It’s been one year since my dad died.
Although anniversaries haven’t touched me much in my life, I am schooled by how important this date of his exit is. In some cultures, they wait one year before certain traditions of release, of honoring. Being part of an unusual family of shattered and made up bonds, without many cultural traditions, I learned to make up my own rituals of importance. I will however pull from my Jewish roots and light a Yahrzeit candle, (which means “soul candle”) and I will sit in circle. I will talk to my father, in that sweet fragile language made up of prayer, imagination, longing, and unresolved conversations. One year of grief has changed me. I am not who I was before he died. I figured that would happen, but there are a few things that I never would have imagined, and I thought I might share them. 13 things I did not expect the first year that my dad died:
Writing has unfolded a powerful tool for me. It has become my tireless witness, my microphone, as I remember and lay down the story of my dad’s passing. The passion my dad had about Death with Dignity was a phenomenal experience, and his journey has inspired my voice to fall from my fingertips.
A lil’ excerpt from my book:
The first two minutes after arriving at their house, my dad got down to business. “Ok,” he whispered, his chest was already becoming paralyzed, which made talking, laughing and breathing extremely challenging.
“Ok . . . I have made some decisions and I want to see what you think about it all.” He explained to me that he had been diagnosed with Lou Gerrig’s disease and that at any time now he might become fully paralyzed. He asked if I knew about assisted suicide in Oregon, and informed me that he would like to die this way. He had no interest whatsoever in becoming paralyzed. Then he waited for my response to see how I felt about this. I was surprised that he didn’t already know that I supported him 100%, but that was the theme in our relationship, kindred souls who didn’t really trust what the other thought. He was relieved when I shared that I absolutely believe in euthanasia and the choice to die how we want. He was concerned that my brother would have some hesitancy because he is a paramedic-fireman, but once again, it was a fear projection. My brother Matt was fully on board.
After that five-minute conversation, he hunkered back in his cozy red velvet chair, piled high with four blankets and a cup of green tea, and began to direct. “There is a lot to do, we need to contact the doctor and the lawyer and the Compassionate Choices advocate.” He described the legal procedure of how to perform assisted suicide: a precise recipe of getting a doctor’s approval, lawyers’ signatures, waiting fifteen days, and getting the doctor’s approval the second time. The laws are set up to check the mental stability of the patient. Compassionate Choices is an Oregon-based group which helps families go through the process; they assign someone to your case similar to hospice.
My father started in with lists of what was left to be done; emails to write, books to order, the fabulous party he was going to throw that would be his last hurrah, AND the details of his moment to die. He had money to donate, organizations to contact, a speech or two to finish, as well as gathering the right people to receive the homework he needed to pass on: his legacy in the gaming world, and the in conflict resolution world – he had his teacher’s assistant to meet with, and books to sign. He had detailed plans for his party: who to invite, what food to have, how he wanted to spend his last few hours alive on this planet. He wanted his writers group to each write a piece to read, he wanted his mime troupe to perform, as well as lots of jokes, (of course he would tell the very last joke!) He wanted people to be able to share from the heart, and a party vibe. Complete with party horns and blow-out whistles, shots of Jamison for everyone while he drank his lethal medicine. He envisioned being with sixty of his closest friends, and that we would all to go back to schmoozing, drinking, even turning up the music to keep on dancing once he was dead!
My father wanted to die in the middle of a rocking party, the grand last show . . . with him as the MC, Star, Director and Producer. I would serve as his stage manager, set designer, DJ and hostess . . . and all of this laid out, in the first half hour after I had arrived.
So 365 days of grief, this first anniversary.
I will light the candle, and I will feel connected with all of the other members in The Dead Parent Club.
I will tell a joke for my dad, and will find a way to laugh real hard, because my Dad wanted everyone to know that death is awesome, that it can be a celebration of life.
And I will crank up the stereo to Papa’s got a brand new bag by James Brown, and remember that last dance with him . . . as we both shook what our Mama gave us!
