He’ll Let You Know

Are Life and Death extremes, at opposite ends of a spectrum? Or are Life and Death partners walking together along the path in the world? Are Life and Death parallel experiences, intersecting and criss-crossing each other? Perhaps they are flip sides of the same coin?
Mused on by countless thinkers, authors, philosophers… and folks like you and I.
Do Life and Death find definition by not being the other, such as if you are alive, you’re not dead. If you’re dead, you’re not alive. Sort of like the definition of black is the presence of all colors, white is the absence of all colors.

Ziggy – 1 day old!

I arrived in Oregon last week to visit my wondrous and beloved daughter and son-in-law. Within a few hours, their goat gave birth to beautiful twin girls. I can take no credit for that other than my arrival may have startled the mama, yet I so love my little grand-goatlings. Who knew goats could be cuddly and responsive? Not me. These are Swiss Oberhasli goats, the new babies’ names are Fantasia and Ziggy, each at one time or another fell asleep in my arms.

I get home and again in the time frame of a few hours, my veterinarian diagnoses my gentle tabby with advanced kidney disease, with a short life expectancy. Monkey is just shy of thirteen years old and has stopped eating. It is all up to him now. He is gentle, purrs, and likes to sit on my lap. However every few minutes he fidgets and rearranges himself – he just can’t get comfortable, and will then awkwardly toddle into my room to nestle in my thick fleece blanket.

After a couple tearful meltdowns, I pondered on what do I do that is best for my sweet tabby? My son, who gave Monkey his name because as a kitten he insisted on climbing the drapes, gently told me, “Mom, he’ll let you know when it’s time. He’ll meow differently, quit purring, or won’t get up – he’ll let you know.”

This river of life (I know, you are impressed by the originality of my metaphor) splashing along, capturing and whisking things along with it, tossing other things up on the shore, drowning some and feeding others. Cleansing the earth, replenishing the earth, sometimes devastating, more often nourishing.

Monkey’s gentleness and tenacity remind me of my mom’s passing three years ago. She too was gentle and tenacious. I can still hear her last breath, a long, slow sigh. I felt in it acceptance… and relief.

Acceptance. Monkey seems calm, he is not anxious or fretful.
The life force he has. He jumps up on my bed, gives a little trill as I first pet him when he wakes up. He hasn’t eaten for several days. Yet purrs in my arms.
I have lost pets before. I have lost loved family members and friends before. What is different now is that I have time. I am not working a forty-seven hour week. I have been able to cancel or reschedule my commitments and spend time with Monkey, make visits and calls to the vet myself instead of delegating.

If you had told me a few years back that one day I would be sitting on the hay-covered ground in a goat pen holding a baby goat, enjoying the smells of hay, goats, and fertilizer wafting all around me, delighting in the ‘bi-ip’ sounds the baby goats make, laughing at the the barking and jostling of the pups, and swaying to the the coo of doves, I would have thought you had me confused with someone else. This different connection with life, and time, is stunning to me.
Wasn’t I connected to life? I sure thought so: I raised two children, I worked in social services for decades. I taught, volunteered countless hours at many organizations, had a romance here and there, walked on the Great Wall of China, swished my hand in the water as the gondolier paddled us down a canal in Venice. Yet this was different.

Monkey 3-5-2019

Sitting on the earth, holding a newborn goat, away from phone and internet. Sitting close to my newly pregnant daughter who is married to her soulmate, I was connected to life in a deeper way, a clearer way.

One of the memorable stories about my mom’s mother, Grandmere Marguerite, happened just before she died. Many of us were in her hospital room circled around her bed, some standing, some of us sitting: my mom, her sister, her brother and his wife (so all three of Grandmere’s children), a couple cousins, and myself. We were hushed at first, then as families do, the whispers evolved into chatter about who did what with whom when and where.
“I am dying. You should be praying,” Grandmere declared firmly. Instantly we became silent. A few stolen looks passed among us from beneath lowered brows. Now, that was clarity.

Grandmere had lived life: a war bride, widowed at thirty-nine with three young children separated by an ocean and a continent from her birth family in eastern France, survived breast cancer. At eighty, she had lived and parts of her had died to get to such clarity.

Why yes, I did say newly pregnant daughter. So life embraces all. We love, we leave, we learn, we grow. We live, we release, we accept.

Monkey has taught me new things about being in the Now. I hold him, he purrs and snuggles into my shoulder, tucking his head by my chin. Now is what we have.

How Do You Be So Brave?

Inside Passage, British Columbia
photo MDessein
These kids work hard every day just to stay alive.
To live, which I take for granted each day when I get up, dawdle, feed my cats, do some laundry, and never think “What do I have to do to stay alive today?”

These kids have medically complex issues that I cannot begin to explain, like having heart surgery for birth defects within 48 hours of being born then five more surgeries over the next three years, being paralyzed, having a brain injury, childhood onset of scoliosis; these few examples do not touch on the myriad of illnesses and challenges these children and their families face.

Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend the 11th Annual Stanley Stamm Camp Guild Fashion Show, a fundraiser for a summer camp founded by Dr. Stanley Stamm for kids ages 6 – 14 connected with Seattle Children’s Hospital who could not otherwise attend a summer camp due to all their medical care needs.

A Fashion Show, you ask? Yes, fifteen of these children came on stage modeling outfits donated by a large retailer. Many of them came on stage alone and did the stroll around it twice, some had help. Some in wheelchairs, some having their hand held, a few of them sashayed by themselves, a couple others had a volunteer or staff member walk beside them. Miranda, who was too shy to talk with one of the MC’s, did a lap around the stage by herself. Matthias waved, did a couple thumbs-up, and shook his booty in the course of his two laps. From his wheelchair with the huge wheels, Tucker had witty responses to questions. Serafina sang a song she wrote. And Joseph.

Joseph is about 12 years old, tall and slender, blind since birth, he walked with his taller-than-he-is walking stick in his right hand and a volunteer guiding him by holding his left elbow.

How many times did I get teary-eyed watching these children be so brave? Couldn’t tell you, as I lost count. Before each child came on stage, one of the MC’s, a longtime volunteer at Children’s, gave a brief synopsis of the child’s medical history and some of their favorite things. The things these children have done to get through another day, and then do it again the next day is remarkable to me.

Such young ones to work so hard to be alive.

Stamm Camp allows these kids to be kids: paddle-boats, pizza, tacos, fishing, swimming, horses, arts & crafts, archery, games, being outdoors, campfires, music… and freedom from many of their daily concerns. The Stamm Camp Guild is a special guild that raises money solely for the Dr. Stanley Stamm Camp. (If you are interested, donations are gratefully accepted: 206-987-2153.) In addition to the medical staff, there are 200+ volunteers who make this camp happen each year for these kids. Some of the volunteers are now adults who were in the camp in their youth.

Dr. Stanley Stamm photo by MYNorthwest

Who was Stanley Stamm? I’m glad you asked. Dr. Stamm founded the pediatric cardiology department at Children’s Hospital as well as pioneered treatments for kids with cystic fibrosis. When he died last year at age 93, the Seattle Times quoted his son-in-law who called Dr. Stamm, “the Mr. Rogers of pediatrics.”
Treat kids like people, not patients was one of his primary tenets.

After the Fashion Show and a few minutes of closing chat from the MC’s, there was the Fashion Models Finale – all the kids came on stage with some volunteers and helpers. We audience members cheered, clapped, hurrahed. All those on stage waved and clapped back at us.
Joseph was front and center. He handed his walking stick to his helper and raised both his arms in a great open V for victory and smiled.

Did I cry? You bet I did.