On Facing Mortality

Heather with her husband Jerald

This morning on the way to the Portland airport my husband turned to me and said “I can’t do this.”  He was about ready to catch a flight to Honolulu, Hawaii to be with his daughter that was just been diagnosed with stage 4 heart and lung cancer, a very rare occurrence.  Heather, a non-smoker, at age 38 was in the prime of her life.  She and her husband were building their dream on property in the highlands of the Big Island when she collapsed after dealing with what her doctor thought was a severe case of bronchitis.  Her husband rushed her to the hospital. Now, she cannot leave the hospital in Honolulu as she needs oxygen to survive.

Heather welding with her dad.

I replied to him- “yes you can.  “Be a bulldog, don’t run away.  Go head-on.”

“This isn’t about what you can deal with, it’s about supporting her to get through this whatever the outcome with your full love and support.  She chose chemotherapy.  Be fully there for her.”

I’ve had some experience with this.  My darling newborn son, Gareth, contracted a life-threatening infection at 10 days old.  I kept hoping to wake up from that nightmare.  I didn’t.  My beautiful baby was full of tubes.  His little body was all swollen, hair shaved off one side of his head.  Worse, we couldn’t hold him.

We were told such things as:

  1. If he makes it, he will be brain damaged or live in a hospital for the rest of his life
  2. Kids don’t live through this
  3. You will need a LARGE miracle

I fully embraced option 3.  They allowed me to live at the hospital while he was in the NICU.  My husband at the time had a hard time dealing with the situation at all.  Meanwhile, I pumped breast milk at 3-hour intervals round the clock so he could have my breast milk when he once again could eat.  I rose in the middle of the night to sing and talk to him.  I prayed.

Ultimately my actions saved me.  Did they help save him?  Well, Gareth just celebrated his 35th birthday and he is as awesome as ever! (FYI, his name in Gaelic means strength).

We want to run from these situations since it is not only painful to see the ones we love suffer, we are frightened of our own mortality.

Gareth, my one and only precious son!

My dear friend and former teaching partner, Hilma, passed away 2 months ago from an 8-year battle with ovarian cancer. I made sure to check in with her every three months by phone. It was such a relief to her laughter from the other end of the line between her globe-trotting adventures with her husband.

Then, when the treatments quit working around Christmas, it was harder and harder to make those calls but I did it anyway. This was about her, not my fear. Two weeks before she passed I knew it would be our last phone call. I told her how much her friendship meant to me and what gold medal performance she made of life. I’m so grateful I made that effort.

She lived five years longer than most ovarian cancer patients. Combining the will to live with a positive attitude is powerful indeed.

My father, Bruce Pass

My father at age 91 passed away from complications of Parkinson’s disease.  I was there in the hospital when he said to the doctors, “Get me the hell out of this hospital, I’ve had a good life.  Let me go home and die!” (He always said it’s not good to outlive your shelf life.) Our job then was to honor that and give him the best death possible surrounded by his family.  Of course, it was sad, but it was also a beautiful experience with a cantor singing gorgeous songs to him as he slipped away.

My 94-year-old mother on the other hand is lingering in a memory care facility on hospice with severe Alzheimer’s disease. This is a hard one. It is easy to take it personally if one day they don’t remember you or don’t eat what you feed them, or even want you to go away. Again…this is where they are at. It’s their disease speaking and not their spirit. Honor the life they still have no matter how it manifests, no matter how difficult it is to witness.

With my mother, Elaine Pass

I have to say that my late friend, George David Armstrong had it right when he left this earth about the same time as Hilma.  At age 75 he passed unexpectedly away in his sleep with a smile on his face.  No suffering there!  We were all sad at his passing but knew he would not approve of excessive mopiness so we had a big party at his music store where we all celebrated his life with music and song.  My music partner, Kelsey, and I have guitars made by G.D. We feel his spirit lives on through our music.

This was not my planned post today. I convinced myself to table the other cheerier one for the time being and broach the topic at hand. Death and one’s mortality are difficult to face let alone write about. It’s personal and wrenching. That’s the problem in our culture. We don’t know how to manage our fears and emotions around the subject. I am no saint, nor expert in this realm but I wanted to share my experiences hoping it may help others. To be honest, at age 68 my mortality consciousness follows me around like a stray dog. My only way to deal with this is to face my insecurity head-on, like a bulldog, celebrating my life as it is, right now at this moment, writing.

