Today’s guest post is written by Sara LeeAnn Pryde.
“Speaking of dead moms…” As if one can delicately work that into polite conversation. Which is why today is so impossible. Every year on January 29th – what would have been my mother’s birthday – my sisters and I wake up to our lives and feel numb. Angry. Empty. Anguished. And inconvenienced at having to pretend it’s just another day. And yet, it is. That’s the added insult to the injury of death, isn’t it? That the world should continue on when we can’t possibly?
For weeks leading up to our mother’s would-be-birthday, we dream of her. A dim, golden-haired waif whose face we can either recall with perfect clarity or never quite make out; so, we wake up on the 29th bloody tired, sometimes wishing we hadn’t, wishing we could stay beside her awhile longer.
I brew a pot of coffee, thick as mud, and trip over my accursed cats. How can they think of food today? Some 1200 miles away in California, my sister Brynn begrudgingly slaps the snooze button and buries her head. Not far south in a neighboring city, our sister Chelsie lifts her chunky, blue-eyed infant from the crib and feels her own burn with unshed tears. Ocean eyes, like our mother’s.
The clock is running and daily life proceeds as usual, but we three are frozen in time. We are thinking of our mom. We may want to talk about her, to say her name aloud… but our significant others have never met her, don’t remember what today is, or at least not what it means to us. We may want to hide from it altogether, and are grateful our friends and co-workers are as clueless as the bank teller or grocery clerk.
I sit down to write a tribute to my mother that will do my sisters proud, but I can’t find the words. How can I tell who she was to me? How can I tell why my own identity have splintered in her absence? How can I tell that losing her was more than just a tragic accident? How, especially when we haven’t reconciled that it was an accident at all? How can I breathe to life what is, some days, such a damn, diaphanous mystery?
Cindy was… Our mom was… magic. All smoke and mirrors and sparkle and magic.
And one day she just disappeared for real.
I gave up my memoir and went out instead to buy a bulk-sized bag of Jelly Belly Jelly Beans. They were mom’s favorites – especially the black licorice flavored. She and I would always fight over the licorice ones. The grocery clerk didn’t ask about my dead mom. He asked me about snowfall and if I’d had a pleasant new years’. I resisted the urge to punch him and cried in the car.
Back at home, I rummaged through my kitchen cabinets and art supplies and crafted a ridiculously cheerful Jelly Belly centerpiece on the dining table. Then I ate every single black jelly bean in memory of her.
Sometimes speaking of death isn’t necessary, and sometimes sharing it isn’t possible. We do as we do to get through. We eat the black jelly beans.
About the author: Sara LeeAnn Pryde is an enigma wrapped in a question mark behind a coat of winged eyeliner. She’s moonlighted as a massage therapist, optometric assistant, erotica photographer, small business owner and social media manager, but if you ask what she does for a living, she’ll laugh and ask you if that’s the most interesting question you can come up with.
Today’s guest post is written Caleb Cook:
After Hurricane Katrina ravaged my hometown of Pass Christian, MS I was left with next to nothing. My belongings were either swept into the back bay near Bay St. Louis, or left soaked with only what could be described as a toxic gumbo of mold, brackish water, and sewage. The few things I had left were a few books of poetry and some CD’s, the stuff that would fit into a 98 Kia Sephia.
I was 18, fresh out of graduating high school and only a few weeks into my freshmen year of college when Hurricane Katrina hit. With the feelings of summer still in the air I made the rushed decision to take the destruction of my life and turn it into a way out. I needed money and an apartment, my parents and siblings were living in Florida temporary. So without guidance I hastily quit school and decided to find work. The odd jobs were relentless, back breaking in fact, like helping gut houses out in my town to where there was nothing left but a solid shell, everything gone except wood. Others included laying tile or landscaping; stuff I admittedly wasn’t in love with doing.
Soon thereafter, I was offered the opportunity to work for a DME company delivering Durable Medical Equipment from a friend who had lost everything just as I had done. The job was simple, I was to deliver the equipment to homes and hospitals. The equipment ranged from hospital beds, bed side commodes, oxygen and the related stuff. I was to also show the patients how to use the equipment after I assembled it all. My deliveries took me all over South Mississippi into patients homes and nursing homes. I dealt daily with hospice patients, people with a mere hours left to live, their families, and a vast array of folks from every walk of life.
One delivery stands out more than any of them in my mind. It was early fall almost dusk, when I got the ticket to fix a hospital bed and move it from one room to the next. The delivery was the last one of a long ass day, a Friday to be exact. I could practically taste the freedom of the weekend. This particular delivery would offer a challenge I was getting used to: It was in a FEMA trailer, at a lot off of I-10 in Gulfport. These trailers were small and often challenging maneuvering bulky equipment around. Needless to say I was ready for this problem and expected to be in and out.
