Tag Archives: adversity

World Death Rate Holds Steady at 100 %

That title is a headline from The Onion and it succinctly calls attention to the elephant in every room: we are all going to die. It’s not a topic we discuss much, but maybe we should, since it’s the one unifying experience of all humanity — indeed, of all life.

I am on a plane somewhere above Nebraska, flying across the country to see my mom. She has dementia. She is dying. We say that of someone we expect to pass soon, but in reality, it’s true for each of us; we are all dying and the fact is we don’t know how or when death will find us. I’m sitting next to a psychotherapist from Washington D.C. whose wife died of cancer this year. Death is hard on the living. Which is perhaps why we try so hard to avoid thinking about it.

I’m not afraid of death. But it’s easy for me to say that, because at the moment, I’m healthy and “too young to die.” If the plane’s engines suddenly stopped roaring and we plunged to the plains below, I’m fairly certain I’d feel afraid. Like most of you, I’m not afraid to BE dead — but I’m not too thrilled at the idea of dying painfully. Like you, I hope to go to sleep one night when I’m really old and feeling complete and simply not wake up, passing gently in the night.

I have a firm belief in an afterlife, confirmed by sacred experience. In fact, I look forward to that life after; I am spending my mortality preparing for it. Perhaps it’s just the transitions that make us nervous. Birthing is beautiful, but difficult and often dangerous, not just for the mother but for the child as well. We don’t generally think of dying as beautiful — at least not in our Western culture — but I suspect we’re missing something important by not recognizing the holiness of the transition from this life to the next. It’s easier to see as we sit by the bedside of a dying loved one who is ready to go, easier than dealing with the shock of the sudden or violent death of someone we love. It brings up the unanswerable question: would you rather know you’re dying, so you have time to say goodbye and get ready, or would you rather go instantly, to minimize the pain?

I have little experience with death first-hand. Much of my ruminations on the subject are theoretical. I am aware of the risk I’m taking to talk about it here, when so many of you have buried parents or children, siblings or friends. Please forgive any boorishness. But Death is on my heart lately because I am not prepared for my mom to die. Are we ever? As I was praying for her yesterday, I could not bring myself to ask God to heal her of her latest physical infirmities. She’s been in the hospital and the rehab unit for almost four weeks now, and Memory Care for months before. She can’t walk. She’s not eating. She’s just aware enough to realize that her life is no life. I wonder if she is trying to die, perhaps unconsciously, but intentionally.  And what right do I have to insist she stay, just because I don’t want her to die?

The paradox of our modern world is that we can keep people “alive” indefinitely, but what does that say about our relationship with Death? We spend far more money on end-of-life care than on any other medical need. And for what? When does our regard for Life and our collective fear of Death become untenable?

My mother-in-law died well. She had colon cancer, which she knew would kill her without treatment. She went to a couple of chemotherapy sessions, then said, “No more. I choose to let this cancer take me.” And eight months later, it did. I asked her once, “Are you afraid?” She replied emphatically, “No!” And I could tell she was telling the truth. Toward the end, we could see a new clarity and light in her eyes, as if the veil was already lifted and she could clearly see the glorious path ahead. But that’s all conjecture. I only know that she died in peace, even joy, her life complete. She embraced the transition fearlessly, with faith and a humble eagerness. We mourned her passing, of course. We still miss her, years later. But her example of dying well will remain in my heart forever.

Believing Mormons have a clear, joyous narrative about Life and Death, which makes our funerals not-so-somber and our conversations about Death almost flippant. Some think we are unfeeling because our grief does not generally manifest in extreme ways. But the peace that accompanies our understanding of Death as simply one more transition in our eternal lives is real and soul-sustaining. Our grief is certainly just as real. But we hear enough and have enough inter-world experiences with our dead to make it all somehow bearable, even beautiful.

I have much to learn. Much to yet experience. Our stories of Death are important, the difficult as well as the divine. We will all die, after all, but it’s hard to talk about because we know so little of what’s beyond. I believe those who live well tend to die well, so maybe that’s all we can do. Maybe there’s no difference, really. All we can do, perhaps, is  help each other live well and when the time comes, die well.

How would you describe your relationship to Death? What are your fears, your hopes, your experiences?

