A Little Post-Olympic Joy From Russia

This fabulous flash mob video from Moscow is a great reminder for me that Putin and the Oligarchy don’t define the true Russian people anymore than Washington and its incredibly malfunctioning Congress define us. I’m pretty sure that on the whole we the people, of any nation, just want to be free and happy…preferably together.

Here’s how some Russian people did just that recently. (Maybe it would help if all our government leaders got together like this? I bet THAT video would go viral.)

Of Storms and Stars, Whales and Grief

“People gonna be okay, storms never come to stay, they just show us how bad we need each other…how bad we need each other.”

– Mark Scibilia

I’ve been at something of a loss for words over the last few months with the successive hits that mine and the hubster’s families have been taking. Two suicide attempts by young members (one successful and one thus far not) as well as the dignified and loving departure of a beloved elder seem to have taken their toll on even my desire to talk about dying.

Who would have thought?

But this morning I came across an old Yuletide letter I wrote back in 2002 and the tender perspective expressed in it helped me remember the rich beauty and wonder I once found in the rooms of the dying, sprinkled in among all the horrors. Reading it again reminded me that what I saw back then is still true today…the dying world really does contain profound and graceful gifts…even if I can’t currently see any of them in the aftermath of recent events.

suppose this is where some faith helps. I needed reminding that the stars still hang up there in the depths of the night sky and that they’re just as luminous and lovely as ever. Certainly once this storm has spent all its fury and the clouds have finally cleared I’ll be able to find them again.

In the meantime, I can always read my old stories. 

I thought I’d go ahead and paste in the old Yuletide letter here, just in case anyone else is slogging through heavy weather and hoping for a break. Maybe it can help.

**************************************************************************

Dear everyone that we hold with deepest affection:

 Cal and I (and all unbeknownst to them—the kids) send our warmest greetings in this season of silence, celebration and relentless Christmas catalog barrage.  Here in Idaho’s banana belt we’re experiencing an inversion—a meteorological event where the warmer air at higher elevations traps the colder and dirtier air at lower elevations and those of us down under reap the harvest of all our months of collected carbon emissions in the form of smog.  A ban on wood burning is currently in effect in the valley so the cord of wood we just split stands leaning precariously by the garage while the fireplace waits cold and patient.  Cal’s primal and eager impulse to poke around in a nest of flaming materials is temporarily thwarted so for his sake I hope a low-pressure system returns to the area soon.

 This year seems to have flown by faster than any year before (a trend we’ve been noticing of late) and I suspect that it speaks to the fact of our aging.  When I think about it, it seems logical enough.  Between the two of us Cal and I now have almost 94 years of collected living to our names with all the learning and memories, laughter and heartbreak, wisdom and foolishness that that much life of necessity contains.  Think about it for a second.  When held up and compared to such an accumulation of time how long can a single year really take to pass after all?  Sometimes I think of an old-growth redwood or an ancient mountain peak or a star and I wonder what a year seems like to them.  I imagine it would be like a breath or a blink.

 A solitary heartbeat lost in aeons of warm and pulsing rhythms.

 Two great things happened this year for us.  One was a cruise to Alaska—a generous gift from Cal’s dad up one of the most magnificent coastlines I could ever imagine—and the other was the work I began with hospice.  Somehow the two are closely entwined although I’m not entirely sure how. 

The cruise was something of an enigma for me.  It was our first time and in preparing for the trip I found myself conflicted around issues of the seemingly decadent opulence of American spending and a very real anticipation of fully immersing ourselves in it. 

The food was everything I’d ever heard it would be.  We ate lobster and shrimp and French dishes and baked confections in lush dining rooms with scores of people waiting on us hand and foot.  All we had to do was ask (frequently we didn’t have to ask at all) and nothing was denied us.  There was even one climactic moment when we were sitting with our aperitifs at a linen-covered table, gazing out a huge window at the dark and choppy waters we sailed through when suddenly, Cal said, “There’s a whale!”  And when I turned to where he pointed a giant humpback suddenly breached about twenty-five feet off the side of the ship, surging up into the air with a mass and drive that staggered the imagination.  As it rose it gracefully spiraled 180 degrees, arching its body back and outwards as it twirled in a movement that looked like some kind of liquid ecstasy, before plunging back into a whitened maelstrom of water to disappear again beneath the surface.

 I felt overwhelmed by the wealth of it all—both the riches of human civilization and the priceless treasures of the wild.  Cal and I tended to forego the lure of bingo and Broadway shows, naturally gravitating toward the decks and railings of the ship where we spent our time watching the mountains and islands and vast tracks of forest gliding by.  During one shore-leave we hiked on a mountain in Juneau, climbing up beyond the hordes of camera-snapping, cruise-line tourists (no doubt attempting to elevate our own camera-snapping activities to a higher moral plane) and on into the mist and muffled silence at the top where I sang to occasional marmots and ptarmigans who tipped their heads in curiosity. 

