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Do You Really Want the Conscious Path? Want to Know About Mine?

Posted Oct 01 2010 6:13pm

Several years ago I had a year in which nearly 50 people I personally knew, or knew of, died.

It kind of woke me up.

And then, after I was good and awake, I realized I was terrified. Suddenly everyone I knew could die at any time, at any age, in any fashion and Death didn't really care if I was ready or not. It wouldn't have been so bad if I had already figured out the Meaning of Life, but as luck would have it, I was just on the verge of deciding that it didn't mean a damn thing, that any meaning I thought it had was just some made up panacea I used to soothe myself with and that I needed to wake up and smell the coffee.

Bad timing for an existential crisis.

Enter Michael Schwass (well, he'd actually been around for well over a decade already, patiently waiting for the student to settle down and pay attention) and the complete dismantling and rebuilding of my psyche.

Oh, the fun we had!

And then, you know, just to make things interesting, because what good are classes with no tests, my Mom had a stroke, my Dad had a bypass, family dynamics became dynamic and in the years that followed I had to figure out who these people even were to me and whether or not I loved them.

And then, once I figured out I did love them, which surprised me as much as anyone, I can assure you, I had to figure out what APPLIED love looks like.

So for the last two or three years I have been a caregiver. I was a helping professional for 20 years prior, but caregiving is a whole different ride, especially when you are hanging out with people who are dying and not particularly interested in changing that fact.

I talked a fair amount about this publicly, at this blog and Facebook, although less so as the demands of my life became greater along with the intimacy of the situation. And because of the depth of the love in the relationships I was immersing myself in, and the very conscious way the people in my life were finishing up their mortal lives, I was hearing from a lot of people that they hoped to follow their example. To live, and die, consciously, with dignity, grace, courage and a fair amount of good humor.

And the whole while I was thinking, 'Yeah? Well you had better hope like the dickens that you have a partner in that because a conscious death in abandonment would not be such a good thing." I know this because I witnessed it. I wasn't part of a community. I was part of a very small circle. Sometimes I was the entire circle.

So I don't have any theories for you, and I'm not going to start being a grief counselor (that's a couple steps too late, imho, but thank God at least that much is available). Screw my doctoral psych training and my coach training. None of it helped me with this. I KNOW the role I played in some very significant deaths this year and I know what it took to do it. I know what it took for me and I could see what it took for the people who were leaving. It was work, no doubt, but the grace and love that came through the suffering makes me, hands down, know that I have wealth beyond measure. I received in my life what other people have told me they ache for. I know there are some people who have chosen to take their own lives for lack of it. I do not say that lightly. What I have lived through makes me understand poetry, for cryin' out loud. I GET Rumi. Totally. I spontaneously find myself saying things that I realize later Rumi said. I understand prayers in a way I never conceived I could have. Grace. Dignity. Steadfastness. What it means to sit outside the gates of Gethsemane and NOT fall asleep.

In less than a year, I saw through the death of Michael's father, who spent the last few years of his life in a nursing home. I watched my husband get blasted by the news of his nephew's suicide and heard him for the first and only time in his life utter the words, "I don't think I can do this" while trying to write the eulogy. I took my constant meowing companion of 19 years, Luigi, to be "put down". I did the same for my father's dog, Angel, on the day the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.

That was the last day I saw my father.

A week later, he was found dead on his couch, as we had predicted he would be. And the day before his father's birthday, Michael, too, was found dead.

Yes, one could call this graduate school.

And everything I have been learning along the way is more solid than I ever believed it could be. Not moreso than Michael told me it would be, but I always need to see things for myself.

I was reading back over some journal entries and realized that there really could be a book in this. Probably should be because we are so anxious about normal aging in our culture we can't even begin to think about death. We just have no true mechanisms in place to help people until it is too late and then hospice and grief counselors come in and try to patch up the holes that regrets and remorse are blasting through the hearts of the newly bereaved. That breaks my heart.

I just buried a man I love like sunshine. A man I would have walked through fire for. And ALL I feel is sad. Not regretful. Not angry. Not shocked. Not immobilized. I'm not replaying and second guessing a thing. Have no words I wish I could now take back. None that I wish I had said. My last day with him was beautiful, even though I didn't know it would be my last. Don't doubt for a single second that I don't know how freaking blessed I am to be able to say that. And because of all those things I also feel joy. Joy. I was happy for him at his gravesite. Happy for him. Truly, deeply joyful that he made it safe and sound to the other side. Yes, I do believe there is an "other side".

But all the wind goes out of my sails the very minute I think about writing an account of it for you and here is why:

1. I'm afraid of it becoming dydactic. It's my personal story, not a how to manual. I don't know if what I did would work for you but dang, it might be worth a shot to share what I did just in case.

2. Writing a book might be an arduous hassle, even if I can find a consistent voice I feel good about. Selling a book is a level of hell I just have absolutely no interest in visiting. I've been involved in 4 failed book projects. I call that a fair trial.

3. What percentage of purchased books actually get read? If my bookshelves are any indication, maybe it's a good 15% (I generously state). I INTEND to read them all. So, if I actually do sell some books, did all this actually do anything even so?

4. And if you do buy a book I write, will you get what you came to the book for? Or would you kind of wish we could sit down over a cup of tea and really get down to it?

Okay, so why not just blog about it?

Because, honestly, I know there are lurkers out there who don't always come with the highest levels of intention. I know people have used my blog and my Facebook profile to learn not just about me but about other people. That is one of the reasons I disappear from time to time. It burns me out, creeps me out and ultimately shuts me down. I'm not saying you all have to comment or be known to me. Silent readers are one thing. I'm not talking about them. That's all I care to say about that. Bottom line is, blogging won't work for me. Not for stuff this intimate and sensitive.

So, while I was watching a lovely sunset on a desserted Lake Michigan shore, I thought about all the times people have pestered me about having retreats and such and then I just found myself missing people. Erika, michael m, Jenny, Nick, Kate...many people. And I thought about how nice it would be to have a circle, right there on the beach and how I would love to read to you some of what I wrote this year because I think, in all honesty, it is better done orally anyway. I got to read some to Michael before he died. And to Erin, (who is still here). And Scott. A few others. And you know, there are some things in what I wrote that people might want to talk about. Things that shouldn't be in a book you could read in an airport during a delay, but that should be shared, in that old mode called the oral tradition. That's where life happens. When breath imbues words. Read your favorite poem aloud, or your favorite book passage and tell me it doesn't do something to you.

And the secret ingredient is you. You show up. There is power in that. Never doubt that.

Martin Prechtel says it takes a community to grieve properly. I think that's true. Part of me just keeps thinking, because of both my own experience and my awareness that so many people are going, knowingly, into their last chapter, that some communal work BEFORE the grieving of a death might not be a bad thing.

So, what I want from you is feedback. Comment or email me directly and tell me if you like where my thinking is going. Let me know if you are one of the people who might like to sit down and talk about this face to face. Whether you might know some other people who would like to join us. Let's go forward simply. And since I haven't blogged very consistently lately, readers have drifted off so please help spread the word and let people know that if they have ever had the notion to have that cup of tea with me and talk about the road travelled, I'm open. Now is the time, to begin. Let's just take a first step together.

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