Keeping current in wellness, in and out of the water
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To care for anyone at the end of life is a privilege and an honor. Not all people are in the circumstances to allow them to devote time to caring for family members. I cared for my parents when they had end of life issues. My brother lived far away and had a demanding job. He had no extra time or energy for our parents, and I did. The direct experience I gained by taking care of their health, assets, and welfare has given me insight into mortality. I was close to them as they passed into the next realm of existence. I felt the change as they slipped into that permanent state beyond life. They became a kind of distilled essence of all they thought, all they loved, and all they did. Their presence is still felt on earth, but their physical bodies have ceased to function. They are spirits.
Yesterday we said good bye to the earthly physical life of our beautiful coon hound, Artemisia. She was a wonderful, funny, friendly, loyal dog for almost 13 years. She had reached the end of her physical limits, but needed help to make her exit. She was at home for her vet-assisted end of life. Although our sorrow and loss are devastating now it was good to be with her and love her while she departed. Our home feels and sounds empty without the sweet howling welcome when we come home. This mourning will take time. To be alive without my hound today is very hard. Her spirit is teaching me to be grateful for all we shared, no regrets. She does not regret any of her time with us, and wishes us a happy life. I can feel her love as a permanent support and protection. She knows my love for her can never fade. She is unlocking mortality’s secret code for me.
She was cremated today and scattered under trees at the pet cemetery. Now she is a couple miles down the road to the east, and her grandparents are buried a couple of miles to the west of our home. She was close to her grandma, and acted as her therapy dog. I feel sure they are together now in some way. The gift in caregiving is understanding. The task of helping someone die well can be draining and frightening. There is nothing easy about it. The rewards are lasting and meaningful. I know this will come in handy when the time comes for me to die. My loyal hound will be there to guide my way.
“Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
“El Dorado” (essay)
Thanksgiving is a celebration of the travel, arrival, and survival of the Pilgrims. The Mayflower voyage in 1620 set the precedent for many more European travelers to venture across the Atlantic to the New World. Desire and curiosity are the two eyes, Robert Louis Stevenson says in this essay, of human nature. It took a great deal of both to decide to sail to America to practice religion. They had aspirations to convert the locals to their way of worship in the same way the Crusaders thought they needed to conquer the Holy Land. They were invaders who, like the Spanish Conquistadores, saw themselves as saviors rather than brutal destroyers of culture. The believed in the superiority of their own orthopraxy, and set about building a hierarchy to enforce religious orthodoxy as they saw fit.
All of us have built rigid obstacles into our lives without intending to do so. For many people nationalism contains beliefs that our own superior country is infallible. This creates national enemies of whom we know little, but are encouraged to conquer for the good of mankind. These beliefs enflame emotions and distract us from contentment. They also overshadow our own mortality and our individual mission and talent. We must follow our desire and curiosity to develop our skills while we are alive because our time as humans is limited. Our journey is individual because each of us creates our own version of El Dorado, the mythical place of great abundance. We also actively create our own hellish conditions, both real and imaginary. If you have traveled or had visitors from out of town during the holiday week you joined in a mutual vision of never-ending abundance. Some of you endured hardship on the journey, perhaps not like the Mayflower Pilgrims, but unpleasant nonetheless.
“There is only one wish realisable on the earth; only one thing that can be perfectly attained: Death. And from a variety of circumstances we have no one to tell us whether it be worth attaining.” Mr Stevenson concludes in his essay praising the pursuit of ultimate land of plenty.
A wishlist for travelers:
Bon Voyage, gentle readers. May your trip be merry and bright.
All Souls Day in the Catholic tradition is a time to honor and remember the dead. In native belief systems of the Americas death played a central part. Making fun of death, or mocking the fanciest parts of life have gone together forever, everywhere. In Basel Switzerland I saw a collection of art from the middle ages portraying the same dancing skeletons used in Mexico to show death as a fiesta. Being mindful of mortality is known as memento mori. Skulls and other reminders of the transience of life were used in churches and religious settings. Ancestors graves have been a place of reverence for almost all peoples. Art depicting death in a whimsical or dramatic way has been with us in many cultures around the world. To remember mortality is essential to living a full life.
If there are rituals in the entire culture that honor the souls of departed there is a continuity. Fear of of death is made comical when portrayed as the dance of death or the fancy dressed skeleton. The folly of amassing worldly goods seems obvious when the fiddler and the dancers have nothing but bones and clothing. In 1839 the possibility of capturing the image of a dead person became very popular. I have seen quite a few graves embellished with photos. Others use symbols. Have you ever given any thought to your own death, your own grave and epitaph?
Tucson celebrates All Souls Weekend in a mixed tech cultural expression of art and celebration. By building personal or community altars, by artful masquerade, and by watching or participating in the procession Tucsonans have the opportunity to bring mortality to life. Come on down to the Old Pueblo for an old time custom revived.