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What Is Death? Messages From The Heart

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Such an interesting juxtaposition of a word that most people fear, with the rainbow colored images that are displayed on the cover of the latest offering of Renaissance Woman (former Miss World USA and human rights activist) Lexie Brockway Potamkin. What is Death? Messages From the Heart, is a healing balm for the wounds we humans experience when someone we love passes from this plane of existence. Three other books came before this one, What is Spirit?, What is Peace? , What is Love? setting the stage to tackle one of the most challenging subjects. Like death itself, the book poses more questions than it definitively answers. Well researched, with both scientifically objective and anecdotal evidence, What is Death? is a comforting guide to the Beyond and what precedes it.



Potamkin shares her own journey with death of loved ones; including her beloved parents and her 97 year old uncle. The death of her father when she was 19 helped to shape her world view and the impression of the ways in which she was to live her life. The descriptions are poignant and reflect, as well, my own experiences with so many of the passings of those in my life, including those of my husband (in December of 1998), my father, (in April of 2008) and my mother (in November of 2010).


She describes the various spiritual, medical and societal views on death, and what follows, leaving room for ongoing dialogue. The door is then open for those from all walks of life, to offer their perspective on death. I am honored to be one of the contributors. (page 39)


Some examples:


I believe that death is freedom. Freedom from the physical body, which has been my vessel in this lifetime. A freedom like no other, where my soul can fly and soar!”-Kristal Hardy, Caregiver


I have no idea what death is, but, to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s comment on pornography. “I’ll know it when I see it.”- Merna Popper, Writer, art dealer


I believe I am here to ascend spiritually., and that my sole purpose now is to bring more light, love and God’s guidance into my life.”-Meredith Porte, Producer/host, public television


She then asks readers to consider their own legacy and the mark they choose to make on the world. A guide for planning memorial services is included. As an interfaith minister, Potamkin has officiated at celebrations of life, honoring the one who has passed, even as their loss is grieved.


The exquisite artwork that illuminates the pages, was created by Deborah Lieberman Fine. Their soft, muted shades without definition, are reflective of the idea of death itself. Uncertain what’s out there, they leave room for personal interpretation.

In closing, Potamkin offers the reader the sense of healing that comes with a certainty, that even after the death of the body, love lives on.   


Something Wonderful


What if you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the statement above was a given?  How would your  day begin and end and what would be sandwiched in between those two slices of fragrant, raisin flecked cinnamon toast (if that is your bread of choice…for some it might be hardy organic 12 grain with a whole bunch of seeds, or a a delicate,  fluffly croissant)?  I invite you to take a moment to contemplate if it feels like a ridiculous question or the most ‘of course’ one in the world? For this born optimist (as I referred to myself in yesterday’s entry), it is as natural as breathing and yet, there are times when I need to be reminded, in the hustle and bustle of daily activity, to take a deep breath, just as I need to be tapped on the shoulder and recognize that something wonderful has ALWAYS come out of even the most painful experiences.

Yesterday, as I sat with patient after patient in my day job as a social worker in a psychiatric hospital, it took all I had at times, to maintain that knowing. Hearing stories that would curl most people’s hair, I am always amazed at the resilience some people exhibit and the utter will it takes at times, for folks to keep on keepin’ on. Then there are others who, in some ways, continue to identify themselves by their wounds, rather than the triumphs over the adversity they have faced.  I asked a few pointed question of one such person who sat in my office…”What if you could see yourself as a healthy, functioning (I hesitate to use the word ‘normal’, joking that it is a setting on washing machine) person? How would you act, what choices would you make, how would you feel?”  She responded that it would feel weird, she wouldn’t know how to feel, but she did know that she would refrain from harming herself as she had so many times before.  I challenged her to take a look (as I do with many abuse survivors) at the ways in which she continued to perpetuate the abuse that had been inflicted on her in her life. It’s a common theme among survivors who still feel like victims. She smiled and seemed as if she was REALLY letting it soak in, that she could have a different type of life than she had been experiencing. She then asked me for literature on one particular treatment modality that could benefit her.

Last night, I attended a class that I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, called No More Difficult People, taught by Dana Lightman and found that these ideas were reinforced, that we are always at choice with the ways we respond vs. react to anything that comes our way, once we realize the mental mechanism behind it. It is not about what anyone says or does, it is the lenses through which we view anything that occurs. Any of us can get scooped up and carried away by our emotional overwhelm and overload. It is referred to as emotional hijacking. I think of it as a tidal wave of  feeling that sometimes sweeps me off my feet and knocks me on my tush. My recovery  (and yours) depends on how readily I/we can get back up and dry off.  There have been times when I have remained soaked and feeling much like a drowned rat and then there are others when I have basked in the warmth of the sun, shaking my head in awe at what I have rebounded from. As Oprah says at the end of each issue of O Magazine “What I Know For Sure”…is that, regardless of appearance, something wonderful is ALWAYS there for me and for you. 

