In light of the very public death of Robin Williams, and in the spirit of Blogging for Mental Health 2014, I wanted to reveal some of the really challenging things that depressed people live with. (I’ve bolded the ones that have been particularly pernicious for me.) Many of these symptoms and tendencies seem innocuous or unimportant, but they can add up to an unbearable life.
When my father was in Hospice in has last three days of life, he relaxed, grateful that no one was forcing him to eat or go to appointments. He dozed, phasing in and out of awakening. He heard a wisp of something and asked me:
I listened, and heard the strains of The Godfather’s haunting theme, floating in from someone’s tv down the hall.
He began to sing “Dah, dada da, da dah,” very softly.
Inspired, I went to his home, got a portable music player and grabbed some cassettes from the car. They were the filled with the theater pipe organ music he adored, and I hurried back. When I tucked the light headset around his ears, his eyes flew open and he beamed at me, grinning with delight. For the next 2 days, he smiled and dreamed and hummed along to his favorite tunes.
Later that day I went to the meditation garden and heard a song come, not on the breeze but into my mind. It was Greensleeves, my mother’s favorite tune. I shivered, then welcomed her gladly. She had been gone nearly 9 years by that time. I felt as if she walked with me back to his bedside for those final hours.
Last night’s concert (see previous post)was a heart-overflowing event where the music community showed love and support for its own. But what about that which they offer us? What is the value of music?
Music & Memory is a non-profit that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly and infirm, training nursing home staff and elder care professionals to create and provide personalized playlists to enable those with memory and cognitive disorders to reconnect with the world.
My dear friend Terry Nicholetti, a DC actor, has known about this power for years. She cares for her 94 year old mother, who long ago lost her capacity to remember or even speak, the result of Alzheimer’s disease. Terry takes her guitar to of the nursing home and plays old-timey songs for the Memory-Care patients, most of whom do not speak or even interact. They often will respond with enthusiasm, some even singing along. Their musical memory is intact when other pathways may be long gone.
“American culture is wrong: there is actually life beyond adulthood. The aging we experience holds very important learning and lessons. Theres the opportunity to live and grow and become elders. No pill does that.”
from Alive Inside
Today I bring you a tribute to the engine of the life, something that if you’re like me, living in the Northern Hemisphere, you have been outside celebrating in recent days. The cherry trees are opening their blossoms, the lambs are cavorting on greening pastures, and everyone wants to be outside in shirtsleeves, taking in the bright sun.
Mr Latimer’s bottle garden was planted 53 years ago and watered once in 1972. It thrives on sunlight alone, due to the balance of oxygen from bacteria (animals) and CO2 from plants exchanging moisture and nutrients. It’s a microcosm of our planet, which acquires nothing from outside our atmosphere but sunlight (well, the occasional meteorite, too) yet air and water circulate between our lungs and the green plants in a wonderful harmony. You can read more about this HERE.
The light of the Sun is what makes this go. Here’s a simple diagram of the exchange.
Some of you may remember the challenge of tracking the whole business in organic chemistry — you might remember it as being complicated, and chemically, it’s pretty amazing and intricate. But the way it works is a simple exchange, and because it works, we all get to eat! I don’t know about you, but I find this bloody AMAZING.
Here, this is even simpler:
See that second half of the equation? The sugar is the source of ALL THE FOOD WE EAT. Even if you are a carnivore, the animals you eat grew up eating plants. We are all eating sunlight, by virtue of the photosynthetic process. And yeah, we get to breathe the oxygen. Pretty convenient if you ask me.
And then there’s the icing on the cake:
How did you celebrate being alive today?
Those who know me are familiar with my “I want to live HERE!” Syndrome. I’ve been doing my best to stay in the moment, resist projection, and just BE here. I’m between the worlds, it’s my job to not know exactly where I’m headed.
Today, I’m a lizard on a warm rock, drinking in the sun.
I spent last night curled around Seneca, my ancient and bony dog. I have not been sleeping with her the past few weeks because her incontinence has become so severe. But on this short night, her last, I did not care.
Today I will take her to the vet for the last time. I’ve been putting this off for weeks during her long and gracious decline. She rarely complains. She mostly does as she is asked. She will go anywhere with me, waiting patiently in the car. She has always been well mannered and willing to please.
Well past one hundred in dog years, Seneca has lived her whole life with that kind of grace. I’ve had her since she was seven weeks old. Runt of the litter, my standard poodle was chosen for me by the breeder for her gentle temperament. When I picked her up that day nearly fifteen years ago, she readily transfered her affections to me the moment I pulled out of that driveway, and has been my true and loyal friend ever since.
This has been an incredibly difficult decision to make: to help my dear friend have a good death (euthanasia from the Greek literally means ‘good death’). I have watched friends grapple with it, have gently encouraged them to let their pets go. It is indeed much harder from where I sit. I deeply do not want to lose my dog. I have cried like a six year old, losing her puppy. And then the other day I blurted out to a friend: “How can I do this to her?! All her life I have had a vow to protect her from all harm!”
My friend asked me: “Haven’t you done exactly that? Aren’t you still doing that for her?”
I have to admit that I have, every step of the way, given her the best life a dog could have. I began to see that I am not failing in my promise to her. I cannot prevent her aging, arthritis, the atrophy of her limbs. I could not prevent her dementia or it’s confusion and nightmares.
I can prevent further distress from these things, and I can prevent seizures or other painful experiences as she approaches her death. It is completely in line with my vow to her.
Last night as we curled together, I drifted in and out of sleep, and cherished the sensation of her warm, gently breathing form. I wrapped my arms around her and the words came to me “I have your heart.” I was saying this to her, as she has always said it to me.
Rest in Peace, Seneca
May 1998 – November 2012