Apr 5th 2008

Love and life in the realm of the dying

Posted in Barb, Izzy, Lenore

The language between Izzy and Barb is mystical, beyond voice and my limited understanding. The two share a bond, a kind of love, and a joy that I simply do not know how to express, but am privileged to witness. They each, in their own way, know things the rest of us cannot know, and they share these things with one another.

April 5, 2008 – Hospice work is different every time. It is sometimes disturbing and frustrating. The outcome – death – is almost inevitable. The words of a Hospice social worker
still echo from training: “In our country, we mistreat the dying. We shun them, hide them, leave them and their families alone to struggle with one of life’s most powerful and intimate moments.”
This, in my almost-year of Hospice work, is true. The dying are mistreated. They are shunned, avoided. Few people want to know anything about death or dying. Most people I meet do not know what Hospice is. Some people ask me if it’s a cancer treatment center, a home for people to die in, a place to get medicines when gravely ill.
Hospice is a series of organizations staffed by administrators, nurses, home aides, social workers, and volunteers who help people who are at the end of their lives die comfortably, and with dignity. They are amazing people. Hospice doesn’t really allow for laziness, callousness or indifference. It seems to pull the best out of the people involved in it. It is about an acceptance of the dying process, and about giving the dying choice about how they wish to leave the world.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when Izzy and I signed up, but it wasn’t what we found.
In the realm of the dying, Izzy, Lenore and I have found death, for sure, and pain and loss. But if I were to describe the most powerful things we have encountered, it would be love, life and connection. There is more love and life in the realm of the dying than I have experienced in most of the rest of my life, or most of my time among the vigorous and healthy people running around in circles through most of our world.
In Hospice, we met Helen and Warren, and witnessed their great love and commitment to one another. We met Glen the logger come to terms with his death through Izzy up in the Adirondacks. We met a stricken mother watching her young son die. We met a woman who devoted years of her life to caring for her mother, and making sure she died in comfort and in her own bed.
We have read stories and poems, novels and mysteries. Lately, we have been writing living poems – two for Helen, and one underway for Barb.
Sitting up in the Adirondacks this morning with Barb, Izzy and Lenore, Barb and I were chatting quietly in the kitchen about her life, happy things and sad, when she suddenly told me this wonderful story about the time she was seven and a bird landed on her hand.
“I didn’t even have food,” she said, shaking her head in mystery of how such a miracle could occur.
She told the story as if it happened yesterday, and was as full of wonder and joy as if it were happening now. Watching she and Izzy connect to one another, I thought of how Hospice was, in strange ways, a celebration of living, an affirmation not of death but of life, and the pieces, people and stories that make up the individual tapestries of life. Also of the powerful bonds and stories of friendship and family that abound in the land of the dying, and help people through this extraordinary passage at their time of greatest need.
In this realm, there is the greatest sincerity. Time matters, memories are powerful and important, the meaning of one’s life is constantly affirmed and never, ever, taken for granted.
I love stories. They are my life, in many ways, and I see the Hospice work I am doing with  Izzy and Lenore as the greatest gift: hearing the sparkling little stories that, no matter how small, add up to nothing less than life. There is nothing depressing about that.
Barb is ill, and like the rest of us, will fall. I have no illusions about that, but what a pleasure to know her and to hear her gentle and loving tales of her life with Bill, her adventurous mother, her eight children.
I am enriched and nourished by the gift of the stories that make up her life, and in awe of the power of my dogs to brighten her time. I look forward to our visits. There is no reason to shun the dying, or to mistreat them. They have as much to offer us, perhaps much more, as we could ever give to them.
Barb’s poem will be posted later in the week.

I am taking the month of April to do Hospice work full-time, both for my own personal reasons, and to hone the dog’s training skills. I will be posting regular Hospice Journals, as well as the reports from the farm, and the odd and diverse photo from here and there.