Prayers for Heather

image by the author (pardon my language)

Yosemite’s Child

A historical photo of Yosemite from Glacier Point

(The following is a memoir piece I’ve been working on off and on for several years about my family’s annual camping trips to Yosemite in the late 1950s and 1960s)

 In August, my middle class family packed up our ’56 Chevy Bel Air red and white station wagon and left our suburban L.A. home to camp among the cool pines of the Yosemite Valley.  We left in the wee hours of the morning to avoid driving in the oppressive Central Valley heat.  My older brother, Steve, and I would occupy the “way back,” converted into a bed with layers of soft quilts. This functioned as our sleeping and play area. Seat belts were not even thought of back then. There was no digital world in the late 1950s and early 1960s so upon awakening we would occupy ourselves by reading our stash of comic books and Mad Magazines. We would play endless card games of War.  When we were tired of that we would sing folk songs in lively two-part harmony, our parents joining in on “I’ve been working on the Railroad, Suwanee River, Clementine, or our favorite, “the Titanic ”.

Continue reading “Yosemite’s Child”

Finding Beauty in the Cracks

I was on an amble on Franklin Street in Astoria, Oregon last weekend when I came upon this remarkable rock wall below a Victorian home. Little pink flowers were growing from the cracks of the stones of the wall. Had I been in a rush, I would have failed to notice this striking little art gallery. Here are a few examples of natures hand on a city side street.

Tarry 
to see 
flowers rooted
in cracks of cold stone

The Zen of Showing One’s Work

Last week I had the honor of reading my prose piece, “The Orchard by My House is Gone” at the book release celebration of Paper Gardens the annual literary journal of Yamhill County, Oregon.  I was joined by other local authors that had their work published along with family members and members of the community.  The most memorable part of the evening was when adults shared the stage with writers of all ages including those as young as second grade.  We were all writers in different stages of our journeys who took the risk to submit our work to be judged and perhaps rejected.

 A close friend asked to see my entry and I emailed it to her.  She read it and then responded that how much she appreciated me sharing my work with her.  Doing so gave her a window into my life and how I view the world.  She remarked in her email that a long-ago friend was a painter but would not allow anyone else to view her work and that “would potentially impact the way she felt about her art.”  I also have an acquaintance that ceased painting her stunning watercolors as she never sold them at the one event where she exhibited.  Paintings are especially challenging to sell as it’s not only if a person likes the piece, it has to fit and match one’s décor.

I find both these situations very sad.  We are always under the scrutiny of others- the way we think, dress, or otherwise live our lives.  I don’t make art for economic gain anymore.  What is imperative is that my creativity provides a spark to my life, joy in the process of its creation, and serves as an avenue for self-expression.  There lies the attitude of non-attachment. There will be some that don’t care for what I write or create, yet there will be others who resonate with it.  It’s not a deal-breaker as I am out to please myself.  It is the nature of bringing creation to the world to see. If I am pleased with my work and it is well-executed, that is enough.  It’s like hiking.  I go out and have a beautiful day among nature and if I see wildlife, so much the better.

Continue reading “The Zen of Showing One’s Work”

Wildflower Power

Who doesn’t love flowers?  There seems to be even more of a special place in people’s hearts for the wildflowers found in nature.  Here in Oregon it is prime wildflower season. Some are even blooming currently in my new native plant garden.  Especially prevalent right now are camas (Camas quamash), beautiful blue-violet spikes of star-like flowers that pop up in the meadows.  They were a significant food source for the Native Americans that once inhabited the area

About 40 minutes away from my home in the town of West LInn a new Nature Conservancy site opened up last year, the Camassia Nature Preserve.  The 22 acre parcel is a mix of lush forest, meadows, and oak savannah with a boardwalk that meanders the main route. There is about 2 miles of hiking trails in the area. Also prevalent are glacial erratics- boulders from Montana and Canada that were dropped in this area after the great floods that occurred after the melting of the ice sheets that covered the north during the Ice Age.

Yesterday the weather was lovely, partly sunny and in the 60s, a welcome change from the rain and cool temperatures.  I decided to take a drive and check it out.  I was not disappointed!

Here are some of the things I saw in this special place.

