Let’s Talk About Death

Because not a lot of people want to. I am not one of those people. I’m not what would classically be called morbid, but I have an affinity for death. I’m not afraid of it. I feel like I’ve lost an inordinate amount of people in my life. It’s something you expect when you’re older, but honestly, I’m not THAT old. It may be that when death touches my life, it leaves a fingerprint that is never erased, that I am always aware of, even if it fades a bit. I’ve never met another person with whom I have this in common.

The suitcase of death is more like a ship-size steamer trunk — or maybe like trying to move an entire house one pickup truckload at a time. There’s a lot to pack and unpack, so this will no doubt be the first of many such chats. I’m not even sure where to start. I think I’ll start with today.

I’m losing a friend. She’s dying. She has been dying slowly for years, not in the way that we all are, but from an illness that has gradually robbed her of her zest, her boundless enthusiasm, her sharp wit, and her tremendous artistic skills. She fought her illness for years, and she fought hard, but there was no way to stop its progression. She is tired of it. She’s ready to go now. I think that readiness to go is often what ends up allowing death to come. It is a different experience from sudden death by accident or violence, or from suicide. It is not quite making peace with dying, but just being ready to stop living. Those two things are not the same.

She was awake and “with it” the other night, and so I had a chance to say goodbye. Even though this is what she wants, and she knows what’s happening, her family told me that we’re not actually “saying goodbye”. Just visiting her and telling her we love her. Which is what I did. But it felt so awkward. Somehow incomplete. Death has walked by my side for so long that, in situations where it’s right at the door, telling it to stay outside just seems wrong. However, I will always honor a family’s wishes. I listened to her sons tell stories of growing up. And I told her I’d see her again. Which I will, somewhere, someday.

Driving home, I shed a few tears. I wasn’t exactly crying — I was leaking, as I did for days before my Mother died. I was thinking about how my ability to vocalize death’s thoughts and comforts had been silenced, and how, in that situation, I was at rather a loss as to what to say. I questioned whether my plan for my next career as a Death Doula is the right choice for me, given the awkwardness I had just felt. (I still think it’s the right choice.) Every death is different. It’s a different experience for every person, whether they are the one who’s dying or one who’s left behind. This death is a different experience for me — which, when you think about it, makes it absolutely normal. It’s just another step along my path. Along all of our paths.

Daily Gratitudes:
Blue skies
My pumpkin bread
Coffee (even if it has to be decaf)
That my blood donation was sent to a hospital to help someone needing a transfusion

Thursday’s Original Poem

I started writing as a poet half a century ago. On the previous blog, I shared some of other people’s poems that I loved on Wednesdays, and one of my original poems on Thursdays. I haven’t decided if I want to have a Weekly Wednesday poem in this blog, but I would like to challenge myself with the Original Thursday Poem. That starts today. Thanks for reading.

There Are Days (Today)

There are days (today)
When the cold kudzu
curls its tendrils round a body,
Slowly pulling it in
to that unseen place
Never to be found.
When the largest of mountains
are consumed by the sky,
Cutting off twilight
Leaving just a cloak behind.
When the round moon
turns her silvered face
Towards the west
Looks down with love.
When one woman
holds another’s fragile hands,
Green eyes gazing long into blue,
Because there are no words
to say goodbye.

I am also reinstituting daily gratitudes, because they are good for my soul and make me notice the little blessings I encounter throughout the day.

Daily Gratitudes
Long talks with my sister
Snuggly cats
Sun melting snow
K’s happiness with her truck’s new clutch

Snow and Winter Blues

It is a cold and unfriendly day today, gray and snowing. Champagne snow, as opposed to the big chunky, happy flakes that seem more like someone up above is pouring them from buckets in the heavens. Those kind of snowflakes remind me of the ones we used to cut out from folded paper as children and hang in the windows of our classroom. Or, in the case of childlike adults such as myself, on the windows of my downtown office building.

On days like today, I try to warm the house with soup and broiled brussels sprouts, for which I have just developed a fondness after a lifelong distaste. And after work, a sherry glass of Creme de Violettes and Wilke Collins’ ‘The Woman in White’ on Masterpiece Theatre.

