The Not-So-Grim Reaper

20160416ChrisFarewellTrail

Chris scoping out the Farewell Trail

I woke to Bob’s honeyed voice saying “Happy Birthday, dear.” It was Saturday, June 4th. We got out of bed, I put some water on to boil, and opened my card. It said “Dream Big” with a little girl on a rocking horse casting a giant shadow of a woman astride a galloping horse, manes and tail flying. Inside he wrote, “Happy Birthday Love! Many, many, more. We’re not done yet.”

Sipping cocoa from a steaming mug, I opened my laptop. I picked up my phone and read a text, finished my cocoa, and headed over to the neighbors. I walked into Alisa and Chris’s bedroom, touching Chris’s pants leg in passing. His leg felt thin and hard. “Hey Chris,” I whispered.

Alisa and her sister Gina were sitting by the window talking in hushed tones. I took a seat on the carpet. The kids were asleep outside the door, a puddle of blankets on the living room floor. The three Boston bulls milled about. Chris lay silent, eyes closed, hands folded over his chest. I had just received one of the most memorable birthday presents of my life, the opportunity to touch a dead man.

When my grandmother died they laid her out in a cushioned casket and prettied her up. My eyes got as far as her hands before I chickened out. If her hands were unnaturally orange, I knew I didn’t want to see what they’d done to her face. I turned around and stood next to my mother, unaware that I was effectively shielding the sight of my grandmother from all who had come to pay their respects. A column of people advanced towards the coffin and my mother gently moved me aside.

Corpse dreams are a thing for me. Once I dreamed I peered into the face of the deceased and saw my own eyes. The flesh beside one eye was scarred and pinched, so only part of that eye peeked through. Horrified, I cried out to Bob, “Bunny! I’m dead…” and my voice was low and thick, like a slowed-down recording. In another dream, I found Bob inside a furnace and I knew it was too late to save him. He was burnt to ashes and there was nothing I could do to bring him back. The horror of these dreams lingers.

Chris and I had a long chat the Wednesday before my birthday. He texted and I talked. He was awash in anxiety, he said, afraid of the unknown, wanting to know what was going to happen to him after he died. I didn’t have much to offer. I’m not a spiritual person. “What do you want to have happen?” I asked. I think we all have a different scenario in mind. For me, I just want my life to be over. I want to be done. The thought of spending eternity in heaven sounds arduous to me, but it’s what my mother lives for. Chris said he didn’t want to be alone. I said, “Well then, you won’t be.”

The next day he was no longer able to swallow. Alisa’s sister flew in from Alaska and their parents drove from Illinois. A stream of friends came by to share music, flowers, their touch, and love with Chris who lay on his bed, heavily medicated. I kept myself busy outside helping get the yard ready for a funeral. Maybe I’d bid him farewell Friday.

But Friday came and went and I never got around to walking into the bedroom. The next time I saw Chris he was laid out on the bed he made himself, atop the afghan his mother made for him, surrounded by roses and dogs. He looked a lot happier than he had on Wednesday.

I was happy, too. All my fears turned around and marched off as soon as I walked in that room. If it turns out there is an afterlife, I’m going to look Chris up and thank him for helping me face my fears on my 62nd birthday.

Chris's last bonfire June 4

Chris’s last bonfire June 4

Autopsy of an Epidemic

Heroin

Heroin, disguised as pain pills.

Our generation doesn’t think to send their kids off to college with, “And stay away from heroin, it’s a killer!” But we need to because heroin is ubiquitous, cheap, easy, and deadly.

Last month I was blindsided by Zafer’s death. After recovering my balance, I started reading. I needed to know how a well-adjusted, talented college freshman had overdosed on heroin. What I learned was shocking.

The United States is experiencing an epidemic.

“Accidental drug overdose is currently the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States for people between the ages of 35-54 and the second leading cause of injury-related death for young people. Drug overdose deaths now exceed those attributable to firearms, homicides or HIV/AIDS.” – DrugPolicy.org

“Heroin-related deaths more than tripled between 2010 and 2014, with 10,574 heroin deaths in 2014.” – CDC.gov

“Use of the drug in the United States increased 79 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to federal data, triggering a wave of overdose deaths and an “urgent and growing public health crisis,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.” – Washington Post

Heroin Overdose Graph

“Use it twice and you’re addicted” someone told me. Z died on his third try. But he wasn’t addicted, I protest. Zafer does not fit my image of a heroin addict. Times have changed.

