Friday, December 26, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
to ending conflicts
Only people can forgive.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
While the idea of core nuclear families during this period of human history may seem an unusual archeological discovery, family scientists, myself included, are not at all surprised by this finding. There is something timeless and pure about a parent's love for his or her offspring. Something that is able to withstand any force that rises up against it- even, or perhaps especially, Death.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Wars, the horror of mothers
I took my son to the fall carnival in Anthem, Arizona, a magical event to celebrate the transition to cooler weather from the long and relentless desert heat. I let Josh and his friends run and play in the park as I sat under a tree reading a book about Freud and Jung. Children to my left were standing in line for hair-raising rides decorated with flashing lights and wild music. Masked children to my right were dancing to the Monster Mash as proud parents watched and grand parents gloated. Sticky-faced children ate their pink cotton candy and red-patent apples. It was a smorgasbord of panoramic festivities. Laughter filled the air and shadows leapt on concrete. Several fighter jets from a nearby military facility graced guests with a gratuitous fly-over.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Other cultures are awash with death rites that have endured the test of time. One such tradition in Latin culture relates to rituals around death. For example, Hispanic culture often includes a novena after death, a nine-day period following the funeral when mourners recite the rosary in the name of the dead child. Families are often left undisturbed during this period.
Another during this time of year, El Dia de los Muertos (or some version of it), or the Day of the Dead, is celebrated throughout much of Latino America from Mexico to Guatemala to Brazil to Spain. This enduring holiday is recognized every November 2, and during this time of remembrance, all eyes turn toward the dead. It includes eccentric altars, offerings of food and drink and even fine fabrics. The rituals last four days. Families stay awake the entire night of October 31. If a child has died, family members await the return of the child’s spirit, known as Angelitos. A tiny candle is lit for each child and morning mass is recited.
Colorful paper banners, called papel picado (Spanish for "perforated paper") can be found hanging about the streets during this time. Usually made of tissue paper but sometimes of more durable plastic, the cut banners are hung together like a string of flags. For the Dia de los Muertos, the designs feature skeletons, skulls, crosses, and tombstones. Some artists create intricate designs that take many hours to make. Because of their fragility and the time spent creating them, cut-paper banners are themselves symbols of the transitory quality of life (AZ Central).
"The tradition of papel picado can be traced to pre-Columbian times when papermaking thrived throughout Mesoamerica. The bark of the amate tree, a type of fig tree, was used to make a rich colored brown or beige paper. Cut-paper figures used in ceremonies were created to represent any number of human and animal spirits. Today, a group of indigenous people, the Otomi from the village of San Pabilto, continue to make cut-paper figures from their handmade amate paper" (http://www.crizmac.com/free_resources/papelpicado.cfm).
The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it; it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast loves (Mexican writer, Octavio Paz).
Death is an accepted part of life for many heritage-consistent Hispanic families, integrated into daily routines, where children are included in rituals and mourners express their emotions openly (Corr, et al, 2006). Death is a ubiquitous theme where “it is in the literature, on murals, in cutout paper figures and on the streets” (Irish, et al, 1993, p. 76). In Latino culture, the dead are not separated from the living; rather, they continue their presence in the family as grievers often do not relinquish bonds.
"This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:
death (152x)dead (69x)pain (54x)suicide (7x)hurt (6x)kill (4x)dangerous (3x)breast (2x)steal (1x)"
I know, I know, it's not really applicable here. It doesn't really apply to my blog about thanatos (and eros) but as a feminist thinker, I cannot help but to find this amusing. And wow, I've said death/dead more than 220 times. That must surely be a record.
But hey, to really understand life and living, I believe, we must first understand death and dying. Right?
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Marcus Aurelius, though not a self-proclaimed Stoa, was identified with Zeno's philosophies of Stoicism. I've often grappled with hellenistic ideas of austerity that spring from detachment.
But there are things I do appreciate about Stoa thought: The virtues upheld are ones to which most humans should indeed strive- courage, justice, self-control, wisdom- while rejecting the less desirable inclinations of the material world such as irrationality, greed, corruption, and lust. Life lived in the latter is vacuous at its best and tyrannical at its worst. Aurelius issues his caution against living mindlessly, superfluously. Time is short, he warns.
So he calls for humans to become good.
What I hear Aurelius saying is: Meditate on the connection between all things within the Universe. Be mindful of all things around you. Walk, do not run. Seek truth. Do your duty. Treat others, including animals, with generosity and decency. Develop virtue. And in realizing the finitude of the material world, confront Death. Either teach or tolerate. Abandon vengeance: "Leave the wrong done by another where it started." Do not squander yourself. This dictum against squandering illuminates our mortality. These aspects of Stoicism resonate within me.
