I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?
Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.
pureed red beet soup with cashew cream heart, photo by Elizabeth
On Feb 13, my friend’s first meal was delivered from Ceres Project, which delivers free weekly meals for people with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses for three months. This profound kindness is only one of the important ways Ceres Project is improving the world and individual’s lives. They also take recipient’s dietary requirements into account (gluten-free, for example); and use whole, health-promoting, organic, seasonal food, sourced from local farms, farmer’s markets and Whole Foods Market. Ceres chefs also teach teens, who prepare the food, how to cook delicious nutritious meals.
Even kindergarteners are involved by making inspiring cards for clients. This is from Max and my friend says, Thank you, Max!
Cancer and its treatment is challenging for anyone as well as a person’s family/caretaker so the primary cook gets a much needed break from the daily grind of doing all the shopping, meal prep and normal clean up, with restaurant-quality meals prepared not only for the client but also for the immediate family/caretaker.
I’m told every bite was delicious! So their health was nourished, spirits raised and their minds and bodies could relax for the night.
Valentine’s Day inspired my friend’s first Ceres meal and proved one of the most loving valentines ever created. In addition to the pureed beet soup they received:
heart-shaped turkey meatloaves with tomato jam, photo by Elizabeth
sauteed red chard with blood oranges, photo by Elizabeth
To learn more, or to volunteer, or provide a tax-deductible donation please contact Ceres Project (PO Box 1562, Sebastopol, CA; 707.829.5833). If you know someone in Sonoma or Marin who is being treated for cancer, please let them know about Ceres Project. Hopefully people in other areas will be inspired to create similar services in their communities.
Wishing you all health and support when needed.
And it is a dream at sea such as was never dreamt, and it is the Sea in us that will dream it: The Sea, woven in us, to the last weaving of its tangled night, the Sea, in us, weaving its great hours of light and its great trials of darkness Saint-John Perse, Seamarks
I’ve touched death twice and come back. I feel like a cat, though I’m not counting on nine. I was told as a child that I would not live even thirty years due to severe asthma. In my early twenties, I wheezed ceaselessly for two years, even with intravenous steroids during monthly hospitalizations. At this time I was told I’d be dead by twenty-five due to a rare form of asthma that afflicts fewer than two percent of asthmatics, most of whom are seventy or older. Now, long past thirty, I know that no one can predict another’s fate.
The first time I touched death, I was seventeen. After spending several days trying to stabilize a particularly bad attack, during which I could only walk with assistance, could barely eat, and couldn’t lie down, I called my physician, Doctor K, who wanted to meet me in the emergency room.
Driving proved slow and difficult with such labored breathing, but after I parked near the hospital’s entrance, I inched toward the automatic doors by leaning against cars, poles, the rough white wall for support, and paused to catch my breath after each step as if climbing at twenty-six thousand feet.
Just before I reached the door’s sensor, a nurse rushed out, slid a wheelchair under me, and rushed me to the sterile emergency room where I was transferred to a metal-railed bed. Veiled behind pale vinyl curtains, I rocked back and forth in spasmodic rhythm, my airways severely constricted. A nurse paged my doctor as another nurse gave me an adrenaline shot, which accelerated my heart and made me shake uncontrollably. My breathing worsened.
Another nurse tied a blue tourniquet below my left biceps, slapped the inside of my arm to raise the knotted veins, aimed for the largest, and stabbed the IV needle through the skin. The vein rolled. Her second attempt was also unsuccessful since this vein was scarred from scores of previous IV needles, so she turned my hand palm down and speared the largest vein running between slender hand bones. Blood spurted up the needle’s tube before it flushed back through my body in a stream of saline released from the bottle she hooked to the metal bar above my head. Blood gases were then drawn. A respiration therapist once told me that these are so painful that he’s watched people in comas jerk, even sit up, when these were drawn. I cried from exhaustion and pain, but immediately choked, the extra phlegm further congesting restricted airways.
