Category Archives: Aging

Death Cafe

Last night I drove through foggy fog to a meeting of Death Cafe.Death Cafe
I heard about this national organization and its local chapter at an event last summer where Death Cafe had a booth. It stopped me in my tracks. “What do you do?”
The woman smiled. “We get together, eat cake, drink tea, and talk about death.”
My kind of organization, for sure.
Most of the people there were middle-aged. Many were Hospice workers. Perhaps there were more women than men, but I thought it was pretty evenly divided. We sat at six different tables of five or six, and then proceeded to spend 90 minutes eating cake, drinking tea, and talking about death.
It was fantastic. I am a firm believer that our culture needs to open up a public dialog about this completely natural aspect of life, but it is shrouded in mystery, in secrecy, in pain and grief and a wretched (in my never-humble opinion) compulsion and dedication to staving off the inevitable, no matter the cost to the dying person or the community.
I say “community”, because that’s who pays the exorbitant end-of-life medical bills, as we try to delay or avert what is a natural process.
Would you send your son to the hospital and have him put on all manner of drugs because he was nearing puberty? Of course not. Death is just as natural a process, but because we don’t talk about it enough, we don’t understand it, therefore we fear it.
At our table last night we had a young woman who is terribly afraid to die, we had an older gentleman who has been a Hospice worker and volunteer with a local organization called Nobody Dies Alone, and has been personally present at 25 deaths in the last five years, another woman who has only witnessed one death, but who dreads her own death, and another woman who doesn’t fear death at all, but doesn’t know how to think about the potential of excruciating pain for her elderly mother–or herself, for that matter–that might accompany a death unaccompanied by medical professionals.
We talked, and talked some more, covering a variety of important related topics in quite some depth. Surprising depth, actually, for a group of people who had never met before. We could have talked another hour or two without difficulty. One person said that a son-in-law went through medical school and they didn’t talk about death hardly at all, because a doctor’s focus is prolonging life.
This Death Cafe group meets once a month. Only two people had been to a meeting before; the rest were there for the first time, like me.
One of the takeaways for me was the importance to talk more about death with everybody. Talk about your own death with your parents and your children and your friends and you neighbors. Talk about your parents’ death with them. Open up the dialog. Explore the mysteries.
Our culture is very peculiar about death, and it is time that changed. We need to stop being so afraid of it and start seeing it as an inevitable process of life.
You can find a local chapter in your area by going to http://www.deathcafe.com
I found it to be an evening well spent, and I believe you will, too.
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Filed under Aging, Death, Dying

Adventures in Vegetarianism

Make no mistake: I’m a born carnivore. My diet has always been reasonably balanced, meaning meat, starch and vegetables with a big glass of milk. That’s the Mid-western way I was raised.

Then I had lunch with my son and his wife, and they had just taken a 7-day juice fast, and told me about a great movie, Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. I got the movie from Netflix. Loved it. Very inspirational. Got my juicer out of cold storage, cleaned it up and started juicing.  I mentioned it to a friend, and she said, “If you enjoyed that, you’d enjoy “Forks Over Knives.” Got that from Netflix, too. watched it, loved it.  I was convinced at that point that meat was not all that healthy for me, but what really knocked me out was that my husband, at the end of the film, said, “Let’s talk about our diets.” I’m a lightweight carnivore compared to Al, who hunts and fishes and brings home the well, not bacon, but goose, duck, salmon, and the occasional elk, venison and bison steak, roast and/or sausage.  If he wanted to make a change to his meat-eating ways, then maybe I ought to listen.

Then a trip to the doctor dealt the final blow. High cholesterol, high blood pressure, big number on the scale. What? I’d always been so healthy. Whoa. Not any more. I’m a little older now, though it’s hard to imagine, and apparently, things change.

So we went meatless. I went completely meatless, having seen the light in the doctor’s office, Al, almost so. Cooking became an adventure. I bought vegetarian cookbooks, consulted vegetarian friends, started frequenting vegetarian and vegan restaurants. Discovered the joys of miso. Discovered tempeh. Discovered seitan. Did not miss meat at all. Bought a treadmill.

Then, in my musings, I came across The China Study, purported to be the most comprehensive study of human nutrition ever conducted. I read it on the treadmill. Every day after I’d read a chapter, I’d run to Al, working on his fishing baits, and read the chapter to him. The one on heart disease. The one on diabetes. The one on nervous system breakdowns. The one on cancer. The proof is indisputable.

And suddenly, I was no longer just a vegetarian, I was a vegan. No more milk, cheese, or yogurt for me. Yikes. I’d always wondered why we drank so much milk, when no other mammals did after weaning. My cat used to like it, but then she’d puke it up fifteen minutes later. Cow’s milk causes those horrible ear infections in children…and more. Lots more. Milk no more. I bought a soymilk maker. Now instead of paying $4 for a quart of soymilk, I pay about $.29 for a quart of fresh soymilk.

