Hi. I’m still alive.
And I haven’t wanted to write.
There is no one concrete reason.
By spring 2021, unemployment got me so cray in my own head that I took a full time job, a part time job, and several theater gigs to fill my time and had no time to just stop and fart for myself.
And another reason is…
The pandemic kinda got me in this head space where all I really wanted to say to people when I pulled up an empty blog post was “Well…now ya know.”
And of course…OF COURSE…that ties back to cancer. (If it didn’t, would it be a true Jesse post?)
The perpetual state of total fear that everyone was feeling toward the beginning of the pandemic…like…yeah, I was feeling that, too.
But EVEN more than that was this really snarky feeling of like, “Well…now ya know.”
“Well…now ya know” what it’s like to not feel invincible.
“Well…now ya know” what it’s like to constantly worry about your immune system and sanitize everything that comes into your house.
“Well…now ya know” what it’s like to not want people to hug you or come close to you without your expressed permission, and have to stay home all the time.
“Well…now ya know what it’s like to be FORCED to face the possibility of your own death before age 40, 30, 20…18…”
And then I thought…wow, Jess, that’s pretty bitchy. You should sort that out.
And so I wasn’t writing. I just let myself work for a little while. Get used to living somewhere new: A SUBURB.
Get used to the idea that you’re not a city girl anymore, that you live in a house, and that you have a mortgage, and you are…*gulp*…getting kind of…domestic…(Christ).
And then one day, I heard the term “death doula.”
Now, I’m not going to sit here and go into detail about the different kinds of things death doulas do. I’m going to reference some lit:
But I knew immediately, when I did some research on what a death doula is, that it was something I really wanted to do…and I hadn’t felt certain about “things I’d like to do” in quite a long time.
So push comes to shove, and long story short…I completed a Death Doula certification thru Going With Grace (with the AMAZING, enlightening ALUA ARTHUR), and earned NEDA proficiency…
And it was through the course of accomplishing the above that I discovered the HEALTHY, less catty version of “Well…now you know…” and also had a major AHA moment about what truly bothered me about having cancer—besides, of course, the fact that I had cancer):
We are incapable of talking healthily about death.
It’s true. And throughout my whole cancer treatment I really felt that no one could or would look me square in the face and talk with me about death unless we mentioned God or religion.
We can’t do it. Our western society doesn’t want to talk about it. Our med-tech-driven healthcare system doesn’t want you to recognize its existence. It offers you treatment after treatment after treatment in place of saying, when the time comes, “hi, it’s time for your body to stop.”
We can’t talk about how humans die…how unsettling it is…can’t talk about why we die… or what might this all BE for?
Even for a healthy person, the questions exist because…a healthy person is also going to die. They are supposed to.
But if we talk about it, we are labeled “morbid.”
We are not “thinking positively.” If we don’t THINK POSITIVE, we are attracting the opposite.
And the message we give our actively dying folks in America is that DYING is LOSING, and so they’d better not “give up.”
Few actively dying people hear “it is okay to go. It is natural. Your body is done fighting and that is okay.” And so they fight tooth and nail to hang on for their loved ones even when it’s their time…and as a result, they reinforce for the next generation that death is not okay and you must cling on for…dear life.
Is it a wonder we have a complex?
But we cannot, cannot, cannot talk about death. Too icky. Too uncomfortable. Too morbid. Too sad.
I’ve been wondering for years now whether I really want to continue writing a blog that is
A) totally cancer-focused
B) Just…kind of spur of the moment, chaotic blather
Neither feels authentic anymore.
And that is another reason why you haven’t heard from me.
But now I feel a little bit more direction. I want to be part of the conversation about dying and death-positivity, BECAUSE:
Regardless of who you are and what you’ve been through…2020 and the world thereafter has shown us all that we’d best at least entertain the idea that we won’t be here one day.
And you know what?
I know…I know it sounds morbid. But I swear, since I’ve started my death-positive journey…I have been more present and aware of the moments of my life. Of how I am feeling. Of what’s working and what’s not. And of what I’m grateful for.
The death positive movement IS a thing, and one of its leaders is Caitlyn Doughty of “The Order of the Good Death.” Literally, if you google “death positive,” her website is the first to come up. She kind of kickstarted the “movement” and she’s hilarious. Not morbid. She is hilarious (highly recommend her book “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”)
But the ideas behind the movement have been around. I mean…if we’re being real, indigenous peoples have been attuned to them from the beginning.
Recently, I’ve been reading “Die Wise” by “death guru” Stephen Jenkinson…and while Jenkinson can be perceived as a somewhat controversial figure…it’s one of HIS ideas that has been sticking with me most lately (and kind of haunting me every morning).
He talks about how the problem with the western world today is that we expect to live. We wake up every day anticipating that we will live, and nothing else is okay—we are OWED the day.
I mean…you don’t need me to tell you that we are NOT owed the day. We anticipate that we’ve got all this time…and we get depressed by the monotony of our days because we just….figure it’s gonna go on and on and on.
And it quite literally is not. That’s what makes each moment significant. (Yeah, a little self-help-y…but hey…whatever helps the self.)
I could go on and and on about Stephen Jenkinson, really.
But maybe another day.
My overall point here is…THIS cancer survivor wanted to talk about death from the beginning of her cancer diagnosis…and all the well-meaning people in her life wanted to “think positively,” (which has a time and place) or give her a Bible.
And those well-meaning people…have probably not had many open conversations about death before either…so how can they be expected to know what to say about it in an instance like this?
I don’t blame anyone. But the pandemic brought a lot of those suppressed questions and curiosities about death right back to me in a very visceral way. And I think that’s why I was feeling a little…I dunno… SALTY towards people and their pandemic frenzy? (especially toward those my own age, who just couldn’t understand what I was going through way back when). Kinda like….NOW YOU GET IT. I TRIED TO EXPLAIN THIS PANICKY FEELING I WAS HAVING IN 2009.
These are “uncertain times” for everyone. Not just for me, now.
“Well, now you know…” I thought.
And, I learned, through the course of the past year, that the full thought is this:
“Well, now you know…we should be talking more openly about dying and not sweeping it under the rug.”
If we talk about it, if we acknowledge it…we can not only maneuver these “uncertain times” just a little more effectively, but we can find our living moments feel just that much more ALIVE.
I intend to blog more as I explore the death-positive movement and where I fit into it.
My blog may no longer be for you, and I understand. I can promise it won’t all be posts like these. I’m sure a lady at Sephora will offend me again and I’ll launch a full-scale campaign.
But I understand if this is where I leave you.