Where do Seagulls go to Die?

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I know, I know, it’s a weird, warped, morbid question, but I’m genuinely interested in knowing.  Where do seagulls go to die?

From what I’ve seen of the UK coastline, it is quite extraordinary!  A jagged, twisted, gnarled, beautiful boarder where the water meets the land.  I love walking it: clambering on it’s rocks; strolling on it’s beaches and boardwalks. I never tire of it. What’s interesting is that every bit of coastline, I’ve had the honor of walking, the one thing I inevitably notice (after the breathtaking views, unique rocks and white cliffs) are the seagulls.

They are everywhere! Squawking, screaming, diving, soaring and sometimes, I’m sure, taking aim directly at me! They are aways there and there are literally thousands of them.  Wiki says there are 11 difference species of gulls found around the UK coastline… Hmmm? Who knew?

However, the weird and somewhat erie thing is…  I have never seen a dead seagull.  Seriously, never!  They must die right? Old age, disease, a broken heart… they die!  …but where do they go? I have NEVER seen a dead seagull on the street, on the shore or in the water.

I live in Brighton and Hove, I walk a lot.  I live across the street from the sea. On any given moment, from my couch, you will hear them and you will see them.  Just look out any window and there they are.

They nest up by the opening to our chimney and you’ll often hear this quite scary, squawking sound echoing down the chimney… it’s quite and unearthly sound.  I’ll never forget the look on my daughter and grandson’s faces, last Christmas as we sat in the living room enjoying the tree and waiting to open presents when the living room was filled with this inhuman, haunted, screech! They looked at each other and then at me as if to say, “WTF?”

…but I digress. The point is when they get old (or sick) and are ready to die… where do they go.  Do they fly out to sea until they just collapse, only to be eaten by the very fish they feasted on for so may years?  Do they fly inland towards the Downs and fall in the wooded areas where perhaps we don’t  walk?  Is there like a Gull Graveyard somewhere in Brighton and Hove?

Some people hate them and call them flying rats, others like them and feed them and photograph them.  I am ambivalent to them. I think it would be very odd, if suddenly they were gone, but I can’t say I’d miss worrying about being pooped on!

I just hope in their final moments, wherever they are, they are at peace.

PS – If there is a real, scientific answer to this question… I’d really like to know!

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Dear Cancer

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Dear Cancer, You can’t say I didn’t try to warn you!

I tried to tell you she’s a tough cookie!  I should know… I carried her through 9 months of pregnancy and brought her into this world.  I raised her and watched her grow into the bright, strong, independent woman she is today.  I tired to tell you she’s of “Sicilian” blood (and temperament!)  and that’s some serious shit!  On her best days she’s stubborn, pigheaded and inflexible (Hmmm? I wonder where she gets those traits from?), but if her back’s against the wall, she can be down right, head-strong, steely, iron willed and obstinate!

This was always going to be a battle.  She was never going to go down easily. You gave it your best shot, but hey, she won this battle, fair and square!  You threw her some nice upper cuts, that even I’ll admit.  You made her a wobble a bit, but in the end she kept her footing, looked you square in the eye and took your best shot and said “Fuck you Cancer!”

What perhaps I neglected to mention to you, was the army of people she had behind her.  Friends, relatives, co-workers, sorority sisters, friends of friends, friends of relatives and yes, even strangers. There were literally hundreds of people, behind her, every step of the way…  praying for her, sending her healing thoughts, sending her positive energy and lots of healing reiki. You had no idea that you were also fighting a strong, invisible force of “love and light,” that stood behind this 5’7, scrawny woman/girl.

Your evil was never a match for her tribe.

Oh,  I know this was only a battle… the war may not be over.  However, please understand that if you decide to come back, we (and by “we” I mean all of us and more!) will be there to meet you.  We’ll have her dressed in armor, with a whole arsenal of weapons at the ready.  You can expect an even bloodier battle.

I suggest you just go back to the depths of hell where you came from and live out the remainder of your miserable existence in the red hot fires of Satan.

Have a nice day.

Sincerely,

A Madwoman

The Right to Die

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Right to die

On November 1, 2014,  a 29 year old woman, in Portland Oregon, plans to take a pill and end her life.

