Posts Tagged ‘death’

Broken presence

July 30, 2017

Death breaks me open. It is Life’s warning signal that all that is comes to pass. Regardless of our inherent need for homeostasis to flourish and grow, cascading events will eventually overwhelm us and break the sustaining links.

Nothing comes to stay.

In just five short trips around the sun, this harsh reminder of impermanence has made it nearly impossible for me to stop and voice my process here. My mother and sister a few years ago, and my brother gone on the 12th of July are no longer available in my life. Minor deaths chip away at the façade of permanence – the death of all my possessions in a fire, a lover pretending to be a friend.

And with each death, I am broken open exposing dark, empty parts of me. I dream once again that I have died, read my obituary in the newspaper only to arise with the realization that I am broken with a choice: I can either close myself over that darkness or I can open my brokenness to the living presence in the light.

I took a short journey to the edge of my known world recently and submerged myself in its culture. I spent time with my grandchild who is my hope for the future even though I am broken enough to know it is not my future. We met our worries together and found they meant nothing. Only the present moment held meaning. Oblivion is waiting in the next blink of an eye.


Across thousands of miles, a friend reached out daily and reminded me that life is not just death, but is also promise, love, and hope. To live broken is to make a contract with an eternal setting sun and lets its light reach me.



The presence of joyous noxiousness

April 30, 2016

Well, I’ve died again.

It happens occasionally in my life. I’ll go underground, converse with the god of the underworld, and resurface to live the next iteration of my being in the world. This particular death process has lasted a few years and ended last night with a dream that I died and was able to read my autopsy. Here I was, dead, and reading my autopsy, alive, so that I could figure out what killed me. Dreams are great.

My cause of death was joyous noxiousness.

My response this morning is close to a WTF moment. But then, in order to come alive, to break the barrier, the part of me that went into darkness needs to die with all of its woe-is-me, heart-breaking, I-wish-the-world-were-different, my-mommy-and-daddy-were-mean-to-me excuses for not becoming fully alive.

We’re not talking soft sweet sympathetic head patting and empathetic eye blinks and hand holding meant to stimulate my emotional growth. No. We’re talking die already.

And what killed me was joyous noxiousness. Evidently, this joyous noxiousness has been quietly and steadily killing me without my knowledge and has now made itself known in a most magical and unexpected way.

My new life, then, is to learn how to live with it.

This one’s for you, Kathy.

The presence of knowing

July 28, 2012

Knowledge is a dubious gift.

The problem with knowledge is that once something is known, it cannot be unknown. Even though we forget and often can’t recall what happened yesterday, some part of our brain still retains the memory of everything we have ever encountered.

Much of what we do and remember is automatic and linked to our survival and basic needs. Dementia and Alzheimer’s aside, it takes little effort to recall where we live, work, and play on a regular basis. I am grateful to remember my loved ones and special times shared with them. The memories I have a problem with are those when I witness the ugliness we create in life.

The current ugly in my life is the knowledge that people leave their babies and small children to die alone locked in vehicles. This summer, I have read at least five articles where infants and small children died of heatstroke inside a car or van. All of their stories yank my heart right out of its ignorant resting place. For example, a day-care worker “forgot” that she left a three-year-old strapped to his car seat in the van at the end of a field trip. I really would have rather not known this. My imagination has a field day taking on the suffering of others, and I wondered why I needed to know.

I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to die like that, so I purposely sat in my car one day when the temperature was about 85 degrees. I parked in the shade, turned off the engine and rolled up all the windows.

Within five minutes, a mild panic settled into my throat and I felt that certain restlessness that I was not in a good situation. Thick and heavy heated air went in and out of my lungs, but it was not enough. Sweat oozed from my skin as my body began its futile attempt to cool me off. Nausea settled in my stomach. Within ten minutes, I had to open my door and let myself out.

And my true suffering had not even begun.

The babies and children I have read about suffered much more. They could not free themselves. The three-year-old who was left in the day care van might have been able to get out of a car seat, but most likely he had been trained NOT to. He sat there sweating, waiting, and hoping for someone to release him. I cannot imagine the distress in their little minds, although I can imagine how I would have felt, what I would have thought, and how alone I would have been with my despair. In my ending, I felt total anguish at the betrayal of trust. I had been entrusted to someone’s care and they had broken that trust.

I think that before anyone gets to have a driver’s license, he or she must endure at least ten minutes of what it is like to be locked in a hot car and not be able to free themselves.

