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Posts Tagged ‘writing about death’

When my brother died last January, I started to walk the willows. It wasn’t until late July that I read our ancestors planted willows for the Dead. And if the branches form a shadow large enough for a grave, someone will die.

My brother was 60 years old. He had a chronic illness that finally got the best of him. There is something sad about a winter willow. In spring, their branches fade into yellows, ochres, and fluorescent lime. Rebirth.

At 8:35 p.m. my mother told me she felt my brother passing and started to cry. By 9 p.m., he was gone. She was miles away. She has the sixth sense. As kids we knew we couldn’t lie to our mother. She recognized the truth on a level we did not understand.

Now I understand. Because I have the sixth sense, too. An empath. Some call it intuitive. Maybe we all have the Gift. But some are more comfortable with it, push it further. You have to suspend disbelief, trust yourself, open to whatever may come.

I woke up this morning with a story in my head, a story about willows. Liz’s mom came into one of my dreams. She is 82 and transitioning in a small western town in Wyoming. We drove 1000 miles to visit her for ten days in May. It was the most intense ten days of my life. Spirits hovered in the air waiting to greet her on the Other Side. It didn’t matter if you believed they were there or not; every night they returned. Guardians, Angels, and people who had already passed, for better or for worse. Liz, her nephew, her sister, and I stood vigil. We banished those spirits who were not there out of Love.

Love. It’s about love in the end. And respect for those who have come before us. If you believe there is good and evil in the world, the Willow protects.

When I was a child of eleven or twelve, we moved from the Deep South to Pennsylvania. My new grandparents had a mature willow in their backyard that butted up against a cornfield. I would swing on the branches at a time when they were strong enough to hold the weight of my body and bones.

There is something I learned about Death this year: the Spirit has to bend, and be strong enough to hold the Soul’s weight.


NOTE: 10 minute handwritten Writing Practice on WRITING TOPIC — WILLOW, the latest Writing Topic on redRavine.

 

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By Judith Ford

This is, I think, the first year I’ve begun to accept the notion that I will one day die. Not that it’s been a big secret. I watched each of my parents die. My mother, who was always the dramatic one, died peacefully, while my father, who’d never been much for self-expression, died struggling and full of fear and rage. Resisting all the way. Someone once said to me that we all die as we’ve lived. Not my parents.

I turned 63 a couple months ago. Not one of those BIG ages, like 21 or 40 or even the big 6-oh, but for me, a signal. A signal to pay attention. There isn’t as much time ahead as there is behind me. I might have said that last year or even ten years ago but for some reason, on this birthday, I got it: not a whole hell of a lot of time left.

When I say that to Chris, he gets all defensive and hyper-rational. Says things like, “yeah yeah, you’ll drop dead tomorrow.” “No,” I say. “I don’t think I’ll die tomorrow, just sooner than I want to.”

My father was 77, my mother was 74. I am healthier than they were. I don’t smoke. I exercise. Will that allow me to avoid the strokes that my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all suffered?

I always imagined, when I was in my 20’s, that I would die, at 84, falling off my motorcycle on a mountain road. I haven’t owned a motorcycle since my first child was born. I’d had one crash and after that, couldn’t ride without awareness of my vulnerability. When I had my daughter, I didn’t think it was fair for me to take that kind of risk any more. I kind of miss my little Honda 90. Was it a 90? I think it was. Its predecessor was a Honda 50, a slow old thing that, when I was 22 and had never owned a car, opened up worlds for me.

Back to death. Yes. Back to death. I had a brush with it when I was 42, a major flare-up of an auto-immune disease I didn’t, before then, know I had. After that, life was different. Everything was different and nothing was different. I mean, I was vividly aware of my mortality and of how much I wanted to stay alive. For months after I was discharged, following many weeks in the hospital, I experienced the world through a bubble of heightened senses, everything glowing and glittery and inexpressibly precious. Then, it faded. Of course, it faded; things that wake you up to the utter wonderfulness of being alive always fade. Routines settle back in. I went back to my habit of writing to-do lists that would choke a cow. Back to my pattern of going to bed each night with my head abuzz with what I hadn’t yet accomplished and must get to tomorrow. Now and then, I would remember. Then 5 years later, when I had flare-up number 2 and once again did not die, I thought I would never ever stop feeling grateful for yet another reprieve.

