I’m participating in a tele-writing workshop which runs through the middle of January so I’m transferring most of my writing attention over to the book for the next six weeks. (A badly needed redirection I might add. As most of you probably know, blogging can get a little addictive.)
What I thought I’d do to keep up here is post bits and pieces of whatever I’m currently working on for the book as well as (of course) any other odd and unrelated beauties I stumble over during one of my inevitable distracted periods. Today, I have one of each:
Here’s a passage from the book that talks about what I went through after the first time I told someone they were dying:
“But even though that’s what I would have preferred, there was no time left for it. To question slowly requires time, but what if Elsa wanted to know before it was too late? What if she wanted me to tell her? What if she said that to me because she saw me as a person who would be straight with her and deliver the news, bad as it was? Someone who would help her understand what was happening and alleviate her growing confusion? Help her back to the core and strength of who she was; a woman who preferred the truth. Who preferred straight dealing. Who didn’t want anyone to protect or pity her. A woman who needed someone to respect her strength and treat her like a competent human being rather than an invalid.
There were other times, other days, when I offered slow questions. Like the day I asked her if she knew that I worked for hospice, or the day I asked if she believed in an afterlife. Those questions were my bait, asked with the hope of luring her into a conversation about what was happening to her, but on those days she clearly didn’t want to know. She shrugged them off and changed the subject, letting me know she wasn’t willing to discuss it.
And I respected that. I wasn’t attached to her believing that she was dying. I had no problem with her passing away in the midst of denial if that’s what she preferred. I was a little uncomfortable when she talked about all the things she’d do when she got better, uncomfortable pretending…but not much. If that’s what she felt like she needed then I was O.K. with it.
After all, it was about her. Not me.
But then that moment came and it blindsided me, when she finally wondered. When she looked at her belly and stroked her long-fingered hands softly along the sides and said in that small, bewildered voice, “I don’t know why I’m not getting better this time.” And for one brief, fraught moment she was clearly lost. Vulnerable. As if she’d thought she was traveling through familiar terrain and suddenly looked up to find herself in strange surroundings. Pausing. Suddenly uncertain. Puzzling softly.
“It’s never lasted this long before.”
It was a fork in the road. A split second when she could have gone either way, back into denial or forward into truth. For a heartbeat, a blink, a breath she was open. Lined up. In range. Positioned to receive a message should one happen to come and in that brief moment the responsibility for making a choice of whether to send that message or not fell on my shoulders.
In the moment it seemed so simple…because I would have wanted the truth if it was me, because she had just told me how she preferred straight dealing, because that was how we had been with each other all along…I chose to tell her that it looked like it was her time to go. That she was dying. And because it was my choice, my responsibility, and my burden, I was required to look into her eyes and see what it means to strike a mortal blow. To snuff out hope. To feel her hand suddenly slip from mine and watch her fall silently away into a dark abyss, her eyes stricken, locked on mine as she grew smaller and smaller.
Is that my penance here? Is that the asking price for dabbling around the brink of infinity? Is it a stern reminder that I need to tread more carefully? That grace is love, yes, but also incomprehensibly vast and unknown and terrifying? Somewhere in the back of Elsa’s eyes I saw something looking back out at me and warning: Be careful, Dia. Always be careful with one another.
Was I wrong to say anything? Should I have withheld the information and kept my mouth shut? I don’t know. I don’t know.
I don’t know.”
Breathe…don’t forget to breathe.
And then here is an oddly beautiful thing I found and just had to share. It’s a video by Louis Schwartzberg called Wings of Life that “is inspired by the vanishing of one of nature’s primary pollinators, the honeybee.” It’s absolutely breathtaking…slow motion cinematography of brief and tiny lives…and I highly recommend watching it if you’re feeling any heaviness after reading the above blip. It’s really just all part of the same Life, y’know?
copyright Dia Osborn 2011
as usual a bit of everything in this entry….. serious, dying…..upsetting… and a beautiful bee to boot!
My brothers’ condition has deterioriated … death and dying has been “all a bit much” for me
You’re in the thick of the real thing…reading about it on top of everything else probably doesn’t hold much allure for you at this point I would imagine. I’m thinking of Andrew with all loving and strengthening thoughts John. And thinking about you in the same way…
John, I’m sorry to hear about your brother. Parting is such sweet sorrow.
As always, your tapestry of words has lured me into reading about dying__a subject that has frightened the pants off me since I was a tiny little girl. Your ability to look into people’s souls and to stare into the abyss of death without fear never ceases to amaze and delight me. This is your calling, Dia. I am so glad you are writing these things down. And I’m glad for whatever synchronicity has brought you and your enlightenment into my life.
And how! You have no idea how much help I gain from your encouragement. I probably would have dropped the blog early on if you hadn’t found me!
BTW, the class I’m taking is something my wife-in-law, Carol Kline, has developed and is actually more of a preparing-to-publish than a writing class. She’s been through the grueling process numerous times as a co-writer and ghost writer and knows all the ins and outs, and is a superb teacher. She makes it clear and pretty simple…what’s required to have a chance of getting published. At least it’s simple to understand…DOING it is a whole ‘nother level of discipline! Your class sounds amazing…how long have you been taking it?
I’m just 2 weeks in to my class. I think it will last 6 weeks. Works well since my mobility has been hampered by the stupid fractured ankle.
You are moving closer and closer to publishing. This is so wonderful. I can’t wait to see it in print and to have my very own autographed copy. I’m serious about how important I think your work is.
What happened to your ankle?! And how long do you have to stay down? I would imagine staying down is a challenge for you? 🙂
Actually, so far I’ve realized I need to change the whole structure of the book to something more like Operating Instructions by Annie Lamotte. I have something like 700 pages of journalling from the years I was working in hospice and just about everything I have to say is already in there, and already said pretty well. I’ve been reinventing the wheel, trying to write it in a different format. So it will basically be a memoir which, since I’m not famous, will be almost impossible to publish through an established publisher. So I’ll have to self-publish instead.
I’m learning a lot, but it feels great to finally get clear! I think things should start moving along fairly quickly after this.
I sincerely hope you feel better and are up and around again soon!!
Good morning Dia,
Since our Vision Quest together, how often I have thought about the similarities of Birthing and Dying. And in the labor of the each, how valuable the role of the Mid-Wife and Hospice are. Your post emphasized to me, how much you learned about the dying process, how much you learned about yourself, and how much better life can be lived by knowing these things.
I see how much “blood, sweat, and tears” goes into giving birth to this book. Thank you for chosing to go through the labor of it all.
And John, my love and support goes out to you and your brother. You can have my phone number through Dia, if you ever wanted a man to talk to.