Dr. Steve

Steve Stubenrauch, OMD passed away last week. He was widely known in our community for his “living out loud”ways, his brilliant mind and wacky sense of humor. He had a stroke 18 months ago and came back to life with rehab, herbs, acupuncture and the loving support of many healers. He liked to say he “got his second chance” to live a little and was grateful to be able to walk, talk, bike, drive, and treat patients again after the stroke. His children, Amy and Tara were flower girls at our wedding in August of 1993. They are now beautiful young ladies. Amy, is 28 and the mother of a 3 year old Scarlett; she is also carrying a baby boy due on July 15th. Both girls were the apples of Steve’s eye. Wayne Methios (one of Steve’s “two best friends named Wayne”) read letters written by Amy and Tara to their dad at the service yesterday. It was clear by their words that they held him in the highest regard as well. Both expressed a wish that he would have remained with us longer than his 54 years. His 55th birthday would be today, Summer Solstice.

Steve loved all kinds of music and especially the Moody Blues. He was known for doing karaoke whenever the opportunity arose and I personally witnessed his bursting into spontaneous songs like “Brown Eyed Girl” (for his daughter, Tara) or “Tuesday Afternoon” (if it happened to be a Friday). He was a world class chess player and often would do benefit chess matches to raise money for nonprofits locally, successfully playing (and winning) as many as 100 boards at a time. He was always laughing, joking and talking a mile a minute. He loved Star Trek and all things science fiction. Just a few weeks ago Steve got to go to the Sci-Fi convention in Phoenix where he heard one of his heroes, Leonard Nimoy, speak.

First and foremost Dr. Steve was a healer. Many of his colleagues were present at the memorial and we were reminded of his tireless effort to bring education, healing and joy to the community through Chinese Medicine, acupuncture and herbal therapies.  When Rev. Konrad Kaserer asked how many present had been on the receiving end of Steve’s needles almost everyone in the room of well over 100 raised their hands. He was one of the many healers who attended to Wayne Marinelli during his cancer journey, gently providing relief from chemo symptoms and then some very spiritual sessions during Wayne’s hospice time. I think he may have called on Wayne recently to do his annual rim to rim Grand Canyon hike. Yes, Steve was determined to do the hike despite his stroke history and when his hiking partner was unable to make it, he made the rim to rim walk on his own.

There is a delicate line between life and death. Steve knew it well and he was not afraid to cross that line. Having survived out of body experiences and the stroke, he talked openly about passing into the next frontier. Music chosen by his family and played yesterday at the service included “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan,  “Graceland” by Paul Simon, “Wildest Dreams” by the Moody Blues, “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton and a beautiful Italian version of “Time to Say Goodbye.” Last week as he was helping his room mate and friend, Rev. Konrad to carry a very light, but awkward futon frame upstairs in their apartment. He collapsed and left his body in the arms of Konrad (a former Catholic Priest and current Unity Minister). The metaphor of carrying the ‘light, but awkward frame upstairs” and “dying in the arms of the angels” was not lost in the deluge of tears and laughter shared during the service. Steve was a one of a kind man with a heart of gold. He will be missed and remembered always.
Happy Birthday, Steve! With Love and Spaghetti

Five Wishes

I  am really proud to report that Robert (my husband) and I have completed our Five Wishes! This is a legal living will and it has heart and soul. We did this with a small group of dear friends in sort of a ‘workshop’ setting. The two-part process included talking about what advance directives are and how important they are if we are unable to speak due to accident or injury. We watched the DVD provided by Aging With Dignity and then broke into couples to start writing our wishes. We then enjoyed a fabulous potluck and went on home to do the homework of completing the wishes. This document invites us to look deeply at our views about death, dying and the way we would want to exit this world. It also reflects on how we would want to be cared for and remembered. It is an important tool in the death revolution!

