Dying under the influence

  • Published: 20 February 2015



Today I read that Aldous Huxley asked for LSD on his deathbed and died hallucinating. Did he fear the knowing of his dying? You bet. Or maybe he just didn't want to exhibit the natural struggle that we all seem to go through. I think it's cool because anything that is about your own choices around dying is so rare. Most of us don't even WANT to die but don't get to choose. Oliver Sacks has just announced that he is dying of cancer and has published a whole list of do's and dont's that he wants to adhere to. But the big thing is that he does not actually want to die. He's not bored with life, or tired. He is old but that hasn't stopped him much so why should it suddenly cause him to stumble now. But apparently his road has come to an end. In the near distance he is looking at that door he needs to go through. Willy-nilly.

My mom-in-law is also old. She IS tired of living. There is a fine distinction, and she makes it, between being tired of life or tired of living. Life she still likes: if we visit or we make plans then she cheers up and can laugh. But the living thing is getting her down. Because at 98, however hard our governments and churches urge us to seek everlasting life in the now, the body does wear out. She is losing a little independance by slow increments: almost every day shows an act that she can't do. The tops of bottles need to be opened before we leave. We fill her freezer with warm-ups. Yesterday she complained that peeling potatoes hurts: her hands are sore and weak. Of course we all think duh! you're 98 Ma! but this is the reality of this longevity we are all so enthusiastic about. She needs more and more care as our governments tell us more and more often to be independant. What they mean is move your dependance from health care services to those of your children and grandchildren. And they dismantle the public services and leave the old and frail helpless.
I swear, there are actually people who, when they hear that she is 98 say: how wonderful!! I hope I die way before that and then I am going to sit on my cloud and watch them deal with the wonderfulness of not dying. Because the NOT dying is often worse than the dying. Mom's brain is still as sharp as a tack, it's mostly her motor and it's parts that is running down.
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She and I talk about her imminent (she hopes) departure and we can find a place to laugh about it. She tells us regularly that she hopes she goes soon. Recently I had the regular sit-down and reminded her that "not even" in  The Netherlands can you take a lively, healthy 98 year old and make her die. It would be murder. And the only way for her to actively go is by refusing all sustenance. Not going to happen, as she agreed. She also cannot expect us to park her in an hospital ward with pneumonia patients or in a cross-draught on her balcony.

So we have to wait. The road she is travelling on is fairly straight towards death. How long the road is and how horrible the road is depends on our care for her and her acceptance of our care. We have made a deal for the coming months: she tries to stay more cheerful and hang a little bit looser, accepting that being allowed to care for her is a gift for us, which it is. Her grand daughter and I have the caring gene and she therefore gives us the chance to care. Our shared caring has created a friendship that is incredibly strong and valuable to us. That's mom's side of the deal. We will stop deciding what is worth doing for 1 or 2 or 12 months and just make her environment hers: she moved into a smart apartment in an an old-age home. She doesn't like it and we're inclined to think too much effort not worth it for the short period we think she'll be there. We will cease forthwith and adapt it to her wishes. Now we sit it out...

All this has made me realise anew: I don't want to get very old. Should I keel over tomorrow it would be a waste because I still have ideas and the kids could still use me. But at least you will remember me as lively, useful and for all I did achieve, not as fading, fearful, frail. Nor sitting around hoping that the next call will be mine. Or terrified that it will be and worried about the vengeance of your God or his purgatory or somebody else's hell.

Actually, I think Aldous Huxley got it right: I think I might choose to get rip roaring drunk. I haven't had a drink since 1st April 2004.  I used to get terribly merry and happy on sherry, you know, table-top dancing and the like. I could shimmy up and down a pole and you could join me for the party, sounds like a really good way to go.
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Valentine's Day: Conditional love

  • Published: 14 February 2015
In almost every inspirational writing, through the myriad guided meditations and through the tears of a woman showering her sorrows over me, the one thought, the one guiding wish and the Holy Grail of Enlightenment (and Valentinés Day) seems to be the search for Unconditional love. “You will find UNCONDITIONAL LOVE!’ we are told. ‘You must look for unconditional love!!!’, we are ordered. ‘They didn’t give me unconditional love!’ we wail. My mind says yeah, yeah, yeah, every time. It doesn’t matter who says it. Deepak Chopra, Ram Dass, Oprah or Einstein, my mind just cannot accept the concept of unconditional love. Am I supremely cynical? Do I feel all kinds of trauma, lack or distance from love? did I not have loving parents? What about my husband of 45 years? And MY CHILDREN! oh my goodness, did I not love my children unconditionally? Have I never loved or been loved unconditionally?

