A Soap Box Moment

Ok. I need to stand on a soapbox for a moment. My speech of “I am going to change the criminal justice system” has begun. Or not? Sometimes I think it’s so far gone that change is impossible. Yet, here I am accumulating student loan debt that probably will not get paid off until I am dead.

Let me be frank here: The justice system sets people up for failure.

Sorry, it does.

I work (currently) as a Drug Screen Coordinator at a rehabilitation clinic for recovering drug addicts. It’s not the most exciting job, but it allows me to get a sneak peek on the crappy court system that these patients go through. Now, I am not going to lie. When I started his job, I was like “fuck drug addicts they did it to themselves.” Yeah, me being judgmental. I learned from it though.

Yes, there are patients who will more than likely be repeating and repeating rehab for years. You can tell the ones that are only there because the court ordered them to be there to avoid jail time and not that they really want to change themselves.

But then there are the ones who are working their asses off, following rules and doing everything they can to start over again. However, the stories I hear piss me off so bad that I would love to just go to court with these people and tell the judge a thing or to (not that thats his/her fault.)

Here are just a few:

A patient was in a court-ordered rehabilitation class. She was wearing grey shorts and got her period. She asked the instructor if she could leave. The instructor told her if she leaves, then she will be marked incomplete. Her choice was just to sit there and bleed through her clothes or leave the class to put in a tampon and have a mark against. She left of course. And at her next court hearing, she had to explain to a room full of people on how she got her period and had to leave.

A patient is a single mother and low income and can’t afford a sitter. She has to come in and do a drug test. She brings her 3-month-old baby to the clinic, and because we are not allowed to watch the baby while she does her drug test, she gets marked incomplete. Meanwhile, there are six staff members who could have easily watched her baby for the 5 minutes it takes her to do her drug screen.

Another patient is ready to complete his rehabilitation with our clinic. He is still on probation and will have to report to his probation officer for drug screens. Mind you, this patient is working a full-time job and getting his shit together. Our clinic is open from 6a-6p so patients who work have time to come in and do their thing. Now he is on probation and they only do drug screen check-ins from 10a-4p. So this guy who is finally working and getting on his feet now has to leave randomly during his workday to see his probation officer. If he doesn’t, well….back to prison.

These are just a few examples of how the justice system sets people up for failure. It’s frankly not fair. One on hand they expect them to better themselves, and on the other hand,  they fuck with their opportunities to get their shit together.

Can this be fixed? I have no idea. But I can tell you, I will do whatever I can to help people recover and get their lives back in order….somehow…..

 

My New Book

It is small. It took me over a year. But it is done!

Grave Spirits contains a collection of my writing (some published some not) pertaining to death, ancestors, death rites, voodoo and more!

It also contains a bunch of my photography of various cemeteries that I have visited over the years.

If anything! I hope this book makes you a death positive person!

You can purchase it here!

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Grief

Back in September, I lost a very close friend, teacher, and mentor. I had known him for over 17 years. It was a hard loss. I allowed myself time to grieve. I was able to obtain copies of his writings in hopes to s3e11eea45850e506a164770fcad895cf--cemetery-angels-cemetery-statuesomeday carry on his memory and teachings. And thankfully, I was fortunate enough to let him know how important he was to me before he passed away.

It was not easy for me to lose someone so close to me, and I understood the importance of grief. Making sure that not only I honored his memory, but also making sure I was taking care of myself.

The other night I attended a Witches Ball which held an ancestor ceremony to honor those who have passed. As a death positive advocate, anything that honors and recognizes not only death but the death of those closest to us. This was my first ancestor ritual since the passing of my friend. I was fine up until the point where I had to light a candle on the altar. Then it was like the wound opened up wide.

My tears would not stop flowing. In our circle, we yelled the names of our loved ones. I never thought that it would be my friend’s name coming out of my mouth. Especially since in 2005, when I lost a dear friend to domestic violence, he did a special ritual just for her. He knew how much pain I was in and gathered everyone together to hold a ceremony for a person he didn’t even know. And there I was, lighting a candle and shouting his name.

It broke the flood gates for me. It all came rushing it. Grief is weird like that. Even for someone who acknowledges and appreciates death in all aspects. I understand the nature of grief. It ebbs and flows– but never makes it easier.

I recently had a patient whose grandmother passed away. She was in the office inconsolable. I hugged her and said how sorry I was, but I also told her how important it was that she grieves. A week later she showed up looking cheerful and happy. I asked her how she was feeling. She said that she was doing great. She had taken a second job the day after her grandmother died and had been to busy to grieve. She hadn’t allowed herself to feel the pain of loss. She covered it up by intentionally making herself busy. I reminded her that she needed to take the time to remember and honor her grandmother. That it is unhealthy not grieve.