Throughout the seven days we saw harbor seals whelping, bald eagles flocking, glaciers calving, and ice so old and compressed that it had turned a luminous color of blue.  At the peak of the cruise we sailed up a fjord (I felt such a smug sense of satisfaction to finally experience the thing that carries such an exotic name) and on that morning I stood alone out on the deck for hours, shivering in the drizzling rain and cold breezes, held spellbound by the sheer, green cliffs rising up from icy waters—their towering heads hidden by clouds, their sides split time and again with plunging waterfalls fed by spring-melting snows—and in the cold, wet, wildness of it all a silence of great age, of vastness, weighed upon me, somehow aging me, too.  Lending me a temporary grace that I suspect only comes enduringly with advancing years.

 And I recognize the same vast silence I felt that morning each time I sit by the bedside of someone dying.  It’s such a paradox to me, the moments that exist—tucked in among the bathing and dressing and care of wounds, among the laughter, overwhelm and expressions of tremendous sorrow and tenderness, among the changing of oxygen tanks and long hours of just listening and listening and listening—when I feel that same great weight of grace I felt in the fjord pressing down upon me again.  Whispering to me of an indescribable beauty of great depths and muffled echoes and mist.  And in spite of the moments of horror and heartbreak, I feel strangely uplifted. 

I’ve come to wonder if much of the difficulty in dying lies in the necessity of having to give back all the many and deeply treasured gifts we’ve been loaned for the process of living.  There’s so much to love in a lifetime be it brief or long, so much to wonder at and remember and touch with trembling fingers one last time. There are all those whom we love and our many achievements, the mountains and moonlight and extraordinary beauty of the world, the gifts of walking and laughter and being able to feed ourselves and go to the bathroom alone, and in our last moments the necessity of returning even the gifts of sight and touch and breath.

But in the end, while the gifts themselves must be returned, somehow the deep love and gratitude that they forge within us remains, growing ever more quiet and measureless upon being freed.

 I remember again the brief instant of that breaching whale.  The suddenness of it and surprise, the delight and the awe, the twisting, the power, and the arc of it’s body that seemed to express not so much purpose or deep import as a simple moment of sheer and unbridled joy.  A moment of irrepressible delight, driving it to rise high and higher for an instant of unforgettable and breathtaking splendor.  And so I’m coming to think of life.  Something so brief and unpredictable and extraordinary surging up from invisible worlds, rising within us with such drive and vitality and joy—learning through us, loving through us, touching and being touched for what amounts to only a fleeting heartbeat in the vast rhythms of creation—before ultimately returning once again to the deep and gentle mystery of the waters that are its source.

With our newly graying hair and sagging bodies we wish for you all, this year and always, that each moment of the great wounding and joy of Life will be just such an arc of unforgettable beauty.

With all our love,

Cal and Dia

Should a family suicide be mentioned in a Christmas card? I could use some help on this one.

yellow_awareness_ribbon_greeting_card(I found this card after I wrote the post– Cafe Press.)

For the last couple of decades I’ve been writing a Yuletide letter to stick in with our Christmas cards, a missive that generally includes any big family news along with some philosophical musings on something…anything really…that happened during the year.

And up to now I’ve never been one to shy away from topics that some might consider questionable holiday fare (i.e. working with the dying, menopause, the incredible stench of alligator pits) but this year I’m up against the news of Cam’s recent suicide and it’s the first time a family event has given me pause. Partly because the announcement needs to be handled delicately out of respect for the hubster’s family, but also because suicide is a socially taboo topic that’s never supposed to be mentioned at all, even in the off-season.  So how exactly are people going to react to my breaking that taboo in the heart of a major holiday devoted to joy and good cheer?

I admit, I just don’t know. And I feel kinda caught between a rock and a hard place because, realistically, what could I say instead? I mean, what exactly is the etiquette for glossing over a piece of information that catastrophic?

Hey there! We went kayaking in numerous spectacular places this year and are delighted to share that Beloved Daughter got married in June! We couldn’t be happier.*  Happy holidays all! 

*(Accept for that one loss in September of course, but really. We don’t want to bum you guys out with THAT!)

Yuck. I don’t think so.

The more I think about it the more it seems like I should probably just trust in people’s basic humanity…maybe have some faith that everybody’s caring and compassion will rise up and trump this horrible, hurtful, isolating taboo. I’d love for that to be what this season is truly about…something big enough, loving enough, and resilient enough to wrap its arms around both the joy and sorrow of our lives.  Both those who are hopeful in any given year as well as those whose hearts have been broken.

