spirit, Nature, Jesus or some other religion or spiritual path, doesn’t mean that people don’t question, argue, bargain or get angry with that in which they believe.

A colleague of mine was enraged when her daughter was killed in a car accident. She felt like her religious tradition had lied to her. “How could a loving God let such a bad thing happen to such an innocent child?! How could He take her at such a young age?!” She still believed in God, but couldn’t make sense out of what had happened. “Somebody was responsible for this!” she said. “There has to be a reason!” She prayed to God for an answer. “But all I could hear was myself talking to the empty air,” she explained. “It took me years of asking ‘why’, begging for an answer, before God gave me the strength and understanding to live with not knowing.”

Another client blamed God for allowing her abusive ex-husband to survive and live with his alcoholism, while her hard-working, kind friend died from liver cancer. She overflowed with unanswerable questions. “Why didn’t that son-of-a-you-know-what get this awful disease instead? Why does my friend have to deal with this? What did she ever do? Why? Why? Why?” Her friend continued to work as long as possible and remained true to her sweet loving self until her death a year and a half later.

As in most sweeping statements of finality there are exceptions. Occasionally someone reacts to death and loss differently than they have lived the rest of their lives.

A woman I interviewed a few years ago said she made a bargain with God and it changed her life. As the car she was driving hit a side rail on the freeway and begin rolling over and over she said, “God, if you let me live to raise my young son I’ll dedicate my life to you.” She had never believed in God and didn’t know where that had come from, but she said she heard a voice answer her that said, “Yes”. She survived the accident, continued raising her son as a single parent and never forgot her promise. Though she had always seen herself as a selfish person, she started thinking of others and became involved in a number of charities. When her son was killed ten years later she never wavered from her promise and used her son’s death to inspire her to do even more of “God’s work”.

Death and grief can crack open our hearts. They can change our perceptions of how we see the world. They can wake us up to the reality of pain and suffering in ways that we never thought possible. Within the midst of such grief and pain we can reach out for comfort, look within for guidance and find compassion and forgiveness from our religion, community or sense of personal responsibility.

Mourning can be a catalyst for clarifying our values and deepening our understanding, but it doesn’t mean we will throw our beliefs out the window or change our spiritual faith. We need not despair over our usual conditioned human response to loss. There’s always an old movie with a good deathbed scene we can find at the video store, take home and imagine ourselves saying our good-byes, making last minute amends and being carried off to the heavens!

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