At Christmas I started reading the book “Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying.” I was just twenty pages into it when I came to the realization that what I want to do with my counseling degree is work in palliative care. I’ve known for a long time that I would love to work with seniors. I have loved being with seniors my whole life and I love to hear the stories they have to tell. In terms of counseling, I’d ultimately like to help people look back over their lives and come to terms with their history, humanity, the way they’ve hurt and been hurt by others. But the book made me realize that maybe palliative care (rather than strictly seniors) is just the place for that, since resolution with life and death is so much a part of that process.
It seems to bring together all of the things I’ve been interested in my life. I was almost morbidly interested in death as a teenager. Later in high school I became really interested in history, pursuing that degree in university, and always thinking about how pertinent the past is to our present life. Early into university, I took a philosophy class and decided to do a second major in philosophy. I’d never thought of philosophy before (I almost didn’t even take the Philosophy 100 class!), but in an instant I realized that ethics, existentialism, metaphysics, etc were just the formal names for my everyday thought processes all along! When I had kids I became obsessed with childbirth (even wanted to become a doula for a while), and I every time I went into a hospital I’d become really excited but never knew why. Then out of the blue in early 2009, the idea came to me that I could be a counsellor. Once again, I’d never thought of it before, but it seemed to perfectly fit my interests and giftings.
Which brings me to the early pages of the book:
As nurses who care for the dying, we see ourselves as the counterparts of birthing coaches or midwives, who assist in bringing life from the womb into the world. At the other end of life, we help to ease the transition from life through death to whatever exists beyond.
Do you see the fit? There’s something that happens in dying that connects us more closely to our history, to our philosophy and spirituality, to our relationships and our psychology. I mean, we should live connected to these things anyway, but it becomes essential as death approaches.
I’ve had the privilege of being near as three very important people in my life passed away in the past few years, each time I was aware of the process of “letting go” when we die, and each time I wondered what it must be like to give over your life — to know that “this was who I was, there is no more to tell, every thing I did or did not do has been done” and let it go. There is something so beautiful, and so human in that process. And I would like to be a part of it however I can.
There’s a quote that I love from Bridges of Madison County:
What becomes more and more important is to be known – known for all that you were during this brief stay. How sad it seems to me, to leave this earth without those you love the most ever really knowing who you were.
So, “stories to tell” is the new mantra of the blog. We’ve worked through the fact that crying children on a boat on the ocean “is life”, and now we embrace that life, and tell the stories of our human experience. I love that picture of two year-old Olivia with my grandpa taken a few months before he died. And I think that’s what life should look like, bending low, taking the time, and telling the stories of the generations — to not be afraid of who we are and to simultaneously embrace and let go of our humanity as we live life, so it’s not so difficult in the end.
There you go. Enough deep thoughts for tonight.