Karen Continues, I Carry On...

2010 August 07 - 13

Created by Tom on 08/14/2010
Friday, August 13, 2010 Dear friends, I expect this will be the last update like this. The Big Transition for Karen has happened. The main purpose of these updates was to include the broader community of Karen's and my friends in the drama of her life and my life as we shifted into a profoundly different gear. That has been accomplished. That said, I have one BIG favor to ask of you. PLEASE add your thoughts and stories to the memorial website I made for her http://karen.mercer.muchloved.com. The site took a lot of work to make and I really want to have it express who she was and is, and the impact she has had on so many of us. Dozens of you have written me appreciations, memories, poems, etc., which I would love for you to post on the site. The website's hosts will maintain it for free for ten years (longer if we pay). I and others will refer people to it. So PLEASE add your contributions. It takes just a few moments; as with many other participatory sites, you will need to set up an account, to avoid site spammers. Thank you ahead of time for helping make this site a fitting tribute to this remarkable and much beloved spirit. Now here are a few notes from my life since the last update: SATURDAY: I cleaned my room, which was a horrendous mess, stacked with the chaos of four months racing in and out of it, to which I'd just added ten boxes and several bags of stuff that I moved out Karen's nursing home room. The bed was a shambles, the desk was stacked about four inches deep. I had to be careful navigating the floor at night to get to the bathroom without tripping. After getting out my update about Karen's cremation, and taking a long-overdue walk with John, I dug in (literally). It took all afternoon and into the evening, even down on my knees sponging the floor clean, section by section, even scraping off ancient paint splatters that had always bothered me, then going through stacks of papers accumulated over the last four months, until my desk was basically manageable and I had a fair sense of what those pieces of paper meant and what to do with them next. And the space was so clean I could FEEL it. It did wonders for my mental state. Then I decided to do something that had been haunting me for some time -- disposing of the Seconal, the one hundred 100mg capsules that Karen had decided not to use on April 27. Our Death with Dignity contact had made it clear that I needed to dispose of these pills in a way that would make them unusable by anyone, and that I needed to do that soon because she couldn't "close the case" until I attested to having done that. I was not allowed to flush them down the toilet, as it would be potentially bad for the environment or the water supply. I wasn't allowed to just throw them in the garbage because someone might find them there and use them. I wasn't allowed to keep them or give them to anyone else. I was to put some kitty litter and/or coffee grounds into a plastic bag and then break the capsules and mix their white powder contents with the grounds or litter and then dispose of the whole mess in the garbage. I got wet coffee grounds (thanks to those in my co-op who drink coffee). I put the hundred bright red capsules into a can. I closed the curtain in my room so no passersby would wonder what I was doing and call the cops. It took several pills before I got the hang of breaking and emptying them, especially because the white powder was packed quite tightly so it took a lot of spinning and squeezing a capsule to get it to empty. As I did it I couldn't keep the haunting stories away from me. My father, who is 91, is suffering a lot and very much would like to have suicide pills on hand, but I can't legally give them to him. There are clinics here and in developing countries where these capsules could actually be used to help people, but I can't give them away. And then there is the $500 I spent buying them -- about two weeks salary for me, not down the drain (since I couldn't do that) but certainly into the garbage. Each tiny bright pink-red capsule I pulled apart had cost me $5. I didn't count the dollars as I went through the capsules, that would have driven me insane. I just kept breaking the capsules, stirring them into the coffee grounds with a small stick, putting the empty capsule shells into a small container of water and betaine HCl (over-the-counter stomach acid pills I had on hand as a digestive aid) where they began to slowly dissolve into red mush -- over and over and over and over -- worrying a bit when a capsule popped and Seconal billowed into the air and onto my hands (at which point I'd go wash and dry my hands), wondering if any of it was getting into my system, watching for the telltale dizziness... I told myself I had to do this, because I honor the "Death with Dignity" law. Oregon is one of only two states that has such a law. It is far from the best possible version of such a law, but it is such a precious beginning. I didn't want to do anything that would provide ammunition for the many people who think the law is evil, a license to murder or to get out of life the easy way, against the will of God. So I had to make myself do what seemed totally irrational in order to protect that law. And as I came closer and closer to the end of the stack of capsules, I could FEEL the possibility of doing otherwise fading, and the stress of living in that tension dissolving. And finally it was done. I had made it. I dissolved the other two pills that came with the suicide package (the ones that address the nausea that so much Seconal can trigger), combined the drugged grounds with the pink capsule-shell sludge, sealed it all in the plastic bag and threw it in the garbage. A quick email to our Death with Dignity contact, and that chapter in my very confusing recent life was closed. The air around me felt cleaner, lighter. SUNDAY: I prepared to go to Liza Robbins's house for a few days additional retreat (since it would not be available for the rest of August). Liza was performing with a marimba group (part of the Cultural Arts Center she's involved with which studies and shares the music of Zimbabwe) at my neighborhood's tiny new farmers' market set up in a car-repair parking lot. Expecting to enjoy the music, I packed light and headed off with John Abbe. The marimba group was not ready so John and I continued our walk (exercise, for me) and as we returned 20 minutes later we could hear them a block away. AMAZING music! I, who hardly ever dance, could not help myself, right out in public. I also began drumming on the spare tire container behind one of the cars in the lot. Their instrumental song about a rhinoceros sounded like a rhinoceros. Their instrumental song about a gossip sounded like a gossip. And the beat was totally, unendingly compelling. I suddenly thought "Karen would LOVE this!!" -- and right then a crow soared overhead and perched atop the highest evergreen in the neighborhood, about 60 yards away. Then it just sat there. And sat there. After about five minutes I spoke to it in my mind as I