Repose

My friend and insanely talented artist and compassionate person Tamara owns a cute shop/art gallery called Redux here in Portland. She occasionally has art shows at Redux, and occasionally those gallery shows are to benefit a good cause, like for the Cat Adoption Team. She asked if I would be interested in in a show she was planning about Death Positivity. I said OH HELL YES PLEASE. She asked if I would mind it being a benefit for the ALS Association. I was all kinds of verklempt and said I thought that would be amazing. She asked if I would like to read something at the show. I said I would be honored, and I would try. This is what I wrote, and what I read tonight.

There’s a lot they don’t tell you about dying. I mean, it’s not as if terminal diagnoses come with any kind of handbook to begin with, but there are a few things one usually expects, typically to do with your specific disease. Spoiler alert: with ALS you stop being able to walk really well, or at all. You may also expect to lose the ability to speak and swallow. They tell you what kind of trajectory your disease is probably going to take, and they can usually give you some form of a timeline.

No one tells you though, how profoundly, emotionally tiring it is. I had to learn that on my own. There is a physical exhaustion that typically comes with whatever ails you, of course; hell, it’s usually one of the symptoms that told you something was wrong to begin with. But no one can properly prepare you for how soul crushingly exhausting the whole business of dying is. How the psychological process of navigating your own death saps what little energy you have to fight the physical troubles before you. How…lonely, this whole business is.

Here’s something else I had to learn for myself: it absolutely doesn’t have to be.

This is a hell of our own devising.

It’s a hell born of ignorance, paranoia, and good intention. It’s a hell that comes in slices, tiny slices of death denial force fed to us from a young age. When adults use phrases like “gone to sleep” or “gone to Heaven” to explain why Grandma isn’t going to be coming over for Christmas this year. When our beloved old pet goes to some imaginary farm to live out their twilight years. When we get older, and we learn what death is, hell is fed to us in new rules: you’re not allowed to say DEAD. Ever. They have gone to the Lord, or passed away. It’s not a dead body laid out in a coffin, their earthly remains lie…in repose. In an obscenely expensive burial chamber. Undertakers become funeral directors, graves become memorial sites, corpses become our dearly departed. A whole lexicon of mortality is denied to us, with harsh social consequence if we ever dare say BURIED instead of “laid to rest”. We cheerfully eat this poison, we send ourselves into fits of delusional paranoia as though merely mentioning someone is dead is some sort of invitation for disaster, to brush death under the carpet and never talk about it in polite company. As a society we have decided that this is healthy behavior.

But it isn’t.

Because let me tell you, this culture of death denial makes it REALLY, REALLY HARD to *be* dying. It is impossible to deal with the practicalities of the matter when no one will say it out loud. Any time you mention the D Word, you get uncomfortable silence and furtive glances and abrupt subject changes, or you get laughter and even more obvious subject changes. People are so worried about offending my delicate feelings that I am not allowed to express those feelings at all. Some have swallowed the belief that if you don’t talk about it, it magically can’t happen, or the other inane idea that thinking positive will fix everything! OH SHUSH DON’T TALK LIKE THAT THEY ARE GOING TO CURE THIS YOU WILL SEE – THE ICE BUCKETS WERE MAGIC. THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE PANACEA. SHUT UP WITH YOUR DEPRESSING DEATH TALK. It is profoundly frustrating. It makes it difficult to plan what’s to become of my cats, or ask what earthly possessions would someone like to have, if they just hand wave and assure you that you have plenty of time to think about it. Later. Much later. Or never. That works too. Let’s deny that any of this is happening and just spend time together ok? Without talking about ..you know. It’s just so…morbid.

Instead, you’re expected to shut up about it, and bottle it up, and in the end you’ve spent your last days spiritually exhausted from having to pretend you’re not dying all while secretly dealing with all the emotional, physical, and bureaucratic nightmare of actually dying. And then of course it’s too late for those conversations, you’re capital D-Dead and all of your favorite things go to some charity or yard sale instead of the people who might cherish them for their history and their sentiment. Your stuff in the garbage, instead of a friend’s home, your social media accounts deleted instead of put in memorium, memories gone forever and your favorite dishes gone to your greedy aunt who will be selling them off for profit instead of your collector friend who’d actually appreciate and use them for what they are, and love them for whose they were. The letters you carefully wrote as goodbyes tossed into the recycling instead of delivered because you couldn’t tell anyone where they were. Who you are, your legacy, written over without your control or input simply because no one could look you in the eye and say “You are dying and that sucks, and since neither of us can do jack about that, I would really enjoy your cook books when you are gone.”

Death positivity is the cure for that hell. We’re going to die. That is okay. It is normal, and proper, and natural. Death positivity means understanding that, and even though it ABSOLUTELY SUCKS, not letting that get in the way of your daily business. Hell, it can do nothing but improve your daily business. Ever have a brush with death? Then you know this already in your bones. Mornings seem so much brighter when you almost didn’t have another one. Flowers smell so much sweeter when you know someday you will have smelled your last. Time becomes so much more precious when you understand there is a finite quantity. Marketers understand this and bank on it, or else “limited edition” would mean nothing.

Death positivity means understanding that YOU are limited edition.

“Repose” has another meaning. A lack of activity, a calm and composed manner. At rest, but alive. At peace with what’s to come, without need for euphemisms and coverup language. Call Death what it is, and fear it less. Talk about it openly, and remove some of its bite. Let me tell you what I need in order to die at peace without dancing around the reasons why. Ask me the questions you need answered, without fear of awkward silences or recrimination. Death is weird, be curious about it. Enjoy the time we have, because it’s limited. Make plans and understand why those plans are necessary. WRITE YOUR ADVANCE DIRECTIVE. Make sure your loved ones know where it is and what’s in it. Make peace with the idea of your own death, because it is going to happen and it doesn’t have to be a nasty shock when it does. We’re all going to die. It doesn’t have to kill you before you get a chance to stop breathing.

Build a better relationship with your own pending demise. Use the words DEATH and DYING, normalize it, and maybe, just maybe, we can all have some repose before we are In Repose.

Protip: Maaaaaaybe don’t prey on dying friends?

