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Archive for June 2012

Thank you, Mr. President

Today, I spent over three hours at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance with a friend and her husband. She is a patient there and I went with them to take notes, ask questions and offer support.

 Seattle Cancer Care Alliance has patients from all over the world and the Alliance knows how to care for them. A nurse took my friend’s vital signs and then escorted all of us to an exam room. She explained all the next steps – including how they would record of all our questions and information that would be exchanged and explained with each of the specialists. Her husband and I left the exam room.

 After my friend’s exam, we met up with her in a conference room where her surgeon, a radiation oncologist and a medical oncologist spent close to an hour each explaining their role in her care and how each would – or would not – be part of the care plan that she might choose.  At the end of the conferences, her doctor asked her for all of her insights, concerns, questions and ideas about her preferred next steps.

 The recorded thoughts, knowledge, medical possibilities and specific next steps are on a CD for her to review. Each specialist offered her their contact information if she has more questions in the days ahead. My friend can now move forward in confidence that she will receive exactly the healthcare she needs…

 And so can millions of Americans who, before Thursday’s Supreme Court decision, wondered if they would ever have decent healthcare. The kind of healthcare my friend received today, the kind everyone deserves.

 Thanks, President Obama.

(S-R  archives photo)

Poison ice tea: one more dang thing to worry about

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report yesterday on the case of extreme food poisoning at a Dallas County Texas restaurant in 2010.

Symptoms, which included fainting resulting from low blood pressure, occurred within minutes of consuming food from the restaurant and were consistent with chemical poisoning.

The culprit was discovered after extensive lab tests: Sodium Azide, “an odorless, tasteless, water-soluble crystalline powder that has been used in the manufacture of automobile airbags and explosives, and as a laboratory preservative.”

It was found in the ice-tea and it's inconclusive whether the powder got in the tea accidentally or intentionally.

All four victims fully recovered. It wasn't the first case of this kind of poisoning.

 In 2009, six workers at Harvard Medical School became ill after drinking from a communal coffee pot that was contaminated with sodium azide; whether or not the poisoning was intentional is unknown (3). Within minutes of ingestion, the laboratory workers had palpitations and diaphoresis; two fainted. All of their symptoms rapidly resolved. In 1998, sodium azide was deliberately added to a teapot in Niigata, Japan, poisoning nine persons.

The no-soul theorists weigh in

In our Tuesday column, a reader asked how you know when  the spirit or soul leaves a body. One part of the answer read:

In the late 1800s, Dr. Duncan MacDougall of Massachusetts conducted research on dying patients. He set their beds on specially designed scales. His conclusion was that the soul left the body “coincident with death.” The resulting weight loss? Twenty-one grams.

We heard from a couple of readers who took issue with the fact the people even have spirits or souls. And like most of my correspondence with agnostics and atheists, I am always struck with how well they express their thoughts. I've known J.E. Hill for nearly two decades now, and he weighed in with this comment. Thanks J.E.!

Here's a thought: Isn't the soul supposed to be a “non material” aspect of life? If it is non material it can not have physical weight. If it has physical weight, then it's material and thus has existence value as any other bodily organ or function and measurable by anybody. The soul is as non-provable as the existence of the god(s) that claims to have made it…Last January I sat and watched my Mother die (from Alzheimer's) Her brain was gone and the only thing keeping her alive was a muscle called the heart and then that failed. That's it. And for all of us there, the only thing leaving the room was a big sigh of relief that this ordeal was over. 

We Remember Everything…Nora Ephron

She Bewitched us and gave us Heartburn. She sent us (You’ve Got) Mail. We learned secrets deep within Silkwood and wondered if just maybe the best romance begins between best friends, like Harry Burns and Sally Albright. Every woman on the planet remembers Meg Ryan’s restaurant scene, feigning sexual pleasure between bites of her deli sandwich.   “I’ll have what she’s having,” evokes giggles every time I hear the phrase.  

Nora Ephron left us quietly yesterday, but she left us with a legacy of entertaining, truth-filled, messages. When we view her work, read her words, it is easy to think, “This is My Life.”

Actress Meryl Streep says of Ephron: “You could call on her for anything: doctors, restaurants, recipes, speeches, or just a few jokes, and we all did it, constantly. She was an expert in all the departments of living well.”