Aurelius begs a willing encounter with the ephemerality of existence. He says, "So one should pass through this tiny fragment of time in tune with nature, and leave it gladly, as an olive might fall when ripe, blessing the earth which bore it and grateful to the tree which gave it growth."
Yet, here is where my mind, like quicksand, pulls me under the earth. An olive falls when ripe. In its time. It's incredibly painful- and beyond the realm of reasoning for me at times- to accept that so many young lives need be lost with such bitter untimeliness. The olive, in this case, did not fall gracefully to the welcoming detritus on the forest ground. The olive was plucked, forcefully, too early, like the bitter apple that held on by its stem in protestation.
Stoicism loses me here. I can much more readily accept the construct of an austere life. But there is something about a child's death against which I shall always recoil. I would not, and could not, as directed by Aurelius and his Stoa ilk, accept this as something that was meant to be. I would not accept the maxim that the gods intended these deaths, so young, or that they intentionally incited the accoutremental angst and agony. I can never follow the dictates of detachment: To go in peace or to abandon mourning for the dead. I reject that this is somehow in the Universal blueprint of the gods, as he asserts.
Still, there is so much I do appreciate about Aurelius. I can embrace his call to become good. And I will continue to work toward that end. But my idea of becoming good does not include my emotional acquiesence to Death or the relinquishment of grief rightly earned.
And I also believe that, somewhere, embedded in really feeling the pain of attachment are the potentialities for change and awakening. I feel strongly that Stoicism would have led me to another path wherein I did not become the person, woman, and mother who I am today. While I would give it all back to have her here instead, in absence of that option I am so thankful I allowed myself to experience attachment and its resounding agony. Rejecting my circumstances- refusing to accept it all as part of a larger plan- has created within me the will to survive in a different way. And in so doing, I have come to accept it in my own way and in my own time. This is the beauty of really feeling loss. I'd have missed it all otherwise...and now, the love is bigger than the pain.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
Muslims call the cyclical summer flooding of the Nile, Wafaa El-Nil, The Night of the Tear-Drop. In Egyptian mythology, the Nile floods because of Isis' lamentations over the death of Osiris. She has so many tears that it causes the Nile to overflow. I can relate to the metaphor an ocean of tears. And disintegrated, amorphous, weighty, and fragmented: this is how I would describe my own journey into the abyss of grief. I'd lost my identity, my purpose, and any sense of a just existence. This was my dark night of the soul. One in which I would surely either die or I would be, in a archetypal sense, reborn much like Isis.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Without stating the obvious destination, there is a long list of intelligencia I would seek: Jung and Freud, of course. Sagan, Wiesel, Weil, Aquinus, Twain, Jefferson, Hugo, Siddhārtha, Lewis, Kollwitz, Camus, King, Jr., Descartes, Socrates, Gandhi, Bojaxhiu, and well, it's obvious to me that I've spent too much time in my imagination with this concept. I digress. This post isn't really about time-traveling. It's about the one other person in my journey-to-the-past illusion- Viktor Frankl.
For those of you who do not know Frankl, you should. Born in Austria, Frankl (1905-1997) authored one of my favorite books Man's Search for Meaning. He was a neurologist and psychotherapist who, between 1942 and 1945, survived Auschwitz and three other concentration camps, where more than three million died. Included in those who died were his parents and his beloved wife. While imprisoned, he spent time working with others who were suicidal, hopeless, and anguished.
That which is to give light must endure burning.
After being freed in 1945, Frankl fathered a new psychotherapeutic concept: Logotherapy. Logos ( λόγος) is Greek for words, language, speech, and meaning, and therapy is from the Greek therapeuein (Θεραπεύω) which means to heal or treat. Elie Wiesel understood Frankl's concept when he said, "Whosoever survives the test must tell his story. That is his duty." The psychotherapist does not coercively cure, treat, or heal. Rather, healing comes from the sufferer's ability and willingness to, eventually, find words with which to speak of their tragedy and the successive meaning to understand and make sense of it. The sufferer does so as the therapist listens, fully present and in absentia furor sanandi (without a rush to cure).
He acknowledged that logotherapy takes time and great pains. The sufferer's story must evolve in such a way that meaning is discovered. But Frankl, himself a sufferer of horrors I will never know, believed in the potential of human beings. He believed in the power of love to heal. He believed, and practiced, communion with the Other- in a sense, the I-Thou relationship of which Martin Buber speaks. If another person creates a sacred space within which a sufferer can experience acceptance, patience, willingness of the Other to coenter the darkness by their side, and radical loving care (Chapman, 2007), then the sufferer has a much better chance of finding meaning.
