death


The past two weekends brought three mass shootings (yes, technically Gilroy didn’t result in enough deaths to be classified as such… don’t care… it was intended to cause terror and death), and I’m left shaking my head in an attempt to try and make sense of it all. But who can make sense of this insanity? It’s like a group of Americans are suffering a shared psychosis of hate and paranoia, and, combined with access to high capacity weapons, are acting on it.

While I continue to process the horrific events, one of them in the state next door to where I live, and in an area I just drove through about 5 weeks ago, I instead will share the impassioned and thoughtful words of a person I have called my spiritual friend.

Nan O’Brien-Webb wrote the following and shared it this morning on FaceBook, and she captures the outrage, anger, and demand for sensibility that I feel but cannot yet describe in my own words. These are hers and she has given me permission to share it here. Being a former radio professional, she recorded her response and I encourage you to listen. The written word cannot capture the pain we hear in the sound of her voice, a pain that we’re all feeling as we try and make sense of the chaos that has been growing around us.

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Soapbox alert (Dayton and El Paso)

by Nan O’Brien-Webb

Soundcloud link: https://soundcloud.com/nan-obrien/soapbox-august-4-2019?fbclid=IwAR0g_sGRYAPyQBrq1Plz4x6XI1_MWYU7jCbRCI8b-uJSA5msywOxGPaE2T0

Written text of the audio file:

People enjoying a summer night (Dayton) and families shopping for back-to-school supplies (El Paso). Two mass shootings in two cities almost 1,600 miles apart. These law-abiding citizens who were doing nothing more than going about normal daily activities have now joined a club to which no one wants to belong – “I was at the scene of a mass shooting.”

Just one week ago, on Monday, July 29th, the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, was the site of yet another shooting spree, where three people – six-year-old Stephen Romero, thirteen-year-old Keyla Salazar, and twenty-five-year-old Trevor Irby – were killed, and another sixteen people were wounded. Amazingly, the Garlic Festival deadly assault is not considered a “mass shooting” under the FBI definition of mass shootings, because Legan was “successful” in “only” killing three people. The FBI benchmark for the moniker “mass shooting” states four people besides the shooter must die in order to be classified as a mass shooting. Tell that to the people who were there. Trust me; it absolutely was a mass shooting, FBI definition be damned.

Here are some facts to consider:

– The public carnage in Gilroy was carried out by 19-year old Santino William Legan, who had legally purchased the SKS assault-style rifle he used in the attack, on July 9th in Nevada, a neighboring state that has a history of gun laws that are far more lax than those in California (for more independent information about Nevada gun laws, please visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_laws_in_Nevada).

– The Dayton shooter, twenty-four year old Connor Betts, reportedly used an assault rifle, as the bullets found at the scene were 223 caliber, commonly used in rifles like the AR-15 assault rifle that has been a favorite of other gunmen in previous mass shootings. There is no up-to-date information on how he was able to secure his weapon.

– In El Paso, twenty-one year old Patrick Crusius, opened fire with what witnesses say was a rifle, with the rapidity and amount of carnage supporting the theory that it was an assault rifle, too. There is also no up-to-date information on how he was able to secure his weapon.

Investigations as to what weapons were used in Dayton and El Paso are still ongoing. That said, with the number of deaths in the shortest amount of time before being stopped, the body counts at both scenes tend to support that assault weapons were used. In addition, the “convenience” and appeal of such high-powered assault weapons to those with such heinous agendas is historical and sadly obvious.

I am not attacking the Second Amendment here, so please – don’t start posting about the right to bear arms! My legal background always rises to the discussion of such situations from a legal and intellectual standpoint more than an emotional one, and I will defer my comments on the creation, intention, and interpretation (both sides) of the right to bear arms contained in the Second Amendment for another post – I try to be fair when I’m on my soapbox, and right now I’m not in a mood to be fair at all. I’m angry. My heart aches for those who were at the scenes of these shootings, and for all Americans who now hesitate when attending the most “normal” of places.

