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Archive for April 2011

A royal legacy

The world watched as Kate Middleton wed Prince William on Friday.  While the pageantry was magnificent, all I could think of was Princess Diana.   How tragic not to be present at such a transcendent moment in your child's life. Will was 15-years-old when his “mum” died in that tragic accident. Yet, her legacy seems to live in her children. She imparted much of her world view to her son. The prayers of Kate and William to comfort those who suffer are not just lip service. They have asked for donations - instead of gifts - to charitable causes they selected.

The media speculated on possible tributes to Diana at Friday's ceremony. Perhaps the tribute to Diana rests in Will's will to reach beyond Buckingham Palace into a suffering world, seeking ways to make a difference - not just a gesture, but from this day forward, a way of life.

A doctor’s prescription for a long life

At lunch Thursday with one of my favorite people, Dr. Elizabeth Welty, who was a doctor in Spokane when women doctors were quite rare here, told me the “secret” to an active life at 96.

“Keep moving. Plan tomorrow.”

And, I noted, she drank real coffee — black.

(S-R archive photo of Dr. Welty in 2007)

The sky is falling. Again.

Religion Link, a news story idea service from Religion Newswriters, often sends interesting emails on many topics. Today's caught my attention.

The writers noted that end-of-the-world worries, fears (and for some, hopes) are astir. The weird weather might be part of it!

They have a good analysis on what it all might mean.

“Apocalyptic thinking is a characteristic of the American religious imagination and has been a staple of popular culture and belief throughout history. Such ideas can illuminate important aspects of the national culture and societal trends, in terms of short-term versus long-term thinking.”

Consider these developments, the writers said:

  • A March 2011 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute that shows that 44 percent of Americans believe recent natural disasters are signs of the end times. The number rises to 67 percent among white evangelicals.
  • A recent poll by the National Association of Evangelicals showed that a majority of its board of directors believe in one of various end-times scenarios.
  • One well-known preacher, Harold Camping of Family Radio, has predicted that Jesus will gather the righteous believers to heaven on May 21, 2011, and that event will be followed by five months of fire, brimstone and plagues.
  • The “Rapture Index” – a measurement of the nearness of the biblically promised end of the world – at in April hit a record high of 184.
  • Sixteen years after it published the first of the Left Behind series of apocalyptic thrillers by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, Tyndale publishers in April released an updated version aimed at appealing to a new generation, as well as a repackaged version of a companion title by the same authors, Are We Living in the End Times?

So EndNote readers: Do end of the world prophecies make you jittery, happy or amused? Let us know — before it's too late! Just kidding on that.

(AP archive photo from the end-of-the-world movie “The Day After Tomorrow”)

The Terminator

The June Psychology Today includes a conversation with a man deemed “the terminator,” Simon Critchley, who co-runs the International Necronautical Society, “an avant-garde network seeking to make death as popular as sex.”

In other words, get the national dialogue about death and grief more into the open, one of our goals here at EndNotes. So of course, we're instant fans of Simon Critchley.

He's a philosopher and writer and moderates a philosophy series for the New York Times.

The interview was fascinating.

Here are two excerpts:

“Our culture denies death in a massive, systematic way. We don't know how to deal with it. We don't have rituals around it. We don't know what to do, what to say. We used to. People used to take their hats off when they saw a hearse.”

“My earliest memory of death is my greatgrandmother's, in Liverpool. There was an open-top funeral. You had to kiss the corpse…The function was to acquaint one with death. You don't forget kissing the cold flesh of a corpse.”

Phoebe Snow’s death stirs memories

It was 1974. My heart had been broken for the first time at age 19, and I sometimes babysat my niece, Nichole, and I'd put on Phoebe Snow's new self-titled album with its sad and haunting single “Poetry Man” and pace the living room of my sister's house holding Nichole and crying.

It was my first real experience with that grief unique to first heartbreak, and I didn't know how I would ever be happy again. Snow sang my despair.

The singer died today from a brain hemorrhage, according to a Los Angeles Times story.

Her life after fame was hard and tragic. Her daughter was born with severe brain damage in 1975 and died in 2007.

