Farewell, Amigo

A friend died last Thursday.

He ended his own life. A friend I hadn’t seen in years, but a friend all the same. A teacher, a musician, a husband, a father. With a daughter close to the same age as my own: five. He was forty years old.

I received the sad news one morning last week. In a message from a mutual friend. It was the first thing that entered my mind that day, this tragic news, and at first it didn’t compute.

He took his life. He is the first friend I’ve known who has committed suicide. It doesn’t seem real, that this person who was so alive and intelligent and complicated and hilarious and all the other things he was, to be gone just like that. It almost doesn’t seem real because there is no mention of it on social media amidst any of our many mutual friends. We are respecting his family’s wishes. But it is true, damn it.

red rain flower

I wrote his wife, now widow, who is my friend too. Even though there are no words, I wrote her. I’m thinking of her and him and their daughter and sending them love and metta.

I cannot imagine what she is going through. Even though I’ve read books written by widows about the experience of living through and beyond their beloved’s death, whether sudden or prolonged, I simply cannot fathom the grief and pain.

The other night, my friend appeared in my dream. As we were embracing in a big bear hug, I broke down in sobs. But I felt comforted by him, not sad about his death. In the dream, he was not dead. I was crying about something else, and he was consoling me. Only today as I was walking to yoga did I realize, on some level, the dream level, that that was our goodbye.

Adios, dear friend. Thank you. We will miss you. May you be free.

Halloween is kind of fucked up.

Ray Ban Grim ReaperCheck out the full post:

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/10/a-real-life-celebration-of-day-of-the-dead/

Of course I went trick or treating as a kid.

I would dress up and go door to door with a group of friends and ask for candy from mostly unknown neighbors in suburbia.

In high school, I don’t remember celebrating. In college and post-college, I would go to big, wild house parties involving a lot of alcohol and everyone in costume.

In Guatemala, the culture has been sufficiently “Americanized” (USAificated?) for some Halloween traditions to have arrived here, but the bigger deal is on November 1st — All Saints’ Day. On this day, families and friends gather in cemeteries to commune with their late loved ones. It’s similar to (yet different from) DIay of the Dead in Mexico, which is on November 2nd officially.

I so appreciate the Latin American culture’s attitude toward death and see it in start contrast to North America’s Halloween with its emphasis on blood, gore and fear.

Death and the End of Luck.

Last week, on the day before his sixty-fourth birthday, my uncle who I never called uncle, left his earthly body.

I never called him uncle, because he was not in my life until about eight years ago. He was not in my life until then, because my paternal grandma got pregnant out of wedlock in rural Texas in 1949 and therefore hid the pregnancy and gave him up for adoption immediately after he was born. She then got married to another man—my grandfather—and had my aunt, my dad and my uncle in rapid succession in 1951, ’52 and ’53.

After his adoptive parents passed away, Don (my secret uncle) investigated and found his birth mother, along with the rest of us. He and his wife and adult son were integrated into our family, as much as one can integrate into a family fifty-something years late. We were welcomed into their San Antonio home for the holidays for several years. Don was always jovial, kind and genuinely interested in our lives and well-being. I can safely say he was my favorite Aggie.

Don was diagnosed with cancer around Thanksgiving of 2012 and had been in and out of the hospital during and after receiving aggressive chemo and radiation treatment. His wife of 40 years, Kathi, and son Barrett were with him when he took his last breath. I found out he died via Facebook later that morning.

I didn’t quite know how to feel. I was somewhat surprised, as last I’d heard he was doing better. I felt sadness, of course, to know that a dear and goodhearted person was no longer with us.

I felt (and feel) compassion for his devastated family and friends. Not being religious, I don’t seek or find relief in the idea that he’s with God the Creator in heaven. I do feel relieved that Don is no longer suffering. And grateful that we had the chance to know him and that he and my grandma got a chance to bond, albeit late in life.

I also feel guiltily lucky.

So far in this lifetime, I haven’t lost anyone really close to me yet, other than my two grandpas, who were both ill and in nursing homes when they passed away. When my friend Julie’s dad, our high school physics teacher, died of pancreatic cancer when we were in college, it hit me pretty hard. Likewise when Orestes died in 2012. But the truth is, the hardest death I’ve had to deal with so far was that of my BFF, Lucy, in 2011. Although she often seemed human, she was actually canine.

Theoretically, I know that my luck in the grief department will run out. I know that we all die in the end. Death is certain; the time and cause is unknown. I accept that ultimate fact. Through long-term meditation and contemplation, I have come a long way toward overcoming my fear of my own death, a fear that debilitated me as a nine-year-old kid after a tornado hit my elementary school.

What I still fear most is the death of my beloveds. I can’t (and don’t want to) fathom the moment when my husband, parents, siblings or close friends or relatives pass away. As I hold and play with my one-year-old daughter, Jade, so full of new life and vivacity (the girl can’t walk yet, but she’s already dancing!), it’s hard to imagine that she will grow old and die one day.

But she will, and so will I, and so will you. Time keeps on keepin’ on, sixty seconds per minute, no matter what. The best thing we can do is to be present for each and every moment, rather than escaping into illusion or delusion or addiction or avoidance.

If there is a heaven, no doubt Don Fischer is there.

Rest in Peace, Uncle Don.

Addiction is a brain disorder.

A self-described “rookie” blogger wrote a post four days ago called Phillip Seymour Hoffman did not have choice or free will and neither do you.

It’s gone viral, and I can tell you why. An amazing title, plus a fantastic image:

philipseymour

Also, a hot and timely topic: the death of a beloved and talented actor due to drug addiction and overdose. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the news Sunday. He was only 46.

It’s a long post, but it has a lot of quality information and ideas—most of all that addiction is not a choice but rather a mental illness.

My brother is an addict, and he was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 14. My brother and I are not close, and after all he has put my parents and family through with his lies and manipulation, it’s easy to point fingers, lay blame and generally live in ignorance about the state of his life and the condition of his recovery.

A few months ago, I read Tweak, the memoir of a young San Franciscan crystal meth addict, Nick Sheff, immediately followed by Beautiful Boy, the memoir written by his journalist dad about his experiences dealing with his son’s addiction. Those books helped me better understand the workings of my brother’s drug addiction, though I can never claim to understand the addict’s mind.

One of my very best friends is an addict, too. Alcoholism runs in her family and several months ago, it came to light that she had been secretly binge drinking. She went to rehab last year and is living sober now. I couldn’t be more proud of her.

The most important thing, as the blogger so compellingly writes using Philip Seymour Hoffman as an example, is having compassion for the addicts in our lives.

Let us remember that while we are all addicted to some things—(I, for example, am addicted to yoga and meditation and chocolate and my daughter and love and my self-worth and plenty of other things)—we cannot understand the mind of an addict any more than we can the mind of a schizophrenic.

Addicts need nothing more than our kind, compassionate, loving help, society’s help and medical help.