Learning How to Live

“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” -Leonardo da Vinci

“Before you understand and accept the notion of death, you must first embrace life.” -Dr. Pio Vucetich Nunez del Prado, Peruvian Psychotherapist & Shaman

Many cultures outside of Western societies understand and honor death. We in the West figure if we ignore it, it won’t be a problem. We don’t talk about it. In church our ministers talk about Heaven and Hell, not about that moment of entrance. Our newspapers only deal with “If it bleeds, it leads.” Magazines such as Time publish articles about the high cost of dying–Medicare and/or hospitals. Parents protect their children by telling them that Grandma went to sleep, or went on a trip. In my experience, grave-site raw dirt is covered with artificial turf and the coffin descends into the hole only after everyone has left. However, I have been told that in Jewish culture there is no artificial turf and each person present is given a shovel which they use to put the final note onto the deceased’s song.

Mel & C-Ra

I have been trying to understand death ever since, when I was thirteen, my brother died in an automobile accident at the youthful age of nineteen. My parents didn’t ignore the subject of death, but my father had to go back to work, my mother had a nervous breakdown which required my sixteen- year-old sister to manage the house. There was no one to ‘teach’ me about death, to support me as I tried to handle my grief.

How can anyone ‘learn’ about death? The Los Angeles Times published an interesting article (15 April 2013). The article began on the top half of the front page. Some editor wisely thought it was important. It was entitled, “Death Café: passing thoughts”. It seems that Jon Underwood thought it might be a good idea to sit around his London, England basement, sip tea, eat biscuits (cookies), and talk about death.

Betsy Trapasso, living in the wild zone of Los Angeles decided to hostess one herself. She claims, “It’s not a support group. It’s not a grief group. My whole thing is to get people talking about it so they’re not afraid when the time comes.” What a novel idea–talking about an invisible topic!

Trapasso describes herself as an end-of-life guide. “There are so many people who live in fear of death, and that’s one of the reasons we have such a youth-obsessed culture and culture that turns away from aging.”

According to the article, “Life and death, death and life. The conversation slides easily back and forth between the two.” Trapasso urges, “Live fully. Why have regrets?” Those present at the first L.A. Death Café (by the way, I just Googled ‘Death Cafes’ and the first listing was “Death Cafe’s near you”). Trapasso advice is, “If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t like the person you’re with, leave that person. Travel now. Don’t wait for later.” Most importantly, “Don’t let anyone stop you from living the life you want.”

I wish I would have had a chance to attend a Death Café many years ago. It probably would have made it easier to live through my father’s, then my mother’s, then my sister’s deaths. I was so wracked with grief when my companion dog, Jelly Bean, died that I had six visits to a therapist who agreed that my grief was far deeper than my dog’s death. Counseling, personal writings, rituals both public and private, and talks with friends helped me move past grief into sorrow. Although I handle death much better now, I still have a lot to learn.

My latest test with death started in June of 2011. My husband of forty-six years had a triple-bypass operation, then just four months later, underwent excision of small tumors on the left lobe of his lung. When the CT Scan in January of 2012 showed no tumors, we thought he had escaped The Bullet. His next CT Scan in July of 2012 showed a recurrence of the lung tumors. During his chemo treatments they gradually discovered metastases in his liver and bone marrow.

I hung onto the hope of modern science. I knew that lung cancer, especially with metastases, has a very low survival rate. I refused to think that he would or could die. By the end of February 2013 when the doctor told us that Mel wasn’t reacting well to the chemo, I still told myself that it was just a break, that he would resume the treatments in a few weeks and beat the dreaded “C”.

For months Mel had been eating less and less. I had actually accused him of unconsciously trying to commit suicide by starvation–I was trying to shock him into eating. It didn’t work. A yellow caution light glowed at the back of my consciousness when he grew weaker and weaker. I kept my reactions ‘normal’ for Mel. Finally, he could no longer walk to the tv room or even from his bed to the bathroom, only 10 – 12 steps. I wheeled him in a wheelchair, but now, he only got out of bed to go to the bathroom. In one day he might eat a fourth of an apple and two chicken nuggets. He continued having an occasional scotch. But, now he had it in milk. “Gotta stay healthy,” he’d say.

More and more, I felt desperate to find something that he would like to eat, and a tv show that he’d like to move into the tv room to watch. It wasn’t until the 6th of March when I called to sign him up for hospice care that the yellow warning light turned a pale shade of red. His weight, as well as his blood pressure had been consistently dropping, but I became scared when the visiting nurse told me his blood pressure was 86 over 42. That is dangerously low (average blood pressure is 120/80).

