Janey

Janey was a bird, a Society Finch to be exact. They are very small, not weighing more than a few ounces. I bought her as a companion for one of our male finches. They are particularly social, and Society Finches get along with anyone. White, brown and black, they do not have gorgeous plumage, but are gregarious and live to be with other birds.

Not many people bother naming their finches, they are very small, not noisy like parakeets or larger parrots, and seem to have little personality. This is actually not true, they’re quite expressive, and all have very definite preferences and behaviors. They have cliquey friendships, birds they don’t like or are best buds with, and have favorite foods and toys.  Janey was exceptional from the start. She was a helper bird. If the others were upset, or not feeling well, Janey was always right there. She was very “touchy,” she would perch next to them very closely, with their whole bodies touching, like a hug. Finches are like that, but Janey always made sure that she was there when the others needed her.

Animals pick us for a reason to live their lives with us. They’re here to teach us, or to learn something themselves. She was my little “nurse bird.” She was always the sweetest bird of all of them, and calmer than the rest. There was Henry, the boss, a brown Spice Finch, a little standoffish, but clearly the leader. What he said was law, access to the best food, cage space, priority in the nest, who groomed who. When I took him out of the cage, he would growl and then bite me. Pretty funny when you consider how small he was, but he always left a mark. And a ferocious, growling finch is something you have to witness once in your life, it’s hilarious.

There was Henry’s son, Sam, who was a bigger jerk than his father, I always imagined him a bit like Johnny Bravo, so full of himself, sort of a smart aleck, with the ego of Mussolini. Then there was Grace, his mother. She was absolutely gorgeous, and really did remind us of Grace Kelly. She was pure white and a rich brown, but she really did remind you of a patrician blond. She and Janey were best buddies. I later acquired Audrey, a Zebra Finch, whose big brown eyes reminded us of Audrey Hepburn. She was a rabble-rouser, as most Zebras are. She’d get into fights and scream at the other birds, she was quite competitive and dominating. Oddly, when Henry died, she went into mourning, wouldn’t eat or drink, and followed him into the Light within a week. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen up to that point, and I have had pets all my life.

Janey was exceptionally intelligent. The others always responded with fear to anything, while after a minute of two, Janey would be over to investigate. She loved figuring things out. She figured out new food items first and played with the new toys before anyone else. She loved taking a bath under a dripping ice cube on hot days, while the others would be avoiding it like it was approaching death.

But mostly, she responded when you talked to her. She would come over to the side of the cage, tilt her head and look at you closely. She always listened intently, with so much knowing in her eyes.

Finches groom each other, as a sign of friendship, to show their level in the hierarchy, and out of boredom. You’d think that finches don’t think about much, their brains are probably no bigger than your fingernail, but they would get bored. I always tried to provide them with enough toys and games and treats, but being in a cage all the time is not a natural state for a bird. We have a large aviary, and forays into freedom usually ended in disaster, with them either hiding under beds, sitting up on a window perch at the top of our cathedral ceilings, or flying into the walls. Henry was responsible–he was an escape artist–for my broken wrist, trying to get him down from one of those window ledges. He was a very expensive bird, I have a metal plate in my wrist because of him. And finding a bird the size of one of your fingers can get interesting in a large house.

So when they got bored, they would groom excessively. Janey, being the helpful bird she was, would let the others strip her down to the skin. I’d get up and there would be Janey, sporting a new Mohawk or a naked stripe down her back. I would separate her periodically into a small “hospital” cage, and let her get some peace, and grow her feathers back. I’d put her back in with the others, and in a day, they’ve have her picked clean again. It was her sympathetic nature, she had a very big heart, and would let them do it. In contrast, Grace would lose her temper occasionally, and even Henry learned that an angry Grace was not someone you wanted to mess with–she’d attack him and pull all his tail feathers out so he couldn’t fly.

I even got Janey another mate, a younger male named Simon. But even Simon learned that you could easily pick on Janey, so sweet and complacent, and she’d be denuded again. This was not good for her mental health. Pretty soon, she had picked a hole in her back herself, in response to the abuse. Broken skin on a bird, particularly one so small, can be lethal very quickly, and is nearly impossible to come back from. Think about an itching healing spot on yourself, it’s hard not to scratch it. I immediately separated her into a smaller cage, but I knew the outlook wasn’t good.

