Archive for March 2011
Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 film has been playing and re-playing on television lately. It was 31 years ago that we watched our televisions with great angst, wondering if the three astronauts would forever be lost in space.
I recall those days, watching my father who was watching Walter Cronkite. When I came into the television room asking what was wrong, he simply said, “These guys are out there and NASA may not be able to get them home!” As a 15-year-old, I paused and answered, “Oh.”
Teens seem to travel to their own “teen planet,” as Rebecca claims, navigating the treacherous journey of adolescence, not able to fathom untimely death. I sit, watching, like my dad once did, hoping that someday all teens will be able to return to our home planet Earth as unscathed as our Apollo 13 survivors.
(AP photo from the movie “Apollo 13.”)
A relative got her new license plates in the mail and the first numbers were 1666
The numbers 666 are associated with all sorts of dark things to do with the devil, the end of the world, general evil, etc.
Anyway, this relative is not a superstitious person but people around her kind of freaked out that it would be on her license plate. They worried about other drivers vandalizing the car or harassing her.
Today, the plates are being returned.
What would you have done?
Long before he got sick and died, my dad — who was a relatively well known lawyer in Spokane — would say, “When I die, the guys gathered at the coffee shop will say, 'Too bad about Joe Nappi. (Pause). And look at the time! We're late for our next meeting!”
I always think of his saying when basketball teams lose, as the Zags women's team did last night in their Elite Eight appearance in the Big Dance.
Life and death remind me of a basketball season.
Some teams make it to the Big Dance, just as some people become super achievers. Others lose every game, just as some people never quite “make it” in ways our society defines that. Most teams, like people, spend their season in the middle. Good games, bad games, injuries, coaches you love, coaches you hate, drama on and off the court.
Then the season's over. The senior stars graduate and are pretty much forgotten, just as people die and are pretty much forgotten, except by some family members. New players come on, just as new children join families, and repeat the same drama in a new season, in a new life cycle. And so forth.
And look at the time! Onto my next meeting.
(AP file photo from 1978)
The Religion Link website has an interesting discussion going on about what constitutes brain death and the end of life.
Here's an excerpt or read the whole thing:
Caring for people in the final stages of life is one of the most expensive aspects of the nation’s health care system, accounting for as much as one third of all health care costs, and about 30 percent of Medicare expenditures come in the last year of a patient’s life. Moreover, modern medicine is able to keep human beings — or at least their bodies — alive for increasingly long periods, often in what is known as a “persistent vegetative state,” or PVS.
All of these developments are posing increasingly complex challenges for religious traditions trying to adapt to new insights on the brain and new questions about consciousness and the moment of death. Ethicists also raise questions as to what is the moral use of limited health care resources — on helping the dying or saving the living.
The Plowshares Five were sentenced today in federal court. While 250 supporters kept vigil outside, U.S. DIstrict Court Judge Benjamin Settle handed down their sentences - effective immediately.
(About the photo: Demonstrators outside the federal courthouse in Tacoma pray before a sentencing hearing for the Rev.Bill Bichsel, of Tacoma; the Rev. Stephen Kelly of Oakland, Calif.; Lynne Greenwald of Tacoma; Sister Anne Montgomery of Redwood City, Calif.; and Susan Crane of Baltimore Monday, March 28, 2011. The five cut through fences in November 2009 to reach the weapons storage area at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor where they put up banners, scattered sunflower seeds and prayed to protest submarine nuclear weapons until they were arrested. (AP Photo/The News Tribune, Joe Barrentine)
In 1984, I worked for USA Today in Washington D.C. and was part of a team covering the presidential race that year.
The day after the Ferraro VP candidate announcement, the paper sent me and a photographer to her congressional office. We chatted for about a half hour and then the photog set up for the photo. Ferraro interrupted him so she could put on lipstick first.
This was still the intense women's lib era, which I also covered as a young journalist. It was a time when women didn't even put photos of their kids on their desks, because they didn't want to appear “soft.”
So I was a little surprised to see Ferraro — the first woman vice presidential candidate — do something as “feminine” as put on lipstick.