A bit of wildflower trivia…

The reason you may often see the dazzling combination of bright yellow and purple wildflowers together is that it attracts pollinators- and humans seeking beauty.

And…my photos really don’t do this place justice!

A wild iris blooms in my garden
Wild Iris   
Looked what bloomed today!
a wild Iris
a queen amidst my garden
her lilac petals arch gracefully
like arms in a curtsy
about her throat a white collar
etched with fine black lines
with a blush of gold

Gaudy hybrids shout for my attention
down the driveway
but it's her sublime elegance
that captures my wild heart

My New Native Plant Garden Begins to Find It’s Voice

This post also may be seen on my sister blog onesweetearth.blog

Camas

It’s been a very cool spring – even by NW Oregon standards. April set a record for the wettest ever recorded so native plants planted in late February & Early March have been slow to emmerge. Still, it’s been thrilling to watch the ferns unfurl and various flowers to reveal themselves in my native plant garden. I’ve been adding some artistic touches with some old sculptures of mine scattered about the garden.

Front view

One great find at “Hortlandia” was a little table made of scrap wood for a top and legs of thick curly willow. I added two small benches cut from the stump of an old walnut tree that was taken out a few years ago. and sorely missed. Now I have benches to remember it by This area is my fairy tea spot.

Fairy tea nook
Continue reading “My New Native Plant Garden Begins to Find It’s Voice”

Have Some Magic With Your Tea? The Doodle Review 5/10/22

Every day when the sun comes up

I put on the kettle

and make a good cup

back to the pillows

doodle, write a poem or two

stir in some magic

now that’s a good brew!

The following are the last two weeks and some from my “doodle day planner”. Events often mirror what’s going on with my daily life- others are purely random.

Continue reading “Have Some Magic With Your Tea? The Doodle Review 5/10/22”

The Art of Finding Solace

In the last two weeks, I’ve buried three wild birds- a robin, a pine siskin, and a hummingbird- such a tiny, little body.  The last two were from my cat which makes it even worse.

Two dear friends were also lain to rest from this life.  One passed away unexpectedly in his sleep.  The other reached the end of an eight-year struggle with ovarian cancer.

The events in Ukraine disturb me daily.  The weather has been unusually cold and wet on top of such sorrow.

Continue reading “The Art of Finding Solace”

The Doodle Review 4/24/2022

I recently divorced Instagram. This last year or so was the big social media Instagram experiment. Almost everyday I posted the off-the-cuff doodles I draw on the right side of my day planner under my tag @almostdailydoodle (still there!) The upside is that it makes a tidy little record of my innocuous art online. The downside is how much time Instagram was sucking from my life with all the posting, checking, liking. I thought I was above all that- I guess not.

Doodling is my morning creativity workout. It has become my main art form as of late, downshifting from ceramics and printmaking. It is fun to show my art now and again so I thought I would post them here occaisionally and see how it goes in a blog format.

You Don’t Have to be Good

“Wild Geese” – a Tribute to Mary Oliver

The title of this post is the first line of Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese.”

The poem continues:

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves……

I came upon this poem years ago.  It was the first poem that I loved, that I could pull around me like a homemade quilt.  It became my anthem of sorts. 

Now the interesting thing is Oliver did not set out to write a greatest hit, nor any work of great meaning.  According to an interview with OnBeing, she created this poem quite informally to illustrate the difference between end-stopped lines and enjambment to another poet.  But words are powerful and when she released this poem to the world it spoke deeply to many people.  It’s become one of her most loved poems.

For me, it permitted me to do the work I needed to do regardless that I sucked.  Do it anyway.  Over the years I’ve agonized over my work like every other creative, but her poem on my wall makes me understand that it’s not the likes, the money, or the accolades.  I do not have to suffer for my art. Ultimately, it’s the daily practice of doing and honing my craft. It’s what my soul calls to me to do (which did not include quitting my day job). 

Time is no excuse. Write the poems in grocery lines, at stoplights (using voice memo), doodle designs in boring meetings.  The dream won’t happen unless you do it- unless you listen to the voice of the wild geese within.

I never was interested in poetry until I read “Wild Geese” until I read Mary Oliver and discovered more poetry.  Now I write it.  Here is the poem in its entirety…

Continue reading You Don’t Have to be Good