Back to the point of this blog, I had wanted to improve my animal communication skills for a long time, I could hear what they were saying in my mind in general terms, but nothing specific. I could tell that Janey was interested, and was trying to tell me something. She was too interested when I tried to talk to her. I was also asking for Divine help with her, she was a favorite, and I couldn’t bear to part with her yet, but I knew this was quite serious. I found an herbal spray that I could prepare to spray on her to reduce the irritation, and to a degree, it worked. I asked her at one point to stay, I couldn’t lose her yet. I thought I felt an answer from her;

I will stay for you, Mama, a little while longer, I love you. But I want to be with the other birds.”

            I felt a mixture of emotions from her, wanting to stay, yet missing the other birds,  conflicted by love for me.  But I doubted the answer; I look back on it now, and realize that I was overthinking it, as usual. I could feel how much she missed her friends Henry and Grace.   Time went on, she got better, her feathers grew back, so I put her back in with Simon. They got along well, but Simon started getting a little too enthusiastic about grooming again. I asked again in meditation for help with Janey, and I got an answer.

“If you want her to survive, then put her in a cage by herself.” It was one of my guides well known as a healer, Princess Yellow Feather. She sounded a bit unimpressed, when I thought about it later. At the time, I didn’t care, I just didn’t want to lose Janey yet. So I did as recommended, I put her in a cage by herself. She did very well, over a month or so, her feathers grew back, and she looked beautiful. She was happy, for a time.

About a month later, though, I noticed that she had pulled all of her tail feathers out again. And she wasn’t eating any of her seed mix, just her favorite, millet seed. She grew quieter. She would still come over to the side of the cage to listen to me, but she seemed more withdrawn. One day I noticed that she was a bit puffed up, and sitting on top of her nest. I asked her to stay again, this time I got no answer, or rather, one I didn’t want to face.

The next day I was out doing errands, with my mind occupied with something else entirely, and I got a rush of emotion, and saw Janey on her perch, with all her friends in Spirit behind her. I could see Henry, Grace and several of the others, all chattering and flying about.

Mama, please let me go, please. I want to go home and be with the other birds.” I knew immediately that enough was enough.

“Of course, Janey, go on. Mama loves you.”

“Thank you, Mama, I love you…”

When I returned home, Janey had passed away. She was lying in her food dish, her eyes closed as if napping. She had such a loving, compassionate heart, human beings rarely leave such a legacy. She was a lesson unto herself, size does not dictate the size of the love a being can carry, and give away.

But there was also another lesson. I was expecting more “language,” for lack of a better term, when asking for better communication with my birds. What I got was emotion, with very complex meaning packed in it. That she was a master of love and caring, I have no doubt, Janey could have taught many people how to be better humans. But what I also got–again!–was that one must let go of the outcomes when doing healing work, or communicating with others–the answers may come in many forms. Letting go for me has always been difficult, even as long as I’ve done this work.

She knew I didn’t want her to go, but it came to the point where she needed to move on, she wanted to be with her friends again. What a huge lesson from a beautiful little soul.

So long, little one.  I’ll see you.

Janey

Janey, Sam, Henry and Grace

 

           

 

From Here to There

A few weeks ago, we were in New York City, the kaleidoscopic queen of all cities.  At last she seems to have recovered from that awful day, now close to 16 years ago.  This was not the first time I’d been back; but it was the first time that her lightening-paced ebullient energy was evident again.  In my past trips, her residents were still wounded, obsessing about the past.  Passing conversations, still traumatized, books about the falling towers read by subway riders, for them, the awful loop of those images had not passed.  The ghosts of that day still wandered the streets.

Not this time, her swagger is showing again.  One thing has changed, though, the Lady in the harbor still holds her lamp aloft not only for the living, but for also for those who passed through another golden door so many years ago.  The quiet pools near Battery Park whispering gently of those who have passed is a perfect memorial.  Nearly 3000 people died that day; yet it was also the largest rescue achieved up to that time, and beyond, 15,000 people were successfully evacuated from the buildings before they fell.  The robust new World Trade Center now speaks to the future–we have passed the test.  Americans are tough critters.

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Not long after 9/11/01, I was in a healing session with a client, both of us were grieving and obsessed with the events of the past weeks.  I had a vision while working on her, it involved her as well, as you will see.  I became aware of them again as I walked the WTC Memorial.  Their voices were not silent.