For the last few weeks, Xia (my soul-sister) had been telling me that when the time came that I didn’t want to be alone, to call her. She told me she would pack a computer, a few clothes, and come and stay with me for as long as I needed her. She told me that only I would know when that time had come.

Friday afternoon (March 8th) Xia brought chicken from Zankou and from Portos, she brought potato balls that Mel loved. She said she’d like to go in and talk with him if he’d like to–if not, she could email him. I went in to check, since when one of his friends had called a few days before, he had said he didn’t want anyone to see him like he was. Mel said, “Of course.” Later, she told me about their conversation. He confided in her that, “I don’t want to leave Jeanne alone”. She reassured him that I was not alone, that I had family and many friends. He didn’t say anything after that, just gave a large sigh as his body relaxed. Xia told me that he seemed in peace. He never ate again after having half a potato ball.

For my whole life it has been hard for me to ask for help. But Saturday morning, I called Xia and asked for her to come and be with me. I told her that we’d had a rough night, and Mel couldn’t even go to the bathroom, even in his wheelchair. He had fallen and hit his head when I tried to help him from bed to the wheelchair. Then I said, “I need you. I want you.” It was terribly hard for me to talk through the pain and tears.

Xia said she would pack a few things, close up her house and come over. She arrived Saturday afternoon, staying until Wednesday afternoon.

Mel was still coherent on Saturday, talking with Xia, and answering all the visiting nurse’s questions and carrying on conversations. On Sunday the nurse would not tell me his blood pressure until we were in the other room. It was not detectible.

That Sunday afternoon Xia went in to talk with him, telling him that I had many sisters and brothers in Temple of the Goddess who would make sure that I would be looked after, cared for. Sunday evening hospice delivered morphine to the house. This is when I truly began to deal with Mel’s death. It stared me in the face and I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I slept beside Mel, setting a timer, giving him just enough morphine every hour to keep him comfortable. I stayed by his side, holding him, kissing him, feeling the cold creep up from his fingers, to his hands, to his forearm, to his upper arms. His mouth remained open. He didn’t ask for food or liquid. I knew that he was in the process of dying. I learned that dying is not a finite point, but truly a journey. I remained with Mel throughout the night, and the next day, Monday March 11th. Xia made sure I ate something periodically. She also did a search on her computer for mortuaries. I decided on cremation with The Neptune Society.

I kept telling him I loved him and always had. I told him it was okay to leave. I kept repeating that whatever he saw, whether it was a door to go through or a new neighborhood to walk into or a rainbow bridge to cross, that it was okay. That it was the next part of his journey. Finally, at about four o’clock in the afternoon on Monday I knew he was very close to the Veil. I held him and asked him to contact me, if at all possible, after he had gone through the door, or walked into that new neighborhood, or crossed over the rainbow bridge. For the first time in 24 hours, he gave a single nod. Through my tears I said, “Okay, you promised. You’ll contact me if you can.” He gave another single nod.

He gasped. I looked at my watch, it was four minutes after four in the afternoon. Two minutes passed and he gasped again. It was six minutes after four. He gave one last gasp at four oh seven. I couldn’t feel a pulse. He wasn’t breathing. I had embraced death and survived. Not only did I survive, but I had assisted Mel in his transition to the next phase of his journey.

For years I have talked about a soul choice, meaning an unconscious choice of certain dying persons to die at a particular time or date. Everyone has heard about someone hanging on beyond doctors’ estimates until a relative or dear friend visits, or sometimes the person waits until their loved one/s leave the room, not wanting to subject their loved one/s to their death. Mel did have a soul choice. He died on March 11, 2013, also written 3.11.13 = 3+111+ 3 = 333. I have used 333 as part of my email address for several decades. It is a very important number to me. As a Pagan I love the number “3”, representing Maiden, Mother, Crone, and Pagans often refer to the Power of 3 times 3 which equals nine, the same as 3 + 3 + 3. Whenever I re-read this the last paragraph hits me in the face. It took Mel 3 minutes to die . . .

I went into the other room and told Xia that Mel had died. She went to Mel and as we looked down on his peaceful body, she mentioned that he probably wouldn’t want to leave the house in just a t-shirt and Depends. Mel was always particular about how he looked–chiding me for my jeans and t-shirt apparel. I agreed. We left his clean white t-shirt and recently replaced socks. I took off the Depends and put on new underwear. Together, we dressed him in clean black jeans. We both thought he looked his best in black. We straightened his body, resting his head on a pillow.

We waited together, with Mel, for the men from The Neptune Society. After filling out the paperwork at the dining room table, they wanted to see the room where he was to determine how to bring the stretcher in.

