Jun 8th 2008

Heat, love, tears and laughter at Gardenworks

Posted in Helen & Warren, Izzy, Other

Hospice muck-a-muck Keith Mann talks about Hospice, and what it does, at Gardenworks
Hospice muck-a-muck Keith Mann talks about Hospice, and what it does, at Gardenworks

June 8, 2008 – Had one of the memorable afternoons of my life yesterday, and it caught me by surprise, as  memorable things do. “Hospice Journal: Stories, Pictures From the Edge of Life” was an intensely collaborative effort – Hospice workers and volunteers, families of Hospice patients, Stephanie Arpey, the framer, Meg and Rob from Gardenworks, Maria who hung the pictures, Mary Kellogg, who read some poems, Keith and Kim, who sang and played Maria Heinrich, who hung the show, Izzy and Lenore, about 100 people from all over the Northeast on a sweltering day,  and a number of ghosts and spirits from Hospice work and my life, who could not be present.
It was 97 degrees in Gardenworks beautiful second floor barn when the exhibit opened, and barns are no place to be in that sort of heat and humidity. So I was somewhat overwhelmed that so many people took the trouble to come and hear about Hospice, not usually a subject one travels to hear about on a Sunday afternoon.
It was very important to me to see Warren and his daughter Berta looking at the pictures, sitting in the center of the crowd. What a good and loving man, to endure that grief on behalf of other people who are walking in his shoes, and I was reminded of his long – seven years – and unflagging commitment to his wife Helen, who was the subject of a number of the photographs, and whose spirit suffused the day.
There were a lot of tears in that room, and a lot of smiles, too, as Lenore managed to personally greet almost every person there. One of the Gardenworks staff said it was a good thing the weather was so hot, as there would have been no place to put any more people. I thank those who came.
Still, I was surprised, even bewildered by the event. Maria’s quilts were hanging and Mary read a beautiful poem about grief and loss, but still, the afternoon felt somewhat personal for me, and there I was, this thing happening, a connection between me, this site, the dogs, the Hospice patients, the people in the room. I could almost touch the affection and good will, and I thought, wow, let me work hard to earn this.
It was a true opportunity to spread the message of Hospice, a program to help people leave the world with choice and dignity. I have seen how the dying are often shunned and isolated, and how much it means to them to have choice and support and know that people care about them. That they can decide how they wish to die.
I felt it was a turning point for me as an artist, and maybe as a human being as well. I could not have imagined, even a year ago, taking those pictures, writing those columns and poems, seeing the things I have seen, going into so many strange houses, doing that work with Lenore, and especially Izzy, writing those poems, learning so much about death, grief and loss, and seeing so much of it day, after day.
The dead the dogs and I have seen and known were standing right alongside me, their spirits very much in evidence in the photos, and I could feel each and everyone of them, filled with gratitude for the love and openness they have shown me and the dogs, and the trust and faith they placed in me by allowing me to write about them, and take their photos at the edge of life, the most intimate and personal of times.
I not only bonded with them, but with their families, and that kind of bond is eternal.
Hospice is not depressing. I have never known such love and courage. I have also seen a lot of pain, suffering and loss.
I felt, somewhat to my surprise, the power of this blog – what a clunky name for this – and the reach of its signal. I appreciate that. I will work to justify that. How lucky I am, to the kind of friends who were sprinkled throughout that room. Nobody could feel deserving of that, or fail to be humbled by it.
I am lucky to be a writer, to have found photography, to have such dogs, to have the opportunity to do this work. Tomorrow, Izzy and I go to see a new patient. We are eager to start another chapter.
So it was a great  and memorable day, for me and for other people,  and thanks to all of you who came, who would have liked to have come, who sent e-mails and poems and messages of good will. Your own signals were heard and very much appreciated.

Izzy and Warren after Gardenworks
Izzy and Warren after Gardenworks