Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: death

East of the Mountains: New Read

“East of the Mountains” by David Guterson is my neglected book. This poor book didn’t get a “first impressions” post, I didn’t even take a picture of it. I thought I did, but nope. I started reading it on August 17 and my first notes were, “I’m not liking this. Too sad and lonely.” And then, “Pages of memories, just nostalgia.” By page 108 I had almost had it, “Romantic and sentimental. Barf.”

East of the Mountains book cover.

Why am I so averse to sappy memories and sob stories? I get it! You’re dying. You’re old and have a lifetime of memories! Blah!

Other people’s sadness, pain, “What’s the point of all this?!” feeling, is something I steer clear of. I don’t deal with my own very well and I guess I just don’t know what to do with theirs. I’m not one to break down and tell my story through anguished tears. I hate sympathy. When I do, because I just can’t carry it anymore, I feel like an ass. I’m embarrassed and ashamed of myself. Reading stories like this…ugg…

So why did I finish it? I don’t know. I had to know how it ended, I guess. Where was he going with all this? I’m still not sure.

The story-telling devices he used were interesting. I don’t want to give it away too much, but he makes a plan to kill himself instead of suffering through his last months of cancer. In the process, he has some “adventures” that give him a chance to look back on his life and make some discoveries. I liked how that was done. I got to know him, but I still never really liked him.

“East of the Mountains,” reminded me of something that has come up over the years, especially recently. We have a very strange relationship with death. We live as if it isn’t coming, as if, somehow, we can avoid it. It’s a tragedy when it comes along, a complete surprise. We have no rituals, no philosophy that helps lead us to our end and deal with it gracefully, not for our own end or the end of those we love around us.

But the truth is, we will all die. No one gets out. Some of us leave this world sooner than others. And not one of us knows what will happen when we close our eyes forever.

We do know what happens to us when someone we love dies before us though, and I think that bothers me more. When I worry about my own death, I’m more concerned with how my family will go on without me, not that they won’t be able to take care of themselves. I know they can and will. I’m more worried about them being sad and not being able to cope with it. We’ve even talked about it several times.

Do you talk about death? Do you make plans about what you’ll do when your end comes? This seems to be the best way to deal with it. We drag that monster out from the darkness and lay it out before us. Suddenly, it’s not as scary as it was. Sure, we still can’t know what happens after we die, but we can deal with the reality of what will happen right here with the ones left behind.

The main character in this book was concerned that he would be a burden to his children as he died, and that triggered some memories of conversations I have had with my grandpa and my mom. I don’t understand that thinking. I look at it this way. When I was born, I was a burden, a big one. We all are. It took nearly twenty years for me to become less of a burden and take care of myself. Through all of that, my parents were there. What kind of an ass would I be not to return that care at the end of their lives?

This is where I start to look at our culture and wonder what happened. Where are the things that bring us together in a family? Where are the traditions that help us move through the stages of our lives and those of others? I used to be one that poo-poo’d traditions and rituals. Who needs a graduation, a wedding, a baby shower, a funeral, etc.? They had become only reasons to spend massive amounts of money on stuff we don’t need. But now I wonder. What if they didn’t used to be? What if that’s what we’ve reduced them to?

People complain about the lack of participation in national affairs and community, but I believe that it started with a lack of participation in family affairs. I’m guilty of it myself, but I believe our culture has evolved into this and created these circumstances. We don’t get married and have children, take care of those children, with the help of our extended family, help our grandparents as they get old and be there when they die. Our children live and grow up in institutions with other children. The adults live in the working world with other adults. The old live in retirement homes with other old people, to live out the rest of their lives and most likely die alone. We’ve separated ourselves into sections that no one moves between, and I think we’re starting to feel the effects of that.

A lack of empathy and understanding that started in our homes is now moving into the community and the nation. The lack of family bonds has evolved into a lack of community involvement. We don’t have time to know our children, to take care of our parents, let alone even know our neighbors. Besides, we have social media to keep up with what they are doing, why do I need to spend time with them in person?

