A Death Midwife’s Perspective on Suicide

This is a photo of my brother, my best friend in life. He lost his battle with bipolar on February 25th of this year… Less than a month ago. My brother was also my hero, and we loved to rib each other. I miss him so much every day. As a Death Midwife – one who helps others transition (to “birth” them) from life in this mortal realm to the Spirit Realm – I'm even more beset by questions with respect to his choice to end his life than what would likely be considered “normal”, and I want to address this from a Death Midwife's perspective.

I suppose I should best begin by telling you a bit more about me, for through that, you'll see that I live a very different life than most people. Much of my life is spent dealing with death in its various forms. A retired paramedic (who saw more than my share of death on-the-job), I now serve in a number of roles as my health and time allow. I have served as Death Midwife to a handful of clients, sitting with them and their families as they make the transition to Spirit. I also do house blessings and am a professional tarot and oracle diviner. And, from time to time, when Spirit wishes, I serve as a medium, helping others connect with their departed loved ones… or troubling spirits who may be residing in their homes. So, you see, I truly am connected to … well, as warped as it may sound to you… I'm connected to death.

I'm not saying I'm some sort of a banshee or death magnet… I'm just stating that I'm continuing the women's lineage within my family, that we tend the dead or dying. And, to be frank, I really love what I do. That's what makes it so hard that I didn't catch the little hints that my brother was, for all intents and practical purposes, dying inside. I heard him say he was so tired, so exhausted, and I misunderstood. He was tired of life, and I missed it. More aptly put, I hoped I misunderstood what he meant. I hoped that I was misunderstanding him when he would say he couldn't “do this” (ie. life) much longer. That stings me the most. Even though I advised him – begged him – to see his medication management doctor… his therapist… I offered to call a crisis hotline, to have him “get away” by coming up to our home for a weekend or more… I was too busy hoping to do what needed to be done… call a spade a spade and talk with him about what was on his mind. Dying.

I do not write this particular post out of survivors guilt. Instead, it is serving as a retrospective look at my brother's journey the last six weeks of his life. I hope that it also serves as a wake-up call to someone who happens upon this particular blog – this particular post. But the fact of the matter is, Death Midwives help the dying make their transition as comfortably and easy as possible, and when I think back over our conversations of the last six weeks of my brother's life, I just didn't do that. I fought him every step of the way. He joked about his problems being nothing that couldn't be taken care of by dying, and I scolded him and told him to think of his son… to think of his wife, hell! To think of ME! That's the “normal” thing to do when someone starts talking in “gallows humor”, and by the gods, I followed the invisible “script” for talking with an individual who is suffering from bipolar, from clinical depression, to the letter. And it did no good. What good could I have done for someone who was actually preparing to transition from mortal life to the Spirit Realm?

I know what I wish. I wish I could have heard the resolve in his voice for his decision when he reached it. I wish I could have said… anything. Something more than I did, to let him know I would love him forever and miss him until I see him again, be it in this lifetime or the next. I wish I had the compassion, the strength, the courage to confront him as he was, day by day, losing the will to live. Because this is “blogger anonymity”, and I just REALLY need some place to be brutally honest about all of this, I will even say there is a small part of me that wishes he would have asked me to go with him. Alas, he did not. I am left with the knowledge that I did everything a person is “supposed to do” when someone is talking from a Dark Night of the Soul – from a bipolar depression that is sucking your loved one away from you – and yet… I feel I did not do the compassionate thing. Right now, I'm not sure what that compassionate thing would look like beyond jumping in the car and driving down to take my brother to a hospital and have him checked in (he would have refused)… Or holding his hand for a few hours before …. I just don't know.

I came, then, to wordpress, looking at other posts about suicide. I'm not sure what I was hoping to find, beyond someone who, perhaps, could somehow understand some of what I've written these last several days… But imagine my surprise and horror to hear the harsh, unforgiving (and to me, unforgiveable) commentary by one particular blogger who was verbally bashing another person's choice to end their life. This blogger called the person a coward – and far worse. I was appalled.

Where is the compassion for someone who has lost the resolve to fight for life any longer? How can you say anyone is a coward, who goes against millenium of ages of hard-wiring within to do everything at all costs to live? I am not saying people who choose suicide are heroes or full of uncommon valor, but for the love of all that is good and right, don't kick a person when they are so far down, they are capable of doing such an act of desperation and despair. I, in no way, am giving tacit approval to anyone thinking about suicide (myself included, when it weighs on my mind, as it does from time to time)… I am not glorifying their actions in taking that drastic step. And though to some suicide will always seem the ultimate failure, I cannot ignore the fact that the 32,000 people who choose to end their life every year do so with calm resolve that it will finally give them some peace.

As for that peace, as a medium, I know it often brings regret from the person who choses their time to die. We are spiritual beings having a human experience, and that means the thoughts and feelings we have go with us, while material things and those we love remain behind. I know those who do so miss the years that have been erased as much as we do. I know, because I've heard it from Spirit – you can take that for what it's worth to you, but there it is.

I wish my brother were still here. I wish the grief of suicide never touched another person again, though I know it will… daily. I wish there were adequate health insurance coverage, no deductibles, adequate mental health care coverage, therapists, medication management doctors… But wishing won't make it so. Becoming a greater advocate for these things is what is key for me at this point in time. And, frankly, I have so few “keys” left on my proverbial keychain since my brother's suicide, I've got to go with what I've got left.

So, dear reader, know that I'm rooting for you. I'm working behind the scenes to make things such as insurance and physicians more readily available for you, so that you don't have to make the decision to take matters – and your life – into your own hands. You've got a friend in me, and if anyone reading this needs to talk, you are most welcome to email me at rowangmw.keeper@gmail.com.



Bipolar and Suicide: Excuse Me, Your Silence is Screaming

The day before yesterday, I wrote about my brother's suicide. It happened just three weeks ago. His condition – bipolar manic depression – fanned the flames of a particularly difficult time in his life and burned too long, consuming too much of the great man he was. On February 25th, he succumbed to the exhaustion of fighting its fires.