I knocked on the door and a polite elderly lady answered, the patient was her husband, a senior with terminal brain cancer. He was sitting in a wheelchair in front of the TV asleep. She proceeded to show me the room and I began the process of disassembling the bed. I was sweating as it was hot inside the trailer as was most homes I visited. The bed was taken apart with ease and soon I was setting it back up in the adjacent room. It was then I hear a big loud THUD. The women begans crying “Help Me!” I immediately run into the living room to find the patient on the floor. The women pleading for my response, my help.
Except I, by law, could not under any circumstance touch the patient. Hypothetically if I did help, and the patient was to die I could be arrested, sued or fired. This was explained to me countless times during my job orientation months prior. So I did what any 18 year old would do, I ran. I ran outside and into the safety of my work van. I called my boss, who we will name Ralph. Ralph proceeded to tell me to get the signature for delivery and GET OUT of there. He would call the hospice nurse in charge of the patient or an EMT. His voice was of concern, but also nervousness for me his youngest delivery driver ever. I was scared and morally confused about what I should do.
I would like to say I gave in to the pleads and cries by offering my hand of help. However I can not say I manned up because I was still a boy trapped in this strange land between Hurricane Katrina destruction, medical equipment, hospice, death, and mostly fear. I left the FEMA trailer and never looked back. As I returned to the warehouse, Ralph my boss only offered a simple “Are you okay?” and that was that.
6 months later I was home from work watching the local nightly news when a photo of this couple flashed on my TV. They had been murdered in cold blood and the killers were arrested soon after. They were looking for money, one was a neighbor in the park who occasionally took care of the man. My heart sank and then shattered into a million pieces. All I could think of was how I left that couple months prior. How she was crying, and pleading with no physical strength to lift him off that cold, dank, FEMA trailer floor. I left somebody when they were in need and at the end of their life. I began to cry, the cry only a kid of now 19 can cry when his heart is broken. My body still aches with regret.
The next day at work I was given the ticket from FEMA to pick up our equipment from the crime scene so they can move the FEMA trailer out of the park. This pick up would alter me and change me from a boy to a man. At about 11am on a cloudy February day I pulled into the park off of I-10. I had to pick up the bed, oxygen, commode, wheelchair, and a shower chair. The same wheelchair the man fell out of and onto the floor. I felt, as if in this moment Deja Vu and Karma were real. I felt as if God was playing a cruel trick on me by making me relive my regret.
I assumed the equipment would be outside the trailer waiting, and that a clean up crew would have already cleaned the trailer. I never in a million years would have thought I would be going inside this place. The equipment was not outside, it was still inside and I discovered this as I was greeted by a FEMA official smoking a cigarette near the entrance of a door. The glass on the door had been knocked out and police tape was blocking the entrance.
“This is my first time inside,” the FEMA official declared. With a solemn look on her face. I said “It’s my second.” She looked confused.
I realized the reason she was smoking was because it was to cover the smell, she explained to me that the bodies were discovered about 6 days after they were murdered. She also explained that in the police reports she received, that the killers “Not only murdered the couple, but turned the heater on to its maximum temp, as well as turning on the oven and burners. They did this in hopes of killing the dog, and at this point killing the bedridden husband from heat exhaustion.”
She opened the trailer with a set of shiny jangling keys, which I noticed had a smiley keychain on it. The smell instantly hit my nostrils, it was a smell that almost a decade later I still smell from time to time like a phantom of harshness, or the God of Regret punching me in the face. There was a pull of blood and what I assumed was coagulated yellow bile hardened on the floor a mere foot from the door. That was the spot she died. She was shot to death with, an unknown to me, amount of bullets. There were bullet holes in the recliner where she was sitting when she was killed. The living room trashed, with furniture overturned and obviously ransacked. There were bloody footsteps leading into the kitchen before they trailed off down the narrow hall. Around the oven there was plastic cooking spoons partially melted from the heat.
His room was basically untouched from the way I left it that day months ago. There was no sign of struggle or anything just the makings of a robbery gone bad. The pick up of the equipment was without trouble, I got in and got out. Filled with sadness, and regret I finished the order in a half an hour. After it was all said and done the FEMA official closed the door and locked it. She explained that they would come to pick up the trailer in a few days and maybe burn it but she wasn’t sure. She offered me a cigarette, I accepted. Then she drove away without saying a word, never knowing my story of guilt and regret with this couple. I took a drag of the cigarette and immediately vomited on my boots.