Five months later, we’ve both lost over 20 pounds, fairly effortlessly. My cholesterol is down 30 points, so is Al’s. I’m a believer, and I feel great. I buy local, or eat fresh from the garden. The food we eat is beautiful on the plate and delicious on the tongue.

The other night on the news we watched a story about how some pork right now is infected with something or other. We just looked at each other and smiled.

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Filed under Aging, Cancer, Diet

The Juice Fast

My son and his wife told me about the movie “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead”. They had seen it and gone on a 7 day juice fast and were so enthusiastic about it, I got the movie immediately and watched it.

It’s a life changer.

The next time I went to the grocery store,  I found myself a little nauseated at all the junk in there…at all the junk I used to buy regularly. I decided to do a juice fast, too.

It took me a little while to get my mind right about it. I’m a lifelong dieter, blessed with a body that tends toward heavy (can I blame my parents?) and a love for all things bread. I don’t get enough exercise because I… well, no excuses, can’t blame that on the parents… but in the summer I am on my bicycle a lot. A lot. And then winter comes, and with it the cold rain and the bicycle sits parked and I rev up the crockpot with hearty bean soups.

I’ve had a juicer for years. When I was single, I juiced daily. Being married to an avowed carnivore makes things a little difficult, but I’m determined this time to “reboot” the bod with some really, really fresh food. I have a Jack LaLanne juicer, which is a great machine in my opinion. I’ve been to the Join the Reboot website which is maintained by the “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” movie guys. It’s all so very inspirational.

For lunch today I had carrot, apple, lemon, cucumber, rhubarb, celery and tomato juice. Later I’ll include some pineapple or mango, ginger, and some fresh-from-the-garden spinach, lettuce, beets and radishes.

I feel great.

I don’t know how long I can keep this up;  already my jaws want to be crunching things, but for now, it’s a good awakening about all the empty calories we tend to put in our bodies. At some point, I confused food with fuel. The body needs fuel, and I’ve been giving it not only more than it needs, but many of the wrong things.

So if you’re not happy with how you look or how you feel, watch the movie (I got it on Netflix). Get a juicer and get healthy.

Let me know how it’s going.

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Filed under Aging, Bean soup

Hi, Dad.

Hi, Dad.

I understand that you’re nearing the end of your journey here. We’ll miss you when you cross the threshold, but it won’t be that many years before I’ll see you on the other side. I know you don’t think that’s in the cards for us, but to my mind, this whole earthly experience would be meaningless if relationships weren’t carried on—for eternity, if we choose.

I hope you can look back on your life with great pride in your accomplishments and very few regrets. We’re all human, subject to the vicissitudes and frailties of human existence, but your unshakeable, unwavering faith in God has always been an inspiration to me, even as we all fall prey to our baser natures now and again. Take with you all your exquisite memories of joy and peace and family and love, and just leave the other memories behind. They’re the product of a material existence, and will have no reality in the next world.

I’ve come to understand that the veil between this life and the next is very thick and impenetrable when we’re young and it thins out as we grow older. Now, I expect, you’ve got a foot in both worlds now and then, perhaps even crossing over when you’re sleeping, and stepping back into this world when you awaken. Don’t be afraid to just look over your left shoulder at the light and walk toward it. There’s no reason for you to linger in a world of pain and disease. Your angels will help you make the transition if you ask them and then listen carefully for their instructions.

I believe that what you find there will surprise you; the next step on a marvelous eternal journey of love and universe adventure in our Father’s service. Grandpa is already there, and I hope you’ll look him up, or maybe he’ll be there to greet you. I’ll certainly look for you when I arrive, and we’ll have a nice time talking over old memories of our strange earthly association from the new perspective of spirit.

I’ll love you forever.

–Liz.

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Filed under Aging, Death, family, Graduation, peace, Spirituality

2011: The Year of Living Simply

I’ve been naming my years now for a while. It’s more than a resolution, it’s a reminder to bring more lovingkindness, more awareness, more sweetness to life. In naming my years, and in holding those thoughts in my head and in my heart, my outlook changes.

In 2011, I vow to live more simply.

What does that mean? To travel less for business. Maybe just travel less.  To only go where my dog can come along. She’s not getting any younger, either, and every day in a boarding facility is just that. To make fewer commitments. To acquire less stuff and to give more stuff away. To appreciate what I have rather than spend time and energy thinking about what I want. To not busy my schedule out a year in advance. To do more of the things I really enjoy and fewer things I dread. To not please people, but to please God instead. Pleasing people is exhausting. Pleasing God is simple.

To do more art. Both in writing and knitting and living. I heard not too long ago that if we, by our countless tiny decisions, make each day a work of art, by the time we’re finished, we’ll have created a masterpiece.

