Death Comes

These days I am working as a spiritual companion to the residents of a nursing home in England. I accompany these elders in their day-to-day lives simply by being with them. Some of them are sick, many of them are dying. If they are able to speak we have a conversation. If they are not, we don’t. I hold their hands and feet. I read them books and newspapers. I tell stories and listen to theirs. I pray with them if they ask me or I pray in silence if there is nothing else to be done. It is an enormous privilege to share in and bear witness to a life in these quiet ways.

One of the residents died yesterday. I’ll call her Trinity. I had grown close to Trinity in the last three months since I began working in the home. She was an artist and we shared our love of visual art through conversations about painting and drawing. “My aim in life is to paint,” she told me when I asked her if she missed it. She was seriously ill and had lost the ability to use her hands in any real way and her mind was clouded by the drugs and by her poor condition.

Trinity told me that from her illness she had “learned about laughter, suffering and endurance.” I was speechless. It is not often that we hear people expressing this kind of unspoken gratitude for being sick and dying.

Yesterday, after one of the nurses told me Trinity had died, I went to her room to just sit for a while in the empty space and remember her and say good-bye. When I opened the door I saw that Trinity was still in the bed. I was shocked. I’d assumed the body had already been removed by the undertakers.

I have seen dead bodies before. It is the strangest sensation. The body is intact and yet the person is gone. At first Trinity seemed to be there still. It almost looked as though she was breathing. But then it was obvious: Trinity was no longer there. Where did she go? We do not know. The Great Mystery.

Now Trinity’s suffering has ended. And yet so has her life. A whole life that I know very little about. I only know that at the end of her life she had learned about laughter, suffering and endurance.

We did laugh together, Trinity and I. I did watch her suffer. And I did witness her enduring, day after day after day. There is meaning in this.

I am reminded of a piece of scripture that I have always liked. It helps me to remember that I am not the be-all and end-all of everything: “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” (James 4:14)

Make the most of it.

Inspiring Message of the Day: Am I aware of the sensation of being alive today? I will do my best to bring myself into full awareness of my Being.



A Ray of Sunshine

My plate is really full right now. I’m super busy with a number of projects on the go that I need to manage and stay on top of so the job(s) gets done. It’s very easy to get stressed out and overwhelmed during this kind of activity and I do.

I do not enjoy the work that I do when I go into stress mode. What’s the point in working if I’m not having a good time? Am I not supposed to be enjoying my life? I’m self-employed, which means, one could argue, that I am deliberately choosing to be overwhelmed!

Often I am. I think I need to be busy because if I’m not busy then it must mean I’m lazy. It’s this kind of thinking that led to an attack of shingles a few years ago.

Shingles are of the same virus as the chicken pox and herpes. The virus lives dormant in the nervous system. People who are elderly, who have compromised immune systems or who are under an unusual amount of stress get shingles.

I’m young (“Relatively”, says the doctor — guess that’s what happens after you peak at 35) and my immune system is good so I guess I fall into the last category… STRESS!

Once I learned that shingles can come back I made a promise to myself to let go of my need to PUSH myself to ridiculous limits and I’ve been pretty vigilant about that ever since. I have not had another eruption of the painful blisters.

BUT I’m not perfect and I still end up hitting the wall sometimes, though never as hard as the last time. We do get better!

When I feel like I’m heading for that place of overwhelm I know what I need to do: STOP.

Just stop. In the moment, wherever I am, whatever I am doing, just stop. Stop and breathe. Stop and let go. Stop and re-focus on what is important. Being here, now. Being in my life. Enjoying my life. Stop, remember this and return with strength.

There is a film called “Sunshine” with Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz about the fate of a Hungarian Jewish family throughout the 20th century. It’s an epic picture, made in the late 90’s and almost 3 hours long. I remember few details. One, however, sticks in my mind.

The matriarch of the family, played by Jennifer Ehle, is a formidable woman and one who refuses, unlike her children, to hide her Jewishness. The last line of the film is given to her, in a voice-over by Fiennes. He tells us that his mother knew the secret to life and because of that, her own life was rich and full and she lived without shame or regret.

She knew how to breathe freely.

I often remember this line when I am madly running around trying to get things done, thinking that the key to life is accomplishing stuff and being recognized for it.

No, that is not it at all.

Inspiring Message of the Day: The secret to life is breathing freely. That is all I have to do.