I found some conflicting information regarding her age. The Times story says she was 60. The CNN story says she was 58. According to many websites she was born in July 1952, which makes 58 the accurate age.

When I heard the news this morning on NPR, they played “Poetry Man” in the background and I was back in my sister's living room 37 years ago, filled with grief.

Today, I was sorry that a woman, not much older than me now, struggled so throughout what seems to me like a short life.

Her music was way beyond its years. It  was the symphony of grief and loss to come. For her. And an entire generation. 

(Associated Press photo)

The warrior princess’ Easter message

Whatever faith tradition, or whatever anyone does or does not believe, the Easter metaphor of life, suffering, death followed by rebirth, is found everywhere. In nature, for sure, as winter's bareness covers all the life in sleeping beneath frozen ground. In our life stories, for sure. Hard times come and go, as do better times, and the cycle repeats itself throughout most people's lives.

I'm looking as I write these words at the beautiful face of Zayana Grace Mendez. She lived just 16 weeks, according to her obituary in our newspaper today. She was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a genetic bone disorder characterized by fragile bones that break easily, according to the OI website.

In those 16 weeks, Zayana obviously gave much joy. From her obituary:

“Blessed with a full head of hair, she loved to have it brushed and accented with colorful bows…She had an uncanny way of knowing just what someone needed — a comforting look, a beautiful smile or silly action…Zayana was a fighter and taught us all about strength and courage. She touched the souls of all who knew her…Our warrior princess will be greatly missed.”

The warrior princess didn't live to see her first Easter. But it sounds as if she brought some of its essential message to those who loved her.

Good Friday Poetry


The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.
Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.
The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.
Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe
the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn't move,
the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
blue pavement,
lay still and waited, wild awake.
Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be a part of the story.

~Mary Oliver, from her collection of poems, “Thirst”

On Good Friday, we embrace our humanity, our weakness, our courage, the human story of death to new life. Oliver's poem reminds us of the challenge we face when keeping vigil with those we love in times of suffering.

Breaking bread, transcending death

Today, Holy Thursday, we observe the Last Supper, the meal Jesus shared with his friends. He broke the bread and shared it. Scripture reminds us that we will “find Him in the breaking of the bread.”

 My most profound experience of the risen Christ in the breaking of the bread happened not at church, but at Tampa International Airport. My father was dying and I was escorting him on his journey home.

On a sunny Sunday morning, a limousine took us on dad's last ride to an airport. The driver, not knowing dad's health status, asked if he could say a prayer before we left  the driveway. He likes to do that, he told us. Of course.

As we waited at the gate to board the plane, I asked dad if he wanted to share a sandwich. I broke the Subway turkey sandwich in half and at that moment, a song from the 1960s played overhead with lyrics taken from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes: “To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season…and a time for every purpose under heaven…a time to be born, a time to die.” My dad's time under heaven was ending; his life had been filled with purpose.

 As the bread broke, my heart broke, too, for the separation between us that was to come. And still a powerful presence remained, a confidence that nothing - not even death - can destroy a sacred relationship.

To hell - or not?

To hell - or not?

The spiritual anxiety that Rebecca discusses is often present for a person who is dying. The question is an object lesson for all people to think about our world view now and how we understand God, forgiveness among ourselves and the question of evil. All the topics provoke deep thoughts and are perfect ponderings for today - Holy Thursday in the Christian tradition.

“Am I going to hell?”

At the Hospice Foundation of America's annual bereavement teleconference last week, the national panel discussed “spiritual distress” as people lay dying.

People who are verbal sometimes say they don't want to die because they don't know what will happen. Some worry they are going to hell.

Dying people who can no longer speak, or are in a coma, sometimes express spiritual distress by grimacing and thrashing.

So how to help those in spiritual distress?

For the verbal, ask them “What would you like to have happen when you die?” For those worried about hell, the response was something like: “What actions or words would you need to take to get rid of that fear?”

For the nonverbal, calming suggestions include music, hand-holding and breathing in tune with their breathing.

Do you have any fears or worries that you think might cause spiritual distress at the end of your life? And what would eliminate those fears?