The loss of my brother in my life reverberates throughout nearly every part of my life, for he was not just my brother, but also my best friend. The fact that he had a mental health condition – bipolar manic depression – has made his suicide an even more taboo subject to broach (in society's eyes). The fact of the matter is, these are two frontiers that are “off the table” when it comes to discussions that are frank, open, loving and meaningful. Put “mental health illness/issues” in the same sentence as “suicide” and by the gods, it feels as if you've just spoken the Holy Grail of Taboo. NOW, say the mental illness is bipolar manic depression in particular, and for some reason unbeknownst to me, you've just shattered that proverbial Holy Grail in one fell swoop!

I've written often about all the people in my life who live with (and at times, suffer from) bipolar, including my late brother, my wife, and my son. It's not an easy illness to live with. But, if I may be frank, neither is my genetic disease (TNF Receptor Associated Periodic Syndrome). Yet, these two illnesses are looked at so differently, even though both are life-changing… Even though both produce times where thoughts of suicide enter into the affected person's mind.

It's been my experience since the death of my brother that people are far more harsh about him having committed suicide, though circumstance and brain chemical imbalance lead him to it, than if he would have had… let's say cancer. (No, I do not believe my brother was properly medicated – a tricky balance that must be maintained for those with bipolar around season and circumstances, among other things). For some reason, to – at least – a portion of the population, it's “more understandable” for someone with a chronic, debilitating physical illness to make the ultimate decision to end their life than a person with a mental illness to do so. Perhaps it's that we've heard the cries of pain, have witnessed the illness take an energetic, outgoing person and transform them into a smaller, more fragile person who is riddled by their disease. People understand that. People can respect the loss of one's vivacity and can empathize with the feelings that loss musters.

But for some reason, people cannot so easily translate that into empathy for someone with a mental illness. Further, in my own experience, oft-times the diagnosis of bipolar distances people even more greatly from their empathy, removing people's compassion for the suffering one who lives with this disease. Without that compassion and empathy, we become unable to hear the cries and screams of our loved ones with a bipolar diagnosis. Not in the literal sense, but in what I call the “soul-u-lar” sense (think “cellular”). At the same time, in their minds, people's silence and “not knowing what to say” equates to them hearing us screaming back at them to “snap out of it”. Meanwhile, that same pregnant silence makes the opportunity to openly discuss what's going on in the mind of our loved one with bipolar even more remote.

In other words, we experience unheard screaming in the silence: First and foremost, society's silence, in refusing to have an open, frank and meaningful conversation about mental illness. From my experience with my loved ones, bipolar manic depression seems to be the most misunderstood diagnosis. Secondarily, there is the silence of the One trying to communicate what dire straights they are in (while they are in a downward spiral). And last, but not least, there is the silence of those living with and around those living with bipolar. The sad fact is, all the while, a distress signal is being sounded – but unheard.

So what do we do when two worlds collide and the unspeakable happens? How do we begin an open, honest, frank and meaningful conversation about mental illness… about suicide? Sadly, the two of them will never be mutually exclusive. Sadly, both will still effect lives every day. But we must begin to bring these issues to light. We must also remind people that we may have a mental illness, but we are NOT the mental illness, itself.

In my last post, I included the eulogy that I wrote for my brother and read at his funeral. I did so expressly hoping that people would see the greatness of the man my brother was rather than simply getting hung up on the fact that he had a diagnosis of bipolar. Of the people I know who have the diagnosis, (and the people who are famous and have shared that they have this same diagnosis), they are creative geniuses, are able to think outside-the-box and live brilliant lives. Some examples? Actor Stephen Fry, Ernest Hemmingway, Florence Nightingale, Sinéad O'Connor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Abe Lincoln…

I wrote a post some time back called, “The Shroud of Mental Illness”. We must become open to looking behind the curtain. We must educate ourselves about the disease of bipolar. We must share what we have learned – even when that learning has come through loss. And so, I write. What will you do in the silence that's deafening?



Bipolar & Suicide: A Death Midwife’s Call to Action

I know I've taken a horrendously long break from blogging, and for that, I apologize. My health has been tremendously effected by my genetic disease, TNF Receptor Associated Periodic Syndrome, the auto-inflammatory disease first diagnosed in 2007.

Also, to be honest, the topic(s) that I feel called to blog about aren't all that pleasant or easy. I don't write about baking pretty cupcakes, how to knit baby socks, or the latest hilarity of my animal companions… I'm called to write about challenging things, and sometimes, I just need to step away from the keyboard. Other times, like today, I feel absolutely compelled to share thoughts, feelings, experiences, etc.

This particular arrangement of topics – Death, Bipolar Manic Depression, Suicide, and how I've experienced it AS a Death Midwife came crashing together into the mixing bowl of my life just a few weeks ago, and I'm realizing as I'm lead by Spirit that it's the very next thing I need to talk about via blogging.

I've shared that I have a number of people in my life who live with the tremendous challenge that Bipolar Manic Depression is. My son has that mental health diagnosis, my wife does, a couple of my friends do… And so did my brother, who just happened to be my best friend in the whole entire world. “BFF for life” was our motto. But, dear reader, you may have noticed I changed to the past tense when referring to my brother, and that is the reason for this post.

On February 25th, I spoke with my brother by phone 8 different times. Frankly, that wasn't all that unusual. Like I said, he was my best buddy. He had been laid up from work for nearly 2 months due to an on-the-job injury and I work from home, so we gabbed constantly. The last time we spoke was at 12:50 p.m., right before I headed out for an appointment. And sometime within the hour following that last conversation, my brother did the only thing he thought he could do to ease the pain of his bipolar. He used a shotgun to end his life.

People tell me that I'm “lucky”, because I was the last person my brother spoke to. His last words to me were, “I love you”. And yes, while that means the world to me, I ache and feel broken – not just as his little sister, but as a Death Midwife who could do nothing to help my brother with his final Journey. The sad truth is, my brother had made a half-joke about suicide the week prior to him doing so, and I missed it as a plea for help. I told him not to talk like that… That gallows humor wasn't what he needed right now. I'm mortified that I missed it. Instead of scolding him for talking like that, I should have been more aware. But “should haves” do not bring people back from the grave, nor is it the Death Midwife's most prudent manner of thought.

I will be writing more about both bipolar and suicide through the coming weeks. But for now, I end with the eulogy I wrote for my brother. Though I have, out of respect for my brother and family, removed his middle and last name from the eulogy, It is as follows:

Today we come together to honour the life of my brother, David D. S…. Son, brother, husband, father, uncle, grandfather and friend.

