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A Borrowed Blog: “It’s Time To Stop Avoiding Death: You can’t have the life you want without letting go of the life you have” by David Cates

I thank David Cates for permitting me to post this timely writing (original post March 30, 2020).

“It’s Time To Stop Avoiding Death: You can’t have the life you want without letting go of the life you have”

I’ve been stunned by how thoroughly a tiny virus, barely 0.0001″ across, has brought our human world screeching to a halt. In a few short months, on a global scale, it’s kicked over all the old bedrocks, nation by nation, and clearly revealed the dark, wriggly underworld hiding just out of sight.

That sense of unease we’ve had — about governments and politicians, scientists and institutions, economies built on hope and lies, nature gasping from our poisons, societies splintering into dry tinder — all that is laid bare. And in the deafening silence of shutdown, there’s nowhere else to look. The veil’s been lifted. The world’s turned upside down. The roots are rotten.

This is what we have become.

Some of us still sneak out to the streets; some pull the netflix covers over their eyes. But as the days wear on, in quarantine, we’re being forced to see our lives, our jobs, our relationships, and our selves without those layers of frantic busyness and protective gauze. Exposed. Naked, squinting at the sun, unsure who we are, uncertain what to do.

*

I’ve been meditating lately on the vast, hidden networks of nature: the mycelium, bacteria, microbiota and yes, the viruses. The original organisms from which complex lifeforms evolved, and likely, the ones who will take over again when humans disappear from this world, adapting to eat up our plastic pollution and radioactive waste, and more immediately, to compost our physical bodies as each of us dies.

Nature is a web, innumerable networks in constantly shifting yin/yang balance. Death is an essential element in that balance. Embracing death brings us back into harmony with the underlying game as it’s played in this world, at every scale, from insects to empires.

Resisting death puts us at odds with the whole natural order.

*

These past few years, I’ve been pulled down into an underworld initiation. I accompanied first my sister and then my mother through the final months of their lives, sitting with them as they took their last breaths. Death is ordinary, terrifying and beautiful all at once. It cracks our hearts open in a way that nothing else can.

So before this new virus appeared, I’d already made friends with the dark and wriggly worlds under those flipped-over rocks. My naked skin had goose-bumped in the cold shadows. I’d felt the grief pooling in my lungs, and seen the world strangely magnified through tears.

I may be a bit further along this path than some of you. But maybe not. For in the bright light of these revelation-times, many of us are showing our hidden battle scars and secret hurts, the ancestral wounds we carry, the loves we’ve lost — all the tiny deaths we’ve not yet mourned and celebrated.

Apocalypse: the uncovering. What happens when the Emperor has no clothes? What happens when I lose my job and social place? What happens when I’m locked in a house alone with my family? When we can’t get food or medicine? When one of us starts coughing? When my competent identity crumbles, and you see who I really am, underneath the facade?

*

I’ve been reluctant to speak these questions out loud.

Many people have reached out to me for soothing, for certainty, for reassurance that we’ll soon be back to normal. Uncharacteristically, I’ve been holding my tongue.

I don’t think we can go back to “normal”.

Forgetful as we human creatures are, I can’t unsee this revelation. On every level, from the meta and systemic to relational and personal, this is where we are now. In the midst of the sixth mass extinction, pounded by climate change, with 20,000 children dying of hunger every day.

Much of our generalized panic about this situation, I believe, is misplaced. We’re focused on personal human deaths, our own or our loved ones. But when I step back, relax my gaze and focus on the bigger pictures here, it’s clear what’s really dying.

Our old, “normal” world has been rotting on its deathbed for decades. That stench in my nostrils is not from a few thousand (or even, soon, a few million) human bodies.

The social order has already broken down, politics is lethal, and nature is drowning in poisons.

Underneath the rocks, below the foundations, the roots are rotten.

And everyone knows it.

Our avoidance of death hasn’t actually stopped our world from dying. It’s just left us delusional, little children with our eyes squeezed shut, fingers plugging our ears, tongues babbling nonononononono.

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has burst that dam of denial. It’s an equal opportunity killer, impacting every nation, rich and poor alike. No more bullshit. No more hiding.

Death is everywhere.

*

As we quarantine in place, isolated in our homes, the truth couldn’t be any plainer.

We can’t survive alone.

We’ve got to come together.

We’re social creatures, relying on each other for food, healing, touch, kindness, understanding, information, and a thousand other services.

Without others, we’re doomed.