This kind of weather makes my hands ache, a precursor to the arthritis which my Mother had. When I moved to Colorado as a younger woman, I wanted snow. Growing up in the South, it was such a lovely rarity. I lost some of my excitement for it when I lived in Boston, as the city turned the snow dirty so quickly. Even here in the West, I’ve never warmed to winter sports. I’m not a fan of downhill skiing, though I enjoyed cross-country skiing (is that the old term for it?) occasionally, and snowshoeing the one time I tried it. We may pursue the last activity in the woods around the Retreat, where we will surely get more snow.

I’m particular about my snow preferences – it should either be feet or none at all, not just an inch or two that makes the roads slick and requires a half-hearted effort at city-mandated shoveling. Give me all or nothing. Go big or go home.

Tonight, I’m cuddled under blankets on the couch, Mr. Man at my side, watching the day dim from light to night, feeling a little blue. I look forward to snuggling with M on nights like these when we’re both established in the Retreat, and we can help each other see the beauty that I know is hidden in winter.

Songs of Mothers

I am not much of a singer, being very shy about my voice, which is something that a therapist would no doubt have a great time unpacking. I actually think I have a pretty nice singing voice, judging from my enthusiastic performances during The Drive. I especially like it when I have a bit of a cold, because then I get my sultry 900-number voice and sound like a torch singer. Only once in my life have I ever done anything like karaoke. It was in Dallas, on top of a grand piano, after much alcohol, and the evening ended with the police recommending that I leave town and not return (though not because of my singing).

If I sing in someone’s presence, it means I trust them with some deep and sensitive part of me. I sing in front of M, which reflects the strength of our relationship. And I sing unconsciously in the kitchen when K is home, because I’m happy she’s there and I feel I can be completely myself with her. I hope she remembers when she gets older that her mother used to sing incomplete versions of The Lumberjack Song, among other ditties, in the morning as she lay in bed. I usually add my own lyrics when I forget the actual ones. My Mother also sang snatches of songs in the kitchen. That’s where a lot of my kitchen songs (and ones I used to sing to K in the car) come from. They’re all old songs, and when I say old, I mean from the 1940s. Think Fred Astaire movies and Cole Porter tunes. My Mother had a lovely, sweet, singing voice

I sang to K at night when she was little, as my Mother did to me. Every night when I was small, my Mother would sing Rock-a-Bye Baby to me. If I had bad dreams, she would cuddle me in the big rocking chair and sing to soothe me. My two favorites were “I Wonder as I Wander” (fitting for the little wanderer that was me) and “The Cherry Tree Carol”. I’m sure there were others. In fact, decades ago, my Mother made me a tape of herself singing my favorite lullabies. Even though I treasure it, I have had a very hard time keeping track of it. But I know that the tape will reappear when I need it most. Of that I am certain.

The songs I sang to K were not the same as those my Mother sang to me. My favorites to sing to her were “When Halley Came to Jackson”, “Down in the Valley”, “End of my Pirate Days”, “Go to Sleep my Zoodle”, “Go Tell Aunt Rhody”, “Meet Me in St. Louis” (which is a song that saved her life when she was very tiny because she had been crying for six straight hours and I was home alone with her and called the doctor because I wanted to drop her out of the second story window into the snow and I discovered that singing this song to her over and over made her stop crying), and a lullaby that I created when I was pregnant called “Go to Sleep, my Little Love”. Again, I’m sure there were more. She doesn’t recall the songs too well, but I think that’s a factor of age and where she is in her life. If she has a child, she will remember my singing to her, and find her own songs to sing to her wonderful little person.

I’d love to know what songs you sing (or sang) to your children, and what songs your mother sang to you. I have a dear friend who is having her first child in May and I’d like to put together a little collection for her. She and her husband are exceptionally musical, so I know they won’t be shy about singing to their little guy who will, as so many children before him, feel the love in those songs.