Today’s heroin user is more likely to smoke it than inject it. It comes in pill form, is much cheaper than it was forty years ago, and you can even buy it online. “In the ’70s, a bag of heroin — enough to get a user high once — cost $30 and was about 28-percent pure. Today, it’s 80 percent to 90 percent pure, which makes it powerfully addictive, and it sells for $4 a bag.” from NPR’s Heroin in America series.

Riding the white horse has never been easier.

I try to put myself in his shoes. Like Zafer, I felt invincible at nineteen. My parents cautioned me against sex, drugs, and rock and roll to no avail. My life was mine to live and I wanted to taste everything it had to offer. Except heroin, of course.

I hung out with friends who were users. They called it horse, but as much as I love to ride I never rode this one because we all knew it rode you. No one wanted a monkey on their back nor wished that horror on others. I’d seen the writhing pain of withdrawal and wanted none of it. My friends never offered to share the drug and I never asked. It was different back then.

Heroin is now accepted as a recreational drug without regard for the risks and we have widespread pharmaceutical use and legalized marijuana to blame.

ShatterproofBlaming meds is easy. I disdain the pervasive fear of pain or discomfort that drives the pill culture and loathe the predatory pharmaceutical companies. A little pain never hurt anyone! My country has become a nation of addicted weenies.

I am less inclined to implicate marijuana. Facts are facts, though and when you take Mexico’s economy into consideration, the correlation makes perfect sense. The legalization of marijuana reduced the profitability of cannabis at the same time widespread use of pain meds opened up a lucrative market for heroin. Farmers began planting poppies in their pot fields and pain medication addicts soon had a cheaper alternative.

Utah, of all places, demonstrated the path forward with an aggressive education program. “The state’s overdose death rate climbed steadily during the early 2000s, driven by growing prescription opioid dependence. But Utah lawmakers took action early. In 2007, they established a two-year public health-based program to combat painkiller misuse.

Over the next three years, prescription opioid-related overdose deaths dropped more than 25%, but the success was short lived. After funding ran out in 2010, deaths began to climb again.

“We saw that when we weren’t educating the public and providers, awareness decreased and deaths increased,” said Angela Stander, prescription drug overdose prevention coordinator at the Utah department of public health.” [CDC.gov]

Bottom line, education will stop the spread of the overdose epidemic. Support legislation. Throw in with the folks at Shatterproof. Spread the word.

Additional sources:

Overdose Death Rates

A deadly crisis: mapping the spread of America’s drug overdose epidemic

Office of National Drug Control Policy: The International Heroin Market

How Much Does Heroin Cost?

Why a bag of heroin costs less than a pack of cigarettes

How Your Teenage Son or Daughter May Be Buying Heroin Online

Colorado Opioid Symposium: Reducing the Impacts of Opioids in Colorado

Opioid-Antidote Drug Will Now Be Available to US High Schools for Free

Pit Stop – an after-vacation vacation

An American flag strains against its moorings outside our second floor window facing the Atlantic. We made our way here down Ocean Boulevard past beach clubs landscaped in cypress and roses, silent miniature golf creatures, gaudy life-sized plastic Arabian horses, and cartoonish restaurant signs with names like Awful Arthur’s, Tortuga’s Lie, and Hurricane Mo’s, all bright against a grey sky. I bought blueberries and cherries at one of the farm stands, knowing full well they weren’t locally grown. Our vacation ends here at Cypress House in Kill Devil Hills, a pit stop before pressing inland to our little corner of the world.

20160519CypressHouse 20160519BeachBobCam

Four hours of driving gave us time to replay the vignettes from our visit. The reunion had gone well, thirty of us representing four generations ranging in age from infant to ninety. We managed to get a photo of the nuclear family, all eight of us in one room for the first time in since the eighties. John set up his tripod to frame the shot while Joe went to fetch Dad from Mom’s room down the hall.

