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Hang out with people who are capable of making a commitment to you and your life, and who require that you make a commitment to theirs. Hang out with people who care about you, with people who need you to develop and who say so. Make such a commitment and don’t break that bond until you and all beings are perfect.

~~Reb Anderson, “In It Together”

To my two oldest and dearest friends,

I know you don’t want to talk about Advanced Directives and dying;  I get it and I love you for willing to be my surrogates once my parents die and for making that kind of commitment to me.

But I felt like I needed to put this out to the universe because more and more of us aren’t having kids, aren’t marrying, are married to their work, travel all the times, etc.  So here goes.

My time being with you was oh so short but you left a mark on my heart, like you were a sharpie.  I cannot think of two kinder people.  Nor do I know anyone who would continue making a scared contact with me for lifetimes.

As I look back, at mid-life, I have stood on the shoulders of so many who were there to catapult me into different lessons I had to learn, or as Ondrea Levine has said, “the healing I took birth for”.  From first or second grade, I’ve lost a lot of people:

Grandma Stevens

Grace

Aunt Ida, her brother Harold, (the spitting image of my grandpa), Cora, & Marge (I was closest to Aunt Ida by proximity)

Grandma & Grandpa  Martin

Harris & Barb

Grandpa Stevens

Mike

Tommy & his partner

Mike

Mike from CARES

Keith (Lois’ friend from CARES)

Amy’s mom Franny

Lois

And those are people with whom I’m close, not to mention all of the people who I counseled through hospice and other places I’ve worked.

Most people would see a list of losses and not have a clue what to say.  But I do, at least from my POV and previous experiences.  And what do I say?  one people where they are at, even if you don’t agree with it.  Let these folks live on until you re-commit to doing this all over again and begin anew.

I heard, during hospice orientation, a wonderful nurse Mosier said, “It’s a privilege and an honor to work with our patients and their families.”  And oh my god, did I get it once I started having clients.  And why did I love the work?  Because people who are dying go for bullshit; most don’t play games.  They are themselves and either take to you in and love you or drop you like a hot potato.  Who has time for drama and for squabbles when there is so much to do.  And this idea and feeling got me through some of the roughest times.

So I hope you get that we all have some control over how we leave this world.  Tibetan masters used to pick out the day of their deaths so has not to leave an energy gap for his sangha.  Now thats’s crazy mad skills (which I do not possess.” But I want my say too.  This hospitalization for my migraines shown me that I don’t want to wait until the end of life as it’s no longer his/her dying, it’s The Dying or my dying.  I want to tell you I love you every time we are in contact.  I wish I could hug you each day for the rest of our lives, but I cannot in person, so I do it in my dreams.

I am so honored to be able to call each of you my friend; two of the very best as a matter of fact.  Each of you came into my life when I needed help, a boost, a friend and I’ve never been more grateful for anything.

My Advanced Directives are not macabre; they are life-affirming.  They are not going to make me die sooner nor are they a statement about how I feel about my life.  They are to tell you, the two I love the most, after my folks what the heck I want when I can’t speak for myself.  That’s a pretty intimate thing and I don’t take it lightly, but I also don’t take my friendships with you for granted.

It’s like handing you the flashlight to my heart, so that you can see what’s there.  I do not want to suffer and if I can’t be conscious of the love that surrounds me in this world, then  don’t want to be a part of it.  I want to be surrounded by love and peace.  I want to go out of this world, to wait for our next incarnation together.  I don’t want to live in fear of dying and I don’t want to suffer the way Mike did for years.  If I cannot see the beauty in the world, then it’s time.

I wish we all could have as much love and attention to those who are being born into dying as we do being born into this world.  I’ve seen magic happen.  Lois’ last year or 2 were amazing.  She lived her dying like the spiritual warrior and Earth Mother that she was and surrounded by little pink lights (that’s another story).

I think the greatest good in this world be companioning someone who is dying.  And if my folks are gone, I pray that I will have one or both of you to be there and we keep are commitments to each other.

And to those who read this blog, think about where you stand, and then for goodness’ sake, tell someone.  Get it in writing.  Because when its too late, it truly is too late.  And thank you for witnessing.   Invite the ones you love to the conversation and then love them every day.