It doesn’t seem like the holidays should have to be an either/or thing, does it?

‘Tis the season for brushes with an unseen world.

Brown_lady

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall

Halloween approaches, so it felt like a good time to tell a couple of recent stories about a sense of presence; those moments where a person inexplicably feels the intimate, invisible presence of someone or something benign.

The two stories I’d like to relate here involved the sensed presence of loved ones who died, one fairly recently and one some years back, but experiences of a sense of presence can also, of course, involve the presence of religious figures, friends, acquaintances, or even strangers, and can happen in all manner of situations from childhood isolation to survival scenarios.  But I think the majority of people are most familiar with it during bereavement, where studies put it’s occurrence at anywhere from fifty to sixty-three percent and possibly higher.

As such, I think the experience deserves to be talked about more openly, but then perhaps that’s just me.

The first story is from my sister-in-law and involves the recent loss of our nephew Cam who could sing like nobody’s business.  I’ll never forget the first time I heard him open his mouth and start belting out White Christmas.  My mouth dropped.  Everyone’s mouth dropped.  It was unexpected in the way that Susan Boyle singing The Dream I Dreamed was unexpected, only Cam was fourteen and not as polished yet.  But still.  See for yourself.  He starts singing about eleven seconds in.

You see?

Anyway, my sister-in-law was working alone a couple weeks ago and, out of the blue, one of Cam’s favorite songs popped into her head and she found herself singing it aloud, which wasn’t the strange part.  What was strange was the fact that she was singing it perfectly, because before that moment she hadn’t really known all the words.  But somehow she was singing them all anyway. She confided that in that moment she could feel Cam there with her, sharing the infectious joy he found in song while he was alive and which, it seems, he continues to enjoy afterwards.

Her story made us all laugh and helped lighten the load we’re carrying at his loss a little, which, IMO, is the real, deep, and abiding gift of these kinds of experiences.

The second story was my own and it happened on my mother’s birthday a few weeks ago.  She died four and a half years ago now so, unlike with Cam, I’m already past the initial disorientation of a world knocked sideways by her loss, as well as most of those sharp pangs of grief that used to accompany each memory.

In fact, I didn’t even remember it was her birthday until around noon when I was out shopping and glanced at a calendar for the first time that day, at which point I remembered and felt the usual brief wind of loss I feel each year, quickly followed by all the other, sweeter memories that fill the lion’s share of my heart now.  I savored them for a moment and then folded them away again, going on about my business until I got home, at which point things turned decidedly strange.

While putting everything away I wandered over to the dining room table, a piece of furniture which we never actually eat at but instead use as a long-term depository for all the official papers we’re trying to avoid.  It’s kind of like a limbo world for documentation…behind the veil so to speak…and as such it’s usually invisible to the naked eye.  Or at least to my naked eye, as I trained myself long ago to ignore everything on it.

So I’m not sure why I walked over there that day, or why, out of everything lying there, I happened to notice the back of an old greeting card lying near the corner, a little ways away from everything else.  I absentmindedly flipped it over and thought it looked familiar but couldn’t place why.  So I opened it up to read the inscription and that’s when the memory came flooding back.

It was the last birthday card my mother ever sent me, a scant three months before she died…back when I knew she was ill but didn’t know yet that she was dying.  I’d found it among my things shortly after she passed and grieved over it for a long time before finally putting it away in a box of secret treasures I keep on a high shelf in the closet in the back room.

Which is where it’s been for the last four years. Or so I thought.

I stood there for a long time just staring at it in my hands, confused and reeling a little, trying very hard to figure out how it escaped the box and made it’s way back out onto the dining room table for me to find on her birthday of all days.  I wracked my brain trying to recall when I could have taken it back out again, why I would have, but came up with nothing. Nada. (Which isn’t necessarily saying much since I’m forgetting a lot these days.) But still, it felt very strange.

I’m hardly a died-in-the-wool skeptic when it comes to the possibility of unseen mysteries. For instance, I have no problem believing that we’re all bound together in intricate, beautiful, and frequently mysterious ways, and that the love we forge is probably the most enduring of all these links. It’s long seemed to me that if anything was strong enough to transcend the boundaries placed between us by death, love would be the likely culprit as it seems capable of transcending just about everything else.

But on the other hand, I’m a practical woman and as such lean towards practical explanations.  While I have no problem entertaining the possibility that my mother’s love could bridge death, I have a harder time believing that her hands could. It seems unlikely that she could have pulled down the box, opened it up, rifled through the contents, found the card, and then carried it out to the dining room table to leave it there for me to find.