((I suppose I should be grateful. Instead of spending all day freaking out about tomorrow being my last day of work ever, I spent all day in a blind seething rage. It was a nice distraction, I guess, from the depressing AF thoughts that would otherwise have occupied my thoughts today. I knew halfway through this whole thing that 1) I was definitely going to blog about this, and 2) it was going to contain ALL OF THE SWEARS. You are hereby warned about ALLLLLLLLL of the swearing and anger contained in the following post.))

Today I am going to tell you about Jillian Mai Thi Epperly.

Maybe you’ve heard of her. If you haven’t, well, you’re in for a video treat in a moment. If you have, then this is NOT going to be the rant you expect. Oh no, it’s so much worse.

I met Jillian in fifth grade, at Faria Elementary School in Cupertino, California. She is one of the few girls I remember, because she was one of the few kids who actually was my friend back then. I was very strange little kid, and thanks to my genetic mutation I looked strange as well, and kids are horrible little monsters, so I didn’t really have a lot of friends. She was one of the few who actually spoke to me on a regular basis. I think we bonded a little bit, back then, because she was a super Asian kid with a white girl name, and I was a white girl with the super Middle Eastern name, and we just didn’t match peoples’ expectations. So we kind of matched each other.

She found me on Facebook a few years back. It was ..really strange to hear from her. She asked if I remembered her? Of course I did. You don’t forget a Vietnamese girl with a name like Jillian, especially when she was one of the few people who was ever nice to you in grade school. She said she remembered me, because when we were kids I had told her that the strange weather we were having was a result of El Niño. She told me she always thought that was the funniest thing. I was a little confused at that remark, since um…yeah, El Niño totally WAS the cause of a lot of weird weather we’d had? Why was a huge storm affecting weather patterns so funny, I don’t get it? But okay. I accept your friend request. I quickly learned that Jillian had become a rabid anti-vaxxer, and quickly blocked her from appearing in my feed but remained friends with her and honestly…kind of forgot about her. This was a couple of years ago, and I was a lot more generous and patient towards anti-vaxxers and pseudo-scientists back then. (Not anymore. SERIOUSLY VACCINATE YOUR FUCKING CHILDREN YOU GODDAMNED MORONS. PEOPLE ARE DYING OF PREVENTABLE FUCKING DISEASES WE HAD ALL BUT ERADICATED. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU.)

In my personal Facebook, I chronicle bits and pieces of this ALS bullshit journey, and post a link anytime I update this blog. Overall though, I purposely try to keep my Facebook page very light because the world at large is a fucking depressing place and I will drive myself crazy if I talk about nothing but politics and everything that makes me angry. So instead, every month I choose a theme and post related pictures. Usually it involves some kind of pun like Janusweary, with pictures containing foul language, or Gaypril, pictures of LGBT+ positive images. This month’s theme is Awwwgust, and I’m posting lots of pictures of adorable things.

This morning I posted an adorable picture of a kitten that looks for all of the world like it is smiling. It had not been posted for five minutes when I got two comments from Jillian (after not interacting with her for months and months, mind you). The first was link to her website, with a…sort of unhinged screed containing a lot of marketing language along the lines of “Are you tired of the cycle of dependence on drugs, supplements, and herbs spending thousands and thousands of dollars and you are still not feeling better 100%? ” I sighed inwardly, it was a lot of marketing babble clearly trying to sell me on whatever snake oil she was passionately involved in and wanted to evangelize about. The second comment, though, was this: “Remember I told you I’d find something for you well I created a protocol that could give you the opportunity to reverse your condition and I hope you’re open enough to read my book or at least my website before you buy the book”

I just sort of…stared at the screen for a second. Did she just…?

Really? This is what’s happening?

I typed up a reply, deleted it, started to retype, and just…got…so ANGRY. I debated deleting her comments and blocking her for real and moving on with my life, but I am emotionally fried right now for obvious reasons and I was feeling petty as fuck and..kiiiinda wanted to see my friends happen at her. So I allowed her comments to stay, and let them let her have it. And they did, in spades, because I know some VERY SMART and VERY SNARKY people who, as it turns out, are very, very protective of me, and took great delight in dragging her ass, but that’s not what this post is about.

((I love my friends so much I can’t even tell you.))

I decided to respond before anyone else could, though, juuuuust in case I was misunderstanding. The comment I eventually settled on was, “…you’re seriously trying to *sell* me something you think might cure my terminal disease? What predatory fuckery is that??”

And then my friends were all up ons, having a fucking FIELD DAY with her, and that’s when I found out that she was actually a little bit of A Big Deal in the pseudo-science community with tens of thousands of followers in a self-described (!!) “poop cult” and had appeared on Dr. Phil to defend her aforementioned “protocol” cure. Now, I’m not here to talk about her miracle cure “protocol” of fermented salt water and cabbage. That’s not at all what this post is about, and a LOT of other people have already expounded on that subject. Each of those words is a different link that will open in a new window. Enjoy that light reading for later, if you feel like it. Though I WILL include this video link right here for you to watch:

((That man is very smart, and swears like a sailor, and is my new best friend. Because he is smart and swears, yes, and we have the same Bob Ross shirt.
His videos are Good Stuff, but his research on Jillian is amazing.))

Her response was, “Wow vashti wow all I’m trying to do is help you out because of your condition knowing what you’re dealing with but that’s fine if you don’t want to have an opportunity that’s fine you can stay sick and let your friends keep you sick good luck to you” and then, “Because you deserve better than what you have right now if you don’t think you deserve that then you deserve to have whatever you want”

An. Opportunity. To give her money? For information she thought might SAVE MY LIFE.

“….you’re asking me…as a FRIEND with a TERMINAL ILLNESS…to GIVE YOU MONEY to cure my disease. I DO deserve not to be sick. And I ALSO deserve to not be taken advantage of in a vulnerable state. Even if I believed for a SECOND that fermented cabbage water would cure me, it’s unbelievable that you are telling me to give you money in exchange for this information. I don’t give a shit if it works or not; if I honestly believed I could cure anyone’s death sentence, I would hand it over in all quickness. If I could cure a friend’s cancer I would carve out my own kidney for free before they even asked. You’re not trying to help me. You’re trying to make money off of me and that is fucking reprehensible.”

