Washing the Feet of the Homeless

homeless feet

Teaching our children to be humble by role modeling selfless service.

Humility has always been a huge blind spot for me. For example, I never really knew the exact definition of humility, but I was too proud to look it up.

Unfortunately, constantly telling myself to stay humble doesn’t seem to work, so I’ve been searching for a “skillful means” practice to build humility. Reverend Heng Sure’s practice of bowing resonates with me, but I don’t have two and half years to bow up the California Coast.

After a mis-take with my son, I realized the power of footwashing. I remembered how Jesus washed the feet of the disciples at the last supper: “I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:15-17

Where to Start

When I approached a few friends to practice this ritual, no one felt comfortable. “Thanks for dinner. Can I wash your feet?”

Whose feet could I wash? As always, whenever I ask the Universe a question, I get an answer. This time the Universe used Facebook. A friend of mine, AJ Lovewins, invited me to his Homeless Outreach Walk, so I loaded up my two sons, a 10 pack of new white socks, towels, soap, and Burt’s Bees Foot Cream and headed to the San Francisco Civic Center.

When I got to the site around 7 PM, AJ saw me unloading my supplies.

“Are you going to do foot-washing?”

“I hope so, “ I answered.

“Good for you. Did you bring gloves?” AJ asked.

Oops, hadn’t thought about gloves or sanitizer. Just then it occurred to me that I might be diving into the deep end for my first swim lesson.

First Contact

Surprisingly, most of the homeless people I approached were just as apprehensive of having their feet washed as my friends. A number of individuals seemed embarrassed by their “uncleanliness.” Some didn’t want to expose their feet to the cold night air.

I started to think that this might not be the time and place to start this ritual, when we stumbled upon two homeless men tucked into a crevice of the Bill Graham Auditorium. When I mentioned foot washing, one of the men’s eyes lit up.

“Oh, I could really use that right now,” he said staring at his feet.

His friends seemed suspicious, but after a few minutes of contemplation he told his friend, “Bro, I gotta do this.”

We headed across the street to a park bench, which was nice since it was near a small play structure that my sons could play on. Andrew introduced himself and started apologizing for how his feet smelled. I assured him that if his feet were clean, then this wouldn’t really be necessary.

As I mixed hot water from a thermos with cold water and Epson salt, Andrew literally peeled off his socks. In the dim light, I could see and smell the sores, calluses, and decaying flesh on his feet.

With more apologies, he dipped his feet in the basin of warm water.

I bowed down and silently said St. Francis’s Prayer. I had thought about saying the prayer out loud, but I didn’t want to make Andrew feel like I was trying to “save him,” only serve him.

As I soaped his feet, Andrew winced. He had open sores and toes fused together. I realized that Jesus must have had dirty feet. Surely, someone who goes 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, hangs out with prostitutes, and enters tombs to raise the dead would not have perfectly manicured toenails. This thought empowered me to lovingly wash Andrew’s feet.

After cleaning, drying, and moisturizing his feet, I bowed down again with my hands on his feet and said a Hawaiian Peace Prayer—“…my peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you. Not the world’s peace, but only my peace. The peace of ‘I’.”

Andrew couldn’t stop thanking me.

“The only other word that comes to mind besides thank you is ‘orgasmic’,” he said with a laugh.

When I looked up, another homeless man was sitting on the bench.

“Can I get my feet washed?” he asked.

“Yes, but I don’t have any more hot water. We could use this warm dirty water or I could empty it out and use cold clean water.”

“How many feet have you washed with that water?”

“Only Andrew’s,” I replied.

“Oh that’s fine,” he said.

This man’s name was Joseph, and he had just hitchhiked down from Portland. As I washed his feet, he told me about the Rainbow Gathering where thousands of spiritual people get together for a month and “leave no trash.”

I asked Joseph when the Rainbow Gathering happened.

“What is the month before July?” he asked.

“June?”

“Yeah, it starts in June,” he said with a smile.

When I finished, Joseph thanked me and said, “I hope that brings you whatever you were looking to get out of it.”

As I gathered my things, Arthur, a homeless man who had volunteered with us to help other homeless people (think about that for a minute), came up to me and said, “That’s some good karma, Brother.”

The Ripples

On the way home, my boys and I stopped off for the ice cream I had promised them.

“What did you think about Daddy washing those people’s feet?” I asked.

“It was kind of weird,” said 7 year old Jett.

“Do you know why Daddy washed their feet?” I countered.

“Because they were dirty,” piped in 5 year old Fox, “and they were kind of sick.”

“Yes, we can heal people by washing their feet, Fox,” I replied. What I didn’t tell him is that I was trying to heal myself by washing the feet of others.

“To be kind,” Jett added.