And, as this current situation makes abundantly clear — as the virus passes from person to person, from hand to mouth to lungs — we’re also doomed with others.

Doomed if we do, and doomed if we don’t.

That’s the basic fact of life we have forgotten in our modern, go-go-go, scrambling-for-survival world.

Life is short. Death is certain.

Here it comes.

*

I’ve been short and ruthless with my closest friends and students. “I’ve made my peace with Death. You won’t find peace with this virus until you do, too.”

Certainly, protect yourselves and others in the ways that you can. Don’t be foolish. No need to race toward death.

But also don’t be foolish, thinking you can beat death forever.

Let’s take this precious time-out-of-time (while the world is holding its shocked breath, the rocks are kicked over and the curtain’s pulled back on the Wizard of Oz ) — and look deeply into why we’re all so terribly frightened of dying.

So frightened of dying that we’re willing to hide in our houses, let doctors and nurses do our dirty work without protective gear, abandon our grandparents to die alone in nursing homes.

So frightened of dying that we hand our power over to despots, and sacrifice a world worth living in together.

*

This is a moment of truth.

This tiny “enemy” we’re trying to defeat is just another face of Death. (Not to worry, Death has millions more.)

The entire natural world, for billions of years, has been an intricate, ever-changing dance of life and death. That’s the game here on this planet. We’re all just borrowing material from other lifeforms to make our own bodies. They dance together for a number of years, and then decay and are recycled.

It’s a beautiful system, when I surrender to it.

So many cells and atoms and microbes come together to support my personal creation! So many beings give themselves to feed and nourish me each day!

When I stop and really feel that gift, I’m overwhelmed with love and gratitude.

But rather than live with humble gratitude, and die with grace, we humans get selfish. Personally, relationally, economically, politically. We want to grab and hoard and hold on forever.

And in doing so, we miss the point. We may gain a few years, but we lose our hearts and souls.

We can see that clearly in the selfish 0.1% who hoard more wealth than they can ever use. We see the results of our collective greed as it kills off entire species and trashes the living biosphere.

We see that greed and fear strangle our own lives and relationships. Mememememememememe…

We may have separate bodies, but we’re not designed to live (or die) alone.

For better or worse, we’re part of an intricate, unimaginable, mysterious whole.

And when we turn away from Death, we lose our connection to that whole.

*

When my mother died, and the muscles in her face let go, her individual “personality” vanished: the twinkle in her eyes was gone, the way she smiled, the tilt of her head. But in their place, the bones revealed themselves, and in that distinct marble sculpture (the slope of the forehead, the thrust of the jaw) I saw her mother, and her mother’s mother, and her mother’s mother’s mother.

She was clearly part of something bigger, a temporary form borrowed for a handful of years, one face of a lineage that stretches back for millennia.

The rest was compost and ash, returned to the earth, gifts now available for other creatures to create their own turn in this world.

I want to be that let-go, that surrendered to everything: life, death, love, fear, all the beauty in this unfathomable mystery.

I want to enjoy my time in the sun, and then enjoy my time in the dark dreaming night. I want to remember my place in the whole.

*

All the best things in my life were unpredictable surprises. They came when I surrendered and let life take me somewhere new. New love, new work, new place in the world, sometimes even a new sense of self.

The trick, I believe, is not holding on to what life has already given me.

When my time comes, early or late, ugly or beautiful, I want to surrender again, and let death take me somewhere unfathomably new.

I wish the same grace for you: to turn toward apocalypse, curious, open, not knowing who you are, loving all that you’ve been given, maybe scared, maybe not… ready to let go of the old familiar world, and begin to assemble, from the strange scraps and compost and imaginal cells all around and inside you, something humble and connected and new.

Reach out to others. Share your heart, your joys and fears. Give your gifts. Connect to something bigger than yourself, human and more-than-human too.

Embrace the unknown. Be willing to die. A new world can’t come until we finally let go of this one.

We can let a tiny virus do the heavy lifting for us. We can wait for the next virus, and the next.

Or we can push through this birth canal together.

*

A few days before my mother died, when she was getting frustrated and frightened and losing her anchors to reality, I told her, “You’re doing such a great job, Mom! You’ve never tried to die before, and this is all new to you. I think you’re doing this perfectly.”

She smiled the most glorious little-girl smile, and content with herself, finally stopped fussing with the blankets and let go.

And as she died, she showed me that death is not the enemy here.

Death is a doorway to love.

In the same way that birth blows hearts open and changes lives forever, so does death.

