Monday Hearts for Madalene

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

Spring 8_editedHappy Mother’s Day!

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.

FacebookTwitterPinterestStumbleUpon
Posted in Hearts for Madeline | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Dog Has Died” Reflects Complexity of Human Grief

Pablo Neruda's factual ode weeps through wide-open eyes
A rusted machine in a field where a dog is buried

Credit: dpreview.com

Pablo Neruda is a great master of understatement, weaving the sparest details around the complexity of loss with a cry that carries its own weight and does not ask to be comforted. The first four lines of his poem “A Dog Has Died” induct us into his trademark factual approach:

My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I’ll join him right there

Nerdua seems to reject sentimentality completely, shunning the fetishization of the corpse for a sober reflection on his own mortality. And yet, he imagines a gentler universe for his beloved companion, and almost dares to include himself in it.

I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I’ll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

Two dogs full of joyful life

Credit: positively.com

While careful to not romanticize anything, the poet offers proper praise here, which honors a relationship between two beings with their own identities. Neruda’s friend was “never servile,” and “with no exaggerations.” It is the patience and acceptance of their journey together that he remembers with fondness and in recognition of the teacher in his companion:

my dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he’d keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.

This symbiosis is, to Neruda, more valuable than co-dependency, which is so often mistaken for love. Without the emotional complexity of human relationships, the time spent with his dog went deep into the heart of the present moment, yet still demanded an understanding, beyond attachment, that each moment must naturally and inevitably come to an end. “There are no good-byes for my dog who has died,” he reflects, “and we don’t now and never did lie to each other.” He ends his epithet celebrating a life lived passionately:

Joyful, joyful, joyful,
as only dogs know how to be happy
with only the autonomy
of their shameless spirit.

 Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda
(Credit: nbcnews.com)

It is this fullness and reality of life and death that needs no more elaboration, no more praise, and asks nothing of anyone but to take this example to heart. Death, loss, and grief are just as much a reality as was the “joyful” and “shameless” spirit of Neruda’s dog. This reality is clear as can be, as is the imprint it has left behind.

So now he’s gone and I buried him,
and that’s all there is to it.

FacebookTwitterPinterestStumbleUpon
Posted in The Next Chapter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ad Infinitum” — A Photo Series by Kris Vervaeke

Photographs from Hong Kong’s tombstones speak to the fragility of life and the anonymity of death
Faded tombstone portrait of an Asian woman

Credit: huffingtonpost.com

In the crowded cemeteries of Hong Kong, row after row of tombstones mark the graves of the city’s dead, from the earliest Chinese immigrants to those who have only recently died. In the Asian tradition, many of these graves are marked by portraits of the person entombed beneath.

Battered by the elements and the passage of time, these fading portraits once displayed the countenance of a human being, vibrant and alive. Now, they are faded and worn, some of them into near-nothingness — abstract images that can no longer be connected to a face, a person or a human life. They serve as a perfect metaphor for the inescapable transition of flesh and bone to insubstantial dust.

These tombstone portraits from the Chung Yeung cemetery in Hong Kong are the subject of “Ad Infinitum” a photographic series displayed in Kris Vervaeke’s book of the same name. The aptly titled series contains over 1,000 photos — some of them still strikingly lifelike and detailed, others damaged to the point that only a tiny vestige of the original countenance remains. In the book, the photos are anonymous. Its pages contain no names, no stories, no points of reference — just photographs in various states of decay. In fact, the only text in the book is a single page written by the photographer, in which he says:

Portrait of an Asian man from his tomb, streaked and faded from time

Credit: hufingtonpost.com

“The portrait series in the book exposes both the strength of the individual face and the perishable nature of the individual human body…The clear images make us want to connect, understand, and know the strangers and their stories. The fading images reference mortality of human life, and the limitations of our impact…As the faces fade further, anonymity returns and once again we become part of nature…Ad infinitum.”

And, indeed, as one flips through the pages of Vervaeke’s book, the portraits seem to exist outside of time and space. Eerily beautiful…concrete yet otherworldly…they seem to speak to us from another dimension, silently sharing the most basic of all truths — that each of us, someday, will die, and the person we are will cease to exist. Yet at the same time, they also hint at the possibility of an afterlife — an existence in which we are distilled to our essence, no longer distinguishable from the vastness of the universe, but still present and, in some essential way, unchanged.