In her recent book, I Remember Nothing, Ephron notes all that she will miss after she departs this world: her kids, her husband, taking a bath, coming over the bridge to Manhattan.

We will miss the little pieces of life that she so artfully bridged for us – from her brilliant mind to the bookstore shelves, to the silver screen, to the theatre’s stage and into our hearts. Her life lessons remain.

(S-R photo: Nora Ephron 2010)

Trend alert: Charity hunger games

Just got a voice message asking me to please post on my Facebook page or blog or Twitter account, or all of the above, that Sears has narrowed its Love.Hate charity competition to two charities — The American Cancer Society and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. One of them will win $100,000, depending on which organization gets the most votes.

In the Hunger Games books and movie, children and teens try to kill each other to win the award of staying alive and getting gifts of food and luxury for their families and towns.

These Facebook-Twitter voting schemes feel like newfangled ways to pump up sales for companies, in the guise of charity. And they feel icky to me. Both charities do great work. And both are being used. I won't be playing this game.

(S-R Archive photo from the Hunger Games movie)

Ministry of the short note

In our column today, we talked about contacting folks who are experiencing hard times, and how hard this can be if you've been out of touch.

When we lose touch with relatives and friends after many years, it can seem both awkward and impossible to reconnect. “When you’re stuck in neutral, it takes effort to shift, to write something and put it in the mail,” said Frank Bach, a Diocesan priest in Spokane who often shares with people one way to shift out of neutral. He calls it “the ministry of the short note.” It works like this. No matter how much time has passed since your last contact, sit down and write the card.

Actually, Facebook can make it very easy to reconnect. Have you reconnected with friends or extended family members after a long silence? How did it go?

Why didn’t he shoot the 87-year-old?

Charles Robert Wallace, who shot two sheriff's deputies last week, also confronted an 87-year-old woman in her home and then stole her car. She fought him with her cane, and he did hit her with the butt of his gun, but he didn't shoot here, though he'd shown no hesitation shooting the deputies (who both lived, thank God!)

Wallace ended up killing himself, so no one will be able to ask him why he spared Mary Rock's life. I'm wondering if she reminded him of a beloved grandmother or maybe deep inside him, before the heroin addiction and criminal life took bites out of his soul, he had some decency left, after all.

The mystery died with him.

(S-R photo)

Hopping through life

I spent all day Saturday hopping with my good friend…to quilt shops. Each summer various quilt shops in Western Washington host the five-day, Shop Hop event.

As we drove (200 miles out and home again), I kept thinking how our adventure was like a metaphor for life.

We started out with a plan, a route and enthusiasm. We stopped first in familiar territory – our local shop – where I made a panic purchase. “What? This fabric is almost gone and you don’t expect to get more?” I bought the rest $$$.  I felt like a customer at George Bailey’s Savings and Loan. What if I can’t get what I need for my plan? Will this be enough? Am I enough? 

We drove on.  We followed a map and reached our destination. We ducked into a shop that was a wonderful surprise! Low prices, great fabric, bright lights and great people. Even if your plan flops, the universe offers more.

The weather was stormy and sunny and unpredictable and truck tires kicked up gallons of road water onto our windshield: Sometimes the journey is blurry and still, we persevere.

Our map got us places, but some places - after driving and driving – were a disappointment. “This whole store looks like the inside of a (very brown) coffin!”  We left. Sometimes when you know the decision does not fit – you end the relationship and move on.

 MapQuest failed and the two of us (both extremely geographically challenged!) had no clue where we were. “There’s Starbucks. Young, smart adults work there. Let’s stop, get a cold drink and ask for directions!” But when we pulled in, the building was under construction, not yet open. Sometimes, when you need help, you go to a familiar place, only to discover emptiness, or someone unable to give you what you need. Try another source, perhaps one you would not have consulted before.

 At the Visitors’ Center (such an obvious choice) a kind woman instructed us and as we got back in the car, I muttered, “This is a leap of faith. Drive next to the bridge – what, into the water?”  I told my friend, “When we find this shop, there will be incredible fabric, warm cookies and friendly, helpful people!”  We moved on, the guide’s directions were perfect. And it was the only shop that served cookies. …After the struggle, appropriate help arrives and you are nourished.

