Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2010.11.25 Thanksgiving for Life

When I think of the end of my life tears immediately spring to my eyes. I am completely in love with life and the thought of leaving it behind with all its glories and all its pains is sorrowful.I would have it no other way for I have learned that each pain and each joy provides us opportunity for love and connection.

This blog is a repeat of one I posted on Thanksgiving, 2008 about the Engage with Grace (www.engagewithgrace.org) project.

The project invites us all to begin conversations with friends, family, at a book club or online about how to end your life with the same purpose and love with which you have lived it.

The Boston Globe front page story, "Talking Turkey about Death" November 26.2008 was about Rosaria who at 32 was dying of a malignant brain tumor. As she lay motionless, unconscious in her hospital bed, at home her beloved two year old daughter languished without Mommy. The child was afraid to touch her mother in the hospital setting, so the family went against medical advice about better more comfortable care in the hospital and took Rosaria home.

For the first time in a week Rosaria opened her eyes as her daughter snuggled in beside her mother. She died the next night at home.

Did this courageous family make the right decision? It seems so but they had to do it by guesswork. They had never talked about dying wishes. Have you?

I have a living will, health care proxy and other written directives, but at 72 I have never talked face to face with myself, my children or even my spouse about my feelings.Or if I have attempted it the topic has been evaded, changed or openly rejected.

It's not time? When is it time? When I am too ill or weak or disabled to talk intelligently and with grace about what I want? Everyone knows or can guess what I don't want. Its what everyone doesn't want, extreme measures, machines that keep me alive but not living.

What makes each of us unique is what we do want. Often these are very simple things. I want to be able to pray receive Eucharist and a blessing, or hear the Psalms, behold and touch the faces of my loved ones, hear them laugh, eat peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies, hold my tiny puff of a stuffed owl, listen to The Moonlght Sonata,and see the moon. Not all at once but at least once.


As a priest I have sat with many a family engaged in agony and argument over what a loved one would want. They care but they're not sure. Believe me the discomfort of that struggle is far worse than any discomfort one may feel talking about all this NOW.

And this isn't a one way conversation: from the old to the young. We all need to think, talk, and love each other into and out of ignorance.

Rosaria was only 32! Her sister-in-law Alexandra Drane started the Engage with Grace initiative and the word has spread throughout the healthcare community and beyond thanks to the internet. The website suggests ways to engage yourself and others in such conversations.

Begin by asking yourself: On a scale of 1 to 5 where do you fall on this continuum, 1 being let me die in my own bed without medical intervention and 5:Don't give up on me no matter what. Try any proven or unproven intervention possible. I'm on the cusp of 2.5/3. (Other questions, links, resources and more information can be found on the site.)

But after that keep it simple and positive and you will get better responses when you introduce the topic.

Spiritually, is this taking your life in your own hands? Playing god? Of course not.

A loving creator has given us minds, hearts, bodies and souls with which to discern how best to love ourselves and others right up to the final intake of breath. This effort is all about fulfilling the essential word of all the world's major religions: do to and for others what you would want done to and for yourself.

I love life enough to talk about its end with gratitude, grace and tears. Death may just be one of those spiritual lemons that you think is too sour to taste, but it could deepen your relationships right NOW, as well as in your last hours.

And I'll bet the youngest child among you will have very clear ideas about what she or he would want for ever and no matter what.

I know one boy who would want Teddy, his best friend, much more and no matter what than the latest Wii game.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

2010.11.17 Profile in Courage

A woman recently told me a moving story—hers. It’s a story of mother/daughter love that comes from womb and know no bounds even when a painful relationship break happens.

Once upon a time a woman gave birth to a daughter, dearly beloved. Every day she loved this child with all her heart and did the best she could living with a difficult marriage and trying to manage her own decisions.

Every day the woman prepared meals for her daughter and other siblings, and every day the children ate well and grew up strong and healthy, until something began to go wrong. The daughter started the torturous route of addiction. It began slowly as it does with experimentation, adolescent stuff, maybe hanging out with friends that supported her growing habit rather than her health.

The mother’s response began slowly as it does with the usual parental warnings, hand wringings, and setting limits moving on to more desperate measures to try to control the uncontrollable. She offered advice, rescue and in time money, all good and obvious things to offer.

The daughter got sicker and sicker moving beyond alcohol. The drugs stole her personality, her sweetness, her intelligence, and her conscience. She became hard, unloving, a walled impenetrable brick house, containing terror.

The mother experienced about the same symptoms without the drugs—sick from worry, helplessness, grief, rage. All her way weren’t working to help her daughter. She didn’t stop loving her daughter.

The daughter was losing her life to addictions and the mother was losing her life to her daughter.

One day someone told the mother about AlAnon and she went. At meetings, as well as in therapy and with ongoing support from a steadfast and wise sister (not a nun sister) and her other children, the mother managed slowly to take back her own life and selfhood, which by now she had deeded to her daughter who occupied her mind,heart, soul, and body, leaving no room for herself.

The mother started to love herself as much as she loved her daughter. Years passed. The mother got well but couldn’t quite get the lost daughter off her mind. She wasn’t free.

It happened one day. It happened inspirationally. It happened because of a community of support and because of the grace of what 12-step recovery programs call Higher Power and some people call God, Buddha, Jesus, Allah,Universe, and many other names, all meaning Loving Mystery.

We pray for a rescuer and we got a lover.

