The Tasks of Aging

***  Time for this post? Reading…5 minutes. Considering…the rest of your life.

I’ve been wondering…if aging is a stage of human development, then what are our tasks as we move through this stage.

So I asked someone I knew would have ideas about this. Nora Bitner is a Therapist. Mother. Grandmother. Great-grandmother. Writer. Thinker. And did I mention that Nora is 90 years old? At the end of a message on another topic, she said…

Before I close for today (running out of steam) I’ll just touch briefly on your wonderings about tasks at the end of life.

Like you, I find myself wanting to tie up loose ends, which does indeed cover a lot of ground, especially for someone like me who likes to gather and do things, not just physical objects, but relationships, experiences, journals, chronologies, and has a hard time behaving as though time and energy are running out and I can’t be certain there will be a tomorrow. After all, these things are my story.

I love your word “frailty.” That’s exactly what it is for the old-old, like me, who are dwindling out of existence. I’m always aware of it, but I don’t dwell on it, choosing to live in the moment as much as I can. I see it as a process of letting go, which is hard to do.

The following day, I received another email from Nora. She said: I found myself jotting down more thoughts on tasks towards the end of life. Here are some of them, as I see it.

  • I always expected that I would live to a very old age (family genetics), but I always saw myself as an energetic old person. I did not expect the frailty. So it’s important to consider this as you age. The reality of getting old means losses—independence, diminishing strength, health possibly, energy, hearing, sight.
  • It’s important to keep a perspective that accepts these possibilities.  Focus on what you still are able to do, and don’t moan about what you could do 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or even 1 year ago. But keep moving, that is vital, at whatever level of ability you have, and enjoy it.
  • I can’t emphasize enough that, to maintain your perspective, you need to keep your sense of humour. That quality was reinforced by the Alan Watts video. So funny!
  • Ignore the pious who take death too seriously. I detest the use of euphemisms like passing away, or just passed….I’m always tempted to say “passed what?” We die, it’s very simple. Everything dies sooner or later.
  • Stay curious, keep learning, set priorities – how do you want people to remember you….realize it will be hard for your children to watch the progression of frailty. I believe that assisted dying should be more available, depending on your circumstances. I don’t believe that it’s “good to suffer” as some religious people might say. Quality of life is more important than quantity. I believe we should have the right to choose death if and when it seems the natural and beneficial thing to do.

She concluded…

I feel like I’ve wandered all over the map here, and it’s time to get out and walk around my deck in the sunshine.

Nora Bitner

Nora Bitner, nonagenarian, at home on her deck

…and you?

What is your version of walking around your deck in the sunshine? How would you describe the tasks of aging?

P.S. Nora is wearing a t-shirt with the first line of Jenny Joseph’s poem, “Warning.” Jenny Joseph was an English poet who died last year at age 86. Apparently, this poem was written in 1961 when she was only 29. I think you’ll enjoy listening to her read it.

Why are we afraid of aging?

*** Time for this post? Reading…a couple minutes. Viewing…17 minutes. Coming to terms…who knows?

Why are we afraid of aging? I think the simple answer is that we’ve seen what happens to people around us and it usually isn’t pretty.  Getting old seems to involve a lot of pain and suffering. Who’d want to sign up for that?!

So we aim to avoid what they’re experiencing. And we can…for a while. But, with the exception of those who die a quick accidental death at a young age, we will all become frail, maybe ill, and then we’ll die.

What can we do?

Gott go through it...

The above words, from a long-forgotten kids’ song, popped into my head as I was writing this post. Put in a more adult way—since we can’t avoid aging, our best bet is to come to terms with it.

Coming to terms..

Coming to terms with getting older can mean many things:

  • Accepting those things that will not be the same as when we were 45—e.g. wrinkles and grey hair.
  • Doing what we can to be healthy—e.g. adjusting what we put in our bodies and how much we move them— even when we’d rather take the easier way.
  • Recognizing that we have reached a new stage of life—i.e. not simply becoming a less-capable adult, but something of a greater rather than lesser scope.