We were all crossing our fingers that he would come. Mom stressed the importance of everyone being in place when Dad arrived, to keep him from balking and/or bolting. It felt a lot like dealing with a wild animal or a skittish colt. We arranged ourselves and waited, hoping he’d forgotten he’d said he wasn’t coming to the reunion. Johnny stood behind the couch with Bob, and Mike, leaving a space for Joe. Jim sat next to Mom with a space for Dad. Brandon stood behind the camera.

In came the lone wolf with a bad case of bed head, his handler close behind and took his seat. I reached over and tried to smooth down his hair but it was stiff with natural oils. Dad gave his head an ineffective swipe. He likes to tell us he has a full head of hair because he only washes it once a week. Brandon snapped the shutter.

20160514Family

After a delicious potluck lunch we took turns sharing thoughts from our year. Joe invented the round robin a few years ago and it has become the highlight of our gathering, at least for me. Not everyone feels comfortable talking about themselves but that’s never been a problem for me and Bob. I read an excerpt from my mother’s memoirs and briefly explained that I looked older now because a) I am and b) I’ve been touched by death and makeup seems disingenuous. When it was Bob’s turn he told the story of how we were drawn to Pittsboro by Lyle and Tami, came to collaborate with them, about Zafer’s tragic death About how our community sprang into action to plan a monster service and build the Farewell Trail for a home burial in the woods. And that’s where we’ll be buried too.

There were many other wonderful moments from our short week away such as the discovery that Mom and I wear the same exact watch, Deb’s apple cobbler, Darla walking in with a three-pound tub of chocolate ice cream, standing behind the counter with Michael, packing dozens of ice cream cones. A casual meal at the hotel Friday night with John, Joe and Jim, riding shotgun with Bobby up highway 81, blowing up balloons with Penny, Jim and Lou in the church hall before a reception to honor Joe’s twenty-five years in the priesthood, and a nice chat with Maggie and Brian during the reception.

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On Sunday Joe, Jim and I picked up Chinese food and drove to Charity’s. Levi invited us to see the bike trail he made and off we scampered, running through honeysuckle-scented woods, crossing streams over pallets and planks, steering clear of poison ivy. John and Darla arrived with Mom and she started giving rides to the smaller children on her walker. I got the feeling this is routine when Mom visits her great grands. Darla and I tackled the weeds in the front yard while John cleaned up. Joe and Jim played out back with the kids. Golden moments, all.

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On Tuesday we found ourselves outside Washington DC at Ned’s, enjoying his inimitable banter. He and I took a long, wet walk to the Great Falls of the Potomac chewing on every aspect of our lives along the way. That evening we met Frankie and Jessica for an elaborate Thai dinner in the city, heard all about their year in France and test drove their latest creation, a super relaxing and fun card game.

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It was smart of Bob to spend one night at the shore before diving back into our other tribe. We lay on the bed and laughed at a TV movie, the Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp as Tonto with a dead crow flopping on his head. I ate cherries until my stomach began to churn, flipping stems and pits into the waste basket. We slept, fitful but well enough.

After breakfast we walked across the street and down the beach. The sun had come out. Pelicans floated passed in groups of five, six or eight. I took off my shoes, shrieking when the cold, white foam shot up my legs. Then I cried. I was home!

20160520Pelicans IMG_1783

After Z

20160423OrangeRibbonDown at the bend, in the bubble and beyond, hundreds turned a corner amid a pivotal scramble. I now refer to events as BZ (before Zafer) or AZ. Before Z, Arlo had a brother, Tami and Lyle a thriving firstborn son. After Z we have yet to see.

There are endless slices of this bittersweet pie. One hefty wedge is tart with pain and loss. The news from Tami’s father, Ed was unfathomable. “OD’d?” I said into the phone, “As in Dead?!” I ran next door and took hold of Haruka and Jason’s hands, then up the hill and across the dam to Tami and Lyle’s. The story came into focus. An officer knocked on their door at midnight. Luke heard a howl rip through the woods. It was accidental, recreational.