Such Love has power in impotence. How odd. The woman connected with her own internal power fueled by her love for her daughter and drove unannounced to her daughter’s house where she encountered a cold hard woman she hardly could recognize, a woman facing a trial and a prison sentence, a much bigger limitation than her mother could ever manage.

Neither God nor mothers are very good jailers.

The woman made a simple statement to her daughter, one that told the daughter about her hurt. She told her “It hurts when........”

She didn’t tell her daughter “You hurt me when you......” The difference in language is subtle but the honest message is the same.

The mother told her daughter she had come to say good bye. I can’t imagine a more painful moment.

She also told the daughter she always had and always would love her.

Then she left. The door closed behind her and she drove away feeling free and weeping, the kind of tears you cry when you have labored long and finally a child pushes through to grab her own separate life. The umbilicus is severed usually by a doctor. This mother had to sever her own to give birth to herself.

Love, human or divine, is never severed however. Its power takes a long long slow time but one day it will show up.

Maybe, as it did for St. Paul, in jail .

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

2010.11.10 The Waltz

Today is one of my granddaughters’ eleventh birthday. I remember being eleven, right on the cusp teetering between adolescence and girlhood. At eleven you balance the universe on your small shoulders and you do it with grace—until you fall over.

Happy Birthday Isabella, Izzy Bizzy, whom I sometimes call Isa la Bella. This story is for you.

When I was at Smith college they used to have father/daughter weekends. They don’t do it any more and it was probably a sentimental but not too thoughtful idea even back in the ‘50s because some girls didn’t have fathers or were estranged for different reasons from their fathers. Luckily uncles sometimes filled in.

I was lucky to have a father who wanted to escort me on this weekend. One of the events, another goofy ‘50s thing, was a waltz contest. In a moment of foolhardiness Dad and I decided to enter the contest.

We started out in a clumsy way, each of us stepping on the other’s toes as we jerked around the floor. Finally, Dad said, “Look, I know how to do this better than you. So hang on and let me lead.” He was right about my dancing prowess.

My mother, a good dancer, had always told me I couldn’t dance so I stopped trying.

But my father thought WE could do it together. He grabbed me so tightly I could hardly breathe and began to move about the floor. Of course I resisted but he held on until I gave up trying to control the movements, mostly because I couldn’t anyway.

At first it was awkward but suddenly we got the rhythm, the waltz beat 1 2 3, 1 2 3. And off we went—actually with grace. We were waltzing. We were gliding as one.

And guess what? We won the darn contest!! Who knew? We were brilliant.

The reason I tell this story is because it’s an image of God for me. Not that my dad was anything like God, but the waltz was. It gave me an experience of what spirituality can be—a partnership with God, a dance that flows in balance to give you faith and to empower you to live life with compassion and goodness. Jesus and other gurus waltz well with Divinity, but so can we all.

The waltz is what it feels like when you and God are in union. You can tell because you feel powerful and humble all at once inside.

I learned to trust someone who actually did know more than I did, but I didn’t quit. I stayed in the dance, gradually letting go of total control—and fear.

Waltz on, Izz!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

2010.11.03 Halloween Dreams

The day I write this is All Saints Day on the Christian calendar.

Who is a saint? Start by looking in the mirror, then think of someone, human or animal, dead or alive, who has shown you deep kindness, believed in you, and loved you no matter what. Name that person your saint. Bring her or him into your imagination whenever you feel blue or get down on yourself. This spiritual practice will change your mood, give you hope.

The night before All Saints, the night we know as Halloween, the night of haunts, I had two strange back to back dreams. Dreams I remember are the seminal ones, ones that wow me. I pay attention even if I don’t understand them.

Dream 1: I’m in a large crowd of people gathered to await the appearance of some kind of guru, a spiritual teacher. Everyone is eager jockeying for position around some kind of arena. We all have devices and can push buttons to tune into the action. Media types are there with notepads and cameras. I push my buttons. There are also horses about. I squeeze up front and find a place where I can see. The air is electric. Someone in dark clothing but not a negative force introduces the guru. The teacher appears. She is an elderly woman, handsome but not beautiful, part semitic and part oriental. A hush falls on the crowd. She speaks and says: “We need a new hero in literature, film and........... Her voice fades out and I push buttons frantically. Then I hear

“. . . a new hero. He is a 46 year old bisexual man.”

Dream 2: I am in Poland. (I’ve never been to Poland.) I see minarets and churchy-looking structures. I get the idea that the Polish National Catholic Church has separated from the Pope. A question comes up on my dream screen.

Can you be a Catholic without a pope?

( There is some history I’d forgotten or didn’t know behind the second dream. My husband was ordained priest in 1966 in Buffalo (E. Aurora) New York by Thaddeus Zielinski, Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) bishop of the Buffalo/ Pittsburgh diocese since 1958. In 1971 Zielinski was elected PNCC Prime Bishop. The PNCC was established in 1904 when it broke with the Roman Catholic church. No pope! In 1946 they established intercommunion with the Episcopal church but terminated the connection in 1978 over the ordination of women. )

I offer no interpretations but welcome your thoughts or feelings. Please don’t try dream analysis or a rant. The only thing I’m pretty sure of is that the meaning of dreams is plural/multilayered and that my three muses, spirituality, religion and feminism collaborated in my dreams to hint at some wisdom that is and will unfold in the process of the Spirit.