Grace

IMG_0394I usually read three or four books at a time. Right now, my active pile includes 1) Tony Robbins’ Money: Mastering the Game, 2) a Fannie Flagg novel, 3) What’s so Amazing About Grace by Phillip Yancey, and 4) Ann Lamott’s latest — Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. I read what I’m in the mood for in the moment. I lost Fannie Flagg for awhile, in the middle of a good story; she got tucked into a door pocket of our other car. And I was plowing enthusiastically through Money when Life smacked me upside the head on a Tuesday evening three weeks ago. I haven’t opened the book since. But I am devouring the two books on Grace, my soul hungry for solace, for divine sustenance, tender mercy.

Mostly, my life moves along like a transoceanic flight — tedious, squishy-kneed, but exciting — hope and adventure awaiting. But then the turbulence hits, randomly, unexpectedly, spilling soda and knocking me off my wobbly airborne feet as I waddle back from the toilet box. Then it’s just Hang on! Don’t lose hope! And don’t jab anyone in the head! Continue reading

Open

imageWhen I lived in the city I was accustomed to the kaleidoscope of smashed glass caught in the cracks and rough patches of sidewalk and road. Beautiful, but terrifying trash. I’ve stepped on enough broken drinking glass shards to know to keep my feet covered when I stepped outside. The day I spied a man running down my Baltimore street without shoes I looked once to see him, again in unbelief, once more in disbelief and again because why would anyone in their right mind run down these glass glittered streets without proper footwear? But up the street he ran anyway, not stepping gingerly, but in stride and purpose. Open and free. I just thought he and anyone else reckless enough to attempt such a task was crazy. Then I met one. Continue reading

When It’s Raining In Your Kitchen

 

Angelica Hagman liveHagman_RainingKitchenrevs in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and their two young boys. Her blog, Feast on the Word, helps her keep herself spiritually nourished and is one way she puts her weaknesses to work by having them highlight God’s genius. She also writes Young Adult fiction and keeps a writing blog.

It’s not even 1:30 a.m. when the baby wakes for the third time since bedtime.

Praying he’ll fall asleep again, I start feeding him and sigh.

Not that I expected the night to be blissful. Our boys rarely sleep through the night and we just returned to the U.S. from Europe earlier that day.

The transatlantic flight with two little ones was all fun and games. If your definition of fun and games is pure torture.

While I chomp on the word jet lag and push away the memory of the so-much-less-than-ideal flight, my husband heads for the bathroom.

My head lolls. So. Tired.

A loud rushing sound snaps me awake. What is my husband doing? I try to identify the sound. Sink faucet on full blast? No. He isn’t taking a shower, is he? That’s not it, either.

“Help!” At my husband’s strangled cry, I fly out of bed, leaving my wailing son behind.

My feet are wet before I even step onto the bathroom linoleum floor.

No. No, no, no.

“It’s stuck!” My husband, crouching by the toilet, is soaking wet up to his hair and near panic. “I don’t know what to do!”

I take in the scene. The water shut-off valve is stuck and the water supply connector—the hose thing that’s supposed to refill the toilet tank—has snapped and spews out water at an alarming rate. The connector is relatively short and skinny, but the fire-hose pressure tells me we’re in trouble.

My husband and I trade places in the small space. Irresponsible renters as we are, neither of us know where the water main is, so my husband runs downstairs for a tool with which to turn the water shut-off valve.

I try to think. How to minimize the damage? I reach for the valve but the metallic grooves just grind against my hand when I try to turn it. Not that I expected to get it to move after my husband failed. But whenever I’m getting spanked by water, I like to pretend I have at least a sliver of control.

My heart pounds as worst-case scenarios rush into my mind faster than the water onto my pajamas. What if we can’t turn it off? Who do we even call in the middle of the night—and will they answer? Would 9-1-1 consider this as big of an emergency as we do?

Please, help us, I pray.

I register the trash bin. It’s fairly small and the water pressure is so high that much of the water sprays right back out. But at least it’s something. I empty bin after bin into the shower.

My husband finally arrives, and we do the switcheroo dance again. He dives down to the floor and attacks the valve with what looks like wire cutters. He is as tool illiterate as I am, but to his credit, time isn’t exactly on our side. Plus, we have no idea where we keep the rest of the few tools we actually own.

After several long seconds of slippery wrangling, everything goes quiet.

Well, the baby is probably turning blue from all that screaming. But no more toilet water fountain.