This is what interests me right now, so I’ll be doing a deep dive into all of it over the next couple months. To kick it off, here is Scilla Elworthy with her thoughts about why we’re afraid of getting older.

Dr Scilla Elworthy is the founder of the Oxford Research Group, a non-governmental organization she set up in 1982 to develop effective dialogue between nuclear weapons policy-makers worldwide and their critics. She left that role in 2003 to set up Peace Direct, a charity supporting local peace builders in conflict areas. From 2005 she was adviser to Peter Gabriel, Desmond Tutu and Richard Branson in setting up The Elders. Scilla Elworthy has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize and in 2003 was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize.

This is her 2012 TED talk, delivered in Morocco, with her thoughts about why we’re so afraid of getting older.

And you?

I hope this provoked some thoughts in you. Do you think about aging? What worries you? What have you come to terms with? What is too big to come to terms with?

Being with someone with Alzheimer’s

*** Time for this post?  Reading…5 minutes. Viewing…11 minutes. Practising…until it becomes automatic.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about being with a person who is dying. Mostly it was about what to say and not say. The same questions arise when visiting, or living with, a person who has dementia. What to say? What not to say?

I’ve known two people who developed dementia. In the old days, we had such good conversations! When that was no longer possible, I stopped visiting. I wish I’d thought of researching how to be with someone in that state, instead of abandoning them.

Engaging with dementia…

In the video below, improv artists Karen Stobbe and Mondy Carter share how they use the guidelines of improvisation to break through conventional caregiving techniques and open up new worlds for persons with dementia. Here’s their story from the TEDMED website.

Karen was working as an actress, writer instructor and theater improviser when her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Being with her father in the days leading to his death, Karen was struck by the surprising similarities between improvisational acting and caregiving for persons with dementia.

Combining both worlds, Karen created a workshop and training guide for dementia caregivers based on the rules of improvisation. Together with her husband, actor and improviser Mondy Carter, Karen wrote and performed the show “Sometimes You Gotta Laugh,” an educational and entertaining take on Alzheimer’s disease, caregiving, humor and stress.

She and Mondy live in North Carolina with their daughter Grace and Karen’s mom, Virginia, who also has Alzheimer’s disease.

Guidelines from Improv…

  • Say “Yes, and…”
  • Agree, don’t deny.
  • Accept offers and gifts.
  • Be specific.
  • Listen fully.
  • Accept the reality given to you, and step into their world.
  • Go with the flow.
  • Share focus; give and take.
  • Silence is powerful.
  • Commit 100%.
  • Be in the moment.

As they point out, this approach is not the solution for all situations that arise when you’re caring for someone with dementia. But in their experience, it goes a long way to help find connection, to have relationships, and for everyone to have a better quality of life.

The guidelines in action…

“Who is this music?” asked Virginia.

“The Beatles,” replied her teenage granddaughter Grace.

“Oh yes, I dated them,” Virginia said.

After a split second pause, “Oh, what was that like Grandma?”

This example leads off an article from Home Care Assistance that elaborates on the guidelines in case you’d like them in writing,

More about this approach…

And what if it were you?

If this has got you thinking about what if you end up with dementia, here’s a link to the dementia directive form I introduced in a previous blog. Developed by Dr. Barak Gaster, this directive is worth considering as an addition to your basic directive.

Dementia presents a unique situation because it can take 5 to 20 years for the end of life to arrive. You might want to give thought to the kind of medical care you would want at various stages if you were to develop worsening dementia. For more about Dr. Gaster and why he thinks this is important, check out this article in the New York Times. In part, he says…

The standard advance directives tend to focus on things like a ‘permanent coma’ or a ‘persistent vegetative state,’” Dr. Gaster said. “Most of the time, they apply to a person with less than six months to live. Although it’s a terminal disease, dementia often intensifies slowly, over many years. The point at which dementia patients can no longer direct their own care isn’t predictable or obvious.

I wonder…do you have any thoughts or experience to share ?

Setting the tone when you’re seriously ill or dying…

-*** Time for this post? Reading…8 minutes. Viewing…9 minutes. Thinking about what you would do…as you wish.