Happy, healthy, dead

My mom is 90 years old and she has a handful of 90-something friends left, most of them women.

 They all are still pretty sharp, opinionated and open to rather personal questions.

Yesterday, my mom and I visited Pauline Cafaro (shown here on the left), who lives in an independent retirement community. Pauline was one of those outspoken women I loved from my younger days, because she always told you what she thought about you. (Cute hair, bad hair, looking thin, looking chubby, you get the idea.)

Anyway, we came around, easily, to the subject of how these women want to die.

Pauline's hoping to go in her sleep. So I told her the mantra my friend Chris told me once: Every night before you go to bed, repeat: “happy, healthy, dead.”

It won't mean you'll die that night, or even hope to, but it's a wish to be happy and healthy up to the last day of your life. Pauline liked it and wrote it in her notebook.

Mom, on the other hand, wants a few weeks or months of warning so people can bid her good-bye and she can do the same.

The conversation was filled with laughs and openness.  I'd encourage others to try these conversations with the older people in your lives. You'll know soon enough whether it's a place they'd prefer not to wander. But most older people think about these things, and even discuss it with friends, and it's fascinating to listen to these conversations.

Work, help others = long life

The world's oldest man died last week. At 114-years-old, Walter Breuning left this world, but offers a legacy of wisdom: embrace change - “all change is good,” eat only two meals each day because “that's all you need,” Breuning claimed.  He told people to “work as long as you can” since costs go up and that money is handy and finally “help others.”

 The hardest lesson: to accept death. “We're going to die. Some people are scared of dying. Never be afraid to die. Because you're born to die,” he said.

 While we live in a culture that seeks secrets to longevity, Breuning had a simple and successful philosophy: “Everybody says your mind is the most important thing about your body. Your mind and your body. You keep both busy, and by God you'll be here a long time,” he said.

(AP file photo)

St. Joseph: Patron saint of happy deaths

At the Hospice Foundation of America's teleconference Wednesday, one of the national panelists told the story of a man dying of cancer who had long ago drifted from his Catholic roots.

He still had several months to live and wanted to explore some questions of spirituality with a priest, so he went to a Catholic Church in search of those answers.

The priest who greeted him said something like: “Isn't this  fortuitous? Today is the feast day of St. Joseph, the patron saint of happy deaths.”

The conversation continued in a helpful, caring way.  I was relieved that the man found a priest who was so welcoming and open, rather than one busy, distracted, burned out, as can sometimes happen, even with the best priests among us.

Joseph, considered the “foster father of Jesus” in some Christian faith traditions is also supposed to help you sell your house more quickly.

Happy deaths. Good realtor. That's one busy saint! 

(S-R photo by Liz Kishimoto)

Planting memories

Nancy MacKerrow has now planted 120 trees throughout the world (but most of them in Spokane) in honor of her daughter, Susie, killed when hit by a bus in St. Louis in 2002.

On the Susie Forest website, MacKerrow explains the project. She sometimes finds people in the community she wishes to personally honor through a tree donation.  She was taken with Carol Speltz, a woman I wrote about in December, who has Alzheimer's disease and is very public about it, along with her husband Karl Speltz.

Both were well-known educators and both are now educating friends, neighbors and strangers about the disease.

The tree was planted near Hutton School in a triangle of green known as Olmsted Park, though it's truly a greenspace rather than a park.

Nancy showed those gathered (about 10 of us) several photos of Susie biking, climbing, smiling. She showed maps of where the trees stand in Susie Forest. She handed out strips of paper to write messages on and place on the bare limbs of the new tree.

Carol and Nancy hugged several times throughout the gathering, tears gathering in their eyes, no words need be spoken.

 In loss of all kinds, there is beauty and grace and understanding beyond words. I felt honored to be there.  

(In the photo, from the left, Carl Speltz, Nancy MacKerrow and Carol Speltz)

Hospice House featured in national teleconference

I spent much of today at the Hospice Foundation of America's annual bereavement teleconference.

The theme: “Living with grief: spirituality and end-of-life care.” It was a great conference and I'll be blogging about it all week.

The conference, shown nationally today to groups gathered throughout the country, featured a handful of hospice programs.