We face another test now, two families; A poet, well-versed in the human soul, once said:

“From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”

It is an old tale, one that we as humans have not yet grown past its dark absurdity.  We now wield the power to create that ball of slag, and we have no place to go from here.  Each of us has our own to add to heal the rift, however unorthodox, and so we are being called.  So as I was in meditation this morning, again, they made themselves known to me, all 2997 of them.  I saw the multi-colored balloons and golden towers, and heard their collective voices again, but now with a sense of urgency.  “Speak,” they said.  And so I will.

Here is the story of that vision from so long ago.

Here to There

This story is about dying, to be sure, but perhaps from a longer perspective. We must face the possibility as a species as well as individually. In between birth, death and immortality, there is the washing and the ironing, isn’t there?

Three weeks after September 11th, 2001, I was about to begin a Reiki session on a client who is a first generation Japanese-American, Carol Yamasaki. All of us were still pretty much shell-shocked, Carol and I had talked about this before we began the session. The burning images of the collapsing towers kept looping in our collective mind, I could feel it. From my experience nothing happens in a vacuum, cause and effect is unavoidable, but there are times when you are definitely reminded you were not named supervisor of the Universe any time recently. That was the only answer I had for her, there weren’t any guarantees that we would ever find out why this had happened.

A healing session begins by the practitioner taking a few minutes to relax and focus and I was having a hard time doing this. I was going to have to find a way to let these images go, at least temporarily. As I asked to connect to that energy that allows me to do my work, I also asked for some way of putting in perspective what we had all just seen and heard, and seemingly lost.

Immediately I heard a voice say very compassionately but detached, resonant, clear,

‘This doesn’t matter, you know.’ Aside from feeling shock at being spoken to directly, my response was immediate.

‘What do you mean, this doesn’t matter, thousands of people died in that attack, are you crazy? Of course it matters!’ I heard the voice again.

‘Not to them, it doesn’t. Most of them didn’t even realize what happened. It only hurt for a second, they’re all fine now.’

‘Well, it matters to their relatives then!’ I had been haunted by the thought of how many people had no resolution, no visit from the police, no body, no nothing. Their loved ones just never came home.

‘More understand than you think.’

Ascending into another level, I again saw the images of the falling towers, but this time they were pure white rimmed in gold, they gleamed in the sun as they fell. The buildings were a chrysalis, a sacred place, a place of accelerated evolutionary motion. There were millions upon millions of souls watching as the buildings crumbled. The building occupants changed form and just simply stepped out and joined their companions in spirit. It was a joyous meeting, a celebration, multi-colored balloons and confetti flying into the starlit expanse and crowds cheering in welcome, they had come home a hard and fast road. The images were shifting so rapidly, I had no time to be amazed.

The scene flipped, I was now myself out in the enormity of space. The Sun and his mighty train of followers, the planets were all laid out before me on the black velvet of limitless space marked with the twinkling of the living stars. It brought tears to my eyes, it was so beautiful, I realized with a rush of joy, this is our home.

But something marred the view, I became aware of a horrible stench, it was choking me. I was reminded sharply of a smell that I used to chance upon when I was working as an EMT. When there is a very bad car accident, particularly if one or more of the cars have burned, there is an odor at the scene that is very distinctive. The smell is of burning oil, radiator coolant, rubber, plastic, blood, and one more thing, if there were occupants trapped in the burning vehicles, the smell of burning meat. It is a very penetrating odor, it stays with your clothes your hair, your mouth, you never forget as long as you live. It didn’t make any sense at first, but I could smell that now, out in the boundless expanse of space.

The Earth was outside of my field of vision, but as I slowly came around the sun and my perspective widened, a brown marble, streaked with black and pockmarked slag came into view. It was still slowly spinning, but the day and the night now fell on it without meaning. The bitterness of the burnt-out fire was in my mouth and I fought the realization that this was the source of the stench. I nearly vomited from despair when the realization hit me that this was the Earth. My heart and mind were slapped into complete silence. I heard the voice again.

‘This is what you can do to yourselves in 17 minutes. This is not a given, this is only one road. These people gave up their lives so that you could understand that you have another choice. You can do this, or you can choose to understand that you are all in this together. It is up to you.’