“Yes, serving others is kind, but Daddy was washing their feet to remind myself that no matter how dirty or different someone looks, they are the same as us. We are all God.”

Later that night, drifting off to sleep while Fox cradled my ears in his gentle, soft hands, I felt a bit cleaner, lighter, and more humble.

[Names were changed to protect the identity and privacy of participants]

Photo: Flickr.com/JcOlivera

Felt Hearts

Best Valentine’s Day Ever–Alone

Felt Hearts

 

My wife and I got separated last year, so this was my first Valentine’s Day alone in over 10 years. In the afternoon, I was feeling a bit blah, so I decided to bake some cookies.

While buying ingredients at Whole Foods, I shared a smile with a cheerful checker. As she was ringing me up, her friend came over and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

The checker groaned. When her friend walked away, I asked her, “did you just groan?” She was a bit taken off guard, but quickly smirked, “Yeah, I’m sad about my friend getting off work.”

Then she admitted with a grin, “I’m a bitter person.” I smiled.

I wanted to offer compassion, but wasn’t really sure what to do. Driving away from the store, I thought about asking her if she wanted to have some tea or go for a walk after she got off work, but realized how creepy this might come across.

When I got home and got an email from a friend who said that her friends on the East Coast were spending the day leaving notes of kindness “from the universe” for strangers.

The notes read:

“Happy Valentine’s Day! Take moment, give yourself a huge hug, and remember how absolutely amazing you are.

Love yourself today! You are your most precious valentine.

Much love and many blessings,

The Universe

So I found a card lying around and copied this message. I was wearing a hand-stitched heart that the same friend who sent me the email had given me. My friend had gotten the heart from the Gandhi ashram in India and had given it to me the first time we hung out.

Hesitantly, I took off the heart and put it in the envelope with the card. Rushing back to Whole Foods, I prayed that the checker would still be there. Of course, when I went back to the line, she was nowhere in sight.

Walking towards the information booth, I realized that I didn’t even know this checker’s name, but right when I got to the booth, I saw her bagging groceries on the far end of the store.

I grabbed a manager and asked, “Who is that woman bagging groceries right there?”

The manager said, “Oh, that is E­­­­­____.”

I handed the manager the puffed up envelope and said, “Can you give this to her?” and walked away.

When I got home, I was elated. I thought about the checker getting this note and gift, not knowing who sent it. I imagined the smile on her face and the joy in her heart that magical things can happen, even on a lonely Valentine’s Day.

I sent back an email to my friend and told her what had happened on the “Best Valentine’s Day eeeevaaaah.”

A few hours later, I got an email back that read: “And that’s super extra awesome that you gave her the heart pin, too. That gesture is priceless– not just for her, but for you. Cause it’s easy to give away things we might not want or value, but when we give away something we love, that gesture of “tyag” (translates to “sacrifice”– but sacrifice isn’t quite the right meaning) connects us even more deeply to the other person, and the web of interconnection. :)”

Reading this email, I realized that what we are all looking for on Valentine’s Day (or everyday) is to connect deeply with others. We are just brainwashed to believe that we need to connect with a “significant other.” The truth is that we can have intimate relationship with anyone, even perfect strangers.

This experience taught me that whenever I’m feeling lonely or depressed to just go out and serve others, preferably anonymously. As all the great spiritual masters have said, “It is in giving that we receive.”

Be Proud of Them All

The following ramblings (in her own words) were submitted by Juliette, from VampireMaman and WestCoastReview, while she was thinking through some unedited thoughts and memories.  We here at STMND think her ramblings are well worth reading through, appreciating, learning from, and spreading across the blogosphere.

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I often see special needs teens when I pick up my daughter at school. I always tell her how different it was when I was growing up. The special kids I see now are fashionably dressed, usually have great hair and are walking along like all the other teens.

So what are my experiences from the deep dark past?

My family has so many skeletons in the closet that it is starting to look like the famous scene in the Marx Brother Movie “Night at the Opera”.  You know the one where people keep coming into a teeny tiny little room and eventually someone opens the door and they all fall out I a big pile.

My Cousin Trudy
That was the week I told my grandmother to go to hell.  We were a house full of girls and my grandmother never forgave my parents for not having a son.  She spent most of her visit taunting and insulting us.  So I got tired of her crap and yelled at her. I’d never told an adult off before, but that was before she told us about Trudy. She made a point of telling us that Trudy was prettier and better than all of us and how much she loved her first-born granddaughter.  If she loved her so much why had we never heard of her?

So we asked our mother about Trudy and why we never heard about her. Trudy was a Mongoloid. That is what everyone called Downs Syndrome people in the 1960’s. When Trudy was born her young parents were told that it would be better to put her away in a state mental hospital. Trudy lived her entire life in an institution. She hardly recognized her parents. She couldn’t remember anything. She was happy. Everyone in the family said she was happy. But nobody talked about her. I had no idea.  She died when she was in her early 50’s.