I’m 28 years old now and I often think about the delivery, the couple, the murder and that trailer. I replay those scenes in my head like a movie, or maybe it’s just me trying to keep their ghost alive, like a family members who passed away suddenly. I like to say I have no regrets in life, but that would be a lie.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Caleb Cook currently resides in Birmingham, AL and is the author of 4 books of poetry including “Troubleshooting for the Modern Soul” and “The World All Strung Out”. When he isn’t writing he is a father, husband, and chef.
Today’s guest post is written by Heidi Evans:
Most children wish for a pony, or maybe a trip to Disney World when they blow out their birthday candles. For as long as I can remember, on my birthday I would wish for a cure. A cure that would keep my father around for my birthday the next year.
My father had cancer my entire life. I spent so many years simply hoping and wishing that one day I would wake up, and my father would be cured. No more doctors’ appointments, no more chemotherapy, no more cancer. That was my wish every single day, but that wish was especially important when I blew out my birthday candles. For some reason it seemed more logical in my innocent mind that if a cure were to happen, it would be more probable on my birthday. I never told anyone of my wish, because everyone knows that as soon as you tell people what you wished for, it never comes true.
This year will be different. This year I will not wish for a cure. This year, I will blow my 21 candles out, and I will wish for something completely different. I will wish that heaven is just as magical as it is in my dreams. I will wish that my father’s pain is long gone, and that he gets to sleep on clouds and eat as many marshmallows as he pleases. That has always been my child-like idea of what heaven is like.
Most people who are diagnosed with cancer spend at least a little bit of their time feeling sad, or hopeless. I was blessed to spend my entire life watching my father handle his diagnoses with grace. I never once heard him complain, and never once saw his fight to live flicker. We spent our 20 years together building memories that I will treasure forever.
In August of 2014 the doctors told my father that there was not much else that they could do in order to treat his cancer. They encouraged the idea that he spend his last few months making end-of-life decisions. That doctor’s appointment was on a Tuesday. My father passed away the very next Sunday. I can remember sitting on the bench in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. My father had just received the news. He sat next to me while I cried, and promised me that we would all be okay. He could not have been more right about that.
The doctor had specifically stated that my father had MONTHS not WEEKS left to live. There was a conversation that I wanted to have with my father, but I struggled with when to bring it up. I did not want my father to think that I had given up hope. The day after the appointment we were sitting in the living room together. I looked at him and bluntly said, “Daddy, are you scared?” My father looked up at me and without hesitation said, “I am not scared of death. I am scared to leave you guys.” That was my father, always taking care of his girls, even until the very end. My next statement was the one I had been thinking about for months. I had read the articles, and heard the stories, about when people send signs to their loved ones from the other side. I could feel the tears welling up behind my eyes, and I embraced them and told my father that when he got to heaven, I needed him to send me a sign to let me know that he was okay. Together we decided on the cardinal.
When I was a little girl my father would wait for the school bus with me. Every few days a cardinal would show up in the tree outside our front door. Every time my father saw it he would get insanely excited and holler at me to notice its beautiful red feathers. For some reason that memory always stuck out in my mind. Even as a grouchy teenager, my father would point out the cardinal and I would smile. My father agreed that when he got to heaven he would send me a cardinal if the opportunity arose. I never told anyone about the conversation that we had. In the same sense as a birthday wish, I needed to keep our agreement a secret in order for it to come true.
Not even a week later, my father was gone. He passed away peacefully in his sleep. If there is anyone in the world that did not deserve to suffer, it was my father. My mother, sister, and I made the funeral arrangements together. Those few days remain a whirlwind in my mind. The world lost a great man, and I lost the best dad the world had to offer. The day of the funeral was as perfect as it could have been, considering the circumstances. The weather was uncharacteristically cool for the month of August. We showed up to the church and greeted our friends and family. The minor details remain a blur in memory. I had so many emotions raging through me, I was not quite sure how to feel. My mother, my sister, and I walked into the chapel as our friends and family stood around us. We were a team. We were minus one of our players, but a team nonetheless. We were his girls. We walked to our seats, and embraced the tears that were inevitable. As I took my seat, I noticed all of the beautiful flowers that people had sent in honor of my father’s life. Out of probably 20 arrangements, the one that was placed directly in front my seat held a small, decorative cardinal. I was at a loss for words. On this incredibly important day, my father took the opportunity to tell me that he was okay, and that he was with me. I tearfully accepted his message, and I let a smile creep across my face for the first time in what felt like forever.
