This is It

A person who is terminally ill commonly passes through a series of stages marked by physical and emotional changes that are recognizable to health care professionals. One of the last stages may be referred to as “Actively Dying.” As its name implies, this stage can be physically and emotionally active and, for a caregiver, very difficult. Inviting in someone supportive who has been through this stage before can be helpful.

In contrast, the stage after Actively Dying is calm; eerily quiet, simple. For caregivers, it feels like a long exhale after hours or days of gasping for air. Our loved one is still alive, just resting now before embarking on what many believe is the final journey home.

“This is it,” the nurse tells us, in a tone so tender and kind, it belies the words she is saying. “He won’t wake up now, but he can hear you. You can still give him the comfort and love you have been providing all along.”

A shiver ran through the room, and she continued, “If you see two vertical lines on his forehead, a number eleven, you can give him pain medication sooner than scheduled. This is about comfort now. You did a good job. You are all doing such a good job.”

 

For a Moment

Jorox Canyonby Penny Moore

For a moment

When I sink into the knowing

I feel you breath with His breath

The wind lifting ribbons

We untie ourselves without knowing

I like to hold you passing through

The ribbons gently waving on

The palm of my hand joining

Our passing on One to another

A moment never changes

When you touch it that way

 

 

Go

Do you remember the first funeral you attended? Who died? How did you find out? Who accompanied you to the funeral?

When Rachel’s father died, she was an adult, and she had never been to a funeral. Anyone’s. Ever. “When is the wake?” I asked. “Tomorrow night,” said Rachel, adding, “I don’t think I’ll go.”

“To your dad’s wake? Really?” This wasn’t a broken family situation. Not going? It hardly seemed like an option. As her friend, I didn’t even think not going was an option for me. I was surprised and a little annoyed. “What are you talking about?”

“What do you do at a wake, anyway?”

I explained. She went. The world twirled on.

Deciding to attend services is a little more gray when the person being honored or celebrated is more distant, a neighbor, a co-worker, a friend’s parent. Before my father died, I had been to dozens, dozens! of funerals. We lived in a city where the wells (we later learned) were tainted. People of all ages died all the time in our neighborhood. Cancers mostly, all kinds. I remember coming home after a vacation and seeing a lady carrying a casserole (we called it hot dish) to the house next door. Mom said, “Uh oh. I think Mr. G must have died.” She recognized the gesture with the food. We saw that all the time.

To compound my rich experience in funeral-going, my grade school happened to be situated adjacent to a nursing home. Once a week or so, we were called upon to sing at the funeral of some person we didn’t know, kid-choir almost always outnumbering the guest list.

And even with all those funerals in my past, I didn’t always attend wakes and funerals as an adult. They won’t miss me, I thought. I don’t want to be in the way. It’s really for close friends, isn’t it? I’m sure it will be crowded. And I had these other plans…

And then my dad died. And a lot of people came. It was crowded. There were people from all his life stages. People we saw every day and relations we hadn’t seen in ages. Someone came alone, and then went back to fetch his parents. He said, “I knew they would want to be here.”

Every face, every story, every brief exchange mattered. Every person who attended was noticed. Every person who missed it was missed. And no one was in the way. And not everyone was a close friend. And yes, it was crowded. And everyone was appreciated. It mattered. It mattered.

So now, my siblings and I say, Go. If you’re part of the circle, go. If you’re anywhere near the circle, go. I recently missed the funeral of my friend Jenny’s dad. I was deep in my own issues then, and I missed it. In the past I might have just skipped it and moved on, but since my dad’s wake and funeral, I now know, it matters, and I wished I would have made it. Go. Show up. It matters.

IMG_1511

Mancala: Many Hands, Many Voices

This message sent 61 days ago:
Yesterday, buried my dad Too wrecked to go out Maybe tomorrow

The game begins against our will

tinted glass stones slip with clicks into shallow bowls  61 days ago?

smoothed into a bamboo board  So, 62 days ago

click, click  I stood frozen over my father’s casket

 63 days ago, we calculated prayer cards, coffee cups, and parking spaces

and whistled, he would have beenmancala 2

12 bowls, six and six, running  90 today

the length of the board

troughs on either end

12 days before that, a 700 mile countdown

across 5 states   and now we look up

one fist suspended above the board

stones willing themselves a race to spend

to fall 5 eternal days dividing 6 hour shifts

figuring 3 people per shift can sleep 4 hours each

measuring 2.5 every 2 hours  handfuls of gems

and something else every 6  shimmer in the light

we heard  click clink click clink

11 children

and  click click

married 56 years

counted spoonfuls of Popsicle, shirts cut up the back, beads on a rosary,

stitches across a quilt

parsed 80 words in a poem, studied 90 images in a video montage

counted breaths and arpeggios of time

between breaths  A stone falls away

from the board and we glance guiltily down

at the piles of colors, glance up to catch a bird

we counted on God  Flitting

and on each other  Outside the open window

under a vanishing sun

61 days? 70 days? 90 years?

