More on Death and Dying – Diane Finnerty: Rest in Power

Lisa Albrecht’s occasional blog – “Practicing Praxis”, December 30, 2019

My dear friend, Diane Finnerty, died yesterday after her very long battle with cancer. She had been in hospice in Iowa City since November 21 which is when I saw her to say “goodbye.” That’s really not so long, but it felt like an eternity. Her body would not quit, though she was ready to begin her next journey. I miss her, though I believe her spirit lives on within all of us who were part of her “beloved community.” And there are so many.

Death. The D word. Last night was the last night of Chanukah. When I said the blessing, I whispered to Diane that the eight lights would burn brightly to help show her the way.

What is the way of death? How do we do grief? And how many ways do we experience death?

Over twenty years ago, a life partner of mine left me because I was selfish. I did not understand that back then. That felt like a death. I felt like I had a phantom limb for a long time. I still miss her, though we are friends now. I’ve even hoped we’d get back together again, but that will not happen as she has told me. Her friendship means a great deal to me.

I also live with “ambiguous loss” with Pat Rouse (my life partner). She has alzheimer’s disease. She’s here, but not here. She has no memory and she lives in a residence for people with memory loss. The place is wonderful, but she’s not really present. This is another kind of death. I don’t let myself feel my grief from Pat very often. It’s too hard. I enjoy the time I spend with her though she speaks using only random words. She smiles and she hugs you when you smile and hug her. I believe that she knows on some level that she is safe and loved. I don’t know if she knows we were lovers for over twenty years. That’s less important to me in many ways, though I miss having a sexual relationship with her, and the closeness of having a life partner.

There’s also close friends with whom I am no longer close. Another kind of death. If i’m honest, I believe some of them did not want to be close to me any more for various reasons. (Sorry, I don’t feel ready to say more right now.) Some have been honest, but many have just “gone away.” It’s a Minnesota way to disappear by not being truthful. For me, this is a very painful kind of death. I miss a friend who lives up north; we used to bond doing racial justice work. I miss a Jewish friend who is on the periphery of my life now; she helped anchor a Jewish circle I was in.

In this political moment on the planet, there are deaths everyday. Many of us have become numb to these losses.

–More Jews have been murdered in Jewish spaces. There seems to be more and more expressions of anti-Jewish hate.

–Immigrants in the U.S. are being violently separated from their families. Many die trying to find a place to live. U.S. policy has been the cause of their immigration: trade policies have made them poor, or climate change has caused oceans to swallow their land because the U.S. refuses to take responsibility for environmental injustices.

–Transgender people, especially trans women of color, are killed more than we want to admit. Some of us LGBTQ know this, but many of white queer people don’t acknowledge these truths.

–People who are poor and feel like they have no way out have been addicted to opioid drugs in huge numbers since access is so easy. Some poor people commit suicide. Some starve to death. Elected officials fight over who “deserves” food stamps or any kind of support if you are a single mom. Why is this even a question?

–Mental illness is around us everywhere. People who cannot get decent healthcare hurt themselves and their loved ones, while elected officials fight over who gets any healthcare in this country.

–I am an elder now, and I watch all around me as we “old people” get more and more invisible. In the U.S., so many cultures around us are youth-focused. I ride in the elevator in my nice mostly white middle class apartment building as my young neighbors are too busy attached to their cell phones to say hello or ask me how I am. As we age, we get more isolated. Many of us, especially women and people of color have little or no safety net. In Minneapolis, there were just two horrendous fires. One in public housing where people died, and one in a converted old hotel where homeless people were living.

–And of course, we have a gun lobby in this country that supports easy access to guns for most anyone.

I could go on and on. But I’ll stop for now.

Thanksgiving Memories

Practicing Praxis, 28 November 2019 – Thanksgiving Memories

Lisa’s occasional blog

It’s Thanksgiving Day morning and I’m thinking about specific memories I have about Turkey Day.  For me, this day is not about huge family gatherings, or food, nor is it about preparing for the gift-giving consumerism of x-mas (or Chanukah).  It’s also cannot forget the myth of Native people and the pilgrims sitting down together to happily eat, given the history of Native genocide perpetuated by us white settlers.