Quilting offers a chance to take remnants, pieces and create something new and beautiful, just like the pieces of our lives that we may want to discard or hide or ignore, but somewhere, they may actually fit.

When I was undergoing cancer treatment, a colleague – only a few years after her own cancer – made a lovely pillow for me. The quilted top has little scraps of colorful, triangle-shaped fabric. The pattern is called “Broken Dishes”  and on the back she wrote “in honor of Catherine Johnston.”

My cancer journey created a lot of broken pieces, but some of those pieces have helped other people and created new patterns in my life.

Patterns that just may help another friend, as she begins her cancer treatment this week.  

(S-R archives photo: Girl Scout Troop 3014 made a quilt for the North Idaho Violence Prevention Center in Coeur d’Alene.)

Another voice…part 2

From the Desk of Fr. Doug

What the Nuns’ Story is Really About

Part Two

I had no intention of writing a Part Two to last week’s article but two things happened that inspired me to do so.

 The first was the overwhelming response to that article. Apparently it went viral. Before Tuesday was over I had heard from over 100 people from 20 states,

Victoria, Australia and Liverpool, England. The article touched a nerve, especially among women religious. Their emails and phone calls were most moving. Some

were on the verge of tears, because “the church” (translated, that means a male church authority figure) finally understood and was willing to put it in writing.

It turns out that the nuns want to be appreciated and valued, just like the rest of us. But that is not why they do what they do and have done for so long.

 What was most evident was that they frequently described their treatment from clergy in language that reflects abuse. Yes, they feel support and appreciation from lay people. That message was strong. It was the local pastor, the bishop or the Vatican that was portrayed as an abusive spouse. The investigation, the refusal to dialogue, the confidential reports unable to be seen or challenged, the surprise announcement, these are just a couple of things that scream dysfunction and abuse. It is a miracle so many have stayed. It reminded me of a woman who stays in a bad, abusive marriage for the sake of the children. The nuns have stayed for us. They have stayed for the illegal immigrant, the orphan, the prisoner, the young boy abused by the priest, the third grader that forgot her lunch bag, the adult that could not read, the lad that scraped his knee, the refugee that needed help with documents, the young woman who needed a midwife, the littlest among us and the rich and powerful. 

Many lay people shared stories with me of their struggle to remain Catholic. “Our church’s priorities are in the wrong place”. “Stop with the attack on the nuns and stop with the narrow-minded focus on orthodoxy.” “Jesus did not give his followers a litmus test and neither should the Vatican.” More than one layperson said that the largest religious denomination in the United States after Catholicism is ex-Catholics. When will the Vatican address the why of that? Does the Vatican really think people have left because our church is not orthodox enough?

 Catholics have left the faith in droves for a variety of reasons. In Europe only 3% go to Sunday Mass. When will the Vatican get serious about this?

A small number of priests also contacted me. Most said I was courageous (I am not) and if I needed help, three canon lawyers volunteered their services. I told them that would not be necessary. But what a sad commentary that is on the state of the episcopacy in the U.S. Priests live in fear of reprisals simply for naming the obvious.

 Better check those readings from Pentecost Sunday again. Twice the disciples are gathered in fear and twice the Spirit comes upon them to help them get over it.

Actually, someone from the diocese did call to set up a date to meet with me about beginning the Rooted in Faith capital campaign. Although we are losing part of our parish and have no accurate data base, we meet next week.

For many the real issue is: The ‘church as institution’ is itself the problem. This oppressive structure must go. A new one must take its place. The lust for power and control hinders the Gospel. Simply put, a church continues the work of Jesus. Nuns do that.

 The Vatican sorely lacks. Our beliefs and the institution are not the same thing.

Here’s a point that both lay and religious made. Our clergy must speak out. We need their voices, the only ones some people have. Some saw the coincidence of my article and Pentecost Sunday and prayed that the many tongues of pastors and vicars would not remain silent. That would be awesome!

 A second point I wanted to share was the Plain Dealer article that quoted me. It was slightly out of context. As I recall, the reporter asked me if I thought this attack on the nuns would cause people to leave the church. I replied, “People have already left the church”. In the article it sounded like people left because of the nuns, when in reality, Catholics have left long before there was a nungate. (See above)

There were a couple of funny conversations I had with some nuns from California. One said, “this may be the issue that breaks open the old boys network…imagine: “75 year old nuns divorce 88 year old Cardinals.” What headlines!”

