“I postpone death by living, by suffering, by error, by risking, by giving, by losing.”

― Anaïs Nin
cliff diving, dive, sunset dive, mountain lake, risk

Credit: Zachary Snellenberger

Read more from A Rite Of Passage here.

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Monday Hearts for Madalene

Page Hodel creates the most beautiful hearts in an ongoing celebration of love

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Those wonderful fall days.

It’s an honor for SevenPonds to share with our readers the story of the Monday Hearts for Madalene project, a true account of the power of love in the midst of death.

The project’s origins take us to 2005: the moment Page Hodel encountered Madalene Rodriguez and fell “instantly, dizzyingly in love with her.” The couple’s first meeting was electric, and Page felt inspired to do something unique for the woman who captured her heart. So, she began leaving handmade hearts – made from flowers, leaves, and other materials – on Madalene’s doorstep.  The hearts became a ritual, and they were there to greet Madalene as she left for work every Monday.

“To start her week with a visual reminder of our beautiful love.” – Page Hodel

Just seven months later, Madalene was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and passed away on June 20th, 2006. But Page’s love for her hasn’t ceased, and she continues to make a heart for her every Monday in celebration of her life.

If you would like, you can also receive Page’s “Monday Hearts for Madalene” by emailing her at page.hodel@gmail.com with “subscribe” written as the subject. Images of the hearts can also be purchased on individual cards and in her beautifully compiled book, Monday Hearts for Madelene. Please also visit her website and Facebook  page. A portion of all sales will go to the Women’s Cancer Resource Center in Oakland, California (www.wcrc.org).

See more Monday Hearts for Madalene here.

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Vivid Memories

How can someone in their teens, the most immortal age of all, possibly grasp death?

This is Emma’s story, as told by Sandra Fish. Our “Opening Our Hearts” stories are based on people’s real-life experiences with loss. By sharing these experiences publicly, we hope to help our readers feel less alone in their experience of grief and, ultimately, to aid them in their healing processes. In this post, we tell the story of Emma who lost her stepmother to ovarian cancer when Emma was just 16.

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Emma and Carol Ann

When I was 16 years old, my stepmother, Carol Ann, died from ovarian cancer at age 55. Although it was a long time ago and I haven’t talked about it in years, vivid memories and feelings still pop up. If I hear of someone with cancer or especially if I hear someone gagging or throwing up on TV or wherever, I just cringe. I have a visceral reaction—it’s uncomfortable, sad, scary.

Her sickness wasn’t directly discussed with me. My father was trying to keep an upbeat demeanor.

It was hard enough being a teen, living through my parents’ bitter divorce. So when my father remarried about a year later, it felt way too soon. They were only married one year when his new wife was diagnosed with cancer—talk about too soon. Her sickness wasn’t directly discussed with me. My father was trying to keep an upbeat demeanor. The household was more strict than at my mother’s. I had to make my bed in the morning. I thought, “Who does that?!?!” I was still an angry teen and had nicknamed my stepmother, my “stepmonster.” Although she tried to be really friendly, I wasn’t ready.

The worst was when I would hear her throwing up all night long—that’s when I realized, “God, she’s really sick.”

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Carol Ann, Emma and her father

She had surgery and chemo. She had trouble sleeping. The worst was when I would hear her throwing up all night long—that’s when I realized, “God, she’s really sick.” Then came a reprieve, she went into remission for a year. Everything seemed fine, but it came back really hard. More chemo, more throwing up, but since no one really talked with me about it, I just assumed she would go into remission again—she did before, right?

Dad was always trying to keep positive. We did trips together. I remember when she didn’t have any hair and wore wigs. We went to visit my grandparents in West Palm Beach. We’d hang out at the beach, have 5 PM cocktail hour, just trying to laugh. My stepmother would allow herself to enjoy smoking and they’d let me have a cocktail. She’d laugh and just try to have fun amidst it all. These were the times the wig would come off.

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Carol Ann (2nd left) with Emma and her father

But she got sicker and sicker. I could see her losing weight. At a certain point, I realized how sick she was. You’d hug her and you could just feel her bones. We went on a car trip to visit her son, who had more anger issues than I about their marriage, and he was a grown man with a family! Driving down to visit her son who had refused to come up, we had to keep pulling over for Carol to vomit. I don’t think he realized how sick his mother was. Soon, she couldn’t get food down. All she could have was tea with honey.

I hate hospitals, but I didn’t want to regret not going, so I went. When I got to her room, I looked at her. No life was left in her. I was too scared to go near her, or touch her, someone I saw alive just a few days before.

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Carol Ann and Emma’s father celebrating Emma’s birthday

I remember her calling me into her bedroom to just talk. She opened her jewelry box and picked out a few things to give me. I think she knew it was our last time together—literally two days later she was gone. That was when she slipped or maybe fell in the bathroom and passed out. My dad freaked out. She had wanted to die at home, but he didn’t know what to do so he called paramedics who took her to the hospital. My dad called me at my mom’s to tell me Carol was dying. I hate hospitals, but I didn’t want to regret not going, so I went. When I got to her room, I looked at her. No life was left in her. I was too scared to go near her, or touch her, someone I saw alive just a few days before. My stepmother was 55 and dead, and I was just 16. It was surreal. She was cremated. I actually didn’t attend the small ceremony. My father and Carol used to hike in the Los Altos Hills. He scattered her ashes there.