Within the first few minutes, a segment featured Hospice House in Spokane. Claps and oohs erupted in the Lincoln Center where Spokane folks were watching the national program.

The segment showed Sheryll Shepard, a Hospice of Spokane chaplain, and former intern, Erin Raska, (now a Presbyterian minister) visiting a dying woman named Freddie.

They spoke with her about spirituality. Mostly, they listened. And everyone had a laugh when Freddie said she was OK with God but maybe not for long because he didn't seem to be on her same timetable in terms of death. I interpreted it to mean she was ready but maybe God had other plans.

(Spokesman-Review Archive photo)

Gone to the dogs

I took our dog to the dog wash today, a place where master and canine get soaking wet. My 95-pound German Shepherd, Bella, protested wildly through the whole watery struggle. She is 8-years-old and was abandoned in the woods. We met her at the animal shelter and fell instantly in love. Dogs do not share our decades-long lifespan and yet they are remarkable companions - staying near through illness, alerting us to danger. Today, I allow her to jump up on our bed so she, too, can enjoy a day of rest.

Camp Chmepa for children in grief

Each summer, Hospice of Spokane sponsors a camp for young people grieving the loss of loved ones.

Camp Chmepa will be held this summer July 29-31 at the heavenly Camp Lutherhaven on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

The camp is for young people between the ages of 7 and 15 who are grieving the death of loved ones. I have known some children who attended this camp and loved it. They combine usual camp fun with more solemn moments, which acknowledge the way children grieve — often in short segments of emotion.

And the camp is free for kids, made possible by donations. Camp applications are being accepted now.

According to the Hospice of Spokane website: “The name of the camp was carefully chosen to represent the overarching goal of the experience. The word chmepa (juh-MEH-peh) is a Spokane Indian word with multiple meanings: a place where two rivers come together to meet, blend and become stronger; a special place of inclusion; and a connecting circle.”

Here's the link for camp information.

Readers who have questions and live in Spokane, Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties can call Hospice of Spokane at (509) 456-0438 for information. Readers who live in North Idaho can call Hospice of North Idaho at (208)772-7994.

Spirituality and end-of-life care

Every year the Hospice Foundation of America does an annual teleconference. Hospice of Spokane and Hospice of North Idaho telecast the half-day conference and follow it with panel discussions made up of local experts.

Here's a description of this year's program, which takes place Wednesday April 13:

The program will discuss differences between spirituality and religion, while also addressing spirituality during illness, death and grief, spiritual assessment and empowerment, and life review. Discussion will also include approaches to meaning-making at the end of life, dignity enhancement, helping patients utilize and enhance spiritual coping at end of life, and spiritual transference. The program provides an opportunity for a wide variety of professionals – including doctors, nurses, funeral directors, psychologists, educators, social workers and bereavement counselors – to share and exchange ideas and obtain continuing education credits.

For information on the Spokane telecast, click here.

For information on the North Idaho telecast, click here.

Specific details in obits

Obituaries, once written for newspapers by obit writers and placed in the news sections, are now done by family and friends and placed as paid classified ads.

As in any writing, the best obits contain specific details.

A former work colleague, now at WSU, sent along an obit about a long-ago WSU student who recently died doing what she loved, as the cliche goes. I applaud the honesty about her demise in the excerpt that follows:

After the death of her husband, Patricia fulfilled a  dream and bought a 41-foot sailboat. She certainly was captain of her boat and learned about sailing, navigation, and caring for her boat. She hired Jan Vos, a young Dutch sailor, and together they sailed through the Panama Canal and to the Dutch Lesser Antilles. It was her dream to live on the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. She loved living on her boat with her dogs, and made many friends in her travels.

Pat had moved back to Bonaire to be near her friends of many years about one month before her accidental death. Pat was going to her boat at the marina with two bags of groceries. She tripped, dropping her groceries and losing one flip-flop on the pier. She fell, hitting her head as she went into the water.