A few weeks later we joined together again to witness the Wishes for each other and have them notarized. It was a grand celebration with plenty of heart-centered sharing and yes, even laughter. We lifted glasses of pomegranate sparkling cider and/or champagne in a toast to our courage and success. We then again enjoyed delicious food and basked in the knowing that this task will help those we love to know exactly what our wishes would be if we cannot express those for ourselves.   I highly recommend this activity and I am offering Five Wishes Coaching as a new Further Shore program.

National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD) exists to inspire, educate, and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning.  Saturday, April 16, 2011 is the date this year. If you have not done a living will or named your health-care power of attorney perhaps it would be a good day to start the process; or just discuss it with a loved one.  http://www.nhdd.org

Finding Frances

I just discovered the work of author Janice Van Dyck. While I have not read her book entitled “Finding Frances” I plan to do so as soon as I can get it in hand! She has written a number of blog posts on the subject closest to my heart. One recently appeared in the Huffington Post entitled “Talking About Death, We All Want To, We Just Don’t Know How” really caught my fancy so I spent some time reading her blog. I am excited to know that this topic is beginning to grow.



Janice Van Dyck

Janice Van Dyck


Talking About Death: We All Want To, We Just Don’t Know How”

Donning His Cap

It has been a long time since I posted. . .  many roads traveled since last April. I am excited to report that I have been writing even though not here on my blog!

In January the nonprofit organization Compassion & Choices held a “Good Death” story contest. I wrote a story about the passing of Mr. Suhr (the father of my long time friend, Mary). Being present for his death was a gift beyond measure and I am guessing that would be happy to know that the story was selected as one of the top five in the contest! You can read “Donning His Cap” here – Enjoy!



Do Your Best

I have been talking with several people who are involved with an end of life process. Their questions are the same ones I ask myself when my loved ones are transitioning from bodily life. “Am I doing the right thing for him?” “If my sister could talk, do you think she would want us keep the ventilator and feeding tube going?” “I’m so tired but I’m afraid to leave him because, what if he dies while I’m out?” “Will the morphine kill mom if we give her too much?” “Why didn’t we talk about this before NOW?” “Why can’t my family just get on the same page with me about these care choices?”  The questions are the same ones.

At the end of life, communication can get complicated. These kinds of questions can give rise to emotionally charged debate that is not always pretty, peaceful or calm. These debates can actually turn into bedside power plays, stone cold silences, or loud screaming matches.  I have learned that at hospice time, or at any time really, there are no wrong moves and everyone is doing their best. Even if it looks just awful, everyone is doing their best. Even if you want to blame others for their arrogance, ignorance, or unseemly behavior, everyone is doing their best. They may not be behaving the way you would like them to, but they are doing their best. They may not think that you are doing your best and may tell you so, loudly or quietly. You then get to respond, loudly or quietly. Like I said, even if it looks just awful, everyone is doing their best and the questions are the same ones.

Here in the western world, we tend to push death into the closet. When it is upon us, emotions and opinions can escalate to unbelievable heights. Disagreements, overwhelm and confusion about decision-making mixed with physical exhaustion is a recipe for disaster.When I was beginning to study hospice philosophy, I had an idealistic picture of families gathered around the bedside in a sunny room with melodious music playing; everyone holding hands and sharing the love as their dear one easily slips from bodily life to whatever is next. What a shocker to realize that this is only what happens on television. In truth, I have seen frustration, resentment, grandstanding, and bickering during end of life; most often it is not the dying person doing any of this.

Because we are human, we have human feelings, thoughts, and opinions; because we are individuals, these will vary greatly among us.  How to care for a dying loved one can offer the greatest opportunity for negotiation and compromise that a family will ever face. This is especially true if the dying person has not made their wishes clear and/or is not able to speak their wishes. If everyone is not in total alignment about what is happening for the dying person the resultant situation can become awkward, upsetting, or even volatile. Strong differing opinions about religious and spiritual orientation, personal care methods, legal or financial situations will offer more of a challenge. Fear of death, suffering, pain or the unknown will pretty much always increase the symptoms of stress for both care givers and the one transitioning.

