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The Trash Can of Shame

 

This is it.  This isn’t even the kitchen trash where I sat for two hours waiting for the 10 trick or treaters. This is the trash can in my bedroom where today, the day after Halloween, I proceeded to eat most of the leftover candy. I only ate two Almond Joys. I bought these because I don’t like them. It appears that no one else does either because my roommates ate all the Reeses and left the coconutty rejects.trash2

I admit to also eating two bags of candy before Halloween which forced me to buy said Almond Joys. In my favor, I lost a bunch of weight this summer and have been trying to gain it back. This seems to be helping except that I can’t sleep and am forced to blog as penance. I wish I could have given more candy away. But with Halloween being on a Wednesday and the weather being a chill 15 degrees, I knew I was not going to meet my charitable goal.

Not that I didn’t try. Here are my window decorations. You can’t see the strobe light I’ve got inside which makes the demons flash!

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Here are a couple of brightly coifed characters hanging out on my porch.

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The best moment of the evening was when one of the children asked if he could give the seated character a hug.  It gives me hope that a new generation of children is full of empathy for those who are different. This piece was originally rising from a grave at our workplace haunted house. The grave read “R. I. P.- But I wasn’t tired yet!”

How lucky am I to work at a facility which has both a haunted house and children who come in to trick or treat??!!.  Since it’s a “long-term care facility” the residents chose to have a haunted hospital room and a graveyard.   Residents played a nurse and doctor dressed in precaution wear encouraging people to get their flu shot with a giant syringe. Beside them was a dummy covered in cobwebs and surrounded by bats, (especially on point as two bats invaded the place this summer.) Another resident was the Rock Star gatekeeper to the cemetery. I ushered people directly from the hospital to the cemetery giving them a quick brain transplant made from paper mache in between.

Before work, I was so busy bringing in costumes and props that I forgot my own costume.  Luckily I had an extra “Annoying Orange” costume in there that I could slip over my clothes. Several residents surprisingly remarked that it fit my personality perfectly. Those are definitely very much like my eyes and teeth but my skin is a bit more wrinkled.

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When I got home I was exhausted and probably looked scary in a pasty white person way. My first visitor came alone and looked exactly like this.

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I was caught off guard as I could not fathom that any young person would know who Charlie McCarthy was. I started to ask him but he was not talking, because of course, he came alone.

I am alone now and very awake with a sugary irritation in my head.   I swore at the computer and at Microsoft Publisher before I left work. Then I ate more candy. Our staff agreed, maybe less is more.  Perhaps next year we will have a parade instead of a haunted house.  The haunted house did keep the residents busy for a month building something to share. One of my favorite touches was the SAD light which was repurposed to show skull xrays. We also purchased twelve extra super jumbo bags of candy. It was a joy to watch the residents share these with the visiting kids.

I spoke to a resident today about death. They shared that their spirit will live on without pain. I am reminded of all of the spirits who live on in me through my exploits. Someday I will join with them in a haunting of this world. Until then I will celebrate whenever I can even when my trashcan betrays me.

 

 

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On living to be as old as my mother did

Samhain or Halloween is a time of transition from one year to another in the pagan calendar. Spirits rise and snow falls, at least here in Anchorage. I just had a landmark birthday in that I have lived to the age my mother died.  My life has been unlike my mother’s. I have not married or had children. I am unlikely to die this year. Yet I am stung by the awareness available to me given both my distance from her experience and my similarity in age and temperament.

I spent most of my life trying not to become as trapped as she felt. Instead of resenting commitments, I have learned to take more time in making the choice to commit and to treasure moments of uncommitted time each day or night when I share her somewhat common inability to rest. Like her, I have a mess of books aside my bed where I can escape to a world where I do not exist but where I have the freedom to love and fear on a grand scale.

My mother and I shared a love for William Shatner. She would watch TJ Hooker and I would watch Star Trek. This week at work I searched YouTube for an old horror movie to show the folks. We wound up watching “Valley of the Spiders” with Shatner in the role of a veterinary doctor up against an army of eight-legged adversaries. The film was dated enough not to scare the pants off sensitive viewers but contained just enough scares that people chose to be late to dinner in order to catch the ending.

I work at a long-term care nursing facility. Most everyone there feels trapped. Some are trapped by life and some by death. My job is not just to distract them from this feeling but to encourage appreciation of their choices. These facilities used to be called “nursing homes” but they were rebranded because no matter how hard we try they are more like hospitals than homes.

There is a revolution coming in this area. The members of my generation will lead it demanding a different kind of care that does not include being trapped in a regimen of vital signs every few hours and thickened liquids.  These are small efforts to prolong life that few people appreciate. Life and death are vital concepts in my work. What constitutes a life? Is lying in bed all day okay? Can institutionalization be lessened by surprise and humor? Could singing be one of the best therapeutic interventions ever? Can it be fun to laugh at death?  That’s what Halloween is about. This year the residents have chosen to host a Haunted House with a Hospital Room and a Graveyard.

