Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ask Your Family for their Stories

The Wicker Cottage.
My mind is swimming with the new information I acquired while home after my Uncle’s death. There were so many stories I hadn’t heard before, unknown to me and my parents. My maternal grandmother, 83, was especially chatty, sharing stories about her own grandparents, who both worked for a local wealthy family in Lockport. Her grandpa was the groundskeeper for the Kenans and her grandma was their cook.
My grandpa’s cousin shared information about my mom’s father’s family that we didn’t have, solving the mystery of way my great-great grandfather was an only child. He was not an only child, just the only one who survived. My Uncle, older than my father and the brother they just lost, shared a letter full of memories of my grandparents, including the mother my father never knew and the grandmother I never met. My heart is full of joy at fleshing out her character and sorrow at never having known her.
This morning, in the wavering heat of the summer air, her ghost is almost tangible. My great-grandparents, the Rustons, grew vegetables during the war and Grandma Ruth and her sons helped with the weeding and growing. I can almost hear her laughter as I work on the neglected garden I abandoned while visiting my family.
I learned that the Rustons also had a cottage at Olcott, a small town on Lake Ontario. Where it used to sit is now a garage, attached to another cottage sitting beside two more. The trio used to belong to the Wicker brothers Hiram, William, and Frank. Hiram was my great-great-grandfather, and his cottage is still standing.
In my sadness, I am overwhelmed by the history. Standing at the edge of life, time is irrelevant and much that is unknown feels within reach. If I hadn’t asked, I’d never have known. I am grateful for the stories my Uncle Dave told me about his stint in the Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis this past Christmas. And I’m grateful that I was old enough to understand what a gift it was to receive all these stories I now hold.
I am a storyteller. And I am a storykeeper. They are swimming in my head and I am waiting for them to settle until they are part of my known histories.
Ask your parents and your grandparents and your great-grandparents how they met. What was their favorite music? Song? Book? What was the first film they remember seeing in a movie theater? What church did they attend? What were their first jobs? Who were their first heroes? What hobbies did they have or enjoy? Or wish they’d taken up? What do they say is the most important thing they learned about life?

Don’t let time and distance stand between you and knowing your history. Don’t be afraid to ask. You may be surprised to learn what you discover. This morning, I feel closer to a woman I never thought I’d have the chance to get to know. Today I am thinking about my Grandma Ruth and her son Dave, and hoping that they have been reunited in whatever comes after this life. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Saying Goodbye from a Distance

After my uncle died on July 10th, I couldn’t be home in time for the wake and the service. I could have rearranged things, but not without giving up on an opportunity for work which may or may not eventually play out. So I made a call.

The services we have are for the living, though they are how we honor and pay our respects to who they were for and to us. I don’t regret my choice but I still missed being there. I missed being able to show up and pay homage to a man I loved and greatly admired.

I made a choice and I own my choices. And here is something I learned… It’s hard to grieve on an island. No one where I lived knew my uncle. No one in my physical space shared my grief.

Nothing changed in my day to day, but there was heaviness in my heart. I didn’t know how my family was. I couldn’t support my father through the immediate difficult time.

I couldn’t be sure my aunt and my cousins understood that, even though I wasn’t there, I was holding space with them from my city, and holding love for all of them. And laughing, because my Uncle Dave would have liked that. So I reminisced through my myriad of memories of him. And I lit candles when it hurt, to remember that light comes after the darkness, letting the flame remember for me while I grieved.

I am writing this from my childhood bedroom, home with my family, sharing stories with my parents, and hugging on my dad. Because he’s here. Because they’re here, and because I love them, and time is fleeting. I am memorizing each of these minutes and moments into my muscle tissue, and cherishing them.

Having to say goodbye reminds me to love, to be present, and to live, for loving and living are the best way we could honor the ones we lose.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Family Loss