Wise Words

In speaking with my wonderful daughter K this afternoon, we were discussing living in colder climates. One of her work contacts in Minnesota had told her it was six degrees there today. I offered that we had survived the Yukon Territory in December, with only a half-dollar size patch of frostbite on my thigh, which wouldn’t have happened had we realized that the truly lovely people at the Whitehorse Airport who told us about a beautiful trail above Dawson City didn’t mean that December was a good time to hike said trail. I also suggested that now we know better. Her wise-beyond-her-years response?

“The term ‘now we know better’ will never apply to you and me.”

She’s right. I am so glad that she is my perfect partner in misadventures.


Flowers bring me joy.

I spent my first two years of college in Boston. There was a man who sold flowers out of his van on Commonwealth Avenue. He was a ray of sunshine and he was there seemingly every day. His bouquets were fresh and cheap. Rumor had it that he was a man who had come into a fortune and decided he wanted to spend it making other people happy in this very simple way. Poor college student that I was, I bought them whenever I was able, but I promised myself that when I was officially grown-up, I would always have fresh flowers in my house.

There have been times since I’ve (theoretically) become an adult that fresh flowers were a luxury that wasn’t in the budget. There have been times when I was so sad that I forgot the happiness that they might bring me. In my ex-house, I had a lovely garden, and could seemingly grow anything. In the Bungalow, my every effort to create flower beds or grow vegetables has failed. I did manage a few tiny tomatoes this year in pots that spent most of September indoors due to unseasonably chilly weather, but that’s it.

M buys me flowers on occasion, and it’s always a lovely surprise. Many of his bouquets – and some single blooms from K – sit in dried loveliness in old vases on top of dressers, or hang in bunches from ceiling hooks in the sunroom. As we prepare to move, I expect that they will be turned to compost, as they wouldn’t stand the trip, and moving is a good time to part with some things. One thing you didn’t know about me: I’m exceptionally sentimental. I’m working very hard on letting go of things that I’ve saved, especially if I can’t recall why I’ve saved them.

The Retreat is at an altitude that will make growing flowers a challenge. But there are rose vines climbing up the front stucco, and window boxes at the ready for planting, so there is hope yet. There is always hope in the Spring. I think it’s time, as my life changes, to hold onto one thing — that promise I made to myself 40 years ago on sunny afternoon in Boston.

A New Day in America

A change in government administration is a reset for any country. The hopes of some people are fulfilled and the hopes of others are dashed. Anyone who has been watching our country for the last four years — or even the last few months — cannot help but be aware of the division in America. Our two-party system no longer suits our citizens. While President Joe Biden did, in fact, legitimately win this election, 74 million people voted for Trump. That’s a lot of people who wanted something other than what they got. They’re not happy about it; no one ever is when they don’t get something they really wanted. In 2016, 65 million Americans didn’t get what they wanted. I was one of them.

I marched in the Women’s March. I tweeted my objections to trump and his policies and “alternative facts”. I did not claim the election was rigged. I did not accuse conservatives of being baby-eaters or lizard people. I did not storm the Capitol at the behest of Hillary Clinton. I watched his dramas play themselves out, as dramas always do.

I feel for the people who are now feeling abandoned by someone they had sworn absolute allegiance to. I’m sure they feel betrayed. But as many times as trump recited the poem “The Snake”, I wish that those people could have seen that he was talking about himself. That when someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them. When people feel unseen and hopeless and diminished, they will cling to any words that might offer a lifeline. It’s shameful that he let them down. And more shameful that someone decided to pose as a mysterious conspiracy figurehead as some kind of game. Those people were played.

One thing I know for sure. I remembering listening to 45’s inauguration speech and being stunned. His words were full of gloom and doom, anger and disunity. The speech that 46 made today was much more in keeping with the tone of the country that I love. I appreciated that.

I teared up when Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first female Vice President. As she stepped up to place her hand on the Bible that the Second Gentleman held, I could see on her face that she could hardly believe this was happening. It was just a flash of a look, but I saw it. I can draw a sad parallel between that look and the look I saw on the woman who died in the Capitol invasion – incredulity, but with vastly different outcomes in vastly different situations.