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Winter in Alaska arrived just this week. The mountains wear their white hair proudly. The snow has fallen only lightly in the lowlands but it’s cold enough to discourage a sexy  Halloween outfit. I’ve connected with friends and family in the last week and remembered how full of life my mother was until she was not.  She was a lover of Halloween, The Fourth of July, of Christmas and of Sunday dinners.  I continue her tradition by making up as many holidays as I can. I resist the promotional “National Bubble Gum”, “International Chocolate Brownie”, and “Salute your Soldier” Days to make each day a celebration that is not dictated but becomes itself.

The First Day of Snow is a natural one for most people I know and there is much walking around the town. The Day of the Most Mistakes is one that usually falls on Saturday, the end of my work week. The Day of Deliciousness coincides with the cooking group and The Luckiest Day of the Week is the day on which the Bingo game is held. I dress up for all of them, wearing a fancy apron or a silly hat. There may be many logical reasons to fear the darkness of winter, the upcoming election or the result of a medical test but there is also my mother’s way.  My fondest memory of her illness is when she explained from her hospital bed that she had made a week’s worth of soup for us and it was in the fridge. I hear this now from other women who are losing what we call “reality orientation” but in truth they have located their most important reality, the ability to show love and hospitality.

Everyday will have a new guest knocking at the door. It may be winter, a giant dinosaur, a new roommate or a death.  The treat may be candy or a bowl of soup. My mother is with me now as I write this thinking of chocolate and what it means to be a young at heart elder floating in eternity, grounded only in hospitality and humor.

Here is a funny costume I saw today.

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Happy Halloween!

The Fall, The Salmon, the Political Harvest Festival

It wasn’t so long ago that it seemed like spring in America. Many people were hopeful. Other democracies wanted to be our friends. Now the weather has turned and only dictators will take us in. Our representatives huff and puff but they can’t blow down the free world with new or restored tariffs. Are we preparing for another less than civil war in our own country where people begin by wishing each other dead on Facebook and progress to buying ammunition?.

Had we not established, in the beginning, an oligarchy of wealthy white men to run the place we might not be in this crisis today. We can’t change the past but we can look outside our cherished ancestors to see how other countries have worked together instead of against each other in order to thrive.

Today I observed that the salmon have been moving approximately 2 bridges a day up the stream near my home in Anchorage.

fish bridge

Here they are at the first bridge. They’ve turned red and are swimming upstream from Cook Inlet which is just a few hundred yards away.

salmon bridge2

Here they are flapping their fins in the shallow water under a further bridge. They make lots of noise. They’ve become more desperate in their undertaking. They are very red. People get like this. So do Nations when they sense the endgame.

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Here are some salmon taking a break in an eddy by the former bridge. Note the white on the top of one of the fish. He is rotting away. These fish start out silver. They stop eating and turn red. Their parts start to rot off but hopefully, they survive to mate.  Some people are obsessed with their power and their endgame. They turn everything into a predatory pursuit or a competition to dominate.  Others can work together for the greater good. Too bad this country glorifies those who defeat others by force or intimidation. By deciding this is our preferred way of operating, we minimize the potential for the next generation to form models of cooperation.

I  hope that the ability to work with others can be taught in school and in the home. Why do we grade people on an individual basis or even decide pay this way when most everyone works winds up working on a team? Do we want the other teams in our workplaces to fail so we look better?  Perhaps it’s more difficult to introduce cooperation when there are so many single child families in the middle and upper classes. But that means that the meek will probably inherit the earth.

In Fall, people store up supplies. Some people hoard. In Winter disaster may strike any of us and who will help? Probably not those who consider themselves self-sufficient or who have the most firearms. Instead, it may be those who have experience in negotiation and emotional regulation who survive. It isn’t always the strongest or most intelligent/talented salmon who survives. It may be one who rests with the others at the side of the stream who has the energy to reach their final destination. The truth is they will all die, and most of their children will die before they mature. On that pleasant note, I encourage you to take a walk and enjoy what you see and feel today. Do not binge watch the news or your favorite dystopian fantasy. Instead, say hello to your neighborhood and notice that you are not on top of it nor on the bottom. We are just alive, for now. When I walk I’m not sure who is homeless and who is rich or in pain or Republican or Independent. We are just animals in the woods.

Don’t give up hope yet, at least until after you vote.  Have a voting party and invite anyone in your neighborhood who has participated in democracy. Don’t make your harvest hatred. Crunch the leaves, watch the moon rise. Forget about responding to every nasty post you read. Don’t hesitate to sing and dance outside but I draw the line at building a wicker man and sacrificing members of the opposite political party. If members of the United Nations can laugh at the audacity of our president then we can laugh too. It’s easier to get away with that in a crowd.

