During our weekly Zoom call my dear mother said she read my post about our broken patio umbrella, and offered to buy me a new one. I could’ve explained to her that the warranty process is important, because I had spent $6 on the policy for the $49 umbrella, so goshdarnit, the warranty people were obligated to fix this problem. Her argument was that her girl just wants to sit outside comfortably for the last few weeks of her life (so buy another gd umbrella already), while my argument was that now is still a fine time to operate on principle. Principles, mother! But instead of carefully explaining my rigid logic in the face of her kind offer, I merely winced, shook my head, and changed the subject, in a superb display of 40-yo teenager.
Apparently, even after all this, I’m still learning how to receive, too. Meanwhile, John became a different sort of mama bear when he finally got on the phone with the warranty people and roared about how difficult they were making this process. I was shamelessly grateful for the privilege of having a straight white dissatisfied male husband, because I knew if even he couldn't get the attention of the Supervisor, no soul on this Earth ever would, and I could finally surrender to the disappointment of having a $6 warranty worth absolutely nothing.
My takeaway from this week? There are such diverse manifestations of true love.
Speaking of receiving, other noteworthy recent experiences include letting one friend give me a head massage, letting another give me a foot massage, and letting another wipe my runny nose and hold me as I mini-wept. All they required from me in each case was saying yes, yes, okay, yes. I accept.
With only two weeks of food, water, and appointments left, it’s hitting me that I don’t have much time. I’m quickly approaching the point where I need to create an auto reply on my email and put my inner people pleaser to rest. “But what if people take my non response to their messages personally? What if they think it means I don't care about them? What if they--gasp--decide they don’t actually like me after all?” The opportunities for working with one’s childhood stuff never ever end.
In the past few years, my favorite method for dealing with my free-range social anxiety at any given time is to delete 10-20% of my Facebook friends. I typically choose those who I don't actually know or haven’t heard from in a while. Unfriend, unfriend, unfriend. It’s a poor strategy though because unless someone is unapologetically racist or a vitriolic anti masker (unearthed courtesy of 2020), I usually end up regretting it. Like all good addictions/compulsions, it’s a control strategy with diminishing returns. My last purge-trance included over 200 mostly innocent souls and felt cathartic at the time, but was ultimately guilt-inducing. Plus, I’m pretty sure I now only have like 27 friends left, which is kind of embarrassing. And therefore increases my social anxiety.
What’s even more regrettable is that roughly half of my remaining friends are psychotherapists, which means I’m about to receive a bunch of PMs expressing concern. We then come full circle to the question of how I respond to more messages than I can handle. So it’s official, the universe does have a sense of humor after all.
The Serenity Prayer invites us to accept the things we cannot change, find the courage to change the things we can, and express the wisdom to know the difference. Here’s some of the things I cannot change: the past. Acquiring a disease for which there is no viable treatment. The momentum of my karma until this moment. The fact that Marjorie Taylor Greene walks this Earth the same time as I, and made it to Congress. Other people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, including whether they trust I value them even if I don’t always acknowledge their kind messages.
Here’s what I can change:
My responses to everything I cannot change. How much water I drink and slow breaths I take. Whether or not I choose to ask for help, or receive it when offered to me. How I redirect my mind when I want to catastrophize the state of the world, or my cat’s health, or running out of my favorite flavor of Coconut Bliss. Whether I feed my cynicism or feed my creativity. The conception of the God I pray to.
My gratitude list for today:
Portable fans on a hot day, and the electricity to run them. A 12-yo nephew who gives me hope for the future of humanity. My kind caregivers. My mother who taught me how to love houseplants and gift-giving, and my father who gave me good hand-eye coordination, a tender heart, and an ability to find religion in nature. Having clean water and sheets. The potential of fungi restoring this Earth someday. Monkeys who hug, and photographers who capture it.
*All individuals referenced in this post approve of this message.
Photo of monkey hug by rabe dirk wennigsen, pixabay
It’s Thursday afternoon, I told you all I’d write when I could, and I’m having a nice moment of clarity between my mind altering painkillers. So here’s what’s happening.