I’m not saying that she couldn’t do that, mind you…I’ve seen a lot over the years and have decided to stay open to all possibilities.  But still, there are just other, simpler explanations that seem more likely.

However, the timing  of it all was truly serendipitous and that’s what took my breath away.  While that birthday card could have been sitting on the table for a very long time without my noticing it (our unfinished wills have sat there untouched for six years now…yes, six) the fact that I walked over, picked up the card, and opened it on her birthday of all days is what made me feel the brush of some vast and unseen mystery. I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d reached between dimensions and nudged me.

In any case, as my overwhelming love for her spilled out to meet her undying love for me, in that moment I really could feel her there again in the room with me, her presence fresh and sharp and immediate, surrounding and enveloping me like a warm and gentle cloud of Mom-ness.

I don’t know. Perhaps, as the tradition claims, All Hallow’s Eve really is a time when the veil grows thin and we’re able to reach across the divide and touch one another again. I love the thought.

Happy Halloween to all!

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

Returning to the world.

Forgive me. It’s been almost three weeks since my last post which is a record. I’ve kind of let myself go on a lot of levels since Cam died, including eating somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen to twenty pounds of chocolate and sugar in various combinations…which I admit I thoroughly enjoyed but in a probably perverse way.  Still, sometimes you need to stop doing everything and just float for a while.  Let the wind blow you around.  Drift. Rest. Think. Remember. Digest.

There’s much to digest here.

But this morning I feel myself returning to the world again, both figuratively and physically.  The hubster and I spent nine days out of the last twelve running away to the wilderness every chance we got and there’s nothing quite like getting out on the water surrounded by snow capped peaks, and paddling for miles and miles and miles to help rebuild a crumbling perspective.

20131021_135831

I think everyone develops their own way of finding a path back to that feeling of home at their center when they’ve become lost…prayer, meditation, service, gardening, cleaning house, work, family, friends, community, etc.

For the me the way back has always involved the silence and deep mystery of the natural world. It’s where I instinctively turned as a child for congregation and confessional and where I’ve returned ever since, especially when a wound needs tending.  The stars and storms, mountains and forests, wind and waters have a way of taking the torn, raggedy edges from any injury and pulling them gently back together again, giving them a chance to meet and knit and eventually scar over.

The hubster loves the wilderness, too, only for slightly different reasons.  He feels the silence, too, and needs it as much as I do, but his nature is more wild than mine, or at least wild in a different way.  Where I crave the wonder and mystery of vast and ancient forces, he’s after all the grand adventures that wilderness provides, and over time he’s taught me a little of that particular joy he finds in throwing himself, over and over, against inclement everything…weather, conditions, terrain, the absence of any kind of safety precautions.

Looking back I have to both laugh and shake my head at some of the stupid, stupid, STUPID things we’ve done over the years. The hubster is naturally fearless and impatient of anything that stinks of planning…which I, on the other hand, tend to be a little obsessive about. (My basic nature exacerbated by the depression.)  But he was always so irresistibly charming and relentlessly persuasive that I followed him anyway, over and over again, into situations that were way over my head.  Often over his head, too, but then he loves that.

But since we were lucky and actually survived it all, I now have a treasure cache inside me of memories when I followed him blindly through the labyrinth of all my clamoring terrors to emerge in breathtaking places of grace that were magical and impossible, as if I’d flown there.

My God. I shudder to think what the darkest years of the depression would have done to me without him there to drag me along behind on his adventures, bumping and pointing out every last, little, innocuous threat along the way. I’m pretty sure I would have ended up as a shut-in. It’s really too bad that the man can’t be bottled.

I owe him much, this beloved husband of mine.

Happy anniversary sweetheart and thanks for our continuing grand adventure together. I do so love you.

20130706_121347

“Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?”

I heard these questions posed today in the context of a discussion about how to “think before you speak.”  (Not my greatest strength.)  I was so struck by them that I’ve decided to adopt them as a mantra to try and repeat…every time…before opening my mouth to insert my foot again.

With the highest hopes,

Curious Dia of the Cannot-Keep-Their-Mouths-Shut Clan.

389px-Faras_Saint_Anne_(detail)

St. Anne

A subversive approach?

Blender3D_NormalWalkCycle

There’s a new study out in the British Medical Journal suggesting that exercise is as good or better a treatment than drugs for heart disease and stroke.  With news this good why are we just finding it out now?  An important question but first, the meat of the study:

The BBC article Exercise ‘can be as good as pills’ covers a study published in the British Medical Journal suggesting that exercise might be just as effective as medication for treatment of some heart disease…or in the case of stroke, more effective…when it comes to preventing death.  From the article:

The findings suggest exercise should be added to prescriptions, say the researchers.