 My favorite was the comment by a priest from Yale. He said that if I got sacked here, there was an opening at the Vatican for a butler and I would be the perfect choice.

(S-R archives photo)

Another Voice

A friend sent me the following words from a Catholic Church bulletin. The commentary was written by one of the parish priests. The second column he wrote will be posted tomorrow.

From the Desk of Fr. Doug

What the Nuns’ Story is Really About

 Many of you have asked me to comment on the recent investigation into the US nuns. Here goes.

In short, the Vatican has asked for an investigation into the life of religious women in the United States. There is a concern about orthodoxy, feminism and pastoral practice. The problem with the Vatican approach is that it places the nuns squarely on the side of Jesus and the Vatican on the side of tired old men, making a last gasp to save a crumbling kingdom lost long ago for a variety of reasons. One might say that this investigation is the direct result of the John Paul II papacy. He was suspicious of the power given to the laity after the Second Vatican Council. He disliked the American Catholic Church. Throughout his papacy he strove to wrest collegial power from episcopal conferences and return it to Rome. One of the results of the council was that the nuns became more educated, more integrated in the life of the people and more justice-oriented than the bishops and pope. They are doctors, lawyers, university professors, lobbyists, social workers, authors, theologians, etc. Their appeal was that they always went back to what Jesus said and did. Their value lay in the fact that their theology and their practice were integrated into the real world.  

The Vatican sounded like the Pharisees of the New Testament;— legalistic, paternalistic and orthodox— while “the good sisters” were the ones who were feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, educating the immigrant, and so on. Nuns also learned that Catholics are intuitively smart about their faith. They prefer dialogue over diatribe, freedom of thought over mind control, biblical study over fundamentalism, development of doctrine over isolated mandates.

Far from being radical feminists or supporters of far-out ideas, religious women realized that the philosophical underpinnings of Catholic teaching are no longer valid. Women are not subservient to men, the natural law is much broader than once thought, the OT is not as important as the NT, love is more powerful than fear. They realized that you can have a conversation with someone on your campus who thinks differently than the church without compromising what the church teaches. (For example, I could invite Newt Gingrich here to speak. You’d all still know what the church teaches about divorce in spite of him) Women religious have learned to live without fear (Srs. Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clark, Ita Ford) and with love (Mother Teresa). And the number of popes and bishops and cardinals following in their footsteps, Jesus’ footsteps, is_____?

 This is what annoys American Catholics. The Vatican is hypocritical and duplicitous. Their belief is always that someone else needs to clean up their act; the divorced, the gays, the media, the US nuns, the Americans who were using the wrong words to pray, the seminaries, etc. It never occurs to the powers that be that the source of the problem is the structure itself. We can say that now with certainty as regards the sex abuse crisis. It was largely the structure of the church itself, the way men were trained and isolated, made loyal to the system at all costs and not to the person, that gave us the scandalous cover-up.

US nuns work side by side with the person on the street. They are involved in their everyday lives. Most cardinals spent less than five years in a parish, were never pastors, are frequently career diplomats.

Religious women in the US refuse to be controlled by abusive authority that seeks to control out of fear. They realize that Jesus taught no doctrines, but that the church, over time, developed what Jesus taught in a systematic way. Nuns have always tried to work within the system. This time their prophetic voices may take them out of the system. They may take a lot of Catholics and a lot of their hospitals, schools, colleges, orphanages, prison ministries, convents, women’s shelters, food pantries and, of course, the good will they have earned over the centuries with them.

This investigation is not about wayward US nuns. It is the last gasp for control by a dying breed, wrapped in its own self-importance. It is a struggle for the very nature of the church; who we are, how we pray, where we live, who belongs, why we believe. The early church endured a similar struggle. The old order died.

The Holy Spirit won…

(S-R archives photo)





Give $1.25 in service for every dollar

In my Rewind story today, I patched together what nursing life might have been like for Alice Hope, class of 1926 at Deaconess Hospital nursing school. The nursing school alums (it closed in 1980) have put together a beautiful wall of historic photos and anecdotes.