Dave was my best friend all through life. You know you've found a best friend when you can tell them absolutely anything and have them not batt an eye. David was that kind of best friend… …. He always went and told our *parents*, the little tattle-tale…

But he was my best friend. He was my hero, and I looked up to him like I looked up to nobody else. He had a wicked, infectious laugh when he was being mischievous. From the time he was just a little boy, he was always “working”… “I workin'” was his pat response when one of the adults would holler down to the cellar or outside to see what he was up to. He was the greatest matchbox car driver. There was never a finer commander of plastic army men, and he was hands-down the best Tonka truck and Erector Set worksite manager ever.

As we grew up together, he was one of my first teachers, teaching me all manner of things – among other things, there were lessons in how to fake sleep during nap time (right down to the proper way to mess up your hair and drool a little bit) and how to become a better spy on our poor, unassuming elder sister. He taught me all the important things that a big brother teaches a little tomboy sister… How to ride a bike, how to ride the motor bike trails without fear, how to throw a football so it spins in a spiral and how to properly bat a ball…

I remember one day, David took me out to the back yard to give me lessons in how to properly spit a watermelon seed. It was an important lesson to learn, because – as you know – it has a multitude of applications that range far beyond just spitting seeds. So there I was, watermelon seed plucked from the fruit (because I couldn't stand the taste of watermelon, to begin with), and I did a huge intake of air… through my mouth. Yep, the watermelon seed went jetting down my windpipe, and there I stood, leaning on the picnic table, my brother standing over me, slapping my back in an attempt to resolve the situation, him using his colourful metaphors that he so liberally spoke in a fit and flurry, as if his words should help me breathe more than his barrage of back slaps… (I did, much to David's delight, get it right on the second try, and the smile he beamed at me as he sucked the watermelon off the next seed for me to spit… Yes, I know, that's really gross, but that's the way we were).

As Dave grew into an adult and our careers and passions grew toward service – his toward working with the fire department, mine toward working Emergency Medical Services – we would often rib each other, he quipping to me that I was a “stretcher-fetcher”, me coming right back at him, calling him a “foundation saver”, asking how many “foundations” he'd saved that day. And then, we'd sit down with a gallon of iced sweet tea or a gallon of milk and laugh, swapping stories and feeling like masters of our own corners of the Universe.

Dave was also a practical joker extraordinaire. I remember one Thanksgiving, he put a rubber band around the spray nozzle of the kitchen sink… And then he quietly pointed out his mischief to me and waited, and his patience was well rewarded. Our 5'-something mother walked over to the sink and turned it on full-blast, resulting in her showering herself with a blast of water from said spray nozzle. David was never so proud!

Dave had a huge heart, and one that was very tender. His was a beautiful heart, for he was a gentle soul – very vulnerable, though he'd always try to hide that fact. He loved his family more than anything, and God bless the dog, he loved his little dachshund. I think, perhaps, it was the fact that his heart was so tender, so easily bruised, that finally caused him to end his life… For he suffered a great many losses that left silent but deep, impermeable marks on his huge, tender heart.

Normally, when someone dies, you have something intangible – yet something you can name – to lash out at, to take the blame. Cancer, heart disease, an inattentive driver – something, anything – to lash out at. With suicide, there is no such culprit, and so we struggle. We struggle in a terrain full of walls, shrouded in fog, in an unfamiliar world where everything seems painful.

Our society still stigmatizes mental illness and especially suicide, so nobody ever speaks about these publicly. Because of that, I'd like to take a moment to ask you to Journey with me. I'd like for you to Journey with me to to a different place – a place where talking about mental illness and suicide is okay… A place where it's big and open for us to talk about these things… A place of Compassion for the One we are missing so greatly today, and will continue to miss so deeply throughout the remainder of our lives – my hero, my brother, Dave.

While we are left with this terrain full of walls, shrouded in fog… While we are walking in an unfamiliar world that looks so different without David's physical presence… And while we have so many questions along with feelings of betrayal, anger, hurt, fear, guilt and bone-deep sorrow – I am reminded that I need view his decision to ultimately end his life from a perspective of Compassion for Dave, where David could feel none for himself.

For reasons beyond our comprehension, David was unable to see beyond the smoke and fire of his inner mind's Depression and Worry long enough to see himself as WE all saw him, and as he truly was – a loving father, a wonderful brother, a loving son, a supportive, loving husband, a great uncle, and a cherished friend. He never thought his creative, “think outside the box” mind was brilliant – though WE saw it. We saw it in the tunnels he created out of moving boxes (the better to spy on our sister).

We saw it in the skeleton David helped Brian create out of PVC pipes, we saw it in the “McGuyver” creations he came up with when helping on projects or working on cars, including his use of pantyhose and bubble gum to “fix” a mechanical problem on a car until he could get it to a garage to properly repair the problem. We saw it in his humor when he created contraptions to deliver the maximum amount of “gotcha” while pulling one over on us.

The hard truth is, Dave lived in two different worlds: The real world in which he worked and played so hard, expressed himself by selflessly giving time and energy, tools (and occasional curse words) to projects which we needed his help on… And the world inside his head, where he couldn’t see beyond the fires of bipolar – of Depression and Worry. David fought against that for decades valiantly, trying to knock-down the fire in his mind over and over again, but the Depression and Worry that burned so brightly within his heart and mind were ultimately too much for him to bear.

That doesn't make him any less courageous, any less strong than the man he was. It doesn't detract from his valor. Rather, I think of my brother's ultimate decision with Compassion. In this Journey of Compassion we are walking together today, we must consider that David's mind – especially during the last several weeks of his life – was dealing with extreme mental anguish where his judgement was distorted and he did not have the ability to make “choices” or see options. In this Journey of Compassion, I know we sit today with the knowledge that, to us – those with rational, functioning minds – suicide is such an irrational, incomprehensible, senseless act, and it is hard to believe that someone I loved could have done this. And yet, Compassion reminds us that David was dealing with his own anger and betrayal (of his body, that he felt was failing him), his own bone-deep sorrow and fear (about feeling he was no longer able to provide for his family), of depression and worry that are the two parts of bi-polar that David just couldn't knock down.