Please don’t anyone go off their medications just yet, but definitely start thinking about adding some exercise to the mix.

Now that I’ve covered that important piece of information, back to my initial question: why has it taken so long to find this out?  Since exercise is obviously a healthier, cheaper, more widely available option to drug interventions, with no side effects and ample additional benefits, why in the world hasn’t it been studied before this? To find the answer I turn to the part of the study that I personally found to be the most fascinating.

For a lot of intriguing structural reasons that I don’t have time for, medical research as a whole has been growing increasingly biased towards studying drug interventions vs. other treatment strategies.  For example, in this particular case the number of clinical trials studying exercise is dwarfed by the number of drug trials.

This overall bias means that the existing medical literature (where the research is eventually published) is also increasingly skewed towards medications vs. other options, and this then tends to constrict doctors’ treatment recommendations since they base them on said literature.  Ditto for the treatment options that insurance companies will cover.

In other words, even though drug therapies may not be the best option in every case, there’s no way to know for sure since other options aren’t really being studied much.  From the researchers: 

“Our findings reflect the bias against testing exercise interventions and highlight the changing landscape of medical research, which seems to increasingly favor drug interventions over strategies to modify lifestyle,” they wrote in the review…”The lopsided nature of modern medical research may fail to detect the most effective treatment for a given condition if that treatment is not a prescription drug.”

I’ve been sensing this shift for a while and I’m glad to see it’s being recognized and talked about, but realistically speaking it’s a complex, far reaching, structural problem and I imagine it’ll prove difficult to fix.

So instead, I think I’ll just take the research and apply it for myself.  I’ll take Dane the mangy rescue mutt out for a vigorous walk and start my heart a-pumping without even getting a doctor’s prescription first, which feels strangely subversive.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

P.S. By the way, the little walking, armless guy above comes courtesy of Wikipedia.

Articles:

Exercise could help stroke, heart disease patients just as well as drugs.

Exercise ‘can be as good as pills’

Stand Up Eight

by

via Stand Up Eight.

*     *     *

Whoops. If you don’t understand the above it’s because this was an unsuccessful attempt at using the “Press This” feature on WordPress.  Not sure what went wrong but 100% certain it did.

What I was trying to do was reblog a great post I found on Nhan-Fiction.  It contained a simple (Japanese?) saying…

FALL DOWN SEVEN TIMES, STAND UP EIGHT

…along with the beautiful characters/calligraphy in the original language.  The message spoke to me today as I’ve been falling down a lot lately. Like when I tried to “Press This” post for instance.

Mental note: Stand up. Again.

Squirrel Rant for the Year

20130925_103751

Ah, yes. No garden season would be complete without a post detailing some of the unique and creative vandalism perpetrated by the darlings of the neighborhood this year. I freely admit, I hate them. I love them. Of all the pests I have to battle for the harvest…slugs, cabbage moths, earwigs and rolypolys, powdery mildew, hail, and Dane the mangy rescue mutt…squirrels are the only ones that make it personal. They could be French with their flagrant insults, chattering at me and biting their nails, throwing green apples down on my head and tossing perfect, beautiful peaches to the ground after a single bite only to stare at me from the branch in defiance, daring me to take offense. If they carried rapiers I’d fear them.

Mostly, they’re all the same to me, these garden rats. Furry. Cute. Rapacious. Infuriating. But twice now, one has been born that stands out from the rest. Six or seven years ago it was Hugo the Great, acrobat extraordinaire whom I swear could fly…fly I tell you. He sprang into this world either fearless or completely insane and his feats of leaping high overhead across impossible distances only to catch the merest twig tip and cling while it whipped him up and down in wild thirty-foot arcs left both me and every squirrel who chased him with mouths agape in awe and terror. I only saw him the one year of course. He was destined to die young. But oh, what a glorious season. I adored Hugo. He lived like a meteor…hot, fast, and brief.

But his memory faded over time and I was lulled into complacence. I eventually forgot that great ones, avatars, sometimes appear among this race…until late July when I discovered the first beautiful eggplant lying mangled in the pathway. Now I assure you, over time I’ve grown familiar with their favorites, these squirrels.  Fruit has always been their main target and I’ve adjusted my efforts accordingly.  The apple tree I gave them early, it’s always been theirs to plunder, and this year I finally surrendered both the peaches and my four espaliered pears as well. I still fight for the grapes as the muslin bags I tie on each individual cluster have so far foiled their best efforts but up until now they never thought to molest the vegetables.