I’m a New Yorker, so this morning, as I watch the Thanksgiving Day parade on TV (in cold and snowy Minneapolis), I’m remembering the day when I was a little girl, and my dad took me to the Macy’s parade. I don’t think I was older than about five.  We took the subway from Queens into Manhattan. My mom stayed home, I think, preparing our meal. She was not much of a cook, which is why I probably don’t have great family food memories.

 It was FREEZING outside.  We parked ourselves right near the Macy’s marquee on 34th Street where the parade traditionally ends.   I remember the police barricades – back then, they were called wooden sawhorses. Stamped on them were the words: “Police Line – Do Not Cross.” I could stand up straight and still fit underneath them (As a white Jewish kid, I had no fear of police nor did I know anything about police violence directed at people of color.) We waited and waited for the parade to start, and I grew colder and colder. My dad saw how cold I was getting, so he grabbed my hand and we started to walk a couple of blocks to a Nedick’s ( for you non-New Yorkers…pronounced NEE-dix).  I’m not sure if it exists anymore, but in NYC, you could always find a Nedick’s on a street corner.  When we walked in, my dad bought me a HUGE cup of hot coffee!  I was a big girl, right? And he had already taught me to love coffee.   My little hands gripped the cup tightly, willing it to warm up my insides. Damn, it tasted so good—especially with the milk and sugar!  After I sucked down the whole thing, we smiled at each other, and slowly walked back to the parade.  I felt great. It was much more crowded when we got back to the parade.  I pushed my way back under one of the wooden sawhorses so I could get a good view.

Note:  As I’m writing this, I’ve looked up periodically at the current parade on TV.  Just saw the Rockefeller Center Rockettes – all white? (What century is this?)  I also glimpsed a bunch of lip-syncing performers, a mix of country and pop singers, several K-Pop groups and a couple of hip hop artists. I don’t know most of these people. I guess I’m too old. I cannot keep up with pop culture these days. At this moment, Jimmy Fallon and the Roots are gyrating non-stop on a float, looking pretty silly.  There’s been a few numbers from current shows on Broadway, all abbreviated so that there can be lots of time for toy commercials interspersed on TV throughout the parade. I’ve seen a bunch of marching bands from around the U.S.  They have all been high-stepping in unison in the front of Macy’s playing x-mas music, in uniforms that include huge hats, lots of tassels, some swords, and lots of thin girls in bathing suit attire. They all look enormously proud with their heads held high (as they shlep tubas and drum sets), though those girls are probably freezing their asses off.  It’s a big deal to get accepted into the Macys parade.  I can visibly see a few people of color sprinkled in the bands, even though I know there are many youth of color bands around the country.  In the Twin Cities at local parades, these bands bring out huge crowds of community supporters.  I guess they didn’t get accepted into these national parades? Usually, each school has had to raise enormous amounts of money to rent buses to get to NYC. It’s a highlight for all these kids to go to NYC, and if you don’t come from a family with money or a well-to-do community or school, it’s a stretch for a family to get their kids there.

Today, it’s very windy in NYC so all the huge balloons that this parade is famous for are being held by Macys workers very low to the ground, rather than soaring high between skyscrapers. When I was college student, I came home for Thanksgiving one year and went into Manhattan on the night before Turkey Day. I got really stoned with a friend and walked along the Upper West Side on the side streets to watch the balloons getting blown up.  It’s a NYC ritual to see all this happen before the actual parade.

Well, the parade is about over, and I’m home alone. I’ve got to get ready to go over to Pat’s house, where I’ll have a turkey meal with her and the other women who live there. Susan who owns Cecilia’s Place (where Pat lives) cooks a great meal.  I’m bringing an apple pie from a local bakery.

Yes, I do feel lonely. But I’m grateful to reminisce about NYC and the parade, and to remember my dad. It’s something that Pat can’t do anymore, robbed of her memories.

death is always at our doorstep

Practicing Praxis – Lisa Albrecht’s once-in-a-while blog

Death is always at our doorstep, Nov. 22, 2019, Iowa City, Iowa

When we say that “death is at our doorstep,” we often mean that death is soon.  But death is part of the journey we are all on…every day.  I am learning that today.  I’m in Iowa City with Diane (in hospice), Jill (her partner/wife of over 30 plus years), Jorgito (their nine year old grandson whom they are raising [that’s another story]), and any guests –like me this weekend—who are coming to say “goodbye.”  I am part of all the wonderful people in their lives. Diane only “eats” fluids now, and so many friends come by with food – liquids, solids, everything to feed any one here.

