Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Rare & Beautiful Soul

Have you ever known someone who is the brightest light in any room?  Have you known someone who is always "up" and in a positive frame of mind no matter what?  Do you know someone who adds to your quality of life just by being in it?  Is there a person in your life who people are drawn to as if by some invisible magnetism?

Do you know someone who has no need for the petty little mind games we humans are so fond of playing with each authentic human being?  Do you know someone whose heart is so big they always look for the good in any situation?  Do you know someone who has overcome challenges without being defined by them?

Most can answer yes to these questions if you include everyone they know.  I am fortunate to know one person who exemplifies all the above attributes and qualities.

The Power of Two
When I moved to California in the summer of 2000, The first friends I made were a dynamic young couple, Ivan Taylor and the love of his life, Martha Heino.  Although I actually met Ivan at work one day, when mutual interests in common made for a fast friendship: it turned out I also shared other common interests with Martha as well, and we soon became buddies; she became my younger sister.  Young, brilliant and beautiful, she was just expressing life thru the 3 keys she lived by...

Love,  Light & Laughter.

By actually living her belief system Martha actually drew friends to her as if by some magnetic attraction.  We tend to gravitate towards those things and people we find inspirational, and real.  Right from the start I recognized this couple as authentic human beings, and I recall thinking at the time, If all Californians are like these two; I've found my way to heaven.

Ivan calls Martha "My favorite toy" which at first makes him sound a bit like a womanizer, but he uses it with her approval and even encouragement; which leads me to suspect it's all an inside joke on the rest of us.... they are twin flame soulmates*, just like two binary stars out in the galaxy, orbiting each other.

They are nearly always just referred to as Martha & Ivan, sort of like Earth & the moon, or the Sun and Earth.  The greater luminary is always mentioned first.  That is Martha, always the brightest light in any room, and my friend Ivan is the kind of man who never minded sharing her with so many friends.  Martha celebrates life by participating in it; whether it be as a gourmet cook & nutritionist or running in the annual Human Race marathon.

Almost 18 months ago Martha was diagnosed with having metastasized stage 4 uterine cancer.**  Chemotherapy was began almost immediately.  Other medications given her had some serious side effects, and my heart just sank each time there was a midnight run to the emergency room.  This was a pernicious and highly aggressive cancer that quickly attacked other vital systems and organs in her body.  The cancer drug "keytruda" damaged Martha's thyroid, and caused fluid build up around heart lungs. "keytruda" was also the only thing tried that showed any reduction of the actual cancer.  In Martha's case; the cure was as equally harmful as the disease.

In between the many midnight runs to the ER hospital Martha was at home probably more than ever before because she led a busy, fulfilling, multitasking kind of life.  I could always tell when she was getting cabin fever as she would ask me if I needed to go to the bank or anything.  At such times we would plan ourselves a little jailbreak to get lunch or some quick errand. 

There then came the emergency run to the hospital when Martha had trouble breathing, and as it turned out she was going into the heart failure zone.  As the doctors raced to save her from congestive heart failure, both of her lungs partially collapsed.  It would be 30 days before she returned home from the hospital.  Martha was such a frequent patient in that hospital that the nurses ALL wanted her on their rounds.  Even when she was fighting for her life, people were attracted to her like magnets. 

The last Jailbreak we got to do was just a couple months  ago, back when she could still drive.  Upon returning home we were standing on the porch when Martha looks me right in the eye, and said, "Sometimes I'm not a very nice person."  This was about the last thing I expected to hear from her, but I felt it deserved my best reply, so I told her "Welcome to the human race; it's what's in your heart that counts, and  yours is rare and beautiful.

A long time friend recently posted the following message on Martha's facebook page..."When I saw you get off the school bus I just knew you were someone I wanted to know."  That pretty much sums up the magnetic attraction she exudes, along with that infectious smile that lit up every room she entered.

Martha always had the cutest quirky side to her you'll ever see.  She loved to glam it up from wearing alien sunglasses, to those googly eye selfies (alone or with Ivan) she posted to Facebook.  Yes she loved to make those rubber faced selfies, which I suspect were just a normal part of her irrepressible spirit.  As I said earlier, Martha lived life according to 3 key principles, love, light and laughter, and she was a master at making people smile.

Skulls, Dexter & the Macabre
Martha had a love of skulls which showed up in some of her apparel, accessories and the home she shared with her husband; in fact in certain circles she is known as the keeper of the skulls.  It's one of those things which we have in common; in fact we often joke about who has more skulls. To get one up on her on Halloween two years ago I got a full size replica skeleton, and when they were at the Halloween party I put that skeleton sitting in a deck chair outside their bedroom window so it would be the first thing she saw the next morning.  When she saw it she just giggled that little laugh of hers and woke Ivan up to see it.