Don’t turn away.

Don’t turn away from all that’s dying.

Face it, feel it, mourn it, grieve it.

Let it blow your heart open.

This is the doorway to a new world.

Here, in your lost and scared and grieving heart.

This is the opening.

We’ve never done this before.

But now the lights are on, and we can see where to begin.

 

Follow David Cates https://medium.com/@kauaidavid

View at Medium.com

 

View at Medium.com

 

 

Cari

Cari Looking to the Right (2)

I walk into Cari’s room. The lights

are dim and the TV is on. When she looks

up at me from her recliner, I notice she is

squinting.

“Oh. Migraine”, I say, keeping my

words to a minimum.

She sighs. “Yup”.

“Again”.

“Yup”.

“I’m sorry. I’ll be quick. I want to let you know a caregiver won’t be coming today, after all”.

“Oh. Who was on”?

“Liza”, I say.

And then I quietly leave the room, closing

the door gently behind me.

As I return to the living room, I reflect on our relationship. Cari and I met through a mutual friend. I had heard she had epilepsy, too, and I really wanted to know how she managed.

I had a lot of compassionate friends, but I knew it would be different if I met someone who dealt with the same issues that I did. I wanted to know: how did she cope? Did she have seizures often? What kind? Did she take meds? Were they under control?

We eventually got together and shared information, and shortly thereafter, became friends. The friendship turned into attraction and we fell in love. A year later, we exchanged vows in a wedding ceremony in our front yard.

When I knew we were falling in love, when I knew this was a relationship I wanted to pursue, I realized at some point we would need help (I had learned in the first few months of knowing her that she had other health challenges, including debilitating migraines, chronic sinusitis, and what eventually culminated in arthritis throughout her body, due to past injuries and years of playing sports. On top of that, she occasionally walked in her sleep!). At first, this help came from friends who were willing to step in when we were both down for the count, mostly to do needed errands. But I knew as we aged, we would need more assistance.

Evening is my favorite time of day, because it means that Cari will come out of her den and we’ll watch TV together for a couple of hours before the caregiver shows up for the night. One of our cats (Reggie) curls up between us as we watch our favorite programs. It’s family time for us.

I love this ritual. We may not talk much, but that doesn’t matter; her presence is really all I need. She gives me something that no one else can, because she understands what it is like to live with chronic conditions and because some of those conditions overlap.

Over the past 25 years, we have seen each other through seizures, pain, emotional ups and downs, struggles with doctors, changes in medications and even menopause. We have figured it out. We get each other. And that gives me incredible comfort, and that is what has kept us together.

There are times, though, when one of us becomes insecure and wonders: Am I too much for her?

Here’s my response when it’s she that feels this way:

 

My Rock

 

You are my rock

not my hard place.

I lean back on your

solid stone so I can

feel the sun on my

face and the breeze

on my skin.

You are an artist.

You take the pieces of me

that are broken

– shattered shards –

and make them into

stained glass

the light singing through

all of the colors

not leaving even one of them out.

Cari and Maluma Peaceful (2)

 

Movie Review

Movie: Away from Her – synopsis by Google Search

“Long married, Fiona (Julie Christie) and Grant (Gordon Pinsent) find their mutual devotion tested by her struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. When it becomes apparent that the condition is worsening, she checks into a rest home. Grant visits her a month later and finds that his wife has grown close to Aubrey (Michael Murphy), a fellow resident. Jealous and hurt, Grant finally seeks help from Aubrey’s wife (Olympia Dukakis) when Fiona suffers a crisis.

Release date: May 4, 2007 (USA), Director: Sarah Polley, Screenplay: Sarah Polley”, and David Wharnsby, editor

My observance: Julie Christie is extraordinary in this role. You can almost see the deterioration of the disease by the expressions on her face as her memories slip and slide away from her. Great acting

Love Matters

One day, my caregiver drives me to Ukiah – a half hour away – to go to the Social Security office. I anticipate a long wait, as I don’t have an appointment, but we get there early and only have to wait 15 minutes. When I go to the window to talk with someone, our exchange is even more brief.

I had planned to have lunch afterwards, but it is too early for that, and I don’t feel like going home. It occurs to me that I could visit Josephine, who has dementia and lives in one of the facilities in town. I tell my caregiver my idea and off we go.