Once Doctor K came through the curtain’s opening, I relaxed. He ordered steroids, blood tests, and more than I needed to think about as I struggled for bits of air. Telling me to drink, the nurse handed me a liter of water, then pulled green plastic tubes over my head and shoved their ends in my nostrils so pure oxygen could return my blue lips and nails to pink. A breathing machine was rolled in to transform liquid drugs to mist, which I inhaled through a thin tube and disposable mouthpiece. After four days of labored breathing, my head ached from lack of oxygen and my back felt as if I’d been beaten repeatedly with a wooden chair.
Still I strained for air and shivered from exhaustion and medicine that was cold as embalming fluid yet stimulating as speed. The nurse gave me a bedpan since using the bathroom required too much effort yet I needed to keep drinking and the IV kept flowing. My body rejected the onslaught of medicine and cold water. I vomited, mostly fluid and dry heaves, despite my need for hydration, lips and throat cracked, muscles in spasm. My wheezing worsened. Doctor K fired orders at those trying to stabilize my breathing.
An hour later, not wanting to lose his first patient in twelve years of practice, Doctor K ordered the nurses to transfer me back to the wheelchair. He then got behind the chair and pushed me to the sixth floor intensive care unit where nurses lifted me onto another bed and adhered oval sensors to my chest and back so they could track my heart visually and audibly on monitors above my bed and in the nurses’ station. Sharp rivulets of pain shot from my spine across my back, through my skull, and down my limbs, while my head throbbed, a clenched knot. But pain held no authority; my existence depended solely on the mechanics of breath. Concentrating, I focused on the task: lean forward, inhale; sit up, exhale; lean forward, inhale; sit up, exhale.
Suddenly, it was effortless. My muscles and head no longer ached. I felt calm, peaceful, no longer straining for air, but instead enveloped in an expansive quietude. As if floating just beyond the high florescent-lit ceiling, I marveled at the tenuous thread connecting me to my body, pale and rocking on the bed, and felt love and acceptance for everything and everyone–pain, resentment, alliances, released. No white light, no one beckoning, simply unconditional love and absolute peace.
Working hard, Doctor K and the nurses tried to revive me, their faces clenched, muscles taut in rapid fire action. I wanted to tell them that there was no need for concern, nothing to save me from. I was okay, out of pain. And then I was looking up at their faces, now so close I could feel their breath as they stared at me. In that first moment I was prone, but they helped me sit again, took my vitals, my body still rocking with the effort of breath, though not as forcefully.
Doctor K’s dark eyes met mine for the first time since we entered the elevator. Despite beads of sweat on his brow, he appeared comparatively relaxed as he said, “Welcome back.”
“Thanks,” I mouthed.
“You didn’t just come close to dying,” he said, “you touched death and came back.”
On a deep level my entire being reflected this. When I was released a week later, nothing looked the same. Blue sky was no longer simply blue, but also composed of gold to pink hues, while foliage overwhelmed my senses with its infinite shades of green, red, grey, all of which were more vibrant than I’d previously perceived. This heightened awareness may also be the result of a week spent amidst neutral walls, floors, curtains, bedding, since I’ve read that prisoners also experience an overwhelming sense of color saturation when released from our monochromatic institutions. As I drove home, what had previously appeared mundane–buildings, windows, traffic, stoplights, overhead cables–interwove exquisite geometric patterns throughout the city. Transfigured, this world revealed itself to be indivisible, electric, mesmeric.
Nothing in my home seemed familiar except Shanti, my Malamute, who greeted me with exuberant joy. When I kneeled to hug him, he surprised me by placing his forelegs on my shoulders, curling his clawed paws into my back and pulling me to him as he pressed his soft large head against the side of my neck. He held me like this for several minutes.
Years later, I had an experience that was so similar, I know I touched death again. I’d been camping in a valley that, overnight, filled unexpectedly with fog, which I’m highly reactive to. At daybreak I had to be rushed to the nearest hospital, an hour away. As my boyfriend sped us down the highway, my world once more reduced to breath despite the various types of pain screaming for attention throughout my body. Though shivering and wheezing intensely, I remained calm as I focused on breathing, feet to pelvis, knees to chin, so I could rest, my torso wedged fetal-like between my legs and the seat’s back as I rocked in rhythm with my breath to aid the expansion and contraction of lungs and diaphragm.