But I did stop. I do stop. None of us is alive and awake all the time, I guess. Would I want to be? Maybe not. It’s a bit painful.

In the past few years, several of my friends have been diagnosed with cancer and are out of the immediate – but not the long-term – woods. One friend died of Lou Gehrig’s disease 10 years ago. My golden retriever died the same year as my father (1995). My favorite therapy teacher, Dick, died that year, too. How did all these vital parts of my life stop being here, taking up time and space? They were here. Now they are not. How can that be? Not even a jagged hole in the air left from where they used to be.

So when I say I’m beginning to accept the notion that I will one day, sooner rather than later, die, I am whistling in the wind. I have moments here and there where I kind of get it and then it’s gone. And I’m left with the delusion that I have all the time in the world, until I think about it. I do not have all the time. I don’t like it that I don’t have more time.

Three years ago, I pretended to have only one year left. I followed a guide by Stephen Levine, did meditations on the subject, wrote about it, kept notes, but eventually, it all felt like a sham. I knew, the whole time, that I wasn’t going to die at the end of that year. I was pretty sure.

And I realized that, if it were true, if in fact I knew for sure I had only a year, what I would do was… nothing out of the ordinary. I would do the dishes, walk the dogs, fold the laundry, sit at my kitchen table and watch the finches flock to my bird feeders. I would choose to be alone. I would choose only those I love best to be with me. I would go to the grocery store. Maybe I would clean up my files so none of my writing would be inaccessible to my daughter (who is named in my will as the trustee for my writing.) I would go on as usual as long as I could, wanting the familiar, wanting to savor, wanting to bequeath, but quietly.

I know that at 63 my remaining vibrant years are dwindling. So what do I do? I make a commitment to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with my 23 year old son next spring. Why not? There will never be a better time.

I have no grip on this at all. I think it’s a horrible terrible thing to do to people, get them all juiced up on life and then slowly – or all at once – take everything away. Not fair. I wish I could opt out. Of death. Of the many losses of aging.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Judith Ford joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Teri Blair

15 minutes into the grief group I knew it was a mistake. There were still two hours to go, and the stranglehold around my neck was suffocating. It had been, as every attempt had been, an honest effort at finding my way around my father’s death. When he was alive, I thought something would change when he died. It hadn’t. It was all still there.

The grief group leader was hired by the funeral home. A funeral home that was part of a chain in the metropolitan area. He began by telling the group his pedigree. I thought this was to assure us he hadn’t just fallen off the turnip cart. He was a professional with twenty years of grief group experience. We could relax now. In his good hands.

But by the fifteen-minute mark, I saw he didn’t know how to establish boundaries for the group. He didn’t set any for himself nor anyone else. When he told us in flourishing detail how he would be buried in a purple casket, wearing a bathrobe and holding a martini, we had to listen. He needed us to laugh and think he was crazy. Outrageous. When the 70-something woman kept interrupting to loudly wail and moan about her 93-year-old mother “she never thought could die,” when one of the others began openly to flirt with the leader…. when all these things happened within 15 minutes I knew it was a mistake.

I looked at the door, wondering if I could bolt. Then he called me out by name. He knew it because of the name tag I wore. He said I must have a question for him, and that I could ask him anything. I thought There is nothing on God’s green earth you can tell me or show me or answer for me. When I said I didn’t have any questions for him yet, he could see in my face I wasn’t going to fall in line with all the other success stories of people he had helped over the course of 20 years. He turned ever-so-slightly hostile and said to me, in front of the group, that some people just aren’t ready to do the difficult work of grief.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Teri Blair joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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By Bob Chrisman

An old friend called on her way back home from a weekend with her partner, son, and grandson. “I have some bad news and some good news. Which do you want to hear first?”

“Let’s get the bad news out of the way. Maybe the good news will soften the bad.”

“I didn’t expect you to say that. Here goes. The doctor found that I have endometrial cancer, undifferentiated. They have caught it at a very early stage.”

I stopped listening to her for awhile. The “C” word causes my stomach to clinch and the muscles in my neck to tighten. I’ve heard it too often in conversations with my women friends. Lost two of them to aggressive tumors that spread throughout their bodies.

