Brittany Maynard, may her memory be eternal: Reflections on PR around her life and death

The Brittany Maynard story is one that brings up many reactions.  She ended her own life because of the miserable brain tumor she suffered with and knew it promised a horrific demise if left to its own devices.  Doctors confirmed this, which brought her to a path of living in a state that allowed her to plan her own demise.

People Magazine and other media outlets portrayed her dying process in very public ways.  It almost made her setting a date for her death as normal. It also used its photography to portray Brittany “normally”, on trips with her family. Granted they were last trips, but they looked like many people magazine shots of  who they feature.

Now as a closet reader of People Magazine I like looking at pictures that are eye candy, revealing eye candy shots of celebrities and such. Unfortunately I have to stand back from the Brittany story and say three things:
1)  I do not judge her and her family’s decisions, but exposing them on a road that is very public trivializes the spiritual, sacred space that comes in such times.  I get that someone has to fight the battle that helps people deal with a demise that is so horrible, that beating it to its punch is the “best” option.  But I don’t know how to reconcile that with the desire not to name a date and share that date with the world.  It’s a countdown that is private and sacred, behind closed doors, windows, and bedrooms.
2)  People Magazine made it their cause along with many media outlets.  That is good but for me, not as Brittany comes to the place of letting go.  And changing her mind about the date.  It’s her rite to do so but behind closed doors please.  The life and death balance precariously dangling in front of me does not seem right for public consumption.  I apologize if it seems like I judge Brittany.  I don’t.  But I do judge a magazine and media that make the decision that keeps us aware of her countdown towards death.  This seems wrong.
3) I know none of this takes away the pain of what her family feels now at her loss. She did her life and death her way and maybe circumvented invasive medical supports that would do nothing to change the outcome.  Yet who she is in all her beauty will be remembered deeply.  People Magazine and others helped with that a tiny bit.  But the real people who will keep her memory eternal are those who loved her.  She was loved. Is loved and will always be loved in the privacy of her friends and family’s heart.  That’s the important thing.  May they find solace in that place she lives within them.  Rest well good and faithful servant Brittany.  Now the discourse about your life and death can continue.   But first lets grieve.  Let’s give ourselves a chance to grieve.

ThanksGiving pre thoughts on the train!

This year I look forward to the holidays. We have very little money for gift giving but we do have a chance to hang out and be family.

Family defined has taken twists and turns as my parents have died, leaving their legacy that we try to take in and assimilate as we become the elders of the family.

I like what I know about our values and openness. I also think we have beautiful people in our life to share all that is ahead, including Higgins Waschkies South, Higgins East and West, along with long lost cousins and friends that we have reconnected with.

Alas, we are loosing our sharpness of sight. The metabolism just isn’t what it used to be. So driving and night vision adjust to the new reality, along with our interesting bodies that need more exercise.

The forward look seems big. Zoe works on her sports management degree. Nick on figuring out what he wants to do post high school. Jim does well as an editor/writer in a volatile field of newspapers. I work at being the best Executive Director of a nonprofit I can be. We all have our path surrounded by two cats and a not so bright husky!

I think up to this point it’s been hard to be focused. A dying parent and some internal tending to the home fires that felt like fire weighed us down. We have a bit of less weighing down and I am ready to invest in our home, it’s comfort and it’s fun. All on a stretched budget.

There is work ahead but I have faith that somehow we can put the bricks and mortar in place that secure us for the ride. I may cook a little more. Only a little though. It’s just not my natural thing. I will work with my son to clean a little more. He has an affinity for cleaning that makes me smile. He doesn’t do bathrooms though 🙂

On this road today is all I got and I will in best style maximize its output. There will be time to put up a great Christmas tree (there have been years of no trees). There will be time for dates with husband. And naps will be a given on weekends, with a bow to the Packers.

Train rides allow me pause…I splurged for business class and feel like a queen. I await arriving back at the kingdom. I know a husky that will be excited. And a husband ready for mom to resume the mom thing in Milwaukee. Nick has a list for me to do…I think he has learned from his sister how to optimize mom energy.

Thank you God for renewed spirit. And excitement for days ahead.

