Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Day 6: What It's All About

"Those who have died have never, never left.  The dead have a pact with the living.  They are in the rustling leaves, they are in the woman's breast, they are with us in the home, they are with us in the crowd. The dead have a pact with the living."  ~Birago Diop (known to me as "Breaths" sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock)

I didn't take a lunch again today.  I had back to back meetings, and lots of things to do in between.  I kept thinking, "When can I take my lunch?  I have a project to work on..."  

When I finally left for the day, I was listening to my "Wicked" CD (the show is tomorrow night - wish me luck).  I realized I needed a break from the show - I was hoping to get some inspiration for a translation by listening to something completely different.  I hit the next CD in the changer and it was a mix of music I had put together for a musical interpreting workshop - samples to use.  The song "Breaths", sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock came on.  First of all, my heart was lifted by the beauty of the voices of these brilliantly talented women - not just that they are talented musicians, but they are storytellers, activists, revolutionaries, and trailblazers.  Tears filled my eyes as I had a realization.  

As I listened and drove, I thought about the death that has been in my world and what it all means.  I have lost many people to death -some who have died and some who could not face death at that place and time.  Both losses cut deep.  

What I Know:  This is the work I was meant to do.  I know this.  I have not FORGOTTEN in the way that you totally don't remember having that conversation or if you remembered to turn off the water, but I forget in that I need reminders periodically and I try to remain open to them.  I figure I can learn it the easy way or I can learn it the hard way...I have done both, so I try for easy these days.

When I was a little girl, I remember being fascinated by stories and songs that were about loss, about leaving behind a legacy - they were the ones I always remembered.  I remember living in Europe and going to Dachau when I was 7 or 8 and wanting to remember those people in some way. Wanting to understand why human beings do what they do to each other.

I had never really been around anyone who died - my grandparents died when I was a teenager, but I had never lived near them, so it didn't alter my daily existance.  I didn't know what it was like or what would happen or what I believed about heaven or God or afterlife.

When Roby got infected with HIV, the reality of what I would face hit me hard.  I delved into research - finding out what I was up against seemed like the only option to me (it was 1986).  We met people (men, mostly) who had HIV and AIDS over the years - it was never purposeful - it just happened.  In 1989, I lost my first friend to AIDS.  His name was Dan.  He was one of those quiet souls that just eases your spirit to be around.  I was devastated by his loss even though we were not close.  It was like a giant slap in my face - the wake up call.

Each loss crept closer and closer- an acquaintance, a friend, a good friend, a long time friend...almost as in preparation for what I considered the final act - I couldn't imagine life after Roby.  I won't tell the story here, but the night Roby died, I had gone home because I had contracted a cold and I didn't want to make him sick.  We had no inkling that he would die that night. They called me around 8pm and said, "You need to come, he's asking for you."  I protested, but when I heard their voices, their tone, I raced to his side.  He waited for me.  I was beside him when he died.  

I have been with other friends, as well, and my father, in their last moments.  I have been with people when they find out about their loved one's passing.  I used to be scared to be around death - I imagined terrible things because it was unknown.  Now, I know.  I would not trade a single moment of those experiences - not for anything.  I know that not everyone can do this.  I can.

This is the quality I am most proud of in my life - the thing that I respect the most in myself and others.  I am not afraid. I will stand beside you, even in your last moments.  This is what Life is all about. The truest moments of my life were those moments.  All the rest is filler**.

That's what I thought about today when I was driving home.

**When I re-read this, that comment sounded harsher than I mean it to...I just mean that the work we do, the cars we drive, our house, our labels, our day to day existance is nothing compared to Showing Up.  Not just in death - showing up for those moments when people in our lives really need us - birthing babies, graduating from college/high school, first day of school, weddings, funerals, bad breakups.  Those are the things that matter.  And showing up for someone's last moments is one of those things.  


  1. Wow. Very powerful. I'm very much enjoying just being in your presence at the moment...way over here...through a computer screen. I can only imagine the immense comfort you must provide to those whose bedside you stand beside, whose hand you hold. Showing Up. Indeed.

  2. Thanks, Carolynn. If I don't get anything else out of this adventure (not likely), this remembering would be worth the whole thing.

    I always wish I could hang on to the perspective longer.

    Thanks for showing up for me! :)

  3. I was with my father when he died. He was brought home from the hospital because he wanted to die at home. I remember trying to fall asleep upstairs that night, before he died and I was terrified knowing that he could pass away during the night and I wouldn't be by his side ... then I was terrified at the thought of being with him. As it was, he had his own way and my step mom and I got sweet time with him the next day and he left this world with us standing right beside him. It was beautiful.

    I miss him.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story here, Cynthia. What an incredible gift we have received to be with someone as they leave.

    Beautiful and difficult gifts.

  5. I found this post very moving. What a gift you have, Jean, to offer comfort in the last moments of life. Those closest to my heart who have died were never close enough in distance to be beside, except for my mother, but then I was too young to be beside, too young to understand and too young to have memory now.

  6. Ruth- Thank you for your comments. I feel incredibly lucky to be so blessed. It sounds so odd, but it is true. If they are going to move to their next journey, whatever that might be, it is a gift to be there with them.

    Loss is the one thing that connects every living soul and the thing we talk about least.

    I'm sorry you lost your mother at such a young age. I can't even imagine what that must be like.



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