How silly it seems in retrospect. And how lucky I feel to have met this pioneer.
Ferraro died March 26 from a blood disease. She was 75.
(S-R Archive photo of Ferraro in 1984)
On Monday, March 28 five peace activists will be sentenced in Tacoma, Washington for crimes committed on November 2, 2009. Each defendant faces possible sentences of up to 10 years in prison.
The five were found guilty of trespass, felony damage to federal property, felony injury to property and felony conspiracy to damage property at the Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base outside Bremerton, Washington where nuclear missiles are stored.
That day, once arrested, the five were cuffed and hooded with sand bags because the marine in charge testified “when we secure prisoners anywhere in Iraq or Afghanistan we hood them…so we did it to them.”
Two of the activists are in their 80's and may well spend the last years of their lives behind walls in a federal prison.
We blessed them at mass this morning, the Provincial of the Jesuits, blessing the two priests with the words, “I mission you to the federal penitentiary …”
Our culture promotes leisure, travel and relaxed days as retirement wishes; instead these activists promote peace.
From the obituary in our news pages today about Carol E. Eddy, 1919-2011:
“Carol left us unexpectedly on March 17, 2011. She didn't even get to wear her new shamrock socks.”
While Susie Stephens is memorialized through planting trees, a family in Olympia memorialized their son with river rocks. Carved with his name, “Zack,” on each stone, the three-inch rocks were given to friends to take and leave at travel or favorite destinations. The family felt this gesture was a way to share Zack with the world, knowing that when the rocks were discovered or viewed, their son's name, and his memory would be shared.
Stones remain in countries all over the world - including Israel. I took my stone to Siesta Key at Sarasota, Florida, and walked the beach. As the tide rolled out, I threw Zack's stone into the sea, praying that in it the warm waves would wash away a bit of the anguishing grief left behind.
One reality we all face — rich, poor or middle — is this:
When you die, you can't take any of it with you. Not the millions of dollars in the bank. Not the furniture, the cars, the McMansions.
Death is the final, and great, economic leveler.
So it seems fitting, and somehow cosmically fair, that many studies show that great wealth does not translate to great happiness.
This month's Atlantic magazine article has a fascinating story on an in-depth survey taken of 165 super rich households, 120 of which have at least $25 million in assets.
Here's the “nut graph” as we say in the journalism biz:
The respondents turn out to be a generally dissatisfied lot, whose money has contributed to deep anxieties involving love, work, and family. Indeed, they are frequently dissatisfied even with their sizable fortunes.
One of the antidotes to this despair? Giving a lot of money away, the article explains.
Nancy MacKerrow, a Spokane woman, lost her daughter Susie Stephens in 2002 when she was hit by a bus in St. Louis. She was 36, a bicyclist, a mountain climber, a world traveler and an activist, ironically, for the rights of pedestrians and bicyclists.
Nancy took the enormous grief and used it for a greater good. She is planting Susie's Forest all over the world, but especially in Spokane on city streets and in parks.
She paid for some of the 119 trees herself or others pay as memorials to people who have died. Nancy always shows up at the ceremonies with cookies.
Nancy was in action today at Lewis and Clark High School, helping students with a tree-replanting project.
(About the S-R photographer Dan Pelle photo: Lewis and Clark High School drama students, Liz Connelly, 17, and Jon O'Grady hang messages on one of six trees along 6th Avenue between Washington and Stevens Streets, March 25, 2011 in Spokane, Wash. After hearing about the Spokane Public Schools' replanting project, Nancy MacKerrow (right), of Spokane, whose daughter, Suzie Stephens, an LC grad who was killed while crossing a street and hit by a bus in 2002, helped gather students from the drama, advanced art ecology, special education, debate and Japanese Club to plant trees and adorn them with tree-grams.)
My work colleague Gina told me there is a simple website devoted to tracking whether Abe Vigoda, a longtime character actor, is alive or dead.
Every day it updates. He's not sick. It's not a death watch thing, just a weird Web thing.
Unbelievable. But true. Take a look.