It was then, Xia told me later, that it hit her that Mel was really leaving and Spirit told her that Mel should be anointed by priestesses before he left with the men. She turned to me and asked, “Could we anoint him? I gratefully said, “YES!” I absolutely knew it was the right thing to do. She asked the Neptune representatives if we could have five or ten minutes with Mel before they took him away. They waited outside. They were very respectful. I went and got my bottle of myrrh oil and handed it to Xia.

I don’t remember all of what she said as I lay on the bed, my arm around my husband of the past forty-six years, but she used the myrrh oil to anoint him, calling him, “Sweet son of the Goddess.” She prayed to the Mother to receive Her son into Her loving embrace. We were priestesses to this part of Mel’s journey.

As the Neptune men placed Mel on the stretcher, I picked up our dog, Pepper, in order for both of us to say a goodbye. The men placed a flag over his body to honor his service to the country in the Army. Xia and I (carrying Pepper, who would now be my only daily companion) followed Mel out to the street, waited as they placed him in the hearse, then watched as they drove away.

Xia told me later of “the honor, as a priestess, to share this blessed journey with you and your beloved.”

By the way, Mel did contact me. I went to the grocery store the next day, Tuesday. I drove home a different route than I normally take, one past a gas station which showed the price of gas to be $4.07, the exact time of his death. That same day Xia received a call on her cell phone from a number she didn’t recognize: area code 407. She didn’t answer it. It turns out that area code 407 is Florida, serving among other cities, Kissimmee.

Friday in my morning prayers I prayed, as usual, to Pachamama, my personal Goddess, to give me strength. In my head I distinctly heard the following, “Strength comes with purpose.” Not only did Mel contact me, but the Goddess did too.

The monthly anniversary of Mel’s death, April 11th, as I segued from sleep to wakefulness, I distinctly heard the brass bell ding four times. I had put it on the tv tray beside Mel’s bed. I had trouble hearing him call for me, so he had used the bell to signal me from the other room.

Mel fulfilled his promise to me. He contacted me from across the rainbow bridge, not once, but several times. I believe, if at all possible, he will continue contacting me. Once, while I was driving my car and thinking about this, I had a thought. I’m not sure if it was my thought or I received a message from outside. A conversation is not one-sided. I have, and intend to continue, contacting, talking with Mel.

I listen and watch the world around me. The past, the present, the future, this world, and the next are interwoven. I soon went to a lecture and learned that the Ancient Egyptians believed this too. When they lit a wick in an alabaster lamp which was carved with a lily pad–symbolic of Creation, they were creating the Universe anew, at the beginning of time and in the present, conjointly. I just need to be aware, be conscious of every moment. Live in the present. Love in the present.

I am crying as I write this, but I’m not grieving. Grieving stops one’s forward momentum. I cry in sorrow. If I could wish him back, it would be selfish. After Mel’s death I read Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander. He had a seven day Near Death Experience. The book re-enforced my thoughts about the After-Life. What one experiences depends a lot on the philosophy of the individual experiencing it. I believe he is in such a glorious place in his journey that we cannot imagine. But still, I miss him so much.

“Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.” -Helen Keller

We are all blind.
I love you Mel.
Both of us are on new paths of our journeys.
Bon Voyage.

I had a frustrating day on Friday, April 26th. I had to call Social Security and tell them that I could not find our marriage certificate in order to complete their claim form. It was also the first day that I had taken off Mel’s wedding ring in order to have a massage which I sorely needed (I had slipped the ring from his finger directly onto my right middle finger while Xia had been anointing him). I arrived home at 7:30 pm from having dinner with Xia (after the righteous massage) and saw the telephone answering device blinking. I punched the listen button and heard the machine say, “You have received one new call at 3:33 pm.” There was no one on the recording, not even static, not even a hang up.

On May 11th, one of the Temple families came to my house to celebrate Mothers’ Day with me. CandyJo, Ernie, and their daughter Essence and son Prophet. They had graciously given me the privilege of attending the birth of Prophet in December 2010. I have been given the gift of being present and aiding a new life to come through the doorway into this marvelous world. I have also been given the gift of being present and aiding a precious life exit through that same doorway. I now realize that the door to life and death is the same doorway.

I must tell you of one more communication (gift) that flowed from Mel to me. Because CandyJo and Ernie were running late on the 11th, I turned on the tv to pass the time. The tv was already set to channel 2. It was one hour into a three hour show of PBR bull-riding. This is the only sport I love to watch. Mel would often spot it in the line-up and tell me about it, or record it for me as a surprise. Thank you Mel.

I don’t know how long Mel will be able to communicate with me. But with an open heart and an open mind, I am patiently waiting.

This is not the end.

This article can be found on the web at: http://templeofthegoddess.org/Newsletters/may2013-supp.htm