Kris Vervaeke – Ad Infinitum
from Matej Sitar on Vimeo.

FacebookTwitterPinterestStumbleUpon
Posted in Soulful Expressions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is Public Death Education? An Interview with Lea Rose, Part Two

Australian psychotherapist, author and the founder of Living and Dying Well Counselling Centre is shifting cultural paradigms of dying

This is part two of SevenPonds’ two-part interview  with Lea Rose, a clinical counselor and psychotherapist with over two decades of experience. (Read part one of the interview here.) She is the founder of the Living and Dying Well Counselling Centre in Melbourne, Australia, and the author of the book “Let’s Talk About It!: Finding Peace with Death and Dying in Everyday Life.” 

Juniper: Is there room for euthanasia in dying well? Do people who choose to end their lives to avoid suffering miss out on receiving the gift of care and gentleness toward the end of their life?

Lea Rose BA. Dip ed. Adv. Dip Couns. MACA CV (Credit: learose.com.au)

Lea Rose BA. Dip ed. Adv. Dip Couns. MACA CV
(Credit: learose.com.au)

Lea: I’ve seen thousands of people die, and I’ve never seen anyone die badly who knew how to die with the support of their loved ones. There are stages of transition, but there isn’t necessarily suffering at the end of someone’s life. It’s like birth: we can all choose to have Cesareans now and not feel anything, but the natural process has its own rewards and purpose. Perhaps euthanasia has a place in dying well when someone’s in stage 4 cancer, but if someone’s transitioning well, then there’s no need. I think in those instances, if euthanasia was legalized, hospitals would strongly encourage people to make that choice under the auspice of reducing suffering, because it would save money.

When someone is going through the final phases of their lives, that is often the most intimate time they will ever have with their family. A year ago I helped a 32-year-old woman who was dying of cancer be supported by her family. The family wasn’t in denial about what was happening, but she was. The main issue was her dignity. She didn’t want anyone to see her deteriorating. She wasn’t afraid of death, but she didn’t want to receive care such as being washed, taken to the toilet, and all the things that have to happen when someone is dying.

So, I told her a story about when I gave birth. I was sitting in my own feces and urine; there was blood everywhere; I was naked in a room full of people — it was quite disgusting, honestly. But you don’t see it like that, because you’re about to give birth to a baby, so you go through that natural transition. The whole time, my mother was there with me. So I told that woman, “Your mother had you out of her own body. When you were a little baby, you would have vomited and had diarrhea, and all those things. Do you think she hasn’t seen it all? By letting your mother take care of you, you’re letting her love you. The greatest gift you can give her is to let her care for you, because when you’re not here, she will remember the times that she bathed, carried, and held you.”

Hands of three generations reflect loving care of those who are dying

Credit: learose.com.au

That was the shifting point, and after that, that’s what happened. She died at home, with her mother, father, sister and other family present, and her mother is doing well now because she had that time with her daughter. That time would have been lost if euthanasia had come in, because two weeks before that young woman died, she might have said absolutely, yes, I want it. Things were getting tough because she was now incontinent, and it was very real for her then that she was dying. The two weeks that it took her to die well had a transformative effect on the entire family.

When people transition with support, not only do they receive an incredible amount of care and love, but it helps their loved ones with their grieving process. When my own mother had a stroke, I looked after her for three months; my sister barely visited. My mother couldn’t read, write, talk or sit upright.

It’s been six months since my mother died, and those three months of caring for her carry me now. My daughter and I slept in my mother’s room, held her hand, did everything we could for her, and that is what makes our grief bearable. My sister immediately went on antidepressants because she lost that ability to be intimate with my mother, and lost that connection.

Denial plays a big factor in the grief of survivors. When someone is physically declining, there’s this thought that if we don’t have to see it, our grief will be less, or they will get better and then we’ll come visit. But it doesn’t work like that. The avoidance makes the grief worse, and this is why euthanasia needs to come into public awareness alongside death education. I wrote my book so that people could use it to help themselves or someone else care for a dying person instead of avoiding the situation and feeling guilty about the lost opportunity after.

