Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Before We Turn To Stone

"A heart that is open to the world must be willing to be broken at any time." Stephen Cope

Last week
I spent two days in the hospital with my grandmother as she was dying.

Not so much time, really, but when you are in a room with a dying person--their labored, halted breath, their far-away eyes--time passes differently.

My emotions were cycling.

From tears to happiness to one moment of red-faced, gasping laughter in the hallway of the oncology ward with my sister

tears streaming down our faces as we let out explosive, inappropriate laughter.

After the second night, I arrived home late and I was so exquisitely grateful. So grateful to fall bone-tired into my soft bed at the end of a long day, knowing I would rise from it in the morning.

So grateful that morning to step into a hot shower, for the gift of movement in my limbs, the gift of water on my skin, the feeling of my own fingers massaging bright minty body wash into my sunny, freckled arms. My strength, my egregious vitality, my freedom to do as I willed:

to walk to the window and gaze out at the lilacs

to brew a scalding coffee and sweeten it with cream

to sit on the patio, feel the sun on my face, smell the sweet and dusty florals in the air

all things the dying cannot do.

On Saturday morning I sat up in bed, not weary at the thought of a day alone with the girls but with such lightness in my chest, such apple happiness. I rose from bed smiling, the thought in my mind that I couldn't wait to walk down the hall and see them, sleepy in the sun. My beautiful, beautiful daughters.

We spent some time talking to the hospice nurses.

These women (they are almost exclusively women) who care for the dying in their final days say the most fascinating things.

One of them told us she believes a certain agreement must be made

that the spirit of the dying must soften, and open,

(this is how they bloom, the flowers)

and say yes

yes, now I will go on.

In those few days I felt softer

like fluttering petals in my beating heart

as if all my membranes had thinned and agreed to allow all the light and all the stunning beauty of this world to stream in

morning light through crimson glass

which means letting in all the love, and all the pain as well.

Sometimes I fight so terribly with my daughters.

Sometimes I get annoyed with people who believe differently than me.

Sometimes when another person is soft, I want to reach across and place my hand over their mouth

can I bear, to see this part of you

and ask them not to be so vulnerable

not to expose us both for bruising.

And I wonder if learning to love is like this:

teaching the heart to stay open to invasions and pain

asking it to say yes, again and again, to the spirits of others.

By doing this, do we finally learn

that no one can hurt us the way we feared they can?

I don't know if it's all right to say this but lately I think

that the dying of old ones is a gift.

By witnessing their journey

their agreement

to open in all the soft, fluttering places, and let go

they teach those of us who remain

that there is not one moment on this earth that isn't precious

I stirred rosemary and garlic into aromatics and I nearly wept.

Until we see the dying, can we know how to truly live?

I want to know how you learned to love.

I know it is too much to ask.


  1. I really love this post. As always, your words calm and center me. More, please.

  2. Tears rolling down my cheeks. Dang, I'm glad I added you to my reader after finding your blog through a comment on CJane's blog. You write how my soul yearns to write. I feel those feelings, yet I lack the ability to formulate them into beautiful sentiments, as you do. Thank you for sharing your gift. Just beautiful...

  3. Jane and Alicen, thank you. I am honored that you read my blog. Your words mean so much to me, you know.

  4. I deeply enjoyed this. Your family has been in my thoughts.

    If you are asking how I learned to love it is some of what you have said, seeing the good. It is a lot of letting go of bitterness and anger that so easily fills my heart. Women in my family get arthritis by the age of 18. Yes, bitterness and anger can affect a person so powerfully! I think it helps that I married such a steady person.

    You are welcome to cover my mouth now. ;)Dalley G


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