Nobody talked about her. There was too much shame. For about three seconds my 13-year-old self thought maybe my grandmother was so mean because she wanted Trudy to be her perfect granddaughter and resented my sisters and me. But maybe my grandmother was just a bitch.

My dad and Duff.
My father grew up in a small rural Louisiana town. He was a city boy who’d been dumped in the backwoods home of his grandparents after his parents got divorced. This was during the 1930’s. My father told me about a kid named Duff. Nobody knew why he was called that, then again, nobody in that town ever went by their real names. So anyway, Duff was what everyone called “slow.” Other boys used to pick on Duff and do mean things to them. My dad didn’t even like Duff that much but he didn’t like what the other boys were doing.  So my dad beat the crap out of Duff’s tormentors. After that the other boys left Duff alone. Duff sort of became my dad’s shadow. He followed him everywhere like an adoring puppy dog. I asked my dad what happened to Duff. Dad took off his glasses and wiped a tear from his eye. Right after my dad left for college Duff was murdered. My dad thinks someone did it just for fun.

Frank’s Daughter
When I was small my mother spoke of a girl. I’ll call her Velentina. She couldn’t speak or walk or do anything. She was like an infant. Her father was my dad’s best friend. Her mother was a crazy woman.
Mrs. Frank kept her child at home and took care of her. She would talk about Valentina as if she was a normal child. My mom wondered why when Mr. and Mrs. Frank would have company that Valentina would be on a blanket on the floor, just rocking around. Mrs. Frank dressed her daughter well and kept her hair pretty.  Everyone thought Mrs. Frank was nuts. When Valentina passed away when she was around 10 years old her parents had a few more children who could talk and run and go to college.

As a child I didn’t wonder why Mrs. Franks was nuts. I wondered why nobody understood how much she loved her daughter. It was one of those weird memories that burned into my ten year old brain.

I have a lot of other stories. My grandma (not the other grandmother I mentioned earlier) had a friend with a special needs daughter. When we were small her friend would visit with the wild girl and her quiet son. The wild girl would jump on furniture and act like the apes in the zoo acted. Her brother would sit quietly. When we got alone with him, away from the adults he would talk about how much he hated his parents for ignoring him and sending him to military school while his sister stayed at home. It was a sad and dysfunctional family. I wasn’t sure what to think. I never questioned anything out loud or asked questions as a child. I just watched and remembered.  I wonder what happened to the boy. I think his name was either Charles or Frank.  His sister passed away but I never knew her entire story. My mother had an opinion on that situation too.  She said the girl could have been in school and the boy should have been loved at home, not sent away to military school.

College girl who married the guy with one arm.
Fast forward twenty years. About a year after I’d graduated from college I learned that one of my classmates had married a great guy. He was handsome, smart, and successful and he adored his new wife. But my classmate’s parents had disowned her because she’d married a man who only had one arm. I’d never heard anything so stupid.

I have a hundred more stories. Our lives have been enriched by friends who are different – even if that means they are special needs. We used to call that mentally retarded. Now we know there are many reasons people who have special needs because… it doesn’t matter why. It just matters that we treat them as valued individuals.

Daven
Three years ago when I started my odd vampire/parenting/musings blog Vampiremaman.com I started to discover other Vampire bloggers. True confession time: I wasn’t “into” vampires that much before I started this… it just happened.

This is the description from one of his Vampire Syndrome blog: Former Special Olympics champion sprinter and 400-meter sprint national record holder. Now the World’s fastest running Vampire, able to run at over 100mph for long distances. Retains his sincerity and good will towards others while living and interacting with a Vampire population generally not known for these qualities. Jack gets his first girlfriend in my trilogy’s second novel, “Vampire Conspiracy”. Jack’s heroism and unique abilities gradually become known to the world’s human Vampire population… and others.

Pretty cool. And I thought my Vampire tales were original. And no, Daven has no idea I’m writing about him. You can see is work on http://www.vampiresyndrome.net/meet-the-vampires/

The girl at school
One of the girls in my daughter’s high school has Downs Syndrome. I told my daughter that not so long ago girls like her wouldn’t go to school. They wouldn’t have pretty clothing or pretty hair. They wouldn’t be treated like “normal” kids. They wouldn’t have gone out in public because other people would have said it was shameful. Shameful why? I never got that one.
For all the shit I gripe about there is a lot of good going on with those kids in that school. The Homecoming King was in a wheel chair. Not because he was in a chair but because he was a great kid with a strong will and a “screw adversity” attitude. The school is full of great kids.
When I was growing up grown-ups would gasp at retarded people and say things like “that is so sad. Why isn’t he in a home.” But home they meant locked away in a mental institution along with anyone who needed a wheel chair, was blind, deaf or without speech, or just considered weird or different or difficult.