Her name is Brittany Maynard and she’s suffering from a deadly form of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme (unofficially known as “The Terminator”).  This particular type of brain cancer (especially at Stage IV) usually takes it’s victims lives within a matter of months and the death is not a pleasant one.

Brittany and her family have moved from California to Oregon, specifically to take advantage of Oregon’s “Death with Dignity” law, for terminally ill patients.  It’s called “medical euthanasia” and it is a controversial and very difficult subject, that elicits a lot of  emotion on both sides.

I’m not here to support or condemn Brittany’s right to die under the “Death with Dignity” law,  instead I’d like to focus on her;  this incredibly brave, young woman,  who (in all likelihood) will decide to put a pill in her mouth and end her life.

From what I’ve read and seen in her recent YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0eVum0weKg) she’s bright, articulate, and very much in her right mind. She does not sound depressed or suicidal and I’m pretty sure, she really wishes there was another way. Any other way!  However, she doesn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and is at peace  with the idea that she is going to die.

The big difference between her death and mine or yours…  she knows when, she knows how and she has total control.

She’s said  that on November 1st, she’ll be in her home, in the bed that she shares with the husband she loves.  He’ll be there with her, as will her parents and a good friend (who is a physician).  She’ll have her favorite music playing in the background and she’ll be surrounded by the familiar and comforting “things” that I guess in a way, represent who she is and the life she’s lived. When (and if) she feels the time is right, she will gently place the pill on her tongue and swallow.

Brittany has said, “I believe this choice is ethical, and what makes it ethical is it is a choice.”  She followed that with saying,  “The patient can change their mind right up to the last minute….”

It really doesn’t  matter if she changes her mind or not .  All that really matters is that she has the choice. She has control. She feels empowered to make this decision and she alone will do so.

Godspeed Brittany, Godspeed.

 

It Really Was The Best Of Times

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Best of times

This morning, I was sitting at “Bubbles,” the local launderette, doing the laundry (I know, it’s a long story!) and reading “A Curious Man – The Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe it or Not” Ripely,” when it hit me!  I was born (and grew up in) the most fascinating time in the last 100 years!

Okay, to all of you Generation X (Y/Z),  Millennials or whatever it is you’re called… hear me out!  Yes, every generation has some cool and noteworthy things that set it apart from all the others… but Holy Shit, my generation had it all!

I was born in 1954.  Think about that… really let it seep in… 1954!  Can you even imagine?

When I was a kid, we played “OUTSIDE.” Every kid in the neighborhood played outside from morning, until the street lights came on, going home only for lunch and “supper.” Your Mom had no idea where you were, but she knew exactly where you were not. For example, I was not allowed on the “woodsy” side of Bell Pond. I could go to Green Hill Park, but only with a bunch of kids. I could not go near “The Nut House.” Sorry, that was the unofficial name given to the “Belmont Street Home for the Mentally Ill.” (we were not politically correct back then)  I could go to Our Lady Of Fatima Church, but not to Lincoln Street.  The point is, we were given autonomy and we didn’t abuse it (most of the time). We were trusted and we respected the boundaries, at least until we hit the teenage years.

As a special treat, on a Saturday, my Mom would take me to lunch at the “Auto-mat.”  This was a cool, fast food “restaurant,” where fresh food was put into a large machine wall (from the back) and patrons, would insert coins, open a sliding door (on the front of the machine wall) and take out their food! It was a whole wall, full of little, square, sliding doors; harboring tasty treats like banana cream pie, rice pudding, Sloppy Joe’s, tuna on rye, PB& J!  It was heaven!

Another treat was going to get gasoline with my Dad!  I’d get to sit in the front seat his big ol Chrysler, without a seat belt, and without a care in the world!  We get to the “filling station,” and a guy in a uniform would come to the driver’s window and my Dad would say, “Fill her up.”  While we sat there enjoying the glorious smell of gasoline fumes, the guy would wash the windows, check the air in the tires and ask if we wanted him to look under the hood! Before we left we got our Green Stamps and I usually got a piece of gum or candy. Worked for me!

And how fun was it to pick up the one telephone, in the whole house (usually a wall phone in the kitchen) and hear people strangers) talking on it?  It was totally cool! It was called a “party line,” which meant you shared your telephone number with another household and got a reduced rate. If you were really good at it, you could pick up the handset and listen to an entire conversation, without them knowing it!  Always good, when you were bored.