In the midst of any given day, I can find something to ‘kvetch’ or ‘kvell’ about.  For those who are not familiar with those Yiddish terms…here is a primer. The first word means to complain persistently, to whine or catastrophize. The second is to burst with pride, joy and excitement over an accomplishment.  What amazes me is how quuckly I can shift back and forth between those polarities. All it takes is mindful recognition. It also takes intention setting. Each morning, sometimes even before I open my eyes, I state my affirmation that I am attracting amazing people and having extraordinary experiences and each day I do. It doesn’t mean that things flow smoothly all the time. It does mean that I am better able (sometimes with a pretty wild internal 2 year old temper-tempest) to gracefully recover when things don’t go ‘my way’…although, since I believe that the Universe is on my side (and yours).

What wonder do you anticipate today?

A little reggae to begin and end your day?  Wonderful World  Beautiful People  by Jimmy Cliff


Positive Attitude Month


Did you know that October is Positive Attitude Month?  I just found out and it lit a smile on my otherwise sleepy face this morning. As I look out my window, I see a grey sky and have the desire to go back to bed. Flannel sheets feel pretty appealing on a chilly morn. In this moment, I KNOW I have a choice. I could grump and grumble “I don’t wanna”  get out of bed and go to my full time job that is 45 minutes away and then take a CEU class tonight to help me maintain my Social Work license, which lasts until nearly 10 pm on a night after a day like yesterday when I kept a similar schedule.  OR I can take a deep breath and recognize that I am beyond grateful that I have a job that allows me to make a difference and pays my bills. Many people can’t say that. 

The class I am taking is called No More Difficult People and is  being offered by the dynamic and engaging Dana Lightman who I was thrilled to have met a few years back when she taught one  called Power Optimism. The idea is that optimism (although she claims to be a born optimist…me too:) is also a  learned skill and with it in our tool kit, we can move gracefully through even the most challenging situations. She uses a concept that she calls re-interpretation, that I refer to as re-framing. What it comes down to is viewing ANY situation; even one that could be excrutiatingly painful, as something meaningful from which we can learn and grow. It doesn’t mean we have to like it, or even desire it, but can use it to heal old issues and move forward. It comes down to this…while we may have no control over the circumstances we encounter, such as the death of a loved one or being at the whim of someone else’s choices, we ALWAYS are at choice about how we either respond (with mindful awareness) or react (with impulsive, shoot from the hip 0-60 in ten seconds flat behavior that doesn’t serve us or resolve the problem) .

At my day job, I come face to face with folks whose default mode is often victimhood. While many of them were at one time, ‘victims’ of someone else’s behaviors, one of my chosen roles is a guide who shows them that there are alternatives to continuing to see themselves that way.  Sometimes a person will get an incredulous look on his or face as if to ask, “You mean I don’t have to keep feeling like this?  You mean things can change?” I assure them that this is indeed the case. And then there are others who steadfastly  and with entrenched beliefs, contend that the way things have been are the way things will always be. That’s when I think…”Ok. game on!” and I pull out my own tool kit of metaphor, concept, life lesson that has come my way, in order to reframe their beliefs that have kept them stuck where they are. Think of the movie Groundhog Day as a symbol of the definitition of insanity…’doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.’

Keep in mind that I’m not talking about sugar-coating or denying the events that are occurring. If you wrap dog poop in a pretty package, it’s still dog poop. What I am saying is that it is possible to find meaning in the madness. Think of times in your life in which you overcame challenge and turned it into triumph.  I can list many in my own life and I remind myself frequently when confronting the ‘it’s not fair, how come….’ doubt monsters that tell me that I am not where I want to be in my life.