And then, as if I were floating above the hood, I looked through the windshield at my lover driving and my body on the seat beside him, a sliver of brown cord the only connection between my body and me. It felt as if the effortless course would be to drift farther away, release the cord, and never wheeze or hurt again. Resentment and pain had been replaced by the warm expansiveness of love and repose, none of life’s struggles carried beyond the parameters of the body.
But as I looked at my boyfriend, I realized he’d blame himself if I died in the car since he hadn’t taken the severity of my asthma attack seriously, had delayed our leaving even though I urged him, hours earlier, to drive me to the hospital. Too, it is possible that whatever the circumstance, I would have created a pressing reason to live. This time, however, the effort to return almost proved too much.
With no more than thin arms and hands, I pulled the dead weight of my legs and torso along the slender filament rising from my body’s navel. Though I was descending, the effort was as extreme as if I were pulling myself up the insurmountable face of a thousand foot cliff, that despite my focus and will I would not be able to reenter my body. But I kept placing hand before hand as I pulled myself closer and closer till the pain of wheezing filled me once more.
With these fragile resilient bodies we bleed, can be violated, may hurt so much that we long for death, or at least release, but we also touch, make love, feel the sun on our skin, perceive color, texture, and the range of experience from rapture to numbness to extreme pleasure. And sometimes we are able to choose whether to live or die, which may be what Florida Scott-Maxwell alludes to when she writes, “…it may matter deeply how we end so mysterious a thing as living,” though what enables us to make this choice remains as mysterious as the actuality of life itself.
I do not fear death since I’ve felt its intimate wholeness; however, death’s perpetual presence makes me anxious, no certainty harbored that I’ll see those I love again. Though I’ve experienced the compassion and unconditional peace that exists in death, I am unable to maintain that lack of pettiness, judgement and attachment while alive. Instead, a peculiar ledger of rights and wrongs permeates the psyche, as if the tension holding molecules in physical form requires some kind of passion. Yet, whether measured as a whole or a moment, life remains transient and miraculous, a miracle we honor with our keen presence and compassion, both of which expand to the exclusion of all else once free of this exquisite existence.
Thank you to the editors of Cezanne’s Carrot for first publishing this piece.
I’d heard of chia seeds (and joked that someone’s found a new marketing angle now that chia pets are no longer the craze). I didn’t take chia seriously until I attended a raw live food cooking demo and now I love them.
Chia seeds are high in fibre (“the stealth nutrient” according to Robert Lustig, MD) and omega 3, and chia is delicious in combination with fruits.
Though the cook demonstrated this with measurements, I cook by approximation. She also added agave or maple syrup, which is overkill given the fruits’ sweetness. And no one needs more sugar despite it’s syrupy whispers to our DNA that it’s safe, since it fattens the liver and body and fosters disease.
Summer’s the perfect time for berries, so here’s the recipe…in approximate measurements. Once you’ve got a sense of it, make it your own!
2 baskets of Berries……..2 ripe Bananas……..5 Tablespoons Chia seeds……..3.5 cups water or coconut water……..
2 baskets of raspberries. Wash in water. (I sometimes soak berries in warm or cool water and a splash of apple cider vinegar as a disinfectant, for at least 10 minutes, then rinse.)
2 ripe bananas
(I show the image because U.S. consumers often buy and eat bananas before they’re ripe.)
5 Tablespoons of chia seeds
Add about 1 cup of water and soak for 10 minutes. You may need to add a bit more water, or coconut water*, so the seeds continue to have liquid to absorb. (They can absorb nine times their volume in water…so don’t eat unsoaked chia or you’ll get stomach cramps.)
After soaking for 10 minutes, add at least 1.5 cups of water, or coconut water*, till the mixture holds its shape while while still flowing from a tilted spoon.
*Coconut water is often clear but sometimes pink. The best is directly from young fresh coconuts, but bottled/canned coconut water is easy if you don’t have time hack through the husk and you like the taste, or want extra potassium.