There's a saying when a firefighter dies, those of his or her fellow firefighters who remain on this earthly plane say, “See you at the big one, brother”… For Dave, this was his “Big One”… it was its own cancer, eating away at his heart and mind.

And so, in this Journey of Compassion, I do not ask for your tacit approval of David's final actions. Instead, I invite you to look at David's final day with Compassion and empathy, to join with me, for this moment in time, in looking with Compassion's eyes at David's heartbreaking decision.

In the movie, “Avatar”, the Na’avi used an expression – the phrase, “I see You”. That phrase, “I see You” meant you deeply recognized the person WITHIN and you loved them. As our Journey of Compassion comes to a close, I ask you to keep that compassion for David deep within, and when grief overcomes you, that you remember to find that heart of Compassion and truly SEE David… Dave, I see You… I see You. And I hope you see David, too.

Let us always remember the spelling of “Carp”… (my mother couldn't stand hearing David say, “Crap”, so she would spell it to him, three times any time he said it within her hearing… David, frustrated by his car one night with mom standing by declared, ” I KNOW!! C-A-R-P, C-A-R-P, C-A-R-P!”). Let us never forget one of the lessons that David taught us: That being, one of the true tests for anyone wanting to date one of our young adult children is whether they can pick out a Metallica song that is playing on the radio.

Let us hear in our memories, the sound of his deep, infectious belly-laughs… His mischievous chuckle… Let us remember David singing “Jingle Bells” while walking through the mall during a wretched heatwave in July, jingling his keys to the beat of the song, never caring that folks were looking at him strangely. Let us remember the pride he took in his service van and tools whenever we see a white service van. Let us never pass a mannequin without remembering David trying to act as if he didn't know Dad, laughing the whole time while Dad stood juggling the limbs, body and head of one that fell apart when he bumped it. Let us always sense Dave's presence, sitting on the bleachers while watching his son's basketball and football games, just as David has done countless times. Let us never hear a fire truck blasting its air horn without remembering David's tribute to his son during the “silent parade” for his fallen brethren. Let us always remember his gentle soul, his unassuming presence throughout our lives with him. Let us live knowing that David’s presence… His Spirit… will be with us throughout OUR lives as we fight our fires.

“I love you”. Those were David's last words to me, and I believe them with all my heart. “I love you”, his final words to his wife and son that morning, and I believe that with all my heart. David was selfless, loving, a gentle bear who loved to be a help in any way he could… David was my hero. He was my brother. He was my best friend.

And though I no longer wear the badge of a paramedic any longer… David… I salute you in honor of your life. I salute you in tribute to the man that you were. I salute you as my fallen hero, my brother, my best friend.


My Most Recent Journey

So, I do believe I noted I was going to trial an experimental medication for the treatment of my genetic disease, TRAPS. I did so at the end of June, and my small group of faithful readers will note I seemingly fell off the face of the Earth afterward.

This is because I have been hospitalized due to a severe, ongoing reaction to the injection. The medication will be in my system until early September, but I do believe I am finally on the upswing, with hopes to be released from the hospital tomorrow (less likely) or the next day (more likely)… Unless things begin to decline again. It has, without doubt, been a roller-coaster ride, one where I have stood at length between this mortal Realm and several other Realms and Dimensions.

Perhaps, after a bit more healing time, I will find it appropriate to share some of those Journey Paths' experiences. Right now, I am still very, very weakened, and so I will leave this post a short one to continue my recovery. Blessings bright and dark be yours today.



Begging Your Pardon, Please

My dear readers,

Please know I've not forgotten the line of thought upon which I was expounding. I have, however, been very ill with my genetic disease (TNF Receptor Associated Periodic [fever] Syndrome, or TRAPS). With that, I was finally able to get approval for an experimental, potential treatment option.

While there are no FDA approved treatments for TRAPS, there have been clinical trials done on various medications with varying success. Today, I received (yet another) medication at the University of Wisconsin Hospital Infusion Center here in Madison. This is a “last potential treatment option” for me, so please keep your fingers crossed that this one causes no adverse reactions – and that it has positive effects for my health.

With that, I must tell you I am exhausted by the day and, very likely, the treatment… As a “Spoonie”, I am temporarily out of spoons and am unable to finish my thoughts on “putting away” death and dying… I will, however, write as soon as I am up to it.

Thanks for your understanding and good mojo sent my way.



On Death and Dying: Societal and Personal Perspectives

Yesterday, I wrote a post with respect to society's attempt to “put away”, or “hide”, both the elderly and the dying. The focus on that post was on the elderly. Today's post will focus more on Death and the dying.

As a Death Midwife, I have personally seen the separation between the dying and their family, friends and loved ones. It is one of life's hardest experiences to sit Death Watch with someone you love. It gives far too wide an opportunity to sit and think. To remember – the good, the funny, the sad, the times of distress in your relationship, the absolutely divine moments you shared… To wonder such things as, “Is he/she in pain? Does he/she know that they are dying? What am I going to do?? I'm not ready for them to go”…

Now, people as a whole find this altogether heart-breaking, and – if many are honest with themselves – the whole process of dying horrendous, frightening, and even distasteful. It reminds them of their own mortality, it makes them recall things they'd rather not remember and (forgive me for stating the obvious, but…) it's stressful. A maelstrom of emotional onslaught (which, again, through society's distractions – such as TV, internet, over-working one's self, etc. – which many of us have allowed to consume our attention, thereby growing unfamiliar and very uncomfortable with experiencing deep emotions) washes over us as if we were staked to the lowest rocks of a bay at high tide. These Truths make the desirability of distancing ourselves from Death and dying a radiant option, if only to put us at ease.

In ancient times, some cultures buried the bones of their loved ones within the confines of their homes. Upon the Dark Moon each month, a special supper was held to commune with the Spirits of their beloved Dead. One example of this is found in the history of Hawaii. You can read more details here: http://www.state.hi.us/dlnr/hpd/naiwikupuna.htm

In that article, it is written that, “For many, it was a common practice to bury family members under and around ones house to maintain a physical closeness to the deceased as well as a watchful eye.” In yet another article, the Hindu practices of partaking of “cakes” with the Dead during the New Moon, is discussed. Here we read, “Like the ekoddista rites these ceremonies involve the offerings of rice cakes (pinda), libations of water (tarpana), and oblations through fire (homa). Three rice cakes, one for each pitr, were generally employed. Some of the ceremonies were performed on specific days of the month and times of the year, namely new moon (amavasya) and during the dark half of the month of bhadrapada (pitr-paksa). For this reason they were sometimes called parvana rites.” (Reference: http://www.finaljourneyseminars.com/?page_id=438 ). The archeological findings, along with written histories expound upon these practices beyond the scope of this post.

