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Everyone has been fixated on the news, the latest being the coronavirus. This is bringing out the best and worst in people, as many crises do. So many are donating food and money to relieve the financial burden of those out of work, unable to secure food (the elders), doing errands for shut-ins and the vulnerable. And some are exploiting it by price gouging and hoarding supplies rather than sharing with others.

I like to think that the balance is more toward altruism, but still, too many people are concerned only for themselves. How do you explain a man getting on a plane full of people knowing he was carrying the virus? How do you explain people clearing the shelves of all basic necessities and hoarding them for themselves? How do you explain those going about their normal lives without consideration of those they might infect? How do you explain people cramming into the Disney parks the day before they were to close, exposing thousands to each other and the spread of the virus everywhere they live?I only wish for karma to take care of them.

Focussing on the positive that comes in any time of crisis, we see people cooking and sharing meals (dropping them off), buying food for local food banks, looking in on neighbors who aren’t able to get out without fear they will catch the virus. That’s the world I want to hear more about.

On a personal level, I am keeping busy with art projects, writing cards to get out the vote, writing long overdue notes to special people in my life and catching up on reading and crochet projects. I am also trying to support the small businesses that serve us to the extent we can so they can survive this crisis.

The inability to socialize is what I find so hard. I am a very social person and love spending time with friends. The phone is a small consolation, but will never replace a hug and conversation over a meal.

Hang in there everyone. We have survived many crises that at the time they were happening, we thought we couldn’t. The human spirit is strong. Help each other. Check in on one another. Write those thank you notes you’ve been meaning to write.

and B – R – E – A – T – H – E

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Sometimes life gives you the opportunity to receive more than what you think you’re paying for. 

I take weekly sculpture lessons with a wonderful and giving octogenarian. She provides sculpture lessons for sure, but she frequently weighs in on life matters. The sculpture studio is an intimate place. When a new person (male) was introduced into the group of female students, it was with the understanding that he “fit” into the group without disrupting it. (He met with her approval.)

Life, challenges of health, family and the world at large are discussed in the hours we spend there together. And our teacher, a wise, strong and loving person, continues to evolve and share what she has discovered.

I have always favored older friends. They have the wisdom of the older generation, like parents, but none of the baggage or judgement that accompanies blood relationships.

The latest lesson was how to slow down. She had recently decided to permit herself to do it and say “no” to even the most tempting activities. She listens to and respects her body, age-related limitations and trusts that it is OK to NOT do something.

I have been experimenting with this myself. I learned that the town I will be moving to has roller skating weekly at one of the schools. My eyes lit up as I remembered the fun I had on roller skates when it was back in style in the mid 70’s, when I was in my twenties. I pictured myself twirling around, skating backwards, dancing with a partner. I was pretty hot on wheels. 

Then reality sunk in. Having had a number of falls and breaking a wrist in the past few years, I realized the lunacy of even considering this. If I couldn’t figure out why I fell while standing in a supermarket line, how could I trust that I could move on wheels? “No,” I said to myself. Just “no.”

My teacher’s words came to me. “You can slow down. It’s OK.” And you know what? I am OK with it. Who needs another broken bone?

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We have all seen a play or two (or a hundred) in our lifetimes. Some are funny, some simply entertaining, some poignant, some shocking. In the past week, I saw two different plays, one a combination of several genres, the other profundly moving me to want to do something.

Tiny Beautiful Things is a play based on a book of essays by Cheryl Strayed, the person behind an advice column called “Dear Sugar,” her pseudonym. She wasn’t a trained psychologist but a good writer, and she acidentally fell into the non-paying job when her predecessor had to give it up.

She explores some very intimate subjects and gives her advice by sharing her personal stories and experiences. She is transparent about her lack of credentials, and gives her advice from the heart – and with heart.

People have joked to me that I have been a therapist since the age of sixteen. People share things with me in supermarket lines, while shopping for clothes, on trains. People I DON’T KNOW! So, its a gift, I guess. The reality is that helping others parse their challenges takes me away from my own problems. And I daresay, I am usually helpful as I help someone see their options or inspire them by sharing my own challenges and victories.

This blog is often filled with such nuggets of advice or inspirations, always from my experiences. My other blog, about nutrition, is also there for the taking: advice on nutrition-related subjects, culled from the science I learned in school, by credentials and experiences. And a third blog which is now dormant, awaits my time and attention, and deals with matters relating to death, dying and grief. There, my experiences surrounding the topic lend some good advice and comfort too.

So I have thought about starting an advice column. I worry it would consume me if it caught on, so I need to think more about it. But it really draws me in. What do you think? I’d like to know.

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Few people are comfortable talking about death. But those who are dying often long to talk about it. Most don’t because they know it is uncomfortable for their loved ones or because they sense it is a taboo subject.

I have been on both sides of the debate; in a position of being near death and longing for its release, and being with those who are dying, supporting their need to talk about it and be given permission to let go when they were ready.

My father suffered immeasurably as he died slowly and painfully with bone cancer. My brother made all the decisions: if he should take the morphine, if it was better to have him alert but in pain, if they should have a nurse help or if he would do it all himself, believing only he could take care of him, if they should disconnect his defibrillator/pacemaker before the day came his body gave in and it would keep shocking him. My sister and I were 1,300 away, so we had no choice but to defer to him, even when we didn’t agree with his decisions. My father privately called to talk to me about hospice, then after he unloaded his needs, made me promise not to tell my mother and brother that he called. They were insistent that he didn’t need it, because they were not accepting the reality of the situation as easily as my father did.