Before arriving yesterday, my stomach hurt every day as I anticipated this trip.  I felt scared of visiting, of being close to death. I don’t feel that now. I feel close to love and deep care. Hospice is an amazing service.  Instead of Diane needing to call and visit all the different doctors who have cared for her during her long cancer journey of over 5 years, she just calls hospice.  Someone comes and coordinates whatever she needs in terms of care, pain and medicine.

If only healthcare in the U.S. provided this to all of us on our life journey.  But we know, health care doesn’t do this, unless we are lucky enough to have this kind of “coverage.” Coverage is an interesting word, isn’t it?

 My friend, Cindy, in the Twin Cities is on this same long journey with cancer. When I go home (tomorrow), I want to talk with Cindy about hospice.  She has been on a similarly long journey and she is also nearing death.

I’m 68 years old now and one year beyond my weight loss surgery.  I’ve lost an enormous amount of weight to help me live with osteoarthritis pain, and I don’t eat much and don’t enjoy food much anymore – kind of like Diane – I’m “dying” too, like all of us on life’s journey. Though I’m not at death’s doorstep–the conventional way of viewing death. I could live another 20 years, or two years, or fall and hit my head and die tomorrow.  We don’t know, do we?  On the plane ride, I brought a magazine I subscribe to here.  It’s Yes! – Journalism for People Building a Better World (Fall, 2019) – The Death Issue – How to have a Good Death.  Am I obsessing about death?  One of the articles in this issue, “7 Things People Forget to Do Before They Die,” has taught me the following:  1) Use the D-words; 2) Ask your health care providers questions about death; 3) Research your death; 4) Take advantage of the little things; 5) Let your loved ones know you’re going to lean on them for support when the time comes; 6) Think about what kind of legacy you want to leave; and 7) Consider a different bucket list.”

Diane’s hospice nurse was talking with Jill earlier today, and I learned that there are different levels of hospice care, and they are deciding on possible next phases, especially around levels of pain that Diane has. Death is getting closer.  Diane said to me yesterday that she wasn’t sure if she’d make it to x-mas.

Last night, Diane, Jill, Horgio and I  went to hear wonderful music and dance by Los Compasinos! –an amazing group of Los Angeles latinx musicians at the arts center at the University of Iowa. Diane used to work at the university.  Many of Diane and Jill’s friends came up to them and hugged them. They are blessed because they are connected to such a rich community. And all their friends make it clear that they are devoted to Diane’s family because of all the love she and Jill have always given to them. I was exhausted from all the love by the time the night ended! 

Today, at their home, I’ve spent time with Veronica and her partner, Bonnie.  Veronica, a white woman born in Austria, is a recently retired gynecologist. Bonnie, her African American partner of 25 plus years, used to work for the post office.  Veronica cleaned Diane & Jill’s kitchen, while Bonnie and I shared stories.  Bonnie grew up in Queens, not far from where I grew up but she was raised in the Black part of Queens and I grew up in a white Jewish enclave. Bonnie’s mother lives in Iowa City now and has alzheimer’s, living in a local nursing home.  Yet her mom totally remembered how to make sweet potato pie!  There are many people with Alzheimer’s who still carry long-term memories that are fabulous. Veronica, directed by Bonnie’s mom, made a wonderful pie. I just had a piece and it is delicious!

First Interruption:  I just got a call from Pat’s healthcare provider where she lives.  It looks like she has another UTI (urinary tract infection – common for older women who don’t move around much- like women with Alzheimer’s.) I still juggle Pat’s caregiving with the rest of my life.  We have to now make sure Pat gets her UTI meds and then we have to schedule a flu shot for her. 