I have been watching the President like a hawk the last four years. Before 2016, I had a passing interest and familiarity with politics. I have since learned that it’s my civic duty to watch our elected officials and hold them accountable. Even though – or perhaps, especially – since Joe Biden is a representative of my party, I will continue to watch just as closely, to hold this new administration just as accountable for keeping their promises, and to call it out on lies. Once awakened, a watchdog cannot go back to sleep.

Joe Biden is no savior, just as his predecessor wasn’t, no matter what people wanted to believe. This President speaks of healing, of unity, of trying to repair a nation divided. All great goals, but very questionably realistic, given where we are today. I am hoping he will strive to make our planet better, disempower the ultra-rich, gain some measure of trust from those who feel disenfranchised, truly fight for racial equality, and live up to his words. I am hoping for honesty, fairness, and true transparency. I am hoping.

Please disregard the irony that this sunrise shot was taken in Mexico.

Dentistry in the Time of Coronavirus

One thing you didn’t know about me: I have my Father’s teeth. Not his literal teeth, or a wooden version a la George Washington; darn strong ones nevertheless. I don’t know if the quality of teeth is a genetic trait, but it certainly seems so to me. My Father never, to my knowledge, went to a dentist in all of his 80+ years, passing away with all of his original teeth and nary a known cavity. He also had a very high pain threshold (a trait I inherited from both parents) so he could have had dental problems that he just ignored. After all, he ignored a heart attack when I was 19. But I digress.

I am a loyal dental patient. I’ve been seeing the same dentist for about 35 years. Typing that makes me amazed that he’s still practicing. In the course of those years, I’ve had two dental hygienists, both of whom I’ve adored. One is now retired, and the other is my age. Our kids went to the same nursery school, though we never encountered each other then. We know about each other’s lives. It’s an old-school, small town type of relationship. We talk a lot during my appointments, and I’m certain that all dental practitioners must take a course in how to understand people when their fingers are in your mouth, and you can only make sounds like, “Aho, int tht ingstng?”

With the advent of Covid-19, protocols have changed in order to protect both practitioners and patients. No more going in and sitting in the lobby, catching up on the latest issue of People magazine. Now, I stand in the chilly vestibule, attesting that I haven’t taken public transportation or been licking the buttons on gas pumps until my hygienist comes out to take my temperature and escort me to the chair.

I’m also a sensitive dental patient. The roof of my mouth is like a three-dimensional topographic map of Colorado, so those things they put in there for x-rays hurt like the devil. I get a little anxious when my teeth are getting cleaned. Thinking about it today, I realized that it’s a huge mark of trust to allow someone to put sharp metal instruments in your mouth. I mean, having a functioning mouth is pretty important for a lot of staying alive reasons. You don’t want just anyone sticking pointy things in there.

To alleviate the anxiety and make me more comfortable, they give me nitrous oxide, which does not make me laugh, but does make me a little drifty. It also makes all the music played in the office sound the same – no idea why. Since everything has to be disposable now, they use a little canula to gas me up. It’s like having a miniature wind tunnel stuck up your nose; not at all the previously happy nose mask experience. It also doesn’t work as well, as I discovered today. When my hygienist hit a particularly sensitive spot, my arm automatically drew back to smack her. I stopped myself from doing so, but she noticed, so of course I said, “Ahm slry.”

We both resembled something out of a bad sci-fi movie or an underground film about rogue plastic surgery. Me under a blanket with my green sunglasses to protect me from the laser, and my nitrous and oxygen tubes with canula, and her with his protective eye wear, face shield with additional cloth mask, rubber gloves, and disposable gown.

In summation, we had a nice, if garbled chat, my teeth are healthy as always and feel delightfully smooth, and no violence occurred. In this day and age, I think we can mark that down as a good human interaction.

Not my actual mouth.

The Drive

One thing you didn’t know about me: I love driving. LOVE IT. Which is a good thing, because I married a car guy. And I mean a REAL car guy. I won’t tell you how many cars he has, but I did put in our marriage vows that I would never ask him to sell any of them. I have also named most of them, and each has its own personality. One of the perfect things about the Retreat is that it has garage space for nine cars, so he’ll be able to tinker with the fleet to his heart’s content. That makes him happy, so that makes me happy.

