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)

The Magic of Synchronicity

“…when you’re on the right path, the universe winks and nods at you from time to time, to let you know. Once you start noticing these little cosmic cairns, once you understand that you’re on a path at all, you’ll begin to see them everywhere.”

From an article on Synchronicity Psycology Today

I’ve had times when my world is a muddle, guidance will appear in unexpected ways – something I read, hear in an interview, a conversation with a stranger.  These incidents usually occur in clusters when I have let go of fear and lean into trust.  Often I’ve experienced them while traveling alone and am literally lost .  

Such a state happened to me recently when I accepted my knee injury, framing it in a more positive light.  Before a concert, my friends and I were out in NE Portland at a little eatery.  The server, a young man took one look at me on my crutches and my imposing exoskeleton of a knee brace and said, “ Oh, it’s going to get better.  You are going to get through this.”  I said “really? You’ve had an injury like this before?” He proceeded to tell me about the broken femur and broken wrist he sustained while snowboarding a few years back.  I was almost in tears.  His words were like balm for my soul.

Later as one of my friends pushed me in my wheelchair in a very crowded line to get into the concert venue (James Taylor and Jackson Brown!) A woman with her husband said to me “Sweetie, you go right ahead of us.”  I replied, “You make me feel like a queen!”  The woman replied, “ You are a queen.  Own it, honey!”  By the way, it was a faboulous concert- but more on that in another post.

The following day, a dear friend I hadn’t heard from called me out of the blue and gave me a good dose of Jewish mothering wrapped up in a pep talk. , “Listen, you are going to get through this. You are a strong woman and you will find your way.” Then she sent me her comprehensive favorite movie list for streaming.

Now to some this would be a series of unrleated events but not so to me. I had to let go in order to open myself to what I needed- a good dose of mothering and encouragement to get me unstuck. Call it God, call it the universe that helps one along when they are lost. Sometimes the cairns appear in the mist to mark the way forward.

photo by Deb Broocks

Grey Zone

There is a space

Between endings and beginnings

A quiet valley

Full of swirling grey mist

All sense of direction

Lost

Be still

In this protected place

Rather than stumble in confusion

Let clarity present itself.

Listen

When the compass needle turns within

And the fog rises slowly

This is the time of departure

Cairns marking the way on the immerging landscape

The start of a new journey

poem and artwork by the author

Beyond the Studio Door

“Failure is success in process”- Albert Einstein

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”  ― Salvador Dali

img_2951So you walk into an art gallery or an art festival and there is the fruit of the artist in all of its magical glory, looking like it was created effortlessly.  What you don’t see is the plethora of mistakes and sometimes heartaches that go into making art.  It’s a part of the process.  If you aren’t willing to fail, you are not going to learn.  This is especially true in the medium of ceramics.  There’s no way you can work with mud and transform it into permanent objects without running into some challenges.  There are so many variables to contend with in the making- construction, drying, firing, glazing, and firing again at a temperature around 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.

img_2950This week before my open studio on the Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County I img_2960opened my kiln to find my share of disappointments.  The beautiful grape leaf plate on the upper left (traced from one of my grapevines leaves) has a crack down from the notch of the leaf shape.  It’s still lovely but not saleable.  I’ll use it though.  No one will notice under a pile of carrot sticks.  Those three lovely bowls with incised grape leaves rubbed with iron oxide all cracked.  This was a img_2961puzzle.  Maybe they got jostled when I removed them from the press mold?  These will become part of a mosaic on my future walkway. Then there was the barn owl sculpture with hairline cracks in two places – maybe from cooling too quickly in the pit fire?  I love this piece though and I am not sad to keep it.

The failed prints I have cut up and am using in other img_2962incarnations such as “quote blocks,” little sculptural pieces with collages.

Thankfully, there will be plenty of other lovely things to look at my studio sale-  but the invisible mistakes will be just as much a part of it for me.

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Beautiful Failures

They are the cracked

The not quite right

Products of my hands

And soul

Victims of experimentation

Poor judgment

Or forces beyond my understanding

 

Sometimes their enduring beauty breaks my heart

Their fatal flaw rendering them undesirable to others

Then sometimes their glaring shortcomings

Are so embarrassing

They are destroyed or reincarnated

Taking on a new form that will touch my soul

Or someone elses

 

The buyer will never know

That my work is built on beautiful failures

Marveling at my wonderful talent

Wishing they could have it too

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The Creative’s Nemisis

I have no trouble coming up with creative ideas.  It’s fear that is the creative’s nemesis. Really, that’s what a creative block is, just plain old fear.  Sometimes you have to look under your creative bed and make friends with the monster.

              Fear

snake-2082037_1920The opposite of courage

The backside of love & creativity

Its tendrils approach from behind

Silently wrapping themselves around your neck

Until you are paralyzed

Suffocating in its sticky web

 

Ultimately it is your breath that will save you

From these paper thin bonds

Grab a breath deep into your soul

Allowing another, and yet another

Until your life force finally finds a foothold

To break free from the spinning chaos

 

Choose earth, choose nature, choose good

Choose whatever infinite force is truth to you

Grab its hand and pull yourself up

Keep your gaze forward, never down

And  walk quickly across the precarious bridge to the other side

And announce loudly

I am here

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