Remembering the Goat Lady

The Goat Lady’s life blesses others

This is the story of Ginnie, as told by her friend Susan Seawolf Hayes. Our “Opening Our Hearts” stories are based on people’s real life experiences. By sharing these experiences publicly, we hope to help our readers feel less alone in their grief and, ultimately, to aid them in their healing process. In this post, Susan tells the story of her friend Ginnie, also known as the Goat Lady, who lost her life to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 1.27.05 PM

Ginnie the Goat Lady
(Credit: goatladydairy.com)

I met Ginnie at a tiny Greensboro, North Carolina church. The congregation met for a Sunday evening service and then shared a simple meal. Ginnie’s contribution was always her handmade goat cheese.

Most people just called her the Goat Lady. Retired from a career in nursing, she had a hankering to live on a farm. Not just live there but foster a different sort of life than the one she had known, one that began as the sun showed its face and ended as it slipped down the hill behind the milking barn.

She wanted goats so she could milk them and make cheese.

A slower life in some ways, not in a city with its bustling timetable, but one with its own calendar dependent on natural cycles. The hens laying every day, gradually slowing their laying as winter came on. Seasons marked by different garden crops, from garlic scapes in the spring to frost-sweetened collards in the late fall. A dog or two and some kittens, but the main thing would be goats. She wanted goats so she could milk them and make cheese.

So in 1995 she did what any novice farmer might have done. She bought one little goat, made it a nest in the back seat of her car and set out through several states until she reached the back roads of central North Carolina. There she unloaded the one goat and the rest of her belongings at an abandoned tobacco farm, which Ginnie, her brother and his wife eventually imagined into reality as a goat farm.

goat of the goat lady

Credit: www.goatladydairy.com

On the Open Farm Days after Ginnie became ill, she used a golf cart to get around. She would swoop down to pick me up and carry me away in her chariot. Together we careened around the farm as fast as the cart would go. It was exhilarating not only because I thought I might fall out at any minute, but also because Ginnie took such enjoyment from being able to move at such speed.

The next Sunday at the service I noticed Ginnie shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other.

Then there were Easter Sundays. Ginnie would show up with a tiny baby goat cradled in her arms and would place the kid, wearing an old sweater with cut-off sleeves for warmth, in the arms of one of the dinner guests. Her last Easter she chose Jacob. Word was he was a Vietnam vet, he had PTSD and you didn’t want to mess with him. But the baby goat hadn’t gotten the message. He gave two or three low ble-e-e-ats, licked Jacob on the nose and settled softly against him. Jacob’s face slowly relaxed into a big grin, and he said, “Why . . . he done peed on me.”

He said this as if he had received an anointing straight from the Holy Ghost. Then Jacob cackled, and the whole little church dissolved in laughter.

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The house on the farm
(Credit: www.goatladydairy.com)

The next Sunday at the service I noticed Ginnie shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “I seem to be having trouble with one of my legs — it just wants to lag behind the other one. And my throat doesn’t feel right when I swallow.”

Surprised that this stalwart nurse was worried about her own health, I attempted to draw her out. “Those seem to be two unrelated things — don’t you think?”

No, I really don’t. I really think they are related…”

Then she hesitated, and we turned to other matters. The subject came up again, though, the very next time I saw her.

Has your leg gotten any better? How about the swallowing?”

They’re about the same, but now I’m having some trouble with muscle cramps and weakness in my hands and — yes, in both legs.”

Could it be a lack of magnesium?”

I don’t think so because I take a supplement. I think I might know what it is, but I’m going to wait until I check on some things before I say.”

The next time I saw Ginnie she was speaking to several church members, answering general questions about her health. Then she pulled me aside.

I told you I thought I knew what it was. And now that I’m beginning to slur my speech, I’m sure . . .”

A feeling of cold dread settled over me. This didn’t sound good.

“What do you think it could be?”

“ALS.”

This was too much for me to absorb, and I remember thinking, “No, this is not possible. She’s too healthy.” And also, “No, this is not fair, I haven’t known her long enough.” But truth was no respecter of my opinion, and by our next service her doctor had confirmed ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

We soon began helping her plan the things she wished to accomplish. Each time we saw her, her health had slipped a little more. She continued to be able to talk, in some fashion, for several months, but soon there came a time when she could no longer eat real food. We all silently grieved with her, imaging how it would be to give up something so enjoyable, so synonymous with living.