Another piece is sweet with the power of community. We put our shoulders to a wheel that rolled forward until it stopped at a clay grave in the woods. Time sharpened to a point and we focused all our energies on that point. A hundred hands reached out with food, lodging, transportation, music and offers of “anything at all.” An avalanche of goodwill that Angelina remarked “speaks to the beauty of our village.” Many hovered, hugged and fielded information. I became a dispatch operator, juggling calls, texts, emails and facebook offers. We used a nine-tab spreadsheet to stay on track.

The challenges of a DIY burial lent additional flavor to the pie. We’d been planning a neighborhood cemetery for some time – nobody thought our first service would be for a nineteen-year-old.

20160421PrayerFlagsLyle walked down his driveway with his brother Glen and marked out a trail with Bob and Joe. Trip brought his bobcat and got to work. David hauled a load of pine straw and Joe installed stone pillars on each end. Bob dubbed it the Farewell Trail after tying a strand of prayer flags between two pines. Chris arrived in his wheelchair for a look. Barring another unforeseen death, his grave will be next. Arlo and Uncle Michael used the Monarch to dig the hole. Joe, Leavitt and others finished the grave by hand. We spread the pine needles to cover the bobcat scars, making it look like any other dappled path through the woods.

I pictured myself at rest beneath the trees along the Farewell Trail and tasted peace, unexpected and nourishing. I haven’t thought much about my own burial, just as I don’t think about the hotel bed when planning a vacation. Yet, no matter how excited I am to be somewhere new, I prefer to first check into the hotel, put down my bags and glance at the bed. My adventures taste sweeter once I know where I’m going to sleep.

We had the service at The Plant and people poured in. Cars were parked on both sides of the road all the way to highway 64 three quarters of a mile away, filling the Credit Union and Allstate parking lots. Two hundred were seated with twice as many standing.

After eulogies and music Zafer took his last ride in the Pup, the little red pickup Arlo inherited when Z left for his first year at the University of Colorado. Arlo took the wheel, his big brother behind him in a pristine pine casket with a big Z on the lid.

20160423GravesideThe burial was intimate, touching, heart breaking and real. No Astroturf. Just a pile of yellow clay and some borrowed shovels. Tami sat on the edge of the hole, throwing in handfuls until Joe gently took her arm. Men, women and children took turns until the job was finished, a mound of earth atop Zafer’s casket.

The next day I didn’t put on makeup before going out. It was over. I didn’t have to be anyone but myself now. Shelley and I went for our Sunday morning walk. I swung by The Plant to find everything had been picked up and put away. I considered touching up my eyes before giving Audrey a ride to the airport but decided to plunge forward au naturale.

The next day I hesitated in front of my mirror before heading off to work. After all that had happened, eyeliner and mascara seemed disingenuous. It’s time I started looking my age, I thought, trying to picture Jane Goodall drawing on eyeliner.

I’m different now, touched by death but unafraid. What a nice way to step into the After Z, as my unenhanced self. This is my tribute, my testament. When you see me for what I am, know that I’ve been touched by Zafer.

Links to Lyle’s eloquent series of posts:
Goodbye Z
Grave Digging Time
Writing the Bulletin
Z Comes Home
http://www.biofuels.coop/guilt-101

Asleep at the Wheel

aleepRegardless of how we feel about it, technology is barreling towards us. The future promises more artificial intelligence with computers that can do everything but pick your nose. The latest invention is a car that accelerates, steers and brakes without human intervention. When I heard about this I nearly dropped my wine glass.

I wondered why anyone would need a car like that. Heck, half the fun of driving is making all those last-minute decisions. I enjoy using my senses and reflexes to motor around town and am of the minority who know how to drive a manual transmission. Downshifting is fun! I particularly like that horseshoe motion I make before taking a corner, a flourish of my wrist that pulls Christine, my 1995 Ford Escort into second from fourth.

And yet, there are compelling arguments for autonomous cars. Commuting is monotonous, cell phones are distracting and people make bad decisions. 94% of the annual 33,000 traffic fatalities in the US are due to human error. Drivers lose their tempers in traffic and sometimes fall asleep at the wheel. Self-driving cars may be the solution.