Why are we so afraid to allow ourselves to feel the pain of loss? The death of one we love is a pain that will never go away. And that pain creeps up out of nowhere. And it sucks. But its what we need to do to honor our loved ones and turn our pain into something so much more.

 

Your Life is Going Down The Toilet

About the only thing I like about Facebook is when “Memories” pop up. The other day a memory came up from a former friend. It was a memory from 6.5 years ago.

“Girl. What is going on with you? Your life is going down the toilet.”

As I said, she was a former friend.

Her comment probably pissed me off then, but it pissed me off even more now. Seven years ago I was in the midst of a major upheaval of my life. One of those times when your life gets shaken up and you have no idea where you are going to fall.

I was ending a six-year relationship with someone who I thought was “the one.” He broke me financially and emotionally. I was always last in his life, and it hurt. I was tired. I was also experiencing a deep depression and major anxiety. The job that I loved was in jeopardy due to changes and I had no idea what was up and what was down. It was a time of tears, sleepless nights, heartache and fear of the unknown.

On the outside, yeah my life looked like an impending train wreck. It was. But was my life going down the toilet? When we are going through a major shift–does it mean we are flushing our lives away?

No. Absolutely not.

Naturally, when we are in the midst of life chaos, it can feel like our lives are dissolving. Every choice we ever made seems to be under suspicion. We spend time reflecting on what-ifs and why ifs. It’s not that our lives are going down the toilet. It means we are growing!

My relationship ended because I realized who I was and what I wanted in life. I also realized what was triggering my depression and anxiety–and it was a simple fact that I was unhappy. Do I regret the choices I made that brought me to that point? No way.

Regardless of how old you are— you are constantly growing. And with growth comes change. Most often that change is painful. At the moment, it feels like your life is going down the drain and if you will ever stop falling. And then by choices that you make- things fall into place.

No one’s life is ever going down the toilet. Even those who have made bad life choices. I work with patients who are recovering drug addicts. They have lost everything they had because of their choice to do drugs. By society’s view, these people are garbage. They are labeled “crack heads,” “tweakers,” “meth heads.” Yes. They made some fucked up choices. However, when they finally choose to get help and move forward-not only do they grow and acknowledge their past and choices- but they become beautiful people.

Wherever you are in life. Whatever you have done. Whether good or bad were all your choices. But even if you are hanging by a thread–your life is never going down the trash. You are learning, growing and changing. You own that.

Death Denial

bc7df36ec1efdcedd1bae56db709ecf8One major flaw with humans is our ability to deny just about anything. Even when it’s right in front of our faces. Especially death.

After the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic– no one ever discussed it. If it was discussed, it was in a passing comment or a three-sentence paragraph.

Same thing for the 1831 cholera pandemic in England and beyond. After more than 52,000 lives were claimed to cholera- it was never discussed or mentioned.

Oh yes, and the Black Death? The bubonic plague that decimated Europe for three years; again, rarely discussed.

The 1918 flu is never mentioned in textbooks when World War I is discussed; even though it killed more than the actual war itself.

Is it our fear of death that prevents us from actually acknowledging its existence? Even when its everywhere? Are we so afraid to acknowledge our own mortality?

I understand the trauma of seeing people dying every day. Seeing coffins stacked up. Mass graves being dug. But after it’s over…..

I recently had a patient who lost her grandmother. She was a wreck when she came into the office.  I offered my condolences and some advice on keeping healthy during a time of intense grief (I have experienced it way too many times). The following week she came back in, and while she looked tired, she didn’t seem like someone who just lost someone. I asked her the obvious question: How are you doing?

Her response was basically, “I am working two jobs and going to meetings so I can’t think about it.”

I jumped right away into healer mode. I explained to her how bad it was not to acknowledge the death of her grandmother, but also her own grief. Keeping in grief will only cause more damage in the future than actually dealing with it when its there. When I worked in hospice I saw it all the time. Family members not dealing with the reality that their loved one is dying. When death came they would just brush it off. The “we knew it was coming,” quote I heard a thousand times.

What about death is so frightening that when it’s right there we ignore it? Never discuss it. Never want to deal with it. Even those with strong religious and spiritual lives deny the obvious.

We are all dying.

Accepting our own mortality, even in the face of death itself, can not only empower us with the ability to live our lives to the fullest but also give us the strength we need when our loved ones pass away. We are not as fragile as we think we are. Pretending that death will not happen–or, that death happened on a large scale– is only denying our ability to recognize our own mortality.