I'm not sure exactly whether or not Halloween was her favorite holiday, but I think it beats out whatever has 3rd place.  She never missed an episode of Dexter, admiring the TV serial killer enough to name her new car after him.  She also loves the macabre, everything from horror shows to the Walking Dead.  The three of us would get together every Sunday night for dinner & the latest walking dead episode.  I am really going to miss those Sunday nights very much.

Marta loved having a house full of friends over for dinner, and a favorite after dinner activity was a hilarious evening of Cards Against Humanity.  As far as I know the only thing on this earth she feared was walking face-first into an unseen spider web.  Immediately after making the spider web face she'd go into her "instant ninja" mode; a rare treat I saw a few times on our security camera system.

The Bucket List Road Trip
Several weeks ago Ivan shared with me that seeing the Grand Canyon was one of two things Martha wanted before she died.  At the time she was still in good enough shape physically to make the trip.  It is entirely within my ability to make that bucket list wish come true, so we began making the plans and arrangements to make the trip happen.  Lamentably, this cancer was so aggressive, so fast spreading, that the trip was simply out of the question.  I was looking into renting a virtual reality helmet and video of the grand canyon as a sort of next best thing, when a friend of Martha's father heard about the trip being cancelled, and sent an entire souvenir package including a DVD video and hat.  So one afternoon with friends and family filling the house, we watched the grand canyon video with Martha as an alternative for the trip she was too weak to endure.

The Living Wake
The second thing on Martha's bucket list was having a living wake instead of a traditional funeral.  She wanted see all her old friends one more time by having a celebration of life party.  Unlike the aborted road trip, This we can make happen, so Ivan began setting it up with a little help from a couple friends, and Martha's brother Rob.

There was one big snag right off the bat, and that was where to have this party.  The veterans hall was too small, and in fact every venue considered the story was the same.
Martha has so many friends ... We had to rent the fairgrounds !  The party is scheduled for Saturday March 31st from at the Cloverdale Ca. fairgrounds.  This woman put so much love into so many lives around her, we are all bracing for a massive turnout and one hell of a send off.

The Cancer Hospice Bed & Breakfast
The last week in February they made yet another late night run to the hospital because Martha was having trouble breathing again.  At first they said she'd be home in two days, which became more than four days.  Fluids were building up in her chest cavity, putting pressure on already weakened lungs; and the doctors had to do yet another procedure to insert drainage tubes.  A collector similar to a colonoscopy bag would have to be drained every two days.  Knowing that her chances of walking out of this were zero, Martha elected hospice at home over the prospect of dying in the hospital.

Martha returned home from the hospital on February 26th and almost immediately her father, Leo flew down from Oregon to assist with the home care.  A few days later the house filled to capacity, as more family showed up.  Her brother Rob came down as did her sister Amanda, and Rob's son Ben.  Ivan took the entire month off from work to be at his wife's side, as we could all see her losing ground on an almost daily basis. This family has been devastated by cancer.  Martha lost her mother and Ivan lost his father to cancer; which makes this family gathering even more solemn and painful.  Ivan's mother, Patricia Lee Taylor and sister, Christine Ammen drove down from northern California to spend several days being here to help and show support, and of course to say goodbye. 

Low Flying Angels
Throughout this ordeal I have been so impressed with the cadre of hospice workers and volunteer caregivers.  I was there much of the time, and I cannot recall many instances where there were no hospice people there tending to Martha's needs; all at zero billing hours!  These low flying angels provided the environment allowing Martha to cross over with dignity, in her own way.  Whenever there was a problem of any sort, a simple phone call got them there in 25 minutes of less.  We live in a very rural area on a heavily wooded hillside, and finding the house the first time is so difficult it's not unusual for us to have to drive down to the little store on the corner to guide visitors up.  Not with the hospice workers.  None of them had trouble finding the place, it was almost as if they were being guided by a higher power than Google maps.

The first two weeks of home care were grueling as the nurses sought to balance Martha's medications in a way that would afford the greatest amount of comfort, awareness, and quality if life.  It was anything but easy, as the regimen kept her in an incoherent drug induced haze much of the time.  One day when she was fairly lucid coming out from under that haze, she looked at her dad and husband and said,  "What are you guys trying to do, kill me?"