In “East of the Mountains,” Ben, the main character in this story, is attempting to go off and die on his own so that his family doesn’t have to carry the burden of caring for him as he dies. On the way, he begins to see (I hope) why that is so wrong. My thoughts on reading this swirl around memories of my grandma’s Sylvia’s death, my grandpa Ray’s decline into dementia, and the trauma in our family resulting in differing opinions about how to deal with it.

Maybe it’s just me getting old, but I’m starting to think that maybe family is far more important than our culture leads us to believe. In the end, and at the beginning, it’s all we have to hold on to. If we can’t, we’re lost.

Have you read “East of the Mountains” by David Guterson? I’d love to hear what you thought of it. Let me know in the comments.

Hop over to my “Autobibliography” page to see my reading list. It’s not fun to read alone. Leave me a comment about your thoughts on any of these great books!

Death before Dishonor: A Logical Choice

Socrates is faced with the choice of death before dishonor in his Apology. What would you choose? Why?

In Plato’s “The Apology of Socrates” he says, “For neither in war nor yet at law ought any man to use every way of escaping death. The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death.”

I read this in another post I wrote back in May of 2015, and it struck me once again how vitally important these words are to remember. There is no human on this planet that can escape death. It comes for us all. But, with effort, we do have a hope of escaping unrighteousness.

To force others into slavery so that you feel safer, to create laws and ordinances that trample the rights of others so that you may live another day, to encourage others to suffer with you as you struggle to survive, that is unrighteousness.

At the end of Apology, Socrates stands before those who will kill for teaching what he believes is right and he feels sorry for them. Death is an unavoidable event, but unrighteousness? He chooses to stay his course.

His choices were death or to live in exile the rest of his life knowing that he compromised his beliefs. There are two things that could happen to him after death: non-existence, a perfect sleep, forever without worry, or an afterlife with those that had died before him, chatting it up with the heroes and philosophers of old.

He chose death.

Death before dishonor is a logical choice and I hope that will choose the same.

All Characters Are Important to the Story

All characters are important quote from the book on a desert background.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that you just can’t subtract a human from the story, no matter how hard you try. Even death doesn’t do that.”

The Library of the Unwritten by A.J. Hackwith

In fiction and reality,
all characters are important to the story.

Yes, even the minor ones, the angels and demons, the good guys and bad guys. Everyone leaves a mark on your life, moves the story along, or simply creates depth to a moment in time.

My grandfather died. He was 86. Dementia took nearly ten years to fully claim his mind and he had been living in a memory care facility for the past year. So…to many of us…he was already gone. To those closest to him physically, his caregivers and my Mom, he was still a main character and his loss is strongly felt. To some of his family, he had faded into the background of their story long ago. And to others, he had been deleted completely, or so they think.

This quote reminded me of him and many other characters in my own life story, all of which are important and can’t be subtracted, even those I really wish could be. The cruel teacher from elementary school, the mean girl in junior high, the abusive boyfriend; heaven knows I’ve tried to erase those memories. Even if I were successful in erasing the memory of an event, I would still feel its effect on my life, like the way we “see” a blackhole in space. The event isn’t seen, it’s felt. To ignore that feeling, those clues, and continue your journey is a recipe for disaster.

The people in our past, the choices we’ve made, the opportunities we’ve taken or let pass, those memories aren’t all we have.

We have the imprint of those things on our life story. If we subtract people or events from our lives, the story is inconsistent. When we try to effectively work our way through the life we have today, we can feel like pages are missing. Things just don’t make sense. It’s extremely difficult, I’d say impossible, to work through a story with missing chapters or characters; to complete a puzzle with missing pieces.

He’s been gone from my daily life for many years now, but I still miss my Pop, more so now that he is physically missing from the world.

My grandfather was a major character in my life story, one of my biggest influencers growing up.

The older I get, the more I see him in myself. We both suffer from anxiety, a deep need to control the world around us, not to be in charge or the boss, but to make things easier for ourselves and hopefully the people in our lives. Our response to the overwhelming stress of trying to control outcomes typically results in anger and frustration, sometimes violence. We both feel things deeply and are known for our passionate responses. From the awe of a beautiful garden or majestic scene to the love of our families, from the excitement of a new experience to the frustration of dealing with troubles, neither of us has moderate feelings, only big, sometimes scary ones. In my case, I’m told that it’s part of my charm. In my Pop’s case, it was a demerit against him. I guess it just depends on who is judging, whether you are a positive or negative, a major or minor character in their story.