Through the wall, I met Miss Mary Buob, a nursing superintendent in the 1920s and 1930s, “credited with developing nursing into an honored profession.” Buob sounded like an amazing woman. She told her students: “Give $1.25 in service for every dollar you receive in wages.”

Imagine if workers, in all professions, could be told that today — and imagine if they delivered on it.

(About the photo: The first class of Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing to graduate in 1901, from left, Rose Dudley, Maud Pepper, Ida Hoffman and Nellie Randle. They were admitted to the program in 1899. Photo courtesy of Deaconess Hospital)

RIP: Shyla the dog

My niece's dog, Shyla, a mini chihuahua, was killed in a tragic way last week. A deer in the wilderness behind their Spokane Valley home kicked her in the head. The doe had just given birth to a fawn and was protecting her baby, a beautiful instinct.

But Shyla's death, so sudden, was a shock, especially to my niece Nichole who adopted Shyla 10 months ago from a family friend when Shyla was 4. Nichole took her everywhere with her — to stores, to Super Cuts, even to The Spokesman-Review for Halloween trick or treating here. (Often hidden in a coat.) She was so little, Shyla, that she slept in a Build-A-Bear bed.

Shyla was buried on their property and I offered to do a little memorial ceremony, mostly for Nichole, but also for her kids, my great-nephews. I'm a big believer in rituals, but it was a challenge to come up with something appropriate — and short — for Shyla.

Here's what I came up with. I gathered some basalt rocks. And Shyla's water bowl and said:

Dear Lord, of all creation. Thank you for giving us Shyla, 4 pounds of dog but 4 tons of love, especially for Nichole. Thank you for giving us Shyla for 10 months, which was really 70 months in dog years and forever in our hearts. Thank you for giving us Shyla, 5 years old, but with the soul of an older dog and the feistiness of a puppy. With this water, we symbolize all our tears for Shyla, and may our tears heal our sorrows. Shyla, with these basalt rocks, as old as the river that flows by them, we now seal your final resting place and share our loving memories as we take turns placing these rocks on your grave.


Officers down, shaky voices

The police scanners are on alll day in the newsroom and we've all learned to ignore them. But you can't help but hear the voices. They are male and female, chatter between officers and dispatchers and always unusually calm, professional, betraying no emotion.

This afternoon, a terrible story is developing. Two sheriff's deputies have been shot in north Spokane. Suddenly, all in the newsroom were listening to the scanners. And the voices we heard sounded different. A man, a police or fire officer, was describing the suspect to the dispatcher. His voice was higher, hurried and shaky. You know how you sometimes speak louder to stop yourself from choking up? It sounded like this. A very worried man.

Officers down. Their fellow officers are doing their job in their usual professional way, but their voices express the gut-wrench of concern. 

John Baker: A father’s love

My Sunday story about John Baker, who lost his daughter to cystic fibrosis and now gives talks to teens about organ donation, was a grief exercise in the reporting. I didn't have Kleenex at the talk he gave to the Ferris students and couldn't stop the tears. And I'm not prone to tears. Sometimes in my reporting, I meet people whose strength and grace amaze me. John is one of these people. He lost two children and battled cancer and as his daughter told me:

“My dad has always amazed me by his consistent positive attitude,” said oldest daughter, Nicole Jonak of Portland. “He has a very strong faith in God that he relies on. He finds meaning in always asking himself how his experiences can help others and then acting on those ideas.” 

Thanks John, for agreeing to the story.

(S-R/Dan Pelle photo of John Baker)

The heart remembers

The sadness crept in early this morning and made its home inside me. I could not understand it.

Then I glanced at the calendar – oh, yeah. June 14th.

My dad died on this day seven years ago. And my sisters and I spent the next week preparing our ritual of good-bye.

I had seen him only three weeks earlier. His cancer had returned and he detested dialysis and all its side-effects. Still, we managed to have a nice week together – out on a boat, some favorite restaurants for lunch and short drives in the fresh Florida air.

I was remembering that week today, but mostly I was recalling all the years of his presence – always there when I needed him.

