death

What is with my fascination with dying?

I seem to be compulsively drawn to an awareness of death and dying. Of course, there are the circumstances of my life: The death of my husband at 49 after only an 8-month journey with cancer, and my own direct experience with a life-threatening leukemia diagnosis just a few years later. Death wasn't much in my awareness before these two events. And afterwards, it seems to have dug into my awareness.

In the years that followed I have worked with people confronting life-threatening illness and at the side of those who are dying. In the past year or so I have become involved with The Wake Up to Dying Project and then helped launch a Death Cafe here in Montpelier which has been meeting monthly since last December of 2013.

This work has been – quite surprisingly – the most amazing gift. I relish the opportunity for the sense of full presence and intimacy that life-threatening illness so often offers. I always find it remarkable that I have sense of coming home every time I enter a Death Cafe. I feel relief that there is no pretending, no avoiding what is inevitable for each of us. As my yoga teacher says, "We are all compost." And each visit makes me feel and think about the question: Am I making the most I can of this precious life?

Am I awake to how I spend my time?  Do I notice what I feel? See? Smell? Touch?  Alive to now?

 

What do you think about discussing this often taboo subject? I would love to know your  thoughts.

Montpelier Death Cafe Interview on WGDR

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The Uncertainty of Life with Advanced Cancer: Ondis' Story of Life and Yoga

How do we find our way when life is very uncertain and unpredictable? What would you do if you found out you had a life-threatening illness?

Ondis was diagnosed with breast cancer over 9 years before the video below was filmed and shesurvived and thrived although her prognosis was considered by many to be grim. She died peacefully at home with her beloved partner and daughters.

She participated in conventional cancer treatment and has lived a remarkably full life over the course of these years. Yoga was an active part of her own self-care and, after leaving her full-time work, she became an active volunteer in the cancer world: She provided transportation to people going to cancer treatment (through the ACS Road to Recovery program), talks to others with metastatic disease (as part of the Kindred Connections program), and facilitates a support group for people with advanced/metastatic disease.

Hear what Ondis has to stay about yoga and her own journey.

Dancing with Life (and Death)

This post was written in November, 2013 when a beloved friend was gravely ill.

In the past few weeks I have been yet again reminded of the precariousness of this business of living.

I took this picture recently on the beach in Florida while I was visiting a dear friend who is in hospice care. Each morning his partner and I would rise early and walk along the ocean.

The image reminds me of essential truths of nature: the sun illuminates the sky and water even on a stormy day; the turbulence of the water changes the terrain of the sand beneath; nothing stays the same.

Each morning in my yoga practice I create space and time:

  • To be present and tuned into life and nature right on my mat
  • To notice what illuminates me from within and without in that moment
  • To see the turbulence in living and to welcome both the disturbance and the inevitability of change
  • To remember to step lightly and breathe and move with these rhythms that are surely beyond my control

This week marks 12 years since my stem cell transplant. I have moved from living with the near certainty that death was around the corner to the simple knowledge that death is yet to come and may well arrive when least expected.

As I recall the churning ocean and see the diminishing light as we move towards winter, I feel the inexorable pattern of the ebb and flow of all existence – whether a wave or a leaf or a life. Each single piece is a precious part of something vast coming and going.

Living with Uncertainty

For a good portion of my life, I blithely went along thinking I could plan my day, my week, my next summer vacation, with certainty. And in the course of one hour, that assumption was blown away when my husband was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

At some level, we all know that substantive disruptions in our lives are possible in every moment, but I was certainly unprepared for mine. During the 8 months my husband was alive after that diagnosis, my planning horizon and my certainty about what the next moment might bring got really short. Sometimes I could plan the next hour; sometimes not. It felt like a wild and slightly crazy dance where I could rarely get my balance.

Barely three years later I faced my own life-threatening illness, and the crazy unbalanced dance began again. My life today is more stable than when I was diagnosed and going through treatment, but I still find myself wanting to recapture that old feeling – that my life can be orderly and predictable.

I have spent a good portion of the past 16 years learning to do the dance of uncertainty with light feet and with a regular warning to myself – sometimes successful, sometimes not – that the dance floor could tilt at any moment. I have found the techniques of mind-body medicine and yoga incredibly useful at reminding me to embrace what is here now, rather than wanting something else for tomorrow. Anything that connects me with my breath usually helps. Still, I notice how easy it is for me to forget and to assume that my life is stable and change is somewhere in the future.

In the past few weeks I have been reminded a number of times that change is more the norm than I would like to think. Why is this lesson so hard to learn? I feel the seduction of wanting stability, of deluding myself during times when my health seems predictable. I would not have chosen the circumstances of my husband's illness nor my own. But I often think that these challenges have been – and continue to be – my greatest teacher.

What I have is now.

Here.

This breath.

This moment.