Folks who have driven autonomously view the traffic pattern on a screen and can see their car in relationship to the others on the road. While the other cars weave in and out of traffic and bobble around in their lanes, their car hugs the middle and doesn’t make erratic moves. “The biggest source of angst comes, not from any technology, but from the other people on the road whose non-computer-assisted imperfections are all the more visible when you are being chauffeured by a supercomputer.” -Joe Harpaz, Forbes. Trials show the human drivers at fault when an autonomous car has a fender bender.

To help me understand the allure of computer assist, I went on a virtual test drive with Alex:

Like Alex, I find the technology both unsettling and reassuring. Still, I have no desire to replace Christine with a self-driving car. I like being in the driver seat with full control over her behavior. It’ll be up to me, not my car whether to pause and let someone back out of the slant parking on our main street. It’ll be my eyes, not computerized sensors that determine whether to stop for the people hovering a few feet back from the cross walk zone.

And yet driverless cars may be inevitable. A lot of resources are going into their development with the hope that consumers can hop on board within the next five to fifteen years. By the time I turn 100, autonomous vehicles may be the primary mode of transportation. By then I might be tempted if I thought I could afford one.

Maybe its sour grapes, but I don’t think we need yet another buffer between us and our surroundings. I sense another shred of humanity will shrivel after computer assisted cars become commonplace. Everything that glitters is not gold. Sometimes it’s just broken glass in your carpet.

More:

Ten ways autonomous driving could redefine the automotive world

Google Self-Driving Car Project

Humans Are Slamming Into Driverless Cars and Exposing a Key Flaw

Study: Self-driving cars have higher accident rate

Every Day Moments

Every day momentsThere are moments in every day that take my breath away. That choice bite of sandwich from the middle might get chewed and swallowed like all the others if I don’t take a moment to savor the feel of it on my tongue, the way it fills my mouth. An odd blend of pleasure and longing surges over me when I realize THIS bite is the best. None that follow will please me quite like this one, stellar bite.

I’ve experienced countless once-in-a lifetime moments and I regret those I missed. A certain tune will bring back the dance I shared with Nana in her living room forty years ago. A glimpse of Bob’s profile makes me blush with the memory of our first kiss. The taste of our sweetest memories linger, often for a lifetime.

I regret the birthday party I attended but essentially missed, because I was shrouded in a sullen, pubescent haze. I regret not going to Saturday Night Live after-show cast parties in 1977. Our family is in show business and my Aunt Kathy tried to get me to go several times. But I was a waitress and earned half my weekly pay in tips on Saturday nights, so I always turned her down.

Last weekend Bob and I were invited to a Blessingway for our neighbor, Chris and his family. It would be a gathering of close family friends, a wake for a man still living. We accepted without hesitation. Our friend will not wander this earth much longer and we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to walk by his side.

Twenty of us gathered in a remote location as storm clouds gathered. Chris’s wife, Alisa and our hosts Megan and Tim were bustling around, preparing for the ceremony. Megan was barefoot and soon we were, too. Tim helped Chris’s son bring up some fire wood. Chris and I leaned against the warm hood of a car. A rainbow sketched across the eastern horizon.

When all had arrived, we entered the Peace Chamber, a round building with a domed ceiling. Chairs circled a table with photographs from Chris’s life. The family seated themselves opposite the door. Megan proposed we each read a verse from a Native American prayer. We took turns expressing thankfulness for the trees, animals, birds and the four winds. Each verse ended with, “Now our minds are one.”

Many of us had prepared something to say and some would read letters from family who couldn’t be there. We spoke as we were moved to do so. Brooksie went first, singing a song that moved me to tears. For an hour we expressed our love for Chris and his family, molten feelings welding our hearts together. The sun went down outside the door.

Everyone dies but we don’t think about it much until it comes close. Both Bob and Tami thanked Alisa and Chris for bringing an awareness of death to our community. Our friendships are stronger now because we work as one to support our sweet neighbors in their time of crisis.

There are countless moments when the clouds shift, lighting up my world. If I don’t pay attention, they slip right by unnoticed. Chris’ Blessingway was an unforgettable occasion I’m glad I didn’t miss. Joy is made of savored moments. Remember to choose wisely, slow down and taste the best parts.

