Monday, May 13, 2019

A Tribute to Ellen Mellen

This is a tribute to a dear friend that I wrote and read at her memorial service. It was from all of us in her group and from the heart.

We are Ellen’s small group - a First Parish discussion group that has met once a month for about 10 years. Some of us have been in the group longer than others and there are some here who were with us in the past. We all treasured Ellen’s presence and participation.

Every group meeting starts with a check-in and we go around the circle to talk about what has happened in our lives since we met last. Ellen’s check-ins often included stories about her grandchildren and how amazed she was at their accomplishments. She was very very proud of them. When it got close to Spring, Ellen itched to get to the Gloucester house and her beloved porch where she could watch nature. 

Every month we choose a subject to discuss and, no matter what the topic, we all hung on to every word Ellen said. Sometimes she didn’t say much; she preferred to mostly listen and ponder. When she shared her thoughts she commanded our attention, simply and quietly, with her wisdom and thoughtfulness. 

As a group, we walked with her after Roy’s death. She described her time after Roy as one where she was walking on an unfamiliar and uneven path. She would have been okay, she said, if he had been there to steady her. But without him she felt like every step was treacherous. We were there for her during this time but she was also there for us by modeling a journey that some of us will have to walk ourselves someday. She taught us strength, and self-compassion, but most of all, grace.

Ellen hosted us at her Gloucester home every summer. We would bring our lunches and she would make us cookies for dessert. We would sit on the porch and she would tell us stories about her time there through the years. She would educate us on the changing tides, the birds, the gardens. This was her happy place and she loved sharing every bit of the experience with us. 

We are sad that we will never sit on that porch with our beloved friend again and feel the cool breeze on our faces. We will miss her stories and her kind heart. Her intellect and her warmth.

Ellen understood and accepted the ups and downs of her life just as she did the rising and falling of the tides on the Annisquam. Her love and awe of nature and its laws were something she knew applied to her as well. And probably why she treasured her life so very much.

We know the tides wait for no one but we will miss her as we walk that unfamiliar and uneven path without her to steady us.

Godspeed, dear friend.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Weed Stigma

Today is 4/20. I didn't even realize it until I got to the marijuana dispensary in a nearby city. The physical price for recreational marijuana today was 45 minutes waiting in the rain. 

That wasn't my price though. I was waived to the front of the parking lot next to the entrance. Then ushered to the sparse line for the medical marijuana patients. I showed my medical ID card and my driver's license and was directed to the short line with my fellow patients.

There are comfy chairs there in our line. Along with several of us with canes. We suffer from lots of things: chronic back pain, nausea from cancer treatments, PTSD. I'm there for the pain caused by ME/CFS and Dysautonomia. 

I've been going to this particular dispensary for over a year. The people who work with us patients at this dispensary are helpful and empathetic. I often wonder if they go through sensitivity training before stepping behind that counter. They are so very kind.

The people in the recreational line laugh together. And stand. There are no comfy chairs for them. I wonder if they really understand what we deal with or if they think we are just lucky to not have the long wait. 

When I got my medical id card last year it was a last resort. The pain in my hands and back and especially my legs was past the point of Aleve and a heating pad. I had gotten to the point where I would recline with my feet up on the couch at night and just moan. Not every night, but most nights. The pain made it hard for me to fall asleep and stay asleep. And when you need 12ish hours of sleep each night just to feel a normal state of exhaustion, this was making the exhaustion level rise to a scary point. I still work part-time and needed that normal level of exhaustion in order to function.

When I got my card I hid that fact from all but close friends and family. I wouldn't talk about it at work except to a couple of close coworkers. When I applied for a job in another town, I expected to not get the job because I knew I would fail the drug test. And since weed is not legal federally, I read that the state-level legality wouldn't matter to most employers. 

Well, I did fail the drug test but I still got the job. I was honest and upfront and HR said that it wouldn't be a barrier to employment. 

So once I passed that hurdle I started thinking about how I need to not keep quiet about my marijuana use. If there is a stigma, I should be part of destigmatizing it and not hide from my marijuana use.

I could have gone on opioids. My doctor probably would have approved it. But I didn't want the addiction that came with it. I feared that some day a cure would be found and I'd be so hooked on oxycontin that it would be too late to matter.

Medical marijuana is more potent than recreational marijuana. Kind of like how a prescription anti-inflammatory is more powerful than an OTC one. It also comes in many different forms because a tincture might work for one person but edibles might work for another. The cannabis strains tend to be more varied as well.