One story: when a high school love broke my heart – moments after I left for college - my dad sent me a card and said that the boy would be sorry one day – one day when I was off on new adventures, when someone better would love me. Years later, my attorney dad represented a client who was suing my erstwhile love.  When the two had a chance to talk, my dad said, “Well, you broke my daughter’s heart. So, I guess now you will have to pay a price.”  Of course, he didn’t actually take revenge via the legal action, but that he would enjoy the opportunity to plant the suggestion into a conversation, was lovely.

A good father is always a daughter’s cheerleader and advocate – in the practical details of life as well as affairs of the heart. And today my heart remembers my dad and his legacy of love, humor, wisdom.

(S-R archives photo)

Beware bank accounts set up for victims

Our EndNotes column Tuesday warned people against donating to accounts set up for people in the community who have hit on hard times or have experienced great tragedy. Turns out, the person who opens it has all the control, and financial institutions don't monitor those accounts nor can they reveal the identity of the person who opened the account.

“Financial institutions can’t go around asking for documentation of where the money went. That’s just not our role,” said Dan Hansen, senior communications officer for Spokane Teachers Credit Union. “And if you came in and said I want to give to that memorial fund, but I want to know who opened up the account, that’s information we can’t release.”

Today, the Associated Press is reporting that the aunt of the children involved a the horrific tragedy seven years ago — (the Groene kids, kidnapped by Joseph Duncan — is being sued by the children's father, Steve Groene. He claims she didn't use the $48,000 to help his kids. (His son was murdered by Duncan.)

Sad, sad. Let the givers beware.

First bath, forever memory

You get the text 15 minutes after filing the Sunday story about the father who lost two children, one at birth, the other at age 20. 

The new baby in your extended family will get his first bath, courtesy of Nana, your sister, at 4 p.m. Outside, lightning races through the clouds, hurled by invisible gods. Thunder thunders. The rain won't relent. And on your desk, piles of papers and folders, orange peels, half-drunk cups of coffee and tea — what a desk looks like when you've been on deadline for three straight days.

But you make the decision. This is worth leaving the warm, dry office and all the things to still be done and make the drive to see the baby's first bath, a tradition. The Nana gives it. A dark cloud taunts all the drivers on the freeway, as if you all drive into the unknown, though it's a route you've driven a thousand times before.

And you get there, and the baby is a warm cuddler, 2 weeks old, and the kitchen sink is filled with water and tested with elbows and you all crowd around, the baby's older brother and sister, the dad, the mom, two aunts and the Nana, of course. The master bather.

And this mother of five grown children has muscle memory of how you bathe a newborn. You plunge them gently and talk to them in soothing voices as they look so startled to be submerged like that. And the baby wants to cry but looks around at all the smiling faces and relaxes into the scrubbing and the no-tears shampoo and soon, he's clean and warmly swaddled and he conks out, exhausted.

The father you wrote about for Sunday tells his daughter, a new mother, that  her baby’s cry “might be the sweetest sound you ever heard.”

And now, back at the office typing this, and the clouds are completely gone. And the new baby sleeps on in his house and you know these become the sweetest memories you ever remember.

Road trip!

Some Catholic sisters are taking their work on the road. Well, they are planning a bus trip across nine states stopping at homeless shelters, healthcare facilities, schools and food pantries to highlight their work with the poor and vulnerable in our communities.

 The tour, “Nuns on the Bus: Nuns Drive for Faith, Family and Fairness,” will start in Iowa and make stops in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland, concluding in Virginia.

 The bus trip is a response to the ridiculous accusations that women religious are too outspoken on issues like poverty and too quiet on Vatican-preferred topics like abortion and gay marriage.

 The trip will also serve to protest program cuts to poor and working families in the federal budget passed by the House of Representatives –  proposed by (Catholic) Wisconsin Representative Paul D. Ryan.

 Sister Simone Campbell, a member of Sisters of Social Service, organized the trip. She is an attorney who ran a legal clinic for the poor in Oakland for 18 years.

(S-R archives photo)

How long will you live?

In my extended family, I sometimes ask the 30-and-40-something members how long they think they'll live. Some think it's a weird question. But what I've learned from being part of a very large family, with multiple generations, is this: It's impossible to predict who will last a long time and who will die pretty young.

We recently learned that a cousin we didn't know very well died at age 56. She'd had some mental problems and because she was an only child, and her mother and father both died long ago, and her husband divorced her, we don't have anyone to ask the circumstances. She lived in California and Oregon. Very sad.