After writing last week’s blog about being with the dying, it occurred to me that…

As such, we have responsibilities…

The dying person can help friends and family in a variety of ways, yet we don’t typically think about dying from that point of view. I suspect that’s because we tend to approach death passively, as something that happens to us rather than a normal life process that we will ultimately engage in, like it or not. Instead of participating, we come at it from a victim mindset.

Role models for a different way…

One of the best things about the internet is the access we have to people who think and behave differently. It’s a good way to gain a broader perspective and find our place within the possibilities.

Pieter Hintjens…

Pieter Hintjens was a software developer, writer, and father who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 53. An article in The Guardian reports on Hintjens’ final website post in which he outlined his “protocol for dying.” He wrote about what not to say, what can lead to happy conversations, and the duties of the dying. He listed the following duties of the dying, elaborating on each:

  • Be happy.
  • Obviously, put your affairs in order.
  • Remove all stress and cost that you can.
  • Be realistic.
  • Assume the brutal worst.
  • Be honest and transparent with others.

He makes a very good point about being honest. When the dying person is honest and transparent with others, it makes things much easier for them. When they can talk about your death with you, it helps them process what’s happening.

Hintjens’ approach was proactive—to be the one initiating the conversation rather than creating a climate in which others had to tiptoe around him, not sure what to say. That is definitely one of the helpful things a dying person can do.

Setting the tone…

In addition to talking about our situation, we can help others know how to respond by the way we communicate. Choice of words and how we put them together sets the tone for all communication, whether written or verbal. Pieter Hintjens’ tone is clearly pragmatic and logical. Although he doesn’t use these exact words, he conveys that: It is what it is. We all have to deal with this situation, so let’s get on with it.

His manner isn’t everyone’s. Some prefer a softer approach, but that doesn’t mean saying nothing or pretending it isn’t happening. Ignoring or denying the situation doesn’t help, it just invites people to default to the cultural norm, which is to see you as a victim. Unless you want to be treated that way, it’s important to communicate intentionally.

The way around landing in victimhood is to set the tone by choosing your words thoughtfully. Below is a good example. Sarah Kerr, who I introduced recently, has posted lots of educational material, including videos, on a wide range of topics related to her work as a death doula. When she discovered she has breast cancer, Sarah talked about it in a video.

Sarah Kerr’s approach…

Her diagnosis is not terminal. But any cancer is a serious condition and people have a culturally induced perception of what it means. Notice how she sets the tone in her communication:

  • She states the facts directly, including a realistic sense of what this diagnosis means and the possibility of a positive prognosis.
  • She expresses confidence in her medical team.
  • When she talks about how she’s feeling, it’s clear that she isn’t recording this in the midst of the early dark days after diagnosis. She’s able to speak with perspective because she has already processed it.
  • She reassures us that she’s doing what she thinks best. In her case, that includes mainstream medical treatment, lifestyle adjustments, and really going into it rather than seeking distraction.
  • She invites support and also provides specific direction as to what that would be.
  • She identifies, in the nicest of ways, what would not be helpful. In this case, that’s advice—no matter how well-meaning it is.

We got a clear sense of Sarah’s viewpoint about dealing with her cancer. In case this interested you, here’s a summary:

  • It’s not a war to be fought.
  • Her body has been disrupted from its normal healthy functioning.
  • The existence of this cancer tells her that something is out of balance.
  • She’s taking this as an indication of a problem to be solved, as a call for healing at a deep level.
  • She is not asking why this is happening to her. Instead her question is: What is this asking of me?

What suits you?

Most of us don’t write on a website or speak on video—and a health crisis is not the time to start. But an email update to your near and dear is a good way to get everyone on the same page—as long as you write clearly so that you aren’t misunderstood.

Your newsletter can provide details about your diagnosis and treatment, thus ensuring that everyone has the same accurate information. When deciding what to divulge, though, keep in mind my mom’s advice: Never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper!

Besides providing the facts, a group email can set the tone by sharing how you’re feeling—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Here’s an example of tone-setting that came from a family member who had used email to update all of us after her cancer diagnosis.