After sanctimoniously telling my friends, “I will let vashti block me I am not going to be bullied by any of you people because I’m trying to help and if you guys want to stay in your little environments with no hope and all sickness then fine”, she responded to me, “And I expect a lot more out of you vashti considering you and I went to school but it seems like your sickness really took you over and made you a very hateful person and I’m sad for you”

“And I expected you to be a decent human being,” I told her, “and not try to take advantage of dying people but WHOOPS guess we were both wrong today.”

And then she blocked me.

There..

There are not enough swears and throwing things and table flips IN THE WORLD to convey my anger. This woman is an absolute piece of shit. Again, NOTHING to do with whether or not her ‘cure’ works or just makes you shit forever until you literally die of dehydration. Just. As a human being. This woman looked at me, a woman she called a friend since fifth grade, saw my debilitating terminal disease, and thought to herself, “this is a perfect marketing opportunity.”

And then after blocking me, she crawled back to her facebook cave and wrote this, which a friend was kind enough to screenshot:

I…she… She felt it was acceptable to try to SELL a theoretical CURE to a DYING FRIEND, because…I am “still well enough to buy things on the internet”.

…..

AS LONG AS SHE’S STILL KICKIN’ WE CAN GIT SOME MONEY OUTTA HER YET, BOYS. YEEEHAWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!! SADDLE THE FUCK UP AND LET’S GIT ‘ER PAID!!!!

what the ACTUAL MOTHERFUCKING FUCK.

THIS WOMAN IS AN ABSOLUTE GARBAGE PERSON MADE OF DOG SHIT AND FIRE.

It’s not bad enough to sell false hope to dying people just to make a quick buck, and that is some REPREHENSIBLE SHIT, believe me, but – lady, YOU KNOW MY NAME. WE WERE FRIENDS IN GODDAMNED GRADE SCHOOL. YOU KNOW MY NAME AND MY STORY AND THE HORRORS OF MY FUCKING DISEASE AND YOU SAW THIS AS A MOTHERFUCKING SALES OPPORTUNITY. And then when that BACKFIRED in a frankly GLORIOUS WAY, thanks to my friends, you crawl back to your page and act like YOU ARE THE VICTIM??? YOU WERE ONLY TRYING TO HELP ME?? BY MAKING ME PAY TO BUY YOUR BOOK AND SUBSCRIBE TO YOUR WEBSITE?

You absolute PIECE OF SHIT.

I said just in my last post that I would never wish ALS on anyone, but holy FUCK is she coming close to a candidate. Cause not only allll of this, she is ALSO a goddamned hateful human being who thinks her bullshit will “cure” gays and trans and autistic people. BECAUSE SHE THINKS HOMOSEXUALITY IS SOMETHING THAT NEEDS TO BE CURED WITH SEWAGE. So. Yeah. In the name of science, I hope she DOES get ALS. It will be a scientific experiment. If it works and ALS goes away, we have a cure and she can have a goddamned Nobel prize. If it doesn’t, then the world is rid of a predatory batshit waste of human tissue who spent her final days shitting out her own stomach lining.

I’m good with those odds.

Hypocrite

Me: “Some diseases are invisible. Just because you can’t physically SEE pain, doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s not up to you to validate someone’s disability; no one should have to prove they’re ill. There are no ADA police to determine who qualifies as disabled or not.”

Also me: “Motherfuckers buying ADA seats at theater performances should have to fucking PROVE THEY NEED THAT SEAT. I am so sick of shit selling out because some bitches with no actual mobility problems bought out the only SIX goddamned wheelchair spots in the whole fucking theater! WHAT IS YOUR MOBILITY PROBLEM, MOTHERFUCKER, THAT YOU NEED TO SIT THERE.”

….This is why, anymore, I don’t ask friends to join me at events. I don’t wanna see five mobility spots taken up by four able-bodies schmoes and me.

Bent Out of Shape

Holy SHIT people are angry about straws right now.

If you’re lucky enough to be completely ignorant of what I mean, now is a GREAT time to stop reading this entry and move on with other happier aspects of your life. No one would blame you. It would probably even save you some heartburn, because damn, there are a Lot of Opinions on the Internet right now.

Quick backstory: a picture of a turtle which had ingested some plastic straws (do not Google it, it’s super sad) has gotten a lot of people up in arms and clamoring for a worldwide ban on plastic straws. Whole and complete, no exceptions. PLASTIC IS EVIL AND MUST BE ERADICATED. This is a great and noble idea, and I fully support nature conservancy and saving the planet and all of that other awesome stuff. Go Mother Earth.

The problem, of course, is that some people actually fucking NEED plastic straws.

I have read more disability erasure bullshit in the last couple of days than I have read probably in the last year. Actual sample quote: “Why is this even a question? You just pick up the glass and drink from it, how hard is it? No one actually needs a straw ever.”

…Well, Susan, you ableist piece of shit, it actually is NOT that fucking easy. Friends who have been out with me to restaurants recently can attest to this, as they have uncomfortably watched me attempt to drink from a water glass without one. With my current rate of disability, picking up a drinking vessel means clasping it between my two fists (because MY FINGERS ARE USELESS GARBAGE MEAT NOODLES) and taking a sip before placing it back on the table, hopefully without spilling or running into anything. If I can pull it off and get the glass back to the table with a simple clink of glass on ceramic plate, I’ve done well. But that’s becoming impossible. FUN SCIENCE FACT: WATER IS HEAVY.

…I need a goddamn straw.

I currently carry around paper straws, for these instances. They’re still pretty wasteful, but it’s a compromise. Carrying around a reusable one is not practical, because I can’t operate fiddly little brushes or squeegees to clean the thing when I’m done with it, necessitating me to carry a sticky dirty straw in my purse until I can get home and ask someone to run it through a dishwasher for me. In a life already fraught with humiliating reliance on other people’s kindness for the simplest dumb stuff, and existing as an increasing imposition on others, a reusable straw is just one more fucking thing to have to ask people to take care of on my behalf. Paper straws are a concession to my disability and a temporary compromise for conservation.

