FROM BIRTH TO DEATH TO BOOKS – ONE MIDWIFE’S JOURNEY

The word midwife was formed from Middle English and means “(mid) together with, and (wife) woman.” It also means “to assist in bringing forth (something new).” Most midwives will tell you that midwifery is more a calling than a rational decision one comes to when pursuing a livelihood. It’s a response to something you feel in your bones—a stirring, a deep remembering, a sense of “coming home.”

baby and booksI first felt called to be a midwife when I was a nursing student in the beginning days of my obstetrical rotation. I was assigned to support a woman while she gave birth to a baby whose heartbeat had unexpectedly ceased three days earlier. I was nineteen and naïve; she was forty-two and devastated. I stayed by her bedside for twenty-four hours, locked into her dance of courage and grief. As the hours passed, I had a sense of déjà vu—that I had been here before. It was familiar: the sheer power of birth, the wild undulations of her body, the primal sounds that keened from her throat. I was young and inexperienced, yet, I felt calm and unafraid as I witnessed her suffering and raw vulnerability. I seemed to know intuitively what to do. In the early hours of the morning, she pushed out her dead baby, cradled him in her arms, and wept. Then she dressed him in the clothes she had made and kissed him goodbye. As she fell into my arms, sobbing, I held her and knew that I had found my life’s work: accompanying women as they gave birth to their babies, which I did for many years.

As I grew older, I felt drawn to accompany those who were now leaving this life. Working with death and dying is a common path for midwives because this, too, is a calling, and we are at ease in these realms of transition. In my sixties, I became a hospice nurse—a midwife for the dying—and found many similarities to attending births: the language, the encouragement, the calm support, the loving touch—We’re here; you are loved. You’re doing so well. It won’t be long now. You’re almost there. You’re not alone. . .

In my experience, midwives and hospice workers are endowed with similar qualities, particularly in their abilities to honor the uniqueness of each person they care for with respect and acceptance—whether they be wealthy or homeless, amiable or difficult. They are informed by an indwelling confidence and trust that every individual, when well-supported, will traverse their transition with dignity in their own way.

Now that I am even older. . . I have morphed, yet again, into another kind of midwife: the one who assists people in bringing forth something new. I have a freelance business helping them give birth to their stories, memoirs, books, blogs, etc. As I work closely with each client, I feel that I am back in my midwife saddle again, just with a different bag of skills, and the end result is not a baby but a book or some other literary endeavor. What has remained constant throughout my many careers, however, is an unshakable trust I have in people to find their own authentic voice; my job is to use my skills to support them in doing that.

For instance. . . I encouraged and helped a therapist go from a rambling, generic website to one that truly reflects who she is: a woman with qualities of wisdom born from her relationship with nature, and a kind and gentle spirit.

I held the hand of a woman who translated a Buddhist book of teachings from Chinese to English. We hewed it out together on the phone—sentence by sentence, comma by comma— until she felt the rendering was true and good. It was a long but satisfying birth.

I have embarked on a journey with a lovely woman who is writing a memoir about love and loss and the evolution of her spirit. We skype each week, and I am amazed by her deepening insight and her courage to go deep as her story unfolds. We are kindred spirits, and I am happy that my help and counsel is a support for her.

I work each week with a young man who has written a fantasy novel. We sit across the table from one another—computer to computer—and go over every word until he feels satisfied. He’s buried in school debt, so we worked out a trade: he has become my yard maintenance person, and I am his personal editor—just like the old days, where I always did a few births for my winter firewood.

Another woman writing a book, a personal trainer, struggles to find time to write amidst a busy schedule. I find myself looking for all the tricks one might employ in a labor that is stuck and not progressing—encouraging her to have heart and keep going. . .

I consider myself fortunate that my profession as a midwife continues to find so many remarkable and satisfying expressions. Everyone has a story to tell or needs a second pair of eyes. I invite you to peruse my website. www.wordcraftmidwife.com.

 

 

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RENEE’S MEMORIAL: A CELEBRATION IN THREE MOVEMENTS

IMG_0809Renee took on dying as her final project; this included designing her own memorial while she was alive. She planned every detail, down to the flowers. No surprise here. Of course she did; this was always her way. She was exacting in everything she did. So, to ensure its perfect execution, she left very explicit directions. She remained captain of her ship until the very end!

