A LOT of people have asked about my tattoo and I figured I could just put the story in one place to direct them to it.
I had never actually wanted one at all when I was younger. But then my brother seemed to be collecting them on his person LOL He had MANY - some just for the art, others for his USMC brotherhood. One day he was going to get another one and told me to come along. He playfully pestered me to get one too. He told me he would even pay for it - a pretty rose? Something girly?
I did go with him but there was nothing that even remotely appealed. I figured if I was going to submit to needles (shudders) it had to have some meaning other that, "it was pretty." LOL He teased me but not meanly - calling me CHICKEEEENNNN - but all in fun and we left with me un-tatted.
Fast forward some years and he is now moved on to the next life. If you read here, you can see I had a hard hard time with dealing with his death and searched for meaning everywhere I could. At the time, a TV show called Millennium was airing and I loved it. The opening credits were this snake thingy that fascinated me so I had to look it up - old school internet via the dial up modem time LOLOL
I discovered it was called an Ouroboros and while learning more about it, realized it fit how I was thinking and feeling and learning - in regards to my brothers death.
Endings and beginnings - my ending is my beginning. Cycles of life and death, it all just fit. And things suddenly clicked - I had a symbol that fully held meaning for me, it was also pretty LOL And I knew I wanted it tattooed on my person.
So, I asked a close friend of both mine and my brother's where they went recently to get a tat that was reputable and he gave me a place and his wife came with me and I showed the drawing to the artist and explained the things I added to the original art and he drew it up and it was perfect. One hour later I had my tattoo on my right shoulder blade and I have to admit, I felt my brother there with me, laughing in his sweet way and telling me to BREATHE while I was getting used to the feel of the needle (shudder) and almost passed out LOL
I finally got that tat!
I took the original snake from the Millennium art - because I liked that ouroboros best - there are a TON of them art-wise, but this one was sleek and fit how I wanted it to look. I contemplated the one Dana Scully got on The X Files but it was it was a little too "snakey," so I kept it streamline in shape. I added a aquamarine eye to make it pop and the artist added some yellowish green shading in the body also to make it pop. You can see at 9, 6, and 3 o'clock on the snake that there are the letters S. E. and F. - those stand for Soar Eternally Free - which are the words I had placed on his Urn and plaque after he was cremated. It was how I pictured him leaving the world once he was put into the fire. I think he would have totally approved.
My brother died on August 8, 1997. Up until that point I had dealt with the deaths of grandparents and other family but for the most part, they were either known it would happen deaths or knowing they are no longer suffering deaths. They hurt and I missed them terribly but my own life never faltered going forward. Nothing in my "personal philosophy" had changed if that makes sense?
Then he died. He committed suicide on a beach one night for reasons I still don't know and will one day find out but until then it is a mystery. What I do know is that my life faltered. I had this existential crisis? My footing disappeared - and didn't know the WHY's then and I think that was a huge part of it. I still don't know the WHY's but now, I can sit with that. Because for a solid year after he died I was lost. I had nothing to grip onto so I fogged out for awhile.
I had two very VERY intense experiences shortly after he died that woke me up to things I had never thought much about before. Death and life after death.
Here are the stories:
1 ~ One Last Trip Home
My brother died on August 8, 1997. He died sometime late at night, estimated at 11 PM. None of us knew this at the time - we wouldn't know for another week. Yet, a few events surrounding this, echo.
It was a Friday night and my brother had left the house in the mid-afternoon. Several of our neighbors saw him go and waved at him. We had lived in that house for 10 years so everyone knew everybody. He had on his favorite dark red hoodie, black jeans and his backpack.
When he was finally found it hit us hard. My parents lost it and I had to drive home while trying very hard not to think about anything. It wasn't easy. I ended up having them taken to the hospital overnight because of how devastated they were. While I sort of meandered around the house alone, cleaning up and wondering why my brother killed himself.
I finally decided to pass some time on the upstairs computer, playing hand after hand of spider solitaire. At 11 PM, I heard the front door open and close. At first I didn't think anything of it because it was a normal sound. Until I realized no one would be expected home... Then I heard feet cross the flagstone entry, then the wooden flooring. My heart decided to have a speed race and I was having trouble breathing. The door to the hall was slanted so that I couldn't see the stairwell but I could HEAR feet, slowing coming up the stairs. Frozen, I listened to them and just about fell out of the chair when the footsteps SKIPPED the 6th riser, which always creaked loudly, so we skipped it if we were coming in late. ONLY my brother and I did that.
Having had zero interaction with anything supernatural and being completely overwrought, I realized as the footsteps were hitting riser 9 and 10 and almost to the top, I was saying over and over again, "no no no stop no no no." And then the steps.. stopped.