In The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz it is suggested that one adopt these attitudes for a peaceful life:

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don’t make assumptions
  3. Always do your best
  4. Don’t take it personally

Family care givers may benefit greatly from practicing these ideas. Use care to speak your true feelings, thoughts and opinions calmly in “I” statements, such as “I feel scared about this decision and I don’t know what to do.” or “I think we need a second opinion.” Don’t assume to know what others are feeling or thinking; ask: “Are you feeling angry about the choice we made?” “Do you think we need to call the nurse?”

According to Marshall Rosenberg, human needs for connection, assurance, and comfort are universal. Family care givers in a hospice situation may not feel these needs are being met. After all, someone they are connected to is transforming before their eyes. Assurance is elusive and there are many questions that reach far beyond the immediate moment.  When needs are not met, any one of us can become judgmental. In that situation, notice it, forgive yourself and look for the unmet need underling the judgment. Is it validation, support, comfort or connection that is needed? Is it something practical; like eating a meal sitting down or having someone else do that errand? Often when we judge others, it is because we have an unmet need. It is not even about them, but rather about what we need to feel whole, well and connected. While it might be a stretch given family history to ‘see the best’ in others, being willing to try can diffuse a potentially challenging moment. If you can become the one to affirm that everyone is doing their best, no matter how it looks, you will set the stage for forgiveness and peaceful solutions.

When others tell you that you are not at your best, don’t take it personally! The accusation is an indicator of where they are in the moment; giving you a clue as to their unmet needs. They are doing the best they can with the skills they have; and in that moment they cannot grasp another way to be or do. They are fielding the same questions that may be plaguing you. Become willing to do your best; you will then model this for others. Even if you think you did something wrong; let it go, turn it over. The long and short of it is, at end of life or any time really, there are no wrong moves; the questions are the same ones and everyone is doing their best.

Butterflies Do It

A symbol I have in mind for this movement is the butterfly. I have long been enchanted with this creature; bugs in general, not so much. . . but butterflies, absolutely! These are the creatures that begin in the form of a tiny, waxy egg laid by female butterflies onto plant leaves. The eggs will be fertilized by male butterflies via tiny, funnel shaped openings. When fertilized, they will gestate for a few weeks and then emerge as caterpillars or larvae.

In the larvae stage of life, their main activity is eating. They do it almost constantly. Most are plant eaters, some feed on insects. These charming, slow moving creatures will go through several cycles of shedding or moulting their outer epidermis in between meals. They have to be on the lookout for predators, but they are brilliant at survival. Some can puff up their heads and eyes so they appear snake-like to predators. Some will emit smelly chemicals in self defense, and still others will ingest toxic plant materials that make them unpalatable to insects and birds. This comes in handy when hanging upside down in the pupa stage!

During the pupa or chrysalis stage the creature attaches itself to something (usually leaves or small twigs) and moults for the last time; forming a protective place for metamorphosis to occur. Once this happens, they become very quiet and still so as not to attract attention from predators. An alchemical process transforms the caterpillar into the butterfly. Tiny wing disks grow dramatically as the larvae undergoes a rapid hormonal change. It will use its own body as nutrients for its re-creation. Once our butterfly has broken free of its old shell, it can take up to three hours for its wings to dry for that first flight. And fly it will, sometimes migrating hundreds of miles against all odds.

So the larvae is dying to fly; born into this world in a form that will require repeated shedding of that which it inevitably becomes. It will then, by nature’s own hand enter a deeply internal process that changes all the rules, completely transforming its world. It is amazing! In this new state the butterfly takes flight and at some point he or she will again shed the form taken. Yes, even the butterfly will experience what we call death. It will cease to breathe and fly, no longer animated by a life force that is beyond our comprehension or description. Perhaps this is an even more amazing transformation; for the butterfly that was, no longer is. Science, however, tells us that it is still somewhere because energy does not cease to exist but “simply” changes form. So, has it “simply” moved across time and space into a “butterfly dimension”?