I haven’t seen Josephine in a long time. I first met her in Massachusetts when I was 13 years old, about 50 years ago. She is the mother of my first boyfriend, Mark, who, long story short, ended up living with me and my family until he graduated high school. When Mark and I broke up a few years later, I ended up renting an apartment from her back east for a short time. Our families have interacted with each other over the years: Josephine bought land in the tiny town of Elk, CA, where my parents moved to, and Elizabeth, her daughter, moved there once a house was built. Josephine continued to live back east, but she came to visit Elizabeth often, and, while there, saw my parents too, and sometimes I’d make an appearance during these visits. Mark and I stayed in contact over the years and he would occasionally call my dad, whom he had made a strong connection with while living with us.

When my caregiver and I arrive at the facility, I start having doubts: Will she remember me? Why am I doing this?

Putting these questions aside, I go up to the front desk and ask the woman behind it if I can see Josephine Mitchell. She lets me know she’s in the middle of an exercise class, but it would probably be okay if she came out for a visit.

While I am waiting, I look around: The lobby looks clean and spacious, but what about the rest of the building? Does she share a room with others, and if so, how many? I don’t think Josephine had a lot of money, so I don’t know what she can afford.

In the midst of these thoughts she shows up in the hallway that leads to the lobby. I’m surprised at how young she looks. She doesn’t appear much older than the last time I saw her – probably 15 years ago. I approach her tentatively, not knowing how this is going to go. I have never been in this situation before and I don’t know how to act.

As I get nearer, I notice that, although physically she looks the same, there is something in her manner. Josephine always seemed sure of herself, confident and outspoken. Instead, the woman before me looks a little lost, a little frightened and as awkward as I feel. She has a small, uncertain smile on her face, which makes her seem young, almost innocent.

“Do you know who I am?”, I ask.

She shakes her head.

I explain my relationship with her, mentioning her son’s name. When all I get is a blank look, I add a little more: where we met, that I know her daughter, as well. But I can tell this doesn’t trigger any memories at all.

“Well”, I say, feeling foolish, “can I give you a hug”?

She shrugs and then gives a little nod as if to say, “I don’t have any idea who you are, but you seem like a nice person, so why not”?

And so, I give her a gentle hug and then we just stand there looking at each other, both of us unsure what to do next.

“Well, I guess you might as well go back to your class. It was great to see you”, I say, lamely.

When I leave, I continue to feel foolish. What was I thinking coming here? It meant nothing to her.

But, as the day wore on, I realized it meant something to me. I gave myself the gift of respecting my own memories that are still with me, as she edges towards death, leaving hers behind. Those memories connect me to an impressionable and precious time in my life that left a positive imprint, which compelled me to reach out to Josephine.

Memories link us together. When we think of someone in some significant way, it is our memories of them and what they stand for that causes us to act or feel a particular way. Somewhere deep inside of us, we sense that this interconnection leads to interdependence for all of us. Simply said – we need each other to survive and thrive.

It was also a good lesson for me to be on the other side of things. I thought that because of my own experiences of loss of memory after seizures, I would know exactly what to say and how to act with Josephine. But I didn’t. It was humbling. And it also gave me insight into what my caregivers, friends, and family sometimes go through when they struggle with how to be with me when I am feeling seizury or extremely sleep deprived or anxious. I now know how they felt.

Love isn’t always straightforward.

Relating to others can be awkward or confusing. We will sometimes feel foolish in our interactions.

But, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we try. What matters is that we show up in difficult times. What matters is that to the best of our ability, we say and do things that add up to “I love you and I care”. What matters is that we don’t give up on ourselves and each other. We are all fools for love at some point or another; hopefully often.

Love matters.

Bill

He smokes a pipe dangles

it from his mouth like a pacifier

Eating he leaves crumbs on

his face his lap the floor

He is Groucho Marx with his

black framed glasses and moustache

loves old New Orleans jazz

dance – shuffles to Bessie Smith:

“Gimme a pigfoot and a bottle of beer”

His fingers are bent from hurled softballs

his teeth brown from neglect

He drinks Jack Daniels and soda

loves chocolate and pies

leaves tobacco everywhere

can’t stand being late

He issues orders to family

and friends and anyone

who is there

He takes you out to dinner

flies first class wears a

red cashmere sweater with holes

When I was a child he was playful

made treasure hunts played Superman

his beach towel a cape

He taught me softball and Scrabble

told scary stories teared up

at sappy movies

Now he walks with a walker

slams it down when angry

has pee stains on his pants

He’s going deaf but denies it

plays solitaire with cards

grimy gray and worn

He becomes melancholy at twilight

And now since my mother’s death

his cat Zorro and the orphan moon

are his only nocturnal companions.