I remember when we got our first color TV!  It was about as big as a Volkswagen Beatle and weighed a 500 pounds. I’ll never forget, the first night we had it, watching Batman and Robin in COLOR!!!  Some of the neighborhood kids stood on our front porch watching through the living room window. I ruled the world that night.

While getting ready for school, I’d hear footsteps in the back hall and the sound of milk bottles clinking together. If I went out fast enough, I got to see the friendly Milkman in his white uniform, wearing a white cap. He’d hand me the milk and take the old bottles away.  “Thank you Mr Milkman… Bye!”  Once a week, in the late afternoon a horse drawn cart (I’m not kidding!) would go up my very residential street, in my medium size CITY, selling fresh vegetables.  And in the summer, after supper the Ice Cream man would come…  What was his name? Tony? Angelo? (He too wore a uniform!)

When Mom and I went to Filene’s or Denholms (local department stores) we’d take the elevator… and a lovely, man, in beautiful uniform, with brass buttons (Yes… I too am seeing an alarming trend here!) would ask, very politely, “What floor, please?”

When I was 9 we had the “dreamiest” President in all the world. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was handsome, sexy and charismatic, even to me!  I’d watch him on the color TV with my Mom and we’d talk about how cute he was and how much we liked Jackie’s suits and matching hats!  I remember the day he was assassinated like it was yesterday. It was the first and last time I ever saw Walter Cronkite, shed tears while on the air that night as my whole family watched the evening news in horror.

When I was 10 the Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan show.  I remember sitting 4 inches away from the screen and crying.  When they played Shea Stadium in NY a year later, I was hysterical.  Speaking of music, OMG!  We had the best bands!  Just a taste of what I listened to…  The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Velvet Underground, The Who, The Birds, Buffalo Springfield…  Not to mention Motown favorites like, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles… The list goes on and on.

When I was 14, Neil Armstrong walked on the fucking moon! Or did he?

Then it all got crazy… The Cuban missile crisis,  Marilyn Monroe dead, the Viet Nam war, a Buddhist Monk sets himself on fire, the march on Washington, Matin Luther King has a dream… Martin Luther King dead, Malcolm X assassinated, Robert F Kennedy assassinated, Manson murders, Jimi Hendrix dead, Janis Joplin dead, Kent State shootings, the Beatles broke up, Jim Morrison dead, terrorist at the Munich Olympic Games, Ted Bundy goes on a killing spree, Elvis dead, John Lennon dead… why do I have the tune “The Day the Music Died” in my head?

On the other hand, I was also around for:  the invention of the laser, the birth control pill, Andy Warhol exhibited the Campbell Soup Can, segregation, Twiggy, mini skirts, the E astern Seaboard Blackout, the founding of the National Organization of Women (NOW), VCRs were invented (Yeah, I know… what’s a VCR?), Roe versus Wade, Nixon resigned, Test Tube babies were possible, PacMan, Sally Ride, computers, car phones, Nelson Mandela was freed, the official end of the cold war, the internet is created by Al Gore.  ; )

And there’s plenty more where those came from… because it all happened in the last 50-60 years!

I was fortunate to grow up in an age of innocence, but had to quickly assimilate a new world of technological advancements and human transformation.  I believe we as humans are on the cusp of another transformation… and I for one can’t wait to see what’s in store for us!

Soul Midwifery (Part 1)

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Antonia Original painting by Antonia Rolls

I was first introduced to the concept of Soul Midwifery while attending “A Graceful Death” art exhibition in May.  The project/exhibition and story behind it, as well as it’s talented creator, Antonia Rolls, would be a fascinating blog topic in and of itself, but today I focus on how I came to be a Soul Midwife.

In addition to the beautiful art exhibition there was a series of presentations and discussion groups set up around the topic of death and dying. There were prominent guest speakers, i.e. doctors, hospice and palliative care nurses, pastors and chaplains who all work with the sick and dying; as well as very involved lay people from the community, who do the same.

Everyone I talked, over the course of the 5 day event was as passionate about the needs and rights of the dying, as I was. ( I must always remember, especially when I get cynical about the world, there are some very talented, caring, loving, giving people out there!) During the course of the week, I was handed a Business Card that identified it’s owner as a Soul Midwife,” and I was immediately intrigued.