So when I first spotted the eggplant I naturally thought it was Dane the mangy rescue mutt because Dane will eat anything…anything I tell you…but then I glimpsed the second eggplant lying beneath the spruce tree where they nest, and when I walked over to pick it up I found a hole the size of a golf ball with telltale teeth marks pocking the rest of the skin.  That was when I realized, with sinking heart, that a new squirrel god was nigh.

I’ve named him Ivan the Terrible and, unlike Hugo, his presence gives me no joy. He brings naught but destruction and waste and has so far vandalized not only my eggplants and tomatoes, he’s chewed holes in all the pumpkins, half the butternuts, and eaten about twenty percent of my Delicata squashes outright. Five weeks ago he started eating every new, young squash, regardless of variety.  The muslin bags on the grapes thwarted all his efforts but in his malice he chewed the clusters off the vines anyway and left them lying there on the ground for me to find and weep over.

I pray that, like Hugo, Ivan, too will die young, and that this season will be the only one in which the garden suffers such depredations. But secretly, I fear a darker destiny. I’m haunted by the idea that, like the Yosemite bears who learned to peel open cars for the Cheetos inside, he might teach the other squirrels his ways, that they might all look with fresh eyes on the true abundance of food available and give rise to a new breed that would finally consume everything…everything…I grow.

Sigh.

Perhaps it’s a sign.  Maybe I should think about finally downsizing the garden a bit to get out kayaking more.  I must admit, I’m getting older and farming the backyard is getting harder every year.  Could this squirrel actually be Ivan the Liberator? I’ve seen stranger messengers.

Hmm.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

Mothers carrying the DNA of their children? How exquisite.

357px-William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_Charity_(1878)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – Charity

Here’s something odd and fascinating and kind of beautiful that dramatically shifts our understanding of DNA and genetics.

Researchers have discovered that evidently, a lot of us harbor not only the unique mix of DNA we inherited from our parents, but also DNA we’ve picked up from other people along the way, proving on a genetic level that John Donne was SO right when he said that no man is an island. Scientists are calling these people chimeras, a term borrowed from a mythological creature which was made up from several different animals.

According to the New York Times article DNA Double Takescientists have found cases where people who’ve received bone marrow transplants carry both their own DNA and the DNA of their donor, twins sometimes carry multiple genomes in their blood from fetal blood transfers, and a majority of mothers likely carry some DNA from the children they nourished inside their wombs while they were pregnant.

What I found particularly moving about the last example was this line from the article:

“Chimeric cells from fetuses appear to seek out damaged tissue and help heal it, for example.”

Evidently, pregnant women have been benefitting from a natural form of fetal stem cell transplant for aeons.  Now that’s a loving exchange on the most visceral level.

In addition to sharing our DNA among us, it’s also not uncommon for any one of us to carry alternate DNA resulting from genetic mutations in various parts of our bodies…in other words many of us have multiple genomes inside us that we made up all by ourselves.  We’ve known for a long time that that’s how cancers tend to get started, but evidently other non-cancerous cells can do the same thing, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse:

“Now that scientists are beginning to appreciate how common chimerism and mosaicism are, they’re investigating the effects of these conditions on our health. “That’s still open really, because these are still early days,” Dr. Urban said.

Nevertheless, said Dr. Walsh, “it’s safe to say that a large proportion of those mutations will be benign.” Recent studies on chimeras suggest that these extra genomes can even be beneficial….

…But scientists are also starting to find cases in which mutations in specific cells help give rise to diseases other than cancer.”

Needless to say this is to some extent changing the way that we’ll have to approach everything from genomic medical research and diagnoses to forensic science (a cheek swab might deliver two sets of DNA for instance) as well as the growing field of genetic counseling.  It looks like human beings are not going to be quite as easy to map and label as we once thought.

And I admit, I just love that.

‘No Man is an Island’

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe 
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

(For any other lit geeks like me out there, you can find the above version of John Donne’s poem as well as the olde english version here.)

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

 

A very hard week.

Cameron black and white

Hey everybody. I was working on a different post for this week but it was sidelined when our family got hit with a devastating event.  The hubster’s nephew, an extraordinary, loving, and gifted young man, took his own life Sunday night and everything since then has been aftermath.  His parent’s did everything conceivable to get him help and prevent this from happening but in the end his illness overpowered all the rest.  My mind is whirling with all the things that could and should be said about what’s happened…the desperate need for people to be more aware of how profound a danger this is to our children, the desperate need for everyone to be more willing to talk about suicide instead of hiding from it, the desperate need for better funding for our hotlines and mental health infrastructure and suicide education for the school staff who often serve as first line of defense, and the desperate need to break down the current stigmas associated with mental illness…but for today I’m still too heartbroken.