And when other deaths came into my life, it wasn’t so shocking. Having someone die is sad but not totally foreign, like the first one.

In retrospect, I kind of wish they would have explained, been more honest. My dad had offered me therapy, but I thought, “Who wants to talk to a stranger?” I had a boyfriend at the time I confided in. That helped. It wasn’t fun. It stressed me out. The older I got though, when I would hear other people’s stories, I could connect, relate living through it—seeing the hair fall out, seeing them lose weight. And when other deaths came into my life, it wasn’t so shocking. Having someone die is sad but not totally foreign, like the first one.

My stepmother went to church every Sunday. My father went with her to please her. One of the pieces of jewelry Carol gave me during our last conversation was a little gold cross. I don’t wear it, but I’ve kept it all these years. I’m really glad she called me into her room that day. I’m really glad we had that time.

Were you touched by this story? Read more Opening Our Hearts stories here.

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But What Does Death Sound Like? Saskia Moore’s “Dead Symphony”

The Australian artist interviewed those who had near-death experiences to compose an unparalleled symphony
Saskia Moore, Asutralian artist, Dead Symphony, NDE, NDE music, NDE Experience

Artist Saskia Moore.
(credit: The Melbourne Review)

We don’t know what to expect after death. So we speculate. We believe in one thing or another, or nothing at all. The closest we’ve gotten to understanding what the “big moment” feels like is via those who have had a NDE (Near-Death Experience). Melbourne artist Saskia Moore was curious to know what aspects of NDEs pervaded most people’s experiences, particularly regarding sound. “Sound is understood to be the last sense to leave the body in the dying process,” she told the Melbourne Review in 2013, “So what are those sounds? What are people hearing in the dying process?” These questions led her to create the art installation “Dead Symphony,” born from her meticulous notes on the nature of sound during a NDE – its fluctuations, its mounting rhythms – to create an ethereal sensory experience.

fog, calm fog, meadow fog, flower field

Credit: silly-luv

The process took two years. Moore was told by neurologists that no one had ever done an in-depth study of sound regarding NDEs. There are a good number of books on the experience (see our review of Proof of Heaven, a doctor’s personal account of a NDE). Visually, most NDE-ers pass through an initial moment of darkness – a kind of muddiness sweeps over their find, it’s as if they’ve become momentarily rooted in a murky quicksand. Then, the weight of this moment dissipates: they feel a sort of elevation, a lightness of being and (you guessed it) are greeted by the glow of a comforting but ambiguous presence.

“The process took two years. Moore was told by neurologists that no one had ever done an in-depth study of sound regarding NDEs.”

violin, orchestra instrument

Credit: fyeahviola

Moore essentially created the soundtrack to this experience – communicating what is, in some ways, an even more powerful understanding of death than the written accounts of others. Words and images carry personalized connotations, meanings built from our lived experiences. One man’s description of a “glowing orb” could create a completely different perception for someone else. That’s not to say there isn’t some overlap in these notions, nor understanding – but sometimes, words can’t do an experience justice. That’s where very abstract drawing, then sound, came in to play for Moore.

“Moore essentially created the soundtrack to death.”

Those interviewed had a hard time describing what they had heard when they died, so they often took to drawing. “Some people described the music as a feeling,” she says, “They described how they almost became the music, the music was them and there was no separation between them. They would often talk about colour associations. They might say: ‘The only way I could describe it is that it sounded orange.’ They’d start drawing orange and I’d find the sound of orange. They were able to draw wave forms and so I would try and interpret those jumps or leaps and then orange would change to green and then we’d work on green.”

Saskia Moore, Saskia Moore Dead Symphony, Melbourne art, Australian art

Saskia Moore.
(credit: theage)

Drawing colors, finding the best note to represent a part of a scribble – the process was taxing. But the resultant “Dead Symphony” has a remarkable sense of comfort and self-assuredness despite its very ethereal, enigmatic nature. It isn’t a Wagner off-the-wall experience (I’m thinking Der Ring des Nibelungen) but a gentle sound that somehow seems as if it’s alive and capable of empathy. “There were often similarities in the description of the music,” she explained, “Subjects talked about it as a sound that is just a continuum. They say it’s very beautiful and it oscillates and changes but it’s always harmonious. A few people hummed similar melody lines to me, really extraordinary.”

The piece was presented in Melbourne beside interactive lights, meant to recall “the fluttering of an eyelid during consciousness or unconsciousness.” To watch a video of the exposition, click here.