It’s July, and for a lot of Americans that means family vacations, gardens, and sunshine. A few of my friends have delivered new life into the world and many of my friends have recently had to say goodbye to loved ones. Death doesn’t care if we would rather be on vacation. My Uncle Dave passed away Friday morning, after battling leukemia. He died surrounded by family at Hospice.
He was the funny one, we would say as children, while trying to remember the names of all our aunts and uncles. Uncle Dave was the one who always knelt down to our level so he could better talk to us like we were little people with our own likes and dislikes. Children are used to being hugged and shooed off to play. At the holidays there were seven siblings and their spouses as well as nine (or so, depending on the year) cousins running about. There’s an invisibility that comes with being part of a pack. But Uncle Dave always saw us. And he was funny, whether cracking jokes, stealing noses, or acting foolish, he liked to hear us laugh.
When I saw him at Christmas, we had one of those deep conversations like people do, where we knew it could be the last time, but fervently hoped it wouldn’t be, swaying around the actual words. He told me stories about his time in the Navy, on a ship in the water near Cuba during the missile crisis. He told me that he would have made the Navy his career, if he’d also been able to have his family. But he chose family, and he never regretted it. He could never look at his kids or grandkids without beaming and losing words for the love they gave him.
Many, many people are going to miss him terribly. For more about my uncle's life you can read his obituary here.

There are many circles orbiting my world, like the rings of Saturn. Each circle is another group of living loved ones, and together we create the galaxy, my universe. But from my perspective, they orbit around me, separate, but never far. My grandparent circle has greatly diminished as the years have passed. It is no longer solid. I can see a time where that ring will fade, when there is no one left alive to lose.
The circle that represents my aunts and uncles has always been strong and vibrant. My parents exist in that circle, as well as one of their own. Everything changes now. My Uncle Dave is the first loss from that ring. Its edge is no longer sharply defined and the color will grow diffuse as more loss comes. I am one step closer to the reality that more death will come. Mortality feels very real.
He was not just my uncle. He was my father’s brother, they were boys together. He was my cousins’ father, the man who raised them as my father raised me. And my heart fills with loss. My father’s loss. My aunt’s loss.

My family is gathering to pay their respects and lay his vessel to rest. I cannot be there with them, and am shoring up responsibilities so that I can go and be with them soon, which is difficult considering that my heart and thoughts are miles away. So I focus my heart and I do what I can from my office. At my ancestor altar, I call to the seven generations of my uncle’s ancestors.

I call to the lines of Eaton and Ruston.
I call to the lines of Eaton and Ruston; of Smith and Wicker.
I call to the lines of Eaton and Ruston; of Smith and Wicker; of Tenney, Dutcher/ De Duyster, Ireland, and Whitcher/ Whittier.
I call to the lines of Eaton and Ruston; of Smith and Wicker; of Tenney, Dutcher/ De Duyster, Ireland, and Whitcher/ Whittier; of Treadwell, Targee, Sears, Bird, Richardson, Lenton, Lusk, and DeLozier.
I call to the lines of Eaton and Ruston; of Smith and Wicker; of Tenney, Dutcher/ De Duyster, Ireland, and Whitcher/ Whittier; of Treadwell, Targee, Sears, Bird, Richardson, Lenton, Lusk, and DeLozier; of Gould, Peters, De Bois, Feagles, Brooks, Wilson, Morgan, Kittredge, and Raymond.
I call to the lines of Eaton and Ruston, of Smith and Wicker; of Tenney, Dutcher/ De Duyster, Ireland, and Whitcher/ Whittier, of Treadwell; Targee, Sears, Bird, Richardson, Lenton, Lusk, and DeLozier; of Gould, Peters, De Bois, Feagles, Brooks, Wilson, Morgan, Kittredge, and Raymond; of Skiff, Arnold, Andrews, Palmer, Coleman, Wright, Parker, Dow, Bailey, Erkells, and Richmond.
I call to the lines of Eaton and Ruston, of Smith and Wicker; of Tenney, Dutcher/ De Duyster, Ireland, and Whitcher/ Whittier, of Treadwell; Targee, Sears, Bird, Richardson, Lenton, Lusk, and DeLozier; of Gould, Peters, De Bois, Feagles, Brooks, Wilson, Morgan, Kittredge, and Raymond; of Skiff, Arnold, Andrews, Palmer, Coleman, Wright, Parker, Dow, Bailey, Erkells, and Richmond; of Hatch, Brooks, Luther, Townsend, Van Deusen, Lyon, Porter, Washburn, Pearson, Davis, Fowle, Zabriskie, Blackmer, and Caswell.

May my uncle’s spirit be at peace and at rest.