I feel my father all around me, I do not need to see a cardinal to know that he is with me always. In that moment when I step outside, and the wind sweeps my hair off of my neck, my father is there. When I am walking to my car, and I take a moment to look at the stars, my father is there. And this year when I blow out my 21 candles, my father will be there. My innocent, child-like birthday wish finally came true. My father will be at every one of my birthdays for the rest of my life. This year I do not have to wish for a miracle, because I was already given one.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Heidi Evans is a senior living in Oklahoma City, pursuing her bachelors degree in Funeral Service. She works in the Funeral Service industry and plans to be a part of the changes making their way through the death care industry in the coming years.
Today’s guest post is from Christopher White. Christopher resides in Australia with his pug “Freddy”.
I am 64 years old, have led a healthy life, don’t smoke, enjoy a drink occasionally and I tend to avoid stress. I have never married, no kids, have a great family, and life is pretty well perfect. I have many wonderful friends and no enemies.
I began to feel unwell in about June this year – just vague feelings of not being at my best. My health became progressively worse, despite monthly attendances at my local doctor, who had been taking regular blood tests. One month ago I went to see him, I lay on his couch and he tapped two fingers into my abdomen area. I couldn’t believe the pain – he said “There’s something wrong here, you better get to the hospital straight away.” I had a mate deliver me to the local town hospital. He said on the way “They are going to ask you what your allergies are. Tell them you are allergic to big women with tattoos.”
Admitted through the emergency department, rushed into the scanning and X-ray departments, transferred by ambulance to another hospital about 50kms north, where I was taken in for an emergency operation.
When I came around, several hours later, the doctor told me they had removed about 40cm of cancerous growth in the intestines – he called it a bowel resectment. I spent 16 days in the intensive care recovery until, very well tended by both medical staff and the nursing team. Some of the other patients were a different story – I am unused to spending sleeping time with others, with their snoring, loud mobile phone conversations at all times of the day and night and people just being plain rude to each other. “Hey nurse – where’s my bloody pain killer – should have been here half an hour ago?”
When a nurse asked me how I had slept, I said that the snoring from across the passage was like “listening to a rainforest being destroyed.” I suggested that, armed with a baseball bat, some of us in the ICU would have got a lot more sleep, and that business may have been a bit brisker downstairs in the emergency admissions department.” She laughed, a bit, and said “You will recover quickly – grumpy old men always do better.” I am also pleased I did not pass on anything about being allergic to large women with tattoos, as this was an accurate description of most of those taking my blood and doing other tests.
The medical team have advised me to have lots more tests later in the year, to make sure all the cancer has been removed. One man even said “You might get better, or you might die – it is hard to say at this stage.”
I had plenty of time to think about things, stuck there in my little calico cubicle. I managed to blot out the neighbouring surroundings, and just had a really good think about things in general. I have had a very easy life – never been involved in a war, feuds, arguments. I have never had to work too hard, things have come easily to me. Always enjoyed good health – hardly ever had an unhealthy day in my life. I thoroughly enjoy my job, which involves running a small B&B here in a beautiful part of the world.
In a way, my life has been like attending a pleasant party, when one of the ushers taps me on the shoulder and says “OK mate, your time is up and you have to leave.” My first reaction is to say “Well, thanks for having me, which is the easiest way out?” I have never felt anger, betrayal, denial or “Why me? I don’t deserve this.” Instead, I have a serene feeling of relief and acceptance.
I see clearly the advantages of early checkout. OK, 64 is a bit early, but when is really the right time? There will be no Alzheimers Disease, no lonely old age in some grey nursing home, being fed on paste, and having someone else attend to my bathroom needs. No eccentric old man living in a boarded up house in unhealthy conditions, smelling of cat urine. I have few regrets – one of the main ones is leaving my two year old Pug dog Freddy, even though I know he is being left in the best of care.
If the cancer has spread, or returned, I reckon I have about nine months to prepare for the end. I am very fortunate to have a great friend to look after me, cooking, cleaning, company, transport etc. I am very grateful that I do not have a thing to worry about. This is more than long enough to get my affairs in order – most of that has already been done. I am glad there are no awkward reconciliations to endure. I await my own change of cosmic address with a good deal of interest.
I’ve been seeing status updates like the one below floating around social media by those claiming to be apart of the religious community.
As someone who considers himself a part of the faith community, I’m going to hope that this type of rhetoric represents a fringe opinion of a small segment of the faith community that (unfortunately) would rather extend judgment than grace and is more satisfied in self-righteousness than empathy and compassion. And while I’d be presumptuous to assume that the majority within the faith community AGREE with Brittany’s decision, I AM going to assume that the majority of the faith community have NOT looked upon Brittany Maynard and deemed her a “coward”. My hope is that the majority have attempted to understand her situation and have embraced the tension that “death with dignity” may place upon your faith system.