The last months of her life were spent steeped in gratitude for all the people who had supported, loved, and deeply touched her life. This gratefulness overflowed into a vision that informed her memorial. She wanted it to be a magnificent event that would magnetize her peeps to come together under one roof so she could express her thanks by serving them one last time. It was to be a celebration in three symbolic movements—like an unfolding symphony that featured the primary rhythms and themes of her life: doing spiritual practice with sangha, gathering in community to laugh and share stories, and finally—eating abundant, organic, and nourishing food cooked by loving and devoted hands!

foodThe preliminaries started the day before the big event. In the kitchen! She had created teams and assigned captains to each dish: roasted vegetables, Ethiopian collards, tempeh, and beef brisket. Knives were flying; we had 120 people to cook for! We could almost sense her invisible presence hovering overhead. Watching. Checking. Some people needed reassurance. “Are you sure you want me to help? I used to make Renee crazy in the kitchen. I was slow and talked too much. . . Am I doing this right? Is it okay?”

The First Movement in the morning was the Red Tara practice, lead by Lama Choyang. The Fellowship Hall had been transformed into a beautiful shrine room. The prepared food (that would feed the multitudes later) was consecrated and blessed within the context of the practice (tsok). Voices filled the space with the familiar and holy chanting of this sacred practice bestowed by Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche many decades ago. Cymbals and drums and the ringing of bells resounded throughout the room, adorning the practice. My eyes swept over the sea of faces, some I had not seen in years; Renee would have been so pleased.

The Second Movement in the afternoon provided the opportunity to tell tales. Well. . . Oh. My. God. No one held back! It was a full-body experience: weeping, laughing hysterically, and rejoicing for an iconic life well-lived.

“When Renee looked into a box of potatoes, she didn’t just see brown lumps; she saw magical orbs and had to meet the farmers, and plunge her hands in the dirt that grew them.”

“When I first met her and she saw that I buffed my winter squash before putting them on the shelves in the barn, she knew I was a kindred spirit.”

“She terrified me in the kitchen. I’m still in therapy. Ha Ha.”

“She was bigger than life. An icon. Devoted to feeding people. So generous. Loved, loved, loved to hear her laugh.”

“I miss fighting with that crotchety cook. God, I loved her.”

“She was difficult to grow up with, but she came to me before she died to heal our relationship and ask for forgiveness. We are good.”

“Everything I am today is because of my grandmother. She never gave up on me.”

“I only knew her for this last year, but she taught me that I am worthy of love and respect.”

And on. . . and on. . . and on. . . leading to the final tribute: a slide show put together by Forest, one of her devoted caregivers. (This was not part of her plan!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBXjcqS6nAo&feature=share.

And at the end, her voice echoed through the room, edited from an interview she gave for someone’s class project. It was the undoing of us all.

The third and final movement was the serving of the food. Exquisite. Sublimely cooked. Seasoned with laughter and love and robust conversations. She would have approved.

That girl set a high bar. How does one top this memorial! She always was a perfectionist. One day on the phone she mused that it wasn’t such a bad thing to pass from this life at a time when all one’s friends were still alive and could attend your memorial and still had their faculties to even remember stories to tell. None of us knows when it will be our time to say goodbye, but Renee has bushwhacked a unique trail to follow. My friend, I salute you.

 

KITTY CAME BACK – THE SEQUEL TO A LOVE STORY. . .

IMG_0770Kitty came back! She arrived in a Kohl’s box, of all things, and was delivered by UPS to HG’s (my grandson) front door. Imagine our astonishment; it was a miracle! Gathered around her, breathless with excitement, we pummeled her with questions. “Where have you been? On a quest? On a perilous mission? Were you frightened? What wonders did you behold? Tell us. Tell us now,” we begged her. My grandson’s eyes were shining as he hugged Kitty. They whispered together for some minutes, and then he said, “Kitty has asked me to translate. Here is the story of her big adventure, just as she told it to me. . .”

There I was . . on the train with my family, returning from a Thanksgiving holiday in the mid-west. I was almost asleep when the train suddenly screeched to a stop to let off passengers and pick up new ones. Everyone piled out to play in the snow, so I joined them, bashing people right and left with snowballs. It was jolly good fun. Suddenly, everyone disappeared. I heard the whistle blow, and the train started rolling down the tracks. I became frantic and lunged up to grab hold of the bars outside the windows of my family’s compartment. I shouted and shouted at the top of my lungs, but they couldn’t hear me. I clamored frantically up the side of the train and dropped down through a hole in the roof—landing straight into a laundry bag of bed linens! Before I could make my escape, I was swiftly hurled into a giant washing machine with a load of dirty sheets.