Now that you have the rinsed raspberries, ripe bananas and soaking chia
mash the bananas with your fingers, a potato masher or
till they look like this:
And do the same with the raspberries, which is easiest with fingers, though I’ll often do the bananas and raspberries together with a potato masher,
till they look like this:
Then add flavors you like…this medley in decreasing order of amount includes vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove:
Add the soaked chia to the fruit and mix till you have a uniform semi-liquidy glop that can be more or less watery depending on your taste – this is how I like it:
For more texture, you can mix in whole blueberries, or another fruit of your choice.
Cover your chi-licious and refrigerate at least two hours, then enjoy!
(For more crunch, add toasted nuts or seeds like pecans, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds in your bowl.)
It will be good up to three days, refrigerated, though it’s doubtful it will last that long. Delicious and good for you…what a combo!
A few years ago my local grocery had a tree with cards for Christmas gift requests from people who were homeless or nearly so.
For many good reasons, I’ve struggled financially in my life but when I read the individual requests it shifted my perspective: winter gloves; a man’s razor for shaving; socks; barrettes or a hair tie for a girl; a scarf and hat.
I have or can easily buy these things. It doesn’t matter if they’re old, or from a thrift store, or unstylish. I can still use or buy them. I don’t need to hope that someone will read my request and give me a pair of socks.
These few examples shifted my perspective on my own financial situation. I no longer accept bag credit when I fill my cloth bags with produce, but instead ask that it’s donated because my “need” diminished to slightly more than zero that day.
Some of my favorite parts of the season are the lights, spending time with those I love, and going to the local toy store to buy toys (well, usually art supplies and a stuffed animal) and dropping them off at Toys for Tots to be distributed to children who get too little material support, children I’ll never recognize though I apply the care in choosing that I do for my loved ones.
When I was little I was inseparable from my stuffed grey squirrel…Grayee was my Linus blanket. We moved when I was five and Grayee disappeared. Sobbing, I begged my mom to call the police because “the moving men stole Grayee.”
It was many years before I could laugh at the idea that these grown men would have stolen my battered squirrel, but Grayee had been my comfort and companion. My hope is that Toys for Tots provide the comfort I got from Grayee…and that the toys received are never lost.
My car was stolen from our driveway during a storm earlier this week.
I’ve lived much of my life in dense urban areas, nothing ever stolen. Now that I live in a “safe” suburban neighborhood, my car is gone and there’s no public transportation. I am left with this gutting sense of foreignness that happens with violation, or when some core belief is irrefutably changed.
Everything that was in the car is gone as well: my best rain gear for stormy beach walks; my grandmother’s ring that my recently deceased mom wore to her final breath; a life-time of postage stamps so I could avoid lines.
I hope what I’ve learned from police, an insurance rep who specializes in stolen vehicles, and others can help you avoid this loss.
~ The incidence of car thefts is highest in a storm (which we had that night) because the storm masks the sounds of breaking glass and car alarms, which are quickly disconnected.
~ Some cars are specifically targeted.* When I heard this I thought it was because they’re popular; instead, it’s because they’re easy to steal (for example, a master key can be used for several years of cars that were my make and model, no breakage necessary.) Unfortunately, my car is worth more as parts than as a vehicle, which is disturbing on many levels. While the above link re: specific cars states that car theft is down, that’s not my insurance company’s experience.
~ Car theft, arson and burglary claims have so increased in 2012 for my long-established insurance company that that division has almost tripled the workforce to handle the load, and they still don’t have enough reps.
~ The Club and similar devices hardly delay (moments at best) a professional thief. The officer who took my report said they don’t help.
The insurance representative who took my claim has changed his personal habits due to working in the car theft division. In addition to what I’ve already suggested, he adds:
~ Don’t keep anything in the car including rain coats and other clothes since you’ll lose them when the car is stolen.
~ NEVER leave the keys in the car, especially in the ignition, and most especially with the engine running, not even if you’re standing next to the car. Take your keys whenever you step out of your vehicle. (One of his clients left his key in his ignition while he filled his car with gas. Someone jumped in and drove off. The client not only lost his car, but had terrible injuries since the gas hose whipped him against the payment station when it jerked out from the speeding vehicle.)