Jean Payne died March 14. The Nine Mile Falls woman was famous in early development circles for her work at Community Colleges of Spokane. She established 80 preschools in Eastern Washington. In her retirement years, she published the Lake Spokane News Forum in Nine Mile Falls.
I interviewed Jean a few times over the years and always loved her insights. She told me once that our children will do anything to get our attention and one simple way to make sure we pay attention, if busy elsewhere, is to set a timer to go off and tell the child when the timer goes off, the child will get 10 minutes of mom's or dad's undivided attention. And then deliver on the promise.
This mother of five also told me she knew it was time to get back into the work world after she answered a pastor's question correctly in a church setting during her stay-at-home days and savored the compliment he gave for weeks and weeks. She realized she needed more outside kudos.
In September 2010, I was invited to Jean's “celebration of life” 90th birthday party but was unable to make it. I told her wonderful daughter, Stacy Cossey, that I would send Jean a congratulatory card but I never got around it to it. I had good excuses, but don't we always?
The lesson for me? Write the notes right away. These people who have taught us much in life won't be around as long as we hope. Sometimes, we don't have much time to get the words down. I wished I had let Jean know, while she was still alive, how many of her insights have remained with me and been passed on to young moms and dads everywhere.
(Jean Payne photo from S-R archive)
While soft foods may contain a comforting recipe for dinner, this book contains a recipe for the days when your heart aches and longs for comfort following a loss.
“Tear Soup” is a great resource for children as well as adults. The story uses the act of cooking to address various “ingredients” of loss ~ and seeking hope in days ahead.
Helpful Ingredients To Consider:
|a pot full of tears|
|one heart willing to be broken|
|a dash of bitters|
|a bunch of good friends|
|a handful of comfort food|
|a lot of patience|
|buckets of water to replace the tears|
|plenty of exercise|
|a variety of helpful reading material|
|enough self care|
|season with memories|
|optional: one good therapist and/or support group|
Our first column ran today in The Spokesman-Review. And one of the QAs concerned what food to take to a grieving home.
Go for the soft stuff, the column advises, because sometimes in crisis and grief it feels like a lot of work just to chew food! And many folks lose their appetites.
In her wonderful book about widowhood, The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion talked about how in 1920s-era etiquette books, people were urged to go to the home of someone grieving and lift broth to their lips.
In Joyce Carol Oates superb memoir, A Widow's Story, she relates having no appetite whatsoever and a great frustration with the food baskets that kept arriving at her door, filling her with rage. Then, she discovered a fruit drink that worked for her.
Better even than meals hastily dumped into bowls are bottles of Odwalla fruit-blend drinks. These were left for me in the courtyard a day or two after Ray died, a dozen or more in a plastic shopping bag, from a woman friend who is a novelist. You have to eat, Joyce she'd said and you won't want to eat. So drink this.
A friend just introduced me to Muscle Milk Light, a chocolate high protein vitamin drink that doesn't contain any milk but is yummy and not too bad for you. That might be another option for the grieving.
Don't know how many Big Love fans are out there. The HBO series, about a polygamist family, had its series finale last night.
The husband, played by Bill Paxton, (shown here in an AP file photo) is murdered by a crazy neighbor at the end. Then, in a flash forward 11 months later, it shows the three wives, all still living together, but doing well in their collective grief. Each has grown in amazing ways, ways they were not capable of while “married.”
Made me think back to other series finales. Seems many are marked by death of characters, most famously (and in my opinion, the best series finale ever) the finale to HBO's Six Feet Under which showed a montage of all their deaths through the ensuing years. Powerful.
And some even show afterlife. I'm thinking Lost's finale here.
Death as metaphor. A series ends. And so do many characters.
What is your favorite all-time series finale?
What if you do want to live longer than your late 70's or early 80's? Are their predictors that will tell you what contributes to a long, long life? Junk food aside, Yes!
The results of a recent study name some qualities and behaviors that contribute to our longevity.
Beginning in the 1920s, more than 1500 children identified as gifted were followed throughout their lives.