The question again came to me, though: Why had my attention been drawn to these articles? Why did I need this knowledge? I know not to leave a child locked in a car under any circumstances. When I am driving with a child, everything about that driving is with the knowledge that I have precious cargo on board. I could have easily lived the rest of my life without knowing the suffering those children endured.

My answer is metaphysical. God/Spirit/All-That-Is/Universal Consciousness is always with us, connected at the source of our being, even in our dying. I am connected to those children, just as I am to every living soul in the universe, through God.

In this moment, my presence is with every child who is suffering and letting them know they are not alone.

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass

A Better Presence

March 3, 2012

I am never enough. There is always more of me to become. The soul that swooped down from the heavens to nestle among embryonic membranes and permeate my fetal cells captured my infantile first breath and is still emerging.

This life all about how I can do better.

How can I live better?

How can I love better?

I can tweak my communication with others. I can smile more. I can bring more sincerity, compassion, and attention. I can talk less and listen more. I can meet another person’s gaze with single-minded devotion to this moment we are both in . . . my indivisible focus. Just for an instant, I can be perfectly present for another.

In being present to another, I am present to my own soul and I am, after each encounter, more than I was the moment before.

This immutable forward progress makes me painfully aware of why the motion of existence is one-way. There is only growth, becoming, and ending. There is no reversing. There is no undoing what has been done no matter how much I wish I could. Reversal would undo not only the actions (or inactions) that I regret, it would also take away all that I have become.

This is my only opportunity to love myself, my daughters, my friends, and the strangers who come and go. In the next moment, they might be ended. I might be ended.

Will I be complete at the moment of my physical death? I don’t know, and it simply does not matter. Death is an ending and a beginning. All that I am follows me in this eternity. All who I have known live in my eternal memory. My better presence greets this day and from moment to moment, it whispers: what do you want to remember about this moment?

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass

An eternal presence in the Eternal City

May 27, 2011

I am vacationing in the Eternal City of Rome, Italy. The Romans believed that Rome would always exist as the ruler of its empires so that is why it is called the Eternal City. Rome continues its eternal presence in the world, but its empire consists only of a frenzied concoction of busy streets, closely stacked buildings, and crumbling ruins. Within all of this confusion, though, is a populace of people who work hard, play hard, and take siestas.

I visited the Colosseum and its neighbors, Palatine Hill and The Forum. The Colosseum was not the most important part of Roman rule, but it gets the most press. It is a vast stadium (not much unlike the present day football stadiums) where gladiators (usually slaves and criminals) dealt death to each other and thousands of animals captured and imported from faraway lands. It was difficult to find quiet and silence among the hundreds of people visiting, but it was too easy to imagine that I still heard the cacophony of cheers and jeers that smothered the weeping and cries of the condemned. Looking down, I could see the walls and corridors where the animals were kept. They must have been consumed with confusion, fear, and rage. None of them would live to return to their homeland.

These games ended about 1500 years ago, but we still like to gather in stadiums and witness victory and defeat in the fields below. The difference is that most of our gladiators will live to fight another day and retire into old age.

Only a few of the homes and buildings of Palatine Hill and The Forum, where Roman law was enacted and high society lived, still exist. The foundations of long-deceased structures can still be seen in the ground as excavators sweep away years of sand and grass. My eyes consume the same scenes as ancient Romans: the Colosseum in the distance, the bricks of the house of Octavius Augustus Caeser, a stark and brilliant sun in a sky-blue heaven . . . it is the same, but it is different.

We are different, but we are the same as those Romans. We are still barbaric in the way we feast upon the misfortunes and deaths of others, yet we have built an infrastructure of sewers and cities that are marvels and miracles. The Romans built their plumbing from lead, however, and it is supposed that many of the elite suffered from lead poisoning. We, too, have poisoned ourselves and continue to do so in ways we have yet to discover.

My presence here feels like a weary breath. We are revisiting what we have already created once–a way of being that did not . . . could not . . . last. My question is: can we restructure what we have built or do we let it crumble into ruins to build upon it again?

©2011 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of water

October 15, 2010

This morning, I was washing dishes at my sink, liberally rinsing the soap from my rice pot, and being grateful for the privilege of washing dishes. Here in America, I have the luxury of water available to use as I please. Not everyone on planet Earth has this luxury. About one billion people lack access to clean water and 38,000 children under the age of five die each week from unsafe drinking water and unsanitary conditions.

If we had that many children dying in America each week, we would set up a foundation and have a race to find the cure.

Today is Blog Action Day for water ( On this day, bloggers all over the world have agreed to write and post a blog today about water and the water issues we face on planet Earth.