My caregiver Sharon is making deviled eggs, a food fit for the gods, which makes their name especially playful. It’s too hot to go outside so I’m sitting in front of the swamp cooler, combing through the twelve half-formed essays I’ve groaned over, wondering which one I could coax to life. Topics include, What to do when your planned life-ending fast will likely coincide with the first day of your period, when you reliably crave nothing except two burgers medium rare and a side of refrigerator? Who’s braver, those of us now choosing to leave the world of extreme weather events and Tucker Carlson, or those of you who stay? What do you do when you realize your abusive Buddhist teacher who was wrong about many things was right about ultimate reality being perfect and trustworthy? (My answer: relax.) And so on. Emily Dickinson told us to tell the truth but tell it slant, but finding a satisfying slant is the real trick.
Here’s what I know: my emotions---both joyful and painful---seem to be growing more labile by the day. This means I’m learning to perfect the mini-weep, because the maxi-weep is tiring and messy, especially when you require another human's hands to tend to your streaming face. Also, when I wake up in the middle of the night with my first ever panic attack, studying pictures of monkeys hugging each other is a surprisingly grounding activity. And, morphine induced nausea is a real bitch, and best avoided. And it’s okay to still have regular moments of un-profundity, even boredom, even now. If I’m metaphorically giving birth to what’s next, there’s still no shame in admitting a sudden nostalgic craving for Taco Bell. And asking my willing friend (similarly disciplined for years to noble “clean” food rules) to pick it up for me is an acceptable thing to do.
Most importantly, it’s true that you can know the goodness and rightness of a big life decision, and still deeply mourn what it requires you to let go of.
A close friend of mine from post-college days in Flagstaff died early this summer. She was ill with metastatic breast cancer for years and things were getting worse quickly, so I knew it was coming, yet still was unprepared for the Facebook post announcing her heart had finally stopped in the ICU. My insides turned to hot mush, and I shook with bewilderment. My love for her became a flooding river, and I was reminded while weeping that heartbreak is a visceral, somatic experience.
For two weeks I was glued to all the pictures and stories her loved ones posted online. I searched for her, I ached for her. I wanted to find her alive somehow, somewhere. Then one day I found her, floating next to me in our innertubes on a slow-moving river in my heart. Please bear with me. It sounds sappy and poetic but that’s literally what happened. She was holding my hand as we gently spun in circles together, giggling in her bubbly, infectious way, saying “hey mama, I’m right here. We’re always connected. You can meet me here anytime.” And I knew it was really her, it was truly real. She’s even closer to me now than ever before. And I haven’t cried over losing her since.
I know it’s rarely so simple or easy. I know if she had been in my life routinely instead of it being fifteen years since I last saw her, it would require something else entirely to make peace with the absence of her physical form, her voice, or her smile. But I believe there’s a maxim here that’s useful for those of us grieving: instead of just being a platitude, the dead do live on, and we can find them as long as we can rest in our own hearts and call them to us.
Or at least this is what I’m telling my people. One thing no one prepares you for until you join the Dying Club and get the How-To manual is the guilt you feel at having to leave your loved ones behind to face this wild world without you. So I want to tell everyone that in the death of this body, I’m not truly going anywhere. It’s just that 'Teri' has never been my true name, even if I will still answer to it. Like I believe for each one of us, I was temporarily masquerading as a river, but only ever truly belonged to the big sea.
Photo of innertube by Vicko Mozara on Unsplash
First published on Facebook, September 4.2021
My calendar for the next month has filled up quickly. Nearly every day is already spoken for with friends visiting, zoom chats with family, nurse appointments, hair washes from my CNA, massages with the hospice volunteer, or the occasional days I’ve blocked out for John alone. And then I scroll down to October 3rd, and suddenly there’s a bunch of white space. No wonder i have that anxious, excitable feeling like I’ve been strapped into a rollercoaster and it’s starting to click up the tracks.
Meanwhile, I’ve been engaging in a power trip with the customer service reps who should be helping honor my warranty for a broken patio umbrella. Before any of you kindly suggest that I should no longer have to deal with such mundane crap, please know 1) you’re likely right, and 2) I’m still not ready to fully surrender this hokey pokey between Earth and spirit. The human experience these days is filled with bureaucratic annoyance and I only have about 29 days or so left to enjoy it. There’s only so much relaxing and love-and-joy accepting I can metabolize each day, and getting a wee salty with email reps seems to be a fine way to use up nervous energy.