Not wanting to admit my ignorance, I showed the card to a friend (a hospice nurse (a beautiful soul) I had met earlier in the week) and asked, “Do you know what a Soul Midwife is?” Much to my delight he said, “Yes. I’m a Soul Midwife.” He went on to briefly explain the concept of Soul Midwifery and told me about a woman in Bridport (North Chideock actually!) named Felicity Warner, who conceived and developed this concept and ran courses teaching others how to practice Soul Midwifery.

I have previously gone on record, stating that I do not believe in coincidences and believe instead that things happen for a reason. I know, it’s very hippy dippy, but none the less…  I love Bridport!  Nick and I have talked about moving to Bridport and we just happen to have a friend who lives there, in a big ol house, all by himself!

After doing some research, I decided this was exactly what I had been looking for… perhaps for many years.

Felicity defines a Soul Midwife as;  “A non-medical, holistic companion who guides and supports the dying, in order to facilitate a gentle and tranquil death.”  How beautiful is that?  Can you imagine having the privilege and the honor of providing (even a smallest amount of) comfort, peace and calmness to someone who is dying…  I had only to remember 6 years ago, sitting with my brother and just being with him as he went from this world to the next… and what a tremendous, overwhelming sense of love and gratitude I felt to be able to experience and be witness to that sacred journey.

I reached out to Felicity and inquired about the Soul Midwife Practitioner 1 course. She was lovely and gracious and happy to have me in her course, unfortunately the June class was already filled and I’d have to wait until August. “Damn! I have to wait!”  (I think I’ve written previously about my “patience” or lack thereof, right?)  However, a week or so later I saw a Post on Facebook that said, someone had to drop out of the June course and there was now an unexpected opening!  It was mine, I was in!  (Just as well too, because in August I was moving from Brighton to London to Dover and back, and didn’t know which was up!)

So on Thursday, June 19th, I boarded a train and set off on my trip to the tiny little Dorset town of North Chideock…  A bit more than 3 months later, I’ve realized it wasn’t just a long weekend trip to Dorset…. it was, in fact, the beginning of a life long journey!

Thoughts on Death and Dying (Part 2)

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I remember her  {the nurse} saying something like, “I’m sorry, but your Mom has passed away while you were gone.”  

My response…  it was something like:  “What?  While I was gone? While I was gone…  for what, like 30 fucking minutes? Gone? After I’ve been sitting here for days… she’s gone?  {Needless to say I was a bit upset! and angry}  

You see, I had promised my Mom that I would be there with her when she died.  She had heard those words come from my mouth. I wanted to be there, I needed to be there. To hold her hand and take her as far down the path, as I could.  She was MY MOM for goodness sake! She had given me life and so much more.  It was the least I could do. I wasn’t afraid, I wanted to do it… I’d be honored to do it.

That’s when I learned that death (even the death of someone very close and special to me)  is not about me.  It’s about them.

As much as I wanted to be there to be witness to her final act as a human being, she didn’t want me there.  She didn’t want anyone there.

It must have been incredibly difficult for her to get a moments peace, those last 10 days, because my Dad, my brothers and I hardly ever left her side.  When I kissed her good-bye that morning, I now imagine her saying to herself; ” Thank God… she’s finally gone,”  and she then just very quietly and peacefully, left this world.  Lucky 7/11.

Seven years later my Dad had a totally different exist strategy.

While out in the garden on a beautiful day, early in June; planting flowers around the statue of the Virgin Mary (that was standing under the protection of a bathtub buried in the ground, half way!) he had a heart attack and died.  Just like that. Right there on the grass, with the Virgin Mary watching over him… he died.

It was actually perfect! He could not have chosen a more perfect place or day to die, if he tried!  His death was harder on the family than my Mom’s death was, because we never got to say “good-bye” or  “I’m sorry,” but like Frank Sinatra… he definitely did it his way!

I realize now, at the age of 60, that I have been drawn to people who are dying since I was young.  The act and the process dying intrigues me.  Not in a freakish, weird, sick way, but like I’m being called to be involved in their sacred process somehow.

I feel very strongly that dying is not something that anyone should have to do alone (unless that’s what they want, i.e. Mom)   Dying is the last act we (as human beings) will ever perform on this earth everyone deserves to have someone  there with them, in their final hours and minutes…

Hence  Felicity Warner and  Soul Midwives.  

