Conclusion – What They Have Taught

A lifetime of loss and 16 years of hospice work created rich impressions and much learning. Family, friends, colleagues, and clients showed courage and spirit in their lives with illness and in the experience of death. With respect and gratitude I have tried to capture some of the wisdom they shared as both a memorial and a healing effort as I have sought to make sense of the personal shattering that resulted.

I refuse to view this as anything other than my own transformation – unbelievably painful and frightening at times yet somehow “meant to be.” I choose to believe that this learning is essential for me and perhaps will be helpful to my family’s understanding. It is those closest to me who have seen the toll.

Through this work I have come to believe in beauty, rhythm, the dance of letting go and holding on, cracking open, kairos and hope.

Regrets? Walking with people who are dying means opening yourself to a place with no edges. This sharing creates a reality that is intimate. Its intensity is immeasurable and its effects both profound and exhausting. It is a reality that is known by few and is difficult to name. I regret the lost time with my own family, the distraction of waiting with innumerable imminent deaths, the numbing effect of fatigue, and the bizarre Christmases. The armoring that recurs in my chest concerns me.

Would I do it differently? No.

I am grateful to my mother who made me promise I would quit smoking; to Nina who taught me about stars and enormity; to Gram who oozed refinement and family priority; to Penny for making me a tuna fish sandwich when I couldn’t eat and who later erased chronological time one forever morning; to Belle for taking me in, telling the stories and mirroring sister; to Roland for the way he moved whether driving the boat, walking with roots or dancing down the road with the cat; to my dad for playing at the beach with my son, adoring my daughter and being astonished by the flying things; to a young family for their faith when the body of their Christ had AIDS; to grandpa for the moment of stillness in a gentle death; to Mary for her grace and the hidden lipsticks; to Margaret for lists and Stuart for wit; and to George who brought me the tiny basket to pick up the pieces. Rob addressed me as a white witch, taught about wilderness and that bodies bounce. He demanded I get a life and I discovered anam caram.

If you state an intention to let go into peace of mind, energy will emerge… another death and then life.

The tears which keep rolling in are salty.