Links:
Watersong Peace Chamber
Thankfulness Prayer

75,000 an Hour

75000 An HourOne hundred times the speed of sound, 75,000 miles per hour is inconceivably fast. It’s more than twice the 36,373 mph of Nasa’s New Horizons as it hurtles towards Pluto. But I’m not writing about speed, I’m writing about dollars.

At $156 million a year, David Zaslav earns ten thousand times more per hour than ten million American workers working for the Federal minimum wage of $7.25. I can’t get my head around that figure so I took it down a notch. At forty hours a week, he’s pulling in $75,000 an hour. Whoa!

Okay, say he works eighty hours a week. That’s still $37,500 an hour, enough for me to pay off my mortgage in two hours. Enough to give everyone dear to me half a million dollars with one month’s pay.

According to the New York Post, “Cable network operator Discovery had the biggest pay gap. Its CEO, David Zaslav, was the highest-paid among S&P 500 companies last year, at $156 million. That was 1,951 times the amount paid to Discovery’s median worker.”

Things sure have changed since the sixties when the highest CEO salaries were only twenty times the average working wage. I can’t say as I like the direction they’re going. Sky high, as it were. Rocketing out of orbit. No one can be worth this kind of money, especially when fourteen out of every one hundred Americans are stuck below poverty level.

About that minimum wage, there’s been some progress. This year 29 States have adopted higher minimums, several reaching $10.50, with D.C. poised to bump their $10.50 to $11.50 mid-year. Yay!

So there you have it, a little bit of good news to sweeten a bitter pill. Income inequality continues to reach new heights in this country. Those clinging to the hope that the United States is still a democracy rather than an oligarchy aren’t paying attention. Something’s gotta give.

Sources:
nypost.com/2015/08/25/chipotle-cvs-and-discovery-have-highest-ceo-pay-gap/
fortune.com/2015/08/25/ceo-worker-pay-gaps/
www.epi.org/publication/ceo-pay-continues-to-rise/
www.spaceanswers.com/solar-system/five-amazing-facts-about-the-new-horizons-probe/
pluto.jhuapl.edu/
www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/about/overview/
www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/state-minimum-wage-chart.aspx

Us and Them

Us and ThemAs per usual in an election year, the media has gone ape shit and common folk are clawing out each other’s throats, splitting hairs on issues that only marginally affect them. Case in point, a friend writes an innocuous post for the Daily Kos and is vigorously attacked in the comments by people she never met. The vitriol and small-minded insults prompt her to remove the post. Her fingertips are singed, her appetite for speaking truth dampened. Bystanders feel their faith in humanity shaken.

It’s always been this way. Since homo erectus lit his first fire and sapiens saw her first glimmer of cognizant thought there has been an us and a them. Beware of them, we automatically think, they are not of our tribe/family/gene pool. They are foreigners.

As we progressed intellectually, humans often went so far as to say the “others” weren’t even human. The San people or Bushmen of South Africa were missing links according to Dutch settlers who authorized their extermination in the late 1700’s. Closer to home, Native Americans were deemed savages, and imported black Africans considered livestock.

It’s a matter of survival, actually. Wariness exists in all life forms. As surely as zebras instinctively shake off anything that lands on its back, we distrust those who are not our own. But, even zebras can rise above their distrustful instincts to be ridden without fear of injury. Likewise, sentient humans are capable of trusting strangers.

Our natural distrust plays nicely into the hands of conquerors. Indigenous populations were easily destroyed by small numbers of soldiers. Had the tribes joined forces, they would have easily fought off the intruders. Today we have enormous empires ruled by a handful of powerful corporations and we, the people are still powerless to join forces. Rather than fight the conquerors, we scrabble over insignificant issues. We are easily divided and so have fallen prey to a small group.

I’d love to see a return to small, self-sufficient communities, but fear it won’t happen until we’ve burned every drop of cheap oil and have no choice. In a perfect world, we shrink from empire to tribe and rise above distrust of others, never again to be factionalized by the elite.