I’m feeling fine, other than the normal issues with my back assumed to be caused by longstanding arthritis and a pelvis which likes to get out of line on a regular basis and has been acting up during all the various testing situations. I am still seeing the chiropractor who is cautious and doesn’t work near the area of L1-2. That will hopefully keep me mobile for a long time in spite of the new issue.

I have scratched bungee-jumping and parachuting off my bucket list and I’ve quit jumping off curbs and bottom steps to protect the stability of the diseased bone.

Once the biopsy has healed I will ask if there are any other limitations of activity…one step at a time…

It isn’t great news but things could be so much worse…

What are your thoughts about our responsibility when we’re seriously ill or dying? Do you have experience to share, examples of what worked or didn’t? As always, I invite your comments.

Being with a Person who is Dying

*** Time for this post?  Reading…5 minutes. Viewing…an hour, but not necessarily all at once.

My life has not yet required me to be on hand when someone is dying. And I’m pretty sure that can’t continue. So I’ve been looking for good information about how to be with someone who’s near the end of life.

Visiting someone who’s dying…

I found an excellent article about deathbed visiting which offers very practical tips based onthe author’s challenging experience of managing the death of a family member at home.

As my father-in-law lay in his deathbed, after an illness so brief his friends and colleagues were stunned to hear he had entered his last days, people wanted to say goodbye. So in those last days, we got a crash course on how to visit the dying. … I will love some of those visitors forever. Others I wouldn’t mind never seeing again. But collectively they taught us some valuable lessons.

Her article is recommended reading for everyone. If you don’t have time now, it’s worth bookmarking for when you’re in the situation. Here are some of the main points, explained more fully in the article.

  • Be in touch, but don’t expect a response.
  • Say “We would love to visit,” or “Are you receiving visitors,” not “When can we visit?”
  • Be ready for plans to change at any moment.
  • Bring treats.
  • Don’t bring plants.
  • Handle silence.
  • Don’t be needy.
  • Have something to say.

Something to say!?

What on earth can you possibly say to a person who is dying? Hallie Levine, in the AARP newsletter, suggests showing support by saying things such as:

  • I wish this wasn’t happening to you.
  • This must be hard news for you to share.
  • I’m here for you.
  • I’m thinking of you.

She further advises being as specific and concrete as possible about any potential assistance.

“People often say, ‘if you need anything, call me,’ but that puts the onus on the person dealing with the life-threatening disease,” says Rebecca Axline, a licensed clinical social worker at the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute. “Instead, say, ‘Can I bring a casserole by Thursday?’ or drop off a gift card for a massage or dinner at a local restaurant.”

Things NOT to say…

From a helpful article in AgingCare:

“Avoid clichés or platitudes,” notes psychiatrist and author Marcia Sirota, M.D. “Saying things like, ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ and ‘It’s God’s will,’ can make the person feel like their illness is their fault.”

Saying things like “You’re strong” and “You’ll get through this” is equally problematic. Although it can be tempting to reassure a patient that they’ll be okay, this approach can be hurtful because it does not acknowledge the patient’s feelings and concerns. “Maybe they don’t feel strong right now and need to feel like they can be afraid,” Dr. Sirota adds. “You need to give them the space they need to share their fears and come to terms with them.”

The Marie Currie Hospice in the UK has a good overview article by social worker Glyn Thomas. It has links to in-depth discussion on topics such as:

  • What to do when someone is in denial about their diagnosis
  • How to help with day-to-day caring
  • What it’s like to live with a terminal diagnosis
  • Helping someone come to terms with a terminal diagnosis

Don’t wince when tough things come up…

Here’s one reason we should all come to terms with death—to be able to support those around us. It helps the dying go in peace if they’ve been able to talk about how they feel and what’s on their mind.

This could include loose ends such as making a will if there isn’t one, giving away belongings, etc. And fears about the unknowns ahead. If you can be comfortable listening, you’ll be of great service. And if you’re willing to facilitate completing undone tasks or locating resource people to allay the fears, that’s a bonus.