I actually use a lot of disposable things, and feel ashamed for every fucking one. My liberal snowflake heart cringes every time I do, but using paper plates means I can actually lift the thing without spilling food all over my lap because ceramic is too heavy. Using a paper cup means a condensation-slick glass is not going to fall out of my hands and soak my bed when I try to quench my thirst. My hands don’t work well enough to clean out the cat food tin, so it goes in the trash. Every item disposed of makes me feel incredibly guilty, but these are things I have to do now. I don’t have the privilege of washing dishes anymore, or making my life more difficult in the name of reduce, recycle, reuse. It is an inconvenience to you, and a Major Fucking Undertaking to me. And I know in my heart that this is completely understandable, these are sacrifices ALS has demanded of me, and in the grand scheme of things, the amount of trash I accumulate is really not that big a deal.

Not to hear Susan tell it though. I am single-handedly raping the planet because I need a plastic bendy straw.

There’s an awesome chart going around on the Internet right now, and I’ve had the occasion to share it many, many times over the last few days. I’ll share it here, too, because it’s goddamn useful and I am tired of explaining why Product X is not a universally viable alternative to a disposable bendy plastic drinking straw. Observe:

Useful Chart of Usefulness

Currently, I have the luxury of getting away with paper straws. Keyword here: LUXURY. Soon though, soon that will not be an option. The day is coming when I’m only able to slightly turn my head to the side to get a sip of water. Eventually, not even that. I will not be able to lift my body and position myself above a cup with a straw sticking straight up out of it in order to hydrate myself. I need that stupid little bendy thing, that corrugation that makes it almost impossible to make out of any material but plastic and makes cleaning a major undertaking instead of a quick rinse in soapy water. I need the straw to be positionable, and I don’t have a devoted full-time staff who are able to hold a cup to my lips in order to hydrate myself, or constantly wash my dishes, and all of the other things that you don’t even really think about. Because you’re not disabled and you don’t have to.

But I think about them. Because I have to.

I’m learning new things all the time, myself. Before the above chart, straws as a choking hazard didn’t really even occur to me, but now that I think about it, of course they are. Of course putting a rigid thing between your teeth is an injury hazard when your jaw suffers spasticity and clamps down for no reason. Of course temperature tolerance is going to be a concern, when you are relegated to an all liquid diet and not just sipping cool drinks or refreshments. These seemingly no-brainer ideas are new to me, even.

So I’m simply asking that maybe you pause and think about these things too, before you go off on me and people like me who actually need the fucking things. Understand that the ability to do without straws completely is a luxury. Understand there is no simple answer to the horrible problem of plastic waste. Understand that consumer waste is a tiny fucking fraction of this problem, and huge corporations need to be held much more accountable for their part. As the chart says, the burden of a solution should not rest upon this shoulders of the disabled. We are the victims of this problem, not the fucking perpetrators.

Someone who thought they were being clever asked what people did before the invention of straws then, if they are so necessary? Medical professionals answered bluntly: people aspirated liquids, got pneumonia, and died. Plastic straws are LITERAL FUCKING LIFESAVING MEDICAL DEVICES.

So Susan, I’m extremely happy for you that your reusable plastic cup and rigid ass plastic straw is a viable option. For you. Captain Planet would be really fucking proud of you. Go ahead and wear that gold star. Just please recognize that other people on this planet exist, and that your solutions are not perfect ones. Recognize them for what they are. A good idea. A place to start. The beginning of the necessary conversation.

And understand you’re not taking my plastic bendy straws away from me until I’m dead. You can quite literally have them over my dead body.

Resolving the Dilemma

Ohh MAN my friends had some salty words about my last post. I love you bitter people. Your Machiavellian minds delight me.

The best suggestion was to go ahead and make reservations somewhere and then just not show up. Instead? I have devised a better, a saltier plan. You guys want guilt? You want to play the emotional blackmail game? FINE.

Here’s the invite to my official retirement party:

Come Join the Walk to Defeat ALS, September 23rd, 2018.

You want to say goodbye? Walk with me, bitches.

The ALS Clinic

My ALS Clinic team is getting a new doctor. Dr. Goslin called me and said they were putting together a newsletter to welcome him, and asked if I would write something about my experiences with the clinic. “Hopefully positive,” she said, and she needn’t have worried. I told her I’d be delighted. This is what I wrote.

It is not hyperbolic to state that ALS is one of the worst things that can happen to someone. Second perhaps only to Alzheimer’s disease in the completely undignified and terrifying way it kills, a diagnosis of ALS is absolutely devastating. It is also not hyperbolic to state that one of the best weapons against the ravages of this disease is the multidisciplinary ALS clinic. I personally cannot imagine going through this disease without my care team. A dedicated team of experts coming together to get the big picture and provide not only treatment, but expectations and support, is a luxury very few people are ever gifted with.

The ALS clinic makes the journey not only better, but perhaps even possible at all. Scheduling so many appointments with so many separate providers would become a job in itself; a Herculean task when one is already exhausted from just continuing to be alive. One day every three months for a four hour whirlwind tour of health is a tremendous relief of burden, even without considering the travel times. In addition to the vast benefit of freed time and effort, the end-of-day consultation when the whole team comes together to talk about me as a whole and complete person, instead of a series of interesting little snippets, provides for a much better plan of attack. A completely holistic and complete picture of me as a person with ALS, instead of a case file of how ALS is affecting Patient X with regards to diet/respiratory/insert-your-favorite-discipline-here. It is so much better for the patient when doctors talk to each other – who knew?

ALS affects each person differently, and we collectively know so little about it that research on one’s own is almost pointless. It’s only through the collective care and knowledge of the team at Providence that I’ve been able to get a grasp on my disease at all. Every question I ask is answered, every minor complaint met with compassion and understanding, and above it all, the concern I’m given is genuine. I’ve never had such a beautiful working relationship with medical professionals before. The care and compassion of this clinic’s providers are one of the greatest tools a person with ALS could ever hope to have; a wonderful consolation prize.

If ALS is a Pandora’s box of symptoms and troubles, then the ALS clinic is the remaining hope. I’m wholly grateful for this resource. I literally could not do this without it.

Keep Your Mouth Shut, Or Just Say You’re Sorry

We’ve forgotten how to die. We’ve forgotten how to be dying, and how to comfort. How to be okay when things are definitely Not OK.