It is time to jettison dichotomous thinking, the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ of multi-national greed, predatory corporate practices, and partisan politics, and heighten our interconnectedness by designing economic systems, institutions, and businesses with a triple bottom line. – Dennis Kucinich

Snowzilla Takes the Village

2016122VillageOur neighbors got to prove their mettle and thus, the truth of the phrase “it takes a village” during a snow storm this weekend. The epic first blizzard of 2016, Snowzilla buried the east coast from Virginia to New York City, dumping two to three feet of snow, shutting down schools, airports and Broadway.

In our rural North Carolina community everything ground to a halt with a sleet storm followed by snow, icing over our driveways and roads. Fortunately, we did not lose power as did 120,000 Carolinians east of us. But we were faced with a challenge. Our good neighbors who were on holiday without their children suddenly found themselves unable to fly home as planned. Although they had a solid child care plan in place, their stay was now extended by three days. The delay might have ruined their trip were it not for the robust network of friends who volunteered to pitch in.

Tami called a meeting at her kitchen table and we put together a schedule. Brooksie, a lovely woman from another neighborhood had stayed with the kids the night of the storm and would continue sleeping at their house until the ice began to melt. After she was able to drive out, others would stay at the house or bring the children to their homes. Some of us showed up for the breakfast shift and others to make dinner. None of us could get our cars out so we walked back and forth, carrying food and crayons.

The kids adapted as if this were nothing out of the ordinary. They easily accepted their new extended family and went along with the program as if this were the status quo. Indeed, humans are likely hard-wired for nurturing by many rather than two. Years ago, when Bob split from the mother of his children, she wisely observed that the girls were faced with an addition problem rather than a subtraction problem. They now had two mothers and two fathers, she said.

Another benefit of these unexpected circumstances was that we got to hang out with each other. I spent one memorable afternoon with Brooksie, a former acquaintance who now feels like a friend. Lyle and Tami called a potluck and we had an evening of hot chocolate, conversation and crokinole. Time slowed down and despite the cold we were driven outside and into each other’s homes. Zoila and I made the rounds to Hope’s, to Brooksie and the kids, and to Tami and Lyle’s  holding umbrellas against the sleet. Hope set them up at her kitchen table with markers and a roll of paper so they could make a welcome home banner while we “mothers” enjoyed a good chat. It turned out the storm and delayed return of our friends were a great excuse to spend time with each other.

It’s times like these, when our cars are frozen to the earth and we mine our cupboards for crackers and beans that we return to our rightful pace. The gift of a common, meaningful goal gave our stride purpose and blushed our cheeks with pride of accomplishment. Eventually, the snow melted and the parents flew home, but we are all better off for the experience, happy to know what we are made of and what we can do together.

Death Cafe Comes to Pittsboro

DeathCafeDressed in earth colors and shades of purple, nearly forty people met at The Plant on Sunday to discuss death. Death Cafe is yet another cutting-edge Abundance NC event, the folks who brought Pecha Kucha to Pittsboro. The concept sprouted in London five and a half years ago and is quickly spreading across Europe, North America and Australia. The objective is “to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.”

Our hosts baked dozens of cupcakes and set up a coffee bar with locally roasted coffee from Plant neighbor Aromatic Roasting Company. Many guests brought plates of home-made confections. There were party lights and the hum of expectant energy. Settled in with coffee and cake, we began introducing ourselves.

Heartfelt and articulate, we heard from hospice professionals, women who had lost their husbands, men who had lost a child and people who hadn’t lost anyone yet but knew their time would inevitably arrive. Some spoke of good good-byes, others of natural burials, the world of the unseen, being awakened to death and unrequited grief. We talked about how common it was to care for the sick and dying at home a couple generations ago. How it was when family witnessed the transition and prepared the deceased for burial, often laying them to rest on family land.

With seventy-five million baby boomers aged fifty-two to seventy, the time is ripe for a new awareness. Many question the necessity of $7,000 to $10,000 funerals involving iron-clad coffins, embalming, and concrete liners. Biodegradable coffins and home burials are becoming common with the help of a blossoming natural death industry.

After two hours of listening and sharing, I left feeling less daunted by my aging parent’s eventual passing and more prepared to put my own affairs in order. And perhaps Bob and I will find a nice tree to settle under when our time on earth is up.

Resources:
DeathCafe.com

Compassion and Choices

Locally:
Piedmont Pine Coffins