 

Yes, you can have a happy Memorial Day!

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Despite tweets from our president, you are allowed to have a happy Memorial Day.  You do not have to go to a cemetery, although you can bring chrysanthemums there if you like, as the French do. You can host a barbeque or spend the day in the garden as people like myself, (a bit older and female) do in Alaska. This is the first “legal” day for planting gardens in Anchorage.

You do not have to attend a military event or you can wear red, white and blue then cry when taps is played. I think most people cry when they hear taps whether or not they have lost someone in a war. There are so many ways to remember the dead, why limit ourselves to only one ritual. Vive la difference.

My cousin and her son spent time last week cleaning off our family gravestones. Thank you Suzanne and Luka.  Have you ever noticed that granite gets stained green and mossy with age? Apparently this stuff is as difficult to remove as age spots are. The old slate stones from the 1600’s have held up well  and make good rubbings, this tidbit from growing up near a cemetery established in 1640. No one puts a skull with wings on their gravestone anymore, unless they were a Hell’s Angel. There are fewer poems and more photographs, kind of like the ones you see on birthday cakes.    My mother’s family were in the funeral business so I can’t help but see cemeteries as a bit of a marketing scheme.  I also recognize that the shortness of life, strong beliefs in the afterlife and lack of the internet where people live forever made them important spaces not just for grieving but for the practice of duty and respect.

I prefer cremation, (I almost spelled it “creamation” like making myself into an ash smoothie or milk shake). I would like to be scattered in the Atlantic Ocean then people might remember me occasionally if they chose while they frolicked in the waves. But I do not expect too much, I don’t have children and my family of origin so far has done pretty well calling me for my birthday so this life probably is as good as it gets.

My mother died one Memorial Day weekend so my tradition has been to do things she taught me or would have enjoyed seeing me do.  Of course I baked brownies and spent time outside rollerblading. My mother was an active woman who broke her ribs skateboarding down Norwood Ave while we were all in school.  She loved ice skating and she was an avid roller skater in her youth.

I don’t believe you have to be a saint or a hero to be remembered on Memorial Day. My father died before I got to know him so I have included a photo of my mother and one of my father, both as children in this post. Who can know their parent as a child? That is a mystery and yet we can guess from stories and hope that when they leave this earth some of their childhood joys and wishes are fulfilled.

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What were these kids thinking? At some time I bet they both thought about chocolate cake and getting out of school early.  This is the only picture I have of my father with hair and the only photo of my mother wearing a dress that is not fashionably fitted. It may have been passed down from her older sister Muriel!

 

Memorial Day is about memory and imagination mingled with grief and barbequed ribs. The dead remind us to live and enjoy what they have left us. We pass on their stories with grace today instead of focusing completely on ourselves. But if you are focused on yourself or binge watching a favorite show, it’s a free country. Enjoy!

If I could see as you do……

Ivan Bilibin was a Russian illustrator, especially of folk tales, whose work is beautiful. Russian folk tales can be pretty odd. This must have been one of them. When you work out what’s going on, write me a story, please.

via Sunday Strange microfiction challenge — Jane Dougherty Writes

https://janedougherty.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/sunday-strange-microfiction-challenge-3/

If I could see with the eyes of the dead, I would not waste my youth in fear or lust. I would not cry in the dark but treasure the sharp edge of loneliness.  I would cast off the faith which castigated me for living. I would see what matters instead of relying on magic wishes and futile comparisons. But there were donuts, doe-eyed men and other distractions.

The house of my childhood is now fenced with bones. I cannot enter without their owner’s permission. When they give it, I choose the eyes of the most misunderstood and venture into the woods. They see without pain now and offer me not the rewards of love, peace or prosperity but that of humor.

The picture is from a Russian folktale in which a girl, whose mother has died, escapes the home of Baba Yaga thanks to a blessing from her dead mother, something with which I can identify.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Holy Consumer day

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Holidays are religious in origin honoring God(s) and Heroes

The Civil war brought us Memorial Day.

Our forefathers brought forth a new nation

Our forefathers brought forth a new nation

WWI brought us Veteran’s day.

"The bayonet isn't as important as it used to be" - All Quiet on The Western Front

“The bayonet isn’t as important as it used to be” – All Quiet on The Western Front

Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s birthday merged to form the Supersized President’s Day!