My daughter, myself…

I am just leaving St Louis via train after saying good bye to my daughter. We had a great weekend filled with planned “to do’s” and movie watching. It was wonderful

It’s her sophomore year at college and this is the longest we have been physically apart: two months. While we FaceTime regularly, it’s not the same as physically being together. There is a rhythm and flow we have together that is very comforting to me. Each time I say good bye to her it brings up sadness that knows the flow is missed.

I am a mom of two children and have gone through lots with them and my hubby. Most of being a mom I just do in my Karen way along with work responsibilities and animal care in our house.

My Karen way feels very blessed with what has evolved with my daughter. She is very different from me yet in her strengths she compliments my strengths and we “get each other”. Does it frustrate me when she gets OCD on me, a person who goes with the flow. And that she wants to follow the rules. Yup! But on the other hand, she is my checklist person that keeps me from forgetting things and provides an organizational construct this 57 year old lady can benefit from!

We have a rhythm that has been enriched as she has been away. It’s underscored by attending lots of first run movies together. She has a flair for picking interesting genre’s; some are definitely teen oriented; others leading guy oriented. And then there is just ones that have interesting plots. All I know in theses choices I am seeing first run movies and defying slug mode of not leaving home after a hard week of work.

The funny thing that has evolved is I do fall asleep at times during some critical movie watching. It’s my age and need for beauty rest. Zoe will give me an elbow and say “mother” in her Zoe way!

I tend to help her problem solve around things she has not dealt with yet. For example getting professional clothes for internship. The only problem with that is our style and size make shopping interesting. Plus Zoe’s desire to never put a skirt or dress on. Nordstroms helped as we had an Asian woman and tailor do the choosing for us.

Zoe has such organizational skills. I am amazed at her hard wiring that her had organizing Cheerios when she was two.

This watching her mature as an adult is fun. I know she has lessons to learn but I love to see how intact she is already. I was no where close to her in abilities and discipline at 19.

As I take the train home I grieve we both just cannot keep playing. I would forget being a boss and she could leave behind papers and tests. The problem is, our currency for the loving dance we have is that she has a job to do, people to meet, and fun to be had apart from me. I also have a job that includes earning a living, discovering my sons dance, enjoying the spousal unit, and tending to the animals. The currency enriches the dance.

Good bye for now Ms Zoe. I love you. See you in a few weeks for Thanksgiving. Movie ready and check list ready. Love Mom

The Baton Has Been Passed: A Memorial to a Dear Friend!

The Torch Has Been Passed
This past week a good friend died.  She knew me from my beginning days in Milwaukee over 25 years ago.  Ms. Patricia could have told stories of how I could barely say my name to people and how miserably homesick I was during that time in life.
I found out she died of natural causes related to the heart.  If there is a way to go I guess that’s the way.  It’s quiet and home bound.  She had assumed a natural position of watching television from the floor.  That’s what she liked to do when tired. And it seems death seized her quickly


Death seems like highway robbery sometimes.  Uncontrollable. Lots of implications.  No way to turn it around. 