I finally freed myself, shook off the water, and glanced into a mirror. Although I looked the same on the outside (except for being cleaner), I was a different kitty on the inside. All the love of HG had been washed away, and I became hollow again—like any ordinary, stuffed toy. You see, when I had his love I never felt hollow; I was real and alive.

I was determined to find my way home. I hit the road and started house-hiking: going to all the homes of my Gaga’s friends. I overheard their conversations and knew that my absence had gone viral on Facebook; everyone seemed to be looking for me. But my “love-marks” were my identifying features, and with those washed out of me, I was no longer recognizable. Plus, I had fashioned a new collar for myself as a disguise to avoid being picked up by the pound. Alas. No one will know who I am now. What was I going to do? I just had to get back to HG.

Bingo. . . A Kohl’s delivery truck appeared; I had an idea. Hopping aboard, I soon found myself at their shipping center. I let myself be put on a shelf with other stuffed animals, but I had an ingenious plan. I knew that HG’s mom had ordered another kitty from Kohl’s (one that looked like me), hoping to console him with an identical replacementas if that was even possible! I watched the computers carefully, and when I saw his name come up on the screen, I made my move. In a finger snap, I threw out the new kitty, jumped in and took her place. I curled up in the box, and we were soon on our way to Washington. Voila! The rest—as they say—is history. 

Now, I’ve been asked by some, upon hearing of Kitty’s return, “Seriously, how did you all pull this off? Does he really believe this is his old Kitty?  He knew his mom had ordered another Kitty out of a catalog, right?”

Here’s what I tell them. . . Of course, he believes his story, just as I believe all the stories I fabricate about my life on a regular basis. Who doesn’t do this? It’s how we work it all out. The only difference is his stories about life are more imaginative and optimistic than mine. Definitely, they are more interesting.

We each have our own movie rolling, and the constructs of our characters and plot lines are constantly shifting. Our stories change to accommodate those shifts. It’s a way we make sense of our lives as we try to understand and cope with being human. How these stories play out depends, in part, on the filters in our mind that we look through. Some people’s filters are cynical, murky, and pessimistic. That informs their views of the world. My grandson’s are in opposition to that. He sees his world through a soft heart and with love and loyalty. As Kitty said, “Without HG’s love, I am hollow. I’m a nobody-stuffed animal. But with his love, everything is possible.”

As we gather for Christmas, waiting for Santa tomorrow morning, our family is intact. Kitty has come home and has crawled back into the center of my grandson’s heart. I marvel at the imaginative and life-affirming choices my grandson made to cope with his loss and grief. It could have gone another way. He told me he learned a big lesson when Kitty went missing: It is important to not wait till nightfall to be sure she is okay, that he needs to check in with her throughout the day to be certain she is well and properly cared for. He keeps her pretty close these days. A lesson for us all. . .

 

WHEREFORE ART THOU, KITTY?

KittyKitty lived in the center of my grandson’s heart. A little scruffy around the edges, perhaps, but that’s to be expected when you’re so fiercely loved. She was his protector, his loyal friend, and his alter ego. She had super powers and was strong and noble. Kitty reigned over a vast, intricate universe that had a special language, and she could interpret the complexities of this world to my grandson and help him make sense of it and then offer perfect solutions of remediation. Kitty even stars in a comic book my grandson made which is available on Amazon: Kitty – “Indoor Boredom.” He loved her with all his heart. And now she has gone missing. . .

It was on a train trip returning from the mid-west. They pulled into the station in Seattle the morning of November 29, and when they got home they discovered Kitty was not with them. Frantic calls ensued. Sherwin at the station put out an APB – HELP! KITTY IS MISSING! Trains were searched. Could she have been left in the sheets? Laundry was torn apart. We put the word out on Facebook, and people shared the post. Who can’t relate to losing one’s “special friend.” No stones were left unturned. We were all devastated. We loved Kitty.

Stricken with grief, my grandson was inconsolable. It was like a sudden death. He was wracked with gut-wrenching sobs. He tried hard to be brave as he checked out the remaining stuffed animals in his fleet. Who could step up in Kitty’s place? There was Meeki, of course. And Brownie. But . . . they would never be the equal of his most cherished ally. His sadness broke our hearts. We felt helpless; what to do? My daughter googled “white and grey stuffed kitty” and found the exact mate. Could Kitty be replaced? Was this a bad idea?