In other news, a friend wrote last week to say what struck her about my October plan is that it sounds like I have no fear of death. Since then I’ve wondered if this is true,. It feels true, but I also know the forces of repression, bypassing, and dissociation are strong and sneaky, and I’m just as susceptible as any other Jane.. Might my cranky exchange with the umbrella warranty people be a sideways expression of terror? Or maybe it’s grief talking? Or would all reasonable people get upset when corresponding with an insurance provider who appears incapable of opening an attachment!?
I think it’s understandable to be afraid of death, and skeptical of those who say they aren’t. Fear of death is normal. Who wouldn’t be afraid of leaving the light of the known world for the great dark mystery? On this side of the veil all we “see” of death while still living---if we physically see it at all in this death-hushed culture---is a dead body. There’s no animating force left. Someone is there, and then they’re not. You used to have conversations, and now you can’t.. And if you try to keep having conversations with the deceased, and feel you actually are getting answers, you best be careful who you confess it to; there’s still judgment aplenty out there for cross-corporeal communication.
In any case I’ve noticed most people who claim they don’t fear death are still very much alive. You Scorpios out there---I see you---are known for waxing romantic about the beauty of death, but I’ve noticed few have jumped on my suggestions to honor that attraction by volunteering for hospice. Why is that? I’m not here to start astro-rivalries though, many, many people speak with bravado about death while still holding her at a safe distance.
Yet there's a subset of people who genuinely have little fear of the transition---and indeed, call it a transition instead of merely an ending--- because they’ve had an exhilarating near-death experience or they’ve had undeniable contact with those who’ve passed. In the majority of cases these experiences simply can’t be written off as wishful thinking---they are often life changing. And those of us who prefer the easier, softer way, may have ingested enough entheogens (or other psychedelics) to claim embodied knowledge that consciousness itself cannot be destroyed. (My current best understanding is that the aperture surrounding it simply changes based on conditions of “light.”) If you try to argue with those of us who’ve witnessed as much, you won’t get far. It’s like we’ve had our own religious conversion, and materialist logic is a flimsy adversary to what we know in our bones.
But here’s the thing. Despite my trust that consciousness will survive the death of my body, it’s not as if I know where I’m going in the white space of my calendar. There’s no Fodor’s Travel Guide to the other side, and the glut of pastel-covered books in the spirituality/metaphysics sections, while sometimes compelling, are heavy in anecdote by necessity and often conflict wildly in message. Perhaps the other side of the veil is meant to be a mystery, it’s part of the design. If we could define and measure everything about Source /God/dess/HP/The Universe, I’m thinking it wouldn’t actually be very divine.
So I want permission to fear death. I want permission to feel everything and anything at the end of my life, without trying to hold myself to inhuman expectations. Grief, joy, heartbreak, tenderness, rage, lust, loneliness, despair, confusion, contentment.. The whole human shebang. Artists want access to the full color palette to express the nuance of their visions. Shouldn’t the dying/living be given the same freedom and dignity in their emotional lives? God save me from having to be “positive” all the time, because doing so only expresses terror and contempt for “negativity.” And it’s hard to be around someone unfailingly chipper. Like those who claim they never get annoyed with customer service reps. It’s suspicious.
Even if I know the roller coaster is safe, my stomach is still gonna drop during the fall. My loved ones can walk me straight to the edge of my calendar, and even if I trust there’s loved ones waiting on the other side of the blank space to catch me, i need to be willing to leap from one grasp to another. There’ll be a moment suspended in air, right? How could there not be? Sarah, my beloved nurse friend who’s coming to stay with us in October, tells me she’s never once seen a hospice patient dying who didn’t have a smile on their face or a profound air of peace surrounding them. Maybe it’s even easier than I think.
In either case, I’m sure the next few weeks will uncover much more. I’m trying to remember Ii have permission to feel everything. Everything! Until I’m no longer in human form, I want to welcome the full human experience, as messy as it can be, sans judgment. Annoyance at Allstate included. Nervous excitement included. Big love, big tears, and hopefully big laughter every day. Thanks so much friends for coming alongside for the ride---you all have really been showing up, and I’m so grateful for the good company.
Photo of woman leaping by Sammie Chaffin via Unsplash
I’ve fully intended to slip out of my soul sack without creating any more waves of controversy on social media, and while it’s a noble intention, it’s not one I can heed today. I woke up with that itchy heat of frustration, knowing people I love and respect keep making the decision to not get vaccinated, while few have legitimate medical excuses for doing so.