Here’s a link to Cam’s obituary that just came out today. If you’d like you can take a moment to read it and, in your heart, celebrate the beautiful life of someone who did tremendous good and helped a lot of other kids during the short time he was here, and perhaps say a prayer for him and all those who loved him, it would be more deeply appreciated than you know.  His parents felt very strongly that his cause of death should not be hidden or spun in this notice of his death as they know…better than most now…just how critical it is for all of us to start talking about this more openly.  This from the obit:

“But through all the laughter, Cam suffered from depression. He tried to disguise his pain and put to use the deep empathy, love, and compassion generated from his own life’s survival experiences to help as many other people as he could. In the end, he took his own life but he would have wanted everyone to know it was not the outcome he longed for.” 

I can’t begin to tell you how unbelievably brave his parents have been or how, even in the midst of their own devastation, their concern for the many, many other kids reeling from this loss has been uppermost in their minds.  There was a prayer vigil the other night that Cam’s dad helped organize where four or five hundred kids and parents showed up to grieve and sing and tell stories and also talk openly about suicide and the things we can do to watch and help one another to prevent this from happening again.  Everyone in that hall wanted to know.  Everyone there wanted to hear it discussed openly.  The kids especially needed the evening to help them understand and try to come to grips with what’s happened, and the way they came together and were holding and supporting and loving one another through their grief was one of the most extraordinary and moving things I’ve ever witnessed.  They’re so much stronger and courageous and wise, our children, than we tend to believe.  We grown-ups owe it to them to face into our own terrors and finally stop hiding from this.

But enough.  Today I just wanted to say I love you all, even if I don’t know you, and I can’t tell you how glad and grateful I am that you’re out there right now and still alive.  Because that one simple thing gives me more hope than you can possibly imagine. Really love one another today and reach out to someone nearby just because you still can, and do something kind or make someone smile because thats how Cam used to live every single day and why, even with all the turbulence right now, the most lasting legacy of his life will ultimately be one of laughter, love, compassion, and song.

Important links for those considering suicide or those who know someone having suicidal thoughts:

NAMI (National Alliance On Mental Illness)

List of National Suicide Hotlines (Scroll down a few inches to list)

 

Hail in the Garden…yikes!

We’ve got a major storm passing through southwest Idaho as I write. It started at our house with some of the biggest hail I’ve ever seen, (including during all my years in Iowa, a state which can throw up a doozy of a thunderstorm.)

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Evidently, we got off lucky.  Down in Jordan Valley it was golfball-sized, and there was one report of baseball-sized hail.  Good-bye windshields.

The hail we got here was big enough to decimate my squash patches though.

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But Bert, Bertha, Beatrix, and all the other winter squashes are okay.

I tried to take a video during the worst of the hail fall but screwed up and only got a couple of seconds.  Here’s an earful of what it sounded like though.

It was all pretty exciting and I…big thunderstorm fanatic that I am…actually loved the whole thing. The hubster laughed when I told him so and commented that thunderstorms are the only thing in existence that could trash my garden and leave me happy about it afterwards.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

 

Odd Thing About Dying #2: We’d like some destiny with our death please.

450px-Atropos

Atropos of the Morai (One of the Sisters of Fate)

In the previous post Odd Thing About Dying #1: They’ve blocked most of the exits I talked about how challenging it is to die these days because the modern medical system has evolved to prevent it wherever possible, even when a person reaches the end of their natural life and is more than ready to go.  And so far hospice (along with the growing palliative care specialty which often goes hand in hand) provides the only officially sanctioned exit where people are allowed to leave the system without a fight.

Now, that being the case you’d think that everyone who didn’t want extraordinary measures taken to extend their lives would be fighting to get enrolled in hospice as early as possible, yes?

Well, no.  Far from it.  Hospice care is one of the most misunderstood and underutilized services out there while, where palliative care is concerned, the majority of people haven’t even heard of it yet. There are a number of reasons for this (including the fact that most people don’t WANT to understand them because it involves talking about dying) but there’s one reason in particular I’d like to discuss here and it essentially boils down to this:

Most people feel to some degree that, if they enroll in hospice, then they’re choosing to die.

This isn’t true for a couple of reasons:

1) When a person enrolls early enough, hospice is about deciding to LIVE WELL UNTIL one dies.  It’s about life, not death.

2) Dying isn’t really a choice to begin with, it’s a destiny. Choice implies we could decide not to die if we didn’t feel like it which of course we can’t.