On the morning of March 21st Martha stunned everyone by walking unassisted from her bedroom into the guest room where her dad was sleeping, and summarily pouring a glass of water on reason given and forgiveness un-necessary !  Later that afternoon she announced she wanted to get outside and take a ride, so Ivan, her brother and dad took her for a ride.

At any given time there are between 7 or more people gathered each with a cell phone;  waiting in line for a charger or spare cord because they cannot be turned off or allowed to drain the battery.  Thus is the modern vigil.

Holding Onto Life
In the space of just a week I saw Martha go from sweeping the front porch; to being wheeled out onto the porch in a wheelchair.  That's how aggressive and fast moving this cancer is.  Its nature is so very pernicious the only word that comes close to describing it is, evil

I want to envision myself as the one who always has the right, or profound thing to say in any given moment; to help my friends thru this process.  To feel this way is normal for me, as I've always been the wordsmith, the communicator.  My great fear is that the words will leave me now, with just an empty expression of pending loss on my face.  Speaking with a close mutual friend I opined that with this being my fourth friend lost to cancer one might think I'd be better at dealing with it.  She then told me that her mother worked in hospice for 20 years and told her; "You never get better at dealing with death; it just becomes more familiar." 

One day she told Rob; "Don't rush me into dying," which I took to mean there were still people she wanted to see before leaving.  It seems as if she is determined to make it to the living wake on March 31st.

I'm watching my friend of 18 years agonizing over the pending death of his soulmate.  The toll it is taking on him is all pervasive. His world is in chaos just now, and I do believe a lesser man would have cracked before this point.  In addition to being Martha's primary caregiver, Ivan is also designing the living wake, with all its many details, and dealing with a plethora of legal issues like switching into his name, bills etc that are in  Martha's name.  Ivan makes the money and was happy to leave Martha in charge of spending and bill paying, now he has both responsibilities.  The pressure he feels must be enough to crush diamonds out of coal, and in the end he may very well become that diamond, brilliant, even beautiful, but oh so very hard.  I'm not entirely sure that is what Martha would wish for him.

I can see the effect this cancer is having with the combined family members gathering for the vigil; and I can see the effect it is having on myself.  Just like tectonic plates the stress is building with each passing day, working its way to the eventual and inevitable release.  It is very hard on me seeing the anguish Ivan is in, mixed with the pressure of having members of both families present most of this last month. Each in our own way we have tried to tell Ivan it's okay to delegate some stuff, and to actually eat and sleep, but he cannot hear us just now, his pain is too great, his sense of loss too loud.  We will all still be here for him on the other side of this tragedy.

One by one we would quietly go in and sit next to Martha's bed, to spend a little more time with her and say goodbye.  Sensing she was near the finish line of this, her final marathon, I took my turn the evening of the 23rd.  As I sat there with her in silence; her cat Phish was on the bed, staring up at the ceiling.  I looked to see what had the cats attention but there was nothing to see.  No bug, no moth, no spider...then with a frail arm Martha points to the same spot on the ceiling.  When I felt a gentile arm across my shoulders, I knew what they were seeing.  I am sure that along with a few angels and a chorus of unseen friends, Martha's mom and other family members were there also.

Unfinished Chapters
Everyone including myself is walking around conducting the business of life with the look of being utterly Godsmacked by Martha's passing; and how very fast it all happened, leaving so many of her hopes and dreams unfulfilled.  When one as young, healthy & vibrant as Martha is taken at the prime of life, it just doesn't set well with us.  Before the cancer Ivan and I conspired behind Martha's back to fulfill one of her long standing wishes.  She wanted to drive a McLaren sports car on the track at the Sonoma raceway.  Even though we tried our best to keep it a secret, Martha's powerful intuition told her something was cooking; so to verify our innocence we had to divulge the plans.

Just as we all do, Martha had plans for the future.  She was plotting out where she wanted to be, what she wanted to become and how she'd make it all manifest.  Before the cancer struck, Martha and Ivan were discussing having a child because they both had blooming careers, I guess you could say they were building their own ladder to success.  It was the right time to build the family.

"You eat good food, exercise every day, go to the gym every week, and even run marathons so your body & organs will be in perfect health, which in the end prolongs the agony of dying this way." ~ Rob, Martha's brother

Perhaps Martha's greatest legacy is the way she dealt with having this monster we call cancer rip all of her dreams asunder.  She never once asked "why me?"  She never once gave up or surrendered to it.  Each time a new treatment or procedure didn't work, she never lost hope.  At those times she'd just say, "OK, what's  next?"  I want one thing to be crystal clear here, and that is, Martha was a warrior!  Because she ate well, ran marathons and had a house full of kettle bells & a track runner; she was in peak health, and this time, cancer messed with the wrong girl, because she simply wore it's ass out, then killed it.