I am not sure how long I sat there frozen but finally I forced myself to stand up and fling the door open and nothing was there... although I could smell my brother's aftershave. But he lived there so his scent was there - and while that was indicative of nothing conclusive. I knew it was him and I was both scared and sad that I may have missed seeing him.... but emotionally, I was too out of it to think straight.
Here comes the goosebumps:
The neighbor across the street was closing up her drapes that same night, when she glimpsed someone walking up our front walk. She was startled and alarmed at first as it was late, until she recognized the familiar walk and sweatshirt. Still, as she told us later, something made her shiver and she closed the curtains as her clock chimed the eleventh hour. (She wasn't aware that my brother had been found dead earlier that day)
After the funeral, she was hesitant to talk about it but felt it important. While cleaning up all the gifts of food and drink, she started telling us what she saw and when she saw it. She also told us that she believed in spirits. At the time, she had no reason to believe she was seeing one, because it was a perfectly normal thing to see my brother walking up the porch steps at any given time.
It wasn't until she told us when she saw him that I shivered. She described him down to his shoes and backpack and said he didn't look "ghostly," but solid. She would have sworn to anyone asking that she saw the real person. But we all knew that to be impossible. Yet, at 11 PM, we both saw and or heard him.
I think my brother was coming home one last time.
2 ~ A Hug Goodbye?
In the days after his death but before his funeral, I stayed with my parents, none of us wanted to be alone. I had a lot of trouble sleeping, so I found myself up most of the night reading or just staring at the wall. I couldn't concentrate, I missed my brother so bad and wished again, for a chance to see him. I started to cry. Up, until that point, I hadn't cried at all and these were wracking sobs that I had been holding in, afraid they wouldn't stop if I let them go. It hurt so very much.
I kept saying over and again, "I just wanted a hug, I just wanted to say goodbye, I never had that chance..."
A litany to keep a hold on whatever sanity I had. I begged and pleaded, as the grieving do. It was so hard to deal, I was angry that he left without a note or any sort of goodbye. So I was pissed and heartbroken and just wanted a goodbye. It was the first time I ever truly knew what a broken heart felt like.
My brother had this way of hugging people - sort of sideways with a nice should squeeze. I just wanted one of those so badly and was silently pleading and ranting in my head that he owed me one.
When all of a sudden, it the midst of wracking sobs and anguishing ache - I realized I was laughing, Like totally happy laughing when all is well and nothing is wrong and I felt such PEACE. And I felt his arm around me - and that should squeeze. I physically felt that arm around me. Everything was suddenly OK and I had one moment, of perfect beauty.
As I sat with that warmth the clock chimed. It was 11 o'clock.
Soar Eternally Free ~ I miss you..
That was about the time when blogging first hit the scene. I had a Xanga site I sort of used and slowly started finding sites that I never would have looked at prior to his death. Spiritual sites - all kinds of spirituality. I grew up as a Seventh Day Adventist - scared to death of God and religion and it seemed so righteously terrifying - probably why I had no solid foundation to stand on here. So, looking at these spiritual sites was a revelation. It opened me up to a LOT and I started a journey that I am still on to this day.
I remember talking to a pastor that I worked with at my day job at a church nearby (I did their communications/web page stuff) and was telling him about my desire to learn more that the "Christian," take on things - I know, total blasphemy, right? But this was a neat church that didn't adhere to that way of thinking. He handed me a book of ALL the major world religions and told me to find what truly spoke to me and follow it.
So, I did. I learned about and studied and followed so many of the paths and discovered an amazing thing. (Amazing to me at the time anyway) that they were all pretty much the same thing with different words and rituals.
But the main thing was love and light and loving and caring and being open with compassion to all living things.
I am still journeying through my soul and learning how not to get stuck on my path. But because of his death I realize I actually HAVE a personal philosophy (to help others heal and move on) and a reason for being here. (Psychopomping) Wake up calls to live can be horribly painful and trust me, I would rather have him still alive than passed on, but his death - finally taught me how to live.
2/27/20 This is a work in Progress but I am going to be adding and organizing everything that I have collected in notes here. So, it'll be messy for awhile as I need to get it all in one spot first.
Funeral Consumers Alliance - information so you can fully prepare and protect yourself and loved ones while planning a funeral.
National Death Care Center - know you legal rights and sacred options when it comes to death and dying and the planning needed.
POLST - Medical Orders/Honoring the Wishes of the Patient.
legally needed to avoid life sustaining treatment etc
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization - links and information for each state.