danced, saying "Please connect me to Karen and channel this music to her. She would love it." In my mind, heart, and gut my words morphed into an overpowering intention that expanded and expanded until it was bigger and more intense than I was and I slipped into an altered state, the music flowing through me toward Karen, burning with vibrations as it went. The experience kept on intensifying... and suddenly I got scared and stopped it. I stopped dancing and leaned against one of the cars for a few numbers, tapping my fingers, until I recovered. The crow didn't move from its perch. It just sat there. Was Karen involved? Was it all in my mind? An altogether surreal experience... MONDAY AND TUESDAY: In two major conversations I learned more about my tendency to project unwanted possibilities and energies into other people's lives, as Karen highlighted in her notebook entry from December 1992, which I have mentioned earlier in these updates. The fact that I'd run into three intense examples of this in just a few days gave me the feeling that Karen's energies are still swirling around my life, generating change. It was hard to take responsibility for the shadow side of this personal tendency which I've always seen as such a positive thing, but I worked hard at it because I love these people and know it can hurt them and create a powerful undertow in my life. It is clear that this work is going to be another significant dimension of my life in this new era, another transformational impulse in which Karen's life energy will continue to dance... WEDNESDAY-FRIDAY AND BEYOND: After more than four months mostly away I am finally based again at Walnut Street Co-op. Tonight I cooked my first meal for my housemates in all that time, and it included a gallon of organic cream of broccoli soup that I'd bought for Karen at her request that, in the end, she could not eat. Of course, since my housemates are not on a mild pureed diet, I added chunks of broccoli, carrot, and onion and spiced it up... Among the many other developments: * Cynthia Beal drove me to the mortuary to pick up Karen's ashes, which are now sitting in an altar I made for her in my room, an altar dominated by Karen's brilliantly painted box honoring one of Karen's heroes, Frida Kahlo. The box was painted by a local Eugene artist. I saw it in a restaurant years ago and just HAD to buy it for Karen. She loved it; it is explosively colorful and very appropriate as an altar for her color-loving, political, rebellious, loving, powerful spirit. It turns out that the corded model of an elephant which I laid beside Karen's body before her cremation had a wire skeleton which survived the cremation, so that skeleton is standing in her altar, too, near her ashes and her Audubon caw-crow doll. Karen had a very deep nature-spiritual connection to elephants, so I see this elephant "skeleton" as significant and proper companion in her altar community. * John Abbe and I are constituting ourselves as a small mutual support group to help us get sleep and exercise and to meditate regularly. For the last three mornings we have gotten together at 7 am to meditate, talked about our sleep the night before, and gone for a long walk before noon. If this keeps up it just might be a while before I join Karen... * I discovered a detailed email I'd written to a friend right after Karen's Death with Dignity suicide session(s). So I went back to the description I'd done of that intense week on her Memorial website and revised my story there with more details and greater accuracy. Feel free to read it. * I am working through to-do lists (including getting out this update) in preparation for spending considerable time in the next week sorting through Karen's things in her apartment. Les will be coming up from the Bay Area to companion me in that process. This weekend I may be busy sorting through Karen's photos with Sylvia Nelson, her beloved social worker at the nursing home, who wants to see and find out more about Karen's past, but has had some serious upsets in her life in the last week and may not be able to fit this activity in. In any case, I need to sort out Karen's mom's photos and other family photos so I can FedEx them to Karen's sister Michelle and her husband Bruce in Napa, CA, on Monday so they can take them back to London Thursday and scan them into electronic versions that can be more easily shared with the Mercer family. * I discussed with Maya, the hospice volunteer massage therapist, how to arrange to get gift massages for a few of Karen's favorite people at the nursing home, and her hospice nurse. I really want to give this gift on behalf of Karen and to support Maya. I was going to pay her for the massages ahead of time and she was going to make up gift certificates, but it turns out she can't take the money, so I have to make up gift announcements and give them with money to the chosen people, along with Maya's card. I understand why the hospice rule is there, but it is frustrating. So this joins dozens of other things on the to-do list... * Finally, there is the incident with the conditioner. I think it happened Wednesday. I was sitting on the toilet, which faces the bathtub in the bathroom near my room at Walnut Street Co-op. There was nothing unusual going on. I wasn't moving. No truck was going by. But a conditioner bottle which was lying on its side on the washcloth bar above the soap dish suddenly toppled into the bathtub. It had been sitting there for several days quite stably. I have a hard time thinking that its toppling was anything but Karen trying to tell me, "Hey! I'm here!" However, another significant, delicately balanced object in my room has not fallen over. Many months ago, when Karen was very much alive but contemplating death, I told her that if she died and was around and wanted to tell me she was there, she should try to topple that object. I realize I can't tell you what that object is or one of you (like one of my housemates) just might come and tip it over as a practical joke. That would be BAD. So its identity will remain a mystery for now... * So many things in my life are in transition, coming from inside me or from some outer left field, merging and swirling with the transitions directly related to Karen's passing. I am surfing the days, quite unsure of where they are taking me. But it is new. Karen's presence, absence, distance, vibe, and memories are all still extremely real, but are far less poignant since the cremation, which was tremendously healing for me. I seldom feel grief. More often I have positive feelings about her life and her ongoing role in the universe. I find my attention increasingly noticing what is emerging in and around me -- which, in a sense, is what I was doing all during Karen's health crisis and dying process. After many decades of living life vis-a-vis someone else -- Karen and my previous partners and family -- I am curious about this new solo mode, where it will lead, dancing with my Work and the Co-op and many of you as our world goes through its far vaster changes in which we are all embedded.... Blessings on the Journey Coheartedly, Tom