Tag Archives: Dying

Clean and Sober

Today I reach a milestone: I have been clean and sober for 35 years. I have lived more than half my life with a spiritual program that keeps me without drugs or alcohol—one day at a time.

I find it inconceivable that it has been 35 years since I had a beer or smoked a joint. Inconceivable!  (And yes, I know what that means.)

It is easier for me to believe that I got drunk last week and have been lying about it.

But it’s true. 35 years.

These have been monumental years. Years of amazing accomplishments, personal and spiritual growth.

As with everyone my age, big events have taken place. Marriages, divorces, births, deaths, creative accolades, cancers. Huge events. Emotional events. Certainly events worth drinking over, either in grief or in celebration.

truth and loveLife is not easy. But sobriety is its own reward.

All of these major life events are the stuff of the human experience, and I have been fortunate enough to be present and clear-headed for it all.

I think that’s our reason for being: to experience the human condition in all its intricacies.  Booze and drugs gloss over those intricacies, dull those edges, flatten out those highs and lows, fill in the cracks wherein we might mine for the gold placed precisely there for precisely us.

Drinking and drugging is a waste of time, a waste of money, and a waste of personality.

I am beyond fortunate. I am one of the very fortunate ones who have been able to get sober and stay sober. God willing, I will die sober. But I am in the minority. Drug and alcohol addiction is so sneaky, so calmly patient and doggedly persistent, that when we falter, it is there, waiting with a “fix” to whatever transient problem catches us at a weak moment.

But those aren’t fixes. They’re insulators. They’re a horror show in a bottle. They’re death by slow torture, and they take all our loved ones down with us.

I may be 35 years clean and sober, but I am only one drink away from disaster, and I think about that every single day.

Today I will go to a meeting and share my experience, strength and hope: If I can do it, you can do it. And that is absolutely true.

And then I will go about my life, living in gratitude. I am not only grateful for everything that I’ve been given in life, but grateful for every mind-altering substance I ingested that brought me to my knees and introduced me to the spiritual program that gives me solid tools for living.

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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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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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Let’s Talk About Dying

No, really. Let’s talk about it. Let’s everybody talk about it.

We’re all going to die sometime, and while I’m not advocating hastening anybody’s death, I think death should be met with as much grace and anticipation as birth, puberty, or any other naturally-occurring event in our lives.

I participate on internet forums where people are spending their families into bankruptcy, making themselves sick beyond comprehension, all in a futile effort to stave off the inevitable. I can understand that when the sick person is a youngster, or a young person with children, but when the victim is elderly, has led a long and fruitful life, why not go gracefully to the other side? Instead of encouraging them to cling tenaciously to the physical body, we should be holding graduation ceremonies for that person and celebrating their contribution to the world.

I don’t get it. I really don’t. Except, perhaps, we don’t talk about it enough. My family knows (at least I think they do, I hope they do, I will make sure they do) my wishes about how easily I intend to slip beyond the veil to the other side. I can’t imagine that there is anything to fear there. We’re all going to go there, so why would anybody want to be dragged kicking and screaming, making it an unhappy, miserable event for everybody?

I hear people who have incurable, terminal cancer say: “I’m going to fight this with every ounce of energy left in my body, to my last breath.” And I say: Why? Does the God of your understanding have something horrible in store for you? I doubt it.

I ask you to think carefully about this topic and bring it up around your dinner table. Make certain that you understand how your loved ones feel about their deaths, encourage them to put those feelings in writing so there is no mistake about it, and make some arrangements for yourself while you’re at it. There’s no question that the death of a loved one or family member is an emotional time, and illness is a very stressful time. So that is not the time for these decisions to be made; that is not the time for these discussions to take place.

Watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyHLxPlQ_To

Get your mind right and get your earthly affairs in order. Then, when the time comes (and we never know when that will be), things will be easier on everybody.

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Filed under Aging, Death, Dying, Social Consciousness, Spirituality