More SevenPonds articles:

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Weekly Tip—Settling Foreign Property after Death

Understand the laws that could alter the intentions you have for a foreign property after death
italian house, italian villa, italy, country house, italy stone

Credit: italyismylife

When we think about end-of-life plans – settling an estate, finding an estate lawyer – we think of our home base. But what about the individuals who have the burden of estate planning for a foreign property? What will become of their Alp lodges and Tuscan villas—should they be so lucky? If careless, one can land in a juicy quagmire.

Consider the case of James Gandolfini. When the Sopranos actor died at the untimely age of 51, the public was baffled by the poor management of his will and, in particular, of his home in Italy.

If you’re thinking about getting property overseas, be sure to equip yourself with excellent, local legal advice. It’s naïve and not uncommon to disregard the inheritance laws of other countries (ex. the Gandolfini property was meant to go to his son and daughter when they turned 25, but it turns out that Italian law may be able to inject a share for his wife, overriding his intentions).

Explore more of SevenPonds’ tips through the Practical Tips page, in which you can discover everything from memorial craft ideas to help with end-of-life planning.

Estate planning can feel like learning a language in and of itself – so when making the decision to invest in foreign property, consider the exigencies that will come from a different culture and a different set of rules.

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An Interview with Jerrigrace Lyons: Part One

One of the first home funeral consultants shares her wisdom

Today SevenPonds speaks with Jerrigrace Lyons who is a family funeral guide and educator—one of the original pioneers of the home funeral movement. She is a founding member of the Home Funeral Alliance, and the founder and director of Final Passages, through which she both guides families and certifies home funeral consultants. This is Part One of her two-part interview with SevenPonds—read the Introduction here.

Jerrigrace_LyonsAurora: What is your favorite part of your job?

Jerrigrace: My favorite part is helping people—being of service and watching them transform through the experience of a home funeral… moving from fear and anxiety to a place of wellbeing and peace, healing even to the point of joy, joy that they have been able to participate fully in the passage of a loved one.

Aurora: What language do you use for what you do, and why?

Jerrigrace: When I started this work, I had to create language for what I was doing. I was coauthoring a guidebook with a good friend of mine, who at the time co-directed Final Passages with me—and while writing it, we realized that this was something new, that required new language to make people understand what we were talking about.

We created the term home funeral, which doesn’t necessarily mean people are at home—sometimes I interchange it with family–directed funeral for this reason. I believe it’s important to have language that unifies us as a movement—language everyone can understand. For instance, at first, I kept saying “cremation dock,” but people thought I meant a box for the ashes, when I was referring to the rectangular cardboard box used to place the body into the crematorium chamber for cremation. I had to start calling it a cardboard cremation casket to make it completely clear.

Another term created was lying in honor; we could say a wake at home, but we were looking for new terms to match the new rituals that we were creating around people remaining at home. We were looking for something more modern that people could relate to. Lying in honor or lying in grace is like lying in state, but we use this term to mean the time that the deceased is at home before being taken to the crematorium or cemetery.


Credit: www.metroactive.com

Jerrigrace: Recently there was a group of about 10 or 12 women who had gone through our home funeral courses here in California, and were just getting to meet one another and having casual meetings, much like our group. The Board of Funeral Directors or someone on it saw their website, contacted one of the women, and forcefully invited her to one of their meetings—the woman explained what she was doing.

Next thing they knew, there was a bill saying these women could not help families and get paid for it unless they were operating under a special license. This bill was rushed right through—when it passed and the funeral directors created the licensing procedure, the term they were using was death care consultants. The women went to hearings and objected to this term, explaining that they were family funeral assistants or home funeral guides. The people in charge of licensing ignored them and their intelligence—their ability to be compassionate helpers for families in need.

Then the test created to meet the licensing requirement didn’t even pertain to the work we do. It asked for a lot of technical information funeral directors need to know. On top of that, the way the licensing reads, even if you do pass the test, you can’t really help the family after the person has died. It was basically a gag order. So now the women aren’t getting licensed because they’d rather go out and help families for free.

It is a truly ridiculous law and I hope it gets reversed one day.

Aurora: Can you give us a step-by-step of what you do as a home funeral consultant?

Jerrigrace: If a family calls me in ahead of death (and preferably they do), I meet with them and give them all their options, go over all components of a home funeral; and then, if they decide they want me to guide them, we go over all the paperwork and talk about if they want cremation or burial, casket options, etc., and take it from there…

When a person dies and the family calls me to come over, they could be asking me for services from simple paperwork assistance to the whole nine yards—what I call a “full service” home funeral: I type and file paperwork, and go with them to the crematorium to make arrangements, or to cemetery, to hopefully choose a green burial. I wash, prepare, and dress the body, including clothing, hair and makeup (if they want any). I bring a massage table if the family doesn’t have a place for the person to lay in honor. I have material to drape on tables. I often bring a cardboard cremation casket so loved ones may decorate it, and then I help them place the body in the casket and van or car to transport the body to the crematorium or cemetery.

I basically walk beside the family every step of the way so they feel like they’re in charge, because they are. I am a legal consultant, but I also assist with ritual along the way. Really, home funeral is a ritual in itself.

Aurora: Thank you so much, Jerrigrace!


Read more Professional Advice interview from the past here.

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