Moving forward to the early 19th century, we find cemeteries that were built with park benches, where families would picnic alongside their beloved dead's final resting place. Sound crazy? Well, it's coming back in style. Take a look at this gathering, just noted on the 4th of June of this year. Party in the cemetery… http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/easton/index.ssf/2013/06/easton_art_community_to_host_p.html

Sacrilegious? I find it beautiful, remembering to honor and commune with our loved ones. Once, this very type of “familial gathering” was commonplace.

So, once again, over the last century – perhaps a bit longer, if you give due consideration to the variety of plagues that have gone round the globe – we have done our best to limit our exposure to Death's visitations and the process of dying. Not so long ago our family members died within their own homes. (An aside: It always astonishes me when I watch a paranormal investigative show and findings relate deaths having occurred in old homes, only to have the current family members horrified that they are living in a home where a death occurred. Sorry to say, but it was the “normal” of times gone by). Nowadays, large portions of the population prefer to “put away” Death and dying – via sending their dying loved one to a Skilled Nursing Facility (hereafter referred to as a “SNF”), hospice care (although I do loudly applaud those who bring hospice into the comfort of their home for their dying loved one), or to a hospital. Most family members no longer bathe the body of their departed Loved One, nor do they prepare the body for the wake and/or burial/cremation… We now believe that's a mortician's job. Separation, Separation, Separation – from Death… from Dying… from honoring the Transition from living in-body to living in-Spirit form.

Now, some would say that I'm being unfaithful to the past treatment of the dying by not mentioning the fact that there were some Clans and Tribes Peoples who “sent their elderly and dying away to die alone”. The number one name of said “senilicide” always goes to the Inuits. If you really do believe this was common day practice, please read the following article to gain a better understanding and greater clarity regarding this misunderstood legend:


More to today's point, there are some uncomfortable questions that people tend to ask with respect to Death and the process of Transitioning from living in-the-body to living-as-Spirit. Let's take a look at a few of these.

Do the Dying Know They are Dying?

My immediate response is three-fold. (1) I have found in my work as a paramedic that, more often, people who AREN'T dying think they are dying. (2) I would ask, “If you were caught in an undertow and felt yourself wearing down, wearing out, being drawn further out to sea, would you know you were in some serious trouble?” (I trust, through my experience of having heard the answer to that question multiple times, that you would answer with a resounding “YES”!) My final response (3) is, “Did you see yourself hitting your thumb with that hammer as it was falling to strike you soundly? Did you know you were going to bash your thumb?” (Again, based on my experience in hearing responses, the answer is invariably, “No.”)

Here's my point in reverse order. (3) Your loved one might not have seen Death coming for them, but they experience the result – they die, just as surely as you would now be developing a black and blue thumb. Now, let me add to that a two-fold Pathway that has the potential to develop in this manner of dying.

I have been present at accident scenes where the death was so dramatic, so sudden, that the deceased has absolutely no idea they are dead. As a Seer – someone who sees Spirits and Ghosts, someone who has seen the Transition from in-body to in-Spirit form – I have experienced on more than one occasion actually feeling the presence of Death. I have seen what Pagans call “The Veil” that separates this life from the afterlife. I have seen people's Spirits Cross Over (or, what some would call, “go to heaven”)… And I have seen people's Spirit's observing their body while trying to ascertain exactly what has happened. For those who do not have Ancestors coming forth to show them the way to the OtherWorld, for those who cannot take in the possibility that they have left their bodies, for those who miss seeing The Veil and knowing that Way is the Way to go… This is, in my understanding and from my perspective, the reason that we have ghosts.

(2) Other people have a sixth sense about them, and yes – even know they are going to die in weeks and months preceding their dying. And finally (1), we have – through being so separated from the dying process and Death, itself – that Death now walks through this Realm wearing a cloak that we have placed upon Her. This cloak is called, “Fear”.

The thing of it is… Dying is as easy as falling off a log. Ask anyone who has had a Near Death Experience – they will tell you they felt Universal Peace and Love. There is no fear cloaking Death once you accept Her calling. It simply is. I know this as I have, myself, had two Near Death Experiences. For me, all that matters so much in this time, in this place – this Realm – faded away, and there was just simplicity and beauty, and waiting for the body and soul to agree that it's time to “cut the cord” – that silver-life “umbilical-like” cord that tethers soul to body. There will be no Death until both the body and soul agree that it's time to go. (And so I sit here writing this post!)


Signs that Your Loved One is, Indeed, Dying

This one is a tough one for most people. I believe that so deeply, because so many people have watched hundreds (or more) “deaths” happen on TV or in movies – but have never had a real-life encounter with someone dying. People have learned, from entertainment to use of drones in war, an altogether separateness from Death. There are, however, physical, emotional, and changes in the Spirit of the dying prior to death. And, as I've reached my limit of own verbosity, I will continue with this thought when I write again in the next day or two.

By all means, if you have questions or comments, please do make note of it! I'd love to get a general conversation rolling about this, for – as a Death Midwife – it is a dear subject to me.



Putting Away Aging and Death

Yesterday evening, I started to compose a post with respect to our (most notably western societies) fear, dislike, and discomfort with both aging and death. I was too tired to wrap it up, and having just sat down to complete the post, was somewhat amazed that an article was posted on The Telegraph just this week with respect to some of the ground I'm going to cover.


Over the course of the last 75 years (an approximation), our society's integration with and care for the aged and the dying has made an incredibly dramatic shift. When you consider the millennia with which families and communities have lived alongside the elderly and dying, 75 short years is a blink of Time's proverbial eye.

Our societal fear of aging and death has created a schism unlike any we've seen in familial and communal relationships, and all, really, within the last 75 years. For millennia, the aged Crone women and Sage men lived within their familial homes, alongside their family, neighbors and friends. They not only lived, but also died within the comfort of their homes. Wakes were held at the homes of the deceased.