My anger is rooted in what I see as the ripple effect of events like the Garlic Festival, Dayton, El Paso, and too many others to list, though were I to do so, you would know and remember well the events. I’m angriest because whether shootings occur or not, the unease of wondering “what if” is now so deeply ingrained in our culture. It affects us all, though we may not realize how much. I didn’t, until just two months ago:

My husband and I were in Atlanta awaiting the birth of our second granddaughter, and our family attended a summer weekly outdoor festival. I noticed a man standing on a balcony overlooking the children playing in the large water fountain, the parents enjoying the outdoor concert, everyone happy on a beautiful summer’s night. He stood alone with a large black bag at his feet. It seemed odd he was on a second floor balcony of a closed office building at the edge of the park, not with everyone below, and so I watched him. I watched him, his manner impatient, his constant scanning of the crowd nervous. I watched to make sure he wasn’t going to pull a gun out of that black bag, and start shooting. And I decided that if I saw him move toward that black bag, I had already planned out where the safest place for my family to run would be. He stood there for about ten minutes, then raised his arm and showed a wide grin, when he spotted a group of people who had just arrived at the park. But those ten minutes were a lifetime for me. The uncertainty, the fear, the anger at myself for being suspicious, all combined in an uncomfortable mix of emotions that are still hard to shake. And the black bag? It had a blanket to sit on, and some drinks to enjoy, while they, too were at that concert. How do I know? I kept watching him as he came down the stairs from the balcony and walked over to his friends, who took a place right next to where we were sitting.

I can’t help but wonder if the alarming rise in the level of people with anxiety disorders, and acts of domestic terrorism (let’s call it what it is – violent behavior intended to inflict the most physical and emotional destruction), is related or coincidental. Another issue that needs independent inquiry and research; but not today.

Today, it seems to come down to one simple question that isn’t even a question, it’s a mandate: When does the insanity stop. When does the country come together and forget party affiliation, seeking the highest standard of commonality and humanity, as well as simple common sense. I can’t imagine any sane person advocating such violence, so do we not all have the same need for a sense of security and peace in our lives?

And if we as a nation are going to speak to the vision of our Forefathers in their creation of the brilliance of the United States Constitution (signed on September 17, 1787), defending at least parts of it with every last breath (do you know what the Seventh Amendment says, and how it is routinely ignored because of its inapplicability to modern times?), should we not first look to the reason our Constitution was necessary? I’m speaking of the document that predates the Constitution, that sets forth the reasons FOR our newly formed government to create the legal mandate for our country: the Declaration of Independence. Whatever happened to “the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that is the core of our Declaration of Independence? Are those rights not being infringed upon on a regular basis, by those who successfully take advantage – no, who cowardly hide behind – the protection of the Second Amendment?

Today we should not be talking about defending the rights of these mass shooters to kill innocent people because of the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment. But we arguably should be talking about the need to protect the American public from weapons that were created for battle conditions in war, and not for attacks on innocent people shopping for back-to-school supplies at Wal-Mart. We should be talking about the Pandora’s Box of public pronouncements inciting and promoting divisiveness and hatred, that emboldens those to act. We should be talking about the role of fear on many levels – fear to be in public places that normal life requires (restaurants, movie theatres, concerts, and yes, Wal-Mart); fear to be unarmed; fear of those who ARE armed; fear of those who are different; fear of those who have mental illness; fear of those we think want to take from us; fear of change; fear of the unknown, when the unknowns we bear witness to on a regular basis are so horrendous, so terrifying.

We need to argue less and talk more. We need to listen to all views with respect and not engage in pissing contests. We need to rebuke the fear and get to the commonalities between us. And perhaps most importantly of all, we need to evolve beyond our current circumstance.

I choose to believe it can happen.

My heart goes out to all of those personally affected by the most recent shootings, and to our country at this solemn moment in our nation’s history.

What we do here forward is all that matters.

Love and Light,
Nan

Written on Tuesday, 7/31/18

I try to focus on the work at hand as we prepare the old house for sale. Even though lots of memories are evoked as we go, and Steven tackles the difficult challenges of finishing Keith’s unfinished house projects, going through collections of “stuff” inside the house, the workshop, the basement, and all around outside, I feel incredibly blessed. Although it’s taken longer, Steve’s workmanship shows and I know it’s a matter of pride – and love – in his mind, and I am forever grateful to this wonderful man who has taken on so much. To live in the shadow of Keith’s spirit can be a challenge. But today I think I found a sign that Keith was pleased.

Dane and I moved a very large 10-drawer flat file into the garage today. Drawer by drawer. Most were empty already but several were full and it was kind of a pain. But we got all the drawers moved and prepared to move the cabinet that held them. I looked back to the empty steel cabinet and there was some stuff still there, curled up against the back. A few pieces of Stassia’s, a few pieces of mine. But there was this one big piece still curled up against the back wall. I pulled it out and there it was – an impromptu angel made from overspray from a project Keith did many years ago. And in the corner, he’d painted his initials “KF” to ensure there was no doubt. Among the last pieces of family “art” to get moved out of the house. Finding it today felt like a special sign, a message of love from the spirit of Keith.

