Posts Tagged ‘death’

We don’t do two things well — grieve and die.

No practice.


Most of us shopped-out, played-out, TV-ed-out and worked-out Americans — this includes me — put a lot of time into living.

We lack experience in dying.

We shield ourselves from death by means of caregivers, professional death-watchers, CNA’s, CHHA’s, RN’s, LVN’s, who often spend more time with our loved ones in their last few years than we do.

We turn death into entertainment nightly. It’s product; we shop it, on Amazon and Netflix. It makes the movie thrilling, the TV series worth binge watching. We love a “Who done it?” not a “How goes it?” Death for us is as thin as film — fast-paced, shot fired, falling body — actors and stunt men playing hit men, victims and corpses for our evening’s entertainment — with popcorn on the side.

We need help.

Help is at hand.

We all know the sick, and the dying — we will become them soon enough ourselves — and so we can all choose to enter into their real experiences more.

This week I read Nina Riggs, One Bright Hour. It’s death alright, up-close-and-personal —  hilarious, tragic, beautiful, brutal, not sentimentalized, touching. I cried when she died, a young mom, leaving her husband and two boys behind, with no one to show them “how to find the orange juice in the refrigerator.”

It was better than a murder mystery, and it reminded me that life will murder us all — slowly. It takes longer to die in life than in the movies, there are more moments, to suffer, and thrill — many more. I needed that reminder.

Nina Riggs was 39 when she died in February of this year, 2017, of breast cancer.  She left us with her death memoir. It is wickedly funny, real — honest. I loved all this in her. Like all of us after the scary lab report, she runs between frightened-out-of-her-mind-and-can’t-breathe in a doctor’s office to happy-in-the-moment-back-at-home-with-the-dog-and-the-kids. Going through this with her, through her book, was therapy for me.

“How intensely I love this imperfect world, how grateful I am to be in it,” she said in an interview before she died.

We all need reminders of the wisdom of embracing the bright hours, and the dark ones too, of what it means to live and how it feels to die. We need to get up close to death more in order to better understand life, which always hovers on the edge of death.

“I am reminded,” she wrote,”  of an image … that living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But that living without disease is also like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a bit more — sometimes the wind blowing it off a little, sometimes a nice dense cover.”

What do books like this do for us?

What does spending time with dying ones do for us?

Rehearsal, it’s rehearsal, for when our close ones die, and we do.

Living closer to death is walking within something that we will all walk through, it is accepting, it is learning, it is practicing, our own tightrope walk.

I am planning to drive up to LA again soon to see my parents, both now 90, both walking the tightrope, and to see my brother, who has cancer.

I want to get closer.

It might help me live better, love more, and one day die better too.

My friend Megan died on Monday. She was 29. She had NF.

This week, Evonne, her mom, Courtney and Becki, her sisters, have been trying to explain to the little ones in the family, Megan’s nieces and nephews, where Megan is now.

Evonne, her mom told me that she found herself telling little Bella, and Bailey, Megan’s nieces, “Megan’s body is here, but her soul is in heaven.”

So the little ones tried to repeat it back, and get it right. They are really little, and really, really funny.

So they said, “ Oh, we get it. Her body goes in the ground, and her head goes to heaven.”

But then the other one argued. “No, no, her body goes to heaven, and her head stays in the ground.”

It’s still not clear. Where’s Megan?

Then there was another conversation went with the little ones:

They asked: “Is Auntie Meagan in her room?”

Evonne: “No, she’s gone to heaven.”

Response: “Can I have her room?”

It can be hard to know what to think, especially after you lose your Auntie.

Psalm 121 was one of Megan’s favorites.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life

the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

We adults are much like the little ones, we have trouble figuring it out.

Did Megan have NF? Yes. Was she protected by God? Yes.

God protected Megan. She believed that. He was her shade. He watched over her coming and going.

Protection isn’t getting everything we want; its having our souls, the core of our being, preserved no matter what our bodies are going through.

NF didn’t keep Megan from being Megan, from being social, cute, fun, tough, funny, free, herself, everywhere, always, Meganized, Meganista, Megatron, full and running over with Meganisms!

NF didn’t mean she wasn’t protected. We don’t hang our faith in God on our bodies, or on circumstances; we hang our faith in God, on God. Everything God allows, terrible or beautiful, unwanted or wanted, metastasized or normal — God surrounds it all and through it all he preserves the person he made for the time he want them to be them.

It isn’t that NF is good, or wanted, by God or us, but whole, healthy psyches can exist in unwhole, unhealthy bodies. We are all, or will someday all, be proof of that.

Divine protection, “the sun will not strike you by day or the moon by night,” means that God never lets the core of the core within the very quintessential core of us get lost during NF or cancer or divorce or death.

I sat in Megan’s room with her over the last week, her unconscious, my hand on her arm, time making it’s inexorably fast-slow slog toward infinity, life slowly leaking out of her, and I couldn’t help but noticed all the positive things on her bedroom wall.

There are little stars all over the ceiling in Megan’s room. She knew where to look, when things were hard, for protection. It was up.

One poster in her room asks, “Got heaven?”

She does!


She is!

No part of Megan’s core, was lost, that hasn’t now been found, and treasured, and still protected, in another place by God.

DSCN0170When I stuffed her head and arms down into her body cavity, one of the detached and dangling arms got hung up inside of her torso and I had to pull her out and try again.

What is it about bodies? They are so uncooperative!

The next time I was more succesful. I shoved both her  arms, her dismembered head, and her trumpet inside of her, then I picked up her folded body and jammed it  into the cardboard box in front of me.

I duct taped the top closed.

My Christmas yard angel was packed up —  trumpet, arms, head and all —  to close out another Christmas season.

But not all of life is that manageable.

On my wife’s way home from work this week, she experienced chest pains. They were so painful, she drove to a fire station and the fire people called an ambulance and it took her to the hospital.

As I stood and watched strangers load up my wife — stuff her in a big box with wheels on it —  I could feel it. I might have some kind of modest control over my Christmas angels, but other really important matters,  way out of my control.

By the time the whole ordeal was over, fortunately, all my sweet wife had to recover from was tape.  Transdermal nitroglycerin patches, tape patches for her heart monitor — when she came back home, her skin showed the wear and tear of too much tape.

We were fortunate. She didn’t have a heart problem. She is home; we ate ice cream with chocolate sauce and whipped cream today to celebrate my birthday, life is good.

But it’s a reminder, this little detour to the hospital. We are fragile, and we aren’t much in control of some really significant things.

Whether we are being stuffed in a box, tape up by doctors, or just commuting home with the full expectation of arriving safely, life can happen, and in a moment life can change.

One day we are out in the front yard blazing with bright lights and glory, the next day we are in a box in the back of the garage — or in the ground.

We have less control than we think. We can be boxed in a moment.

But it’s okay. I’m okay about this and good about that, because it has come to me that God has more control over our lives than we have ever imagined and if he has more good for us we will have it, and if he doesn’t, we won’t.

The length and even the quality, of our lives is not in our hands, very much. Yes we can eat well, or not, and exercise, or not, and that makes a difference, and we can drive home carefully, but in the end there will be an end that we won’t determine.

It’s come to me, even this week, through circumstance and through revelation, that every good thing that happens to us, every success and every bit of progress and every bit of wealth and accomplishment and every moment of safety and every delicious bite of ice cream with people we love and every bright moment in which we light up the yard, and every return home — it is all given.

The power to live, to shine, to avoid being folded into the box — given.

Are you alive? Give thanks!