We’ve lost the ability to not be absolute shitheads to each other by accident or ignorance when something terrible happens.

In my adventures with dying, I’ve accumulated quite a wealth of pretty words and useful words on the subject of death, dying, and grief. I’ve always meant to catalog and share them. When a friend who’d lost their mother was told today that she’s going to hell because she refuses to just leave her grief up to God and put on a happy face, I kiiiiiinda lost my shit. And knew the time to publish this is NOW.

So here it is, A Grief Primer.

Brutal Honesty

Spoiler alert: I don’t really like children. I’ve never wanted them, I don’t generally like being around them, they are messy and loud and completely irrational and they trigger my social anxiety like woah.

Disclaimer aside: I fucking love how brutally honest and open children are.

They can, as Fred Rogers said, spot a phony a mile away, and they will call it exactly as they see it. And a quality I’ve come to adore: they will ask questions. Adults will stare and make a point of NOT staring, and talk about anything BUT what they want to ask, and dodge the subject so thoroughly you’d think it was a game everyone is playing but you. Don’t Mention the Wheelchair, the worst party game ever.

But kids? Kids will come out and ask and feel no shame, and it’s refreshing as hell.

We went to dinner tonight, at a place with a LOOOOOOT of stairs. There’s a secret elevator entrance way in the back, but you have to have a host/hostess escort you because it’s seriously a maze and you have to go through a business building’s security desk. So tonight, when J wheeled me to the front counter to await seating, it was understandably baffling to a little girl how someone in a wheelchair was going to get up all the stairs she’d had to navigate to get in.

She couldn’t have been older than four. Adorable little thing in sparkly shoes and pigtails, and she turned to her mother when she saw me rolling up. Asking in that louder-than-normal-voice-whisper that kids have, she asked, “How’s she gonna get up here?”

To her credit, her mom was unembarrassed and handled the question honestly. “She’s not.”

“There’s a back way,” I told her.

The girl asked her mom, “Why’s she in the chair?”

“I don’t know,” her mom answered. To my delight, she did NOT try to hush the child up or make a big deal about it. When parents try to silence their kids’ questions, it feels like I’m some sort of shameful thing that has to be swept under the carpet. And hey guess what, when you skirt the issue? You pique the kid’s interest. Oh I’m NOT supposed to talk about this? GUESS WHAT WILL BE OUR TOPIC OF CHOICE TONIGHT. I *can’t* say those words? Well then BUTTS BUTTS BUTTS FART DOODY oh hi Grandma! Today I learned FARTS!

The child then, sensibly, turned to me. “Why are you in that chair?”

“My legs don’t work,” I told her honestly.

“How come your legs don’t work?”

“I have a disease. It makes them very weak. I’m not very strong anymore.”

“Oh.” She considered this new information, and then very logically continued, “well *I* am.”

“I can see that! You look very, very strong.”

And she flexed her little arms for me, beyond proud.

And that was the end of that. We shifted the topic to her shoes, which were very sparkly and lit up when she stomped, and she danced her own little disco until our table was ready and I was wheeled away. Hopefully, she will retain that honesty and people in wheelchairs will remain something normal, to have frank discussions about, and hopefully her parents continue to raise her well and when the answer is “I don’t want to tell you why I’m in this chair” or “It’s private why I only have one eye”, both parties deal with it with grace.

I see it as a continuation of all the conversations I’ve had with children, “Why is there earrings in your nose” or “how come you got purple hair” or “why did you draw all over your skin forever”. I enjoy those conversations because of their complete lack of judgement, their total curiosity. Not, “ewww you are weird and that’s bad” just “why are you different?” It’s an honest, open conversation and the world needs more of that.

So that’s the story of a completely charming child I spoke to last Sunday.

A Humble Request

I’d like to formally ask all of you guys to do something that you really ought to be doing anyway:

When you wash your hands, and splash water on the counter, wipe it up.

Again, you should be doing this anyway. But I ask this of you, because I can’t support my own weight on my own two feet anymore, so I have to lean against the counter to turn the faucet on to wash my hands, so I get a big wet line across my gut. And my hands don’t work very well, so I usually have to lean on my elbows to get them under the water and rub them together to soap up, so now I’m also wet to the elbows.

Just, dry your hands, then run that towel across the counter before you throw it away. I promise it’s not hard. I’ve always done it, when my body worked like yours does, so I know it’s possible.

Thanks, darlings.

How to Help in Three Easy Steps!

Howdy folks! Brought on by a recent incident, which I will tell you about in another entry, the question was once again asked, both directly of me and in a general forum:

WHAT DO I DO WHEN I SEE A PERSON STRUGGLING WITH THEIR HANDICAP?

Maybe you just saw a blind person attempting to cross the street and having a hard time. Maybe it’s a person in a wheelchair having a rough time pulling something off a store shelf. Maybe you just witnessed me try to get up in to a tiny-ass unstable boat and fail miserably in front of Anne Wheaton in Loreto, Mexico. Whatever the incident, there is someone with some obvious difficulty in life trying to do A Thing and you’re not sure how to proceed. Well, as a public service announcement, I’m here to help.

There are three easy steps*.

1) OFFER YOUR HELP.

Seriously, you’d think this was obvious, but the Bystander Effect is a real thing and you’d be appalled at how often no one says or does anything. Don’t be a grandiose dick about it, just approach the person and offer a specific way you can be of help, or ask if there is something you can do. “Hey, can I grab something off the shelf for you?” “Do you want a hand across the street?” “The boat crew clearly have no fucking idea how to get you off the ground, how can I help get you up?” DO NOT – UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES – ENTER PERSONAL SPACE TO HELP WITHOUT ASKING. Hooooly HELL you would think this is common sense, but I wonder how many blind people have someone just fucking grab their arm and start pulling them across the street. Just ..don’t do this. Don’t start trying to haul me to my feet when I’ve had a fall. I need to muster strength for the attempt, for one, and it’s just incredibly invasive to have a stranger start grabbing at you when you’re already at a very vulnerable moment. Politely announce your presence and ask if you can help. And then…

2) ACCEPT NO FOR AN ANSWER / ASSIST WITHOUT MAKING A BIG FUCKING DEAL ABOUT IT

Sometimes the answer will be “No, thanks.” Accept this and move on. This person’s difficulty is not your Heroic Moment; they are not here to provide you with your Good Deed For the Day. They’re just trying to get some shopping done/cross the street/get on the goddamned boat/live their life like a normal person, and are under no obligation whatsoever to accept your help, even if everyone in the world can see it would be so much easier if they’d just get over it and accept the help. Graciously allow them to decline and move on with your day.