~ Keep your car doors locked, even if you’re pumping gas or talking beside the car . A friend’s purse was on the passenger seat as she filled her tank. Someone opened the door, grabbed the purse and ran.
~ Don’t leave a spare key, especially a house key, in the car.
~ Keep registration and insurance papers with you rather than in the car. If the car is stolen, at least they don’t have your address, name, and the like. Home burglary and identity theft often follow after a vehicle is stolen.
~ Never leave a garage opener in the car. Not only is the vehicle in the garage at risk, but also one’s home if the garage is attached. An acquaintance mentioned that her car was stolen from her driveway, and that may have been the total theft if she didn’t keep the garage opener in her car. The thief used the genie to open the garage and Poof! both vehicles were gone when she woke.
~ If you have a tracking device in the vehicle, use the locator ASAP since the tracker can be disabled quickly or tossed.
~ If your car is stolen, call the police and then your insurance company to report it. Then let additional vehicle related services know such as companies who provide paid toll service, the DMV for disability plates/placards and the like so you are not responsible if your vehicle is involved in further crime, and also because these services may be able to help you track the vehicle.
Be safe and please pass this link or information on to everyone you know. Thanks.
These are suggestions to support someone who is seriously or chronically ill rather than someone with the flu, though none of these suggestions will harm the acutely sick. This is not intended to be universal for everyone, but will hopefully help others approach this challenging issue in ways that are helpful for the ill and their caregivers. Feel free to comment with your own experiences.
1) Simplify their routine and physical space for rest and safe mobility
2) Volunteer to clean, run errands, drive them places, and care for pets or children
3) Provide nourishing food that’s easy to eat and digest
4) Take time for yourself
5) Listen with empathy and remain present even in silence
6) Gentle and targeted comedies
7) Touch, even a still hand on a wrist can help
8) Ambient music
9) Children’s audio books or reading aloud (kid lit tends to be uplifting and hopeful)
10) Engage the person in any activity that interests them
11) Be an advocate
- Allow the person to rest as much as needed (our cells regenerate when we’re deeply relaxed as in meditation and when we sleep. We also do our psychological integration during sleep). If possible, gentle to moderate movement, even if lying in bed, is also important when not sleeping or deeply resting since it helps circulation, the lymph system (which destroys pathogens) and maintains joint mobilization. Massage can help if the if the person is unable to move. Respect individual need.
Remove obstacles in the person’s pathway, not only to prevent injury but also to create mental ease. And declutter declutter declutter…I’m not a neat-nik, but a clean environment is critical when one is seriously ill. When the body is struggling, the mind is as well and can be easily overwhelmed by sensory information.
2) Don’t wait to be asked; offer to clean the immediate area or home for the person, same with their pets or children, or whatever they need help with such as groceries, getting to or making appointments, or possibly driving them to a calm pretty place for even a five minute visit if they’re able to leave their bed or home.
3) Well-cooked rice is usually digestible even for the very ill, though ground baby-food rice is an alternative if someone is too sick to even digest soft rice. Consider using organic foods when possible to reduce pesticides or herbicides from further stressing a person’s system. The benefit of chicken soup is not a myth. Bone marrow broth is also rich with healing minerals, glucosamine and other substances that bouillon cubes do not offer. Organic miso is another healing and generally easily digested food. Patients in Japanese hospitals, who had miso soup three times a day, experienced far lower rates of cancer and other post-atomic bomb illness in Nagasaki and Hiroshima than the non-hospitalized population. This is how we learned that miso reduces radiation effects.
4) If you are a caregiver, get a massage, dance, practice yoga, walk, visit a friend, play with a dog, sauna, meditate, play a game, participate in a sport, create, nap…whatever you need to restore yourself. Caregiving is hard work even when it’s not full time.
5) Actively listen when the ill person speaks. If they would prefer to have you speak, perhaps tell them stories or read to them…preferably uplifting stories so the brain maintains positive associations. It may also help to sing. Few interactions provide the soothing quality of song, which may also help you. If silence is needed, simply breathe as they breathe. Following breath, yours or theirs, is a powerful method of maintaining or developing presence.
