Grieving for ourselves

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

The first time I had general anesthesia for surgery, I was sure I was going to die. I looked for my life insurance information, began to compose in my head final letters to my family, dug around in my clutter to discard embarrassing items(!), and gave last cuddles to our cats.

OK, so I didn’t die, then. I am now eighty years old and have elected to have another serious surgery. An excellent doctor assures me that it will seriously improve my quality of life. So in my quest to live until my spouse’s student loans are paid off (That long? Why yes), I am going to put my life into the hands of another anesthesiologist.

I have no desire, right now, to go through all that end-of-life rigmarole that I did the first time. It does, however, cause me to ponder how many of us face the ultimate event.

Jeopardy host, Alex Trebek, is dealing with pancreatic cancer. In a personal comment recently, he talked about it in this way:

Hey guys. I’m 79-years-old. I’ve had one hell of a good life. And I’ve enjoyed it … the thought of passing on doesn’t frighten me, it doesn’t. Other things do, the affect it will have on my loved ones … it makes me sad. But the thought of myself moving on, hey folks, it comes with the territory.”

Trebek expresses the same sentiment that my father did decades ago and an approach that resonates with my experience as well. Dying itself, unimaginable, at any rate, isn’t nearly as concerning as how my death will affect my loved ones.

Ira Byock, M.D., in his book, The Four Things That Matter Most, gives us some simple, but profound suggestions about how to prepare. Be ready to talk with those closest to you, whether expressing or listening, and use these four basic statements to shape the conversation:

“Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you,” and “I love you.”

I call this “grieving for ourselves.” I don’t know if that is how you perceive it but, for me, it makes all this less frightening. It also helps me with my determination to let anxiety go, at every step of the way.

Am I having a heart attack?

Sometimes overwhelming anxiety can almost disable one. Called “Panic attacks” they are no laughing matter

I was going into a Target store near our home in Minnesota when I suddenly began to be short of breath and dizzy. My hearing and vision seemed to narrow down. I felt trapped; I couldn’t think what to do.

After what seemed like an hour but was only about five minutes, things began to slow down. I still was fearful but was able to walk back to my car where I slowly recovered.

The classic panic attack was the culprit. It causes one to kick into fight or flight mode and it puts us into a state of derealization or disassociation from the external reality.  And, cruelly, giving no warning, a panic attack can happen anytime or any place.

I was only about forty-five at the time and had never experienced a panic attack before. Probably like it would be with most of you who haven’t had the “fun” of one, when it happened, I sincerely thought I was dying. I was sure it was a heart attack.

The next time it happened, I was just as anxious but then they kept going away. At some point I decided to ask my doctor what was going on and what could I do about it. As usual, and remember this, when I finally asked for help, I was able to do something about panic attacks.

When I started working with a cognitive behavioral therapist, two things made the most difference. The first was so simple in retrospect. When anxiety starts up, use my brain to say something like, “Hello, old friend.” Panic attacks fall into the ubiquitous ”What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” category and as such can be minimized by committing oneself to just go through them.

The other big thing was the referral to do a series of biofeedback sessions. Good old WebMD explains it this way:

Biofeedback is a mind-body technique that involves using visual or auditory feedback to gain control over involuntary bodily functions. This may include gaining voluntary control over such things as heart rate, muscle tension, blood flow, pain perception and blood pressure.

I went into a soundproof room, sat in nice office chair and they had me put on comfortable headphones. Electronic leads were put on my forehead, the tips of a couple fingers and the readouts were explained to me.

The idea was that, as I listened to a meditation with calming music, I wanted to see my heart rate go down, tension in my face go away, and my fingertips warm up due to more blood circulation there. Of course, results were saved to be compared to my subsequent sessions.

The first couple of times, as was to be expected, I worked hard to control everything. That didn’t work. It wasn’t until I realized it was simply letting go that would allow things to turn positive.

We often hear the term “control freak” and chuckle but, as an oldie radio program character used to say, “It ain’t funny, McGee.”  Some of us suffer from trying to keep all our ducks in a row when, in fact, it can’t be done. At least for us. As counterintuitive as it is, giving up is only way to settle down.

Apparently, anxiety runs in my family. Why, I don’t know, but it is somewhat comforting to know that.

My mother was the ultimate, “everything has a place and there is a place for everything.” type person. And in her last few years, in her 90s, she seemed panicky most of the time. There wasn’t much to do except be with her. I might not have even realized what she was feeling if I hadn’t experienced the same things.

Then, my sister recently dealt with disabling anxiety for a period after a serious surgery. We live a thousand miles apart so all we could do was text and speak on the phone, but I tried to share my anxiety experiences. She was able to come to some of the same conclusions as I, and after a couple of months was, I started to say “more in control” but no, found she was able to let go and calm down.

So, if you experience some of these feelings and fear they will never go away, ask for help. Meanwhile, take deep breathes and know they are only temporary.

Then, maybe do what seems funny on TV, get a little paper bag, breathe into it, which helps reduce the hyperventilation.  It can’t hurt.

Sexuality wisdom

“Eventually we realize our Middle School Sex Ed Teacher was a lying son of a gun, and sex isn’t bad and scary but fun and pleasurable.”

I subscribe to a blog post service call Medium  which has many categories giving me access to a wide variety of writers. The one I read today discussed women and porn.