From the time my daughter was born I tried to teach her that people are not all the same. My daughter doesn’t flinch or even look when we’re at the grocery store and an autistic child starts to loud noises. She doesn’t stare at people in wheel chairs. She doesn’t wonder why someone would keep a child who is different.

She has special need friends. She has competed in a skate club with Special Olympics skaters. She has a special needs cousin. We all have people in our lives who are different. It is up to us not to hide them away or feel ashamed. We should be proud of the kids we love – even if they’re different or challenged, or even if they sing a song that is just a little different.

A Tale of Nine Predators

The following story was originally shared on Deb’s piece of the blogosphere, but after posting it she found that it had made her site no longer the safe haven she needed it to be.  She asked if she could move it here, and we readily agreed.  It is powerful and definitely has the potential to be triggering, so tread lightly, but please show her, as you always do with all our posters, your amazing support and RawrLove.

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WARNING: CONTAINS POTENTIAL TRIGGERS
(I shook while writing portions of this)

I wrote “Portrait of a Pedophile” about one pedophile I knew in my childhood.

I wanted to demonstrate that sexual predators aren’t pointy-horned men knowable by their grotesque physical appearance and blatant lechery. In fact, successful predators are successful precisely because they are charming. They’re able to lure people into believing they’re fine and gentle men. Wrote safety expert Gavin de Becker about CHARM AND NICENESS, one of seven warning signs someone is potentially dangerous,

Think of charm as an ability, not a trait–as in, “He’s trying to charm me.” And niceness does not equal goodness. People seeking to control others often seem nice at first–and unsolicited niceness often has a discernible motive.

The problem with my painting a portrait of only one predator is that it makes it seem like only one predator’s acts devastated my family. But, no, there were many, even in our good neighborhood in our quiet town.

One was the pedophile about whom I’ve already written.

Another was a well educated, well paid family friend to whom one sister grew surprisingly hostile. I watched her swinging to kick him while they played out in the backyard one afternoon and thought, “That’s strange.” It no longer seemed strange when my sister explained what he’d been doing to her while his wife was out of the room.

One was an aging speech therapist who tried helping himself while helping my sister.

Another was a man at a park. He dragged one sister into the bushes, but was thwarted by a nearby mother who witnessed the attack and stopped him.

One was a friend of my brother.

Another was the husband of one of my mom’s friends. He showed up early one evening when I was babysitting his son. While I tried to finish watching Beverly Hills 90210, he crept closer to me on the couch. I moved away. Again, he crept closer and put his arm around me while whispering lasciviously. I stood up and said he’d better get me home. He did, fortunately, but that was after some negotiation, and well after I became panicked by the realization he didn’t have to listen to me. When my mom spoke to her friend about the encounter, her friend said, “Yes, my husband told me she tried to seduce him.” My mom then shared some choice words about what eleven-year-old girls like, none of which involve seducing middle aged men. (The same man was later stabbed for touching another woman’s daughter.)

One was an alter abled vet my mom asked my siblings and me to treat kindly. One day, he showed me his penis and asked me to touch it. I ran away instead.

Another was a distant family member. I knew to avoid him because my mom warned me he’d want me to do things no other adult asked of me. Her warning made it easy to see he didn’t offer me money to sit on his lap because he was generous. He was getting something from it. I couldn’t figure out exactly what, but I didn’t need to know. I said no. Then I said it again, and again, because he didn’t want to hear “no.”

One was a family member many found charming. I will never forget finding my mom sobbing on the porch one day in my late teens. “He raped my baby, Deborah. He raped my baby.”

These are the predators who made themselves known to my family, just one small family in one smallish town.

Anyone who says, “Not in my neighborhood!” does so at the expense of the weak and vulnerable within their neighborhood. They favor dishonest comfort over honest discomfort.

Are there predators in every neighborhood? Absolutely. Here, for example, you can generate maps of those few sex offenders actually convicted. Safety comes from recognizing there is no “safe” neighborhood and acting accordingly.

Is everyone a predator? No. There are many good men who couldn’t even imagine abusing anyone physically, sexually or emotionally. I don’t meant to inspire anyone to anxiety or terror. I do mean to open people’s eyes to the potential threats in their neighborhoods and homes.

Open eyes alone can only go so far toward changing the world. To move from fearing every shadow to learning to ask and act on answers to the right questions, I highly recommend de Becker’s The Gift of Fear. He wrote it to help laypeople spot and avoid predators. The book is a lifesaver.

Read the book. Open your eyes. Nurture your safety skills not only for your own benefit, but for the benefit of the young, the weak and the vulnerable around you.

I beg of you, in the names of all those whom you love.

