Life is Interesting:  The Dance of Knowledge and Wisdom

“I don’t know why I keep dropping things.  Maybe it’s my condition.” I had a hospice patient once who fascinated me with her lack of desire to know about her illness, a neurodegenerative disease that was stealing her muscle control bit by bit.  When I visited each week, she would point out new things she was noticing: the loss of muscle in her hand, her difficulty holding a coffee cup, an increasing need to clear her throat as she talked. And with each new change, she shook her head and said, “I don’t know why this is happening to me. […]

Is this Our Last Conversation?

I visited her sun-dappled living room every Tuesday afternoon.  Each time, I nestled into the same spot on her beige leather couch, legs curled up beneath me, and she wheeled her chair opposite me so that we could clearly look into each other’s eyes.   And we talked. We talked about the crises of our contemporary world; we talked about puppies and kittens.  She recounted stories of her childhood on a faraway farm and of her great-grandchildren being birthed and growing into toddlerhood.   Time after time, I listened as the wisdom she shared was carved into my heart to be […]

Awakening to Heaven:  What Maundy Thursday Can Teach Us About Sitting Vigil

Tonight, my husband and I will sit alone in our darkened little church, taking part in one of the most meaningful rituals I experience each year.  After Maundy Thursday services, the entire congregation will watch in silence as the altar is stripped, the eucharist is taken to a small table in the back of the church, and the lights are dimmed.  One by one, we will file out of the chapel silently and head home. A couple of us will stay in the church, and others will return throughout the evening to honor this special night by sitting vigil.   […]

Autobiographies and Memoirs: Telling Stories as Life Review

I’m quite certain that I will never drive an army tank.  And I absolutely know I will not be the first American woman taught to maneuver one of those vehicles.  Nevertheless, I have been blessed with the gift of riding alongside the woman who did have that honor, my hospice patient Rosella.  No, I was not literally beside her in that tank; I have been, however, there with her in my imagination and – more significantly – in my heart. When I heard the rudimentary facts about Rosella learning to drive an army tank several times before I met her, […]

Remember:  Ashes, Dust, Humility, Surrender

“Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.”  The priest repeated this phrase again and again, fashioning crosses out of ashes on each of our foreheads.  As I waited for my turn to participate in this ancient rite, I became overwhelmed with emotion.  While the memory that I will die is never far from my mind, this particular liturgy highlights this realization in expansive ways by allowing me to connect with others through the communal embrace of mortality.  And this year, wearing a heart monitor to gauge just how compromised my heart had become, I was perhaps even […]

Storytelling as Grief Care

“I’m sorry.  Someday I’ll be able to talk about her without breaking up,” the man assured my husband and me.  Sitting across from him at a party, we were blessed to hear stories about his beloved wife who had died two years before.  Tales of dances and car rides during their courtship, narratives of their years raising children together, and accounts of her cancer journey and final days – one by one he took these precious gems from the treasure chest of his memory and presented them to us.  Woven throughout these stories were apologies and promises: “I’m sorry for […]

Losing Stories:  Ways Dementia Affects Our Narratives

  My grandfather sat down with me over winter break my first year in graduate school.  “Amy Love,” he said, “I want to tell you our weekly schedule.  On Monday we wind the clocks, Tuesdays the gal comes to clean the house, on Wednesdays we go get Grandma’s hair done and have Chick-Fil-A for lunch . . .”  I had no idea why he was sharing this information with me; nevertheless I listened carefully and stored it away somewhere in my mind.  Within four months, he would be dead, and my grandmother would be left in the care of my […]

Telling Stories in the Dark:  Collective Narratives

  We sat huddled around candles in the darkened cellar, heads bent toward the center of the circle.  Together, we were taking part in a ritual that is amongst the oldest enacted by humans throughout our planet – that of sharing stories during winter’s long, dark nights. This particular basement belongs to a small, beautiful Episcopal church and thus has been the storehouse for a multitude of Jewish and Christian narratives retold across much of the globe for two millennia.  Each Sunday, congregants gather together to retell those stories, to ponder their significance, and to apply them to contemporary Western […]

The Significance of Stories

Earlier this month, I was honored to participate in Naropa University’s Compassionate Approaches to Aging and Dying Conference (to learn more about this event and be informed of similar ones in the future, visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/compassionate-approaches-to-aging-and-dying-transforming-the-paradigm-of-care-tickets-30228980695#).  I gathered with others — end of life workers, caregivers, scholars, and spiritual practitioners — who in various ways devote their lives to death and dying.  So much wisdom was shared that weekend; and the vast majority of it arose in the form of storytelling.  Indeed, each question raised during every question and answer session I attended contained a story in some form.  Those sharing […]

Contemplative Practices and Conscious Dying VI:  Kenotic Practices

Years ago, I was traveling on a bus in Mexico with friends from my spiritual community.  Sitting quietly, doing my morning practice, I began to have a surprising experience.  I felt as though I were being filled with something and then emptied out; this process continued for the duration of the bus ride in a continual dance of filling and emptying.  And throughout it I encountered state changes, unitive experiences, feelings of fullness and of emptiness.   There was nothing I was doing to make this happen; and although I did not have words for what was occurring I knew I […]