Most of us find this a challenge because we’ve grown up without role models for being with people as they approach death. Becki Hawkins, in the video below, is a terrific role model. A hospice nurse and chaplain, Becki has been at the bedside of terminally ill patients for more than 30 years. She is the author of Transitions: A Nurse’s Education About Life And Death.

This is a long video but easily viewed one story at a time.

This is what I’ve found so far to help me be with someone who’s dying. Do you have any insights to share?

Quantity of life … or quality?

*** Time for this post?  Reading…2 minutes. Viewing…19 minutes. Taking it in…as you wish.

BJ Miller, a hospice doctor, says, “At the end of our lives, what do we most wish for? For many, it’s simply comfort, respect, and love.”

Yet the statistics show that most of us in our over-medicalized Western culture do not die that way. And it’s easy to see why.

Doctors are trained to keep us alive, There are a lot of treatments they can offer before giving in and saying the dreaded sentence, “There’s nothing more we can do.”

Now, let’s be clear. The blame doesn’t lie solely on the shoulders of doctors. We, the people who are offered these treatments, may not yet have come to terms with the fact that we will surely die sooner or later. In this mindset, we aim for quantity of life and lose sight of the quality of life we may really be aching for.

When we are uneasy about our inevitable death, we grasp at any possibility that’s offered to us. Yet, as Stephen Jenkinson says, the “more-time” bargain we make to avoid the end of life has consequences we never imagined.

Quality of life as we near the end…

To some degree, quality of life is subjective. But there are certain common threads. And that takes me back to  BJ Miller’s thought that at the end of our lives what we most wish for is comfort, respect, and love.

If you’ve ever experienced hospitalization, you’ll know that comfort, respect, and love are not their focus. Hospitals are geared toward making us better, whatever it takes—chest compression, powerful drugs, surgery, chemotherapy, and everything in between. But life-saving care is not what’s needed by a person at the end of life.

We need other places and other philosophies to guide end-of-life care.

BJ Miller is a palliative care physician who has dedicated his career to understanding how to provide a dignified, graceful end of life for his patients. This moving TED Talk asks us to consider—and perhaps reconsider—how we think about death, and how we honour life.

Your thoughts?

What is a Death Doula?

***  Time for this post? Reading…5 minutes. Viewing…8 + 57 + 13 minutes. Exploring the highlighted resources…ongoing.

A doula is a non-medical person who provides support and nurturing to a person in life transition. Birth doulas provide information and nurturing care before and during birth, and death doulas do the same in the days and months leading up to death.

Death doulas generally have a holistic view that encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of end-of-life experiences, working with the family as well as the individual.

Other terms used to describe this work include end-of-life doula, end-of-life coach, end-of-life guide, death midwife, soul midwife, transition guide, death coach, and doula to the dying. Practitioners may have completed a certification course for death doulas, and usually bring a rich background of other training and skills that help them guide people through the end-of-life experience.

Who is a death doula?

A lawyer, a psychologist, a nurse—all are death doulas. In the videos that follow, you’ll hear each of them describe how she approaches her work with the dying.

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Alua Arthur is a lawyer and one of her specialties is advance planning documents. But her services encompass much more, as you will see. You can find out what she does at Going With Grace.

In her video, Alua refers to “memento mori.” I had to look that up. Here’s what I learned from Merriam Webster: 

Memento mori literally means “Remember you must die.” The early Puritan settlers were particularly aware of death and fearful of what it might mean, so a Puritan tombstone will often display a memento mori intended for the living. These death’s-heads or skulls may strike us as ghoulish, but they helped keep the living on the straight and narrow for fear of eternal punishment. In earlier centuries, an educated European might place an actual skull on his desk to keep the idea of death always present in his mind.

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Sarah Kerr has a PhD in psychology and additional training that has led her to focusing on non-religious ritual and ceremony. Her purpose is to help people naviagte death, loss, and transformation.You can find out more about the scope of her work at Soul Passages.

Sarah’s website is highly educational. She says, “We’ve forgotten how to meet death well, and we need to develop a wider literacy in the culture.” To that end, she posts short videos that I highly recommend. You can find them here and here. And you’ll probably want to download her Free Holistic Death Resource Kit.