Surviving Death - Leslie Kean
The Science of Near-Death Experiences - John Hagan
Sam Parnia - Aware Studies - Books: Erasing Death and What Happens When We Die
Tibetan Book of Living and Dying - Sogyal Rinpoche
Near Death in the ICU - Laurin Bellg MD
I had been wanting to read this book since it came out and finally got to it yesterday. I knew the outcome - and still, I sobbed at the end. His words just sang - they were poetry and prose and so beautiful.
I have been reading a lot about the end of life and how the body dies - I am studying to be a death doula or something in that arena. Books like Body of Work by Christine Montross and The Death Class by Norma Bowe really helped open that topic up. Death seems to be relegated to the "do not discuss in polite society," arena and that is quite sad.
If one does not look at death... how does one live?
But I had only really been looking at that one side of it, the after the body dies, what happens part. Sam Parnia's AWARE studies totally grabbed my attention - you should look at his work with NDEs. I was fascinated by the whole thing. But it wasn't until I finished When Breath Becomes Air that it really hit me - the "how does one live" part - or even why does one live?
To live a meaningful life.
Paul Kalanithi lived one his entire life - always searching and always learning - and he put all that he learned into his book. He died before he could finish it - his wife did an excellent job in the afterword of giving the book and the life of Paul, closure, but even though he didn't "finish," it, his words and his emotions, told the story perfectly.
What I kept coming back to over and over was what makes a life meaningful? And how do we live in a meaningful way?
Some quotes from the book and there are so many good ones - you should read the book:
“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”
“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”
“There is a moment, a cusp, when the sum of gathered experience is worn down by the details of living. We are never so wise as when we live in this moment.”
“Years ago, it had occurred to me that Darwin and Nietzsche agreed on one thing: the defining characteristic of the organism is striving.”
When faced with his coming death - this is what was asked - in how he wanted to live and what his main focus would be in living during his illness - “What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?”
He was a brilliant surgeon, did he want to continue that life as he dealt with his cancer - or was there another path he wanted to try? And when did he want to stop... at what point would he say this is enough?
And then this:
To his daughter, who was only months old when he died - “That message is simple: When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”
I guess, for me, I need to find something to bring meaning, not just to me, but to leave behind me. We all strive, but for what? To what end? What gives each of us a meaningful life? I think that is why we are here. To use this one life to find meaning and to make the world we share a better place.
For the longest time death was an abstract thought to me. It happened at some point but that was as far as I went with it. But after my brother committed suicide in 1997, it suddenly stopped being so academic.
In having to deal with the fine points of after death care, I learned a lot more than I ever wanted to know about death. And because I have no idea why he did what he did, I read everything I could that could enlighten me. That included his very detailed autopsy report. Those are some mental images I will never get rid of, but in a way, they made it all the more real, in a good way. A way that says this really happened and is not a bad dream.
During the year after his death I started studying EVERYTHING about the topic. Religions and philosophies. Books on the afterlife and what happens to the body as it dies or after it has gone.
It ended up being - not so creepy as I once would have imagined it to be. All the isms and beliefs and thoughts from all those studies, led me to realize that dying may suck, or it may be beautiful, but in the end, we all do it.
I just finished reading Body of Work by Christine Montross and it really added another angle to my own body of knowledge and thoughts of dying, death. She tells the story of her first year in med school, dissecting her first body, Eve. At some points graphic and others poetic she talks about her own thoughts and emotions with cutting into a human body. It ended with the realization of the gift that Eve gave her and of giving a stranger hope, in healing.
It brings me back to the memories and thoughts I had of needing to view my brother's own body after death and all the inherent nightmares that brought. But after a time, those horrors faded, leaving me with a much more open? informed? thoughtful, mind about what happens to us when we die.
I imagine a lot of people would consider this topic gory or distasteful but to me it is another facet of life. It makes me much more aware of how I live my life NOW. I am alive now and someday I will not be. And no matter how frustrating my life can be sometimes, it is still a gift I do not want to waste.
It's been awhile now since I have learned about The Good Death, Death Doula/Midwifery and helping others to learn more about end of life care and the CHOICES they have. Also, that people should not have to deal with these things alone.
I wasn't sure what to do about it, other than read everything I could and it was right around February 2020 that I was looking into certification in a doula program. Then Covid hit and everything collapsed and I stopped thinking about anything for awhile.
But, now more than ever, we need this information and after a series of very powerful dreams, I realized, this is what I am here to do. I think of myself more as a pyschopomp but they all mean the same. There are choices we have at the end of our lives and we shouldn't ever be told we have to do things a certain way.
I want to help both the dying but also their friends and families to understand all their choices and make sure they have the information they need. They should never be in fear and they should have dignity and full understanding of what is happening.
This blog section will be where I store my information/links/books/ stuff I have in my head, so that I can organize it and share it with anyone who needs it.
We are celebrated in birth so we should also be celebrated in death. I can help you with that.