Dying Well

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Movies and mythic journeys always talk about “dying well”. When you think about dying well in this instance it usually involves something heroic or being remembered for an altruistic life. Extraordinary experiences of profound impact on others or the world in general are usually what get written down in books or played out on screens. Immortalized character traits that set the bar high for all of us left living to aspire to.

In the Mayan culture a human would  volunteer to be sacrificed to the God’s because it assured them a place in heaven. To be sacrificed was “dying well” to the Mayans. The human sacrifice was thrown into a cenote, a deep dark cave with an underground river and if the bound human sacrifice survived the 60 foot fall, after a period of time they were brought back up and asked what the God’s told them while in the cenote.

In my experience sitting with people that are dying, people die the way they lived. Those memorable heroic moments that happened maybe once and that everyone always associates with the person…yeah, that isn’t what the dying are sorting through in the end. The end brings what one spends the majority of their time and energy on. If it was being fearful, then it is fear gripping you in the end. If it was regret, then it is regret that wafts over you and spills out of your eyes and soul. Our one defining moment is death and it is at this time that our truest spirit is expressed. Not the many faces we live and use daily in life. Those are only needed by the living. Death being the equalizer that it is, brings us to ground zero where our base energy lies…that which fuels our thoughts, desires, needs, and propels us into action. It rarely is altruistic and even rarer is heroic, at least not in historical or Hollywood terms. It is instead that day in and day out, moment to moment, small hum of energy that is not noticed by anyone but you most of the time. That lingering tug at your consciousness as you are falling asleep at night..there, that is what surfaces in the end, like it has been waiting and trying to get you to acknowledge it for a long, long time.

It makes you think about the way you live now. At this moment. If you spew anger and hatred towards your family, if you judge people, if you are jealous or resentful, if you love and respect others, show compassion, are generous… whatever you spend the most time and energy on is what will be staring back at you from the mirror placed before you in the end. And that mirror comes to us all.

And of course no one knows what happens after death, what if we continue on in some other existence based on these very characteristics that we lived in this life? What if this life is step one and our actions in it determines step two? Would you change the way you live your life now to “die well”?

No Memorial Service For Me

I recently lost my gram. This beautiful woman was such a vital part of me and was inextricable from my life. I feel as if a part of me has died with her. I was blessed to have been by her bed days before she left us to hold her hand and tell her that everything would be okay and that I loved her. To which she replied very lucid, “I love you too, I really do.”

I attended her memorial service to be there for my mom. She was the sole caretaker for the last years of gram’s life, while the rest of the family were off living their lives or too busy to care for the dying. At the end mom couldn’t even leave the house to go to the store or get the mail and yet the family still did not call or come to help. It was a great burden and took a toll on my moms health.

Mom and I did not want a memorial service for gram. Gram would have hated it. Another family member who is very much about the “show” insisted. That is what a memorial service is, a “show” for those who need to pat each other on the back and reassure each other that they were important to the deceased. Those who stand up and read a poem to the deceased while choking back tears, but hadn’t seen the deceased in years. Or the person who recounts a childhood memory and claims to be the deceased’s favorite but hadn’t seen or talked to the deceased in a decade. Who are these people to stand and speak out about a person that they had not loved or respected enough to come or call in years? Yet they have the gall to stand and speak as if they were a part of this persons life.

The whole service turned my stomach. I left before it was over. At the graveside I had had enough of the posers. They could continue their small patting of the backs and crooning over their very distant memories as they attempted to convince themselves that they showed the deceased love, comfort, concern and basic respect.

Memorial services are for this very type of activity. A funeral service ritual came about out of the necessity to transport bodies long distances after WWII, when the body needed to be preserved at a funeral home and a service held later at the deceased’s hometown. The booming and lucrative funeral service industry was born. Now it is big business to capitalize on people’s guilt. People that were not there for the deceased can assuage their guilt with the best and most luxurious coffin, service and buffet meal after while they read poems, recite memories from decades ago and make themselves feel better about neglecting to cherish a relationship with an aging person that was inconvenient for their life.

I do not want a memorial service. If you want to express your love for me, do it while I am alive. When I leave, those that were there in the end will have a party and drink my favorite wine, telling stories of our mutual adventures together. When I leave my body, cremate me and spread my ashes in my chosen places. No headstone, no grave. I will live on in the hearts and memories of those that loved me and showed up until the end. No posers allowed.