Alternately, if they accept your help, Do the Thing. And give zero fucks about it. Don’t make a big show about helping; just grab the whatever for them, help them across the street like it ain’t no thang, whatever. They will say thanks. Tell them it’s no big deal and believe that it is not. I, for one, would be so much more willing to accept simple assistance from strangers if people were extra chill about it, but usually they act like a big damn hero about the whole thing and I’ve suddenly become someone’s Inspiration Porn and I can already HEAR them telling their spouse when they get home about how they helped a woman in a walker pick up her dropped purse. Just pick up the fucking purse and hand it over and go on with your life. You’re not curing cancer, here, you’re just holding a door for someone who can’t walk.

Whichever option was chosen, the next step is the same….

3) PRETEND THE WHOLE THING NEVER HAPPENED

Most important. THE MOST. If it was a routine thing that you might have done for anyone, like opening a door or helping someone get something from a shelf, then it’s already no big deal and a part of life. Move on. If it’s something like a fall recovery or an unexpectedly needed assist (hello, hands suddenly not working so I can’t swipe my own fucking debit card!), then it’s almost certain that the person in need of help is embarrassed by the unwanted attention already. It’s humiliating to fall on your ass even if there isn’t a disability involved. Whether or not there was a celebrity watching. It’s ALWAYS my most fervent desire that the whole thing would be forgotten immediately. This also ties into the whole “I’m not your good deed” ideal, but primarily? I’m embarrassed to have been caught publicly in a weak moment, whether it can be forgiven due to disease or not. Act natural. Make sure they’re okay, and then forget the whole thing. Please. Don’t make some weak-ass joke, or reassure me that it’s okay and natural, just..pretend it never fucking happened in the first place. Whatever’s whatever, man, no big thing, not even worth mentioning. EVER. AGAIN.

That’s it!

OFFER, ACCEPT/ASSIST, IGNORE.

The only miiiiiiiinor correction to this may be to ignore that I said no thanks and it turns out I DO need some help. Then you may add RESIST, as in RESIST the temptation to say “I told you so” when I accept that I do need assistance after all. I’m still learning my own limitations, and they change every day. be patient with me in this, and I will be patient with you as you learn The Steps. We’ll help each other out, okay?

*Your mileage may vary. Some disabled people are total assholes about this sort of thing. This is just what I think is most useful, for most people.

Death Cafe

I have always been a spooky kid. From a young age, I have been fascinated by the aesthetic of death, the graves and skeletons and ghosts, and later Victorian memorial photography and mourning jewelry. I was peripherally aware of death, of course, my whole life. We all are. It wasn’t until Jack Kevorkian came into the American consciousness that I learned that I had Definite Opinions about capital D DEATH as an absolute, as well as an aesthetic. I found that I strongly believe we all ought to have control over our own mortality, and had my first real experience with how afraid society is to discuss the subject at all. Later, when going through the Diagnosis Cha Cha, I experienced my first profound frustration with peoples’ willingness – and even their ABILITY – to discuss it at all.

Today I attended my first Death Cafe.

You can learn about them here: http://deathcafe.com/ It’s essentially a safe space to talk freely and openly about death, and it’s meant to be a really positive experience. I first found out about them through the Order of the Good Death; I’ve fangirled about Caitlyn Doughty and her Ask a Mortician video series before. I finally worked up the nerve to sign up and attend one; my hesitation was not at all about the subject matter, but about, you know…that whole show up and talk to total strangers. This is what I do here, of course, but in a more one-sided capacity. It was a space to get to know other death-curious people, exchange ideas, and finally -FINALLY – be allowed to talk freely about this whole ‘death’ thing.

We had a wonderful facilitator at the table, who was warm, inclusive, and knowledgeable. There was a young woman who had older parents and didn’t know how to talk to them about death, a wonderful older woman who had the same frustrations with being unable to talk to her loved ones about death, and an artist who works with the dying to design their own crematory urns.

FUCKING AWESOME, RIGHT!?!

…Damn right I got her contact info.

We all spoke for about two hours, about everything from death acceptance to memorial services and keepsakes to death-positive media. I learned about POST/POLST forms (a beefed up Advance Directive that is hot pink and you put it on your fridge so the ambulance folk know what you want). I got a very warm and supportive hug. I taught a delightfully sweary old woman the phrase “lalochezia”. I learned about support groups that aren’t support groups at all for the recently bereaved. We talked about how America doesn’t really have its own death rituals as a culture, and so when it comes to death, we are all at a loss as to what to do. I mean, wen someone dies, you show up with a casserole, but then what? We don’t have societal rules and custom for how to treat the dead, besides paying total strangers to come deal with it and sweep the whole thing under a clinical rug. We’ve become divorced from Death, and it is a damn shame.

I will definitely be attending more of these. It was a pleasant afternoon of drinking tea, eating cookies, and having a chat about things you don’t normally get to talk freely about. I highly recommend you seek one out in your neighborhood. The more we talk about this, the more normal it becomes, and the more healthy our attitude towards death as a culture becomes. And this is a good thing. It helps the dying to not feel so alienated. It helps the grieving to not feel so alone. It helps us all to know what to do, how to have these conversations while we still can.

Knowledge is power, indeed, and by talking about death, we destroy some of its mystique and its terror. We make it normal, and we help each other through impending loss – be it even our own departure. I want to be able to have these conversations with my loved ones, but until that becomes normal and okay, I can have these conversations with strangers.

It’s almost as good.

Aftermath

I have been granted the singular privilege to bear witness to her grief.

My friend had her father ripped from this earth, eaten alive by cancer while everyone helplessly stood by. Cancer’s a motherfucker like that. Especially it seems, with men; men of an age too stubborn to admit Something Is Wrong until it’s too late, and pride stops them from accepting all of the treatments, all of the chances. Her father was like my grandfather, that way. My grandfather died of prostate cancer, and had refused potential treatments and surgeries because they’d make him ‘less of a man’ or some bullshit, but he fought on his own terms. It was his decision to make. And her father’s.