But today's society finds such close familiarity distasteful, rather than integration, honoring, and accepting our elderly people and the dying.

The War Against Aging

The war against growing old gracefully is an intense one. Today, more than ever, we have cosmetics formulated to remove wrinkles and lines, “age spots”, cover those delightful greys we get, and dramatically alter the effects of gravity. There is no denying the plastic surgery reformation that has swept far beyond the stars of Hollywood – an epidemic that has created addicts to a wholely different form of change… and all to stop the process of… changing. (“Make me look 10 years younger!”)

Additionally, a dramatic change in valuing the wisdom of our elders and their inclusion in our daily lives has taken place. Where once elders were revered for their accumulated experiences and knowledge, today, we pay “activity planners” at senior citizen centers to engage the minds of these brilliant people… People who should be viewed as treasure troves of stories, wisdom, ideas… So they don't know about the latest PlayStation? They can teach you secrets to putting up garden fare to last you an entire winter. Which of those two have the potential to save your life should a serious crisis occur?

We carry on after putting Grandma into a delightful Senior Citizen Center, where everyone is old and can reminisce about the Good Old Days, and where WE – the young and beautiful (or at least the middle-aged and far-too-busy) people – don't have to remind them to take their medication, check to make sure they turned off the burners of their stove, or listen to their “When I Was Your Age” stories. (“You're going to love it here, Mom… All these folks your age, getting to hang out and play shuffleboard or enjoy a Friday night dance…”).


The article found at the above link, written by Ms. Jane Gross, is a discussion with Dr. Cheryl Woodson (pictured in above photo). Dr. Woodson is a geriatrician from Chicago Heights, Illinois, and she's not the least bit green – she's done this work for a commendable period of time. As such, I found several of her comments rather telling about the position many within the communities throughout the U.S. seem to take upon making the decision to send their elderly to an assisted living facility. The most telling statement is one in which Dr. Woodson suggests that these elderly become “people who don't exist”, and suggests that the grand-ness of assisted living is a “myth”.

I agree that all too often, it becomes a place of putting where we expect, for the money we pay, to have our elderly parents and grandparents fed, watered, entertained, and otherwise cared for – while we no longer have to worry about helping with house cleaning, yard work, medication management, and so on. But let's go a bit deeper.

I mentioned we have also developed a schism with the dying. As a Death Midwife, I see this all too often. I know how hard it is to watch your beloved family member struggling as they pass. I went through it, bedside – quite literally – for two months with my Mum. But it is valuable – both to the Dying and to the family members, as well.

Tomorrow, I will continue this post – this being the first of three – with respect to the Dying part of life that we so desperately try to “put away” – out of sight, out of mind… For today, I leave you with this query:

How do YOU feel about the elderly? What would your plan be if your elderly grandparent or parent suddenly needed extra care?

The best way to mend a schism is to start talking about it being there. I hope this post, and the two that follow, get some folks really talking about this. This is family… This is life.



When Someone You Love is Dying

Death Midwifery: It's not for everyone, however, there are things that everyone should know – even if, or perhaps especially if, you are not called to serve in this capacity.

Whether we like it or not, Death will touch every one of our lives at some point in time. As a Death Midwife, myself, I have found a number of truths that should be passed on to the friends, family, and loved ones who are aware of a Nearing Passing. These things are of value to those who will remain on the Mortal Plane, both as a matter of gentling the Passing of your loved one, as well as making the process of Dying a smoother Pathway than it otherwise might be.

1.) The primary thing to remember is that Death is a Lady. She is a gentle Queen. Do not mistake the manner of HOW your loved one is Passing (for those who are reading this having already had a loved one Pass, this is true for you, too). Cancer causes immense pain, but cancer is not Death – it is a disease. Vehicular accidents can cause grievous injury, and thereby, intense pain. COPD causes great distress in breathing. Again, COPD is not Death… It is a disease that causes Death. Someone who is murdered suffers great violence, and following that violence, may die. But here's the thing.

Those are the Pathways that lead to Death. They are not Death, itself.

Please take a moment to consider those who have had near death experiences. People who nearly died by drowning always note the beautiful peace that washes over them after they accept the “fact” that they are dying. Folks who experience NDEs (Near Death Experiences) almost always state that, once they come to terms with the idea of dying, there is warmth, usually a bright light, they see loved ones who have gone on before them. What the experience is perfect, calming, beautiful…

During this process, the Dying is learning how to allow their Soul, or Spirit, to detach from their Mortal Plane proverbial vehicle – their body. We practice a form of this at times – during astral travel, during REM sleep while we dream… If you've ever had a time where you were j.u.s.t… about asleep…. And your entire body jerks or jumps… Shamans and many other folks of Earth-based Traditions believe that happens when your Spirit Being gets ready to go on “walkabout” – like entering dreamscape lands, for example – Your spirit enters other Realms through Journeying… But, every once in awhile, something goes a bit awry… Something “trips” you, or you “slip on a proverbial banana peel”, and that jerks you back into your body, awake, heart pounding. Whew! Your silver, shining Soul-Body cord could have snapped! Thankfully, it wasn't your time, so there you are… and you begin to drift off to sleep all over again…

The difference between that jumping reflexively awake and the process that is going on for our beloved Dying is that very same silver, shining Soul-Body connection cord serves as an invisible tether strand that stays with our body – I've mentioned that it appears as a silver cord… If you could see it, it really does look something like a silver, shining umbilical cord. (I have seen it, and it's both incredible and beautiful). The Dying are learning to draw the energy contained in that “silver umbilical cord” into their Spirit Body. When that happens, it “dries up”, “shrivels up” just like an umbilical cord on a newborn baby. So, as the Dying continues to grow in strength apart from their body, it actually grows more and more thin and dried out as they begin to learn the secrets necessary to live in Spirit Form.

(My Dad died very, very suddenly. He was killed when he was hit on his motorcycle by a truck. Some would think that “insta-snapping” of that tether cord wouldn't give him the necessary time to begin to learn those secrets for living in Spirit Form (such as those who linger “between”, such as my Grandmother, who died of cancer)… And for some, that's true. That is one of the ways we have Earth-bound Spirits – aka. “ghosts” that walk among us. However, for some – like my Dad – there are those who have Died before them, and those Souls are already well aware that Death is bringing a Loved One. So, for example, my Mum's Spirit was with Dad at the time of his accident and death – and she “showed him the ropes”. I can tell you how I know that later, in another post.)