The scene flipped back to the two towers in white and gold and the souls who had just left it, whom I knew now, had done what they did knowingly on some level to change that line of possibilities. But this time, a rather short Japanese man, was standing next to the towers. He gesticulated to the buildings and then to me rather impatiently, and then he spoke.

‘This is what these were designed for, this was their purpose, to change our path,’ he said.

Now I was confused, who was this man? He looked sort of like my client, Carol. There the vision ended, and I came back to the room where she was lying on the table waiting for me. I told her what I had seen, described the little Japanese gentleman and asked her if she knew who he was. She bolted upright on the table, her eyes wide and her face pale.

‘That was my father, Minori Yamasaki. He designed the World Trade Center Towers.’

We were both stunned. All I know is that human nature being what it is, we rarely learn the lesson easily or remember it for long. It may get worse before it gets better, but perhaps a longer view may be in order. We have a Winter so Spring can come.

Namaste’

The Mirrored Candle

All laid before me in an instant and all time was now.   Suddenly I was everything, from the tiniest grain of sand to within the molecules of the birth of stars. I could see everything, the Earth and its flora and fauna, man and woman, as we developed on this planet, our history, the great wars, from spears and arrows to the boom of artillery and the mushroom of mass destruction, even the evolution of life in other systems. I was not only observing these things but I also was those events, and those animals and peoples. Cycle after cycle presented itself, souls coming in and going out of the dance. There was no emotion attached to any of it, except the hum of the Universe, the sound it makes, which is a song that goes on forever; a limitless place where everything, every time, is now.

A pure energy runs through all things. Death and life are an innate part of it; there is no thing outside of this energy. It is beyond love and hate. There is no fear; that is nowhere outside of ourselves, an illusion that we have constructed. Fear is based on the concept that we are limited and we have not, and that has no meaning, because we are made up of the very material that the stars are made of, all falls under the lens of our intention.

I watched planets as they spun off gargantuan suns, bits of molten metal, saw peoples and histories on foreign planets rise and fall, explosions of stars, watched as far away galaxies were born, danced in awe and joy as the pattern of all things revealed itself.  An endless Moebius strip, looping on itself, no beginning and no ending.

I thought of all the people I knew, those I loved and those I thought had opposed me, and in that instant I was seeing from their perspective. I saw their lives, past and present, like an overlay, faces and lives and timelines diverging and converging. It’s a strange thing to witness, all the things we are. But in that moment I developed real empathy, for I saw the fear and the isolation that we all labor under everyday. It is the idea that we walk this life separate and alone, and that we each knock on the final door of death by ourselves. That is the illusion; none of these things are real. The matrix that binds us is one fabric; there is no “other.” It’s all one thing, no one or thing is outside of this vast array of experiences known as life, it’s all there for the asking. Those who had opposed me had done so out of the mistaken idea that I had the power to take something away from them, or they wanted something they thought I had. In All That Is, that idea has no meaning.

I thought of other worlds, and as I’ve said before, in the world of thought and energy, the moment you think it, there you are. Instantly I was in another physical dimension on a planet very far away.   If there were laws of gravity, that’s not how I would have explained them. There was no “up” or “down,” it was only “here.” I became aware that I was in the presence of a creature half my height; the basis of their physical matrix, I think, was silicon rather than carbon, it resembled something vaguely out of Dr. Seuss. I didn’t want to be rude, but I was trying hard not to laugh. I thought he was very funny-looking, he was sort of a pastel-green and rather pudgy, but I knew I must have looked just as funny to this little creature.

We spoke wordlessly, or rather because we were of the same matrix and were each other, we knew instantly; pure communication, no ego, no masks, no dust thrown in the eyes, just authentic connection. We almost never get that here, but it’s as comfortable as a pair of old shoes. They know everything about you and you know everything about them, and it’s all fine, pure acceptance. I saw a soul like mine, the same lessons and the same path, just a different context.

You mustn’t get the idea that this was all drama and seriousness, I was as thrilled and happy as a kid on roller blades, zooming around, the Universe is pure music and laughter, you can’t help but join in. You don’t have to take lessons to learn how to fly, you are born knowing.

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Many years ago I had a vision of talking to Jesus. I had been raised Catholic but I had gone through a period when I started down this path of questioning my handed-down beliefs. I was starting over from the beginning at this point. I am truly a skeptic. Years before this vision, though, I had been at a retreat and I had considered the question, ‘Who was this Jesus, and why had he come here?’ Well, the Universe will always answer your questions; you just have to be open to the answer.