 

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Spraypaint art made by Keith when he was working with Stassia on a costume. He liked the angel he recognized and signed it in the corner. I’d completely forgotten about this until my daughter reminded me.

Bedroom in new home

“Are you done grieving?” It wasn’t a question for me. It was asked of my father by a recent friend. She asked my dad as they shared lunch and talked about the new house we’ve been building and what she’d seen.

Later, Dad shared the question with me and it got me thinking about it. I answered him quickly at first: “Does anyone ever stop grieving?”

He mentioned his reaction to hearing the song: “You’ll never walk alone” from Carousel. It had been a favorite of my mother’s. And just a week before she died, the last time we heard her say anything, she sang some of it when a visitor – a complete stranger to my mother – asked her in her slumber if she had ever heard the song. As the visitor began to sing the first few words, my mother began to sing with her.

When it came on the radio, out of the blue, as he got to an intersection he began to cry. Just like that. No warning. It just hit him, now 18 months later. Does anyone ever stop grieving? No, I said to dad. We just begin to change the way we respond to the memories, the triggers. We get to the point where we can smile and sigh, rather than cry. It can take awhile.

We just begin to change the way we respond to the memories, the triggers. We get to the point where we can smile and sigh, rather than cry. It can take awhile.

Even now, for me, five and a half years after Keith passed, there are times when that inevitable moment stops my breath. A song, a number, a phrase, a space, a memory… and I have to pause for a moment, take it in, reflect, and consider the possibility – is this a message?Pay attention, I tell myself. He’s still there, just on the other side of the veil. He’s still with you as real as the bearded little man laying beside me now. There are times when I still feel his touch, a gentle one on the shoulder, a soft caress to the cheek as if a kiss made of air.

Sunset over snowy field and woodsThe triggers still come, a song I hadn’t heard in awhile played recently and I had to stop and listen and nod. “I will wait, I will wait for you…” sang Mumford & Sons. The song had just been released the last summer Keith was alive. I had put it on the playlist that became the soundtrack of the summer. “You can’t let me down now” sang Bonnie Raitt in another soulful tune that filled me with guilt and sadness for not having saved Keith from the pain he endured. Then there was “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes, a song that came out the year Keith and I were able to see them play live in concert.

These tunes and several others cause the air to slip out from my lungs momentarily, my heart to tighten in my chest. The difference now is that they don’t make me cry like they once did. The tightness lets go quicker and a soft smile slowly curves the corners of my mouth and I breath again, lovingly touched by the soul of my deepest connection in the spirit world.

There are times when I may also feel a bit irrational, where anxiety steps up and clenches my nerves tightly. Last fall I had been asked about going to a conference this winter. It was one that I had attended in March 2012 and co-presented with Ferris doctoral students along with the then president of the college where I work. It was in Philadelphia and I’d wanted Keith to join me but he couldn’t. He hadn’t been feeling all that well and felt the pressure of some work he needed to do. I wasn’t happy about his not feeling well, this uncured bronchitis or whatever it was. But he clearly didn’t have the energy to travel so I backed off. The conference, however, has somehow been cast in my mind as the “beginning of the end” for Keith.

So it was with a sudden attack of anxiety that I couldn’t immediately bring myself to register for this event when asked last October. Steven had had a health scare around the same time and I had a sudden feeling of deja vu, a path I didn’t want to travel twice in six years. Fortunately for Steven, the potential for liver problems was caught early enough and has led to him cutting way back on his alcohol intake and it has made a noticeable difference.

I had a sudden feeling of deja vu, a path I didn’t want to travel twice in six years.

Still, though the moment had passed, the anxiety over the association between this conference and losing a husband remained. Irrational, yes. But real enough that I put it off while still watching the deadline for the early bird registration. So when the moment came this week in a meeting with the VP to discuss conference travel, I was relieved when she supported my attending a different conference, one that would take place in Austin, Texas at the end of May. I would plan to take Steven so he could visit with his son, and I’d lead a contingent of faculty to the conference. It looked like something I could sincerely enjoy doing. The anxiety slipped away and replaced by a sense of giddy relief.

But then Dad mentioned the question asked by his lady friend: “Are you done grieving?” and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

The answer is: No. But life still moves forward and we must go with it, or risk losing the opportunity to live the life we’ve been blessed with to the fullest.

In the blog entry “My Mother Wasn’t Trash,” writer Joshua Wilkey shares his mother’s important and sensitive story about her life in poverty in Appalachia. It’s worth a read.