He had lived in South Dakota, and she had to return, to disposition his estate. She invited me along, because it’s beautiful there. I said yes, because goddammit someone needed to be there while she walked through her father’s place and went through his things. And because I’d never been. And she needed an ally. I went with her in the mindset to be as helpful as possible, to make this transition as easy as possible, to shield her the best I could from the inevitable shitstorm that happens when someone dies.

We had many, many conversations about grief, over the six days we spent together. I’ve always found, and I’m not alone in this observation, that grief brings out the absolute worst in people. Normally loving and trusting people are suddenly quibbling over who gets grandma’s Jell-O mold, and Brother X is angry that dad only left him $20k, but Brother Y got the house, even though Brother Y moved his whole family and job and world to be close to Dad to help him when he got sick and Brother Y never even called who cares because it should be split equal. Meanwhile Aunt Fran is going through the medicine cabinet and the liquor, and Neighbor Q has claimed that heirloom quilt even though you’ve never met her before she INSISTS that she came over like, ALL THE TIME to help and he said she could have it and starts crying, and they let her have it even though we’re all pretty sure Grandma made it for him when he was sick with measles when he was 12 and maybe she’d like it back, to keep her warm at the nursing home while she mourns the son she somehow outlived.

I have my theory that it’s because of a cosmic sense of entitlement. My one true, real, and serious beef with the Universe, is that it doesn’t stop and let you catch your breath when something horrible happens. So out of nowhere, my grandfather died, and I wasn’t allowed to catch my breath at all, I was suddenly thrown into funeral arrangements and visiting relatives I’d never met, and holy GOD, people can you LEAVE ME ALONE, my GRANDPA just died. And the thing is, they’re going through the same thing. Holy shit, my FATHER just died. My BROTHER just died. And we all walk around with this gaping hole in our souls, and it feels like the goddamned universe owes us something for the incredible injury it just caused. And when the materials are settled, you feel entitled to it all, because Jesus God, that was your GRANDPA. The Universe just took your Grandpa, you deserve that fucking stereo of his, something, a piece of him, a memory of the times you were laughing and frustrated trying to teach him how to USE the thing, and the dance party you had to his old music when he finally got it. And next to you, your uncle is thinking, holy fuck, I just lost my DAD. The universe took my Dad, the LEAST it could do is give me his stereo, that I bought him for Christmas that one year. Everyone is bleeding, mourning, thinking that no one else in the room has the slightest fucking CLUE how badly this hurts.

And they don’t. They can’t. Just as you are blinded to THEIR pain, by yours. Everyone is hollow and aching, and scrambling for what they believe the world owes them. In the process, their grief causes harm, the worst comes out in people, and the ending of a life all too often proves to be the ending of relationships. Arguments over funeral arrangements cost friendships. Dispositioning the estate has torn families apart forever.

I watched this process from the outside, flavoring it with my own experiences, because her father and my grandfather had VERY much in common. It was impossible not to draw parallels. Two very strong, hardworking men, good with their hands, generous to a fault, loving, open hearts, strong faith and strong backs. And very easily taken advantage of by unscrupulous people. It was hard watching her have to be The Bad Guy, because she has no record of ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ and no, she wasn’t about to give up two thirds of a property just because they were friends, and it just didn’t seem to get through peoples’ heads that yes, this all belongs to HER now. They’d lost their friend and felt entitled to things, but she was his DAUGHTER and he entrusted her to take care of his estate.

I helped her go through his things, and decide what to donate, what to throw away, what to keep. It was like tiptoeing through someone else’s life, all at once mundane and profound. You get a secret glimpse into someone’s private life, and it feels like sneaking and prying, though they’re not there to mind it. Dirty dishes still in the sink. Half packs of gum on the kitchen counter. Mundane. A shelf of books, a peek into the sorts of things that entertained him. Profound. Clearing out the bathroom of half-used toiletries. Intimate. A total stranger, putting a dead man’s clothes in a bag for donation. Invasive. Every new thing a question for his daughter, “What would you like done with these?” Overwhelmed.

And through this, I gained incredible insight.

I had gone with the express intention of helping her through some serious shit, and provide happy distractions while she showed me around the very beautiful places, but I wound up with a concrete and valuable reaffirmation of a lesson I had already learned. A solid restatement of something I already knew to my core.

DO NOT PUT OFF SETTLING YOUR FUCKING ESTATE.

WRITE YOUR MOTHERFUCKING WILL.

Decide what you want to do with all of your shit, BEFORE you die.

He didn’t want to think about it, and I don’t blame him, really. In his case, settling his affairs was outright admitting he didn’t believe he could beat cancer. Not at ALL because he didn’t love his daughter and didn’t want to make things easier for her, but just because he was afraid. So even though she asked the hard questions, and he knew he should answer them, he couldn’t. He couldn’t face that fear, that pain, that reality. A friend of mine failed to settle his affairs and left his wife in chaos because he didn’t want to think about it. I haven’t sealed up my things because I am lazy and believe I still have some time. There’s a thousand excuses why not to, but it comes down to, it’s boring and depressing, and you’ve told yourself you’ve got time to think about that.

But maybe you don’t. That’s why NOW is the time to settle your affairs. You need to have a Living Will, at least. Those cost nothing. But you should have a plan, a document that lists who’s in charge of your bank accounts, your online accounts, your healthcare decisions, who gets your shit. You should have that settled NOW, before you know your clock is ticking. Because it still is, even if you don’t hear it right now. Everyone should have a plan for what becomes of them, their things, their feelings should be known. Even 12 year olds. Who gets your diary and your band posters?

I realize, more than you know, that it’s really hard to think about. It sucks. A lot. Your brain goes all staticky because you don’t want to imagine that world you no longer exist in. I believe it is literally impossible for the human brain to fully grasp the concept of your own death. It’s too big an idea for your brain to hold. But you have to make this plan. You have to make your wishes known. You have to write down somewhere, how to access all of your accounts. You have to decide who is going to have to be burdened with making sure your will is known and carried out.