It’s not your average sight…. seeing people twisted and contorted, sat on like lazy-boys, kneeled on, walked on and elbowed DEEPLY. Together with my awesome friend, event coordinator and cousin Kylie, this is the 4th time I have helped host Maori healers in my town Gainesville Florida. Last week Atarangi, Bill and Manu whipped out 50 healing’s in a day and a half. Their Elders tell them when it is time to tour, their Elders let them know which country needs healing next.
I want to write and share what is like to be present for all this healing (except of course when I was on frozen yogurt duty).
When folks arrive they bring their towel or sheet, their water bottle and they bring their pain; heart pain, soul pain, body pain. Most folks who make it to these sessions have searched for relief for a while, and are willing to step out of the “normal” idea of healing.
When people walked through my garden gate and they heard bellowing laughter, screams from the people who were on the table before them, and tears of gratitude for the gigantic pain that was just lifted off of them (even those who came in “chronically” affected), I sense strong emotions are a’swirling. I smell fear mixed with hope on the face of a small framed woman burdened with consistent panic attacks, humility mixed with awe from the man who had a broken neck who is ready for anything to help his suffering. Excitement, curiosity, and reverence are layered with varying degrees of surrender and resistance.
The Maori work together, in synchronicity. They believe it is the community that needs healing, and so it is community that gives healing. Often with a quick nod or a slight look, they switch healers, or maybe join each other in a double elbow move up the spine. I have been told that at home, in New Zealand, they set up in a cafeteria, or large hall, children and dogs running freely, half of the community starts on the tables, and when they finish they hop up and trade places with the ones who were just offering.
This year, when the Maori arrived we were gifted with sunny, cool, exquisite October days, and were able to work outside. Three people arrive for their healing at once and my Maori friends begin. The prayers they chant as the bottoms of their feet touch the bottoms of the person receiving feet is powerful, sometimes out loud and sometimes silent as they sit for varying times soul to soul, foot to foot, listening, transmitting, releasing.
The thing that happens next looks like some bizarre mixture of bondage/comedy as the 300 pound Manu sits atop women and men, directly on their sacrum (the base of their spine), grabs his guitar and plays! He belts out love songs and jazz ballads, songs about break ups and hope, all sprinkled with jokes and words of wisdom. Ata lifts legs and shoulders in what appears to be extreme angles, digging her elbows deep into closed muscles, soft bellies, and can crack bones like nothing I have ever seen. Bill, Ata’s husband can kneel into thighs, step on calf muscles and dig through the muscles on the throat all while sweetly calming them down to relax, making people laugh, and of course sing along in harmony with Manu and Ata.
People laugh, cry, and they scream, and I do mean blood curdling screams (I wonder how far my neighbors could hear us?). There is much swearing as people get angry, and convulse, shaking out emotions that got wedged deep into their body long, long ago, and now is exiting. One woman who had her heart and throat deeply cleared said she could taste stale bread; old, crusty, moldy energy that she felt kept her from singing was now out, gone. I once had a session with Ata’s son Terrance, where I imagined it looked as if I was cursing Terrance to the depths of darkness (he was standing full weight on my calf), with me flopping around like a fish out of water, but truth be told, I wasn’t even thinking about Terrance, I was letting the full strength of my anger toward my father come ripping out my mouth, and let down a massive heavy guilt for never having made it to Wimbledon, as he had wanted of me.
The Maori don’t ask “Is this is too deep?”, they don’t lighten up if you ask. They tend to find your edge and cross it….just the right amount. When they are done, the smiles on the recipient face speaks louder than their screams. They truly are radiant, glowing, tear streaked and fresh. Afterword, we had them lay on a rug in the lawn, or walk down to the garden, where some people stay for hours, crying, meditating, or sleeping.
I am moved with the level of gratitude people express as they leave, gratitude for the Maori, for the experience, but mostly for their selves; they faced their pain, and made it through to the other side.
I wish to thank you Atarangi, Bill and Manu for blessing this home, this land, and the people here in my village. Thank you to your Elders of your village who sent you, and taught you (since you were three) of these healing arts, thank you for angels of safe travels and protection as you cross oceans again to go home.
Until next time,
Aroha Nui (love big)
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