Second Interruption:  Two really kind hospice doctors just arrived to care for Diane.  She’s now on a higher dose of oxycontin for pain, and they are deciding how best to relieve Diane of pain near the site in her stomach where she is connected to a tube that removes nasty stuff (that’s the best I can do to explain it). The tube gets clogged and the pain more intense.  They’ve decided to take Diane to the hospital tonight.  They will x-ray her stomach and find out what’s next.  She’ll stay there at least overnight. Jill is driving her soon.  Jorgito will do an overnight with a friend, and I’ll stay here with Baraka – sorry I haven’t introduced you to their wonderful mutt; they have a friend who picks her up every day and takes her to the country where she runs around for the day, and then she returns her home. Baraka just arrived; she’s my date for tonight.

Postscript

Text from Diane Finnerty…24 Nov 2019…sent from her hospice hospital room, “be well, my dear friend, and I will be ready to greet you on the other side…Big love!”

Gay Marriage? Not for this lesbian.

March 26, 2013

I started this blog years ago, but never really got rolling.  This gay marriage debate has gotten my blood pressure up for various reasons. There’s lots of things I have been wanting to write about.  So here goes…

Gay marriage seems to be catching on more and more among mainstream folks. Several Republicans,
Obama, Biden and even Hillary and Bill have signed DOMA on (after years of no support), and after Bill having signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  Now that both the Minnesota State House (HF 1054) and Senate (SF 925) are getting ready to vote on legalizing gay marriage, it’s important to know that not every queer person wants to get married, including me. It’s more than “I don’t believe in marriage;” it’s about racism, movement building and white queer organizing strategies, both locally and nationally.I voted against Minnesota’s anti-gay constitutional amendment  to narrow the definition of marriage last November; however I did not actively support it. It’s incredible that over $18 million dollars was spent between Minnesotans United for All Families ($12 million) and Minnesota for Marriage ($5 million). It’s hard for me to wrap my head around $18 million dollars being spent fighting for and against gay marriage when homeless shelters are overflowing, kids go to sleep hungry, people have had their homes foreclosed, and the racial disparities across multiple fronts are enormous here in Minnesota.  Recent polls suggest over 50% of Minnesotans do not want to legalize marriage. In these times of incredible economic disparity, how much more money will be spent by Minnesotans who support gay marriage so more queers can assimilate?Let me be clear – I am not discriminating against my own people. I don’t need the state to legalize my relationship of over 20 years.   Don’t 50% of hetero marriages fail? A lesbian friend of mine from the Bay area married her girlfriend when that small window was open in Cali.  They did the whole nine yards: invitations, ceremony, big party, gifts. When they divorced a year later, they were ostracized within their own community.  How dare you divorce, after everything we’ve done to get marriage? I’ve gone to at least a dozen “commitment ceremonies” over the last decade locally, and less than 50% of these couples are still together.  Not a great track record.The problem is that queer marriage activists have insisted on framing marriage through the lens of single issue identity politics. This is the 21st century and the most successful organizing campaigns for justice have been built around multi-issue organizing, cross-racial alliances, and doing huge and diverse base-building. The only way that progressives will win any form of liberation is if we work together (across race and class lines) and across multiple issues.  Minnesota United has framed the gay marriage campaign as a single issue. If I am wrong, where are the hundreds of thousands of people of color, poor and working class people, and new immigrants that support the marriage campaign? Minnesota United no longer has its sponsor page on-line from the constitutional amendment battle, but I can tell you that there were few organizations of color, immigrant rights organizations or anti-poverty groups listed. If I recall correctly, there were queer groups of color as sponsors, but not organizations like the NAACP, which has endorsed gay marriage at the national level.If these coalitions had been built, then Minnesota United would have chosen to stand with key organizations locally that work for immigrant rights, anti-poverty legislation, and all legislative efforts to end racial disparities.  Organizations that work in coalition watch each other’s backs, and stand in solidarity with each other.  Why else would queer organizations do this? Because queer people ARE immigrants, poor people and people of color, not just middle class white professionals.White queer marriage advocates insist that if we get married, we’ll have access to healthcare, right? Correct. But don’t ALL people deserve healthcare? Why should the privilege of marriage grant you healthcare in this country?  