Facing the Truth

The following was submitted by the wonderful author of the blog: MotherErased.  Please show her the same support and RawrLove that you always do.

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At four years old I am standing inside our home with my sister and our young mother. We have our winter coats on and my mother has her hand on the front doorknob. She turns to face my father who is demanding to know where she is taking us.

You see, my mother has begun an affair with a man she believes will help her get away from my father. This is where she is headed that night, standing by the front door with my sister and me in tow. She is leaving my father. This night she plans to escape from her marriage.

But my father intercepts.

And later that night while my sister and I sleep, he throws our mother out of the house. There is snow on the ground. She isn’t wearing shoes or a coat and she has a broken wrist, a consequence of their violent fight.

When my sister and I awake the next morning, our mother no longer lives with us.

She moves into an apartment alone, and my sister and I visit her on Sundays. These visits are quiet. She is not the same mother that used to bring us sledding and read books to us.   She is sad and broken. Defeated.

We love her fiercely though, and when she returns us to our father after each visit, we cry and cling to her in the driveway. It’s a terrible scene and as our father is peeling us off of her, he says “See what you are putting them through? They are better off without you. If you love them, then let them go”.

He says this week after week and then she believes him. And she lets us go.

The following year my father remarries and we are told to call his new wife “Mom”. He wants to clean the slate and move on as if divorce, and my mother, never touched our lives.  He wants to believe he has put life back in order, and no one tells him otherwise.

His new wife happens to be a brunette like my sister, with short, straight hair.   My father has dark hair as well. My own hair is lighter, like my mother’s, long and curly. I’ve become the best behaved little girl, but my hair is a bit unruly and this causes a problem for our family.

One Saturday, we are all out doing errands together and a stranger, noticing my dark haired family members and me, asks me, “Well where you get your hair?” I feel scared by this question. I don’t know how to answer her. I can’t mention my real mother. She’s been erased from my life. We never mention her. So I stand there, speechless, and my step mother says quickly “Oh it runs in the family. She has an aunt with the same hair”.

I want to disappear. I just feel this shame. My very existence, the sight of me, could blow the family secret. I sensed that was about the worst thing I could do.

Shortly afterwards, my stepmother brings me to get my hair cut short. “It was too much trouble to take care of”, is the reason she gives.

The day I turn five, my mother dares to show up at our home with a birthday gift for me. She has her hair pulled back into a ponytail. I don’t remember if I look at her face. I want her there but I feel so anxious too. I’m not supposed to want her there. I’m not supposed to love her anymore.

My father paces, his jaw clenched. His anger is palpable. My mother comments on my haircut. Then she gives me the gift and I open it. I’m playing with the new toy when I hear my sister say: “We don’t need you to come here. We have a new mother now”. She is only six years old, but she is angry and her words carry far too much power. I know then that our mother won’t be back.

Eventually we move three towns away. Years go by with no mention of my mother except for sometimes at night in our bedroom, when my sister and I whisper about the past. We call our mother You-Know-Who because we don’t dare speak her name. She has become a mystery that we are trying to solve by sharing the memories that we have of her.

When my sister gets her driver’s license, she decides that we are going to find our mother, and we do. We don’t tell our father, of course. We just sneak away and arrive at our mother’s doorstep, ten years since we had seen her last. Her two little boys come to the door, and then they run to go get their mother. Our mother.

She cries and hugs us. She tells us that she has always hoped we would come find her. There were cards and letters she sent, she says, things we had never received. My sister is still angry at her and she has questions. I am numb. Mute. She is not You-Know-Who anymore. She is real again and I am not ready for this.

We leave our mother’s home that night and several more years go by before I see her again.

Finally, at the age of 23, we meet up, just the two of us. We meet at a coffee shop half way between our separate lives and I want to take in every detail of her appearance. Here we are, two women with such similar features, and yet we are strangers. This time, though, I am ready to hear her story. I need to hear her story.

And I tell her mine. I tell her of the void in my life as I grew up- the loneliness, the confusion and shame.

Finally, after this visit, I grieve. Through my grief I heal and I write.

I face the truth. I am telling the truth now. I have a mother. Her name is Jana. On a snowy winter night, she was thrown out of my life. She was afraid. She was flawed. But she did love me. And I loved her. And there is no shame in that.

Keeping The Stories Alive

My Aunt Priscilla died almost 20 years ago. She had a vibrance that captured anyone within her radius. Her middle name was Apollonia, but let’s just keep that among us, shall we?

To me, she was always fearless, or appeared to be, and I told her. She assured me she wasn’t. An example she shared was how the bedrooms and bathroom were divided by a parlor. No biggie, right? Wrong. The parlor was used for viewings and wakes when relatives died. She recounted how one night, when she was a toddler, she had to pee. The idea of walking past the corpse terrified her so much that she contemplated wetting the bed. She decided against it, and crept past the body.