Hallelujah.

My heart still hammering, I rush to comfort our poor baby while my husband gathers towels for water cleanup.

It’s tempting to ignore the aftermath and just go to sleep. But as parents of two small children, we know that if given the chance, messes unattended to will grow limbs, become self-aware, and kick you out of the house.

The damage to the carpet isn’t as bad as we thought, but even the bathroom ceiling is wet from the crazy spray.

When I go downstairs to scavenge for more towels, I realize it’s raining.

In the kitchen.

The large light fixture, positioned right underneath the flooded bathroom, can’t contain all the water seeping through the ceiling.

And cleaning up that mess is all fun and games. If your definition of fun and games is wet and miserable drudgery. Emptying the water-heavy light fixture is tricky business, and we get showered several times in the process.

All in all, the whole shebang has provided us with a perfect opportunity for whining and complaining. For asking why me and why now, after a torturous transatlantic flight?

So we do a little bit of that, because we’re human.

But both my husband and I know that along with all that water raining down onto our already-grimy kitchen floor, are showers of abundant blessings. Of tender mercies of the Lord.

Because our master bathroom is located above the kitchen, not the living room with semi-expensive electronics, fabric furniture, and even more carpet.

Because our oldest son slept until the rain showers in the kitchen stopped—dealing with one upset child was plenty.

Because the water supply connector could have snapped the next day instead, when my husband was at work.

Because we were home, able to deal with the disaster right away. Had the same thing happened during our four-week vacation, the entire house might have collapsed before anybody realized something was amiss.

Around 4 a.m., two and a half hours post-flush, the four of us fall back into bed. We’ve exhausted our entire supply of towels cleaning the bathroom, the kitchen, and ourselves.

I hope the kids don’t expect any more 3:30 a.m. baths.

My pillow feels just right under my head. I thank God for His mercies.

And make a mental note to ask the landlord where in the world we can find that water main.

How has it (figuratively) rained in your kitchen? Would love to hear your stories!

Creating Beauty From Ashes

Beauty-From-Ashes-original-art-by-Blue

A blogger I follow recently wrote for the first time about the abuse she experienced growing up. For 30 years she’s managed to shove it beneath the surface of her life without ever talking about it or addressing it. And she has done an amazing job of it. Despite those damaging experiences, she is a happily married mother, a successful medical doctor, and a witty and gifted writer. But the past finally caught up with her and through a series of unexpected events involving helping an exchange student, she recently found herself no longer able to avoid venturing into the murky, uncharted waters of her past.

Venturing in is terrifying. It’s painful. And it’s scary to let oneself be vulnerable, but it is absolutely requisite for healing.   I know, because I’ve been there myself.

I rarely comment on blog posts, but I felt like I should respond to her courageous post with some of my thoughts. Little did I know how much they’d resonate with her. That she’d print them out and highlight parts and carry them around with her. That when she wakes up in the night in a panic, she’d reread those words to calm herself down.  She shared how much she appreciated the support and insights as she embarks on this path.

She is not LDS, in fact I believe she’s an atheist, so my comments don’t get into the role the atonement plays in overcoming hard things, but I know there are countless people who’ve had similar struggles, who may be in need of a boost right now.  So it is with that premise that I share the comment I wrote to her that day. And I apologize for its length, but I felt impressed that this is a discussion that may benefit some readers of this blog, too.

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Dear DM,

You’ve been in my RSS feed for years and years, and I almost never comment. But these two posts merit it. I just didn’t have sufficient time when I read your first one.

I’m probably just a little bit ahead of you, on the same road.  I felt paranoid for years that if people knew about my past, that it would mean all the horribleness I had inside me would be actually true. That I was really just an impostor in my own life, faking being awesome (and doing a poor job of it mostly). 

I’d spent considerable energy growing up trying to be accepted, to figure out how to be popular, become someone else–anyone else–just as long as it wasn’t “that girl”, the one that had experienced those things. I was in huge denial about my reality. Experiencing these things resulted in me being one of those easy-targets at school and elsewhere, including my church. I didn’t know why my peers were so mean. They just were. One therapist explained that kids are like sharks…they smell blood in the water and sense an easy target; going in for the kill is almost instinctual. Maybe that’s it, but either way, between home, school and church I was neglected, abused, bullied, beat up, ridiculed and shunned as a kid. Early on I came to believe I was as ugly and worthless as “they” claimed.