People aren’t entirely wrong however. Due to some brilliant medical and public health advances we don’t usually “just die” anymore, we have to choose when; when to stop seeking treatment, when to forego that surgery, when to surrender to that infection, when to decline that CPR, or when to remove that ventilator.  Either we or our loved ones have to huddle with our doctors, weigh all the options, and then consciously decide whether to fight for the possibility of extra time or to let it go.

Of course at first we hailed these advances as unqualified blessings but over time it’s turned out that all the new choices can create something of a burden, and sometimes a curse.

You see, there really isn’t a clear point anymore where a doctor has to tell a patient, “I’m sorry but there’s nothing more we can do.” There’s always something more they can do, which means that until a person get decisive and say, “No, that’s it, I’m through. Please stop now,” chances are the doctors will keep suggesting something else.

Just so you know, this is a sea change in the way we humans face death.  It’s historic.  As far as I know, never before in human history has there been a point where the majority of people had to consciously choose when to die, or have a loved one choose for them. This development is an unintended consequence of all our new medical possibilities and, along with the miraculous blessings it bestows, it also requires that we now stand up and assume a level of responsibility for our own death that was unimaginable just a few decades ago.

Only we don’t really want that kind of responsibility.  Turns out one of the things we actually liked about the old way of dying was that we didn’t have a choice.  Destiny used to shoulder that burden for us, which we thought we hated at the time but are now starting to realize was maybe not as bad as we thought.

For a while everyone thought that of course our doctors would take over from destiny and let us know when “our time” had come.  But it turns out they don’t want that responsibility either and, honestly, who can blame them? The burden of telling someone they’re going to die is extraordinary, even when a person wants to know.  And if they don’t?  Well, that can be a lawsuit.

So doctors try and sidestep any kind of straightforward prognosis and hand us the research and statistics instead, from which we then have to try and divine the tea leaves for ourselves.  In addition, the majority of doctors still tend to encourage us to pursue aggressive treatment, often far past the point where they would themselves, with the stated goal of preserving hope but really for the purposes of distraction.  While they often have a good idea when a treatment will be futile, they also know that even a futile treatment can offer us temporary shelter from our terror of dying, which on the one hand is genuinely kind and deeply human, but on the other is a lot like that old bear attack joke:

Question: What are you supposed to do when you’re being attacked by a bear?

Answer: Run like hell.  It can’t save you but it’ll give you something to do for the last thirty seconds of your life.

Only dying is now taking a lot, lot longer than thirty seconds and people are starting to feel like there are better things to do with that time.  But our instincts work against us.  Seeking further treatment still feels like the most right and natural thing to do, and besides everyone else is seeking further treatment, and on top of that there’s major disagreement about when it’s wisest to stop because it’s completely different in every case.

So to recap, while destiny is still in charge as far as death itself is concerned…we all still die…our medical advances have allowed us to seize more control around the timing issue.  Only that means somebody now has to decide when to treat and when to stop, and while we’d mostly prefer that our doctors made the decision since they know so much more than we do, they’re proving reluctant.  Which leaves us to make the choice ourselves, only 1) we don’t know enough to make an informed decision, and 2) we’re unwilling to educate ourselves because that would mean actually talking about dying and we don’t want to do that either.

The whole situation reminds me of a teenager who wanted nothing more than to move out of the house and call all the shots, only to discover the new freedom requires getting a job to pay the bills.  Well, it looks like our new miracles also demand that we assume more responsibility. We’ve created a bewildering array of new choices around the question of when we actually have to die and our new job is to figure out what, among all those choices, constitutes a wise one.

Next up, I’d like to explore some of the reasons why the current choices we’re making aren’t working out so well.  I’m curious to see if breaking them down and examining them more closely might suggest better options.  And, as always, If anyone else has some thoughts on this subject I’d be eager and curious to hear them.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

Related articles:

A Better Way To Die

Squashland

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Bert

Bert is a Hubbard squash, the largest this year.  Missing are pictures of Bertha and Beatrix,

also large but harder to photograph as the girls are both shy and hiding under leaves.

Bert is the first Hubbard squash I’ve grown who is too big to fit in the oven.

(He’s deeply embarrassed and keeps apologizing.

Squash are actually quite tender on the inside.)

This means, of course, that he’ll have to be cooked in pieces,

a ticklish affair since the shell of a

seasoned Hubbard squash

is impervious to knives.

Hard.

So

Hammer?

Saw?

Drop him five feet onto concrete?

Other ideas anyone?

We’d be grateful.

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The Pumpkin clan are also doing well.

Fat Hamish in the lower left is a wild thing and recently confided

that when he turns orange

he wants to be shot out of a cannon.

Turns out he’d only ever heard about the flying part

and not the landing

so now he just wants to be carved to look like

Bob Marley.

Simple enough.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013