2) As the Dying are learning how to be apart from their body, please know they can hear your thoughts, words and prayers – no matter where you are – with respect to them. Families always rush to say their final goodbye's at the bedside of their Dying loved ones. Absolutely wonderful!! It's the best possible outcome for everyone if that's possible. HOWEVER… IF you cannot make it bedside, please know they really can hear you. Sometimes, people's intense desire to be with their Dying loved one even makes it possible for an untrained astral travel projection to the bedside of their Dying loved ones. I have, on more than one Death Midwifing, heard the dying speak to their children who could not make it to their bedside – actually conversing with them. Do I believe it's hallucination? Absolutely not. One woman I was sitting Watch with kept saying, “Don't worry, [son's name], yes… I'll wait for you. I'll stay right here, but please hurry.” When the son arrived, he skidded into her room and said, “Oh! Thank GOD!! I kept asking her just to please wait for me to get here!!” The elderly woman passed quietly into her full Spirit Form less than 30 minutes later. Coincidence? I think not.

3) Oft times, it's very, very important to let the Dying loved one know that it's okay for them to move on. It's okay for them to Let Go. Oft times, they need to hear that spoken to them. IT IS SOOOOO HARD to say those words… But, truly… It is often necessary. Many times, our Dying loved ones will hang on, and on, and on, believing that we need them here, in their physical form.

Here is one thing that might lessen the blow a little bit for you. The fact of the matter is, when we are in body form, we can only be one place at one time. It takes an hour for me to drive from my home to my parents' former home, and the graveyard where their bodies are interred. But for the Dead… They can zap and pop from one place to the next in an instant. They become your Guides from the Otherworldly Realm. They are stronger and more present once they are no longer in body form! Truly, it is the most difficult challenge to say the words… But know you are doing a beautiful work, and that your loved one will be watching over you, loving you, with you here and there, just by calling upon them, in any given instant… in any given instance. It's okay to let them go forward, as hellacious as it may feel.

4) They Dying, as they are shifting into their Spirit Form, may see Spirit Beings (such as angels, faeries, beloved ancestors who have died before them)… They may speak with these Beings. They may call for their Mom to come be with them, or their spouse who passed away prior to them, or any number of Beings. This is absolutely natural. You might not see them, for you are still fully incarnate – a soul in a skin suit. But for those learning to step out from that skin suit… They are not delusional… They are learning and growing, right before your very eyes, how to BE in Spirit Form. Trust them. Listen to them. Let them share with you what they see, for they are sharing their experience. Telling them “there's nobody there” devalues their experience. Give them the Gift of allowing them to take their first toddler-like footsteps in Spirit Form right there before your very eyes. It will bless you… It will bless them!

And finally for this writing,

5) Recognize and honor the fact that some Dying loved ones may know it will hurt you too much to die in front of you. As such, you may be in dire need of the bathroom – to the point you just can't stand it – and you leave their bedside for all of three teeny-tiny minutes to relieve yourself… And when you come back into the room, it is done. Your loved one has made the transition, and you weren't there. And that's okay. Sometimes it's their Path to make that Transition alone. Sometimes, they will wait for you… But know they are okay if they “slip away” when you doze for those 15 minutes… when you run to the bathroom and back as fast as you can… when you just took an hour to run home, shower and change your clothes. The secret is, sometimes it's their first Spirit Toddler steps that they took without any help.

You know how we cheer babies when they take those first steps… After the initial grieve wave that overtakes you abates… Cheer your loved one who Transitioned. They DID IT!! It hurts you… makes you sad… Yes… But they accomplished something – and sometimes that accomplishment is EXACTLY what they needed to begin their Journey into the AfterLife. Commemorate it. Braid some gold cross-stitching floss, and make it a gold medal for your loved one. I guarantee you will feel their Presence while doing so. It might just give you the golden opportunity for your very first ADC – that's an After Death Communication from your loved one. I'll write more about that in another, different post.


The process of Transitioning from life on the mortal plane to the Spirit Realm/OtherWorld/AfterLife is not a pleasant one. But it is a part of Life – this Death of which we speak. It allows you to experience your departed loved one in a new way. I know most people aren't excited about dying, but really… To Die would be an awfully big adventure, as J.M. Barrie's “Peter Pan” says.

And so, it is.




Wisdom from my Mom

Most folks know that Mother's Day was last month. It was my second Mother's Day without Mum on this mortal plane. Now, Father's Day approaches – it will be my first without Daddy… So, perhaps, I will be be able to write a post on Wisdom from Daddy next month, once some of the “ouch”/stinging/smarting has lessened. But for today, I share a bit more of what my Mum was like via sharing her own words.

Mum had so many sayings that were chock full of her wisdom… For her eulogy, I made an alphabetic arrangement of all her sayings that I had noted in journals – but most of them, we knew by heart, because we heard them so often. I noted to the people attending her funeral that there were some “gaps” – letters in the alphabet that didn't have a quote from Mum of which I could recall. I will tell you that my Mum came to me in a dream the night before her funeral and I was talking with her in the dream about the empty spots, asking her for ideas to “complete” the entire alphabet. She laid her hand on my cheek and softly smiled in that dream. “Well I hadn't figured out EVERYTHING… And you need to learn to walk in the Mystery that Life is, too“… That's what she said to me.

So here's Mum's brilliance in word-form, “gaps” included.

A) Act. Don't live your life REACTING. (Also: The word “Anger” is only one letter short of “Danger”.)

B) Be curious. Follow the example of the Great Teacher, remembering that sometimes the best answer to a question is… a question, in return. (Seconded by: “Beautiful young people are works of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”)

C) Cry for 10 minutes about a situation. Go ahead! Take all the time you need during those 10 minutes to cry your heart out. Then pick yourself up, shake yourself off, and get going again.

D) Dare to Discern your motivation for the choices you make in life. Determine which of the Three D's is your motivation: Duty, Desire, or Desperation. Knowing that can help you make the wisest, most sure choice in any given situation.