But I survived, and once I left home I met a really wonderful guy and while he seemed to be aware of a lot of my loose ends, he truly loved me anyway (we’ve been together for 25 years now). For the first time I had a relationship that was “safe”, and thus I was able to stop expending energy trying to maintain my facade, and use it to start healing.

Over time, I have learned that not all therapists are created equal. It took seeing about ten of them over the past 25 years to realize that. I didn’t know how helpful a therapist could be til I found one that actually was, and that has made ALL the difference. I’m growing and healing so much faster now.  There is an end in sight to all of this.  In the past I talked for the 50 minutes, paid my $100 and left. There wasn’t a whole lot of insight or progress and I assumed I’d probably need help forever. Find a therapist who does more than listen and ask how does that make you feel?  A good girlfriend will do that for you for free :-)

Writing, especially in your case where you’ve been doing so anonymously all these years, should be really helpful not only to you, but to a number of your myriad readers.  And that feels REALLY great, to know that some good will come out of this by way of helping other people get through their own pain. You’ve already experienced a taste of that with the exchange student.  You are brave and strong and good and amazing and funny and talented and have an excellent support network, so I’m confident you will be able to go through this journey and emerge stronger and even more amazing, with wisdom and perspective to help others you encounter.  It won’t make the bad stuff good, but it creates beauty from ashes.

Life isn’t fair. Sometimes it’s sad. Not just for people who’ve been abused, but for every one of us.  Learning to take the sad moment and grieve the pain, but not let it become a cesspool you hang out in, is one of the keys.  What we dwell on, we dwell in. So give yourself the moment, cry the tears, allow the pain to vent, and carry on. It’s part of the grieving process…which is really what this is all about; acknowledging what happened, how it has made you feel and impacted your life, putting things in perspective, letting go and moving forward.

Sounds easy on paper. It’s actually a cyclical journey that takes time, with progress and setbacks all along the way. But meanwhile you are making the world a better place just by being in it and not perpetuating those things upon the next generation.

The thing that tipped me, that finally gave me the courage to address my own past, was Jeanette Wall’s best-selling memoir The Glass Castle.  It kind of gave me a map. Before reading it, I thought that if my past were true, (ie: if I acknowledged it), it would mean I really was damaged goods, worthless, and no one would want to be friends with me. I didn’t want to be labeled victim. I didn’t want to hang out with victims or be classified as in that “group”. I didn’t want that to become my identity.

But when I read her story, I closed the book wishing we were real life friends. I didn’t view her as a victim, or surviver, or anything other than one dang amazingly cool person that I’d really enjoy knowing and being friends with. And then it occurred to me that maybe that’s how others would feel about me. That I wouldn’t have to be known as a “surviver of abuse”.  So it changed my life, reading her story. I hope that I can share my own story someday, and if it helps even one other person heal the way Mrs. Wall’s book helped me, it’ll have been worth it.

Here are links to a few things I had never learned about that were complete surprises to me: Boundaries. Hadn’t really heard about them, nor were they in place in my life–that’s been a huge one. Co-dependence…which is when I allow someone else’s behavior to dictate my own…was also huge. The Drama Trianglelearning about it enabled me to stop playing the game.  And finally, Detachment, and forming healthy attachments.  These ideas are all connected, and there is an abundance of information about all of them a google-search away. The goal is to be a healthy, kind, loving person. There were some skills and information I needed to acquire to get there, and these are a few of the main ones.

Thanks for sharing your story, and for being beautiful and good and strong even though you had a crap hand dealt to you as a kid. That isn’t who you are and doesn’t have to define you. And this will be one of those things that, someday, is a mere blip in your life…just like high school was actually just one piece in the puzzle of your life. It probably seemed so HUGE! and SIGNIFICANT! when you were in it, but looking back, it’s now something you sum up in a sentence or two. It’s not who you are. All of these are just experiences that impacted you in various ways, but they don’t define you in the long run.

Thanks for the inspiration you’ve given me all these years, and hang in there.  The light will come!

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This is a big topic, and we can continue the discussion in future posts if there is interest. Do you have any thoughts or insights you’d like to share? Are there any ideas you’d like to delve into more? Have you or someone you know struggled with similar things?