Characters, humans, cannot be subtracted from your story.

When you try to do so, you leave holes big and small. Holes are a mess to work around. A story with characters, paragraphs, chapters, or pages missing does nothing for anyone. Leave the bad parts, the rough parts, and the scary parts right where you can see and use them. Those people are part of you. For better or for worse, they made you who you are today.


Want to read this book? You can find it at Amazon HERE.
Want to read more quotes from this book?

Will We Lose Ourselves in the Virtual Reality?
Anxiety: The Lies My Brain Tells Me
Would You Want to Come Back for a Day?
Do We Have the Ability to Change the Meaning of Our Life Story?

Yes, We’re ALL Going to Die…Eventually, And Some Sooner Than Others

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“Memento Mori – Remember death,” the Stoics say, “for tomorrow is promised to no one.”

Death is always lurking nearby, no matter your health or situation. It matters not where or when you live. We all die.

Death does not discriminate. It comes but once for all of us and it’s distinct for each individual, like the proverbial fingerprint or snowflake. Each of us perceives the experience in our own way, and all of us face it alone.

Your feelings about death, your own and of others, are no more valid than anyone else’s, regardless of risk.

It sounds so gloomy, but is it?

“Remember Death” means to remember life.

Go and live today. Love as much as possible. Fully experience this life and share that experience with others; the ups and the downs, the boring and the exciting. Let others experience your version of this world.

For tomorrow we die and all that will be left is the memory of our existence.

Make it a good one.

All of Life is One Long Story

It’s an old story. The fates spinning their yarn and cutting off pieces. We tell yarns by the fireside, fantastic stories about people and places. Life is one continuous story, with no beginning or end, only chapters.

Wool is an amazing thing. Thousands of tiny strands are woven into one long piece of yarn. Each fuzzy piece is brushed and lined up with others. As it’s twisted, each piece reaches out to the ones next to it and bonds to the next, and the next. It can go on forever if you kept feeding it.

Watching a video showing how wool yarn is made reminded me of this quote from Orson Wells, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”

Humanity just keeps stretching out over time like one long piece of yarn. Each new human is added to the spindle and it touches the lives next to it and the next, going on into the future. Only in fiction or history books does a story start and end. We create it in our minds. This is the story of X and it starts here with this and ends here with that. It’s up to us whether or not the story has a happy ending.

Reality, or at least the reality that we perceive, doesn’t work that way. Life is one long story, never-starting and never-ending, a chicken or the egg thing. With every event that happens in this world we can ask, “What happened before that?” and “What happened after that?”

I used to believe my Grandmother’s story had a tragic ending until I zoomed out to see the bigger picture and found that her story never really ended at all.

My Grandma was the center of our family, the key to all our gatherings until suddenly she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her health faded quickly and within a few months, she was gone. She was 70 years old. I don’t think any of had ever even begun to think she could be leaving us any time soon. It was a big shock to our whole family. A shock that, 15 years later, we’re all still recovering from in some way.

Did her story have a tragic end? Only if you end it there, but you’d be creating that ending, manufacturing it in your mind. In reality, her story is still being told. It’s being told in how her family reacted to her death and how her children and grandchildren adjusted without her physical presence. It’s still being told in family photos, holidays where we talk about her, and how we all, including her great-grandchildren, still feel the effects of her presence in our lives.

And if you zoom out, she is simply another small piece of wool in the yarn being spun, a thread in a tapestry that continues to be woven. We all are. We all die but no matter how far we zoom out, the picture never ends. No matter how far we zoom in, we keep seeing more of the details that make up our universe.

When things seem scary and overwhelming, I like to imagine zooming the lens out and make those things smaller, tiny details in an otherwise beautiful story. Suddenly, I’m not so worried.

My belief, my hope really, is that when we die, when we leave this physical world, we can zoom out even farther and see an even bigger, more glorious picture than we can imagine from this perspective. Life is one long story, each new human, each event, creates new color, texture, and depth.