Her family expected her to become a nun. She tried, but convent life wasn’t for her. Instead, she moved to New York City, much to the chagrin of her parents. There she met the love of her life and married him. His occupation was Director to President Roosevelt and later Truman, during World War Ii. Of course, he couldn’t tell her much, but did hint that the war would be over, days before the bombing of Hiroshima.

After her husband died, she was fortunate that she didn’t have to work. Being restless, she travelled and eventually moved back to New York City. She later moved to Michigan to be with family.

She kept her spirit even as she grew older. At a family function, an in-law made a crude comment about his wife. Auntie calmly walked over to him and proceeded to dump an entire cup of champagne on his head. He had thick curly hair and no way to remove the sticky substance. Being stubborn, he remained at the function while flies landed on his head. Ew.

As she further aged, she kept her physical health, mental faculties, and independence. She did lose some of her reflexes. Riding in a car while she drove was usually an adventure. My sister and I often suppressed nervous laughter and hoped we made it to our destination alive.

Despite her life of comfort, she reminded us that we all put our pants and pantyhose on one leg at a time, and when we died our bodies returned to earth or ash, whether we were rich or poor.

When Aunt Priscilla died, her viewing was in a regular funeral home. I laughed and thought about how thankful she would be as a toddler, not having to creep past her own body in the middle of the night to pee.

That’s just a sample of the kind of person my Aunt Priscilla was and I plan on keeping her story alive as long as I can.

If you have an anecdote to share about a relative, please do so in the comments, or contact us for your own submission. We would love to hear you stories.

Right to Die: A Daughter’s Perspective

Please welcome Dani from A Heart On The Matter.


It was January 16, 2004.  I remember like it was yesterday.  I was woken from a sound sleep just after 11 pm.  We didn’t answer the phone. Instead we screened the call wondering who would be calling at that late hour? The screaming pain and agony in the voice on the recorder I knew instantly, it was my mom’s husband.  I had long known this day would come, and now it was here.  A sort of numbness ensued, perhaps a little bit of shock.  I took a few moments to collect myself before returning his call.  He was in near hysterics and there was little I could do but be the calm soft voice on the other end of the phone.  And so I was shelving whatever I did or didn’t feel because right then his pain was more important than mine.  There would be subsequent conversations, albeit not many, we were never close.  In fact I would not even say that we truly liked each other.  We got along… because of my mom.

This was how I learned of my mother’s successful suicide. She shot herself in the head in the shower and her husband  found her.  She and I spoke about it many times over the years, and I always knew that one day she would actually do it.  She talked to him too, but he couldn’t allow himself to believe her even though he knew better than anyone how much she suffered.   She carried that gun with her everywhere.  It made me so nervous when we would go to lunch because I knew the gun was in her backpack.  She said it made her feel safe.  I knew that she needed it close for the moment she decided to go through with it.  I always asked her if she could just call or send me something to say good-bye?  She would tell me softly what I already knew to be true, that there wouldn’t be time once she got up the courage. So I accepted long ago that one day this call would come.

Now you are all probably wondering why I just accepted this and didn’t try to do anything about it?  Well I did try to do something about it, but the truth of the matter is there are some things you just cannot fix.  My mother did not just give up on life.  She suffered most of her life  before making up her mind, and even then she struggled with it. Not the act of doing it, but the pain that doing it would cause others.  She had been in therapy for as long as I can remember.  She had been to a multitude of doctors and had too many tests to count, some of them quite invasive.  Even exploratory surgery at one point.  She had some sort of stomach issue that would cause her to vomit violently nightly from the high amounts of accumulated acid and the doctors never could figure it out or cure it. It was so violent on one occasion that she even gave herself whiplash while vomiting.  She suffered horribly with allergies and a lot of the time could not even leave the house because they were so severe.  She had deep inner demons that she could not face despite all the therapy and soul searching.  Sometimes, there are things that we just can’t get past.

Was she mentally ill?  She suffered from depression, and she was definitely ocd.  She tried many anti-depressants but could not deal with the effects of any of them.  For many of us, myself included, the side effects of the medicines that take away whatever issues we are dealing with can leave us in such a state that one has to ask, What’s the point?  For those of you who take such medications I know you know exactly what I mean.  I have hyper sensitivities and a myriad of other things I deal with. There are medicines that would make that part of my life so much better, but sadly, for me, they also take away all the parts that make life worth living, my passion, my creativity, all the good stuff.   So I  choose to find other ways to deal with said issues; but it is my choice; just as it was my mother’s choice not to.  I support that choice, and I am glad she is finally at peace.  I do wish she could have found that peace here in life, but for her that did not seem possible.  How selfish would it be of me to expect her to continue to suffer just so I can have her around??? If you ask me, that’s pretty damn selfish.  That said, it does hurt. I think I am still grieving in part even today. There are special times and moments that we will not get to share.  She did not get to attend my wedding. I like to believe that she was there in spirit and that she was very happy.  I also believe that her essence lives on, and so leaving this place was merely a transition.  I feel she is still with me when she wants to be, but mostly I know she no longer suffers, and that means everything to me.