I feel a part of myself lost as Ricia (my nickname for her) has died.  She and I knew so much about each other’s vulnerability and there was no judgment about that vulnerability.  We also knew we could talk about anything.  Topics we enjoyed talking about:
1.  Being GermanWe both knew the advantages and disadvantages of being German.  Something about being a blockhead.  Determined opinionated earthy judgmental.  She got to see how I came to terms with being German later in life.  I can proudly say I am a blockhead too! 
2.  Sex and lack of sex and everything in between including specific, you know, lady problems.  We could embrace talking lovingly and sometimes irreverently about this natural act everyone “comes of age with”.  And no one really acknowledges “coming of age” in terms of sex and sexuality is a lifelong process.
3.  Animal, kid, and relationship updates.  Ricia loved her animals.  She knew the ones in her neighborhood.  She knew especially the ones in my home.  The cats would meow to her on the phone.  She laid on the floor with our golden retriever.  There was something about her that connected with animals and it was lovely to have her embrace the menagerie in our house.
In terms of kids, she snorted, guffawed, and commiserated with us as we went through infertility, adoption, and growing up of two beautiful children.   Beautiful does not mean perfect and she would listen to me sort this out.  Her best phrase in my book was when she said: “oh honey” the pregnant way a mom would say to her child.  I could of crawled into her lap and sucked my thumb then!  I would use the same pregnant phrase when she needed it too.
Relationships were something both of us would sort through asking for just a listening ear.  She gave it to me.  And I tried to share that same kind of ear for her.
Patricia was the queen of nicknames.  I wasn’t quite sure always who called her what.   Ricia or Reeeesh were my names for her.  I was Karen Annie to her.  I was also her “little twit” as I made fun of the formality she had to use answering phones at her job.
My friend’s job fit her quite well. She was a receptionist at a foundation.  Many would not think much of the idea of being the front door receptionist but  she made it remarkable.  Whether answering the phone or greeting people as they came in the door, she made them feel special.   A big donor got just as much attention as the UPS man.   And remembering names and stories were her long suit.  I loved watching her in action because it seemed like life was a big fat flirting match, without the sexual tension flirting can entail. It was pure repartee at it’s finest.
Anyone who knew Patricia well also knew she was as real as the velveteen rabbit.  Her eyes told you that she was a person that had experienced some difficulties in life. 
I will miss so much about this woman.  She was my historian reminding me of key dates.   She made it fun to call out to her at a bus stop and have everyone stare.  She was nonjudgmental except when we needed her alter ego named Spike to come out and make things right in the world.  Then let the judgments rip!
I did not get to say good bye to her, but as she hovers in heaven, I acknowledge the Reesha baton has been passed to me and those she loved. 
Ms Reesh I cannot talk to you anymore.  I cannot tease you at the front desk you worked.  But I will make sure your realness lives on.  I may have to go see an action movie so I can admire your favorite men with certain muscle bound bodies.   All animals big and small will remind me of you hanging out and enjoying the view.  I will also try to emulate the same type of welcoming, remembering person you were for those I love and touch.  The memory of details you knew will be hard for me, but I will do my best!
 I love you Ms Patricia.  You are in my heart, stories and prayers.  May your memory be eternal!

2011 in review: A rich and full life!

2011 has been a year for me.  Very rich and full.  And some unexpected things happened on my way to suiting up for work and life…Here’s a few:

I have the honor of working for a totally African American nonprofit agency on the north side of Milwaukee.  I have learned some things about hair, style and appreciation of life from my coworkers that my Germanic background never gave me.  Been wearing shorter skirts, longer boots, and lost the perm throughout the year.  Also appreciate the thought that death brings all to a better place.  It does not make death easier for us left behind.  But the thought of freedom and beauty in the great beyond is embraced in ways at Family House that take the edge off of loss.  At an assisted living facility that is important as we say good bye to the “angels” that live there.

Sports were a big thing in our house.  Of course we enjoyed the Packer run for the Super Bowl, but sports took on a personal joy as we watched Nick, our son, excel at football.  He ran like a gazelle that no one could catch on the field and was strong beyond his years.  As I watched him it felt like an outer body experience.  He was in his best form and for him, who struggles with school, having a place there is no question what he needs to do, is wonderful.  My husband becomes the team videographer and blogger, so communication during the season is limited to inquiries squeezed in between football necessities of life. 

Our household acquired a new pet named Kitty.  As you would assume, Kitty is a beautiful calico cat my son found on the football field after practice.  She seemed to blend in quickly and is helpful in entertaining our other butterball cat named Freddy.

 Our household lost the least complicated member of the family this December named Buck.  Buck was a golden retriever that lived with us for eight years and provided endless love and companionship.  It is very sad to get through the holidays without him and I am having a hard time wanting to run without him by my side.  I have started looking at puppies, but oh I am not sure what a puppy stage would be like!  Am I ready for this?!

Another death that had even more significance was that of my mother in August.  Mom suffered with mental illness most of my adult life as an untreated bipolar manic depressive.   She was not at our wedding and never met our children.  I feel some sadness her disease kept literal and figurative distance between the two of us.  She lived in Seattle.  But that distance was necessary as in my earlier life I was her angry target whose needs were projected on.

I am glad to report the distance factor was melting significantly in the past two years.  While she still lived in Seattle, I was starting to inch closer to her without fear.  We had many visits where we did real things together like going to movies and fine restaurants.  She asked relevant questions about my kids.  I was getting to the place of maybe thinking she could be moved to Milwaukee.  And then she died.   She was found in her apartment dead by our friend.  She had been dead for 5 days.  I had tried to call her and she did not answer her phone.  This was not unusual.  When she got money and was manic she would not answer the phone for awhile. 