And then my grandson began his spin. . .  His best friend since kindergarten had his back. They figured it out. Turns out that “Kitty was off to destroy anti-cat bots. She was on a dangerous mission. She was, after all, a rambler. We should have seen this coming. . .” They would look for clues. “Maybe it will go viral on Facebook. Someone will see that rascal and send her home!” My daughter showed him the catalogue photo and his eyes lit up. Could this new kitty work her way into his heart, weave its way into his imagination? How will this new story unfold?

Many people were touched by this loss. They, too, remembered being young and losing their “cuddle blanket,” their “stuffy,” their “special friend.” Some told me they still haven’t gotten over it. However (such a sad moment), one person wrote: “Your grandson clearly has a problem. Help him see this is just an inanimate object. He has to get over it. Let’s face it; the world sucks. How could it be like a death? Your grandson is still alive. I sympathize, but . . .”

I rose up like a mother bear and deleted the post. “WTF were you thinking! Have you never experienced grief as a child? Why would you say such horrible things?” She wrote back. Turns out her “special friend” was taken away by her parents when she was six years old because they moved overseas. As if you shouldn’t rely on “special friends” by the time you are six. . .  I should have known. No doubt her strong reaction was informed by the lingering trauma from that loss, and the pain is clearly still accessible.

We have not given up hope. I had a dream that I was in a restaurant and the waitress clapped her hands and said, “Oh, there you are. Kitty is back in the kitchen. I’ll just go get her.” And then I woke up. My grandson also had a dream on the very same night. “I saw her in my bed with me, Gaga, and I woke up and tore my sheets apart looking for her, but then realized I was dreaming. I cried.”

So. . .She’s out there somewhere. Marauding. Getting into mischief. Helping people in sticky predicaments. Keep your eyes open. If you see her, give us a shout. She is sorely missed.

 

MY SUMMER UNDER THE PACKING SHED. . .

11-7-6-peaches1I started working at the age of ten; it wasn’t my idea. My mother offered me up to be the neighborhood babysitter like I was her indentured servant to be loaned out at will. No need to pay me she would tell them; my daughter wouldn’t think of taking your money. Giving freely of your time was a strict family code. When she was nine my mom was sent out to take care of local women right after they gave birth. She was expected to do the laundry, cook for the household, and take care of the baby while the mother recovered. That’s how it was in my Serbian family. Everyone worked hard from a young age, and when it came to neighbors, no money ever exchanged hands.

My first paying job was during the summer before my eighth grade. I was stoked; I would finally earn money for my very own. I had been hired by a local farmer to work in the packing sheds in his orchards, cutting peaches and apricots. I wasn’t sure what that entailed exactly, but as I was ridiculously responsible for my age—almost a miniature grownup—I felt I could handle anything. Ha.

I arrived at dawn on my first day of work and checked in with the foreman. I was keen to find out how much money I would make over the next couple of months. Contrary to my understanding, he explained that I wouldn’t actually be getting an hourly wage, that my pay would be based on output: for each tray of cut fruit I turned in they would pay me 25 cents. Hmm. . . How hard can this be? I looked around at my fellow laborers who, as it turned out, were also staring at me. I was the only white person in the field. The rest were Hispanic families—men, women, and children—clustered together in groups, all wearing broad-brimmed hats, and holding on to lunch pails and jugs of water. I shyly smiled and gave a nonchalant wave. They smiled back, looking bemused.

The sun was just peeking over the horizon when we headed to the packing sheds. It was already starting to warm up. Hundreds of boxes of peaches were stacked under the metal roofs next to wooden trays and knives that were laid out on a long table that extended the length of the shed. I watched as the workers found a place in the assembly line. I tucked in alongside a family that graciously made room for me.

I couldn’t speak Spanish, but I gathered “Comenzar a trabajar!” meant “to begin” as everyone, children included, picked up their knives and commenced to cut fruit at a blinding speed. With one swipe they cut the peach expertly in half, and with their thumb or the edge of the knife they flicked out the pit and laid the two halves neatly on the tray, then reached for the next peach. This entire process took less than five seconds. Oh boy, I thought, as I picked up my knife and got started. It took four pathetic swipes to open up the peach, and another twenty seconds to gouge out the pit before finally laying the mangled peach on the tray. I felt rather pleased with myself and looked up to see how others were doing. The woman next to me had already filled up her first tray and was beginning on her next one. Her knife was a blur as it flew, methodically laying peach after peach down in perfect rows. She looked over at the one solitary peach sitting on my wooden tray and smiled. I sighed and picked up my next peach.