In East of the Mountains by by David Guterson, I felt like he also had this closed story sense of himself, as if he wasn’t a part of the bigger picture.

Warning: Changes Are Ahead

What is the purpose of the yellow light at a traffic signal? There are two classic schools of thought, right?

“Go real fast!”
and
“Slow down!”

Honestly, though, the yellow light is a warning that a red light is imminent? What you do with that information depends on a lot of things; your personality, where you’re headed and why, how far from the light you are, etc.

The purpose of a yellow light is to warn you that things are about to change. It’s to prevent you from being surprised by a hard stop. If you’re paying attention, you won’t have to slam on the brakes at the last moment. If you’re close to the intersection, you’ll hurry up to get through and not be in the intersection when cross traffic gets there.

I think we get a yellow light in our lives from time to time as well. If we’re paying attention, we’ll get a warning that things are about to change suddenly and, hopefully, make some decisions based on our own needs and desires.

We meet people that change our lives for worse or for better. We get test results that make us think about the future and start plans. Our bodies slow down, ache and take longer to recover, making us realize that the ultimate red light may be just around the corner, prompting us to do the things we’ve wanted to do or say the things we need to say.

Don’t let the red light take you by surprise. Pay attention to your surroundings and the road ahead. See the warnings, not as a hindrance or a burden, but a reminder that we don’t have all the time in the world. Create the thing, go see the place, repair the relationship. There’s so much to do.

Study Doesn’t Make You Fearless

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Photo by Bram. on Unsplash

I’ve uttered it myself.

“There are a lot of smart people that believe…”

“Smarter people than me have studied this and they believe…”

But something occurred to me this morning. Intelligence and study alone do not free anyone from fear.

Humans are naturally fearful. It’s what has kept us alive in the past. We’re born into this world terrified. Screaming and afraid, we are comforted by those that are tasked with caring for us. From the people around us, we slowly and steadily learn that there is some love and safety in this world, hopefully. We learn about friends, puppies, tacos, and Disneyland.

Fear is still our instinct and what we learn about this world helps us navigate it safely. Things do come along to change our minds though. We thought that person was safe but learned otherwise. We thought we could trust that doctor. We thought cookies were a great breakfast. We learn as we go.

The biggest fear is something that happens to every single one of us, death and what comes after. We can speculate, but we cannot know for sure and that generates a metric crap-ton of fear. In response, we grab on to ideas, religions, spiritual guidance, and study the past thinkers as much as we possibly can. Once we get an idea that soothes us, we hold it in a death grip (pun intended).

We can’t abolish fear from our lives, but we can be aware of it and how it affects our thinking. I don’t know what will happen. I can’t know. Instead of holding on to my imaginary life raft, I let it go and live the experience. I talk to others. I love all I can. I accept other people’s points of view as theirs alone.

I personally find comfort in knowing deep down that I’m not alone, there is no one on earth that knows for sure what will happen. Instead of hiding from fear, I acknowledge it.

“There you are fear. How are you doing today? Do you need a cookie? Let’s go for a walk together.”

What Are Dreams Anyway?

I’ve always been a very vivid dreamer, but last night really took the cake. It’s been a long time since anyone had to wake me up because I was thrashing or crying in my sleep. Last night, even after my husband shook me awake and turned on the light, I continued to cry. Every time I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep, the images returned and my sobs continued. After a few minutes, I decided to get up and get a drink of water but when I came into the kitchen, where my dream was, it hit me again. I sat on the floor and sobbed for a few more minutes. It’s been a long, long time since a dream has held me that long.

I’d been dreaming about arguing with my son and his girlfriend. She had brought more friends over late in the evening and I really didn’t want all those people in my house. I just wanted to be alone, but when I told them to leave they couldn’t because it was pouring rain and the road was flooded.
When we came back into the kitchen, my Grandma was there. She was just standing there in the kitchen in a white shirt and pants, not smiling, not looking at anything. I looked at my husband who was standing next to me as if to ask if he saw her. When I looked back at her, she didn’t move or say anything. She looked more like she didn’t know she was there.