My mom, at 91, has outlived four brothers, two older, two younger. My dad, the youngest of seven, was one of the first to die at age 77.

According to the National Institute on Aging, in 1970, “the average life expectancy at birth in the United States was 70.8 years; in 2008, it was 78.0 years; and by 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau projects life expectancy will reach 79.5 years.”

When my nieces and nephews ask me how old I want to live until, I often pick 79. I always wanted to be part of the big crowd.

At what age do you want to get out of this race?

(My 91-year-old mom with my extended family's youngest, 2-week-old Giovanni)

Dying is hard: “Let me save others”

In today's Spokesman-Review, Curtis Johnson wrote a powerful guest opinion column about his desire to end his own life through the Washington law that allows people to do so if they have six months to live.

His dilemma? He has rapidly progressing ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He would like to to donate his organs when he makes the choice to die, but the system won't allow it.

Johnson explained: My death could save others. Although my motor neurons are wasted, only my muscle tissue is affected. Otherwise I’m a perfectly healthy 55-year-old male. I exercised daily. My blood pressure is still 110/70, and my heart rate a steady 70. I have perfectly functioning lungs, kidneys, heart and liver. There are candidates out there who could use my organs to save their lives. But even as a living donor, I am excluded from donating anything.

The legal system has made it impossible for those with incurable neuromuscular disorders to donate organs to those who need them. Organ donation must be conducted in a hospital immediately following the donor’s death. You have to be brain-dead, in the hospital, and on life support while they harvest the organs. But euthanasia is not allowed in hospitals, ergo my healthy organs get flushed and at least four or five people die needlessly. So, in order to donate my organs, I have to become that living mummy, then die of starvation or suffocation in a hospital. Is that humane?

How would you answer his question?

No Turning Back

Judy Butler’s guest opinion column  speaks beautifully to the on-going nonsense of the Vatican’s misbehavior toward women religious and therefore toward all women.

Women – lay women, women living in religious communities, all of us - have had enough. We will no longer be silent. And that is our baptismal mandate: to live our lives with a formed conscience, measured against our experience in the world, listening to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We listen.

And we are grateful for the courage, brilliance and faithful lives of so many women who laid down their lives for the poor, the vulnerable, the ill, the uneducated, the lonely, the homeless, the incarcerated, the…

The Vatican can say what it wants and send messengers of investigation, but the People of God remain committed to standing with the sisters, who continue to inspire, lead and follow Jesus’ command to “love on another as I have loved you.”

Gravesite delivery

I interviewed a man named Hugh Davis, 68, on Thursday morning. He's a retired journalist and communications specialist who now works temp jobs overseeing education seminars. I am working on a future story about people who remain working after retirement.

Davis even delivered flowers for awhile. “We used to take one rose out to a grave and put it on every Wednesday,” he said.

Have you ever sent flowers to a gravesite?

(S-R archives photo)

What else doesn’t age well?

From a recent Hallmark birthday card.

10 Things that Do Not Age Well;

1) Milk. 2) Men's feet. 3) Women's hairstyles. 4) Lettuce. 5) Kid Celebrities. 6) Things that are dead. 7) Teeth. 8) Cantaloupe. 9) Rock stars. 10) Hippies.

What would you add to the list?

(S-R archives photo of Mick Jagger)

Rhetoric from Rome

I have always said that the pope and I have a silent agreement: I don’t tell him how to say Mass and he doesn’t tell me what may or may not occur in my bedroom. So far, the plan has worked well.  However, he continues to offer general pronouncements on the subject of sexual intimacy, irritating many Catholics.

So, just when you think the guys in Rome could not get any more ridiculous – they do. NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd tells readers about Sister of Mercy Margaret Farley, who wrote a book a few years ago. Seems the pope is a slow reader since it took him until now to react to Farley’s words - and censure them.

Dowd writes: “Sister Farley asserts that procreation is not the only reason couples should have sex. Fruitfulness need not ‘refer only to the conceiving of children,’ she writes. ‘It can refer to multiple forms of fruitfulness in love of others, care for others, making the world a better place for others’…”

Such nonsense to think that our sexual expression is for procreation only. If a person is infertile, does the Church then mandate celibacy? Of course not. Anyone who has enjoyed sexual passion in a loving relationship knows the truth: making love creates more love, through intimacy and trust. And that love yields joy -  and sometimes a child.