It was slow going. My peaches looked like survivors from a fiercely fought battle, ragged around the edges but still alive—barely. The foreman was a patient man and gave me pointers. My speed picked up, as did the appearance of the fruit. By now, it was about 120 degrees under that shed roof. Sweat was pouring off me. I felt delirious. I had cuts on my hands. My thumb looked like raw hamburger. My shoulders were hunched around my ears, and my neck felt like I had been viciously stabbed again and again. A young girl brought over a jug of water and offered it to me. She placed her small hands over mine, kindly showing me how to use the knife to properly remove the pit. She gave me an encouraging and sympathetic smile. I nodded my head and plugged on.

Eventually, my pace picked up, and my productivity increased, as did my wages. However, compared to the youngest child there, I still was filling one tray to their four. We moved on to apricots. By the end of the summer, I was a moderately seasoned worker. My wounds had healed and my fingers were covered with calluses. It took a long time before the fruit stains bleached out of my hands. My hard-earned money bought me new school clothes that September. However, it was years—literally years—before I could eat another peach or apricot.

FROM NURSE TO ‘NERD’ – A NEW, END-OF-LIFE CAREER. . .

books-ink-and-spectacles1Something has happened to me. I’ve gone from being a nurse to being a ‘nerd.’ A book on commas (Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, by Mary Norris) was a page-turner. I am buried in an on-line editing class, and I can’t contain my glee or my impatience to get on to the next lesson. I’m so absorbed I forget to eat—Oh my goodness. What’s that? Ah . . . hunger. I’ve become obsessed, buried in a heap of books strewn from one end of my couch to the other. Piles of printouts litter my floor. There is nowhere left to walk. I feel my pulse quicken each time I open my laptop, turn a page. Style manuals are my new BFF. What has come over me!

I am simultaneously taking a local writing course: turns out you have to write in this class. A lot. Whether you are in the mood, or not. I normally only write when something comes up for me. An idea. My muse being stirred. A notion. A need to pontificate. I never write just to write. What a concept. Now, here I am filling page after page with stream-of-consciousness drivel. Words tumble out of me. I’m all over the map. But, hey, I think; no one will see this except the instructor. I can say anything; I will not be held accountable. Here’s the thing, though: in addition to that, I have to write two to three pages a week that I will be held accountable for. I may even have to read it out loud. Yikes. I don’t have three pages worth of words in me at any given moment. When I write, I  begin and finish it on a single page, or max—maybe one and a half pages. Period. The story just seems to wrap itself up, like it’s stopped by some internal braking system. . . That’s it. Enough said. You’re done.

This madness all started in January when a friend of mine asked me to “clean up” the pages of her book so it would be presentable enough to send to an editor. Voila! Turned out this kind of work was an unexpected fit. It was fun; I delighted in punctuation and grammar. I took pleasure in the rhythm of sentences, noticing how just the changing of a punctuation mark could make a sentence “pop.” I bought books and began to study. The more I did it, the more bonkers I became. Other friends started sending me their website narratives to edit, blog posts to look over, stories to tweak. And—I love it. Simply love it. It is satisfying to work with someone to help their words read smoothly, clearly, and come alive. What a strange shift: from a healthcare professional to word-crafting geek and writer.

What the heck, I thought; it’s never too late to start a new, end-of-life career. So, I’ve put my toe in the water; we’ll see where this goes. I love the juice and passion this has aroused in me. I feel I can help people in an entirely new way. Just as when I was a midwife, using my skills and knowledge and support to help a woman give birth to a child, so can I now use this midwife sensibility and my developing skills to help someone give birth to their voice, their story. Or, as a friend of mine said—offer labor support for authorship.

Crazy? Perhaps. But—again—maybe not. I’d been looking for a way, besides nursing, to bring in more income, and then another door opened, as it often does. I’ve decided to develop a freelance editing business called Word Craft Midwife. Not hanging my shingle out yet, but soon. It’s in the “research and development” stage. Pretty trippy. Stay tuned, folks.

A WARM FIRE – AN OLD DOG – FRESH BREAD – AND A GRACIOUS, DYING WOMAN. . .

Warm-Cozy-DogI pulled up to the curb and parked, checking the numbers on the house to be certain of the address; this was my last visit for the day and I was tired. It had been an intense one: in addition to seeing regularly scheduled patients, there had been a death to attend; someone with a pain crisis; and a grieving family to see who were unraveling with conflicting and painful agendas around their dying father and needed time to talk and be listened to. I checked my watch. I was a little early, so I sat in the car and closed my eyes for a few minutes, to let my mind settle and give my body time to stop its internal humming.

