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“It is 1999 and both of my parents have passed away.  And there is nothing special about this.”   
In 1999, I wrote a book called “Do You Still Laugh?  Do You Still Sing?  Words and ways to ease your heart when a parent dies”   It is a collection of letters that I wrote to my mother shortly after she died from a quick and unexpected illness.   “I wrote” the letters is sort of an inaccurate statement.  The letters wrote themselves through me, and I just provided the pen and paper.  It was an extraordinary creative experience that changed my understanding of life, creativity, art and expression.

I’ll be publishing excerpts of the book here on this blog, along with audio excerpts as I have time to complete them.  If this blog gives you comfort after the passing of your parents, I am glad.  Please pass it on to others who may need it.  Just search the CATEGORIES to the right and you’ll find the things that are relevant to you.

In 1999, we published “Do You Still Laugh, Do You Still Sing” and sold a few copies in bookstores in Dallas, Texas, online and at various speaking events.  Then, I let it rest.  The hardcopy of the book will be available again soon.   Keep checking back for blog published excerpts and news on the hardcopy.  Peace to you, my friends.

Dr. Kevorkian’s death has certainly prompted the national conversation on our rights as we near the end of our lives. Death is a difficult subject and an excruciating dialogue for many of us and we all need as much guidance and assistance from wise people to navigate that road.  Unfortunately, the NY Times did not really help that dialogue this morning.

Comments had to be closed down for this NY Times op-ed contribution:  “Dr. Kevorkian’s Victims” by Ross Douthat.  Understandably so.  The title is inaccurate and designed to incite argument either by clever avoidance or simple ignorance.  Further down in the op-ed piece he writes around other facts about Dr. Kevorkian.

If you’re reading this blog post and would like factual information on Dr. Kevorkian’s practices – I refer you to the 2010 documentary  KEVORKIAN.  

Since the NY Times comments are closed, I share my comments on Mr. Douthat’s op-ed here:

(1) Dr. Kevorkian had no “victims”.  People came to him seeking his assistance.  In the documentary you can see actual footage of their requests.

(2) Dr. Kevorkian was not called Dr. Death because he assisted so many suffering people who were ready to end their lives — he was called Dr. Death because he was a military doctor who was highly skilled at observing the exact moment of death of soldiers on the battlefield.  He was responsible for “person to person” blood transfusions on the battlefield and saved the lives of hundreds of soldiers.

(3) US doctors and medical professionals assist their patients in easing and quickening death every day.   When doctors come to the family and say, “There is nothing more we can do,” they begin procedures to allow the patient to die, and sometimes depending on the family’s wishes, they speed and ease that process with drugs.  When the doctors tell you, “All we can do now is make him/her comfortable,”  this is their industry code for letting you know that they are administering pain relief medication and they will continue to increase the dosage to toxic levels until the person becomes unconsious and eventually passes away.    And sometimes US doctors hasten death by simple neglect when they prefer to stay home on a weekend and wait until Monday to see a patient of theirs who was admitted to the emergency room.

Douthat is either very naive of hospital procedures or a very skilled propagandist with an agenda for dramatic impact.   He writes  “We do not generally praise doctors who help dispatch their terminally ill patients, as Kevorkian repeatedly and unashamedly did. Even when death is inevitable and inevitably painful, it is not considered merciful to prescribe an overdose to a cancer victim against her will.”

We quietly praise doctors every day for easing transition to death.  It is one of the most difficult things they do.   Drugs are often used to ease a patient’s transition to death – and it is merciful –  but to insert the “against her will” at the end of  the 2nd sentence has the writer leading the reader to believe that Dr. Kevorkian’s patients were being eased into death against their will.  Video footage in the documentary will show you time and time again that this is not the case.   And to compare Dr. Kevorkian’s work to the act of  “gently smother a sleeping Alzheimer’s patient,” is just an invitation to take a ride on Douthat’s  dramatic opinions train rather than a sharing of helpful facts.  But maybe that’s what op-eds are for.