I tried several types before settling on a THC/CBD mix vape oil. I only use it at night when I'm in my pjs. Driving under the influence of THC is not something I would do. 

The effects of the marijuana wears off in a matter of hours when I am sound asleep already. 

To say that I have no more nights of lying on the sofa moaning in pain would be a lie. I still have breakthrough pain and/or a really rough day where it takes more THC than I am willing to ingest to make it all go away. But even then, the THC at least soothes my nervous system so that I'm not freaking out about it.

It is a godsend to me and so many people that I meet in line. Some of us can work part-time because of it. Some of us can eat now because certain strains help with the nausea. Some of us can finally sleep after being in constant pain for years.  

And it's not addictive OR harmful to an adult's body including our brains. 

So if you are thinking that you could use medical marijuana for whatever ails you, it's easy to get.
    1) Get to a cannabis doctor and get your "prescription". They will get the process going with the state.
      2) Follow the doctor's office instructions to register with the state.
    3) Once you receive your id, go to your local dispensary and talk to the lovely people there about your condition and your other meds and your concerns and they will help you find the right thing for you.
    4) If you find you are trying different types of strains or forms (edible, oil, leaf, etc.) because "nothing" is working, stay with it. I had to go through edibles and tinctures before I found something that worked. 
    5) Don't be afraid to try THC. When I started, I would only use CBD because I was afraid of the THC high which made me very paranoid when I tried weed in college. So the nice people at the dispensary talked me into trying a THC/CBD blend as vape oil and it is what saved me. 
    6) CBD is not a miracle drug for everyone. I keep reading on my support groups that people have been disappointed with CBD once they finally spent a fortune and tried it. I tell them not to be afraid of the THC. It's all about whatever works.

It costs money to see the doctor ($200/yr in Massachusetts), the state id card ($50/yr in MA), and the vape oil I use ($50/month). I feel very lucky to be able to afford it since (again, it's not federally approved) it is not covered by health insurance. 

The big drug companies should be worried if people like me are getting this kind of benefit out of a drug that is not addictive, is all-natural, has no side effects, and actually works. It is probably a big reason why it is not federally approved yet. 

I think of all the bodies, and families, and careers that have been destroyed by prescription painkillers and alcohol (which is socially acceptable and readily available). And then I look at how few lives are adversely affected by marijuana. It makes no sense to me that marijuana is not legal. It is not a gateway drug. I know people who work with the addicted and no one goes to heroin because they started smoking weed. 

There should be no shame in using marijuana for any reason. But especially if you are a medical user. I only hope that the stigma dissolves over generations. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Yin and Yang and Astrophysics

Below is the chalice lighting I wrote for a February Sunday service. It is about my church but it applies to us all.

When Cory Booker announced his run for the presidency a few days ago, I saw a quote from him that made me think of First Parish: “Hope is the active conviction that despair will never have the last word.”

It’s been quite a few months here at First Parish. We’ve enjoyed and celebrated our success with the building project as well we should. It was a huge accomplishment. But we’ve also had to carry the loss of several beloved church members during this time.

Our individual joys have been many these past months with anniversaries, new babies, and weddings. Interspersed with those happy times have been our own personal difficulties - deaths of loved ones, illness, heartbreak. 

The universe would not exist without balance. The Chinese inherently understood this when they created the concept of Yin and Yang in the 3rd century BCE. They didn’t need astrophysics to figure that out. 

The science behind cosmic and natural balance isn’t just for textbooks. We live it every day. We couldn’t walk without balance (well, that and gravity). We couldn’t manage our finances without a balance between wants and needs. We would never be able to make an important decision without weighing pros and cons. 

Isaac Newton’s third law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In more human terms: for every birth there is a death; for every joy there is a sorrow.

At First Parish we live out what Booker calls an “active conviction” - for the Yins and the Yangs and everything else in between. You actively provide that sense of balance when one of us feels like the earth is shifting beneath our feet. You actively provide love and hope when someone is feeling unloved and hopeless. 

We can never forget that providing a safe place when someone’s world is unsafe and unbalanced, though difficult and upsetting and heartbreaking for all of us, is the greatest gift we can give. 

It is the most important reason for our being here at First Parish and on this earth. I light the chalice today for the active hope we offer in the face of despair.