I used to be vaccine resistant too, especially in the distracted days of college and grad school when I relied heavily on social media for my sources of news. My ability to tell the difference between legitimate reporting and opinion articles dressed up with anecdote and misinformation was poor. I didn’t know that most sources pushing anti-vax content could be traced back to opportunistic alternative health gurus selling quack protocols or questionable products, or simply seeking notoriety and attention far outside their field of expertise. It’s embarrassing to admit, but true. And because I’d already benefited so much from vaccines, and never had to fear, oh, say, polio, for example, I thought they were unnecessary. “Just not my thing,” I’d say. “I’m good, thanks,” never bothering to consider the ableism and privilege I was exercising at others expense.
Now, as I’m staring down the chute of the last 4-5 weeks of my life, watching people i love and respect assume the same---because why else would you refuse a free, overwhelmingly safe, effective, lifesaving vaccine in a deadly pandemic ---- i must step away from my attempts to slip out of this plane without creating waves.
I too, once believed I was immune to having the impossible thing happen. (Covid is far from impossible, but bear with me please.) If someone had told me before I was given my rare terminal diagnosis that I was a candidate, I would have shrugged it off. “I’m too healthy,” I’d say. “I eat organic.” “I’m in great shape.” “I’m young.” “There’s not much a little apple cider vinegar, sunshine, and meditation can’t fix.” And I wouldn’t have said this next part out loud, but it’d be lurking behind my other rebuttals: “Life threatening illness is not in my life plan anytime soon. I’ve got important plans for the decades ahead. I’m clever/strong/resourced/blessed/spiritual enough to avoid it.” Or if i get it,”I’m clever/strong/resourced/blessed/spiritual enough to beat it.”
Good grief, the arrogance. The anti-clever, anti-spiritual arrogance.
Now I’m seeing reasonable people talk about their “autonomy” and their “rights”, and if I still had the arm strength to scratch my head, I would. We are dealing with a virus that has already killed 642k people in this country, and shows no signs of letting up soon. I’m sorry, but this is an unfathomable fucking tragedy. Those people had families and dreams for their future, and I bet largely assumed they, too, would be exempt.. Of the survivors, near thirty percent have lingering, long Covid symptoms that may continue who knows how long. Children are now being hospitalized at alarming rates, especially in areas with low vaccination.
Meanwhile, no one dares protest that laws for public health preventing them from driving drunk or running red lights Impede on their “rights” anymore. You don’t have rights in a civilized society to endanger other people’s lives. Period. And make no mistake. If you’re choosing to not get the shots , your decision is not personal. You will get covid if you haven’t already. It’s just that those of us who have the vaccine will not be the ones clogging the ICUs, taking up space, resources, and skilled attention of doctors and nurses away from people who didn’t choose their illnesses or accidents. We won’t be leaving our families with the complicated grief., guilt, and anger of knowing the whole mess could have been avoided with some shots that left us with a headache and sore arm for two days.
Please know, as an act of love, I’ll swiftly delete any YouTube conspiracy theories from the comments. Don’t bother mentioning ivermectin, or chlorine dioxide, or hydroxy-whatever (whatever happened to that miracle cure anyway?) It’s all BS. The only people we should be listening to right now are doctors and nurses exhausted from dealing with this for eighteen months, epidemiologists who actually know this stuff, legit journalists, and the hundreds of thousands of families in this country who have already lost someone to this wretched virus. They’re simply begging everyone to get the damn vaccine already. It’s very simple. Those that do can then rest easier knowing they’re no longer a threat to the public, their family, themselves, or our shared healthcare system.
I didn’t want to pull the terminal illness card. But I’ll rest in peace knowing I’ve said, don’t be so sure it won’t happen to you. If you’re unvaccinated and you already recovered fully from the virus, congratulations. I hope you haven’t unwittingly passed it on to others who weren’t so lucky. This isn’t about “rights.” It’s not only about you. It’s about being a decent human being who can recognize your own vulnerability, living among other vulnerable beings. I hope I don't lose friends from this post. I love you. But even worse would be losing friends from an entirely preventable illness.
Photo of wonder woman figure by Erika Wittlieb via Pixabay