When people are eaten up mentally and physically by a lifetime of compounded shitty choices, they reach a point where they can’t even decide what is best anymore, because they realize that no matter what they do – no matter how hard they try – they are cogs in a broken machine and nobody cares about them anyway. Poor Appalachian people are broken, but not nearly as broken as the systems that keep them poor. 

Thank you, Joshua Wilkey, for bringing a voice forward to be heard.


When a terrible disease ravages someone you love, the mourning process begins long before they finally pass on. Kübler-Ross (1969), in her study on death and dying, described five stages of grief including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But Kübler-Ross was initially focusing on those who were dying, and not so much on those who were dealing with personal loss of any great significance, which she later came to recognize.

These stages are not linear, either, and can occur in any order, if at all. Women tend to experience all five stages more than men. They can be cyclical, too, with two or more occurring in an almost extreme emotional roller coaster. For both the dying and the loved one, getting to the point of acceptance does not always happen at the same time. The dying often reaches the stage of acceptance before their loved ones. But if and when both reach the point of acceptance, where communication and reflection can be experienced, a more dignified death can be found.

I’d add a couple of additional stages, or at least notable elements, to the stages of pre (and post) grieving. That includes fighting to maintain control of the details in their lives. The opposite is the disruptive feeling of vulnerability when control is lost which can lead to related stages of despair and anger.

Another related stage involves trying to make order in one’s life. Especially when the world around you seems to be in chaos, small efforts to create order can take on an outsized importance. Cleaning out cupboards, putting away old records, sorting through old photos, are just a few example of how the person facing loss may attempt to build a sense of order in a life that seems otherwise out of control.

Recently, I heard this statement made by someone who is facing the inevitable loss of his longtime spouse who is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. I’ve paraphrased it per my own cloudy memory.

I feel like I’m in a carnival outhouse sitting out in a field, and the circus is packing up to leave without me.

While he didn’t elaborate, he was trying to express his feelings regarding the situation he found himself in now. I’ve been thinking about this and cannot help but connect it to my own experiences and ruminations.

First and foremost, there is the overwhelming feeling of vulnerability, of literally having your pants down in a crisis, or a formidable change that is going on around you. You’re stuck. It is hard to move forward without first finishing the primary business at hand. Panic sets in and it is hard to make decisions. Yet you’re also worried about being left behind, and by the act of moving to a new location – mentally, emotionally, and physically – and the unknown that comes with that. But even more so, it is a fear of being left behind by the ominously fast progression of a disease that robs you of the one you love, again mentally, emotionally, and physically.

The carnival/circus represents fetes of apparent magic, gravity-defying acts, seemingly impossible, often nonsensical, frightening in their dangerous distortions of human entertainment, and the funhouse mirrors that twist and distort our vision of reality.

The world around you no longer makes sense and you feel vulnerable, scared, afraid of being left behind, fearing for your loved one and a future you cannot envision without them. It literally scares the shit out of you… And yet you know you have to keep moving to survive. Because that’s your role here.

Of course, the circus could also represent your loved one, the person who was the highlight of your life, with which you shared the literal stage of life, it’s bright lights, music, the comedy and drama of a life fully shared. Either way, it all seems so unfair.

Anger rushes forward. Anger at what fate has thrown you, your loved one, the cruelty of the disease. There is no preferred or better way to die of a disease. Cancer kills the body slowly while eating away at the person. Alzheimers eats away the person while leaving the body to deteriorate at a slower rate, until the parts of the brain that operate the body begin to lose their synaptic connections.

Either way, these diseases are cruel – to the loved one who suffers them, and to the lover who must endure the pain of watching, of frustrating efforts to try and overcome the diseases’ manifestations, the cruel teases of normalcy and strength that suddenly appear and then, as a wisp in the winds, they disappear to the mists that hid the light in their eyes.

Whether you want to or not, you are, and will be… the survivor. The one who will carry the stories forward until they can be shared fully with a new generation. You will be needed by others who will benefit from your wisdom, humor, insights borne of long experience. The fates have determined that your place is here…in this world…where you are still needed.

The journey along side the dying of a loved one is dark and painful. But it also has its moments to be cherished. The fleeting glimpse of a smile, a flash of humor, the small gestures that show you are still connected to this loved one. You have been chosen for the honor of being beside them on this journey to the end of this life. You, however, will stay behind, their partner only until the gates of passage open to the other side. Until death do you part.

It sucks. It hurts so badly, the pain is physical, palpable. Breath… breath… You are still alive. And they will always be with you, and waiting on the other side to greet you when your turn comes, naturally, when the fates determine it to be so. In the meantime, treasure each moment with your loved one as a gift. Soon enough, there will be only memories that you will hold onto tightly, then share with others when the right time comes.

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