Water is liquid life – invisible magical particles that exist in the air, glittering crystals in snow and ice, and the marvelous unity of blue in the rivers and oceans that cover the Earth. It ranks right up there with oxygen – you can have all the oxygen in the world, but if you don’t have water, your chances of surviving beyond a day or two are pretty slim.

Water is a universal solvent. It has both positive and negative polarities making it cling to anything with a charge, including itself. Buddhists admonish us to live softly like water, yet it was water that cut the great and beautiful cliffs and valleys of the Grand Canyon.

We cannot make water. It is like trying to grow a dinosaur. In college, my environmental science professor said, “You can put a whole bunch of hydrogen and oxygen together in a sealed room and it will be a really, really long time before you get any water, if ever.”

Water makes up about 70 percent of the earth’s surface, but 97.5 percent of all water on Earth is salt water, leaving only 2.5 percent as fresh water. Nearly 70 percent of that fresh water is frozen in the polar icecaps. Most of the remaining water is in the soil and in deep underground aquifers and is not accessible for human use.

That makes less than 1 percent of the world’s fresh water (about 0.007 percent of all water on earth) available for human consumption. This is the water found in lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and underground aquifers that are shallow and close enough to the surface for us to access. Water in these areas is regularly renewed by rain and snowfall, and can be sustained. However, the water cycle is a closed cycle – meaning that the same water is constantly recycled. On one hand, this is good news: simply keep the water clean and we can use it over and over. The bad news is that we are not getting any new water.

Every item that humans manufacture requires water. Every single one. It takes 1,500 liters of water just to make a T-shirt. Water fuels the energy systems of America. Every day, more than 500 billion liters of fresh water travel through our power plants—more than twice what flows through the Nile River. Think about that before you buy that next useless trinket or the cell phone with more gadgets that you could ever learn to use in your lifetime.

If we keep using water the way we have been, that lifetime will get pretty short.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of absence

August 21, 2010

The limits of being human are never quite so obvious as when our loved ones die. Their absence is so pervasive to the point of being its own entity.

A few days back, I sent my beloved kitty into the great beyond and still cry about it. My perspective remains intact: this was a very old cat who had stopped eating and lost the ability to drink water. She was not going to recover and could have lingered for weeks, yowling over her water dish managing only to take a lick or two. I was clinging to her life more than she was, and I still doubt whether I made the right decision to assist her on her way. I would much have preferred that she die of her own accord and, eventually, she would have, but after how much suffering, I don’t know.

Her absence is still very much in residence. Her ghost is here. I glimpse her image out of the corner of my eye as I pass a corner where she slept and on the stairs she would run down to greet me when I came home each day (yes, not your typical aloof cat). These empty spaces are full of her absence. They used to be full of her presence.

If our loving were so strong, I imagine that our connection would supersede death. But, the actual physical connection is severed. My connection with those in my life who have died is in the memories and recreating the feelings in those memories in a bittersweet dance. It is the irretrievable presence that most consumes my misery. It is one thing to be separated while knowing that the other still physically exists. We can retrieve another’s presence in our lives. It is another thing when death is the separator.

Those who have physically died have entered an energy state our human senses cannot always detect. Why this is so, I don’t know. But I believe there must be a life-sustaining reason for it. One of the laws of physics says that energy can neither be created nor destroyed – it only changes form. We don’t know that energy cannot be created. We only know that as humans we cannot create energy. It is the law of our human existence, not necessarily of our energy existence.

In the presence of absence, there are lessons to be learned. Absence itself is an energy that is teaching me to be present in each moment and be mindful of the memory that I am currently creating.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of Magic

August 17, 2010

The Magic Cat
She has always been a creature of comfort. Her soul loves feeling good to the point that never mattered who might be inconvenienced in her search for warmth, a complete body rub, and dinner off my plate.

Yesterday, we said our temporary goodbye. She could no longer eat or drink water even though it was clear she wanted to. Sitting at her water dish, her meow was mournful and painful for me to hear. I made the decision to allow death to claim her body, and set her soul free. I needed to put her out of my misery. I feel only a little bit better that she is no longer physically suffering.

There is no doubt in my heart that she will be present for me when I make my transition home.

She represents more to me than a 7-pound feline with an attitude. We have a 17-year history and there are a hundred thousand memories associated with her presence. When she first arrived in our lives, Bethany was a young girl and Magic was her birthday present. Magic was supposed to be her cat, not mine. But I was working from home back then and she found my lap beneath the keyboard while I typed away. She snuggled up against me late at night searching for warmth and the familiar sound of another heartbeat. She taught me how to throw her cat toy and she would fetch it and bring it back to me to throw again. When we had visitors, people said she followed me around like a dog. I told them she was very much a cat: always on the wrong side of every door.