8:20 AM
The morning of March 25 I got the call from Martha's father that it was time; so I joined the family upstairs.  Through this entire last month of hospice at home I've often felt rather helpless, unable to do much to help  besides being there for emotional and spiritual support.  Martha's husband & father were doing an outstanding job of being primary caregivers, and I didn't want to interfere with that process.  Today was different; as I knew exactly what to do now.  All my training and experience kicked in.  A few days before I'd given Ivan a copy of The Mahamrityunjaya Mantra sung by Hein Bratt, and as I walked into the bedroom it was playing softly in the background. 

Ivan and Leo were tending her and saying their goodbyes, and I took my position in the empty chair at the foot of the bed and began massaging her feet.  You really get to know someone after 18 years, and I knew that one of Martha's "tells" when she was pleased, or wanted something, you'd know because she would flex her toes.  As soon as I began gently rubbing her feet...there go the toes, flexing up and down several times.  She was communicating with me.  At that moment I began chanting the famous Sanskrit chant, Om Mani Padme Hum, because my soul just knew it was what she needed.  My confirmation was even more toe flexing.

Other people quietly drifted in and out of the room but I was only marginally aware of them, my entire focus being on chanting my friend across to the other side.  I continued to chant, and Martha continued talking to me with her toes, but not as vigorously as at first.  At twenty minutes after eight in the morning I felt her toes flex for the last time, as the hospice nurse on scene monitored vital signs, and found none remaining.

 I'd lost all awareness of anything else going on except for Ivan kneeling on the floor next to her, and her father kneeling beside the bed praying over her....I just kept chanting.  I continued chanting until I once again felt a non-physical hand gently touch my shoulder...

 I didn't need to hear the words.  I knew it was letting me know, "She's with us now."

Feeling that this was a time for core family and Ivan; and not wanting any witnesses to the flood of tears I was holding back, I returned to my apartment downstairs to cry in private as a tsunami of grief and loss swept over me. Being there with Martha at the very end has changed me in ways I have no words to describe, it is beyond words.  It just IS.

Martha fought this fight for her very life with dignity & grace, every step of the way, and in the end I figure she won the fight because her cancer riddled body was cremated, which of course destroyed and totally annihilated the cancer.  This malignant, evil disease could only ravage her body, but it never touched her soul.

In Martha's career as a professional hostess she worked at many of the finest establishments to be found in these parts, and tonight on the evening of her passing they are all honoring her with the same simple gesture...

A good friend of Ivan's recently told him that the day Martha crossed over he got an urge to drop what he was doing and go have a brew at her favorite place, Ruth McGowan's, in Cloverdale.  He was surprised to see the place busier than usual.  As it turned out people began just drifting in the morning she left, some who hadn't yet heard the news.  That's just how powerful her magnetism was.

~ Marty's Party ~
A celebration of Life
Love,  Light & Laughter.
On the afternoon of March 31st over two hundred friends of Martha gathered on a beautifully sunny day; for a loving sendoff.  They came from all over California, and some even coming from other states.  More than a thousand photos & videos of Martha rotated on the big screen set up on the stage.  Being something of an expert, Ivan set up a computer system to live stream the entire event to the internet; for those dear friends and family who wanted to attend but could not.  The event was catered so Martha could feed everybody one last time and the Cloverdale Ca. Lions club set up a cash bar.  Martha's brother Rob rented & set up a sound system, with an open microphone next to the slideshow.  One by one, those who wanted to share their memories and comments about knowing this beautiful soul, came forward to honor and celebrate her with their words.  After the testimonials, people got up from their seats and mingled, many meeting for the first time.  My friend Martha was an authentic human being, Her physical beauty, charm and compassion were a mirror of the soul within.  That isn't always the case, but it was with Martha, making her indeed a rare and beautiful soul.

After the party a good many attendees proceeded to Ruth McGowan's to continue the sendoff on familiar ground; where they were soon greeted by a brief power outage affecting much of Cloverdale, including the pub.

Was it Martha's way of saying goodbye at the end of her shift, before going home?
You wonder.

 Martha loved social networking, as evidenced by over 400 friends  on Facebook alone.  
To see the clearing house for all things Martha on-line: go to the Facebook homepage of 
Ivan Taylor (Forestville) [open to the public ] for a treasure chest of memories, 
including the live stream of the entire event.

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© 2018 Augureye Express
 Full re-post permission is granted
to friends of Martha who wish to share
and any others desiring to do so.

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