PS – Just in case you didn’t believe me:

mary

Thoughts on Death and Dying (Part 1)

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I imagine man has been pondering, debating, discussing and philosophizing the process of dying and act of death since the dawn of time. There’s nothing I can say on the subject that would add value or be considered an original thought. However I do think about it a lot and have had my own experiences with death and the process of dying that have been invaluable and taught me much.

My first experience with death was the death of my turtle, Nipper.  One day, I went to his bowl to feed him and noticed he wasn’t moving.  His head and legs were out of the shell, but he just laid there… not moving. I tried to “wake” him, but something was weird.  Even back then, I knew this was very different from sleep.

Then there were the distant deaths of relatives, that I heard about, but didn’t actually see or experience. My Grandfather, in Texas, followed by my Grandmother, then an Uncle.  I was sad because my Mom was sad, but I didn’t really know these people and I just didn’t get it.

When I was 12 my brother was sent to Viet Nam.  I think this was the first time in my life, that I was beginning to get a real understanding of what death was and the fear that it could very possibly happen to my big brother was unsettling. I watched in horror as Walter Cronkite presented images of American boys fighting in a jungle very far away.  I vaguely remember he ended each broadcast, providing the viewers with the total number of dead, wounded and missing in action as of that day.

My brother returned home from that “police action” (Thank God!), but many of his friends did not.  So at 14 I remember going to the wakes and funerals (with my Mom & Dad) of boys who were maybe 4-5 years older than me.  The caskets would usually be closed and the only remembrance of the young boy, would be a photo of him dressed in his military finest, that would sit on top of the flag that was so neatly draped over the coffin.

Then it all started happening… my paternal Grandmother, then Grandfather.  An Aunt, I was very close to and another Aunt I hardly knew, but she was my Dad’s only sister, so I watched it hit him hard.  An Uncle died on Christmas Day and I remember washing the dishes from the big, family meal and feeling tears roll off my chin and drop into the dish water.

More friends of my brothers… car accidents, drug over-doses… death was everywhere.  And for a kid (teenager) I was seeing and experiencing my fair share of death and loss.

Although, I was sad and upset by the loss… I was also intrigued.  What did “dying” really mean? What happened to these people? Where did they go? What did they feel? We’re they okay with this death thing?

Times changed, I grew older, more mature, less macabre.  I got married, made friends, had children, got a job and for many many years forgot all about the business of dying. Until my Mom became seriously ill. Cancer.

After 18 months and 3 surgeries there was nothing more to be done… my Mom was actively dying.

I handled it much better than my Dad and brothers did.  I was comfortable sitting and visiting with her for hours at a time. It didn’t matter whether she was awake or asleep. When she was awake, we’d drink tea, I’d paint her toe nails, we’d talk about old times.  When she was sleeping I’d look at her and take long walks down memory lane.

Very close to the end, when she was between two worlds, she’d describe this beautiful place she visited, when she left me sitting there next to her hospital bed…  She told me when her Dad (who had been dead for years) came to visit her  (which she found absolutely normal and was thrilled by).

Then she went into a full blown coma, but it didn’t matter, I still visited her and chatted with her every day.  While she slept, I told her it was okay for her to go and promised that we’d all be okay. I promised her I’d take care of Charlie (as I has already been doing since I was  a teenager) because I knew she was very worried about how he would get on without her.

Every day I’d be told by the nurses that she would probably not make it through the day or the night, but she always did!  She made it through 10 nights and and 11 days.

I was sleeping at the hospital the last few days and going home each morning to give my Dad the car so he could visit.  On her last day I told her (even though she was in a coma), “I’m  going home to have breakfast, but I’ll come back with Dad in a half hour or so.” I kissed her good-bye, drove to the house (about 7 minutes away) had a cup of coffee with Dad (20-25 minutes) and then we dove back (7 minutes).

The elevator door opened and I could see Mom’s nurse standing at the Nurses Station, she was on the phone… when she saw my Dad and I get off the elevator,  she put the phone down and started walking towards us in what seemed like, slow motion. .

I remember her saying something like, “I’m sorry, but you Mom has passed away while you were gone.”