A Family Inheritance

Anxiety runs in my family.  I inherited mine from my father.

My mother often told the story of when my father first began his teaching career.  Every morning before work he would vomit from nerves.  Eventually he got this down to every Monday, and then when he became more confident at his job, he stopped.  Every time my brother and I were told this story, we would laugh, including my mother.  We didn’t understand.

He couldn’t stand being late.  When we would travel, he’d pack days ahead of time.  When going to the airport, we would have to arrive hours ahead of schedule, or he would get upset, often yelling at us.  His fear of being late carried over to other events when promptness was not called for – for example when going for an outing, he’d announce to the family what time we would “need” to leave, only to blow up when we weren’t ready a half an hour before the scheduled time.

His anxiety took the form of hypochondria.  If he got a headache or a slight fever, he’d worry about it as if he had some strange or daunting illness, asking my mother repeatedly to feel his forehead or listen to his heartbeat.  She’d roll her eyes and say, “You just have the flu for God’s sake!  You’re not dying!”  But by the look on his face, I could see he was frightened.

At restaurants, much to my family’s chagrin, he’d become agitated, running his hands through his hair repeatedly, waiting for dinner to arrive, long before it could possibly be ready.  He would flag down a server and ask them when our meals would be ready, his voice sounding a little desperate, while the rest of us hid behind our menus.

As he got older, his anxiety increased, along with his controlling behavior.  Once while I was visiting with my partner, his car was in the shop and was supposed to be ready early afternoon, but he got a call informing him that they ran into a snag and the car wouldn’t be ready until much later.  He exploded and berated the receptionist on the other end who was only relaying the news.  There was really no rational reason for him to be upset, he didn’t need to go anywhere that day, and, if that need changed, my partner and I had a car.

My parents lived about 2 hours from me.  When returning home after visiting them, he would often call my landline long before I would arrive to see if I made it back ok, and when he found out I wasn’t there, he’d become anxious.  I think it was my last visit there before he died, that he called my house three times before I made it home.  It didn’t matter how much my partner tried to reassure him that I was probably just fine, he didn’t calm down until he heard my voice.

It took me a long time to recognize that these behaviors were coming from a place of anxiety, especially when he acted controlling, impatient and angry.  It wasn’t until I began to analyze and compare my own feelings and behavior with his and recognize that they too stemmed from anxiety that I began to understand more fully his experience.  Although I try not to manipulate and control those around me like my father did, there are situations where I have to have things a certain way or I become very anxious.  There is a felt sense of great urgency when anxiety takes over, especially in triggering or stressful situations, and for me that happens most at bedtime.  I have to be in my bedroom at 9 and if my partner begins a conversation at 8:50, I get impatient and irritated with her because of this urgency.  I need to check and re-check to see if the front door is locked, the stove is turned off, and the cats have enough food and water before I turn in, or my stomach goes into knots.

I want to say here; I loved my father very much.  He was much more than his anxiety disorder and I hope the following poem I wrote 3 months before his death demonstrates that.

Envy

A Climb at Hongshou

I am seriously envious. My sister just came back from China. She went to a huge Chinese wedding. She climbed a mountain that looks just like the pictures you see; swirling fog at the base of the mountain, steep inclines, wild orchids growing on the side of the cliff. She hiked the Great Wall. She ate exotic foods and met all kinds of people. My sister is 52 but has the energy of a 20-year-old. She lives in Massachusetts and in five days will fly out here to California for 5 days!

I’m bright green with envy. Glowing. You can see me from miles away. I want to travel too. And often. And go just about anywhere. She sounded upbeat and as full of enthusiasm as a puppy. I told her “I wish I had about 1/3 of your energy!”.

I grew up in a family where travel was our middle name. We lived in California 9 months out of the year and 3 months on the east coast. Before I had problems with seizures and severe sleep deprivation, we went to Europe: Denmark, France, Italy, Greece. I went to Jamaica with my parents and Trinidad and Tobago. Guatemala and Honduras. Traveling is in my blood. And now? Now I don’t drive outside of my hometown. If I go anywhere else, I have to have a caregiver take me, and then usually for a doctor’s appointment a half-hour away. I did manage a trip back east last year with two caregivers, but it was brutal getting there: I felt like I had to slay a few dragons to get there.