Nope. Not happened.

When I was born, I latched onto the teat that was presented to me. That teat came back at regular hours and fed me (not lavishly, apparently, but enough to keep me alive).  The teat was my birth-mother’s teat so that worked out nicely. That was what I loved. My father was very happy that I was a girl. He had two sons, thought that was plenty and wanted a girl. I was a girl so I fulfilled THAT condition and was therefore loved very much. As I grew older, these two very nice, well-educated people had 4 children whom they sincerely loved while hanging a whole slew of conditions on that love: boys had to be this, girls had to be that. Even our names echoed the unseen conditions we had to fulfill. I was named after Melanie in Gone with the Wind: dear old Dad wanted a feminine, sweet girly girl.
If you had asked them if they loved us unconditionally they would have affirmed it vigorously. While expecting us to act in very clearly proscribed, carved-in-stone ways.  We, being dependant on them, were told  we were loved. My mother would beat us and then cry in her bedroom. Or we were asked: do you love me darling? And we agreed, yes we loved them. Did we? I got on better with good old Dad than with beautiful, elegant Mom, whose talents intimidated me and whose jealousy of my status as the adored daughter threatened her status as adored wife. In the main we were commanded to love one another; being a mixed bunch with mixed characters and minds there was a lot of sibling rivalry going around. Love yes, but unconditional? No way. To retain our parents’ love we had to behave in a certain way. Those who did were graciously kept within the magic circle of approbation while those who didn’t were beaten (not badly, but it was the 50’s so you got a beating on a regular basis) or ignored, sent to their room or generally let know that they were unlovable. So obviously our loving parents only loved us on condition that...conditonal love in it’s most prevalent, basic form.

Now skip a couple of decades and there I am in the car with a really unhappy teenager. Unhappy in a I-am-a-teenager way but, as time told, in a very basic misunderstood way. During one of those endless circle arguments we used to have he announced that I would HAVE to love him, whatever he did. Whatever he said. And I smartly answered. “ Oh no, my boy, it doesn’t work that way! In the old days parents just had children, if they wanted them or not. I chose to have you. I chose to go off the pill and when I made love with your father we knew and hoped that we could have a baby. Therefore, I HAVE to to take proper care of you, I have to educate, feed and clothe you. That is my biological and social duty. Anything after that is going to be dependant on certain conditions. If you do not like me and abuse my trust and treat me badly and curse at me then I will not be able to love you. If you make our lives a hell then we will not love you. You have to earn our love. That is the way it works. You get our support and care, our love for one another has to grow. We all have to earn love.”
It has taken many years for us to build a good relationship and we definitely have one. It’s one of the bright spots in my life. I too had to earn his love.  But unconditional it is in no way.

We won’t go into a 45 year-old marriage. Let's just face it: we both fought hard to stay who we were while the other was required to change, adjust and compromise. That is the way it works. We've been through many a transition. The difference between now and then is that we know and accept that we can have expectations. Expectations are fine. You can expect anything you like. It is the other person’s choice whether to live up to the expectations. It is also important to know that you do not need to live up to the expectations. And it is still, just as with my son then, a take it or leave it  thing.
My greatest lesson learned is that we can ONLY feel unconditional love for ourself. We can look at who we are and like certain aspects. We can not like other aspects. We can change what is changeable and accept what is unchangeable. And still love ourselves. The rest of the world is allowed ans will have expectations. How we deal with those expectations is what makes us loveable. Or not.
We need to learn to be our very best self. And hope to meet the person who will fit this self best. We shouldn’t  choose somebody who doesn’t fit us and then ask them to change. And we shouldn’t expect unconditional love from them. It is this expectation of happy-ever-after in an unconditional bath of acceptance that is breaking almost half of marriages and relationships. We stack the decks against ourself and the other and then race hell-for-leather towards the divorce courts. It’s like a job: we educate ourselves and then look for the job that fits that education and our needs. If we learned to be a carpenter we are not going to be a good doctor. The hospital should not hire a carpenter and then get really upset when the patients die.