One of my first visions came in a meditation at a retreat. In it, I saw a man in white walking towards me. His energy was tremendous, radiating all around him, but very gentle, all in white-gold. Still, I had a hard time believing he was who I suspected he was. I look back on it now and think that it was screamingly obvious; I just couldn’t believe he had come through for me.

‘Uh…who…who are you???’ I asked. I was stuttering, I was so freaked out.

‘Who do you think I am?’ The man smiled.

‘Are you Jesus?’

He smiled again and said nothing, and then to use a terrible cliché, I got blinded by the Light. Emanating from this being was the most intense energy, light and love that I had ever experienced. When you are at that level of energy, physical boundaries become meaningless, and I felt myself merging with him and All That Is. There was no such thing as other, it was all One. I was not ready for such love and connection yet, so I panicked. I felt I was losing who I was in the onslaught.

‘Stop, I can’t handle it!’ He pulled his energy back immediately.

‘OK, he said, still smiling gently.

‘Thanks…thanks, I…thank you, I just can’t handle that level of energy yet.’ I felt ridiculous for refusing.

‘OK, you…you are…him…’ I couldn’t even say his name.

‘I am always here…

‘OK…thanks.’ I avoided looking at him, I wasn’t too sure I was comfortable with the idea of seeing Jesus, either. This vision had really scared me. He slowly faded out before me, but I thought about it for a long time afterwards.

So now we come forward again to this out-of-body experience. I was now eager to finish the interaction that had begun so long ago; there was something I had missed and I wanted to find out what it was.

The closest I can come to describing what I was feeling is the joy of experiencing music, only multiplied a million times over, with nothing between you and forever. Star formations, black holes, thousands upon thousands of galaxies, colors with no names, sounds, tones like the largest pipe organ you will ever hear, it went on with no limit. Everything is resonant and harmonized and seems to work perfectly together, although not in the way you would expect. It is the blending of creation born of chaos.

No sooner had I thought of finishing the meeting with ‘that person’, than immediately I again shifted perspective. I was now hanging above a planet in a solar system very far away. It looked like Jupiter, huge, red, gas-covered, rotating slowly and majestically around a fiery sun, hanging in space, although I knew somehow that it was a million galaxies away from Earth. The backdrop of stars on blue velvet hung behind it, but the constellations were completely different from the ones we know here.

Up to now, I had perceived myself as looking like I do now, a woman from Earth, small, but still human in form. Now, instead of this woman, I was pure energy, a huge ball of white light edged in gold, and I realized that it was my true nature. To be your true essence is like no other feeling, it’s like coming home. Another ball of white light hung near me. Again, this tremendous level of loving energy flooded me, merging us together. This time I recognized immediately who it was and didn’t fight it. We merged into two personalities with one consciousness.

Then immediately like lightning striking, I got it. I started laughing, and he laughed with me. All That Is sparkled and danced at the sound.

‘You get it now, don’t you? He said.

‘Yes. I get it now.

Years ago, back in the forties, there was a comic strip called Pogo, about a little fox-like creature who was environmentally conscious long before it was fashionable. In one strip, Pogo took a famous quote from a World War I general and turned it around for his own purposes. The general had said it after winning a battle, the name and the general now long forgotten. What he said was “We have seen the enemy, and we have won.” In an ironic twist of words, Pogo, referring to our misuse of the Earth and its resources, said, “ We have seen the enemy and it is us.” What came to me was the reason for our existence, why and where God is, all of this.   I was laughing now because it was so obvious; it’s right in front of our noses.

‘I have seen divinity, and it is us. I replied, I could hardly even think, I was laughing so hard. Tears of laughter flew off like sparks. There was no difference; him, us, everything, it was all the same, and all of this, this magnificent, real illusion, had been created solely for us.

His energy sobered down, and he became serious.

‘You have to go back, you know.

‘I don’t want to go. I have never said anything so heartfelt in my whole life. This was where my true nature lives, where we all live. I thought about what he was asking me to do.

‘You promised.

‘I know. Somehow I knew that I had made that promise. Later when I looked back on it, I realized that I had really been given a choice as to whether I wanted to come back, so the closest description to this vision would be of sort of a near-death experience.