Sister said…

My fourth-grade teacher, a nun, taught us to “say a little prayer whenever you hear a siren.”  And so…I have said a little prayer for years whenever I hear a siren. I repeat Sister's prayer and add my own addendum: “Please, God, help the people who are in trouble and protect the helpers, too.” So when I heard the sirens behind me during my morning commute, I recited my petition and then listened for details on the radio of the blocking accident up ahead. Sister never taught us all the variations of our petition: praying for the murdered child, for the murdered wife, for the nearby commuters, for the convicted-felon driver, for the trooper who witnessed the suicide, for the investigators, for the coroner, for the funeral home employees. Perhaps the variations are too much for children. I know they're too much for me.

A grief released

My young friend, Laura, tells me of her burden of grief in the after years of her mom's death. Working through the pain, Laura was encouraged to write a message to her mom - on a balloon. She did - and released it into the wind.

 She says they help…the little steps that she must take to move into her future without her mother's guiding love…a grief released.

“Put it in your blog because maybe writing a letter on a balloon could help a child.”

Your life before your eyes

The recent mishap on the Southwest Airlines flight in which a mid-flight fuselage hole depressurized the cabin in scary ways reminded me of a story a USA Today colleague told decades ago.

He was having girlfriend troubles and I think they'd even fought before he boarded the plane. As the plane took off, a door somewhere (maybe to the luggage area) opened up and catapulted the plane around. It was several minutes before the plane could get back on the ground. He said he heard a lot of screaming, a lot of praying, but he found himself shouting the girlfriend's name over and over.

They broke up anyway, even though he was sure those name shoutings meant true love.

Ever had a huge scare like this? What were you shouting, whispering, praying, thinking about in what you thought might be your final moments of life?

(AP photo)

Sunday obits: Favorite lines

From the obituary in today's Spokesman-Review for Liliana Stewart, 1927-2011, described as a woman of Jewish-Italian heritage and a Holocaust survivor:

Entering her home you often found her singing and cooking, sauces simmering on the stove, bread being pulled from the oven and warm butter being coated across the crust as the loaves cooled on the racks. Flour sprinkled on the counters as gnocchi were rolled out.

Spring passion

The spring wind blows wildly today sending seeds and dreams in all directions. The yard angels   - not their real business name - came to estimate what spring cleaning needs to be done among the dead branches and winter debris. “You must cut away at the dead to make room for the life; it is better,” he tells me.

My Lenten journey reveals the same lesson - removing the ancient debris and crippling attitudes that hinder a healthy life. The death/life paradox  of the Lenten/ Easter season announces itself in nature - and poetry.  John Donne, English poet, wrote: “Death and conception in mankind is one” in his poem On the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day, 1608. Today, I listen to the voice of the poet, of the wind, and let go. 

(Note: In 2005, Good Friday fell on March 25th, which is ordinarily the Feast of the Annunciation. This symbolically rich concurrence is relatively rare, and occurs only twice in the 21st century - 2005 and 2016. After 2016, it will not occur for more than a century.)


In 2005, Good Friday fell on March 25th, which is ordinarily the Feast of the Annunciation.  This symbolically rich concurrence is relatively rare, occurring only three times in the 20th century (1910, 1921, and 1932), and twice in the 21st century (2005 and 2016).  After 2016, it will not occur again for more than a century

Hatch, match, dispatch

There's an old saying that Italian men go to church only three times in their lives — hatch, match, dispatch.

Hatch-Baptism. Match-marriage. Dispatch-funeral.

The same could be true about how many times most people will appear in the newspapers. Hatch-birth announcement. Match-wedding announcement. Dispatch-obituary.

In newspaper heyday, hospitals automatically sent birth announcements to newspapers. Now, in some papers, including ours, it's optional and the parents decide.

So it was hard to believe that Donald Trump, who has now joined the chorus of people casting doubt on Obama's birthplace, said what he did the other morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

When someone pointed out that Obama's birth was announced in the Hawaii papers, Trump said how could his parents afford it? They were so poor when he was born.

Well, Donald, when Obama was born the announcements were sent by the hospitals to the newspapers and were free to run. We still run them free of charge.

Obits used to be free, too. Not anymore. The classified obits are a solid moneymaker for newspapers, something Trump might appreciate.

(AP Photo)

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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

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