The first time M drove up to my house, he had no idea I lived so far away from where he lived. In reality, it’s only 40 miles, but the first few times each of us drove those 40 miles, it felt more like 100. We definitely had some issues with balancing who went to whose house for a few years. I admit he came north more often than I went south (and for that, my love, if you’re reading this, I’m grateful.)

Now that we’re finally preparing to shack up together at the Retreat, it’s a drive for us both — about 170 miles from my Bungalow, and 130 miles from his house. This drive is different than driving to one another’s house because every time we take it, separately or together, we’re winding up in OUR house. And it’s a nice drive.

Have you noticed that when you drive a route regularly, particularly if it’s a longish drive, you create waypoints for yourself? I’ve found routes that keep me off of the interstate through the main part of the city, which makes for a slightly longer, but much more soothing drive. A long section of this interstate-avoidance takes place along what I call the “magic road”. For one thing, it’s lovely. Two lanes, rolling hills, ranches, livestock. But it’s magic because sometimes it feels like it’s a twenty-minute drive and other times, it feels like it takes an hour. M and I have decided that it’s some sort of a time vortex. But with goats and yaks.

After the magic road, there’s a stretch of interstate through an city, but the next waypoint is the Love’s truck stop. Years of being a road warrior for work taught me drink any kind of coffee, but my favorite coffee is truck stop coffee, and my favorite truck stop coffee is Love’s. Besides, who can resist the name?

Another 25 miles or so, and I catch my first glimpse of what I’ve come to think of as “my mountains”. The Spanish Peaks, whose outline looks remarkably like a lovely set of breasts, are off to the south a bit, and my mountains are off to the west. They edge the sky with a fitting craggy gentleness, growing larger as I drive closer. The Retreat is at their feet. Coming off the interstate is like diving into a valley, dry and brown in winter, deer cavalierly dining at the side of the road. Our tiny town has four churches and a post office. No stoplights. The turns to the Retreat sink us deeper into ranchland and scrub oak. And then we are home, snug in the pines. The sun sinks behind the mountain just after three, leaving a lazy, lingering light that fades to a soft dusk. I look forward to many sunsets there.

Animal Magnetism: An Introduction

The title of this post is, once again, something that could take any number of paths, but allow me to clarify. One thing you didn’t know about me: I am an animal person. I love almost any animal — monkeys and mice are really the exceptions to that statement. My love of animals has evolved significantly over the years. As a child, my interest was rather ordinary (with one exception, to be revealed at a later date). We didn’t have dogs or cats when we were growing up. We had two turtles for quite a long time, and two gerbils. And once a cat wandered into the house. That was it.

Our neighbors had a wonderful little black puppy when I was about seven and if I was well-behaved, I was allowed to go over to their back stoop to play with Gremlin, and occasionally, the Jack Russell terrier (whose name was Ethelred and he could perfectly imitate the sound of an ambulance, always doing so when one passed by) on the other side of the duplex next door. I reached out to the lovely former neighbor a few years ago, finding her through some internet sleuthing, and she said they’d had other dogs, but never one as special as Gremlin. It warmed my heart that she still remembered the little girl next door, many moves and half a century later.

My house is full of animal-related objects, some cute, some bizarre, but all adorable in my opinion. Others might disagree, and focus more on the bizarre aspects of what I like to think of as my cabinet of curiosities, though the collection far exceeds the boundaries of any standard cabinet. I also have a skill as an animal communicator, which many people may think is a total crock, but it’s actually a thing. I have some training as a shaman, and for whatever reason, that training has resulted in a deeper connection with animals.

I tell you all of this because in future posts, I’ll explain my connections, deep or shallow, with many and varied species of animals. I look forward to sharing and I hope you look forward to reading. I leave you tonight with an image of Clyde in a rare moment of semi-serenity. You’ll have to wait to hear his story.