To my gram:

We said our words in person and there was no need for me to pretend that we were important to each other. We were together till your end and I will carry you in my heart till my end.

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A Photo Book on Pompeii

I visited Pompeii in November. I took a lot of photos but I didn’t feel that any of them ever captured the feelings of the place or what happened there. It was an overcast day when we went and it matched the surrounding ruins perfectly. I haven’t been able to shake the feelings that it generated in me even now. I just made a photo book of photos I took in Pompeii along with poems about the people and devastation of losing an entire city. It was and still is a tragedy for all time. It has changed me. If you are interested in the book…click on the link at the top.

Addendum: 100% of the profits generated from the book sales will be donated to The Great Pompeii Project. A preservation project developed by the Italian government to save the ruins, art and history of Pompeii. Much of it is crumbling away and lost forever to us. Please consider purchasing the book as a donation to this project. 

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Roma, Pompeii and Finals

The last half of the term has flown by and now with a little over a week until we go home it seems that time is flying by. We went to Rome with my art history class. We visited the Vatican museum, Sistine Chapel, St Peters Basilica and the Roman Forum-ColiseumImageImageImage. It was a fabulous trip and We learned so much about all of the art, history and civilizationsImage that were there before us. Then my friend Denise, Chad and I went on down to Naples and stayed in a cute little hostel that was so much fun! We went and spent the day at Pompeii walking the ruins and soaking up the atmosphere. Pompeii has forever changed me. I am completing my final art project on Pompeii with photos and poems by me to match. Here is a sample of the photos and the rest will need to wait until I reach home unfortunately! The garden is much too cold to sit and upload photos in right now.

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Venezia Biennale Day One

Day one of the Biannale was overwhelming. We went to the Arsenale and saw the exhibition curated by Massimiliano Gioni. The exhibition was organized as a progression of natural to artificial forms. The exhibition began in the beginning of man as a concept in the primordial ooze of life and step by step made it’s way up the evolutionary ladder to the over evolved being that he is today. The exhibits showcased crucial milestones of man’s evolution…such as the wheel, rituals of adolescence, base instincts and the role ego plays throughout.

My emotions were stirred at a base level and I felt as if they progressed in waves as I moved from room to room. Some rooms moved me to tears…the room with the plastic people all wrapped in grey agony. The sea of screens showing videos of stories flashing and flashing before my eyes. It was an instant of gratuitous envelopment of our media saturated society…thousands of lives that happen just like that and we all watch vehemently. I can say that this exhibition was life altering. Enjoy the photos.

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Our class listening to our art professor Shelley Jordon

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Laura and Dany sketching

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Release

I was married to a drug addict for six years and after years of abuse to my spirit, I left him to deal with his own demons. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. In the all knowing hindsight, I , of course wish I would have done it earlier. But it is what it is. My son was the diamond that came out of that coal. For ten years after  I left him, I held my breath, I waited, I closed up, I retreated, I moved far away, I shut down. Every knock on the door was greeted with terror and fear. My two kids and I could not move far enough away to feel safe. Then he killed himself. I cannot begin to describe the mixture of emotions that swept through me. My son was ten and his father was dead. It was a long two years for us, sleeping on the floor next to his bed, looking at him and seeing only his father looking back, his anger thrown directly at me. We danced the dance of two locked together in grief. At times neither of us wanted to be that close to the other, yet there we were. I only cried when he couldn’t see me, little did I know that when I finally did cry with him, the true healing began.

That was in 2004. Two days ago I burned his letters, cards, our wedding book in the wood stove at my grams. The letters were sent from him when he was deployed on the USS Truxton in the Persian Gulf during Desert Storm. I was ready to let the last little bit of him go. My son, Chad was wandering around the house and knew what I was doing, at one point asked me, “is that it? No saying anything or doing anything?”  I replied, “yes. It has all been done. That’s it.” We both got out our cameras and took photos of the flames. Cause that is what we do, when the words won’t come.

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Dead Leaves

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The void is too little with us; punctual and later,

giving and saving, we store up our powers for

all we see in darkness that defies us.

We have taken our hearts back- a joyful gift!

This sky that covers her heart to the sun-

the winds that are still, do not run

and are scattered now like waking seeds.

For this, for all, we are in sync; It moves us so!

Great Goddess, I’d rather be

every one of these dead, unknown to me.

Charolette Stoehr