The good in all of this was the coroner said my mom went quickly.  She did not have to go to a hospital or nursing home for prolonged institutionalization.  There were other blessings in her death.  I discovered once again how much I value my brother John.  He and I walked through her death and funeral together with one voice.  It was a simple good bye to mom.  10 special people came to the church she sometime visited and helped us remember who she was.  My brother, a nonpublic speaker, said a eulogy that grasped the beauty of this woman.  It was very touching.  We also had the little girls who called mom “Grandma Trudy” sing Jesus Loves Me, This I know one last time to her.  It was a fond farewell to her. 

I still think a Gertrude Waschkies (my maiden name) Memorial luncheon back here in Milwaukee is in order.  I have not gotten to it yet and life has moved me back to responsibilities.  But I promise to do it so we can toast to her soul words of gratitude for her place in our lives.  It was a miracle we both had some years of realness together. It was a real miracle.

Another shift this year has been I have started to go to the local gym.  I am not a gym person, but my son in his zeal to build muscle mass, wanted to go regularly, so I joined.  AS with my son, his zeal waned, and I was grumbling under my breath about wasting money.  In the midst of grumbling, I started going to 6:15 a.m. workout classes.  The gift has been I like those classes and they have helped me loose a little weight and build strength that running on the streets of the Bay did not.  It’s worth the gym membership!

As I look to 2012, I am hopeful for a quieter new year.  I am not sure what that all means, but I do know I turn the double nickel this year.  I am ready for spending more time with my spouse and seizing the day when it comes to new opportunities.  I say that to acknowledge life is precious and my days are numbered.  For the record I do plan to live long and prosper.  I just know after a year like 2011, I realize that at some point I will return to the earth, and while I am here, whatever I can do to enrich my legacy I will.  It’s all I have to leave (sorry kids, no $$$) for others to carry on!

I am grateful for the legacy I have been given and will continue to receive from those around me.  It makes me one rich woman, mother, wife and community member.


Reflections on Grief

kwhiggy gone  wild” is not feeling so wild today.  I said good bye to one of the most faith companions I have in my life (only topped by my husband!), my golden retriever named Buck.  He was laid to rest yesterday as his blood cancer overtook him.

The last 3 months have been like hospice care for Buck.  We knew he had a ticking time bomb inside of him when the doctor saved him once from a bleed out.  It would be only a matter of time before he would have a second bleed out and then we would have to let him go.  So in the time we had left I have taken every day and loved him completely and unequivocally in ways busy life kept me from doing before.  I walked him gently around the Bay and made him whatever food his body could tolerate.  We communed together.

This dog of mine came into our lives uninvited.  I had promised Zoe when she was 3 years old she could have a dog when she was eight years old.  At the time it was a brush off, thinking no kid will really remember this promise.  We were on overload with the adoption of my son who was complicated even at the age of 12 months.  Yet Ms. Zoe sharp memory is a primary trait of hers even at a very young age.  She forgot nothing and counted the years and hours before she could get a dog.

Now I still did not let her count down make me really think we were going to get a dog.  Jim was not in favor of the chaos a dog might bring into our lives. I had a demanding job, but truth be told, I always have a demanding job!   So anyway, I mentioned to my Pastor’s wife Zoe’s countdown towards a dog, and she said:  “Oh Karen, I have the perfect dog for you!”  And silly me, I went to go visit this dog who was one year old and needing another home.  He was beautiful, house trained, and ready to go.  All I needed to do was convince the husband we should do this…

Well, the husband said yes, if we could do it on a trial basis, and if he blended in okay, Buck was ours.  I knew it would take me to tend to Buck’s needs in the beginning.  The family giving him up would be willing to take him back after a week if there were troubles.  I told the kids we were babysitting him for the family.  And so our adoption of Buck went nine years ago.

Mr. Buck loved me through and through.  Each night he would come to my bed and say good night to me.  I would pet him and say good night and he would plop himself beside my bed.  If for some reason my daughter took him for the night I could trust he would be beside my bed in the early morning ready to go for a walk.

Early morn walks were around 5 a.m.  We knew the newspaper carrier and would say hi to him  I would let him off leash illegally in the Bay to let him run.  Three days a week he would go running with me.  If I had extra time we went down to the lake, and if we really had a lot of extra time he got to go into the lake.

