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Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.

Monday, January 7, 2013

January 8th Challenge: Ponder Your Mortality

Ready for something a little meatier?  It's Tuesday; the weekend past already a distant memory and the one ahead so far away.  As long as we are in the doldrums, let's dive in.
As the title suggests, today's challenge is not for the faint of heart. Or perhaps it is EXACTLY for that.  Who knows when yours will beat for the last time?
On Being host Krista Tippet noted there's something interesting about mortality: "It's not at all special but it is something that we manage to avoid an awareness of, especially in Western culture". 
Annie, late September 2012
And it's on my mind tonight, as I prepare a memorial for a friend.  Anne was one of the liveliest, most loving, most joyful persons I have known.  The picture you see was taken only five weeks before she died of pancreatic cancer, and 3 months after she completed that half-marathon in the other picture.    That September day we did yoga, sang, strolled the beach, laughed heartily, made art.  She led the group of us in a Qi Gong session.  We talked about what she was facing.  We knew logically she was dying-- the cancer had spread to her liver, and she'd been told medical treatments were useless by then.  Yet it was still unimaginable that such force, such aliveness, could be so in the world and then-- leave.  She made peace with it.  She died as she had lived, full of light and love.

What is the point of considering our time here to be finite?  There are many. We can examine how we spend our days, and remembering they are numbered, choose more clearly where our energy goes. We can appreciate the richness of the present moment. 
proud mama, proud son-- Half Marathon, Smashed It!
It's a heavy topic, I know.  It's also a common denominator to all of our stories.

Possible ways to meet today's challenge:
Write your own obituary.   Extra credit:  write two.  One as if you died tomorrow, and one as if you died years from now.  What's the difference in where your energy was focused?  What do you have left to accomplish?  What do you want to be less important in your future story than in your present one?
Plan your preferred funeral.  Cremation?  Burial?  Urn, or spreading of ashes? 
Where ?  What form and focus would you like your last party to take?  How would you envision friend and family participating?  How will the setting, the readings, the songs add to easing the journey and help heal the grieving?
Make your bucket list.  What do you want to do with the rest of your life?
Obtain and complete a Living Will or Advanced Medical Directive.  Then make sure someone (or several) you know and trust have a copy.  There are difficult questions in there:  do you want your life prolonged at any cost?  Would you prefer to halt medical treatment that only delays your death but does not enhance your life?
we miss Darrell's details and yet his work is his legacy 

Aim for a little immortality.  Donate blood.  Register as an organ donor.  If you've got money, arrange that some of it goes to a public land trust, library, spiritual or educational center, or other institution you support.
Maybe you could do this with the support and creative juice of others.  Find a quiet place you and fill out those directives together.

Other ideas?
PS we love you so, sweet Annie. Thank you for all your inspirations and belly laughs.  Thank you for teaching us about life and death.  You still shine.

Quote of the day:  “It is necessary to meditate early, and often, on the art of dying to succeed later in doing it properly just once.”  ~Umberto Eco
Song of the day, against my daughter's wishes-- she apparently does not like these guys, but I love this song and especially this backyard version.


Shelly S. said...

This one is tough, as it should be. Recently read an article about author George Saunders in which he pondered the idea of " conduct (ing) our lives with the kind of openness that sometimes comes with proximity to death"

Or, as some would put it, to Wake Up.

SO, ok, this challenge might take more than a day but here goes.

And - I love those guys and particularly that song

eric a-b said...

OK. I'll dare to tread on this soon and see what happens. reading Rilke again now so that may help. love all that you are doing here.

Kiesa said...

My dear friend David died in December, and I carried his ashes home to his family in Kansas. Today, his pickup truck got sent home. I stepped up into the cab of the truck, before it left. His hooded sweatshirt was there, and it smelled wonderful, like the outdoors and sunshine and fresh air -- like David. His favorite treats, raspberry lemonade and gummy worms, were on the passenger seat. I saw that raspberry lemonade, unopened and there; he'd taken care of himself, you know? He'd remembered to get the little treats. And I stepped back and fell backwards out of the truck cab onto the ground, and I said, "It was an accident." He was so young and so full of heart, like another son to me, only 22. And I wished, once again, that I'd seen his smile, just one more time. There is no death, you know, only a change of worlds, as Chief Seattle said. Death's taken my father, my youngest aunt, my best friend, a cousin, all my grandparents, great-grandparents, great-aunts. The love lasts. But oh, today I sat in the cab of David's truck, the last place he ever was before he wasn't anywhere here any more, and today I missed him, so very much. Thanks for asking about mortality today.

Jana Svoboda, LCSW said...

That Saunders article is fantastic. Will figure how to work it into an uncoming blog.
If it takes all our life to get to our death, spending more than a day on its contemplation seems reasonable.
Eric, love you mightily.
Kiesa, this story was very touching. Thank you for your openness.

BoggyWoggy said...

So, that book you gave me, you know, the one titled "The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom?" You remember, right? Well, I skipped the first 7 gates and went right for the gusto by reading the 8th gate: "The Gold Gate." Yeah, that's right. I decided to just hit the gate that may be considered the toughest to pass. You know what? It's actually the easiest, as, well, there is no option. The other gates provide options for living and if one is fully aligned, those gates will come naturally and will provide a wholesome quality of living. For me, as a woman out-of-alignment, those gates (Silver, White Picket, Clay, Black-and-White, Rustic, Bone, and Natural) require work and planning and focus. I am certain, as I continue to age, I will develop an identifiable wisdom, but for now, I am still a premature soul and the passing through of these gates may age me a bit. That last gate, however, the gate of non-attachment, surrender, and letting go...anyone can do it. I cannot imagine one would go out of this life kicking, screaming, avoiding the requirements for passing. It is the only gate which offers the guarantee of unconditional love. If I were to write my own obituary today, it might read only, "She lived a full life, even though out of alignment for most of it. However, in the end, she learned to befriend death and prepare for its inevitable arrival...and she did it with grace."