And as for those who passed away- how horrible is it to just forget them? Forget what happened? Forget how they died? Never discussing it again. Don’t they deserve respect? I was so happy when I hear that the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia was holding a mournful march to honor those who died in the 1918 flu epidemic.  Finally acknowledging not only the victims but also death itself.

Until we can stop denying the obvious- we are never going to truly live.

 

Get Your Sh*t Together

Sheesh! I literally have not blogged here in a long time! I know this blog has helped a lot of people over the years- so its time to fire it up again.

Update on me? Well A LOT has changed since my last post! I decided at the ripe age of 38 to go back to school (for a much-needed career change!), moved to Tampa, Florida…and am once again finding my footing in this crazy thing called life.

Truthfully, 2019 has been nothing but a roller coaster. Emotionally and mentally. It’s definitely been a journey of strength. Making a major life change is really not easy. Especially when you are an adult. You would think I would have my shit together by now—but does anyone really have their shit together?

No one does. Frankly, if someone thinks that they have a “perfect” life– they are lying. It may be great—but no one’s life is really perfect.

Let’s face it, we are humans. We are flawed. It still amazes me that we have existed on this planet as long as we have. So why are so many of us afraid to say that “No. I do not have my shit together.”

I also often wonder what it means to actually have your life together? Is it based on your education? Whether you are married with kids? Own a house? What is the actual definition of getting one’s shit together?

A dear close friend who changed my life back in 2002 passed away this year. One thing he always taught me was that we are all always seeking. In fact, he called some of us his “seekers.”

I don’t care how much money you have. I don’t care if you own a house or live in a cheap apartment just trying to get by…

You will never have your shit together…

We are ALL seekers. We are all seeking something from this world that will, even for just a little while, make us believe that we have our lives together.

I am still a rule-breaker, an outsider, a seeker— a little wiser, a little older– but still trying to get my shit together!

As I am sure you are as well!

Life. Death. Love.

“Nothing can happen more beautiful than death.” – Walt Whitman

It is always hard for me to wrap my mind around why people are so afraid of getting old and afraid of death. After all, it’s going to happen to all of us. I can appreciate the wanting to live a good long life- free of disease. But why try to slow down the aging processimages? Why not accept the inevitable— and actually use it to create a well-lived life?

We started to die the day we were born.

When people first meet me, their initial thoughts are usually that I am a dark and mysterious girl with a morbid fascination. After all,  I make jewelry with vertebrae (human and animal). I paint animal skulls. I post images of death in all its forms. My home is decorated with all things death-related– skulls, skeletons, bones. My life is dedicated to the dead.

I have been fascinated with death since childhood. Being born on November 1st, it’s hard not to fall in love with images of death! My birthdays were always filled with bits and pieces of Halloween and All Souls Day. My work with dead goes back as far as I can remember-even within the realm of imaginary friends in childhood.

As I grew older, I began to realize that my life was destined to be entwined between the realms of the living and the dead.

Am I obsessed with death? No.

Do I venerate death? Yes.

I have never been afraid of the concept of death. I understand why most people are. It’s frightening to think about the unknown


I find death comforting. We are all going to end up there. Death is also the one thing in life that does not discriminate; Death does not care if you are rich, poor, what race you are, where you are from, who your family is, what religion you practice, who you pray to. Death is a bit of coming home after a long journey. For me, death is like a waiting lover. Open arms and ready to dance. Morbid? Not really.

My relationship with death has made me love life because Death is humbling. 

When I work with bones–I find it an honor. To hold something so sacred that ones supported the weight of a living thing is a blessing. When I work on a piece, whether painting on a skull or entwining vertebrae into jewelry, I think of what animal once owned those bones. What type of energy that animal had. Where it lived, what it did. I reflect on the essence of the being.

When I work on human bones- its an even greater honor. I think of the person, who they may have been, what they may have done. When I hold a human bone in my hand, I think of my ancestors– of all our ancestors– those who have walked this earth thousands of years before now. Its a sacred honor to me to hold those human bones in my hand.

Imagine if someone told you you had three days to live. Would you really live? Would you break the rules? Would you take risks? Would you be a kinder person?

This is why I love death. It made me learn to live my life with no regrets. I always reflect on the choices

I made, chances I took…things I have said– and I regret nothing.  I am getting older, I am learning that time goes by fast. Age is inevitable. But I have every intention of living my life my way.

In honoring and understanding death- I have learned to appreciate life. Death has humbled me beyond words. Working with and having human bones in my life is one of the greatest honors I could ever have. The dead remind me to live. REALLY live.


So yes, maybe in some strange way- I am obsessed with Death. But its an obsession of absolution. I know that someday I will be like those bones….that will be all that is left of me on this earthly realm. I have no fear of that.