In my fantasies, I’d like to live back east part of the year. I’d like to travel to Asia – Bhutan maybe? Thailand, Nepal? I’d like to go to Africa, too, but I’m not sure which country. Europe: pick a country, any country. I’d like to go to Alaska and see the Denali National Park. I’d like to go to Nova Scotia – just ‘cause. Costa Rica for sure. Australia and The Great Barrier Reef. Tahiti. The Caribbean. I want to see the Taj Mahal. Machu Pichu. Findhorn. Stonehenge. Victoria Falls. I’d like to hike, swim, zipline, snorkel, scuba, snowboard, hang glide, surf and kite surf.

So… I’m just a tad envious.

Which brings me to the topic of complaining. As someone with chronic illness, I feel like I’m not supposed to complain too much. There are always others worse off than me. So, I should be grateful for what I can do. As a society we love the “super crip”- the differently abled people who not only never complain but are able to do extraordinary things. Someone without legs managing to run a marathon with prosthetics. Someone who is blind who climbed a mountain. Someone who has Crohn’s disease becomes a medical doctor. These are all commendable achievements to be sure, but what about the rest of us who don’t accomplish such feats?

Personally, I think for most of us, it’s a feat just to make it through the day. For someone who suffers from depression to get out of bed. Another to walk from the bedroom to the living room. To get through one more day of pain without thoughts of suicide. To be able to balance a check book, make a meal, sweep the floor. Hold down a job.

In the middle of writing this, I took a break and walked outside. It’s been raining lately, and everything is so green. There’s the dark green of the pine trees that line the driveway, the ends of which are lighter from new growth. Cattails below the house shimmer a soft green that sometimes darkens when clouds pass by. The tall grass in the meadow is a shiny lime green. Green is a beautiful color with so many shades.

So, are there various shades of human emotion: fear, irritation, rage, excitement, sadness, and yes, envy? It’s human to have and feel emotions. To get stuck in them and have them eat a hole in your stomach or heart is something we want to avoid.

When I came back from my short walk, I felt something inside shift. I sat down and listened to the rain that started falling – a beautiful sound. I glanced at my cats who were sleeping peacefully. And I sat with my envy, green and glowing. It’s a beautiful thing too! A human thing.

And so, when my sister comes to visit, I will hug her hard, and squeeze her hands, and ask her more details about her adventures and look at her pictures on her iPhone. And I will be happy for her. And I will be grateful I have a sister who I love and loves me back.

And I will probably bring with me a touch of green envy. Emerald? Perhaps ivy? I’ll decide then.

To Be Honest

 

When I started my “book” many years ago, I offered things I know like meditation techniques which were and are helpful for me, and I hoped, kind of for others.  And I guess I’ll include those kinds of things in my blog in the future.  But I feel there’s a tone sometimes in the “book” which makes it sound like I have all the answers.  I don’t.  I have been living with chronic illness for about 50 years, so I certainly have experience of which I’m willing to share.  But ultimately, we all have to find our own way. 

I don’t like spiritual or self-help books by people who think they have all the answers. It puts me off and makes me feel insecure somehow.  I especially don’t like books by doctors or professionals that act like they know what you should do.  There’s often good advice there to be sure, but they don’t know what it’s like to be chronically ill.  Only we do.

So, I want to be really honest with this blog.  I want to share my experiences and what has been helpful for me, in hopes it could be helpful to you.  But there are no guarantees.

And now I’m going to jump into another topic: Death.  How’s that for a topic?  I think death feels more intimate when you suffer from chronic illness.  It hangs out with you while you watch TV or garden or pet your cat, or when you eat Cheerios in the morning (or at midnight).  Sometimes this feels scary and sometimes it feels like a gift.  Sometimes we think of suicide, or at least I do.  But I suspect I’m not the only one out there that does.  But I also feel more connected with my body because I’m constantly needing to tune into it and attend to it.  There’s an understanding too, by seeing how my body responds when, for example, I’m anxious, that it’s easy to see how the body deteriorates.  I have developed an ulcer because of the many years of this intense anxiety.  It doesn’t take much of a stretch of imagination to see how the body will eventually break down altogether.  Maybe some of this understanding comes with age – I’m 64.  But I think I’m more aware of death than other 64-year olds who have had little or no health problems.  I look up from writing and see my cat Zoe washing herself methodically and my heart feels a soreness that is painful yet beautiful.  I think if I took life for granted, I wouldn’t experience this so poignantly.  I really do.  So, in a way, awareness of death is a gift.  So is chronic illness.  And yet, if I’m honest, it doesn’t always feel that way.