Dying well also requires that family and caregivers, including the medical community, understand the stages of dying. For example, giving someone intravenous feeding while they are trying to die is totally unnecessary. They’re not starving — the body is trying to dry out. It’s part of the process. In pediatric wards, no one wants to tell the family that a child doesn’t need to be fed anymore because they’re dying. This level of denial is reflected in my book. I wanted the phrase “understanding the physical stages of dying” on the front cover, but my publisher really resisted it. However, this is what people really need and want to understand. This is how far we are from where we need to be.

Juniper: SevenPonds recently published an article on the need to educate parents, caregivers, and people who work with children regarding how to facilitate a child through their grief process. One can reasonably hypothesize that the adults will also learn something through this process. Can you speak to this?

Lea: Giving children death education is the way to go, yes. When someone walks into my office and they’re already full of cancer, they can’t deal with death education then. It’s like sex education: It’s in the back of your mind before you’re having sex, and you know about STIs, pregnancy, and the rest. You have an understanding of cause and effect, and what will happen. You may not understand sex because you haven’t experienced it yet, but when the time comes, that education comes through as well. Death education is no different. If you have that education and you’re dealing with a family member or friend who’s got someone who’s dying, you already have this information. It blows my mind that doctors don’t receive death education — maybe one hour to one week of their training. Yet oncologists often spend all day everyday telling people they’re dying.

I think people are more afraid of their grief than the suffering of the dying. It’s all mixed up and needs to be separated out a bit. What people are saying is that they don’t want their loved one to suffer, but actually they don’t want to see death because they don’t want to grieve. They think that if they avoid the hospitals, or the person looks lovely, and then gets euthanized in a nice place then their grief will be lessened, but it doesn’t work like that. Their grief is just as deep or it’s worse, because the shock is greater, because they haven’t seen their loved one go through the stages of death.

A man holds the hand of his dying wife

Credit: dying.about.com

Dying well also requires that family and caregivers, including the medical community, understand the stages of dying. For example, giving someone intravenous feeding while they are trying to die is totally unnecessary; they’re not being starved — the body is trying to dry out. It’s part of the process. In pediatric wards, no one wants to tell the family that a child doesn’t need to be fed anymore because they’re dying. This level of denial is reflected in my own book; I wanted the phrase “understanding the physical stages of dying” on the front cover, but my publisher really resisted it. However, this is what people really need and want to understand. This is how far we are from where we need to be.

Juniper: Thanks for your insights, Lea, and for speaking with us today.

Lea Rose: You’re welcome.

FacebookTwitterPinterestStumbleUpon
Posted in Professional Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



Our Weekly Tip: Writing an Ethical Will

Leaving a written record of your values and beliefs
Hand of a person writing an ethical will

Credit: drweil.com

Our Tip of the Week:  A testamentary will — the type of will with which most people are familiar — is a legal document clarifying your intentions regarding the distribution of your property and the care of any minor children after your death. An ethical will, on the other hand, is a document addressed to friends and family that, according to Dr. Barry Baines, author of “Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper,” communicates, “your values, blessings, life’s lessons, and hopes and dreams for the future.” Writing an ethical will can help you identify what matters to you and feel confident that you are leaving behind a record of your ethical and spiritual values for future generations. In clarifying for yourself what it is you stand for, you have the opportunity to more consciously embody those values during the time you have left.

How-To Suggestion:  When you sit down to write your will, you might find it helpful to read examples of ethical wills other people have written. There are a number of resources available to help you through the process, including Dr. Baines’ two books, “Ethical Wills/Legacy Letters Workbook” and “Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper.”  Some questions you might ask yourself as you prepare to write are:

1)  What values are particularly important to you?

2)  What, if any, are your spiritual beliefs?

3)  What are your hopes for future generations that will come after you?

4)  What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned during your lifetime?

5)  Are there any particular events that had a strong hand in shaping the person you are today?

FacebookTwitterPinterestStumbleUpon
Posted in Practical Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue to grow…but phone calls taper off.”

- Johnny Carson
baby making a phone call

Credit: babble.com

FacebookTwitterPinterestStumbleUpon
Posted in Laughter is Medicine | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment