Mermaids, Harpies and Valkyries

Mermaids, Harpies and Valkyries February 18, 2018

John William Waterhouse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Life is never boring on Pluto.  This year has rushed in like a tsunami, January crashed down on me with the unstoppable force of a tidal wave.  My good friend Ned unexpectedly passes, my ex drops a lawsuit on me, and another friend is going down rapidly with brain cancer.  A high school I used to live just down the road from was the most recent site of an active shooter massacre.  Tension and grief are thick on the wind.  Yet there is solace to be found if we take a moment to carve that space out of the whirlwind that buffets us on the daily.  I cannot wave a magic wand to solve the deep pathology of violence in our contemporary society.  I do not know how to quell the chaos and strife that find me no matter how hard I keep my head down.  The one thing I can do at the moment will not affect the world at large.  It will not fix or adjust my personal situation.  It is hard and sad, but feels right.  The thing I can do, the only thing I can think of, is to help my friend die.

Personal names will be avoided in this post to protect the privacy of the individuals involved, but suffice it to say, friend’s case is terminal and he has opted for in-home hospice care.  His Do Not Resuscitate is posted on the refrigerator next to pictures of good times of recent years.  His wife and I are close friends and neighbors, and I have made the short list of helpers during this time.  I admire her, she is swimming through this time with grace and fortitude.  Her symbol is a Mermaid, and her home has always been a magical place.  It suits her, she is beautiful and capable of diving into territory that is deep and dangerous.  A resident of the dark sea, she can withstand pressure that would crush a weaker creature.  She has helped me through some rough sailing on my own journeys, so I am grateful for this chance to assist in whatever capacity I am assigned.


My own role in this adventure is limited, though my mom is going over to help during the days.  It astonishes me how so much fuss and planning goes in to every birth in our society, yet when we come to the other end of the story arc, so few step forward to become involved.  I have been trying to make it twice a week, at night after my own job and chores and kids are settled to sit and chat or help with whatever needs to be done.  I provide a distraction, like a Harpy with a wicked tongue, I flap my wings and squawk about all sorts of things to stir up the energy and bring a smile to my friend’s tired eyes.  He is very quiet these days, not much for conversation, but he laughs at my dirty jokes.  The conversation is salty on my end, as I have many deranged stories to tell of the ongoing shit show that is my personal life.  There is a sense of normalcy that returns when I go on about misadventures with Craigslist roulette, my ex drama, work woes, etc.  I have come to this house many times in the past to delight my friends with my tales.  When I run out of content I tell him stories of my friends’ stupid antics, which seem to work just as well.  He engages, our Mermaid relaxes and swims at a gentler pace, and peace is restored.  I find it rather soothing, my words flow out to be swallowed up by the moment.  Whether I am a fallen angel or just a dirty bird is a moot point these days.  My sense of the absurd and twisted humor beat back despair, or at least break up the heaviness for a moment.


It’s weird how these times can be so isolating, but also lead to connections that are sacred and real.  I have met a friend of the Mermaid, one whom I have permission to name in this piece.  Her name is Amanda Carr, and she is a Death Doula.  Her profession is to assist and guide families through end of life care and decision making, but I suspect she is a Valkyrie in disguise.  She comes to comfort fallen heroes, and prepare them for their journey home.  She is one of the most interesting people I have recently met.  We are blessed to have her wisdom and compassion in the midst of this adventure.  She gives off  the cool clarity of an honorable and noble heart, and she said something truly profound to me the other day.  I asked if I could share it, and she requested that I mention this was an idea she discovered in the course of her studies that originated from the book Die Wise by Stephen Jenkinson.  The thought she shared was the idea that time is non-linear, and instead of us being born and progressing toward a finite end, our movement in time is actually reversed.  The moment we are born we are continually moving backward in time, toward the past.  Our actions, our words, our deeds are the only thing about us that moves forward.  It is the effect of our actions on others that creates our legacy.  Our own journey eventually leads us towards an understanding of our ancestors, and as we age we become increasingly connected to our past.  Perhaps even a past beyond our birth.


This idea resonates with me.  I am always fascinated with concepts of time travel, parallel dimensions or alternate realities.  The older I get the more I suspect that all possibilities are contiguous, and those worlds lie perfectly aligned with ours, but separate, like separates pages bound together in a single volume.  This idea of moving backwards, of death mirroring birth, is reinforced for me as I note the care and cost it takes to die closely parallel those it takes to welcome a newborn into the world.  The reactions I get when I tell people what I have been up to these past few weeks are interesting.  The men are emphatic and solid in their expression that they would rather end it before becoming dependent on someone for end of life care.  The women murmur condolences, but nod in understanding when I state that this is the right way to go for those that can choose.  I am amazed at how many men would prefer a violent end, consider it a swift mercy rather than accept the compassionate care of letting nature take its course.  To be fair, even ladies whisper that they hope it will be sooner than later and I can only shake my head.  Is that wish really in the best interests of the patient, or simply an admission of how much it frightens us to witness the end of the road?

Our society is unable to accept slow death.  We do not wish to participate, acknowledge what it looks like, what it takes.  How a natural death gives the entire family unit the time and dignity to savor this time, to take care of personal matters in privacy, and to grieve.  We are not taught about death, we do not speak of it and I can only wonder what our culture would be like if we were allowed to admit that everyone dies?  Sometimes suddenly, violently, tragically, but other times slowly, in real time, with intention.  As terrifying and lonely as it can be, there is also the capacity for wonder.  For peace.  When I am with my friends I feel as if all of the stress of my  life melts away, that outside stuff is all surreal.  Time slows, and we are together doing the most important thing that can be done right now.  I can think of no greater honor for this gentleman than to go out like a king, surrounded by beautiful women taking care of his comfort and entertainment.  With songs and scales, shields and sarcasm we create a space to laugh in the dark as we watch the tide rise.  Compassion, honor and humor are the only things we have left at the end of the road.  These things are free, and increase when shared.  We gather to accept whatever lesson the day provides.  It is good.  It is enough.

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