I wish I had known point #3 earlier. I am grateful to the people who taught me.  Knowing it now assists me in being informed and doing my best to be a presence of love and strength for friends and family in the midst of life’s most difficult transition.

Douthat’s opinion might be more valuable to us if he actually relayed any facts of his own experiences from his vigils with friends and family while they died.   Mr. Douthat can you tell us – What is the value of watching your loved ones suffer needlessly as they die?  What inspirations did they have as they suffered?  Was your life made better by watching them suffer?  Just wondering.

If you’re reading this blog post and would like factual information on Dr. Kevorkian’s practices – I refer you to the 2010 documentary  KEVORKIAN

Can you complete this sentence? – Before I die I want to _________________.

Click photo to see more of the "Before I die... " exhibit.

 

Designer, Urban Planner and Artist Candy Chang has installed an interactive exhibit in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area. One wall in the gallery is now a giant chalkboard.  Visitors can finish this sentence.   It will be so beautiful when it’s done.

Limiting to just one comment is difficult for me, I have about 10,000 more things to do, but if I get only one entry then, my contribution is  “Before I die I want  to be sure I have helped others love and be loved”   I’ve been fortunate in love and I know everything good grows from the roots of love.

I’m wondering what your answers are – leave them in the comments section below – or make a trip to East/West Gallery in Dallas and write your contribution to the wall and post a photo of your contribution.

At little moments I feel the truth of that statement.  When I was very young and people would die it seemed a mystery.  Then in early adulthood death seemed a tragedy.  And now in real adulthood it seems a mystery again.

From Robert Lanza, MD on the Huffington Post:  “Your consciousness will always be in the present — balanced between the infinite past and the indefinite future — moving intermittently between realities along the edge of time, having new adventures and meeting new (and rejoining old) friends.”

If you’d like to  read the entire article  – click here.


Is there any subtle way to ask, “If you have a choice, where would you prefer to die?”  There might be, but I can’t figure it out, so I am asking in my rustic way, “Have you thought about where you want to die?”  Assuming you’re not in a tragic accident (God forbid) you will have a choice.

The reason I ask is, my father-in-law passed away earlier this month and his choice in his advanced directive was to “go home”.  Three of us (all grown-ups)  had to read it over several times before it was clear to us.    No where did he write “I want to die at home ” but all of the sentences in his advanced directive read  “If __blank__  is happening, my preference is to go home.”  And every response to every medical situation presented was “to go home.”  Finally we got it.  We should bring him home.

Both of my parents passed away in hospitals.  Advanced directives or even conversations about how to die weren’t very vogue at the time.  I’m pretty sure dying in the hospital was what my father wanted as about 1 week before he passed, he stood up and said, “I need to go back to the hospital.”  It was the day after Christmas.  We pulled the car into the snowy front yard, right up to the front door so he wouldn’t have to walk but a few steps, and in my heart, I knew that this was the beginning of the end.   We were all still pretty young,  in our teens and 20’s and I think it would have been too difficult for him to leave surrounded by us and the amazing life he had created for us.

For my mother though, I think she might have wanted to pass away at home.  The beautiful home she had created.  It was Easter, the garden was blooming, the house was clean and ready for newness, and while she lay dying, she could not speak, so she wrote, “I want to go home” or “When can I go home” I can’t recall exactly and we weren’t sure what she meant.    Since she was a deeply spiritual person, we thought she might be implying her spiritual home.   She died very quickly, so most likely she would not have made it all the way home even if we had begun the process.  And dying en-route in a gurney or ambulance would have been dreadful.  We did the best we could at the time.

Since my experience was hospitals, that was all I knew.  I couldn’t imagine dying at home was a good thing.  I was wrong.  For my father-in-law it was perfect.   He had designed many aspects of his own house, built parts of it himself and lived there for over 50 years.  It was the keeper of his joy, his pain, his loves, his work, his life — it was the perfect place for him to pass his spirit into it’s next adventure.  Since we had discussed the art of shape shifting at different times, in some moments, I imagine his spirit simply shape shifted into the house and became the house.  He loved it so much.  I mean, really, I don’t know where his spirit is, but it sure doesn’t feel like it has gone too far.