I reached out to touch her and could feel her. That’s when I fell to my knees in front of her and put my arms around her waist, like I did when I was little. I buried my face in her body and smelled her and started to cry. Nothing was said, just felt. I missed her so much. I wanted her to come back.
That’s when my husband shook me awake.

This morning, when I walked into the kitchen for my coffee, it flooded over me again. I pushed it away and went to my corner of the couch to read. Every time I think back on it I feel that sob rise in my throat and tears stream down my face.

My Grandma was a big part of my life growing up. The cookie giver, the keeper of secrets, the holiday maker. We lived with her and my Grandpa on and off growing up. And in college, I spent a lot of time with her watching Star Trek and hockey games on TV. We didn’t always agree and we did have some pretty heated arguments, but at the bottom of it all was her love for me. I never doubted that she would always be on my side in the end.
In 2006, she suddenly passed away from Pancreatic Cancer. It felt as if one week she was fine and the next we were all gathered in her home, watching her slip away. I cannot imagine what she went through, and I cannot even fathom what my Grandpa must have felt having to stand by and helplessly watch. I was sad to lose her too soon, but not overwhelmed with grief. I remember feeling guilty about that. I remember sitting beside her and holding her hand, feeling her small frailness in my own rough hands. I remember talking to her cheerfully about what her Great-Grandsons were up to, how much they were growing. And I remember her last day, telling her how much I loved her and that she need not worry about us, that we would all be ok, that we’d take care of each other just like she would, and that we’d all see her again soon on the other side with Jesus. I believed that with my whole heart and still do, so I have never mourned her loss. I have always felt as if she had gone on a long trip that I couldn’t go on yet and that we’ll be reunited some day. There is nothing to be sad about.

What I have mourned is what has happened to my family since she passed on. It’s so strange. What I once thought was a tight knit extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins has fractured into a million pieces, as if we were all held together by her quiet strength and courage alone. We haven’t been the same since that day and that is what I feel I lost.

I have never before had such a vivid dream of my maternal Grandmother. In life, she was small, seemingly quiet and unimposing. She was the kind of woman that told you exactly how she felt about things and what she believed was right, without stepping on toes. It was so sweet the way she told you what was what that you wanted to comply because…well…she said so. I’ve never met anyone like her and suddenly I miss her more than I ever have.
Dreaming of her standing there in my kitchen with my family has shaken me. What was it? Why was she there? Was it a warning? Was she trying to tell me something I needed to know? Was she trying to wake me up to something I didn’t know was missing? Why does our subconscious work this way?

And the most upsetting part for me is that I wrote this yesterday and reading it over today, I still can’t hold back the tears.


For my readers, if you find this story touching or relevant to you in any way, please like and share. I hate to beg, but the only way my words can spread to others is by your social media efforts. Thanks for your help!

Metaphysical Shit

I had a few moments of clarity yesterday while I was talking to a friend online. I thought I’d take it and write something a bit more cohesive, but I really liked my train of thought and wanted to share it as is.

I can’t imagine our loved ones who have passed away, living on “the other side” aware of all our bullshit, passing their time waiting for us to arrive. I refuse.

I imagine that when we die we join the bigger meaning of time as a whole, so we can see all of it at once and understand as God does. We are moving in time, so we can’t fully understand what is going on. We make ourselves nuts trying. But when we die, we go to God (or step out of time).

Those that have gone before can see what we are, our whole lives, all at once. It’s comforting to me. They know what can, has, and will happen all at once and then we’re dead and join them at the same time. There is nothing hidden by the passage of time.

The “taking up into the air” that Jesus spoke of, in my opinion.

That’s the shit I sit and think about.

What next? We can’t really know. We are part of the physical, moving through time. We can’t see outside our own moment. We can’t really remember our physical past that clearly. How could we know the future?

Here’s where it gets even weirder.

You know why I think we are always trying to hold onto the past and plan out the future?

Because we are really are from something outside of time and space. Our soul knows it but our physical self is stuck and can’t see outside of it. I think Jesus knew something of the sort and tried to tell us but we keep putting it back into our physical frame of reference.

So…what to do with it? No idea. I keep trying to enjoy the physical world, love people, regardless of their shit, that “living in the moment” crap people talk about.