For in the end the joy of inhabiting our human bodies comes down to something as elemental as walking a ditch where wild blackberries grow, enduring the thorns, picking one perfect berry after another, eating each to hear, taste, feel the tiny seeds exploding in our mouths.

Robert Hass captured it in his poem “Meditation at Lagunitas”: “There are . . . days that are the good flesh continuing/Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,/saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.” For in the end the joy of inhabiting our human bodies comes down to something as elemental as walking a ditch where wild blackberries grow, enduring the thorns, picking one perfect berry after another, eating each to hear, taste, feel the tiny seeds exploding in our mouths.

Pretty soon we did not see Ginnie at the services, for she had lost her ability to walk. Her family moved a hospital bed into her small neat house, positioning it at a big window where she could see the sun rise and set over the farm. Meanwhile Ginnie fulfilled another bucket list item — to be taken up into the sky at dawn by a hot-air balloon. And this is how I like to think of my dear friend Ginnie: defying death for one last moment as the sun rises over Goat Lady Dairy.

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Monday Hearts for Madalene

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

Summer 11_edited copyMy Red Hot Lover Through Eternity

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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Fed by the Shadow of Death

Renaissance painters were masters of light, life, death and shadow
"Saint Sebastian Interceding for the Plague Stricken" Josse Lieferinxe (1497-1499)  (Credit: Wikipedia.org)

“Saint Sebastian Interceding for the Plague Stricken” Josse Lieferinxe (1497-1499)
(Credit: Wikipedia.org)

The cultural bloom of the Italian – and wider European – Renaissance was fed by the shadow of death. The bubonic plague was carried by fleas traveling on rodents, who then hitched rides along the expanding trade routes in the 1300s. The plague periodically wiped out large swaths of the European population for the next 400 years. We can surely call that a reign of terror.

Yet, we look to this point in Western history as the foundation and flowering of what we celebrate as truth and beauty in the Western world. When you consider the deeply helixed connection between life and death, the ripeness of Renaissance art in the midst of such a deep cultural confrontation with death comes into a clearer frame.

"Lamentation of Christ" Andrea Mantegna (1480) (Credit: wikipedia.org)

“Lamentation of Christ” Andrea Mantegna (1480)
(Credit: Wikipedia.org)

The master artists of this time were keenly aware of the strength and fragility of the human body and spirit. They painted beautifully rendered bodies, draped with flesh that echoes the velvety robes that roll from them. They are thick-boned and earthly, often turning their resigned yet imploring faces to the heavens.

Flemish painter Anthony Van Dyck lived in Italy as the region experienced waves of epidemics; one in particular decimated 60% of the population in Sicily. An exhibition of his work, aptly titled “Van Dyck in Sicily: 1624-1625 Painting and the Plague” covers the rich connection between this artist’s work and a keen sense of sudden, disease-wrought death.

"Saint Rosalie Crowned with Roses by Two Angels" Anthony Van Dyck (1624) (Credit: Tumblr.com)

“Saint Rosalie Crowned with Roses by Two Angels” Anthony Van Dyck (1624)
(Credit: Tumblr.com)

In Van Dyck’s painting, “Saint Rosalie Crowned with Roses by Two Angels,” Saint Rosalie brings one hand to her heart, as her other hand rests on an upside down human skull. Her body faces us as she turns her face upwards.

Her uplifted gaze, her connection to her own heart and spirit and her direct contact with physical remains speaks to Van Dyck’s framing of the saint as deeply steeped in the knowledge of life and death, light and dark, spirit and matter.

Her uplifted gaze, her connection to her own heart and spirit and her direct contact with physical remains speaks to Van Dyck’s framing of the saint as deeply steeped in the knowledge of life and death, light and dark, spirit and matter. In this awareness, she is crowned a saint, poised between heaven and earth, here to help those who may soon be bones.

In 1694, St. Rosalie was said to have appeared to a sick woman and a hunter in Palermo, Italy, while the town was in the thick of plague. She requested that her remains be retrieved from the cave she died in and put on procession. Once her remains were located and carried through Palermo three times, it was claimed that the plague lifted its grip on the city. The procession became a festival that is still celebrated in Palermo today, on July 15th, called festino.