The air was brisk; it was a dark, gray, winter day, and the sun was beginning to sink below the horizon. I knocked on the door and her son greeted me with a warm smile. As soon as I entered the house, I paused—breathing in the unexpected calmness. I had come into a place of sanctuary. A fire was crackling in the fireplace. An old dog was curled up, snoring in front of the heat. Classical music was playing—a violin—perhaps Vivaldi. Tendrils of earthy fragrance from freshly baked bread drifted in from the kitchen. His mother was close to dying, but there was no detectable weight of sadness in this home.

I quietly slipped into her room, illuminated only by the soft glow of countless, flickering candles. I walked over and sat in the chair next to her bed. Leaning forward, I took hold of her frail, cool, outstretched hand. She was cocooned in soft, fleece blankets and big pillows that cushioned her gaunt, eighty-pound frame. Though her body had almost dissolved, her radiance filled the room. I was drawn in like a bee to honey. As I sat beside her, her soft eyes looked deeply into mine, and we sat there for a long time, not speaking—just gazing at each other.

Finally, her surprisingly firm voice said, “Hello and who are you?” she asked, smiling. “I’m Candace, a nurse from hospice,” I replied. “I’ve come to see how you are feeling today?” “Wonderful. Couldn’t be better. Fabulous, in fact. I feel like I am at a very posh resort. I’m spoiled; they take good care of their customers here,” she beamed, looking first at her son and then her daughter-in-law.

She reached out to pull me closer, fingering the turquoise pendant hanging around my neck. “That’s a beauty,” she said. “Yes, it is,” I responded. “Would you like to have it?” “Nah. . . I’m dying you know. No more need for bling,” she replied, with a twinkle in her eye. “How is your pain?” I inquired. “Tolerable. They have heavenly drugs in this place. My, oh my!” she replied, rolling her eyes and laughing.

“I’ve also come to change the dressing over that pressure sore on your bottom. Would you mind if I did that?” I asked. “I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t want anyone else looking at my bony butt,” she teased. “I’m very vain, you know.” Her son crawled into bed with her and—ever so gently—turned her over onto her right side facing him and held her close while I carefully replaced the dressing. “Isn’t he the best son!” she exclaimed, as they nuzzled each other. When we turned her back over, her eyes closed. It didn’t take much to tire her out. I knew that she was in pain, and I gave her a dose of morphine. I continued to sit quietly by her side. She had reeled me in like a big fish, and I was caught in her spell, not wanting to leave.

Reluctantly, I returned to the living room to finish my notes. Her son joined me. “She is always like that,” he chuckled. “Everyone who sees her can’t leave, and when they do they feel like they were the patient being cared for by her. She whammies everyone. She has been the best mother anyone could have ever had. There is no unfinished business between us, and now, in these remaining days, we just enjoy and love on each other. When she isn’t so tired she sings me songs that she used to sing when I was a little child. I have taken a leave of absence from work because the most important thing I can do in my life right now is to accompany her on this final journey. It’s a small way for me to repay her kindness,” he said with tears in his eyes.

The visit was over and I bid them goodbye. One week later I received word that she had peacefully passed away in the arms of her son and daughter-in-law. They asked hospice to not call the mortuary until the following day. They wanted time with her body, as they had promised her they would carry out some ceremonies after she passed.

Twenty-four hours later they called me. “You seemed to have had such a strong connection with my mother,” he said. “Would it be possible for you to come and help us bathe and dress her before the mortuary comes?”  “Yes, of course; I would be honored. I’ll be right there.”

When I went to her bedside I was struck by how peaceful she looked. We bathed her in rose-scented water and rubbed her favorite lotion all over her body. Then we dressed her in a silk, turquoise dress that she had worn to their wedding last year. They picked flowers from the garden which they drizzled all over her body from head to feet, a final adornment. Now it was time to let her go…

When I first started working in this field I received some very sage advice from an older hospice nurse. It was a gem. When you take time before entering a house to pause and empty yourself of personal agendas and expectations, you are open and more receptive to what a patient has to give you: that it’s not just about what you are offering to them. . . From this extraordinary woman—whom I was with for only one, ever-so-brief hour while she was alive—I received the gift of witnessing that it is possible to face death with humor, boundless love, grace—and without fear.