Because the alternative is making your wife collapse into tears because you have so much fucking paperwork to sort through and you never talked about what was important and where your passwords are. The alternative is some shifty relative making off with your sewing machine even though you meant for it to go to your sister, but no one knew that because you never fucking wrote that down anywhere. The alternative is someone accidentally donating that book to Goodwill that you had hollowed out and stored ten thousand dollars in. The alternative is your wayward child completely fucking over her siblings because you didn’t SAY who should settle your estate, and your children are too buried in their grief to care as much as they should. The alternative is causing your loved ones a world of hurt and unfairness, on top of the aching loss of YOU, because you found it too depressing to think about. Only now they’re drowning in that depression, and you’ve left them no handholds.

The alternative is my friend, buried up to her neck in funeral arrangements and memorial services and going through her dead father’s belongings and trying to determine what’s valuable while fending off opportunists. Too busy to allow herself to grieve, unable to let herself fall apart, because her father didn’t want to have those conversations while he lived. And so now she lives in a state of suspended grief, unsure when it will all come crashing in, willing herself to keep it together just a little bit longer. When it’s not fair that she HAS to. This was her FATHER. She loved him with her life. She took care of him in his final moments, and the Universe owes it to her to let her mourn.

But the Universe is not fair, because it doesn’t allow us to catch our breath when something important goes bad.

The Universe is an asshole. You don’t have to be. Do your best to not add insult to injury and get your shit together BEFORE you need to.

DO IT. NOW.

Check this out, it’s all wrapped up for you with guides and checklists and shit. I’m even going to put this on the sidebar.

Get Your Shit Together.com

I love you. Get your shit together. And I will, too.

ALS:FTS Video Blog Thingy Numba Seven: EXCITING NEWS YO

Clinic Day! Also, should you send me that article about ALS? (Spoiler alert: yes you should) Promising research! How my disease is progressing. And some VERY EXCITING NEWS. Like, I am nearly in tears for pretty much this entire video because I am going to lose my shit I swear to God you guys.

Rainbows and Rememberances

It’s been an introspective week, monitoring my stress levels and emotional energy and seeing where I’m at, really. Looking at that last entry, I’m baffled at the strength of my rage over that image. It’s certainly infuriating, and something I feel very strongly about, but the instant passion of my anger isn’t something that’s happened before. Looking at it now, it angers me, but it’s nowhere near the level of pissing me off that it was before. I don’t fully understand why it affected me so strongly, so instantly, and so darkly.

Something for my therapist and I to work on.

Today I found a link on my Facebook feed to a blog post about my friend with ALS who chose to end her life. It is a photographer who connected with her and documented the end of her life, the days leading up to and the actual end. Llewellyn Gannon’s photographs are beautiful, personal, and intimate. Her story gave me closure I didn’t have before, to know exactly how things happened, something more than a final farewell post from my friend on Facebook.

She chose to die surrounded by her loved ones on a beautiful April afternoon. I can’t think of a better way to tell her story, and to show why Death with Dignity is so important, than Llewellyn already has with her pictures and her words. So I will simply link it here, and warn you that there is death, and beauty, and nakedness, and fragility, and love, and power in these images. Proceed with an open heart.

http://www.llewellyngannon.com/she-had-the-right-to-die-1/

Thank you, Sherrie, for showing me the way, and thank you, Llewellyn, for your art and your love and your generosity.

Not even going to mince words here.

Fuck everything about this image. Fuck the message it conveys, fuck the people who made it, fuck the president of the stupid fucking website it came from.

suffering is not beautiful
suffering is not beautiful

I’ve ranted about this before. And I will again. Because every time I hear something like this, every time I see something like this, I am filled with a rage indescribable in its intensity. I am sitting here, sobbing, because I’m angry. Because I’m afraid of someone thinking they have the power to make this decision on my behalf. And because I can’t make them understand. Short of committing an act of extreme violence or wishing something horrible to happen to a loved one to present them with the opportunity to reconsider their opinion, I am completely unable to make them understand how fucking HATEFUL this is. I want you to look at a dying woman with inoperable cancer and tell her how lucky she is to participate in the passion of Jesus Christ.

In my rage, I typed, “Let me stick a knife in your guts and then while your stomach acid digests you from the inside out, you can tell me how beautiful your suffering is.”

There is no grace, no beauty, and no “opportunity” inherent in terminal disease. There is nothing beautiful about starving to death because you’re unable to eat. There’s nothing graceful about shitting your bed every day. There’s no opportunity to be found while trapped in a shell of meat you’re unable to control, no opportunity when you’re in a hospital bed wracked with pain that the strongest drugs can’t touch, no opportunity while your memories and self slip away until you’re nothing but a meat robot that looks like someone your friends and relatives used to love.

We FIND grace, beauty, and opportunity in dying because we must. Because we have no choice but to laugh at pain, to smile at death, and to accept. Because we can not fathom a world in which suffering is for nothing and pain has no reason or purpose. And when all hope for life is lost, we find a new hope in allowing an end to the torment. In accepting our own death, at last, we find grace in deciding when your limit is reached, beauty in allowing the suffering to end, and opportunity to end things on your own terms, in your own way, in your own time.

Enjoy the life you live, that you are allowed to have such a hateful opinion because you have no idea what it’s like to be close to someone who wants nothing more than a quick end to their inevitable, pointless suffering. Praise Jesus that you don’t have the opportunity to make this decision for yourself because you’ve still got a life ahead of you. And enjoy that you have the opportunity to think you are entitled to make this decision for others.

Because you don’t.

You really fucking don’t.

Attention Developers!

So, you can now totally play with Stephen Hawking’s voice software:

https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/innovation/you-can-now-use-stephen-hawkings-speech-software-n411706

I really, really hope the world takes this and does amazing things. The best and brightest technology always finds its best use in the hands of public developers, so many amazing things created that were not even THOUGHT of by the device creators. If you couldn’t tell, I’m a huge fan of open source, and I’m an ardent worshipper of public projects. Someone out there has something brilliant to make, someone can take this software and make it do something so far advanced we never even CONSIDERED that it was possible. Someone is going to take this tool kit and make ALS so much easier to deal with we’re going to wonder how we did without it in the first place, and I’m waiting.

Let’s make something cool.