People who worked hard did not die sooner than their less ambitious peers - they tended to live longer. Married men benefited from their wedding vows while marriage made little difference for women.
So, enjoy your job, nurture those friendships, avoid risky behaviors and you just could live long enough to celebrate your 100th birthday.
(About Photo: Catherine Johnston's great grandparents Andrew and Etta Forness.)
In our newspaper yesterday, an Associated Press story reported that the U.S. life expectancy had reached the all-time high — 78 years and 2 months.
For a few years now, I've floated a theory with any futurist types I interview. I tell them I don't think the baby boomers will have as much longevity as predicted. Nor live as long as our parents' generation.
The reasoning? Boomers were the first junk food generation. In the teens and 20s, part of the drug culture. Now, as sandwich generation folks, we're squeezed on both sides. Stress is a killer. And finally, I don't think boomers are as tough as the Greatest Generation. Also, ask any boomer how old they want to be when they die and most mention the late 70s or early 80s.
No one I talked with agrees, of course. All the studies, including the one reported yesterday, show longevity increasing.
In my stubborn mind, the jury is still out.
About the photo: Besse Cooper, 114, sits in her wheelchair while daughter Angie Tharp, 82, left, and daughter-in-law Edith Cooper, 72, talk to her after a ceremony in which Guinness World Records recognized her as the word's oldest living person, at the nursing home where she lives, Thursday, March 10, 2011, in Monroe, Ga.
(AP Photo/John Amis)
My husband taught English literature for more than three decades at Gonzaga University, retiring a few years ago. Once every few years, a former student writes to thank him for a certain class or certain help and guidance long ago.
One letter awaited us on return from vacation. It was beautifully written and the man who wrote it, a teacher now in the South, traced the beginning of an entire career from one conversation with professors at GU, inlcuding my husband.
He said he was inspired to write after reading What's So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey. The letter reminded me about Yancey's powerful writing on suffering and why it's so hard to hold onto faith and grace in times of great injustice and tragedy. His books are well-written and wise.
So the letter offered many graces this morning in our lives. A reminder to say thank you to people who made a difference, when these folks are still alive.
And the reminder of Yancey's books, long a source of insight and hope in times of despair.
“…the region north of Tokyo where officials say at least 10,000 people were killed…whole villages and towns have been wiped off the map…at least 1.5 million households lack running water…Japan is facing its worst crisis since World War Two.”
In the 1977 film, “Oh, God!” God (George Burns) tells Jerry (John Denver) that God is not responsible for the world's suffering; that we are given everything we need: “I gave you each other!…It can work. Don't hurt each other. If it's hard to have faith in me, maybe it will help to know that I have faith in you.”
Let's hope to God we are enough:
“Lady Gaga has raised more than $250,000 for victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami…World Vision will provide children's cold-weather jackets, diapers, powdered milk and blankets, and it plans to establish child-friendly spaces where kids can resume normal activities and find security….Mercy Corps'partner, Peace Winds, on Monday helicoptered emergency supplies — including tents, blankets, cooking fuel, tarps, rice and bread — to families evacuated from the tsunami-devastated city of Kesennuma…”
Several years ago, at a cultural event at Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute in Spokane, a Japanese-American man being honored talked about the survival method he used during the war. He fought for the US in a Japanese-American unit.
He said when they faced an adversity, and imagined what adversity they faced, they said: “It can't be helped. Move on.”
This has long been a cultural way of grief and survival for the Japanese people, and it will be interesting to see how it kicks in during this latest and most horrific time.
Thirty-five years ago Rebecca and I spent our junior year of college in Florence, Italy, with 90 other students. We explored, we pondered, we traveled, and we studied. Friendships grew deep.
Last week we received an e-mail telling of the death of a classmate's mother. We receive these announcements frequently now.
And no matter who we defined as pals decades ago, our common-life passages link all 92 of us, our “community across time.” In these moments, we respond to each other with empathy and condolences. And that kindness does ease the grief, acknowledge our loss.
I'm about halfway through Joyce Carol Oates' memoir A Widow's Story and it's a stunner. She lost her husband of 48 years in about a week after a lung infection took him down. Every chapter is filled with insight into widowhood, as I've heard from other widows and widowers.