Side note: William Buckland apparently examined the remains of St. Rosalie and determined they were the bones of a goat. We may blame rodents for the plague, but we can evidently thank goats for saving us from it.

saint rosalie in glory plague

“Saint Rosalie in Glory” Van Dyck (1624)
(Credit: culture24.org.uk)

Van Dyck’s other paintings of Saint Rosalie from his time in Italy (and there are several) follow a similar visual path. She stands on the earth and connects with the heavens, beseeching the spiritual world for help on the physical plane. Either one or both hands touch the earth, and bones are often found around her feet.

The particularly human knowledge of self also comes with it the painful awareness of loss of self at the hands of that oh-so-pernicious force of death — death of both ourselves and our loved ones. From the intensity of this knowledge flowers so much beauty. Our brain’s deep, emotional crenulations are formed just as much by the dark as they are the light. Renaissance painters seemed to intuit this knowledge, steeped as they were in the magnificent (if also pestilent) forces beyond our human control.

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What are Burial Shrouds? An Interview with Kate Hoover, Part One

Kate Hoover of Vale Shrouds talks about what inspired her to start her shroud-making business and what the shroud-making process entails

Today SevenPonds speaks with Kate Hoover, the founder of Vale Shrouds. Based in Brooklyn, NY, Kate studied sociology at Barnard College and fashion design at Parsons School of Design. She has worked in the garment and publishing industries in various design capacities. After practicing yoga for over a decade, she received her yoga teacher training certification from Integral Yoga in 2011. She studied and volunteered with the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care from 2012-2014. In the first part of her two-part interview, she discusses the inspiration behind Vale Shrouds, what the process of making burial shrouds entails and whether she offers workshops for those interested. 

 Kate Hoover of Vale Shrouds

Credit: Kate Hoover

Zoë: What are shrouds?

Kate: Shrouds are pieces of fabric used to wrap a body in preparation for burial or cremation. They can be as simple as a quilt or long piece of fabric wound around the body, or as elaborate as one’s imagination.

Zoë: What is Vale Shrouds and how did it get started?

Kate: Vale Shrouds is a burial shroud-sewing service that grew out of a contemplative caregiving practice.

In 2012, I began volunteering as a hospital chaplain intern through a contemplative caregiving program. During the program’s training, my classmates and I were asked to spend time considering our own deaths and planning our own funerals. The idea behind this practice was that you can’t really sit in a present way with a patient’s dying unless you have made a good faith effort to face your own.

I became interested in green burial through this assignment to plan my own funeral. I was drawn to the way it preserved green space from development, its simple directness and its lack of waste. I was also drawn to the intimacy and community home ceremonies and caring for one’s dead (for instance washing and dressing the body, decorating a casket) allowed. For me, the relationships I’ve had with people have been the most important part of my life; I couldn’t imagine that not being a part of my death.

The caregiving training culminated in a final project of our choosing, and I decided to sew a green burial shroud for myself. I put my background in sewing and patternmaking into play for the shroud’s construction. I wanted the design to be of the moment — in the spirit of our caregiving training — so I didn’t look at other shrouds; I just sat and wondered what a shroud should do and how to make it do that.

The moment I knew there was something more to keep exploring was when I shared the shroud in our final class show-and-tell. My classmates were (surprisingly) receptive to the shroud, wanting to touch it and ask questions. The mood became almost playful, and they picked me up in the shroud and carried me around in it. To look up and see all these people I cared for around me, it was powerful. It helped me understand how a shrouded burial could encourage involvement and community.

The act of sewing my own shroud was also powerful. As a practice, it went from an abstract discernment — what are the most important people and events to me, what has meant the most to me, what do I value and want to carry with me — to something that became very real and confronting. To see the shroud come together was like watching my mortality become real. However, it was also very life affirming. By defining those things that are important to me, I could make sure to give them more attention with whatever remaining time I have.

To bring us to today and why I kept making the shrouds, people were asking for them and I enjoy making them. A funeral director I met while planning my funeral gave me the feedback to include straps to close the shroud on the top and to include an absorptive layer. Other than incorporating those changes, the design has remained the same as the original one I made for myself.