"On reconsidering the uniform for the Commander-in-Chief as it respects myself personally, I was against all embroidery. Do not conceive that fine clothes make fine men any more than fine feathers make fine birds. A plain genteel dress is more admired, and obtains more credit than lace and embroidery, in the Eyes of the judicious and sensible." - Letter to James McHenry, January 27, 1799

“On reconsidering the uniform for the Commander-in-Chief as it respects myself personally, I was against all embroidery. Do not conceive that fine clothes make fine men any more than fine feathers make fine birds. A plain genteel dress is more admired, and obtains more credit than lace and embroidery, in the Eyes of the judicious and sensible.” – Letter to James McHenry,  – G. Washington, January 27, 1799

There’s Martin Luther King Day

Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. -  - MLK, Where Do We Go From Here? (1967)

Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort from the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice. –
– MLK, Where Do We Go From Here? (1967)

The 4th of July

A statistician made a few calculations and discovered that since the birth of our nation more lives had been lost in celebrating independence than in winning it.  ~Curtis Billings

A statistician made a few calculations and discovered that since the birth of our nation more lives had been lost in celebrating independence than in winning it. ~Curtis Billings(actor)

Let’s not even get into Christmas and Easter, Valentine’s, Mother’s and Dad’s day.

It may look like the way we honor people is to shop, but I think not. I believe shopping and the blockbuster films which come out on holidays are not just part of American consumerism. Buying things is of course a show of faith in our economy. Shopping and entertainment are also a way to avoid thinking about death which is what all these holidays have in common.

I feel strangely alienated from death. People used to have many children because a certain percentage of them would die. Now  many people only have one or none. The teenage pregnancy rates have dropped with the overall number of children born during the recent recession.  The purchase of chocolate has gone up.

I like visiting cemeteries, walking in them, running through them.  I like to visit my own mortality.  It appears to put me in the power position which I certainly am not. I stalk death, it doesn’t stalk me.

I went to some yard sales, to Nordstroms, JC Penney’s, and Lowes this weekend.  They did not make me happy.  I bought some plants to keep me busy gardening. I tried on some hats and got some shoes for a wedding.  But what I want is something deeper.  Not a memory of a trip or a cookout, not a bargain but  some guidance as to the purpose of life and acceptance of death.

My mother died on Memorial Day weekend 30 years ago. My father was a World War II veteran who died 44 years ago.  I remember Memorial Day as being a solemn ritual involving  prayers, flowers, tributes in graveyards. Tomorrow I will observe the 150th anniversary of this Civil War holiday.  I will try to understand why I struggle against my own family, against my self, against things and people I can’t change. I will take stock of how far I can go to change something important without becoming a perpetrator of violence myself.  I will listen to what the dead have to say.  That may sound scary but most of the quotes above are from those who have passed on while the ads were most likely produced by the living.  Not that all dead people are wise, but they probably have better things to do than shop and party. Or maybe not?

Fun times to think about death

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I think about death  when…

1. I get a massage. I can’t help it. I feel like I’m on a slab at a morgue. There’s always Enya playing and I imagine some geeky mortician ready to pump formaldehyde in me. Enya is a little like that “Go to the light” kind of music. I cry a little, as if I was at my own funeral.

2. When I eat a Big Mac, just one bad lifestyle choice too many.

3. When I think of the Dalai Lama. The only thing he ever wrote that’s stuck with me is about humans being  like a sac of stuff that is easily punctured and spills all over the place. Oh, the mortality! Way to pursue happiness Dalai L.!

4. When my feet get cold. It’s practice

5. When I read anything about the brain. It’s just way too fragile, like an uncooked meatloaf in there, with only some pyrex pans to hold it together.

6. In spring, when everything and everyone seems younger than I am. I hear Ron Paul started challenging other candidates to bicycle races in the Texas heat to prove how young he feels. There are an awful lot of Republicans to race at this point. Maybe he should wait until the race narrows down a little or race them all at once.

7. In the summer, when I go to the beach in the town where I grew up and see people I know only to realize that these are the children of the people I grew up with.

8. When I see a moose. I don’t think,”how cute” or “where’s my camera?” I think ” How can I get out of here as fast as possible so someone else gets stomped to death not me?”  Also it would not be cool to have my stomping death go viral on Youtube.

9. When food in the fridge is a week old. That’s all it takes, some bad food to land you in a box. Everything is a bit past it’s prime by the time it gets to Alaska, including myself, but the cold is a reasonable preservative. Beans are the scariest dish for me. Beans should be confined to laboratories only. Everything grows in beans. Look at those Anna Geddes photos.

10. In dealing with electricity, Electricity should be seen not felt. I would rather not even see it, just have it silently converted to something useful like heat or light. I just watched a documentary about people who got struck by lightening. It would make you want to assassinate Thor. I especially hate that little spark that jumps out whenever I plug anything in, the spark of annihilation. Who knows how many other sparks are hiding back behind those little holes. An entire army is waiting to destroy me through contact with the tip of my finger.  I spend so much time worrying about electricity I would never notice if I had cancer.