On October 21 to October 23, I am planning offer a workshop here in California for people who work with the dying and their families, called FINDING YOUR RESILIENCE: RECLAIMING MYSTERY AND MEANING IN HOSPICE WORK . Together we will explore the opportunity for greater resilience and renewal that emerges from openness to the mystery and deep meaning which is present daily in hospice work. In preparing for this exploration and sharing of thoughts and experience, I want to offer a series of poems and thoughts about death before this workshop.
I was almost seven when my beloved grandfather died. Shortly before he died my Grandpa told me that he would soon be going to be with God, that he would be close to me and hear me and I could talk to him in my heart as we had often talked to God together but that I could not come and visit him. Soon afterward my Grandfather died. I was not allowed to attend the funeral.
As he grew sicker my mother, concerned that I would be deeply affected by his death, began reading books about helping young children meet with death. All the books she read said it was important to wait until a child brought up the subject or shared their questions before talking to them about death. As days and weeks went by and I did not even mention my grandfather’s name she became more and more concerned. When she finally asked how it was for me now that grandpa had died, I had simply said “different”. When she asked me what had changed, I told her that now I could take him to school with me. I have no recollection of this conversation but I do remember talking to my grandpa for many years after he died and drawing much strength and courage from a deep sense of his closeness and presence. Years later, in a discussion of childhood phobias, my mother told me that after Grandpa died I was no longer afraid to sleep in the dark.
Here is the beautiful poem I came across as I began preparing for this new workshop, which reminded me of all of this.
—Erik K. Mortenson
And then there was the time her father died and she asked me where I thought souls go afterwards and I said why do they have to go anywhere maybe they die too and are finally at peace and what makes you think we have a soul anyway maybe when we die we die and that’s it and that’s all and sometimes dead is better and wasn’t that true for him and then she just cried harder than before but quieter and I knew she would the whole time I was saying this but I couldn’t stop myself I don’t know what made me think that would be helpful that it would actually be a comfort to her I just couldn’t say what she wanted like that souls go to heaven and watch over us but even worse was what I never thought to say at all which was that his soul was in the way she held her chin just there and in the curls of her
hair and the gold flecks in the blue of her eyes and in her mouth when she peeled and cut and ate a pear with a slim knife and in her thumb and that his soul was in her heart when she asked me the question in the first place.
Hope to see you at the workshop…..