That’s for me. That’s what I want for 2011 and beyond. To build a simple masterpiece, day by day.

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Filed under Aging, goals, Joy, knitting, Possibilities, Prayer, Reading, Spirituality, time, Writing

Evan Engstrom – 1942-2010

Heaven is richer today for the presence of my former husband and one of my best friends of all time. Evan Emil Engstrom died yesterday after a 26-year battle with cancer. The man was a warrior. 

I first met Evan when we were both struggling to get sober. I knew his sister and she was everything I wanted to be. Shortly thereafter, I met his mom and his kids, and knew this was the family for me. We married, I adopted his two wonderful children, and we set out to have a full life together. Evan was incredibly smart, the master of the one-line zingers, handy and clever, but most of all, he cared. Deeply. About everything, all the time. He wanted to do the right thing in all situations. My honorary Uncle Paul told me to marry “a man I could live up to.” Evan was just such a man, and he provided a moral compass for me from the moment we met, as well as everyone with whom he came into contact.

It wasn’t long after we married that Evan’s dentist found a small lump under his tongue. The surgery to eradicate this squamous cell carcinoma took the floor of his mouth, all the lymph nodes and big muscle on the left side of his neck, and required a skin graft from his thigh. The doctor told me: “The chances of his being here in two years are slim and none.” Well, they didn’t know Evan.

We moved from Maui to Oregon to provide a broader perspective of life for the kids, began to eat organically, raising most of our own food, and for a long time life was good. Eventually, however, we began to see that while we were really good friends, we did not make good mates. We discussed the fact that friendship is eternal while marriages are likely not, and we were in danger of losing our friendship as we toiled to maintain a broken marriage. So we separated, and eventually divorced, still committed to one another, still connected to one another via the heart, forever, in this world and throughout the next.

When I married Al, Evan came to our wedding. His classic comment: “I’ll come to all of your weddings, Liz, if there’s a meal in it for me.” Al had to know that my commitment to Evan was part of my family unit. And when Evan and Sharon discovered each other in a new way, we all became one big happy weird family, impossible to describe, but precious in every way.

Evan’s cancer came back. Again. And again. And yet again. He never gave up the fight against it, not after all the rest of us thought it might be a good idea that he just let go and let God. But he wanted to see his kids grow up. He wanted to see his grandkids grow up. And for the most part, he did. He leaves his two wonderful children, Nicole and Eron, and five grandsons, Luke, age 19, Joey, 17, Edison, 8 and Dean and Davison, both 3.

Evan left us too early. I particularly grieve that he and Sharon had such limited time together to explore their new relationship, to travel the world in happy retirement. But it is what it is, and we are all richer for knowing and loving him for as long as he was on loan to us.

Congratulations on your graduation, Evan. We all look forward to seeing you on the other side.

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Filed under Aging, Cancer, Death, Dying, family, Graduation, Marriage, relationships

We Choose Our Lives

Those of you who are parents have undoubtedly said to your pre-teen or teen, “You’ll remember these times as the best times of your life.” We worry that they want to grow up too fast, cutting short many childhood experiences, in quest for the more alluring adult activities. I was one of those kids; perhaps we all were. Eager to get out of high school and get a job, get out of the house, get on with life.

Well, the same holds true for today. Now that I’m “of an age” I’m in no hurry to get older, but am I taking advantage of who and where I am right now? Am I enjoying my life today to the degree that some day I’ll look back and say, “Man, those were some good times.”? Or am I too busy worrying about this and that and making appointments and meeting deadlines and paying the bills to stop and think: “I’ll never be a human again. I’ll never be in this type of material body with its strengths and its difficulties. I’ll never live on such a magnificently beautiful planet like this again. I better literally stop and smell the flowers.” It’s true that I don’t know what lies on the other side of the veil any more than anybody else, but I have my idea about that, just as you have your idea about it. My point is, from every place I find myself in the future–whether it’s next week or a thousand years in the future–I want to be able to look back and say, “I took advantage of everything that was offered to me back then.”

We’ve also probably counseled our children not to burn bridges or close doors on our options, because they don’t know what the future holds. The same holds true for us. We don’t know what doors we’re closing on our future when we act irresponsibly.

There are long ugly stretches of my history that I would just as soon forget, but those are long behind me and that is not the way I choose to live today, or tomorrow, or for the rest of my days. I want to be conscious, aware, engaged, happy with who I am and what I’m doing. I want to be able to look back and know that I was present, not pining for what was, nor spending my days daydreaming about what could be in the future. There’s value in some of that, certainly, but I believe that we will some day have the benefit of perspective on our lives that we currently have on our childrens’ lives.

We’re only here once. Let’s do good works, be kind to one another, and be proud of who we are today.

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Filed under Aging, Death, dreams, Dying, Fun, Goodness, Possibilities, regrets, relationships, Social Consciousness, Spirituality, time, years