Turns out, however, there was a broader subject: the shame, created by parents and teachers, of sexual activity.  The writer suggests that if you actually watch porn

“…you’ll have to face the consequences of your sins — right along with a heaping serving of sexual shame — heavy enough to topple your paper plate at the next congregation pot luck.

I suggest you follow the link above and read the article but here is what I think is crux:


“A message to other women who watch porn.

I see you and I’m sorry.

I’m sorry the world has told you that your sexual desires are dirty.

I’m sorry we have been conditioned to believe that we should either repress our sexual desires into oblivion or hide them away from the world.

I’m sorry that men have been allowed to biologically explain away their brutish sexual appetites, yet us women are forced to play the role of a pristine virgin to avoid becoming a social outcast.

Most of all, I’m sorry that you’ve been silenced and I want you to know there are plenty of other women just like you and me.”


I think that does it for me. First of all, I am male and, as such, there is a limit to how much I can contribute about a female’s experience. Secondly, and most importantly, she has expressed what I would have if I could. Please read the whole blog. I think it is some “sexual wisdom” we all need to understand.


The meaning of cunt, the most offensive curse word in English, is actually based in female sexual empowerment — Quartz

Certain curse words get undeserved bad reputations. Here’s one you may want to integrate into your vocabulary, despite how uncomfortable it may make you feel.
— Read on

Anti-abortion people forget to mention…

“…But every night the men would come around and lay their money down…”
  -Cher’s Gypsies, tramps and thieves                

…that pregnancy require a male’s sperm. As that great American philospher, Homer Simpson, would say, “DUH!”

Of course, they know this but, if they, with incredible inhumanity, can just keep the woman’s body in the headlines, hardly anyone will hold the men responsible.

What is that all about? Could be that they are following thousands of year of “best practices”. Men do what they want to, women have to get their approval. Including, apparently, men who are rapists or a women’s male family member.

What if, for every woman who wants an abortion, there was a man who, without an opinion about her decison, was supportive and willing to share financial responsiblity?

What if all the Republican white males who know they can garner votes by being so outrageous about abortion were to crawl back in their holes and let sensible people act?

Do me and yourself a big, smart favor. Never talk about abortion, pro or con, without thinking, and maybe mentioning, the men who shared in the conception.

Potty Mouth 2

One of the most fascinating things about the 2008 Presidential primary was a snag that Obama ran into about his church affiliation. Trinity United Church of Christ is a very large and active congregation on Chicago‘s Southside. We were proud that the Barach and Michelle were members there, but that came to be a problem for him.

Dr. Jeremiah Wright, a former pastor of Trinity, had been Barach’s “spiritual mentor” and even inspired him to state publically that he was a Christian.  However, Wright, a fiery preacher of black liberation theology, became a political albatross in the primary race for Obama challenging Clinton. It is a long and involved story but at the kernel was a quote from a Wright sermon in which he said: 

The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing “God Bless America.” No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.

It is is one of those, “you had to be there” things. For all the issues surrounding the racist behavior of the US government, Wright’s comments made perfect sense but the furor over Obama’s affiliation was a firestorm.  Obviously it all worked out in the long run but it was a sad day when Obama had to disassociate himself from Trinity.

Is saying “goddamn” that much worse than any other striking curse? Well, maybe. You would have go back and study the Ten Commandments to see more clearly what it mean to avoid using the lord’s name in vain. The most challenging and annoying swear word used to be “fuck” and its derivatives but social media had changed all that. So for me, for whatever reason “goddamn” is reserved for something that goes beyond the run-of-the-mill offenses.  I will say that It has popped into my mind more and more as we see American going even down hill from the thoughts of Jeremiah Wright. Trump and his crazy actions definitely inspire “goddamn” much more often for me. How about you?

Potty Mouth

I’ve wanted to write about profanity for a long time but I just couldn’t get my shit together.

Did I stop you, even for just a second, with the “bad word”? Why? Would it have made a difference had I put it “sh**t”?

So-called swearing or cursing bothers a lot of us. From a “Language!” admonition all the way to demanding a US Representative resign, the reaction to certain English words is universal.

When I was a college pre-ministerial student, I attended Southside Estates Methodist Church in Jacksonville and was invited to preach my first sermon there. As I am sure you can guess, it was far from a memorable gem but I worked hard on it and put myself into it. So, after the service, I hoped for at least a little positive reaction from the minister of the church. His first words: “I am very disappointed that you used the word ‘darn’ because you know it means ‘damn’.” (If this seems too much to believe, I have dozens more examples from those Methodist days)

So, they supposed a minister using this kind of language to be a sin and I can’t tell you how many times over the years when a swear word was followed by “Sorry, Reverend.” I don’t when or where I finally got past that but a big influence was our wonderful Wisconsin Association Minister, Jim Savides, who to say he “swore like a sailor” was to put it mildly

In our family, we seem to have to unconsiously moved far beyond that a very long time ago. When our intrepid daughter turned out to have no qualms about using her sparkly language around her parents and when we in turn had no adverse reaction we were there.

Reaction and worry about certain “bad” words probably won’t go away. However, give credit where credit is due. When Rep. Rashida Tlaib referred to our dear President as “motherfucker” how much more of a perfect description do you want?