It was a year filled with anxiety. Traveling to where he lived when it looked like the end was near, then having him rally at seeing his girls and or grandchildren who accompanied us on some of the trips. Then a few months of the same and starting the cycle over again. It was a full year before he succumbed, and we were fortunate to be with him when he finally let go. But even at that moment, my mother was still in denial, trying to will my father into living as he drew his last breaths. And me, now the mother to the child, telling her to stop so his last moment on earth would be peaceful; not filled with worry about her. He had already sacrificed enough, holding on for their sake, in spite of excruciating pain. It was time to let him go.

I know how much he suffered because I was in his shoes. Not for as long, not suffering with cancer, but I was in a place of terrible physical suffering. I was not as stalworth as he was, rather begging to be let free of my life so the pain would stop. But my family would not hear of it. And because I was in and out of consciousness, I was sometimes in charge of my destiny, and other times it was ceded to my husband, who would never make the decision to let me go.

Hindsight is 20-20 of course, and now I am glad we all fought for my life, but the memory of that time is still fresh, even 4+ years later. I see every opportunity as a gift, every day as a bonus. My perspective is different. I am unwilling to put up with nonsense because most of it is unimportant. I am able to ask for what I need (most of the time) and say no when it compromises something else more important to me.

But back to the point of this post. Death comes to us all. sometimes willingly; sometimes not. Sometimes too soon, sometimes when we have lived enough and are ready. But it will come, one way or another. So we should consider that discussing death, our wishes for it if we do have a choice, and planning for the matters that need to be addressed, is actually the more practical and kind thing to do. Especially if it is known that the end of someone’s life is approaching. The gift of listening to the person who wishes to talk about it is comforting to both that person and to those who listen. It is a gift to those who must deal with the formalities of death, to grant the dying person’s wishes.

Let’s take the discussion of death out of the closet. It will reduce the fear it instills. It puts death into the category of one of life’s stages to be experienced, in all its complexities, vulnerabilities and honor.

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I read an article this morning (link below) that triggered thoughts I have pondered in the past. At times, we rush by people who may be rude, inappropriate, reclusive. We usually respond in kind. But what if that person just experienced something awful, was in an abusive relationship, just received a dire diagnosis, had a severe lifelong challenge? What if they were in pain, had an invisible illness? Would you respond differently?

Chances are you’d respond with more compassion. As humans of any mature age, chances are you’ve been in a situation that no one (particularly strangers) would know about, and they didn’t respond nicely to you. I’m not discounting the fact that there are some people who are just plain mean, but there is often a reason.

Next time that happens, as long as it is not unbearable to do so, stop and think before responding. The next time something is causing you not to be so kind, hopefully someone will respond to you with the same consideration.

Thanks to the author who inspired this post.

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I belong to an arts organization I founded in 2007. We recently created 6″x 6″ art canvasses to donate to an organization that raises money for vision-related healthcare abroad and on domestic Indian reservations. The organization takes the canvasses on the road to art fairs and galleries and sells them for $50 each.

I went to a fair yesterday where our group’s work was being displayed. I began chatting with a staff member and told her I was with the guild. She asked if I had any artwork in the show and I said I submitted it, but didn’t see it on the wall. She asked me to describe it. She lit up and said, “Oh, I bought that one. When I saw it, I just had to have it!” Then she asked me to pose with her for a “photo with the artist,” which of course I obliged.

I felt so good on so many levels. I raised enough money for someone to receive eye care, doing something I love to do anyway. I took a $5 canvas and increased its value to $50. I made the buyer happy to have a picture with the artist and finally, just being acknowledged as an artist was in itself rewarding. If you’ve read other posts about my lifelong struggle to earn the street cred to call myself an artist, you’ll get that last part.

I have volunteered and donated a lot of my time and services over the years. I would say without hesitation, that I got more out of it than the recipients of my deeds.

I encourage you to lend your hand, your time, your talents to those who need them. I promise you that you will receive more than you give.

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The following is from a letter I wrote to my sons five years ago. I never published it then as I was too raw and overwhelmed at the time. I came across the email today and decided I could share it, though God knows, the danger has not passed. If anything, there have been far too many more incidents of violence since. So many that we are becoming numb. This email reminded me to remain vigilant and hold onto my sons, no matter how old they get.

Dear J and D,
Ok, this is not meant to embarrass you but I wanted to share my feelings with you …
It’s been an emotional week. The bombing in Boston, just on the heels of the Newtown tragedy, has stirred my feelings of helplessness to protect my children in this crazy world.
No matter how old your children are, when a tragedy strikes – anywhere – a mother’s first instinct is to want to hug her children, as if doing so will assure me that you are ok and that I can protect you from harm. These events prove to me that we can’t always do that and it is painful to know that you must eventually protect yourself as I won’t be here forever. And even while I am here, I can’t control random crazy peoples’ deeds. So I tried to prepare you for the world as best I could. But when unexplainable things like this happen, I feel so powerless.
Yet, in spite of it, I know there is goodness – lots of it – shown through the many acts of heroism, bravery and kindness when terror struck. And that helps maintain my faith in humanity.
But no matter what, I needed to give you a hug the moment I saw you when I came home. At least I saw with my own eyes you were safe for the moment.
I am incredibly proud of the men you have become. Sensitive, with the belief you can and will make your marks somewhere on humanity. It doesn’t take a lot to change a life.
So, live your lives fully, in spite of the naysayers and the crazy, deranged people, without fear and with compassion. And remember I am by your side, whatever path(s) you choose, and throughout your lives, whether I am here on earth or in your memories.
Love you forever.

Mom

 

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