I do think we should exhaust every avenue before giving up. Generally speaking when people attempt suicide it is a cry for help, and help should be there for those crying out. I did everything I could to help my mom but in the end I had to respect her decision.  I believe we should all have the option of assisted suicide, especially if we are terminal, but even if our chances just aren’t good and that’s the choice we make.  Have a party and say goodbye to our loved ones, wouldn’t that be so much nicer? Lastly, we cannot know anyone else’s pain, and it is not ours to decide whether or not they can deal with it, whether it is emotional or physical, or like in my mother’s case both.  Compassion and understanding are always in order.

rock and grass

I have faced fear in many forms.  I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night and wandered through the dark house in pursuit of something that went bump and woke me from my dreams.  I’ve free-climbed at Joshua Tree National Park only to get to the top, look down, and wonder how in the world I was going to get back to the ground.  I’ve found myself dangerously close to deadly animals, from hearing bears sniffing at the edge of my tent in the Sierra to finding my hand inches from a Black Widow to pulling a friend away an instant before he stepped on a rattlesnake.  I’ve stood at the top of Mt. Whitney and looked down.  I’ve been unemployed with bills due.  I’ve spent time in a waiting room while a loved one underwent surgery, uncertain of the outcome.  I’ve felt the power and rage of a surging snow-melt river pulling me towards rapids intent upon breaking me.

I have known fear.

My heart has pulsed at rates that hurt.

My body has been poisoned by floods of adrenaline.

My mind has played through more worst-case scenarios than I can remember.

More than I care to, anyway.

I am not an adrenaline junkie.  I haven’t actively sought out these situations and I’ve never liked how they made me feel.  I’ve never liked the resulting comedown and hangover.  I’ve never liked the visions my imagination produces to accompany each near death experience.

However, the fear of fear has never kept me from an adventure.

It was my choice to look down when I reached the top of Mt. Whitney.  It was my choice to enter the Kings River in early season after the good winter that turned it even deadlier than normal.  It was my choice to place myself into those situations where I could encounter bears, buffalo, snakes, coyotes, mountain lions, and on and on.  I have refused to allow my life to be curbed by the negative what-ifs and potential consequences of danger gone wrong.

Obviously, not all of my fearful situations were within my control, and I never enter an adventure un-prepared.  (“Be prepared” is the Boy Scout Motto, and I am an Eagle Scout after all.)  But, by refusing to let fear dictate what I do, I’ve lived a life of grand adventure.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.” – Batty (Rutger Hauer): Blade Runner

Why is it, then, when I can I stand at one of the highest points in the world and look down despite my fear of heights, that I let my fear of change rule so much of the rest of my life?

I’ve wanted to publish one of my novels for many years… but it isn’t “ready,” and once I self-publish I can never then submit it to a traditional publishing house, and what will that mean for my career, and what if nobody likes it, and I’m afraid of the answers to those two questions.

I’ve wanted to move my family out of our condo and into a house for many years… but that would mean more housework, more responsibility, and much higher bills, and I’m afraid of what that change would do to our way of living, our standard of living.

I’ve wanted to leave California for many years… but I’m comfortable here, my job is here, and there is so much than can go wrong in a move.  I don’t want to fall prey to the grass is greener syndrome and I’m afraid of what that major change will mean for me and my family if something were to go wrong.

How can I stand against fear in some aspects of my life so rigidly, and bend to it so easily in others?

I’m a rock.

I’m a blade of grass.

The Birthday That Never Was

This post was submitted anonymously.


I had an abortion. That makes me a bad person. Those sanctimonious know-it-alls holding up signs and killing abortion doctors think I’m a killer and they’re probably right. I’m a baby-killer. But, they don’t know what it’s like. They don’t know what it means to carry that.

Every once in a while, I think about that life that ended before it began. I do the math to see how old it would be now. It would be a fully-grown adult, old enough to have kids of his or her own.

I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t bring a child born of this blood into this world. Not with my past. Not with my family history. Not with my mental illnesses, hereditary legacy, and not with a mother like me.

If I could choose whether or not my own mother would have me, there are times when I would choose not to have been born at all. It might have been better for everyone-especially me. There has never been enough sunshine. There is so much darkness. I still carry it with me.