 The People of God know the truth. We know that our Creator God offers sexual passion as an authentically human experience, an experience that enriches our spirits as well as pleasing our bodies.  Pleasure is not a sin, it’s part of God’s plan for humanity.

It’s time the institutional church started listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit who speaks to all of us, even in our bedrooms.

The sound of not-dead-yet

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The recent news that the New Orleans Times-Picayune is going from a daily to three times a week prompted comments from some people outside the newsroom. The asked me if I thought, like they did, that the end was near for all newspapers.

Likely not. And I hope not! I usually go into this big explainer about how our newspaper, especially, has a strong web presence and blah-blah-blah.

Instead from now on, I think I'll just play them this recording I made of our presses winding down after a long press run. It's music to my ears. I hope the tune keeps playing for a long time.

Just shut up

A relative had a health scare yesterday which required an emergency room visit and many tests. It turned out OK, but that didn't stop the advice from flowing today.

I should know better. When people are in distress or coming down from a crisis, they just need to talk it out. They don't need advice. They don't need stories about others who experienced a similar health scare.

But did this intellectual knowledge stop me from opening my mouth? Noooo.

I “advised” this relative to start exercising as soon as possible for both physical health and stress relief. And get some more sleep! She is a person who does a lot for others and doesn't accept others' help easily. So I lectured her on that, too!

I could tell she was anxious to get off the phone.

Just shut up. I need to heed my own advice here.

One bullet ~ oceans of grief

She was a little girl growing up in a poor family: poor in means, poor in skills, poor, poor poor.

She needed clothing and guidance and love and encouragement and care for her body and spirit. Her aunt and uncle stepped in offering help. Mostly, they hoped to offer her a chance to see a new path for her life. They loved her.

And through the years there were adventures in their home and across the country. Laughter and cookie-baking and travel and Christmas trees and celebrations and girl time and interesting people and a chance to get out of the cycle of neglect and apathy. Mostly, there was love.

She grew up. And chose a boyfriend, abandoning her own dreams. The first baby came, then another and another.

She walked away from the aunt and uncle and opportunities to follow her dreams. She stopped calling – and disappeared from their lives.

Last week her oldest child was killed. He’s dead. A gunman, a bullet. Tyler was 19, on his own, no mother in sight.

The bullet’s trajectory passed through his body and into the family, ripping open hearts, creating anguish and pain and questions and rage and sadness spilling out like blood – everywhere. A bullet that pierced memories.

News reports of anonymous victims evoke outrage, but bullets that fly into our personal lives bring shards of pain and grief that defy description and leave wounds, gaping wounds, deep and ugly. No logic, no reason. Only violence, exploding our theories of how to stop the madness.

There once was a little girl, bright, happy and full of dreams.  She had a little boy, innocent and sweet. He was taken. One bullet, oceans of grief. I know this pain, palpable and deep.  For I am the aunt to the sweet little girl, grieving her son, gunned down - and gone.

(S-R archives photo)


Brochures dying? Not so fast!

In response to a recent post that brochures might be dying, I received a snail mail letter (also now a rarity) from Laura Lawton, president of Lawton Printing Services, a longtime printer in Spokane.

She said that brochures remain very popular.

“The credibility of social media is under scrutiny while the credibility of print continues to be impactful, effective and results-oriented. People trust print, they feel comfortable using it, and print is persuasive.”

Laura, great point! And you're preaching to the choir, my post about the death of brochures notwithstanding. Though I blog, Tweet and use Facebook as part of my journalism job now, our printed newspaper remains very much alive, too. And it's amazing how people clip the article they are mentioned in and save it for the future. Also, printed stuff is so cool to discover, as I did this post card recently.

(About the photo: This is a picture postcard ad for Pearson's Drug Store in Spokane found in the King Collection memorabilia, date unknown but likely the mid-1930s, because the “Conquests of the Air” listed on the left side end with “Earhart, Jan. 1935.” It's a reference to the famous woman aviator Amelia Earhart who disappeared in 1937. King Collection/Spokesman-Review archives)


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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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