So now I learned that bringing someone who is terminally ill home, can make death feel a little less scary —  like just another part of life.   Like many people, we moved his hospital bed into the living room so he would be a part of the daily happenings in the house.  Life moved on around him and when he was conscious he could hear us, smile at things that were funny, growl at things that hurt, and participate in life with even just his consciousness, his beingness, participating as he could until the very end.    We had a professional attendant 24/7 and daily visits by the hospice nurse, and over-care by family so he was well taken care of.  Almost every breath of his last days was witnessed by someone nearby who cared.

In those moments I became aware of the beauty of breathing. How profound it is to even take one breath.  Time slows down near the end – every second feels like a minute, every minute feels like an hour.  A lot of love slips in during those moments.   Secrets of the universe can slip in during those gaps and my recommendation is that you be there if you can.

For death, most likely we’ll need the Baby Boomers to bring a forbidden subject into the light and I am grateful again to be living in their shadow.  Boomers have a way of making anything that happens to them a big deal.  And I appreciate it.  They are great teachers.  So as they near death, I imagine they’ll again carry the torch of speaking up about the previously taboo subject.

This article in the LA Times on why end-of-life discussions are important has a lot of great things to consider:  http://ow.ly/11uH1

Music you choose for your loved ones memorial service is a deeply personal decision.  Some families have a very easy relationship with music.  There are songs that define the members of the family very easily and that is the music the family chooses to play for memorial services.  For those of you who might be looking for suggestions, I offer up a few.  If you have music that worked for your families, please share links in the comments section.  Thank you.

VOICES OF ANGELS: If you’d like some voices of angels, and music more on the formal, spiritual side, we suggest you peruse through options from Grammy Award winning Kansas City Chorale.   My mother trained almost half of the singers in the chorale and so, of course their music was entirely appropriate for her services.  and much of the music is universally moving.  We chose music from their albums ALLELUIA, An American Hymnal and FERN HILL, American Choral Music and their BRAHMS album.
Link here:  http://bit.ly/fC0J1

ON THE JOYFUL SIDE: It is natural and necessary to allow Grief to take you down her long and winding road, and it’s also natural and necessary to let moments of joy surface during that trip.  Sometimes at the end of memorial services for a well lived life, a joyful sendoff can be a great gift you give the attending friends. For that moment, may I suggest  Dance On My Grave by Seconds Flat.
“No procession, no depression
Only good thoughts from you and my kin
No more crying, no goodbye-ing
Rejoice my passing, have a good stiff drink and kick your shoes off… Will you please dance on my grave…with your barefeet on the ground…  “
check it out. It’s beautiful.
Listen here:  http://kpig.com/stybin/pigplayer?c=5&p=2&e=1
Or buy it here on the KPIG Greatest Hits 2  Album  right on over he’ya… http://bit.ly/4pECce

My only other encouragement to you is to tune in and observe now what music is beautiful and meaningful to your parents and other loved ones.  As it become obvious, set aside CDs, purchase second copies, or download the music now so there is no rush when the actual funeral arrives.  There are 1000 other details to tend to in the moment, so a little care now, can make that difficult moment so much easier.

We found this piece of prose when my mother died.  I think someone gave it to her when my father passed away.    Author is Canon Henry Scott-Holland, 1847-1918, Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral
‘The King of Terrors’, a sermon on death delivered in St Paul’s Cathedral on Whitsunday 1910, while the body of King Edward VII was lying in state at Westminster.  Thank you to http://poeticexpressions.co.uk for letting us know who to credit for this beautiful work.

Death is nothing at all… I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I and you are you…whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone; wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.  Let  my name be ever the household word it always was.
Let it be spoken without effort, without the ghost of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was; there is absolutely unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well.

Angels are comforting to many people, so I am posting a few here.   I can’t say for sure that angels exist, but if they don’t, I will be a little disappointed.  These are angel sculptures from Recoleta, the magnificent cemetary in Buenos Aires.  I was there last month and was amazed at the tributes people built to their loved ones.  You can see all four photos here in the gallery –


Peace to you.

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