But I focus too much on the losses and not on the wins. A friend diagnosed with breast cancer has remained cancer-free for 12 years. Other women have recovered completely from cancer of various organs. I’m thankful for those successes, very grateful.

My mind returns to the recurrences I’ve seen. A woman twelve years post treatment for a brain tumor has learned within the last two weeks that her cancer has returned. This time the doctor said she will die, but that’s what he said the last time and she lived for another twelve years.

Why all this focus on death at a time of year when the world screams with life and beauty? Why must death occur during these spring months when the earth bursts forth in new life and beautiful shades of yellow-green, when flowers of all colors open and scent the air, and when we can say, “Winter is gone for at least seven months”? Why?

Maybe all this life and beauty replaces the darkness and depression of the winter and I want no more of it. Give me life in all of its forms and beauty. I suffer enough during the winter and I’m over it, but I’m not, it seems.

I notice the beauty and revel in it because I know the bleakness of winter. Joy returns to my life because I know that the good times may not last forever. The friends I carry in my heart as the treasures of a lifetime will die. I must rejoice in their being while they are with me and not put that off for a change in the season or the approach of death.

How is it that the richness of life requires us to know the poverty of despairing times? Does it work like salt on cantaloup or watermelon? The saltiness makes the sweetness that much sweeter as death makes life more precious.

If I could stop death and dying, would I? No, I would let things happen as they must. I might even bring death to those I love earlier if they desired it, but that’s not my place in life. Sitting next to the bedside of a friend who’s dying makes me aware of the value of the time we had together and what a loss their death will be. If they must die (and they must), I can spend the final days and hours with them and carry them and those times in my heart until I pass from this earth.


NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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I had thought by the time I did this Writing Practice, we would be well into the green of Spring and Winter would have died a slow death. It’s green. But on the second day of May it dropped to 30 degrees. Ice crystals fell from the sky and pinged the windshield. I am still bundled in fleece, pulling a high collar up around the scruff of my neck to keep warm. Nature is unpredictable. So is the nature of one’s death. It happens that on the week we are writing about death and dying on red Ravine, Osama bin Laden would meet his demise. I feel no joy in his death. It is a strange mix of emotions, more like confusion and relief.

I remember the writing workshop with Natalie in Taos, New Mexico right after September 11th. She thought about canceling it but decided it was important to go ahead. It was a large group, over 50 writers, a talking workshop. The first night we went around the room, introduced ourselves, and spoke briefly about what it was like for each of us on September 11th. Some lived in New York, some had lost loved ones. I was more removed from the immediate impact. But it changed our country forever. Oddly, I don’t want to write about it. Not now. I will leave it for those whose voices ring with more certainty about what it all means. I can’t put labels on it. The whole ten years and two wars mostly makes me sad.

The older I get and the closer to death, the more I think about it. I can’t predict its time, but I can dedicate my life to living while I am on God’s green Earth. I listened to an interview with Janis Ian before seeing her in concert at the Fitzgerald last week. She had gotten very sick, and thought she may die in middle age. She said her thoughts on death before her illness were that she would take the time she had left to write songs, to write the perfect poem set to music. But when the time actually came, when she thought her life would be cut short, all she wanted to do was sit on the porch with her partner and watch the birds. To be close to her loved ones. That’s all that mattered.

It reminds me that I’m not going to be on my deathbed thinking about how hard I worked at all the jobs I have had over the years. It’s not likely I’ll be thinking of co-workers, the people with whom I’ve spent a majority of my daylight hours. I am more likely to want to spend time with Liz, stay close to home, hang out with the cats. I am more likely to want to go visit my mother and close family, to spend the time with friends I know I can trust. Friends with which I can share my deepest fears about dying and death.

There are moments when death doesn’t scare me. Late nights, when I wake up at 3am and can’t sleep, I do feel the fear. I try to befriend my idea of Death. It changes like the seasons. I do believe that life goes on after death. I find some comfort in that. I don’t have to get it right the first time. There can be second chances. But life will never be like the one I have right now, in this one moment. This is my life. I want to make the most of it while I am here.


-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING

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