May the ancestors watch over and comfort the living he left behind.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Death with Dignity

Two women, Christy O'Donnell and Jennifer Glass, both with terminal cancer, are fighting for the legal right to end their own lives. A hearing was held yesterday in California for the End-of-Life-Options-Act, which sadly did not get enough votes to continue through to legislation, stalled largely by religious organizations according to the news reports last night.
The fact that both of these women have been given death sentences and are still battling to the end is amazing. If you are a pet owner, you have likely been forced to decide to end a pet’s suffering and put them to sleep. And if you’re like me, you have weighed that decision heavily, second-guessed it, watched your pet suffer more, and finally come to the conclusion that it’s the right decision. You love them so much you want them to be free from pain.
If we are trusted as pet owners to make that choice for them, should we not be trusted to make that choice for ourselves? Is that not also a kindness? All these women want is the right for Californians to decide when to end their fight. And they want to be able to do so before the even-more-horrible pain that debilitates them comes.

"I've reconciled my own religious beliefs with this decision. My walk with God, it doesn't conflict with my desire to die peacefully, to take away physical pain. And I don't believe, at least in my particular religion or others, that this type of pain serves a purpose." ~Christy O’Donnell

I resent the way the media is clarifying what form and stage of cancer these women have, as if we have a right to make a judgment call. I hated more the subtle media implications that we should feel bad for the one with lung cancer who was not a smoker. As if, had she been, we should sit in judgment that she brought the pain and death upon herself. Suffering is suffering. Their lives are precious temples that are being eaten alive from the inside out. This is the time for compassion.
These women are dying. They are unwillingly leaving behind families who do not want to lose them. And they want to end things before their disease traps them in their bodies.

"That's the thing is ... is you don't want to let go of your loved one. But to suggest that she should suffer for me, for anyone? No. ... That's what you struggle with. Here's the person I love and I don't want to see her go. But the seizure that [last] morning was a reminder of what she was risking because what was coming next was losing her eyesight, becoming paralyzed and an inability to speak. And then she would essentially be trapped in her own body." ~Dan Diaz, husband of Brittany Maynard, who moved to Oregon to end her own life legally

Lives matter. I understand that doctors sign up to save lives, and may not want to sign on to end them, but don’t doctors also learn how to know when treatment will no longer serve the patient? We do not live in a singular polarity. There is no life without death. And sometimes, the best way to respect the life is to give it a merciful death, when death is already knocking.
If doctors can keep the patient comfortable until they die naturally, should the patient not also have a say in when that is? I mean, let’s split hairs. Technically, they are already dying naturally. It’s not murder when the patient asks for it. It’s not suicide when the patient is already terminal. Death is death.

"I'm doing everything I can to extend my life. No one should have the right to prolong my death." ~Jennifer Glass

I wrote about this already, in my post “Assisted Dying” on November 5, 2014, about Brittany Maynard, the woman who moved to Oregon so she could end her terminal cancer on her own terms, just three days before my post. She had been prescribed a medicine that would end her life, and she held onto it until she knew it was the right time. It was important to her that people understand why she wanted to do it.

“I've had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms. I would not tell anyone else that he or she should choose death with dignity. My question is: Who has the right to tell me that I don't deserve this choice? That I deserve to suffer for weeks or months in tremendous amounts of physical and emotional pain? Why should anyone have the right to make that choice for me?” ~Brittany Maynard

Death with dignity is currently legal in Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, with a ruling pending in New Mexico. We’re being asked to open our minds a lot in our country right now, to accept new modes of thinking so that we might change the things that have always been done a certain way that we see are no longer serving us. How we live is as important as how we die.  What options would you want available to you?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Death Grief Love

I’m at a familiar place in my life. Someone I love is nearer the end of their battle than the beginning of the fight. At the same time, I am juggling that knowledge against hope. I am sending prayers for healing out, because I believe in miracles. After all, I have read enough historical battles to know that the tide can turn, even moments after its possibility diminishes.
I have been here before, and will be here again, and in that, I am not alone. I came home the day after our Solstice celebration to a new blog post from artist/performer Amanda Palmer, about sitting vigil at the bedside of a close and beloved friend. She captured the surreal quality of standing on that edge of life and death.
I’m sharing the link to her post in the hopes that you go and read her words for me this week. The reverence alone, in how they cared for their dying friend, is moving and courageous. To look into the face of death takes courage. And the gifts are innumerable.
When I finished it, I was crying because she had captured words for emotions I had never been able to. And my heart was singing out: This is what death looks like. This is what grief looks like. This is what love looks like.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.