Addendum:  I decided to publish this because more and more people aren’t getting married, having kids, whatever… they need to have the conversation with those who will be there in the end.  Don’t wait to be a golden girl to have THE TALK.

Blessings, Jen

Thich Nhat Hanh, in 2001, wrote a book called Anger.  This is one of my favorite quotes:  If you can relieve a lot of his suffering.  Listen with only one purpose:  to allow the other person to express himself and find relief from his suffering.  Keep compassion alive during the whole time of listening.  Anger, TNH.

Okay, I have an awesome team of medical people helping me:  neurologist, PA, plenty of RNs and LPNs, LCSW, Psych, Biofeedback, PT, Acupuncturist, etc.  Most have been very sweet and kind to me during my stay to try to break up my migraine cycle.

But here’s the thing. . .  People come in and look at the computer screen and ask you how you are.  They ask a question but do not listen fully or mindfully.  Often times, one part of the team does not know what the other side is doing.  Showing up 5 minutes after I’ve woken up and having not even gotten to the bathroom, someone bubbly comes in and asks how my headache is.  Really?  Thich Nhat Hahn is right about people needing to share their story, their myth, etc so that they can free up the energy and emotions that keep them suffering.

I’m not knocking the staff.  Trust me, care here is way above just being cordial.  They are a great team.  It’s just sad that when you tell your doc that your advanced directives are done and you are my age, that he looks up with a question mark.  Hello?  I’m the one who has lived around dying, caregiving, and grief for 34 years and I know what I want and don’t want — my choice.  That’s why those of us in end-of-life care have worked tirelessly.  NO matter what age you are, you deserve to have the autonomy to chose; you have a right to decide how much suffering you are willing to put up with in situations like these.  Sorry, I get frustrated over end-of-life topics.  We need to start making all docs, nurses, etc take up communication classes and end-of-life classes.  It’s one smart.

But compassion and empathy are they places to start.  How do we teach those things?  Can they be taught?  Who is it in your life that affirms you and gives you their whole attention and mindfully listens to you with no corrections, advice, shaming, doubting, etc, I mean really just listens?  And who do you do that for?

Have you ever sat in and watched a class of children in the past 10 years?  Where I live, there is very little use of the word mindfulness and even when it is used, it is not what Thay, Salzburg, Brach, Pema Chodron, etc teach us.  Classes are too big and kids problems are too expansive.  Not enough time in the day for teachers to “fix” the kids in a classroom of 38, when they are teaching to the test.  Wow, what would happen if we gave kids 10 minutes a day to be listened to, heard, and empathetically listen to others?  I bet it would change an awful lot in this world.

 When we take turns compassionately listing and loving speech, we communicate with one another, not at one another.  It is there, in the space between the two communicating that true communication, true empathy, true love and grow!

(Aside, check out Thay’s books:  True Love, The Art of Communicating, Beginning Anew, Reconciliation, and the Miracle of Mindfulness.)

With Love and Gratitude,   Jenn

 

We need a kind of collective awakening.  There are among us men and women who are awakened, but their awakening is not enough; most people are still sleeping.  We have constructed a system we can’t control.  It imposes itself on us, and we become its slaves and victims.

~~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Bells of Mindfulness

I love this quote!  Especially well-needed for our current climate. . .  both the climate of the planet and of life in the US.

When do we meet critical mass so that we reach a tipping point?  When does the light lose the darkness?  Can it still be light with no darkness?  Are they a real dichotomy anyway?

Sometimes I wonder what Heidegger would say about the current state of affairs in the world?  He thought that in this world of ours, we were driven to distraction. . . Its got to be more distracting; at least ten-fold.  We have our big screens we can talk to, our watches and iPhone and laptops to record every little thing about ourselves.  We can Skype, Facebook, or Instagram.

And what about social media. . . . it keeps us slaves to the internet.  (BTW, thank goodness that Pres Obama knew how to use the internet unlike some of his counter-points across the isle).  We friend our acquaintances’ friends though we don’t know them;  we refer to them as our friend or acquaintances too.  All day long, all night long, 5 min here or there, we give our opinions about EVERYTHING.  How do we relate at all to the natural world, the seasons, the tide, etc.