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Suzanne O’Brien is a registered nurse with extensive experience in palliative care. She’s the founder of a training program who those who wish to be certified to work as end-of-life doulas. You can find out more at Doulagivers.

You don’t have to want to become a death doula to benefit from Suzanne’s work. I highly recommend the 90-minute free webinar she offers regularly. You can register by  scrolling down the home page on her website. Anyone who might one day be dealing with a dying family member will benefit from the detailed practical information she covers in this webinar, including what to expect as the body shuts down and how to help when the person is in the last stages of dying.

I’m not sure if I would hire a death doula when the time comes. But right now, I’m glad to know they are an option. And you?

More to dying than meets the eye—two researchers talk about what they learned.

***  Time for this post? Reading… 3 minutes. Viewing… 12 + 59 minutes. 

I loved the gentle way that Dr. Kathryn Mannix, in a previous post, described how the body shuts down as we approach our end of life.

I’m also interested in what happens as my soul meets death. In a way, I feel as if I actually know, but just haven’t quite remembered yet. So I’ve been looking into it in hopes of jogging my memory. Today I’m sharing what a couple researchers have found out about deathbed phenomena.

Martha Atkins is a death researcher and educator. In this TED talk, she describes deathbed phenomena based on what she learned from both the dying and bedside witnesses. It’s her view that this knowledge can bring comfort to patients and caregivers by helping them understand what they are experiencing. Her book is Signposts of Dying: What you need to know.

Dr Peter Fenwick is also a researcher in end-of-life experiences. He’s a British neuropsychiatrist who worked in hospice care and documented many fascinating phenomena including premonitions, clocks stopping at the time of death, relatives seeing light in the room of the dying and shapes leaving the body, visions of the dying and terminal lucidity. He is co-author of The Art of Dying.

This next video is a long one, but interesting for those wanting to know more. He starts out describing neuroscience and a theory of consciousness based on his research into near-death experiences. End-of-life discussion starts at 15:25 if you want to skip ahead. At 19 minutes he begins talking about what you might expect.

Dr Fenwick concludes by saying that the way we medicalize death, sweep it away, don’t talk about it, is producing a culture  in which we deny our responsibility. Yet, what we really should be doing is starting with the children. Bring death into the open, discuss it, teach them that it’s a normal part of living.

When children know about death…

Be prepared. When they know, they might say surprising things. This is one of my favourite grandchild stories.

When my older granddaughter was about seven, we were looking through a photo album. As she oohed and aahed over her mother’s wedding dress, I said, “I made that dress, you know.”

“Ohhhh,” she said with wide eyes. “Will you make mine?”

Before I could reply, she paused and I could almost see the wheels turning in her head. Then she quickly added, “If you’re still alive then.”

Matter-of-factly. No drama. The way it should be.

Your thoughts about end-of-life phenomena or about teaching children about death?

Footwear too cool to dispose of.

***  Time for this post? Reading…7 minutes. Thinking about why you keep what you do…optional.

I know people who feel they must purge their living and storage spaces before they die. Their intention is to make it easier for their family to wrap up their affairs. What a shame!

True, it might help the family dispatch the estate efficiently. But what will they miss out on?

My take on that…

I think there’s something to be gained when others go through what we leave behind. They may learn things about us that they didn’t know, remember long-forgotten events, and gain perspective on who we were.

The way I see it, this is part of our legacy—and we are shortchanging our survivors if we leave a stripped-down version of our life.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for leaving an unholy mess. Like Margareta Magnusson, I think I should take responsibility for what I keep. And part of what I want to keep is those things that illustrate my history. For example…

Footwear too cool to dispose of…

When my kids clean out my place, they’ll find a couple boxes of shoes that have never been on my feet. They’re from my days as a wardrobe designer for community theatre productions.

Shoes were a challenge on a low budget, especially for period shows. I did a lot fo sourcing in thrift stores. When I saw something unique, that I’d be unlikely to find again when it was needed, I made the purchase on speculation. Most of them cost $1, or half that on a sale day.

