Recommended Reading: A few new books about hospice, death, dying and living on

book journey book life and death book hospice isn't

An important part of the human experience is in sharing that experience with others. We hope that by sharing our stories, others will know more, perform more effectively, see the coming storm and protect themselves… and we know that when we open up a window into our past to help others, it helps us, the storytellers, to process our own experiences and to heal. Fairview Home Care and Hospice recently shared the titles of three books written by people whose loved ones received care through their organization.

Full disclosure, the third book is mine. You should read them all. If you want to read Hospice Isn’t a Place, just let me know and I’ll send you a copy.

Cynthia Heelan’s book, A Matter of Life and Death, is unique in the fact that she not only tells her story, she poses questions for the reader to reflect upon at the end of each chapter.  Her book begins at the time her husband Richard was diagnosed and ends with what grief support practices she has found helpful after his passing.    

Ruth Halvorson’s book, A journey of Grief, Gratitude and Grace, takes the reader through a day by day account of the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of her husband, Loren’s, experience of encountering end of life issues as well as the emotional and spiritual impact this experience has had on the entire family.  

Julie Desmond’s book, Hospice Isn’t a Place, It’s People, includes facts and instruction as much as story – hoping to help people realize they can do this. Julie was also a hospice volunteer for 6 years before caring for her father in our program. 


Ruth and Julie’s books can be purchased through .  Cynthia and Ruth used Kirkhouse Publishing Company.  Orders can be placed through them as well. Julie’s book can also be found at



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?


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


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


Tea All Afternoon

When someone is suffering, What is the “right” thing to say? When someone is grieving an unimaginable loss, what are the right, polite, appropriate comments that work in this situation? Maybe, some say, it’s better to say nothing.

Maybe. But remember that “no words” is very different than “no show.” Whether you know what to say or not, showing up matters. First, show up.

Next, realize that you cannot possibly know how another person feels, so avoid saying you do.

After that, say what you feel. Put your pride aside and be vulnerable. After all, grief is a raw emotion. Be honest. Be raw. Be kind. Or be quiet and just listen.

Here are some of the beautiful, right words heard recently:
“He was a good man.”teacup
“He was a generous man.”
“I knew him and I feel a great loss.”
“A fine send off.”
“In a few weeks, I will pick you up and we will come back to my house and drink tea all afternoon.”
That last one, that’s my favorite.

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.

Rise Up Against Cancer – online event

This online event was in my inbox this morning. Looks interesting. Note: requires membership to The Intelligent Optimist.


Rise Up Against Cancer




Date: June 11, 2014

Location: Online*

Time: 11am – 12:30pm Pacific Time

Price: $10 – FREE if you become a member

(See details below)





When you think “cancer treatment,” the terms “chemo” and “radiation” are probably the first words that come to mind. But those treatments can be crippling and exhausting. If less invasive treatments were available that were equally effective, would you go that route instead?


Our newest online event is inspired by the story of Gemma Bond, who was diagnosed with uterine and ovarian cancer in 2011 and decided not to get chemotherapy. After researching the alternatives and discovering that many oncologists would opt out of chemo, Gemma’s daughter, Laura Bond, decided to share her mother’s story, and the alternative path she chose, with the world.


Health coach, journalist and author of Mum’s Not Having Chemo, Laura Bond will show you how to take action and heal yourself of cancer. Her online event includes advice on health and food, but there’s much more. Bond also shares the importance of attitude and taking pleasure in your daily life.


If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer or are curious about alternative healing paths, this event is for you. Replace the fear of the unknown and traditional treatments with empowerment and confidence.


Sign up today for these short and affordable online events. Can’t make the live sessions? Don’t worry: Recorded sessions are sent to all registrants. 



Want to receive this event and others like it free? Become a member, and receive 6 issues of our bi-monthly magazine, a free course, and free access to our frequent online events.


You’re just steps away from living a more optimistic life. Sign up here





The Importance of Presence

Sunshine and Sunset

3800467037_1c0bf2ee3c(1)My nephew (niece’s husband) died a week ago while I was on a mini vacation.  I was very upset that I was not present, but then if I was supposed to have been here, I would have been here.  Today I am thinking about one of my last visits with him. He was on oxygen and unable to carry on a long conversation.  He asked: “To what do I owe this visit?” I said: “I just wanted to come and be present.” I thought about my mother who lived alone from 1969 to 1997.  After I was an adult, I was always available to her when she needed me.  So I took her to all of her appointments, and shopping.  I visited, Christmas,  and Mother’s Day. She didn’t celebrate her birthday. We were together as a family on Thanksgiving.  But I don’t remember just visiting her just to visit.  Sometimes…

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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.