Last night, I came smack dab against one of my own doubt monsters. Most people see me as bright, cheery, confident and optimistic, or so I’ve been told.  I had a book signing that had been set up for several weeks and I was excited about it. Heading over there, the old thought “What if no one shows up? What if no one buys the book?”  hammered away at  me. That chattering monkey mind can be so very clever. I walked around the store which I love since it contains so many cool things to peruse and many of the items are spiritually eclectic. I took deep breaths, reminding myself, as my friend Reid Mihalko loves to say, and had encouraged me when I was feeling nervous about facilitating Cuddle Party workshops “Darlin’, the event will go as the event will go.” And so it did. By the end of the night, I was delighted to have had a steady flow of folks coming in and taking home the book and some sweet surprises of friends that I didn’t expect, but whose bright smiles and celebratory hugs brightened my night. Sometimes it really is that simple a reframe. I look back on the past 53 years of  my life and am certain that (although it may not seem that way at the time), things always work out for the highest good.


Do you see yourself as an optimist or pessimist?  Are you a glass half full or half empty kinda person?  My contention is that the glass is always filled to overflowing, since, even if it is only partially filled with liquid, the other portion is filled with air.  In what ways will you celebrate Positive Attitude Month?  What ‘impossible’ beliefs of lack and limitation can you transform into ‘I’m possible’ briliantly shining reality? I daresay that you will enjoy the outcome so much that you will make it an every day event.

I encourage you to go to Dana’s website and learn about ways to ‘optimize’ your potential. 

POWER Optimism Quick Tips

Start A Positive Bank Account
Say “thank you” for the little things that happen throughout your day, like finding a great parking spot, seeing a beautiful butterfly or meeting a deadline. Making daily “positive deposits” pays off…you can draw on your positive surplus to offset setbacks.

Freedom from Fretting
Create a worry box to curtail constant rumination. Write your worries on a piece of paper and put them in the box for safekeeping. Set aside a worry period to read the papers in your box and remind yourself that these thoughts are off limits while they are in the box.

Whistle A Happy Tune
Take a catchy tune, one that really gets your toes tapping and your blood flowing. Now, create your own positive lyrics to go with that tune and have some fun singing your new creation. Before you know it, you’ll be humming the “positive” throughout your day.

Mental Rehearsal Pays Off
Tap into your imagination’s positive potential by rehearsing your desired performance in your mind. Be sure to put yourself in the visualization. Now, play the scene in your head as if you were watching yourself in a movie. Enjoy the scene. Smile and feel the satisfaction of success.

Turning Your Desires into Reality
To turn your new desires into your current reality, try creating a collage that describes your desires in pictures and words from magazines or clip art. Hang the collage in a prominent place where you can easily see it. Look at it often and feel yourself growing into the ideas expressed in the collage.  Wake Up-John Legend and The Roots


What A Difference A Year Makes



Today I was musing with my friend Cindy, that a year ago marks the last time I saw my mother prior to her passing on November 26, 2010.  Halloween weekend had me heading southward to sunny South Florida for what was to be a final period of laughter, sharing of  stories, hugs and cuddles and chocolate with the woman who 52 years and two weeks earlier, had birthed me into the world. Little did I know at the time, that we were in the final stages of birthing her into her new life.

I asked if she wanted to go trick or treating and she said that she would rather that the little ones come to her. I suggested that we dress in costume and she said she didn’t want to scare the kids.  So, instead, we sat together with a big bowl of mixed candy on her lap and with pumpkin colored bags on my lap, and scooped up handfuls and dropped them into their containers. Later that day, three of the neighbor children came into the living room in their costumes, wanting to spend time with this eternally youthful kid in an old person’s body who they saw as a surrogate grandmother. I was delighted to witness that they found her company to be as sweet as, and more compelling than the treats she offered them.

We reminisced about the Halloween party we had at my childhood home for which she sewed pumpkin costumes for my father and herself, my sister and me, including hats with stems that tied under our chins.  We stuffed the costumes with newspapers that rustled when we moved. Green leotards and orange facepaint adorned our bodies and cheeks. I thought it was the coolest thing to have a mother who was so creative.  Even my dad got into the spirit of it, since he too was a big kid.  I reminded her of the year that Jan and I both dressed as Mary Poppins, complete with little parasols that we twirled and pretended could help us fly.

As I look back on that particular weekend, I realize that, even not knowing at the time that I would not be holding her hand or hugging or kissing her again in this lifetime, I felt complete, holding nothing back, saying all that needed to be said. I am amazed when I consider how this year has unfolded, from her death, to her funeral, from handling her affairs to completing my book with her encouragement on this earth plane, to the ongoing support from wherever she is at the moment, to the opportunities to connect with so many kindred spirits, to the “Mom Miracles” and butterfly sightings that have occurred…I am simply blown away. Lest I forget…love lingers…and I am grateful~


For the sweet soul she will always be~ All Souls Night-Loreena McKennitt


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