Should we be searching for unconditional love? Yes, because that is within our soul for our soul,. But we should not be looking for it from others: they can relax, be themselves and we’ll all try to deal with the conditions.
You don’t have to love me, warts and all. You can love me and I can choose whether the conditions in your love will not rub my warts the wrong way. And you get to decide that the way I deal with my warts isn't yours and go look for someone with a better wart-treatment....

Wisdom on the Table

  • Published: 15 December 2014
         Good friends, good food, wine and talk, it was a classic. Credit card companies love to portray the sort of evening we had as only available after flashing your card. But we four have been friends for 37 years and that is what you get with patience, love and tolerance. Not a credit card in the world can buy it.
While wine flowed freely a remark our friend made (let’s call him Jack), reminded me of my morning meditation and I used it: ‘you know you have achieved wisdom when you are asked to put your experience and knowledge at someone else’s disposal’.
This little nugget of wisdom, which he acknowledged enthusiastically, sparked a conversation that will live long in all our memories. Because we only meet twice a year, Jack and Jill had not actually been privy to the road I started walking this year. My Facebook posts had puzzled and amused but the click to where I am at had not been made. Last night the switch made a noise like a cannon shot in a cathedral: Mel is doing something they would never have imagined in a lifetime. Inevitably, it was Jack, the man, who posed the 64 billion dollar question: why??? ‘Why would you start meditating? Why would you go to a Chakra dance retreat? Why should I (Jack) start meditating?’ And of course, being a pragmatic (although not unintuitive) sort of guy: ‘what would I (Jack) get out of it?’
Dang, that was a good conversation! The four of us wandered all over my history and this last year and yoga and exercise and all kinds of stuff.  What Jack kept repeating was: ‘but you already know it all! You’ve got it all lined up; you can tell us exactly where your life went and why it was, so why do you need this stuff? What made you go in this direction?’ His bewilderment was genuine.
After we stuffed my happily befuddled husband into the car and I drove home, intensely satisfied with friends and food, my mind picked at the question and this morning, during meditation, (duh!) I saw it:
From the earliest times mankind has had four kinds of people:
You have those who look behind them all the time, regularly falling down because they don’t look where they put their feet. They don’t see present or future possibilities because they live in the hell of lost opportunities.
You have those who look ahead, preparing for good and bad; they discard the joys of now for the promise of later.  Heaven was invented for them.
There are those who keep their head down and soldier on.  They flatten past, present and future in their relentless march through the purgatory of waiting until it all passes.
And finally: Those who look up at the stars, wondering what is out there. Is there something with a soul? No time for the here and now or then. Or later. They are only interested in the Being.
Combine the four and all goes well: it’s when you only have one that your limitations get in your way. The ‘complete’ human being is the one who has all four traits in equal shares.
HUH! Wouldn’t that be great! Unfortunately we all have the traits and they are very unequally distributed.
I am actually a stargazer (or soul searcher) but for many years, I looked behind me; because I was looking over my shoulder my view was skewed.  I was so focused on what I perceived to be the past reality, that I did not see where I was going, what I was missing and what I might miss out on;
This last year has been about me turning around and taking a good clear look at the past: my body and mind made me stop and view the past clearly and straight. Now I know why I am who I am, I can go on and with hind sight, foresight, insight and out sight, hope to be as complete as possible.
Then, hopefully, my knowledge and experience can be put at the disposal of anyone who needs it and my wisdom will become a reality.
So, Jack, my dear friend: that is why I chose this road. If you wanted, you could choose it too. But I don’t think you want to. Or even need to because, when you talk about your grandchild? That is better than any meditation in the world.
Thank you dear friends, for dinner and listening and especially for the questions, because they force me to find an answer!