Buck was a food thief.  In his well days if we did not put food in the microwave he would go for it.  One time we had three loaves of bread on the table and he ate them all, bags and all.  I am not sure how he survived that!

My fine dog had a nuzzling nose.  He would use it get my attention.  He also would lovingly use his tongue to kiss me as his mommy.  His earnest love touches me.

Zoe, my daughter, used Buck as her wake up alarm for school.  Each morning I had to bring Buck into her room, ask him to jump on her bed, and have him nuzzle with her.  He would obediently do so, and sensed Zoe’s need for his attention.  Buck was also Zoe’s antidepressant.  No matter what Zoe dealt with in terms of school expectations, which she takes seriously, Buck could get her through them.  I am not sure how I will deal with her in these next few weeks.  I wish I had a magic wand to help with the grief.

Mr. Buck in the end did feel like he was in hospice care with us. I also felt as I every day communed with him I communed with my dad, who died a year ago.  Dad was a dog person and he loved Buck.  He would be grieving with us if he was still alive, and we got the same time to say good bye to dad that I got to say to Mr. Buck.

Pausing to say honorable good byes is also I ask in life.  I got to do that with Buck.  I think he knew it.  We had simple time together that was our own.  I also encouraged my daughter to do the same.  There was no sugar coating that Buck was going to be with us for a longer period of time.

Yesterday I woke up at 4 a.m. and Buck was not beside my bed.  He was in my daughter’s room and could not move.  I tried to move him and he looked at me sadly as if to say, “mom its time”.  I got him some how to go downstairs and once downstairs he did not move physically again.  I woke up Zoe to say good bye.  She knew and her whimpers of pain were excruciating as she said good bye to Buck.  As my husband said, this was the hardest thing to feel.

I decided to take my time to get ready and allow Zoe time alone with Buck.  He looked at us helplessly like he wanted to make things better but could not.

It was a hard decision to wake up my son to say good bye to Buck.  His response to feelings are to be angry.  And he never does it well in the morning.  But Buck was his dog too.  So we woke him up.  It was a good decision.  He said good bye to Buck.  Jim and I had to get a blanket under Buck and were struggling to figure out how to carry him out to the car.  To my surprise Nick got on gloves and skillfully helped us take Buck out to the car.  He then told me he would come with me to the clinic.  My boy was becoming a man as he made a decision like this.  The “becoming like a man” would manifest itself in interesting ways as I went into the clinic with Buck.

So I got to the clinic which is a few miles away and they helped me take Buck in.  Nick said he would stay in the car while I was saying my good byes to Buck.  I left the keys in the car so he could listen to the radio.

Saying good bye when you have walked a road knowing it was imminent is easier, if there can can be any “easy” way to do it.  Buck was wrapped in one of our comforters.  The doctor confirmed he hardly had any blood pressure left, and said we did the right things completely.  Before we administered the drug, I give him my fond farewell and asked him to say hi to dad and mom in heaven.  I also let him know he was the best for me and the Higgins family.  The most uncomplicated one of the bunch.  He looked at me with his all knowing eyes and was ready to let go.

The drug that stopped his heart did it instantaneously.  I hugged him and said good bye with no regrets for the life we had together.

So I go back to the car, and as I get in my 14 year old son says:  Guess what mom, I drove your car!  He was bored as I was inside the clinic and so in an empty parking lot he went backwards and forwards and around the parking lot.  Guess who is going to hide her keys from now on!

Buck was a gift from God to the Higgins family.  His memory will be eternal in our hearts.  I do worry about my daughter. High School demands are hard and Buck helped her.  Her cat Freddy is like a dog and thank god we have him, but he is not the big hearted spirit Buck is.  It will be in our destiny to get another dog but when and how is up for grabs.  And there is debate on what kind of dog to get.

For today I do not have to answer that.  I just need to grieve and honor the memory of Buck as best I can.  It’s the circle of life which is pretty powerful some days.  But reminds me, Buck lives in me.  He lives in me and all the Higgins family.  For that I am grateful.

Rest in peace, Mr. Buck!  We love you!

Reflections on Community, post Thanksgiving

Reflections on Community, post Thanksgiving.