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naming the elephant in the room

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eyeFor the last 15 months I’ve been working near death and dying. Working at a hospice brings me face to face with a wide range of feelings and sensations. I witness people in agony, physical and spiritual; some in quiet resolve, others struggling with hope. They reveal a myriad ways of responding to loss … and I’m wondering how all this is shaping my own understanding of living and dying, my own relationship to the inevitable.

A distant relative phoned from Germany a couple of weeks ago. She’s in her eightieth year, a widow without children, the last in a line of bakers and grape growers: her mother, husband, brother-in-law, and sister have all died in the house where she was born and continues to live. Surrounded by memories and memorabilia, she spoke of being lebensmüde, tired of living. Not long ago I might have felt awkward hearing such a declaration, but this time I responded in ways that took us from tears to laughter, from hiding the topic to facing it head on. We talked about grieving, about loneliness, and the desire to be reunited with those who have died.

moore“No mysteries are more profound and confounding than loss, suffering, ending, illness, and death,” writes Thomas Moore.

The death of someone close reminds us of what is important and may give us back our soul, but still the cruelties of life seem senseless. They tarnish our optimism and challenge our faith, and yet, oddly, they retain the power to make us ever more human. They do so only when we give them attention and speak for, ritualize, and keep in memory events that hurt, confuse, and keep us in the dark. …

We need to respect the mysteries of death without understanding them and to express our confusion and pain so as to create a communal and honest humanity.

Is there someone in your vicinity who might benefit from an honest conversation? Or yourself, what’s weighing on your mind in this regard? Who might you speak with? When will you do this?

source: Moore, T. (1996). The education of the heart. HarperCollins, p.251.

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2 responses »

  1. Most of the people I know either online or in person feel too uncomfortable for an honest conversation. It’s all they can do to avoid themselves, let alone get raw and real… I see this in varying degrees. High levels of self-avoidance: Father, step-mother, sister(s), a friend who wanted to discuss spirituality but pulled back when it was suggested he is not his mind.

    Oh, and then there’s me. LOL.

    My partner is the most receptive (thank god). When my internal pain gets to be too much, I finally break down and do The Work (get into a dialogue with myself). It is an enormous help, way more powerful than visits with therapists have been. Haven’t been to one in ten years now…

    Sometimes just sinking into the feeling – being willing to be uncomforatble – is what is necessary. Talking about it all with my partner adds the last bit of clarity. Thank you for asking these questions… and it’s wonderful how you were there for your relative. What a blessing for you both. It will be interesting to hear how you continue to grow in relation to death and dying…

    Reply
  2. Nadine Mitchell

    Some of us have given thought to our final exit, shedding of our mortal coils, but how many of us are gracious and non-grasping in the daily moments, all the little endings which occur? How many of us want to control outcomes?

    And what of the person we ask to have an honest and transparent conversation with? Even when we ask, are they present? Are they receiving? Or do they run? Sometimes we can ask for what we need and want and when the answer is NO it represents a loss.

    As a volunteer at Hospice, I am reminded of the gifts of each day lived. Ones filled with contentment. And even when the one asked to listen decides not to recieve, I eventually find the courage to accept and move on.The most valuable lessons are always learned far from our comfort zones. And with each new lesson, I learn to say good-bye with just a little more confidence.

    Reply

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