What my family will find in the boxes…

For those who love shoes like I do, here’s a closeup look…

These women’s shoes remind me of what grownups wore when I was a child.The black rain boots and oxfords were used in two shows. Probably no one noticed but me, because they were subtle additions to the costumes. But to me, they were like icing on a cake—the finishing touch that makes it special.

The two shoes in the next photo make my heart sing, and I was very happy to find they were useful more than once.

The red sling-backs are my absolute favourite. I think it’s because the six-year-old that still lives in me thought they were soooooo elegant when she saw them in magazine pictures. Of course, no one she knew ever wore anything that stylish!

Anyway, I keep these out of the box, on display so she can enjoy them daily. (If I had room, I’d keep all the shoes on display. But I don’t, so that’s why my kids will find the boxes. Now that I think of it, I’m going to put a copy of this post in the box, so they’ll know why I kept such things.)

The men’s shoes also have stories. Like the red shoes, brown leather slippers were never worn by people I knew, automatically making them intriguingly exotic in my mind.

The felt boots behind them, just like those my Grandpa wore, were perfect in “Of Mice and Men.”

I created the spectator shoes for “Guys and Dolls” by painting light shoe dye on the main part of basic black brogues. A small touch, but soul-satisfying!

These two pairs of oxfords are custom-made shoes that would never fit anyone but the intended wearer.  The pair on the left is the narrowest pair of men’s shoes I have ever seen! It’s hard to convey in a photo. The shoe is size 11, and only 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide. That’s 25% narrower than the average width for a size 11 shoe.

The pair on the right is HUGE, which is why I set them on a ruler. To the toe cap, minus the protruding sole, it is 13 1/2 inches (34.3 cm) long. North American shoe size charts go up to size 17, which is 13″ (33 cm) long. At 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) longer than that, this pair of shoes is size 18.

Other things they’ll find in my storage room…

  • Archive of my work ~ Printed materials I produced over the years, including books, pamphlets, food photos, and project proposals. They saw bits and pieces of these things as they were growing up, but this gives them a big picture of the body of my work.
  • Memorabilia of my kids ~  Artwork, cards they gave me, notes sent when they were away, and miscellaneous bits. I think that discovering these will connect them with their younger selves and reinforce how special they are to me.
  • Empty boxes, because you never know when you’ll need them. And besides, they’ll be useful when they pack up my things to move them on.
  • Milk jugs filled with water, which could be essential in an emergency. A bit of a nuisance for them to dispose of, but water can easily be poured out and the empty jugs can go into my recycling.
  • Some junk, but not too much.

What are you storing?

Things with stories? Things you think your family might want? Stuff-and-junk? What will your family learn about you as they go through it? What will they learn about themselves? Please share…

What does normal dying look like?

*** Time for this post? Reading…2 minutes. Viewing…4 minutes. Revisiting the video…as often as you need to.

I’ve never seen someone die. I probably will in the next while. I don’t know what to expect. So I’ve been looking into it and have found some reassuring information.

Dying is not as bad...

Kathryn Mannix is a medical doctor, who has worked as a palliative care consultant in hospices, hospitals, and in patients’ own homes. From this experience, she has written With the End in Mind. Here’s an excerpt from her description of it:

Dying is a bodily process. Just like pregnancy and birth, it has recognisable stages of progression. We can recognise the progress of life-limiting illness; we can predict, less reliably early on yet with increasing accuracy as death comes closer. It’s usually possible to gather the right people in time, and help them to prepare, because for most of us, dying affects not only the dying person but also their dear ones. Whether or not we are related to the people we hold most dear, dying is a ‘family affair.’…

My life in palliative care has shown me that the process of dying is made less frightening and more peaceful, the better prepared we are. Knowing what to expect, and knowing what our dear ones will see as we die, helps people to plan, to speak to each other openly and honestly, and to relax. It also helps people to enjoy each day as it arises, instead of fearing a sudden and unexpected onset of dying, because usually, death approaches us gradually.

I usually write a conclusion, but I think she’s said it all. I hope you found this helpful.