Here's one excerpt that reinforces why we started this blog now. Though most baby boomers have experienced the death of a loved one by these ages, some have not. For some, the deaths or crises don't happen until well into middle age, as was the case with Oates.
I had not experienced much; nor would I experience much until I was well into middle-age — the illnesses and deaths of my parents, this unexpected death of my husband. We play at paste till qualified for pearl says Emily Dickinson. Playing at paste is much of our early lives. And then, with the violence of a door slammed shut by wind rushing through a house, life catches up with us.
On vacation in Hawaii, we were under an evacuation order two nights ago, when the tsunami threatened the islands. We have a family group here and so we loaded in baby and toddler and adults in two vans and headed for higher ground, which turned out to be a parking lot of a shopping mall, and then a few hours later, when it was feared the waves might be even higher than predicted, we moved to a huge grassy field, an event parking lot though it never became clear what kind of event might happen there.
We listened to the radio all night in one van while babies slept in another. Because it was later in Spokane, and even later on the East Coast, where we have relatives, there was much texting going on. We have a relative from Japan and prayed and worried about her family. And it was reassuring in the dark night to know we had so many folks with us in spirit and in texting, as we were with the family we know in Japan.
The parking lot security guide showed much kindness to all parked there, opening the bathrooms. And then at the event field, where hundreds of cars gathered, people were kind to one another, sharing information.
At about 6 in the morning, we all returned to condos near the beach. The waves didn't amount to what had been feared. No damage where we were staying, but we turned on TV to see the horror in Japan.
In times when extraordinary events interrupt routine — or vacation — the same things matter and transcend all. The hope you aren't alone. And how much kindness matters.
Today our hearts are heavy as we witness the aftermath of Japan's devastating earthquake. We remain in solidarity with the people of Japan as they face the days ahead. Even when we know no one, even when the land is not our own…we grieve for those whose lives are forever-changed from the earth's unpredictable chaos.
At Ash Wednesday services we sit in reflective quiet.
Our developmentally-challenged parishioners break the cadence of our liturgical rhythm with little screeches of joy, melodic squeals, a few beats after the hymn has ended.
No matter. The priest pauses to hear their prayers, too. In this moment I learn that I must make room for everyone – the ill, the suffering, the different-from-me pilgrims.
And so begins our common journey through the season of Lent.
Traveling this week and on the airplane sat next to a woman from the West Indies. She moved to Portland 13 years ago for her husband's work, but she told me she hasn't been to her homeland in 13 years. Generations of immigrants — 100 years ago and now — often talk about this phenomenon. They live so far from the home of their birth. And then they never get back, due to money or distance.
That's got to be a forever grief, in its way.
This week, 16-year-old Wes Leonard collapsed and died after making the winning shot for his high school basketball team. Wes died of an enlarged heart. No one knew he had a heart condition.
With all that we do control in life, we never expect to bury our children. We assume they will grow up and have to bury us.
While on Ash Wednesday we are reminded of our mortality - ashes to ashes - our hearts long for the phoenix to somehow emerge from tragedy. With the love of family and friends, perhaps eventually, Wes Leonard's family will find peace.
Looking forward to Ash Wednesday, tomorrow, the beginning of Lent in faith traditions that have the season in their liturgical calendar.
But no matter a person's faith tradition, Ash Wednesday is a reminder that eventually, we all end up ash-like — either buried in the ground or as ashes scattered on land, sea or mountain.
It's humbling. But in a good way.
We've had a lot of gun violence in Spokane the past couple of years. It seems that every other weekend or so, someone gets drunk and angry at a party and fires off a gun in a fit of rage.
But this latest report has an interesting twist.
From a Spokane Police Department press release:
Spokane Police Officers responded to a call regarding a gun being fired at Fairmont Memorial Gardens located at 5299 W. Wellesley on (Sunday) at about 1310 hours. Witnesses in the area described two males in a vehicle pointing a handgun out of a window of a car and firing it at the cemetery. Officers located the vehicle in the area as it left. Apparently, the driver of the vehicle became upset at not being able to locate the grave of a family member and fired the handgun out of frustration.