We NEED (MUST) wake up as a world and straighten the injustices and the mastery of the masses by a few select people.  We seem to love it when people lie to us, especially when we believed the lies in the first place.  We allow the silence of Fukushima, or Gitmo, or even the crazy amounts of money we use to fund other countries, fund are corrections (or outsource to private for profits), and defund again and again Human Services, Agencies on Aging, etc.

There are alarms everywhere. . . pick one thing to give a care about and then dive in.  No one every said you have to volunteer for breast cancer, walk for AIDS, or read to kids at the library, fund a new school in your district; however, there is a ton of stuff to do. . . will it fix the earth?  to sure.  Will it fix the people we who hurt people on a mass scale, physically, spiritually, psychology.  Or hurting Gaia?

The point is:  we need to wake up from our constant slumber.  We need put down but the gadgets down.  Step up to the plate. . . .  stop being selfish.  What is it that you have a talent for?  Can you make phone calls somewhere?  Do you have artistic abilities?  Do you have mornings or afternoons off and could you help take your neighbor to the doctor?  Or get the OK from the parents in the neighborhood and teach kids some of your old family recipes so they continue to live in the future.  

If we don’t know and treat our neighbors with kindness and compassion, or change the way we hurt the earth, we will have no one and no planet.

Best, Jennifer

PS, Pope Francis and Thich Nhat Hahn’s tradition are reaching out and calling for parishes and sanghas to go beyond thinking green.  Maybe right now, it’s better to think Code Red rather than to think green.

 

Caregiving has always been a “thing” that my family did.  Growing up, my brother and parents helped take care of our land lady, Grandma Martin, who lived upstairs and had Melanoma.

In 8th grade/Freshman year in high school, I volunteered at The Jewish Home for the Elderly of Fairfield Co.

We took care of my grandfather after heart surgeries.  And there were a number of them.  Some cardiac surgeon probably built a gazebo with all of the stays my grandfather had at Yale.

1993-1995, we were caregivers to my dying brother.  Don’t try to be a caregiver if you don’t have support and a good massage therapist, yoga teacher, and awesome friends!

I’ve worked with people who have DD diagnosis, addicts, hospice, and general counseling.  Have helped my parents with food prep for their freezer or late night computer questions.  Weight Watchers leader, etc.  Have done that since Dec 2013.

Then sometimes, the tables are reversed; some times out of choice, some times because that’s the way the world turns….

I find myself as patient right now and will be again this Spring.  Hospitalized from uncontrolled migraines.  And this is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, save completing my Advanced Directives.

But being on the other end of caregiving has been weird the past 2 1/4 days.  It’s weird to have folks kind of waiting on me.  It’s weird being pushed down the hall in a wheel chair rather than pushing (which is what I did when I hurt my back at the nursing home).  And I figured out in less that 24 hours, they gave me 102 oz of ice water to drink.  God, my Grandma (Gussy) would have loved all the ice water.

Anyway, the staff at St Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago, have been sooo awesome!  I cannot say that enough.  What a difference in caregiving from what I see every day, day in and day out at my workplace.  I had not planned to order dinner but at 5:30, I even had the cafe call and ask if I was planning to order.  How nice and dedicated to service this hospital is.  This is also the unit (floor) for the Diamond Headache Clinic and I always feel I get good care there too.

But, when I was wheeled down for an MRI, this tiny woman from Yugoslavia pushed me in the wheelchair.  She was well over 60 and I felt like a heel for them having her do it.  I was doped on Valium but could have pushed myself down there.  What went through my head was, you don’t deserve this, I am able and competent. . . yada, yada. . .

But I heard myself, as I talked to myself.  I was raised that the way you do good in this world, the reason you took this life, (or that the gods gave it to you) was to love others, be of service, and emulate your life like the great wise ones (well, as a catholic girl, that was Mary, Jesus, etc).  I have felt guilt for years if I wasn’t the one making things better.  But, as I read on the wall downstairs, we are here to give love to our neighbors and treat them well. . . not something being seen much in the media, social media, etc etc.