Not every queer person wants to be just like all those happy heterosexual married white middle class couples, in nice houses with picket fences and 2.5 kids. Queer/GLBT peoples are sexual outlaws – that’s what has defined us historically. We cherish many kinds of relationships beyond monogamy. The state has historically defined us as sick, broken, perverted and people who destroy “real” family. The institution of marriage is also about preserving inheritance rights for people who have accumulated stuff.If you’re a white middle class professional with property to pass on, this is perfect. But I wonder where poor and working class GLBT folks fit in this equation.  If we really care about having stuff to pass on, why aren’t we standing with the Welfare Rights Committee, and its 34+ organizational sponsors and over 1,000+ individuals) to raise welfare grants in Minnesota?  It’s been 27 years since any increase for families living in poverty. Families (mostly women and children of color) on MFIP live at 70% below the federal poverty line. These families would like to have some middle class privilege, too. And yes, some of them are queer.Gay marriage advocates think about kids too, because many are parents. If you’ve got kids, you want them to be safe and have the institution of marriage to back them up, right? Queer-friendly organizations like Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) are working to do this. Queer parents, just like straight parents, want their kids to do well academically in school. Will gay marriage help? I’m not sure, but if GLBT parents care about their kids’ education, why aren’t they standing up to end racial disparities in public education? Locally, why aren’t GLBT marriage advocates standing with Minnesota Minority Education Partnership (MMEP)?  Check out their 2012 State of Students of Color and American Indian Students Report  to see what the racial disparities look like at every level of public education in Minnesota. Within the next two years, 20% of Minnesota high school grads will be students of color.  And yes, some will be children of queer parents and/or queer themselves.What if your queer partner is an undocumented immigrant?  Marriage will help him/her get that green card, right? Perhaps, but I wonder if white GLBT people imagining “saving” brown colonized peoples by marrying them? Why aren’t queer marriage advocates challenging ICE (U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement), the federal agency that has detained more than 400,000 people under the Obama administration  In thinking locally about immigrant rights, we had another right-wing constitutional amendment on the ballot last year. Thankfully, the voter I.D. amendment was defeated.Where were gay marriage advocates and Minnesota United? No where to be found.Let me go back one more time to why I’m not interested in Minnesota’s gay marriage legislation. As I said earlier, I’m not a fan of marriage. Period. But what’s more important to me is liberation for all of us. Dr. King said it best, “None of us is free until all of us are free.”  The political strategy of Minnesota white queer marriage advocates is not about freedom for all of us.  How else could queer marriage been framed? We all agree that queer families have been pathologized by the state.  Why aren’t we thinking about what other families have been pathologized by the state?  Single parent households (especially women of color-led) have been defined by the state as broken since the social welfare system originated.  Same for poor families that have been told that it’s their fault for being poor. If gay marriage advocates had chosen this strategy, we might have been able to form a transformational coalition that might have been able to work for more dramatic social justice initiatives.There’s also one last thing.  As long as DOMA – the Defense of Marriage Act – exists federally, all these questions about queer marriage are moot. GLBT Minnesotans will not get any of the 1,000+ federally legislated perks until DOMA is repealed, even if queers get the right to marry here.  Once we cross state borders, we are not protected. DOMA defines marriage as the legal union between a man and woman. The Supreme Court is taking up the legality of DOMA right now. It certainly would be interesting if DOMA were overturned…though I’m still not interested in getting married. Nor do I think that throwing out DOMA will help all of us be free.

Welcome

August 20, 2010

Lake Superior, crashing waves, grey fog. This is one of my favorites places on the earth. I’d love to live on the shores of a powerful body of water. This is my first post, and my first attempt to blog.

Praxis is reflection and action in some kind of balance. Paulo Freire articulated this notion in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  I try to live my life practicing praxis. I teach social justice to undergrads at the U. of Minnesota. Balancing theory and practice is difficult. Students think theory is inaccessible and not connected to their lives. And for good reason.  Most academics teach the most inaccessible theories – the more esoteric, the better. It often makes students feel stupid.  It often makes me feel stupid too. bell hooks, in Teaching to Transgress, taught me that theory has to be about our lives because good theory shapes all the choices we make. Many social justice organizers think theory isn’t important. However, without theory to guide our lives, we’d make thoughtless decisions, and take actions randomly. The most successful organizers use theory wisely.  What’s worked in the past? For whom? Can we apply it to today’s struggles for social justice?  Do we have to be more visionary to create the changes we need to make this world more just?

I think this blog will address many of these questions.  We shall see.