Barbara was born in Los Angeles in 1926. In talking to her, it became clear that she is a passionate lifelong learner. In her life, she’s been a painter, a ceramicist, a poet, a model, she has a Bachelor’s in English and History as well as a Master’s in folklore and mythology. During her marriage, she was a teacher, though she quit when her daughter was a teenager and “running a bit wild.” She told me “It was the 60’s and I had a lot to learn about the changing times.” She is 93 years old, but first became familiar with death at the age of 6, when her father committed suicide. Barbara was very open with me in talking about her life and her thoughts on death. We dove right away into her personal beliefs, “when I’m gone, I’m gone…we find our own meaning however we can…religious people find it in Heaven and Hell…whereas I don’t find it there, I find it out in nature and in relationships.” She described imagining her body reintegrating into the earth with the flowers and the mushrooms and the worms. When asked if she had any fear around death, Barbara said that she didn’t, “All that doesn’t frighten me, I have no belief in Heaven and Hell. I feel that we make our own Heaven or Hell on this plane of existence. However, I hate how growing old destroys us before our own eyes. And the pains of growing old and older do frighten me.” We talked about medically assisted dying, which she believes should be a right for everyone. She likes the idea of being able to leave at her leisure, but is also aware of the impact it would have on her family. When I asked Barbara what kind of advice she would leave behind for people, she said “Foster the love in your life…cure things that are a problem in the family if you can. Love your friends, gather them in, stand up for them- unless they’re wrong, and you can address that. Also, welcome the stranger.” We discussed the fear of strangers that has been cultivated in American culture, and the division that it can create.
When asked what she was grateful for, Barbara said “ I’m grateful for many things. For the health I have enjoyed, my education, the loving family which surrounds me, loving friends and my relationship with nature from trees and grass to birds and all the animal life I have been blessed to have loved and lived with.