I can see some interesting similarities between this creature and us. We come into this world in a particular form; we have experiences, change and grow.  Dr. Deepak Chopra tells us that we literally regenerate organs:  liver cells in six weeks, stomach lining in three days, eye cells in 48 hours and so on. Of our own volition and sometimes at the insistence of those we love, we repeatedly shed our outmoded selves to become something else. We may live out many chapters of life in our current bodies, but one day the biological form will cease to breathe; the animating force will no longer fuel our activity in this world.

Life is so precious to me here on Earth, that I would like to stay here forever; the beauty, the food, the laughter, the LOVE! But because everything here does seem to be impermanent, I have looked to the natural world for guidance. What is that animating force? Where does it go once it leaves the butterfly being or the human being? Where was that force before the butterfly or the human came into being? Why can’t that animating force be controlled, so we can avoid the state that we commonly refer to as “death?”

These questions are deep and wide; they bear our reflection and mindfulness.  The caterpillar as well as the butterfly provides an archetypal imprint that, for me, reflects a continual state of transformation. If we, like the caterpillar, practice shedding old skin time and again, we may be more prepared for the ultimate transformation when the time comes. If we, like the butterfly, can take to the wind knowing that at any moment we may enter the “butterfly dimension,” we may begin to see death as a profoundly amazing transformation.  We may be able to look upon it with less fear and more joy. We may become willing to live life here and now more joyfully; we may become willing fly.

Dying to Fly

It seems odd to start a blog in the dark of the moon. But this blog needs to begin here in the moments just before the birth of the Aquarian New Moon that will smile at the Earth on February 13, 2010. This blog is an invitation to join a revolution; a Death Revolution actually. A part of me knows that this phrase will strike terror in some hearts because at one time it would have struck terror in my own. That fearful part of me is stepping aside so the courageous heart can come forward to discuss something that seems imperative to our spiritual evolution; to our growth as human beings.

The discussion topic: re-making our relationship with and perceptions of death and dying. It has taken the western world a very long time to develop its current beliefs, values, morals, ethics, opinions, feelings, and thoughts around death. This cannot be undone with a few words or a wave of a magic wand. Religion and politics have set a stage for death that leaves little room for discussion. Steeped in the dual descriptions of heaven or hell the afterlife is fearsome and daunting for most. Regular people talking about death is seen as morbid, frightening or weird. People like Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Dr. Raymond Moody have been working for decades to bring death into a different light. Hospice and palliative care programs offer valuable education and support for the dying and those who grieve. Sadly, most people steer clear of these teachings until the absolute final hour, seeing hospice care as ‘giving up’ and viewing death as failure. My husband calls this “death prejudice.” Yes, I believe that death, with all its power and inevitability, is indeed “the last taboo.”

I am a part of a growing circle of friends and colleagues who believe it is time to bring death into the room in an open, sacred way. Dying to Fly is a work in progress. Eventually, it will be a printable Guidebook for those who find themselves caring for someone with terminal illness. It is also for anyone who dares to (in mind) tread upon the thin ice of our biological impermanence. Death, the greatest mystery, has invited us to transform beyond our fears; and to mature into new states of consciousness that allow for infinite love to reign both here in and on the Earth, and in realms that lie beyond. Perhaps, with diligent inquiry, open sharing, and compassionate hearts we can learn to see the beginnings in what we perceive to be the ‘ultimate’ ending. In closing this first, all important beginning, I offer a haiku for reflection and invitation into the Death Revolution dialog.

Dying to Fly now
All of us feel it inside
Some of us outside

Crying to Fly now
Tears flowing into the heart
Wash away stuck pain

Trying to Fly now
Butterflies inside cocoons
Waking to the light

Sighing to Fly now
Living the bliss in New Earth
Remembering Self

Dying to Fly now
Entering the pod with this
Together mindful