It's not a simple task for us mere mortals: to make meaning out of indescribable suffering. Yet, without meaning, there can be no healing. Beyond finding meaning, there is so much more gained than what is lost in the fire. And while we always remember that which was lost in the flames of despair, it is only when we reach the summit beyond our former view of the world that we are able to truly transcend our loss.
So, I would travel back in time and listen to Frankl. I'd sit with him over a cup of dandelion tea and ask him his story. I'd enter the darkness with him, stand with him, and watch as his own meaning, and transcension, unfolded. I would journey by his side as he painfully emerged from the ashes into the beautiful man he was, and watch in reverant awe as he brought light to the world.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
And, in the end, I opted against the pain medications. They may have given me a false sense of well-being, perhaps creating more problems for me. I may have felt artificially better; well enough, for example, to engage in activities that would cause me to work and not rest. Perhaps, this would postpone and elongate healing, or even cause me to exacerbate the injury, worsening the severity.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
In a small zoo in Muenster, Western Germany, Gana, a gorilla is "refusing to let go of her dead baby's body" even after several days postmortem (Associated Press, 2008). Gana's baby died from unknown causes. Despite the newly born male's death, his mother, nearly ritualistically, carries his body everywhere she goes. Zoo officials note that this behavior is not uncommon to gorillas.
According to them, Gana "is mourning and must say goodbye." The baby was named Claudio. Indeed, sometimes even animals understand love better than humans.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Politicians use euphemistic language and outright propaganda to influence perception- cleverly crafted labels such as "the PATRIOT Act" or the "Protect America Act" are intended to shape opinions and to shift the starting points for debate about politically or socially charged issues. With deliberate enthymematic strategy, sociopolitical issues are cloaked with pleasantries in order to manipulate meaning. These narrative structures are then used to advance often-clandestine social or political agendas. In an environment where torture is merely an enhanced interrogation technique, where collateral damage replaces the deaths of innocent civilians and children, and earmarks and pork barrel spending are magically transmogrified into legislatively directed appropriations, it can become well nigh impossible to disentangle reality from deliberately distorted and carefully constructed perceptions. We assemble assent and tolerance for the unthinkable.
It should therefore come as no surprise that we often use language to perpetuate the attitudinal avoidance of death. Flowery phrases dress Death up so we can sit next to Him politely at funerary processions where loved ones pass on, go to a better place, and are no longer with us. Euphemisms make others more comfortable around the discomforting. But in particular, it's how externally codified language is used to manipulate and control and to perpetuate the institutionally approved messages that I find particularly disconcerting; and how, for the most part, this messaging targets an unconscious place, whereby people are wholly unaware that their thoughts are being influenced, even at times controlled.
Another example: The death of a baby to stillbirth is social, personal, and political. I am personally profoundly offended by use of the vernacular pregnancy loss to describe the reality of stillbirth. I worked with a mother last week whose ten pound baby boy died during birth: He was stillborn. The mom was in her 42nd week of pregnancy. If this isn't the death of a baby, I don't know what is. In dissecting that term - pregnancy loss - there is an inference that a baby or child, in fact, did not die: there is an implication that no life was lost; that only a transient condition was changed. By failing to recognize the death of the baby, we implicitly deny the baby's individualism, while simultaneously inferring that merely a pregnancy was lost.
In working with bereaved parents, I allow them to socially construct their own language with which they can speak of the unspeakable, and I adopt those words and phrases they have accepted, congruent with their experiences. It is, after all, their reality, not mine. If a father wants to say his child passed on, then those are the words which I will use in working with him. If a mother calls her 42-year-old dead son her baby, then he is her baby.
In more than 13 years of working with bereaved families, I have never had a parent of a stillborn baby say, "I am so sad that I lost my pregnancy" or "I'm grieving over my pregnancy loss." That is not, most often, their reality. They say simply, "My baby died, I lost my beloved child."
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Knox speaks of her experience and says,
"We're required by law to care for our children," she said. "But at the last hour, we're told that their body doesn't belong to us anymore. That makes no sense."
Knox found a funeral director willing to bring Alison's body home, where family members, friends and neighbors joined in a three-day vigil. By the time the funeral director returned to take Alison's body to her funeral and then to the crematory, Knox was, she said, ready to let her go.
Having imagined, as most parents do, that she could never endure the catastrophe of a child's death, Knox found that "when it actually happened, my senses were so highly attuned to the sense of love, I had a very precise presence of mind, very clear sense of direction." There is, she said, "a lot of comfort in being able to perform acts of love in these unbearable situations."
--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul