The Weight of Grief and Free Radicals

IMG_4682-001When my son died from brain cancer in 1987, I wanted to die too. No one should experience the death of their child. In one fatal swoop time stops and surreality steps in; dropping a coin that lands on its edge, we can’t believe what just happened, it stuns our brain and we step into the twilight zone. Life as we know it will never be the same.

Hearing of or witnessing the death of a loved one, the flight or fight response immediately sends hormonal shockwaves throughout our body with enough Cortisol in our system to paralyze an elephant. We go into shock head to soul. We are ground zero; we are in pause; we are the phoenix preparing, we are the cicada gone underground, the worm in the cocoon, the seed deep in the ground. We have been assaulted body, mind, soul and spirit and the body is our immediate front-line autonomic defense. We are numb because we are, with almost toxic levels of stress hormones.  Over time the levels naturally dissipate until the next “trigger” that may give us a booster shot but overall it can be reduced through mindfulness techniques and diet.

Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Our brains are amazingly resilient and can create new neural pathways with consistent repetition as in learning to play the violin. Research indicates that on an average after 66 days of a newly created daily routine, through the process known as neuroplasticity the brain will establish a new pathway of behavior that can become dominant over previous “habits”.  The caveat being what are the new pathways that we are creating in the early days of our grief journey?

When Kelly died, I was 32 years old and in pretty good shape weighing a consistent 175 lbs. regardless of what I ate or drank. I never worked out, not a runner or sports enthusiast but being a bit ADHD, I was always busy. After Kelly died, my busy died too. PBR me ASAP became a very strong new neural pathway, and Brussel sprouts turned into Burger King. I did not give a fuck anymore. Life obviously can be too short, our time here feeling like a spurious assumption of joy at best. There is no gravity, the world just sucks. Life Sucks. I don’t care if I live or die. Call me apathetic…I don’t care. I will eat my way through my despair.

1-end of may 2 2015

By the time I turned 42 years old I was up to 225 lbs., balding, wearing bifocals, on medication for blood pressure, high cholesterol, & acid reflux. In those first 10 years I also tore my cornea on  two different occasions, shattered my left heel from falling 30 feet, broke my left leg twice, broke a left finger, tore my left rotator cuff, tore my left knee meniscus, enduring unabated chronic plantar fasciitis in my left foot, as well as intermittent tachycardia with ablation surgery recommended. I was still using those dominant pathways created in the first 3 months of my grief journey, they had become my default drive for 20 years. I was a physical wreck at age 62 and I was afraid my grandbabies would not have a wise old grandpa around to see them graduate.

In January of 2017 I set an intention to get back to my body weight chart of 175 lbs.  I called it the 66-day Heartlight Challenge. At the end of those 66 days I had reached my goal weight shedding 50 pounds and although happy for my success my arthritis seemed much worse in areas where I had broken bones. Not unlike grief  it’s a bone itch that aches and you cannot scratch and it persists. I started to research cosumptionary agents with natural anti-inflammatory properties and discovered that many blue juices (dark berries) have high concentrations of polyphenols, antioxidants called flavonoids which attack free radicals. As the body ages, it loses its ability to fight the effects of free radicals. The result is more free radicals, more oxidative stress, and more damage to cells, which leads to degenerative processes, as well as “normal” aging.

Grief amplifies oxidative stress and we age faster, gray faster, cellular age increases more rapidly, wrinkles etc.  We are the tin man after a rainstorm. These free radicals are one electron short of a full deck and will bond to the electrons of other healthy cells resulting in a weakening and aging of their host’s cellular structure. No different than the rust on your old Ford pickup. Oxidative stress ages it.  I had been stuck in a dark wet place for a long, long time and I was in desperate need of an oil can.

Although I had reached my goal weight, and was off all medications, I did not feel that great and I felt and looked like a skinny old man. This free radical needed more free radicals to stop the deadly progression of stress oxidation going on inside my body. After two years of trial and research on the use of natural juices for relief of discomfort due to arthritis I eventually developed this daily use tonic that I dub blue juice.

Part of reclaiming my vitality was the addition of naturally occurring probiotics & prebiotic in my diet as well as the blue juice concoction. I make my own kefir, yogurt, sourdough, sauerkraut, Kimchee Kombucha & Kvass as part of my staple diet. To aid daily ingestion of probiotics I added some probiotics to my blue juice tonic which is listed in the recipe.  Without these two ingredients you still get all the critical flavonoids from the juices to combat oxidative stress.

image

Blue Juice Heartlight Elixir, the oil can for the Tin Man

Basic Recipe for 1 Gallon

  • ½ gallon long steeped (until room temp) green tea. Green teas is robust in antioxidants and the caffeine aids in accelerated metabolization.
  • 2 cups pure Blueberry Juice
  • 2 cups pure Cranberry juice
  • 2 cups pure Red Tart Cherry Juice
  • 2 cups pure Pomegranate Juice
  • 1 cup Kvass which is a  fermented beet tonic (optional)
  • 1 cup Kombucha  fermented sweet tea (optional).
  • If adding probiotics, merely reduce the green tea amount

Drink at least one large glass a day of blue juice, more if arthritis symptoms persist. Drink at least as many glasses of pure water a day. Get some sunshine.

In addition to diet for cellular repair, we need vitamin D directly from the sun. It provides critical elements for cellular, bone and tissue repair. We need at least 15 minutes of outdoor sunshine 3x a week for adequate of levels of Vitamin D; 40% of people in this country (especially the elderly) have deficient levels in vitamin D.  It is the UV ” B” rays in sunshine that turns cholesterol in our skin to Vitamin D and releases serotonin in our system.

Unfortunately UV “B” rays cannot penetrate glass as UV “A” does and we need to be outdoors. The use of sunscreen, body coverings and individuals with dark skin will require longer periods in the sun.  Many women in cultures who are heavily veiled have high incidences of bone rickets from chronic Vitamin D deficiency.  We need sunshine as surely as the cornfields do. Try to ge limited sunshine regularly and/or regular use of a mood light can do much to retard aging and promote cellular health. The use of tanning beds is not encouraged as UV “A” rays are carcinogenic.  We need rays from the sun. We cannot eat enough salmon to get enough vitamin D without getting mercury poison but foods with vitamin D and supplements are highly encouraged October through March.

Vitamin D deficiency is also is the direct mechanics behind Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) when there is not enough sunshine to turn melatonin  into serotonin which is our mood boosting/happiness hormone and why become become sad. When depleted of serotonin sadness, depression and apathy can insert their influence much easier.

Field tested by sufferers of arthritis to include my 90-year-old mother in law who claims it works better than the cortisone shot had received previously. If I am out of town and off my routine for a week, those old familiar places again start to throb…my cells are screaming oil can.  And as the Scarecrow said to the Tin Man “oil can what?” It can reduce the inflammation of oxidative stress. Don’t take my word for it, try it. I drink one or two large glasses of iced blue juice a day, in several days you will feel a marked difference.

On a side note, one unanticipated result I have noticed now on my third year of drinking the tonic every day besides experiencing no/little arthritic pain, is a reduction and even reversal of gray hairs, wrinkles and sagging skin. I have gained some weight back  from the target weight as I did lose some muscle mass losing my weight so quickly. The weight I gained back is some muscle, healthy tendons etc. and not the normal stomach/saddlebags areas where stress fat is stored. Even my toenail fungus disappeared, and my old yellowed nails grew out pink and clear in one year.

1-Toe Nails for slide show

Over 200 years ago the brilliant French physician Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote:

“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.”

In English “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are”.

Be your best advocate, be your best physician, trust your body to do the right thing but provide it the best fuel and means to do so.

Grief and your diet can both kill you, or it can propel you into an area of your destiny never imagined. Imagine; believe.

MC/2/12/20

 

 

Soylent Green;Salient Point

1-IMG-1733I graduated from Park Hi in Cottage Grove Minnesota in 1973. A vibrant state of the art high school nestled in a growing and expanding neighborhood of the late 50’s called Thompson Grove. It was the brainchild of Orrin Thompson who a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright who wanted to create an affordable neighborhood on the prairies of Minnesota in response to nationwide housing shortages for the new baby boomer generation being born that followed the end of WWII.  Cottage Grove (cabbage grove to islanders) 😊 it was a model for the nation for the newly created idea of “suburbia “. Successful it spread nationwide faster than a fire in California.  Our high school was a model for the times in a model neighborhood; visualize the movie Pleasantville and listen to the song by Pete Seeger “Little boxes” which was his response to Orrin Thompson’s creation in Cottage Grove. (https://youtu.be/XUwUp-D_VV0)

Our school was built amidst the little boxes of the newly created suburbia and students from Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park, Grey Cloud Island, Denmark Township, Newport and Woodbury all converged to the new High School built in 1965. State of the art school, it had computer Fortran entry data (punch card classes), modular scheduling, and some groovy intern teachers. The area was mostly middle-class white suburban and rural families, lean on diversity but our sports team was monikered the Park Hi Indians (which later changed to the Wolf pack). In 1973 life was good in Cottage Grove, the Vietnam war was winding down, the draft/lottery  had ended, jobs were plentiful, the social vibe was all about peace and love. Pleasantville was real. The world was our oyster.

I remember as a senior in high school reading the book “1984” by George Orwell (circa 1949). It was a frightening vision of a country that had degenerated to a rule by “Big Brother” who was the cult like personality leader of “The Party “who was in political control. Big Brother was depicted as totalitarian ruler who comes into everyone’s homes daily on huge computer screens dictating social reform with government rule and he had absolute power. Although convivial in appearance as part of the republic he was a ruthless dictator and a puppet voice for “The Party” who actually pulled all the strings.

This was written as fiction 70 years ago.

That same year a movie was released called Soylent Green and my girlfriend (my wife now) and I watched it at the Cottage View Drive-in theater that was built the same year as the high school in our uniquely created little suburbia of the future that even had an indoor neighborhood mall.  The drive in had a double feature, Soylent Green and The Exorcist. Soylent Green left a deep impression on me and is the reason for this writing.

The movie was based on book penned in 1966 by Harry Harrison; released into a movie with Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson in 1973. The movie was set in 2022 New York City. The cumulative effects of overpopulation, pollution and climate catastrophe due to Greenhouse gases (Global warming) had caused severe worldwide shortages of food, water and housing. In the plot there is 40 million people in New York City alone, only the city’s elite can afford spacious apartments, clean water and natural food, and even then, at horrendously high prices. The middle class was gone, there was now only the haves, or the have-nots and the haves controlled the food supply. We find out later the food supply is made from dead bodies…called Soylent Green.

In 1973 the population of New York City was about 7.5 million, today almost 50 years later we are at less than 8.5 million. The move to the suburbs worked, good job Orrin Thompson, quite the visionary you were and continue to be as NYC and other major cities populations decrease each year. Gated communities and massive baby boomer retiree high rises/ villages are growing faster than Kudzu in July causing massive urban emigration and building boom to the burbs. Overcrowding never became the portent of devastation it was touted as becoming, no one envisioned massive suburbs. Climate change on the other hand has reached devastating proportions in our country and across the world.

We saw it coming 70 years ago.

Rising sea levels, melting polar caps, and the hottest temperatures every recorded are breaking records across the world.  February of this year in 2020, both Greenland and Antarctica broke record for highest temperatures ever recorded.  2019 Angola saw its hottest temperature ever measured for any month in February. Australia shattered its record for the hottest summer ever with fires still burning out of control propelling its national average temperature to a new all-time high. Belgium broke its record at 105°F on July 25. France saw its hottest June day on June 28 as the temperature rose 111.7°F. Germany broke its record of 106.7°F on July 25. Kenya saw its highest April temperature on April 20 which hit 106.9 F. The Netherlands broke its record on July 25 at 104.7°F. Poland and Germany each set a new respective June temperature record. Russia set a May temperature record near Siberia 91.22ºF on May 13. Vietnam broke its record for hottest May temperature on May 20 at 109.4ºF. To name a few.

If this keeps up for two more years with blatant ignorance of real data, the movie Soylent Green may now be a harbinger of things to come rather than mere Hollywood fiction. With severe climate change we may to come to a time when food and clean water are in short supply for the masses unilaterally. I hope not, I believe we can be much better stewards of our children’s planet than that. We can help to alleviate the stress our dear Mother Earths is experiencing. She may be having her own growing pains and will cycle as she continues to cool down internally over the eons, but ignorance, apathy, greed and stupidity of external factors that we can control only makes it worse.

In the movie Edgar R. Robinson is an old man who is tired of living in poverty under strict government control. Perpetual apathy, no relief from the continual heat, lack of real food and overcrowding he finds he has no hope, he sees no light at the end of the tunnel. When he finds out that his main diet is made from dead people his loses the last shred of will to survive. The government does although provide an option to “seniors” who are tired of the battle to exist and can go to the “Home Clinic “a government run assisted suicide facility. They sign up on their own free will and are brought in to a one-person in-the-round  movie theater watching glorious 3-D movies of our wonderful planet with a dinner given of their favorite  meal with “ real food ” and of course given a tall glass of special Kool-Aid to drink and they drift off happily… 20 minutes later succumbing to the potion that was delivered. Their body is then  is recycled into Soylent Green.

Fictional yes, but it was that scene left an indelible impression on me. I endorsed his decision had I been face with it, and admired the ease and beauty of which it was accomplished, as he told Charleston Heston, I’m going home. Suicide sometimes may appear as the only viable option. From the towers of 911, from abuse/torture at being held captive, from continual sexual abuse at home or madmen, mental illness, depression, bullying by society itself.

The decision to take one’s own life is one made to relieve pain when there is no hope.  Let us not judge this very difficult decision to end one’s life but honor their courage to make such a lethal decision. Let us avoid charging their legacy with a crime and adding a penumbra of shame to their life and to that of their family.  People die by accident, by disease, natural disasters, natural causes, nefarious intent, pathological evil, war, greed, revenge, politics, anger, self-defense, mental illness, apathy and suicide. Victims of suicide do not commit a crime…they decide to end their pain.

Our onus is to not judge those who have made the decision to take their own life or ascribe personal failure or guilt on our part or theirs. It is difficult at best to know of the inner turmoil people may carry; most often it is disguised very well. We need to decriminalize their legacy and promote avenues of hope for the hopeless. Suicide is not a sin, it is not a crime, it is a symptom of social despair, it is an act of desperation fueled by apathy and ignorance.  Suicide rates increase 2% every year in our country. Now in epidemic proportions in rural America, the armed services and our law enforcement, suicide is now considered a national public health crisis in the United States. So much in fact that the U.S. life expectancy data has been trending down for the past three years from so many cases of suicide and overdose.   Global suicides rates are amazingly down 30% since 2000.  U.S. suicide rates are up 33 % since 2000. This is not hyperbole; we are in a national crisis.

We do not need government suicide clinics, we need to heighten our awareness of social discontent, and reduce the systemic apathy in our country. To reduce the risk of suicide we need to reduce the desperation wherever we see it and encourage other options. To reduce its stigma of shame we need to stop the blame.

Suicide is a decision not made lightly but one usually made in the dark. Spread the light; you can do your part to reduce the risk; shine by example.  We are our brother’s keeper.  Be an encourager, an influencer, a listener, a mentor, a teacher, a guide, a motivator, a forgiver, a helper, a role model, a benefactor, seed planter, healer and friend. It’s in our nature, that spark of divinity that makes us human that is in every one of us. Find it, nurture it, use it. Let’s take back the night.

Science Fiction has become reality. People old and young choosing to end their lives. Suicide rates in our country are at epidemic proportions that we have not ever seen before. Real data happening now.  U.S. Public mass shootings in 2019 was the highest year ever recorded with 41 incidents, 211 fatalities. Real data, happening now. Our Planet currently is melting at rates faster than we have ever seen in recorded history. This is real data happening now.  If this continues unabated, life as we know it will never be the same and I shudder for my grandchildren.

If we collectively do nothing, like in the make-believe world of Fantasia in the movie The Never-Ending Story, the “nothing” will end our world. The nothing is our apathy and where desperation thrives. We are killing ourselves and our planet at unheard of rates. BE DISCONTENT, makes ripples, take the risk to resist; the power of one can make a difference; we are in desperate times. Be the difference; take the risk to be you, nurture kindness; nurture your neighbor, become an influencer of grace; Be here now; Shift happens. Give a shift.