Jesus tried to tell us but telling humans what waits for them outside of their reality is like trying to explain what color is to a blind person. It’s impossible unless we use our imagination.

I feel like we missed the point of just about everything He said.

That whole “the grass is greener” thing? It just isn’t. We know that. The better job. The better house. The better anything. Forget it. Unless your life is really shit. But then, how can we ever really know? I go round and round.

Death and all that comes after is outside our understanding and frame of reference. No one can explain it. It has absolutely nothing to do with the life we have now. But then why was this life created? No idea. Can’t know that either, I guess.

What about being with those you love in heaven? Are we some kind of ant farm, or what?

Everything we understand now, like marriage, procreation, today, tomorrow, money, fairness, will be gone. We won’t care or we’ll understand what was actually going on and move on to something else.

I don’t think it’s as simple as comparing it to something we create, like a game or toy.

I believe we are created for something beyond what we can really experience where we are. I don’t know how or why. From my experience on this earth, I just feel it. Too many things make sense when you step back a bit and look at them honestly, too many things are connected and deeper than we first experience.

To me, it’s like this: You can’t explain color to a person blind from birth. He’ll take his imagination and try but he won’t really understand until he can see himself. That’s where we are. Blind. My hope, what I believe from all the spirituality crap I’ve read and tired to understand, is that when we leave this physical place, we’ll be able to see the reality of God, whatever that is.

For now, I keep loving what I have, opening my heart to hear more than words, using my imagination to wonder, and not holding on to anything too tightly because none of us gets out alive.

What’s the purpose? What would God make it so difficult to know Him or living so painful?

I don’t have answer to that. Anyone that does is selling something. I do know that when I began to quiet my mind, spend time meditating, praying, and learning to focus, things were clearer, just out of reach but clearer. I found acceptance of what is. That there is not happy with out sad. There is no joy without pain. They are two sides of the same coin.

Eight years on anti-anxiety medication taught me that part. When I was on them, I wasn’t sad anymore, but I wasn’t happy either. I was neutral. It was not a healthy place to be. There was no growth, nothing got better. It just stagnated.

And then this morning, I came across this in my morning reading:

From the book “Depression is a Choice” by A.B. Curtis: “Nathaniel Hawthorne, in The Marble Faun, posits that sorrow may be ‘merely an element of human education, through which we struggle to a higher and purer state than we could otherwise have attained.’ He suggests that we travel ‘in a circle, as all things heavenly and earthly do,’ in and out of sin and sorrow, and thus return to our original self ‘with an inestimable treasure of improvement won from an experience of pain…bringing a simple and imperfect nature to a point of feeling and intelligence which it could have reached under no other discipline.’”

That doesn’t give us license to inflict pain on others. That’s just cruelty. There are so many painful things in this world naturally without intentional cruelty. Making sure your child learns not to do something by inflicting pain, is not helpful. Helping your child through the natural pain of a choice is.

So here I sit, working through my own anxiety, trying to learn patience. It never ends…well..until you die. Or does it?

Sexy Vampires

20181115_134928I loved vampires as a teenager and well into my twenties. They were just so damn sexy. I read every book about them, watched every movie. I saw this book on the shelf at our used bookstore a week back and thought, yes…I need to revisit this one! I devored it.

It was still a pretty good story. I did very much get sucked (yep, I said it) into it. I brought the movie up on Netflix but only got about fifteen minutes into it before turning it off in disgust. I wasn’t happy with their choice of actors back then either.

I did get something interesting this time. I learned something about vampires. They’re dead. I know! You didn’t know that? Of course they are! But here’s the thing. Louis never let go of being alive, of being human. He thought he was ready to die. I guess they all thought that and eventually came to terms with it in one way or another, or died.

Vampires are dead. They are dead things and don’t change. They don’t grow. They don’t add to the living world. They only feed off the living to stay the same.

It’s tragic. How could we want that? We love vampires because they live forever, they have power over others. But at what cost? The fact that we die, that our time is limited, is what makes being human so wonderful. We have to spend our time wisely. We have to work to stay alive.

I’m not so in love with vampires any more. They aren’t half as sexy as they used to be. Maybe I’ve grown and left them behind.

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