E) Empathy, Sympathy, or Pity… Know the difference between them and where best to apply it. (Mum always whispered loudly, like she was sharing some sort of universally known secret, when she would say, “I'll give you a hint: Pity should not make your list. If it does, you better go back and review the “Three D's”.

F) Friends may come and go, but your family… Be it your family of birth or family of soul… Keep them close. They are forever, and that bond is precious, for God, Himself, forged it.

G) Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss gossip.

H) [Normally spoken after you'd had a 10 minute cry with her]… “Head up. Shoulders back! Boobs out! Now MARCH FORWARD! Get going!! You can do this!!

Mum's “Three I's”: Nothing Illegal, Immoral, nor Irrational. If you think you need or want to do one of those three, go back and review the “Three D's”.

You may be noticing that my mum had many thoughts that followed in sets of three. She was, above all, a wise Celtic Crone…

K) Know your Self and make good friends with You. When you have made good friends with your Self, your situation will be more friendly, too.

L) Listen actively and with curiosity. (This was closely followed by “Learn from the mistakes of others… You can't live long enough to make them all yourself.”)

M) Meaning of Life: If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing so many things and Connect with your Self. Now go back and take a look at letter “K”.

N) NO. If you never say “no”, your “yes's” will mean nothing.

O) Opportunity… The opportunity of a lifetime is only available during the lifetime of the the opportunity. Go for it!!

P) “Prizing” People… When someone Prizes us just the way we are, he or she confirms the greatness of our existence.

Q) Quitters never win, and winners never quit.

R) Respect. Reflect. Respond. Always remember there is a difference between being “Liked” and being “Respected”. If you Reflect upon who or what you should Respect, you will gain certainty as to how to Respond.

S) Silence. Know when that is the best answer. Know when to hold it, know when to throw it down and ask questions, instead, to gain a deeper understanding of what someone is trying to express.

W) Wisdom and Willpower: One of Mum's “insta-prayers”, as I called them… “God, grant me the Wisdom to know what is right, the strength to choose it, and the Willpower to make it endure.”

(Photo below: Mum is in the middle)


So which particular words of wisdom speaks to you? I hope every person who reads this can glean some wisdom to take with you on your own Life Journey.



In Which The Intrepid Wanderer Meets Herself

I should have put the word “AGAIN” at the end of the subject line, really. Alas…

Since last writing (and I do apologize deeply for the length of time between, especially bearing the weight with which I last wrote), I have spent a great deal of time in Sacred Solitude. During these times, I have Journeyed deep within. I have explored the Realm of Past Life Regression, Shamanic Journeying, and Discovery through both Tarot and painting. I must say, the results have been rather enlightening.

While my initial urge was to write in detail about each of these experiences, I now believe that in doing so, it would be a bit of “over-share”. As such, Good Reader, please kindly wend your way with me through topics that may seem, at first glance, disconnected. I assure you, they are not.

Fate versus Destiny:

Fate: The triple Goddess aspect; something that unavoidably befalls a person; that which is inevitably predetermined…

Destiny: The power or agency that determines the course of events…

Fate is that which is predetermined for you. It is set through your ancestry and given to you at birth. It includes such things as heritage, genetics, and to some degree, likes and dislikes.

Destiny, however, is that which YOU, the author of your life, creates each moment of each day – through the choices we make, the understanding we've come to know as we've grown,

Spirit Guides:

1. There are the Beings who have never been incarnate,

2. The Ancestors (who, obviously, have been incarnate), and they do not have to be of your lineage of this particular lifetime… They can be those from previous lifetimes. They also can be Spirits of people who have trod a portion of the Pathway you are currently walking – physically (illness), spiritually (Teacher Allies), emotionally (for example, I had a Spirit come to me who had committed suicide. I imagine this was because I was in the Dark Valley of suicidal ideation when last I wrote.)

3. The Animal Spirit Guides and Plant Spirit Guides with whom you connect and revere,

4. But there are also members of a group who can appear in human form, but dwell in Spirit. Many would grant them titles such as “Angels”. (I, personally, denote the title, “Faery Godmother” as something completely different than this particular group. The reason behind that is, I believe Faery Godmothers are projections of Faery Beings who are shape-shifters. With this ability, They can shift into a human-like form if that will enable Them to connect more deeply with the human being to which They are appearing/assisting.)

Death: It's not a morbid topic to be studied and discussed.

Yes, I actually worried that people would think I have some strange obsession with Death if I wrote about my work as a Death Midwife, and about Death, in general. I note with some curiosity that my last post was about Death – only from a different perspective. Through my Spiritual Practice, notably since last writing, I have come to realize that I do, indeed, have a very peculiar relationship with Death in this lifetime. In particular, I have come to realize that I live on a bridge between the visible and invisible where it pertains to Death. I should have realized this far sooner, as I have studied and engaged in Shamanic workings throughout the last 11 years.

Sometimes, I “feel” more than I “know”. I listen to my gut, rather than my head. Generally, that's a pretty great form of transportation to intuit things wisely. Sometimes, however, I need to remember the tangible, the practical, and not forget both sides of this aforementioned “bridge”. When I forget, I begin to be “floaty”, looking only toward the invisible Realm, and then I feel that I must really belong “Over There”… I was in such a place when I last wrote.

A Kindred Spirit of mine suggested I read Paulo Cuelho (Big shout out to my Kindred, “M”!! Thank you, Dear One!!!) and so I picked up a copy of his book, “Brida”. Within its covers, his protagonist describes emotions as “wild horses” that cannot be mastered. In the book, one of Brida's Teachers says the following:

“Don't bother trying to explain your emotions. Live everything as intensely as you can and keep whatever you felt as a gift from God. … The best way to destroy the bridge between the visible and invisible is by trying to explain your emotions.”

To this, I say, “Huzzah”!! And yet, it's not easy – mostly because it opens us up wide. It doesn't feel safe. It's a bit like running with wolves. It somehow feels slightly… mad. But then… Why should it be?

The gifts from God/Goddess are innumerable, and yet, reach us as a still, small voice. God is in the rain. She is in the softest breeze, the tiniest pebble, a newborn bird, the embers of a dying fire, a kind word spoken (or written), a smile, a squeeze of your hand…

Goddess bless. You are blessed, and you are a blessing. Thank each and every one of you, each in your own way, for being that blessing.