Jeffrey B Holcomb, 32 years old, was arrested and booked on various charges including DUI, Driving on a suspended license, unlawful discharge of a firearm, reckless endangerment, and possession of marijuana. A loaded and cocked handgun was found on the seat of his car when stopped. Thankfully no one was injured during this incident.
(Spokesman-Review archive photo by Jesse Tinsley shows the cemetery in a more typical peaceful moment)
A wonderful man from my parish died a few weeks ago. He was told last summer that his cancer would take his life within six months. Jim was artistic in skill as well as in his appreciation of art. His friends asked if he wanted to travel to Paris to see the world's great art. They pondered a gift of collecting cash for this possible adventure.
Instead of making a pilgrimage to Paris, Jim said he simply wanted to spend his time back at the high school where he worked: teaching and guiding students. He wanted to continue to make a difference in the lives of teens.
Perhaps it is in the simple choices of where and how we place our gifts that we get our first glimpse of heaven.
The Spokesman-Review Sunday obituary section is the biggest of the week. Word is out that Sunday is our biggest circulation day, and now that families pay for the obits (handled by the classified section not by the newsroom), families can write anything they wish. Some are beautifully written.
Here was a favorite paragraph today in the obit of Maxine Rantanen, age 90.
Many of us have felt our waistbands expand under her famous homemade fudge, cookies and maple bars. There wasn't an outfit that she couldn't make or an alteration she couldn't do. She was head chef at the hunting camp, the nurturer of past ailing family members, the championship huckleberry picker and the thirty-card bingo player.
Cathy's post below reminds us that we can grieve deeply for friends who die, just as much as family members. I'm reading Let's Take the Long Way Home by writer Gail Caldwell who lost to cancer her best friend Caroline Knapp, a gifted writer who overcame both alcoholism and anorexia only to die of lung cancer at 42.
Caldwell has some beautiful insights into grief. Here's a sampling:
“My life had made so much sense alongside hers: For years we had played the easy, daily game of catch that intimate connection implies. One ball, two gloves, equal joy in the throw and the return. Now I was in the field without her: one glove, no game. Grief is what tells you who you are alone.”
97Jack Thank you for your wisdom!
My dear friend, Mary, was my role model. When asked for her secret to such a long and happy life (we buried her on her 91st birthday) she replied: “Two things; you have to have a reason to get up each morning, even if it is to water the plants and read the paper. Also, never stop being curious about the world. Learn something new!”
Mary read three newspapers each day, watched Charlie Rose each evening and communicated with her friends via e-mail.
As we travel through the uncertainty of growing older, there is every reason to believe we can continue to grow in wisdom - and joy.
Mickey Rooney, one time famous actor, was brave to speak out in Congress this week about elder abuse.
As people age, the losses mount up under the best situations. Rooney was ripped off by loved ones, the worst loss of all.
He was also not afraid to cry and show other emotions in Congress and in press interviews.
Way to go Mickey!
My young friend, Laura, writes about the funeral for her mom who died in 2007: “Something I wish I had known was that at a Catholic funeral mass there can't be a flower arrangement on top of the casket. There is a cross and a sheet (pall). So I paid $200 for a bunch of roses that sat in the back of the church.”
This sad day was made more difficult when the mourners had to serve the ritual, instead of the ritual serving the family.
I am always looking for poems or short essays to enclose in condolence cards or send to people in grief. My friend Lela found a long poem by John O'Donohue, an Irish poet, philosopher and Catholic scholar who died suddenly in 2008, at just 52.
It's a great description of getting blindsided by sadness even on days you're doing well, following a loved one's death.
There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.
Whenever I'm really stressed, I sometimes look at the big, big picture and think: “In 100 years, all the people surrounding me will be dead, me included.”
It's comforting in an odd way.
So it was interesting to see that Frank Buckles, the last veteran of World War I died Feb. 27 at 110 years old.
Even if you live that long, we're still just a blip.