6) Comedies may help when someone is disabled or chronically ill. Some good ones include “When Harry Met Sally,” “Robin Williams: Live on Broadway” “Groundhog Day”, “Amelie,” the best of SNL with Steve Martin and the like, and TV series like “Arrested Development” “Gilmore Girls” “Modern Family” “Seinfeld” and “The Simpsons.” Anything that provides laughter is invaluable for both the ill and their caregivers.
7) Touch offers comfort, can ease anxiety, and may establish connection even in the absence of verbal communication. Obviously one must remain respectful and empathetic to what the sick person is comfortable with in terms of location, pressure and type of touch (caress to stillness) and a few people will not want touch at all; instead, only the nearness of someone who cares about them. However, even gently holding another’s hand can provide connection that effects the primal brain, thus reducing fear and stress. Massage, even as simple as a gentle hand or foot massage, can increase endorphins. Pressure can also trump pain, which is why if we hit a shin we often press on it to make it feel better.
8) “Music for Airports” by Brian Eno, ambient music stations like Hearts in Space, or any style of music that the person especially loves (this can change with serious illness) can be surprisingly helpful. When everything is overwhelming to one’s system, the simplicity of ambient music can be soothing.
9) Ask a librarian or independent book seller for good audio books and books to read aloud. The Secret Garden, The Thief Lord, and The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency are engaging audio books. Children’s books are especially good to read aloud as are some of David Sedaris‘ stories. Children’s writing is often uplifting and well-written. Consider Winnie the Pooh, a classic for almost any age, especially when one feels vulnerable.
10) You may want to talk about pets, loved ones, music, fashion, astronomy, gardening, whatever might interest the person enough, however temporarily, so that they can focus on something other than how they’re feeling, mortality, and the like. I’m not suggesting that these issues shouldn’t be discussed, only that if you can connect them to something that enlivens them, it may be helpful.
11) Help them with insurance forms and companies; applying for disability or other needed resources; and accompany them to medical visits. Illness itself can be overwhelming without also having to track every option a medical professional suggests, or having to remember the answer to every question asked, or waiting on hold till a call is answered by a company, or filling out extensive forms. During appointments the person may want you to speak for them, or ask clarifying questions about medicines, procedures, treatment, recovery, options, that may be too overwhelming for the individual to navigate alone.
My six week anticipated period on crutches turned into many months due to complications. Fortunately I made some modifications early on that helped get through this long period.
1- Wear a good pair of gloves with excellent padding to protect the palms as well as the area between the forefinger and thumb. I used a pair of cycling gloves that I now use for free weights.
2- Adjust the height of the crutches and handgrips so that the crutches permit appropriate distribution of weight and balance without leaning the armpits on top of the crutches.
3- Wrap the hand and shoulder bars of the crutches with bubble wrap and secure with packing tape to provide extra shock absorption and prevent inevitable digging into the ribs or bones of the hands.
4- Resist resting your armpits on the crutches, especially easy to do when you’re tired. It’s bad for the arms, shoulders, neck and spine. Instead, lift as if lengthening the spine while standing in a yoga class and try to maintain as “normal” a gait and stance as possible while using the crutches.
5- Hardwood floors enabled me to use an adjustable-height office chair with rollers to get around without crutches. Sitting on the seat, I’d use my arms and non-casted leg to get around. While washing dishes and similar activities, I’d rest my casted leg on the seat and stand on my uninjured leg to maintain normal standing posture in the pelvis and spine. Sometimes I’d also use the chair like a high skateboard to scoot around–my casted leg resting on the seat, arms controlling the direction with the seat back, but be careful. Your main task is to keep yourself safe from further injury while maintaining as much physical balance, strength and flexibility as possible. My friend rented a cart specifically designed for this purpose post-foot surgery so see what’s available in your area. Once I was able to bear weight, I started “walking” while sitting in the chair to build my atrophied leg muscles.
6- REMEMBER: the only positive about crutches is that you can go to the head of lines!