click click clink click

our game ends gently

who won?

yesterday

Eileen

After this visit, I drove away along tree lined autumn parkways, past the French Meadow Bakery and the CC club, through downtown, toward home. I put each of my babies into colorful nighties, under yellow orange green sheets in lively rooms. I wondered, one day, will they blow a kiss to say goodbye? Will they cry out for me, 90 years from now?

suitcase

Getting There Takes Some Time

Eileen sleeps the sleep of a traveller

Fitful, pulling at her own translucent limbs

transparent skin gathered up and quilted together by scabs and small bruises

at 93, this is life

imagine

at 23, this life

applying final touches to pursed ruby painted lips

she blows a kiss to mother and then away, down the steps, a man there waiting,

or a gaggle of girls There is a war on

Friends admire her raucous laugh, tease her for dancing clumsily, share secrets

she will take to the grave

Now, frail and pointed, a body uncovered and empty, she carries only these

Eileen reaches out Cries out for Mama, for Mother

She accepts a stranger’s hand, calms, lets go a tear which travels

over her desert cheek in a sideways trajectory

gradually finding its way along the cracks and fissures left there by time

Through plastic blinds, the moon blooms into fullness, a moon just made for traveling

Tonight Eileen will be traveling

 

He called and said, “Whatever You’re Doing, Drop Everything and Go”

IMG_4111It’s always a random Tuesday or Wednesday, the day everything changes, the day the clouds roll in and everything is no longer what it was, no longer what someone expected it would be. (and can I get a little harmonica here for my muse, Bruce Springsteen…) “All those things that seemed so important, well, Mister, they vanish right into the air…” So, if you pray, however you do that, please throw one up there for my friend whose world just tilted on its axis. Thanks.

In the upper left corner of a narrow lined page halfway into a quality, vinyl covered, silver spiral bound notebook, three letters are scrawled in worried capitals: A P L

Saved there because, when you called, I was busy, in the middle of something important and I didn’t want to forget.

It mattered.

Swirling from corner to corner of a person halfway into a quality, creatively crafted life, three poisonous letters tear away every plan you’ve ever made: A P L

You said, Leukemia, the APL kind.

The sound of those letters sighing as you let them go out into the world, I won’t ever forget that, the way those sounds became

everything that mattered.

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I’m Going to Miss These…

My friend Marybeth woke me up today when a loud buzz announced a new message coming in from Australia; subject line said: I’m going to miss these…
In the flash of time between reading that subject and opening the message, so many thoughts went through my mind about what “these” could be. Marybeth is on a year-long adventure with people she likes a lot. What’s there to miss? Uncomfortable beds? Beautiful people? A certain tree, plant or flower? Bugs? Fascinating accents? Unforgettable cuisine?

And then my phone died.

So, instead of plugging it in, I rolled over and thought about what I might miss someday. I have been on a life-long adventure which, God willing, should continue for the foreseeable future. But what about this place, this week, this day will I miss when I look back on it? The man beside me, snoring in a quiet, kind of soothing way? The coffee pot clicking on by itself? The paper dropping from some invisible hand onto my doorstep?

I miss the babies who became my children, yet I love those young adults as much as I ever have. I miss the gardens outside the incredible house we just sold to a stranger in exchange for a handful of cash. I miss the Christmas holidays I thought we’d celebrate there. Soon, I will miss that handful of cash. But what is there about now that I will miss? What am I forgetting to wrap my arms around and enjoy? What is already in my life that I will see in the rearview mirror and long for? What do I have that I will one day wish I held onto?

Last week, I stood outside my mom’s apartment building, a place we call Fawlty Towers (because my family relabels names of places). I stood with three people I care about. One lit up a cigar, two shared a single cigarette, and I carried a heart-attack in a bag (aka Chinese food and a dozen chocolate chip cookies). I will miss summer evenings in front of Fawlty Towers. I will miss our singular family culture. I will miss these three people, when some of us are gone. Perhaps they will one day miss me. I suppose so.

The whole carpe diem thing kind of got the better of me about then. So I rolled out of bed and stumbled through the kitchen, to the garage. As I hopped on my bike, the icy morning air woke me up for real, and I steered my trusty old ten speed toward Lake Harriet. Most people, even people I live with, don’t know I do this. They would tell me not to; it’s dark, it’s cold. But these morning rides are the best. I’m going to miss these.