My perspective never quite went back to the way it was before, although there’s always more work to do. I don’t think we’re ever done if we’re still here. But this is the question, this is it, the canvas we’ve been given, to create, to love, to be here now, to find out that the reflection in the mirror is really us. Are you there in your life? It’s for you.


 

Seeing Beyond the Veil

My uncle, a week before he passed at 100 years of age, saw his father coming to to take him home.  His caregiver, Ed, told me in heavily accented English of the dream that woke my uncle, and Ed also with his yelling, in the middle of the night.  He was pointing at the ceiling, and babbling about his father, whom clearly he could see, but no one else.

From my own experience, I was not surprised at this; when someone is really getting ready to pass over, that is one of the hallmarks, they see their loved ones in spirit coming for them.  I can feel them, and see them as well.  When the room is full, then I know it’s time.

Neither of these phenomena, the appearance of their loved ones in Spirit, nor my ability to sense them, are unique.  The first of these has been documented, and quite a bit.  You can find it in the medical/nursing literature–several papers I referred to in my dissertation (Betty, LS, 2006; Brayne S et al, 2006) cataloged rough percentages–30-70%–of people dying in hospice who experienced this.  More significantly, CNN made note of it as well in the documentary, Do the dead greet the dying?  It doesn’t appear to be talked about much.

Many insist that it is the paroxysms of the dying or drugged mind that creates such visions.  Perhaps–but many occur weeks before death when the person is in relative comfort and quite lucid.  But if they are real–and I confess to believing as much, then what a comfort that could be upon our last journey?

P1050658How I know is part of what I do, and that is not uncommon either.  All mediums have some means of perceiving the dead.  It took a while to open the channel, and then get familiar with such contact–but it’s much like being a doctor or engineer, it’s part of my job–a part of my professional toolkit.  I am not an isolated case, there are many others that do this.  One I can think is Rosemary Altea, who wrote The Eagle and the Rose.  There are other beliefs and sites that talk about it, NWSpiritism is just one of them.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, upon her deathbed, asked a student about what they thought about the dead visiting the dying.  His student replied that it was only the dying brain producing comforting hallucinations.  She looked at him and sighed, “It will come with maturity.”

Perhaps at some point we also, with maturity, will see beyond the veil.

The Anatomy of Death: Notes from a Healer’s Casebook

The Anatomy of Death: Notes from a Healer’s Casebook

So then, finally, my book has been published on Amazon!  It has easily taken a decade to do this, and the moment is here.Blog_cover  I am thrilled that this has finally come to fulfillment.  The origins of this book began over 30 years ago, at the death of my father.  He chose to die at home, and his ending was horrible.  Here, in the most technologically advanced society that has ever been, that someone had to die like this was beyond me.  I made a promise to him then, that I would find out everything I could about this process, for the betterment of all of us.

So began this search; it led me to graduate school, to work with the dying, to research, and to collate my notes into my dissertation, and then this book.  We are so afraid of this process–we no longer have the ministrations and trappings of religion to guide us.  In some ways this was a good thing, because we are now required to look for those guidelines within ourselves.  But sometimes it’s a bad thing–or at least it causes more anxiety–to not have looked for guidelines as to what happens after death. Because when we then arrive at its door, without preparation, the fear overwhelms us.  There is no need for that.

Can I say with certainty what happens after death?  No.  But do other cultures and belief systems have much to say on the matter?  Yes, they do.  Have I had personal experience in altered states of consciousness with the dying that may help us?  I think so, I hope so, I pray so.  Many still die in abject pain and fear, and their caregivers have no way to help them.  Here, I hope to present one way.  To think about what you believe, and put it into practice.

What we choose to believe is indeed our choice.  We can choose to believe that’s there’s nothing after this, and our energy dissipates to nothing, or we can choose to believe that we go on from here.  Not a single person living can say one belief is better than another.  But I can tell you this, when one does believe that we go on from here, it becomes much easier to accept passing, and to come to terms with the end of life.  Science does not, and cannot answer these questions.  Perhaps it will someday, but not now.  So in the meantime, why not choose what way seems best to you, and allows you to live this moment to its best, and to face what all of us must ultimately accept in humility.

“Dust though art, and to dust, thou shalt return.”

I will add one thing to that; to shed the dusty shell allows one to mount wings and fly.