So here are some of the questions I am asking myself while I try to be mindful during my stay here:

What does caregiving mean to me?  Am I comfortable with the role of caregiver and care receiver?  If not, why?  Who have been the caregivers in my life and what was our relationship?  Who have I given care to?  Do I remember them all (as a professional who worked with HIV clients, I’ve had many patients die).  What gifts that I and my wards give each other?  What blessing did my caregivers grant me, if any?  If you are still currently a caregiver, do you use your support system, do you say no, how do you recharge your battery, how do you balance issues of intimacy?  Can you turn off your caregiving to be present at home?  What’s the most important part of caregiving for you?  What kind of care do you need.

In spirit… Jennifer

 

 

700th Post

Just a thank you to everyone who has followed this blog over the past few years.

To me, the world is a little less lonely, a little smaller, and a little brighter for the interactions we share here.

Metta,

Jennifer

All violence is injustice.  Responding to violence with violence is injustice, not only to the other person but also to oneself.  Responding to violence with violence resolves nothing; it only escalates violence, anger, and hatred.  It is only with compassion that we can embrace and disintegrate violence.  This is true in relationships between individuals as well as in relationships between nations.

~~  Thich Nhat Hanh, “Cutivating Compassion to Respone to Violence”

This quote is a bit of a hard one to chew on right now.  First because it feels like we are enveloped in a violent world.

We’ve ravaged the planet.  Multiple countries are at war in the world and no one except, maybe France, has declared war. . . or so it seems. Our political candidates are inciting mobs to injure people and some are saying hateful things about certain groups that if the candidate laid a hand on the people they hate so much, it would be called a hate crime because of their protected status.

A war on drugs.  On cancer.  On the left.  On the right.  Women.  Abortion.  Christmas.  We seem to have a constant sale on wars and we can’t get enough.  And all of this violence and absolutely nothing feels just.

On a personal note, this quote is a bit tough to meditate on becuase I find myself getting so angry when I read Facebook.  I want to (and admit I sometimes do) post messages that are mean, name-calling, etc.  It is all just TOO much.

But then, I take a minute and reflect which then leads me to reflect on more things for more time.  One of the things I keep trying to bring to my mind’s eye is a picture from a Thich Nhat Hanh talk (I don’t remember if he said this in 2003 when I saw him or if it was an audio Dharma talk).

He said when you are seated on your cushion, sit tall and steady.  And place your hands on your lap, palms up, and imagine a baby Buddha sitting in your palms.  Hold your hands like you are cradling the baby Buddha and allow a half-smile to come to your face as you glance down at the baby.

I find when I can remember to do this, to take the time, it settles me.  I try to think, what if whomever I am angry at was the baby Buddha.  How would my anger, my frustration, my mindlessness affect the baby? Would I want to do that to the baby Buddha?

And lately, I have been asking myself, can you hold the whole planet like it is the baby Buddha?  Some days I can and I feel at peace.  Other days, I don’t think I can hold anything because I have fists, not open palms.

Right now, where are you?  Can you sit and imagine yourself as the baby Buddha?  The planet?  The person who cut you off on the parkway?  Your boss?  The person at the grocery store?  Can you imagine any little bit of love that can start to cool the embers that envelope us all on this planet?

Take gentle care and remember those around you are suffering just like you.

Love and peace, Jennifer

 

 

 

Metta

“May all beings be free from suffering, may all beings quietly between breaths follow the path across the horizon.  The out-breath brings dreams that has no beginning and no end drifts through the song that precedes our birth and dispels the illusion that we are or are not who we think we are”.

Ondrea Levine, “The Healing I Took Birth Ford:  Practicing the Art of Compassion.

Stephen and Andrea Levine are two of my favorite meditation teachers and writers.  Their work is so profound and intimate.

Suffering takes different forms for different people but it always the same; that which takes us out of the moment and into our heads. . . obsessing, grasping, hurting, hating, clinging, perseverating, wanting, etc.  It is the stories we tell ourselves. . . you know them….

“I’ll be happy when. . . ”

“I start a yoga class while. . . ”

It’s also ego-clinging and not being able to let go of our beliefs and ways.

Do you know what causes your suffering?  Do you know that there is a way to end suffering?

Come back for my articles on the Eight-fold Noble Path.

May we share the merit of all of our good intentions and actions with those whose suffering is never-ending.

In health and compassion,

Jennifer