The child I might have had would have wound up in the system. I was a junkie. I couldn’t look after myself, let alone another life. That child, if it was born at all, which would have been a miracle considering all the drugs I did, would have been neglected and alone. Like so many other kids, it would have had a mother incapable of caring for it who really just wanted it to go away. It would have been born down in the domain of evil and things that go bump in the night. It would never have known who its father was, because its mother had no idea.

The child had a one in a billion chance of surviving and thriving. There was too much risk of passing on the horror of its mother, a mentally ill addict who was too broken to produce anything beautiful. Too selfish, and at the same time, compassionate to bring a life born of her blood into the world.

Selfish, because she could not take on the role of parent. Benevolent, because she would not risk giving a child the same fate as her. Mental institutions, jail, sexual abuse, violence, rape, torture, addiction, self-harm, beatings, diseased body and mind. She would rather not have a child than put one through any of that. It was an act of self-serving kindness.

I don’t think about it much. I don’t think about the child or the version of me that might have been a mother back then. I’m not sure I can really. When I do think about it, it’s from a distance. I tell myself it was the right thing to do. I saved a life from a world of pain. Given the choice, I wish my mother had done the same.

Abortion is not a decision that should be made lightly. It has consequences that you live with forever. But, it is every woman’s choice. Sometimes, it’s the absolute right decision in the circumstances.

We’ll never know how things might have turned out, but I live with my decision, and even after all these years and all this uncertainty, I believe I made the right choice at the time. I have to believe it.

The Demon Lurking in the Shadows

Please welcome Susan from Polysyllabic Profundities with a story about being the child of alcoholic parents. This post was originally published on Black Box Warnings.


The words that grip me today are saturated with reality. They come from a place of experience. They come from a place of sadness. But they also come from a place of honesty.

Disease is a long and winding road. I am an adult child of alcoholic parents. There have been reams written on the subject, some of it is familiar to me and some seems to be a language from another planet. Each child who has grown up with the same label I have experiences life in a completely different way. No two children live within the same defined constraints of alcoholism and no two children will ever see the disease in the same way. My brother and I grew up in the same house and I would put money on the fact that we would describe the experience from two completely different perspectives. This is the reality of disease – it will affect everyone in a unique way. Disease conforms to nothing and changes for nobody.

I was always an intuitive child and I knew from an early age that my parents did not drink the same way most parents drank. Sure, life was fun, life was a party, but life also got swept under the rug and the hard times were diluted with an alternate reality that was sold in a bottle. My childhood was not a horrible experience, by any means. My parents were loving, affectionate, always giving and our family knew how to care for and support each other and work hard for the things we got. But the demon always lurked in the corners. When life was good, it was great. But when life was difficult, my parents would retreat into the safety of the haze that alcohol provided and the world outside the four walls of our home ceased to exist. They shared a blurred vision that perpetuated the chase for the colors of their elusive rainbow. Their co-dependency only fuelled the fire of the disease and, as the years progressed, my father was the first to show the physical evidence of the demons’ true profile. Alcohol is a serial killer.

His once athletic frame had become withered and yellowed and the spark in his eyes had faded. The buoyant man brimming with life was transformed into an aged man who, at times, seemed like a stranger. His personality slowly retreated into a dark corner and the vacant stare that remained only served as a reminder that the man we once knew had been abducted by the demons of his past. Watching my father suffer the prolonged and debilitating effects of the disease was horrific. Thankfully the memories I choose to keep are those of the energetic, exuberant man whom everyone loved.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of that serial killer lurking in the shadows. I enjoy a glass of wine. I appreciate a cold beer on a hot day. But that enjoyment is tarnished with thoughts of a possible genetic mutation that may alter my pleasure and turn it into something sinister. When I savour a red wine bursting with the aromas of blackberry and cinnamon, when I let that wine circle my taste buds with the pungent taste of earth and spice, there is an underlying sense of disquiet that the indulgence may have an ulterior motive. I can only take solace in the fact that wine, for me, is a pleasure and not an escape. I delight in its taste and my life is not affected by my enjoyment of its true character and nuance. It enhances my palate, it does not control my world.

True to the form of a demented psyche, the serial killer eventually targeted my mother. It stalked her, circled her and batted at her like a cat does to a mouse. She did her best to fight back but seeing the physical changes in my mom was more difficult because we had something to compare it to. That all-too-familiar haunting look in her eyes and the subtle changes in her personality brought the experience with my dad back to the forefront of our minds. We knew what to expect and there was nothing we could do to change it. We were helpless to watch my mom teeter over the same rabbit hole that swallowed my father and, almost eight years to the day, the executioner took my mother’s life as well.

Today, left as orphans by the nefarious hunter known as alcoholism, my brother and I forge through a life filled with memories of happiness but scarred by the remembrance of sickness and death. Together we remain strong and ready to fight if we feel any visceral sense that the demons’ presence is lurking in our shadows. Fuck you, demon. You’ve taken enough from us already.