Laugh at Last, Robin

While clinical depression was a topic that I never intended to talk about here, it’s already come up once, and with the passing of Robin Williams yesterday by his own hand, I feel compelled to speak again. Those of us that have been there are members of a secret cadre that speak of it almost never in public, it can impact your relationships, your employment, your health insurance, everything, with devastating effect. A few of us have recovered, and it can still be a day-to-day thing, you’re always watchful for changes in eating or sleeping habits, and if you had a good therapist, their phone number is still in your contact list.

Robin Williams was one of my favorites, as he was for so many. He could render you speechless with laughter, yet to me, he ultimately appeared as terribly fragile. The incandescent ones–their midnights can be deep indeed. And where there is despair, there is no god and no tomorrow. Those who have not been beaten down by its mighty fist cannot imagine what this is like.

There are still many mysteries involved with this illness, why it happens, how to treat it, if it can be treated effectively over the long term at all. Since I know little of the circumstances, I can’t say anything as to the cause of his illness, although I do know from personal experience that alcohol exacerbates its effects.

Robin-WilliamsCertainly it’s a matter of a neurotransmitter imbalance, but recent research is suggesting that it may be a bit more complicated than that. If it were that simple, then just prescribing the correct antidepressant (that’s a battle in itself) would correct the issue.  But the most recent research is indicating that the causes are multifactorial, with everything from family dynamics to baseline interactional skills playing into the mix.

“A nut is a suicide whose rope broke.” Most of us who have been caught in this trap have either strongly considered ending it, or have tried to kill ourselves.  Some of us, the lucky ones, got stopped by someone near to us, a professional or a friend or family member, or even by fate. The really unlucky ones tried and half-way succeeded, those are the truly horrifying cases.  They are trapped in a twilight that lasts for decades until their deaths from medical complications.  The brain-injured, the anoxic-damaged and the crippled. Robin Williams finally turned away at last, looking to escape the unrelenting hammer, and there was no one present to stop him. A friend of mine who works in mental health told me this once long ago, “We have few tools, most of the time it’s just a waiting game of keeping them safe from themselves, and hoping they find some ray of light to grab onto, despite all of our drugs and locked-door institutions.”

When I worked as an EMT long ago, attending a suicide was always a dismal affair.  Even if it wasn’t a mess from a gunshot wound, say like a drug overdose or a carbon monoxide poisoning, a heavy pall of despair always accompanied the scene.  Someone had turned away and walked through that door, seeing no hope.  Many of us are just feet away from that door.

Despite my aspirations of spiritual evolution and cultural maturation for all of us, I’m not so foolish to think we’re all going to get there by a straight-line, ascending horizon of understanding, as Gadamer might say. It’s still a perilous trip, all sweetness and light all the time is a myth, and only true in advertising.

I hope that the “stink” of mental illness can be lessened by better awareness, but it’s going to be a long, slow climb.  Getting thrown under the bus here, particularly when you look basically unscathed, is a hard hole to climb out of.  Some never make it.

I like to think that Christopher Reeves was waiting for him when he crossed the threshold, and that God is now enjoying an impromptu improv show.

Godspeed, Robin, Laugh at Last.

The Dissertation Defense Boogie(man)

OK, so I’m done, done, done.  I defended my dissertation and walked in graduation the next day.  It’s PhD now.  It’s kind of like childbirth–later you don’t remember much.  My committee said I did fine, I don’t know, I wasn’t there.  As in, I was there physically, answered their questions to their satisfaction, and don’t remember anything else.

I have to say, I had a great committee, brilliant, committed, compassionate people who would have made the Marquis de Sade proud (just kidding).  I got pushed right into the corner, and then driven right over the wall.  Revisions were intense, times when your brain rebels about thinking of anything harder than where the bed, fridge and bathroom are, and yet forced to think creatively in that moment in spite of your exhaustion.

Here’s the thing about these gigs–medical school internships are based on the same principle–can you think responsibly, creatively and with insight when you are so tired you can hardly stand up and your mind metaphorically pukes at the thought of producing one more word, or making one more decision? Yes, yes, you can.

So, onward and upward.  The book that the dissertation is based on will come soon and will be available on Amazon; The Anatomy of Death: Notes from a Healer’s Casebook, ebook and hard copy.  It is a collection of stories of people I worked with as a medical intuitive as they were dying, and the things that I learned from them.  It is a place we will all be at the end of our lives here.