I know the tension. We want to respect the traditions of our faith and the held certainties of our scripture and yet we also — to some degree or another — want to extend compassion, understanding and mercy. This is the tension of the faith community: we have one foot planted in tradition and another foot planted in the present.
Is Choosing “Death with Dignity” Actually Suicide?
Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, a Vatican official and head of the Pontifical Academy for Life condemned the death of Maynard, calling her death “an absurdity.”
“This woman [took her own life] thinking she would die with dignity, but this is the error ….
Suicide is not a good thing. It is a bad thing because it is saying no to life and to everything it means with respect to our mission in the world and towards those around us …
Brittany Maynard’s gesture is in itself to be condemned, but what happened in her conscience is not for us to know.”
The assumption that Brittany Maynard and those who would choose “Death with Dignity” are committing suicide and saying “no to life” isn’t as bullet proof as we’d like to think. It’s important to remember that — by law — those who choose “death with dignity” (such as Maynard) must have two medical doctors confirm that the patient is indeed terminal and will die within six months.
Unlike suicide, the terminal patient isn’t making a choice between death and life, it’s a choice between two kinds of death. Ethan Remmel PH.D wrote about his terminal illness for Psychology Today back in 2011. He writes:
“I have received some feedback on my thoughts about the Death with Dignity Act. As I said, I have not decided whether to use this option, but I feel strongly that it should be legally available to mentally competent and terminally ill people such as myself. As I also said, I do not view it as “suicide” (although that is a convenient term), because I would not really be choosing between living and dying. I would be choosing between different ways of dying. If someone wishes to deny me that choice, it sounds to me like they are saying: I am willing to risk that your death will not be slow and painful. Well, thanks a lot, that’s brave of you.”
Perhaps Richard Drew’s “The Falling Man”, a picture of a man who jumped from the World Trade Center on 9/11 drives home Remmel’s point:
Is “The God Argument” Really Helpful?
Another element – and a VERY strong element – is the belief that God and ONLY God should choose when a person dies.
I can understand the passion that resides in the hearts of believers. And while the God element is the center of the believer’s life — we need to understand that – on a national and state level — this discussion is not being held in a church forum, it’s being held in a public sphere. And so the “let God decide when we die” arguments wouldn’t work outside the walls of our houses of worship. If you are a believer and you disagree with “death with dignity”, it’s certainly okay to voice your opinion — in fact you should — but realize this America isn’t the America of a couple decades ago and “the God argument” won’t suffice.
Furthermore, the conversation is simply too complex for the “let God decide when we die” answer. With modern technology, the situation is often the case that humans do indeed have some say in the matter. Whether it be passive euthanasia, like taking off life support and forms of palliative care (i.e. hospice), we often have to make the decision whether or not to continue to pursue medical support.
In fact, now more than any other time in human history, humans are presented with this choice: Do we want quality of life or quantity of life? Do we want to extend life through artificial means, or do we forego medical aid and die on our own terms? We are being asked to make decisions that were previously “left up to God.” We are, as we grow and expand our knowledge of the human body, determining more and more of our fate. And as medicine has created “miracle” after “miracle” there has to be a point when we say, “I’m tired of the miracles. I’m ready to die.”
When the Faith Community Embraces End-of-Life Care
When community is at the center of death, the end stage of life becomes not an embarrassment of dependence, but a beautiful display of love … a time when the community shines forth its compassion, care and giving. When you have good community and you’re terminal, there are few things that display the beauty of community more than the end stage of life.
I‘ve seen it and let me say that while death is always somehow painful (even for those who choose “death with dignity”), it’s not always ugly. There’s few things that move me more than seeing the loving care of a family who have utterly surrounded their loved one in both the dying and in the death.
So here’s my main point: the “good death” isn’t ultimately defined by one’s lack of pain, but by one’s family and friends … or by one’s faith community. The good, terminal sickness is defined by having family over 24/7, sharing the experience, sharing your words of love through actions.
And actions — our orthopraxy — is where the faith community has something to say in the end-of-life discussion. In a time when we major on apologetics and words of orthodoxy, it’s important to remember that “I was sick and you looked after me” is the call of believers. When the aged are becoming the marginalized of society, being sent away to nursing homes and retirement communities where they can be hidden from the rest of us; when the sick are sent to cold, sterile hospitals; it does us well to remember that whether or not we agree with Brittany’s decision, it’s our mandate to speak words with our actions by providing love, gifts and — perhaps most importantly — community for the sick and dying.