I also make shrouds for pets. The day I showed the class my shroud, people suggested I also make ones for pets. I searched online to see what was available, and the shrouds I found lacked warmth. So I created a soft bed, something that would fit in a carrier so that it’d be easy to carry the pet home from the vet.

Kate Hoover of Vale Shrouds Preparing Shroud

Credit: Kate Hoover

Zoë: What does the process of making burial shrouds entail?

Kate: I approach shroud making as a contemplative practice. That’s how I got started in making shrouds, and I believe it’s important to keep that in play going forward. It’s kind of like how food that’s prepared with love tastes different; my hope is that the intention with which my shrouds are made is transferred into them.

I sew everything myself right now, to keep that connection, that touch. I keep the space quiet and my mind and heart focused on a non-denominational prayer asking for support, protection and care for the deceased and their loved ones. It’s intentionally somewhat vague; I don’t want to put my agenda on anyone. Coming from the hospital contemplative caregiving training, I have a lot of respect for meeting people where they are in their beliefs or non-beliefs. Ultimately, the shroud is about who they are and what they do with it; my prayer is there to hold the space for whatever they want to fill it with.

Right now I offer one main type of shroud: natural cotton/hemp with twill tape straps and wood ring closures. The fabrics and trimmings are all natural and up to green burial requirements. It’s lined with a cotton fleece for absorbing liquids and it has straps for lifting and carrying the body.

The idea is that it’s a blank canvas: a clean design that doesn’t necessarily need anything added and that is timeless. It’s a neutral background so that the flowers and mementos one adds become the focus. At the same time, the design allows for personalization with things like paint or embroidery.

You could pre-order a shroud like the ones I make, and let it rest in your home (it can be stored in a way that will prevent deterioration). You then have the option to either personalize it over time or at time of death. The shroud can, in effect, grow with you.

I can also customize to a degree. If someone has a favorite quilt or fabric, that can be incorporated. If the shroud is going into a casket, the carrying straps may not be a necessity; a shroud can be made without those.

Zoë: Do you offer any workshops for people interested in making shrouds?

Kate: I am putting ideas together right now about forming workshops for people interested in making their own burial shroud. It was such a profound experience for me to sew mine; creating a space for other people to have that experience is something I would love to be a part of. If people are interested, I’d encourage them to reach out to me.

Come back next week for Part Two of her interview.

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Our Weekly Tip: Volunteering in Honor of a Loved One

Pay tribute to a loved one and help your own grieving process through service
Credit: www.essentialtravel.co.uk

Credit: www.essentialtravel.co.uk

Our Tip of the Week: In the wake of the loss of your beloved, it can be difficult to think of anything, or anyone, else. Grief can be all-consuming, and while you may not feel up to service projects, it’s been proven that volunteer work works wonders for your mental and physical health. It can drastically improve your mental state, and isn’t a happier, healthier you something your beloved would have wanted?

Take this tribute a step further and dedicate your donated time to a cause that was important to your beloved. Perhaps there was a local community service chapter he or she worked with on occasion, or a soup kitchen he or she would visit on holidays, Even if this isn’t the case, let your beloved’s passions guide and motivate your service.

dog volunteering

Credit: gardensforgoldens.com

Was your beloved an animal lover? Ask a local shelter if they have a dog walking or kitten cuddling program for abandoned animals. Maybe he or she had a soft spot for the elderly. Consider spending the afternoon at a senior center sharing stories. Whatever the cause, the few hours spent outside of your comfort zone and grief dedicated to your beloved’s pet charity will not only bring you peace, but also a profound sense of connection to your loved one.

How-to Suggestion: Consider organizing a group volunteering day at your loved one’s service. A sign-up sheet inviting guests to participate in a day of service is a great place to start, and its distribution is an ideal task for a friend or family member who wishes to take part in services, but is perhaps too shy to speak. Volunteering will be particularly special when surrounded by others who knew your beloved and are eager to serve in his or her memory.

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When a Mom Uses the Wrong Acronym While Delivering the News of a Death

A mom's innocent mistake leads to her child trying to gently correct her before any future -- and possibly misinterpreted -- mishaps happen
Misinterpretation of LOL

Credit: ownedbyautocorrect.com

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