I dragged her 2,000 miles across the United States from Texas to Maryland and changed residences six times in 15 years. One time, she even put up with living with male cats for 3 years. She was always well-behaved and polite. These past four weeks were the only time she was sick or caused me any concern at all.

I carry the question of whether euthanasia and depriving her of suffering was the “right” thing to do. I take some comfort from the idea that if she trusted me with her life, then she also trusted me with her death.

I have a lifetime of stories to tell about her, but right now they all make me cry.

I miss her presence.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

the disappearing presence

July 19, 2010

In yesterday’s blog at Speaking from the Heart, Laurie talked about death just being another step along the continuum of our existence. Intellectually, most people know that they will die. Emotionally, we wreck ourselves out of fear of dying, and we are programmed to avoid death as long as possible. The problem is that when we live out of fear of dying, we don’t really live. When we live out of knowing we will die, life takes on all new meaning.

So, I pondered this dilemma as I am apt to do on a Sunday when life is good and pleasant and I kept asking myself: what do I want to take with me in the ethereal energy that will leave this body? In these 50-odd years, I have created all sorts of energies and ways of being that I define as “me.” Some of them are pretty nifty: perseverance, generosity, understanding, and this quirky sense of blending the properties of the physical world.

For example, Laurie mentioned just a few of the thousands of ways to die like accidents, heart attacks, and being eaten by sharks (okay, she didn’t mention that last one).

Me . . . I think I would like to die of evaporation. Yep. I just want to go up in a blaze of vapor and disappear. Forget the body leftover, all that funeral stuff, people dribbling past the casket saying “she looks SO natural!”


I want people saying “where the heck did she go?”

I want to be the mystery woman. I am not at all mysterious in life. I am just kind of out there with my tongue tripping over my words, bumping into walls, taking life a bit too seriously, and probably taking on more than my fair share of responsibility.

I seek what I am not, though. I travel through my days and nights searching out this mystery of life, finding my own truths, and connecting with my true presence. The biggest mystery, of course, is where will I go and what will I be when I die? I’ve come to a truth for myself that I will take with me all that I have become. We all came to this earth with unlimited potentialities of defining the energy that we describe as “self.”

I just have to decide what self I want to live with forever.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass

epic struggles in my windowpane

June 11, 2010

It was a tiny, but ferocious, battle. Gazing idly out my window this morning, my eye found the panicked flashing of a firefly trapped inside a spider’s web. Normally, fireflies use this luminescent ability to attract mates or prey (and you thought those little lightning bugs were harmless . . . nope, they eat other bugs and would probably take you or me down without a second thought if they were big enough).

Think about that. Imagine a summer dusk in your backyard and you are sitting there with your spouse, maybe a few friends, a gathering of children chasing each other in the yard, and suddenly, little green, red, or orange lights begin sparkling in the grass. What happens next? Yep, those darling little children rush over to find out what is making that wonderful glow. They are attracted to the light same as any other prey.

But back to the struggle. Of course, the spider was waiting high in the corner of its web, out of sight. About one-third the size of the firefly, the spider went about its business. I could not tell if it was biting the firefly or spinning more web around it. The firefly wriggled its spindly legs attempting to free itself from the web, but the web was very sticky. All the while, its green luminescence flashed brightly.

The size of the firefly proved to be too much for the delicate web and it tumbled to the window sill. The spider hunted around the web for a while, seeking what had just been there. I felt kind of bad for the spider. All that hard work. I have an affinity for spiders (which some people find very weird) and have lived peacefully with spiders in my home (which people find even weirder). Years ago, I lived in an apartment with a fly spider. They like to crawl across your ceiling and build their webs high up in corners or near windows to trap flying insects, like flies. We had an agreement. He would stay on the ceiling and I would stay on the floor. It worked. I never had any flies in my apartment.

I don’t know if the spider ever found its prey. Upon closer inspection of the spider’s web, I noted another insect already wrapped and tucked away in the corner. A midnight snack perhaps.

Being at the top of the food chain, most of us cloistered away from the slaughter that becomes our steaks, pork chops, and fried chicken, we rarely witness the forfeit of life for life. What some might find ugly and repellant (and how many of you were rooting for the firefly?), I find fascinating in its representation of the symbiotic relationship of all that exists.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass