Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Spiritual Formation

Writing about Life and Death

Dear Friends,
I have death on my mind these days. Not without life. Yet it’s different, this discipline of writing about death.

Just over a week ago my Fitbit One fell into the toilet! No kidding. No resuscitation. And no easy replacement. I’ve used a Fitbit for approximately ten years. Never once did it jump into the toilet. Until now.

Alas! My faithful Fitbit One is no longer sold or actively supported by Fitbit. So I’ve moved to a lowly pedometer. It won’t produce the same data and analysis. It will, however, get me off my butt and moving every day.

My latest waking dream, posted with a poem called Portals, was also about big change. In the dream, I’ve left my familiar world and just arrived in a different space. It looks and feels like a transitional space. Think of an international airport only nicer. A place where people of all ages, races, nationalities and ways of life are mingling. I’m a beginner, yet at ease and happy to be there.

Here’s something else that’s happening. I’m playing the piano more often and enjoying it more. In the dream I find a room brimming with children singing, and adults out in the hallway singing along with them. I didn’t want it to stop.

Which reminds me of my visits with Diane. Each time I visited, I cried when it was time to leave. Every visit held moments of beauty, pain, and deep connection. Saying goodbye was painful. I didn’t want to leave because Diane might die before I returned.

That’s similar to the way I feel about playing the piano. It’s a sign that beauty hasn’t vanished from my life. Nor will it. Just as long as I stay ‘close to the bone’ and keep telling the truth. Even if I’m not able to play the piano anymore.

In the meantime, I want to know how all of this will play out in my writing. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says this:

The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth.

© Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, p. 3, published by Pantheon Books in 1994

One thing is certain. Each of us will die sooner or later. I want to walk and write toward death truthfully and with intention, open to voices of others, and especially open to my own voice and experiences along the way.

Thanks for listening and visiting!
Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 May 2019
Photo found at messynessychic.com

Conversations on Loving and Dying

Diane is on my mind these days. Sister #3 of four daughters. She died of ALS after 10 years of learning to live with it and with death. During this time I visited her regularly, and witnessed a chain of small and large deaths. Game-changers.

Muscle movement died off bit by bit. Some capacities disappeared overnight. This was death in life, taken in a thousand small and large bites. When she died, she was barely able to move her eyes and eyebrows—keys to communicating with family members and caretakers.

What does it mean to die? I don’t believe Diane died just on the day she never woke up. She died a thousand times over on the way from here to there. She learned to embrace and live with death. Sometimes with gusto. Other times with anguish and anger.

Recently D and I started reading and talking about Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying. It’s by Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush. Ram Dass had a stroke about 20 years ago, and is still learning to live with death. His friend Mirabai Bush spent time with him talking about death, and then helped bring this book to life.

The book invites us into conversation about questions we often ignore. Especially conversation with the person we’re most likely to be with when we die. Call it getting ready to die by learning to let go of what holds us back.

Recently I wrote a poem about numbering my days. It takes wisdom to number our days. I can’t pretend death is way off in the distance. I don’t know when it will come. I do, however, know I need wisdom to make choices. What will I do and not do right now, given the time I have today?

Diane is my heroine for this kind of wisdom. She numbered her days. She decided what she would and would not do in the time she had left, and what would signal the end—time for comfort care until she died.

I don’t have ALS. Still, I have fewer years to live today than I had yesterday, and at least two health issues that will likely contribute to my death.

I’m relieved I’ve begun these conversations with D. They aren’t always easy. They are, however, always productive.

As always, thank you for visiting and reading. I’m grateful for the opportunity to write from my heart. No matter where it finds me on any given day.

Elouise♥ 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 May 2019
Image found at amazon.com

Lost

Aching for a day of rest
Quiet time. Down time.

I’m lost. Uncentered and
Unfocused. Getting through
Each day as I’m able without
Much structure or sense of
Movement. The world feels
Heavy tonight. I want to
Shut it out yet cannot.

Weather. Politics. Disasters
In the making. Addictions to
Addictions. Things falling
Apart display the seamy
Side of life and how little we
Understand where, how or
Why we’re going or not
Going.

Blatant. It’s not hidden
Anymore. No filters to drown
Out today’s terror or tomorrow’s
Warring madness. Caught
Without a plan or the humility
Of guidance or signs of care
For real people not on the
Power grid.

Then again, it isn’t new or
All that different than my
Post-WWII childhood. Just more
Open. Unapologetic. In my face
Like that horror movie I never
Paid to see.

They say we should hope.
I say hope is hopeless minus
Action. Yet here I am. Old.
Not sure I have it in me to
Resist injustice no matter
Where and when it’s found.
Help me find my way home.
I think I’m lost.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 May 2019
Image found at wnycstudios.org

On any given day

Death knocks
Each time I blink
Or turn around
To answer the door
Or look the other way

An incessant drizzle
Muffles the sound of
A clock chiming hours
Now gone forever. . .
Steals through pores
In skin and brain
Takes up sweet residence
Pays no rent and
Leaves no tips
For the next occupant

Today I’m off to the kitchen to make a big pot of lentil/veggie soup for my hungry soul. I’m comforted by the thought of death intermingling with life. It doesn’t make it any more attractive. It does, however, make sense of the passing away of each moment.

It also suggests ways to acknowledge its presence instead of wasting energy ignoring it — or trying to lock it in the recesses of a large closet to be opened only upon my death.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 May 2019
Image found at fotosearch.com

You prepare a table before me….

Yesterday D and I visited Longwood Gardens. The weather was beautiful–mild temperatures, a bit of sun, and plenty of clouds without rain.

D took this unlikely photo in the meadow. Oh….  A weed. Maybe; maybe not.

I’m sorry you can’t see how tiny this little ‘wild weed’ is. And I’m fairly certain some of you may not see the little insect lunching on one of the flowers. It looks like a little brown speck on a blossom to the left of the main stem.

I couldn’t help thinking about Psalm 23, and hearing this as a reference to nature’s insects. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” I’m pretty sure this little insect’s enemies would include birds and larger insects looking for lunch. But they could also include human beings. Instead of guarding them and their habitats, it seems we’re intent on destroying them.

After all, they’re tiny. A dime a dozen, Who’s going to miss them? Besides, who needs that mangy old meadow, or that weedy vacant lot anymore? They’re eyesores!

It felt odd to think of this little insect as a link in our food chain and the food chain of the meadow. One of thousands of links in distress. The news reports were full of it last night. We’re quickly ramping up our own global disaster already in the making. I couldn’t help thinking about this little speck of an insect on a common ‘weed.’

Happy Tuesday to each of you! I’m working on more LG pics for a later post.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 May 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, 6 May 2019, Longwood Gardens Meadow

Teach me to number my days

I inhabit moments
One after the other,
Not without hope

I witness resurrection partially
In passing seasons of my life
And repeated seasons of nature

Seasons of life
are once and over
living on in aging memory
and dusty memorabilia

Though my spirit revives
From time to time,
The clock ticks on
Without reverting to zero

I hope for what I cannot see
And choose to let go of certainty,
Falling instead into something
I’ve never seen or known

There’s sadness and agony
In daily and final death;
I’m invited to accept this
Not deny or sublimate it
As though it didn’t exist

Is hesitation to own
The agony of death
A denial of life as it is
On this side of
Whatever comes next?

In this life I’m called
To face fears, regrets, sorrows,
And the anguish of saying goodbye
Not once but many times over

Whatever comes next
It isn’t about denial or
We’ll cross that bridge
When we come to it

It’s about preparing for death
Every day of my life
Because it matters to me
and to those I leave behind

So teach me to number my days….

This is my attempt to put a few personal thoughts into words. I’m convinced this part of my life is about learning to die and learning to talk and write about it. Not the moment of death itself, but how I’m doing (or not doing) at living this last chapter of my life.

So this is where I am as of today. Thanks for reading, and for any comments you care to leave. I’m most grateful!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 May 2019
Photo of Masai Mara National Park Sunset found at brettstephens.com

Born to Die


Teach us to number our days;
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12, New International Version

I can’t help thinking these days about a theme in the gospels. Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. Not for political fame or religious adulation, but to die. He seemed to know what it meant to number his days.

Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem
Stubborn and determined
Abrasive and unconventional
Observant and angry
Weary and compassionate
Single-minded and welcoming
With his face set toward Jerusalem
From the beginning
Born to die sooner not later

I’m used to celebrating Jesus’ life and all the good and challenging things he said. I’m not so accustomed to celebrating his dogged, stubborn, insistent daily orientation toward death.

Jesus of Nazareth didn’t just happen to fall into the hands of his political and religious enemies. He knew who would betray him, yet didn’t try to stop him. Instead, he sent his betrayer out to do the deed. He met death straight on. Just as he was. Without machines of warfare, without fame or fortune, and without an army of loyal supporters.

“Teach us to number our days.” It’s a tough standard. I’d rather add to my days. Pretend it won’t happen to me today. Or that I’ll die in the best of circumstances.

We live in a time of global and local upheaval. Everywhere. What does it mean to set our faces toward death? I think it would mean setting our faces differently toward each other and toward nature.

I could sit back and say what will be, will be. The future isn’t mine to see. Still, what does it mean to number my days? And how does this change the way I live in the present, no matter how long it is before I die?

Writing about death (instead of ignoring it) is comforting. It’s also challenging. My hope is that the challenging part will bring more joy, gratitude, empathy and compassion into my life. Not just for myself, but for family members, friends, neighbors and strangers. We’re all in this together, though strangely alone in our deaths.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 April 2019
Photo found at nateholdridge.com

Before I die

In November 2013 I wrote the following opening and closing lines of Why This Blog?

I need to say some things out loud before I die. I’m not knowingly staring death in the face, yet I know my days are numbered….If I don’t tell the truth about my life, I will die inside. I want to live, and I want my children and grandchildren to live.

I didn’t know it then, but this blog isn’t just about the truth of my life as I’ve experienced it. It’s also about my death. Not that I know the day and hour. I don’t. Still, it’s closer now than it was in November 2013—the month before I published my first post.

I just searched my posts. So far, not by conscious design, I’ve written about death 175 times (out of 1398 total). It seems I can’t let this topic go.

I find writing about death is comforting. I didn’t grow up in a family that talked easily about death or dying. Nor have I been part of a community or church that focused on this, especially as part of life.

I’m not a morbid person by nature. I am, however, keenly aware of my mortality. Not just because of my age and health issues, but because of the increasing disruption and unpredictability of life on this planet.

So what does it mean to die? Not just at the end of life, but along the way from here to there. And how does that change my daily choices and relationships? Especially with my family members, beginning with D.

These are a few things on my mind these days. Which is another way of saying I’ll be posting more pieces about death. I’ll also post other things as well–my take on the current state of affairs in the USA, photo posts from adventures with D, poetry, the occasional report about life with Smudge, and whatever else wants to be written.

Thanks to each of you for visiting, reading, and sharing your experiences from time to time.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 April 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser in the Portland Rose Garden

Exiting the scene | A waking dream

Wandering from room to room
Looking for clues
Uncertain where I am or why I’m here
And why no one answers my questions
As they scurry here and there
Setting up tables with no chairs
And no food I can eat and now….
Look at this!
They’re closing off doorways!
No exit?

A tall black man with a kind face
Follows me from room to room
Watching me though I don’t know why
He’s here and why other people
Are in this now awkward space
Made less grand by tacky rugs and
Faded wall hangings from a dusty
wannabe palace weary
of being fussed over
and shown to strangers

I decide to leave and find a quiet space
Where I can rest and be alone with myself

Suddenly a tall white woman with fancy clothes
A loud mouth and curly gray hair turns
She blocks my way out
Her face radiates scorn and entitlement

She scolds me for my bad manners
and unkempt clothing
Then looks beyond me at someone else
and nods ever so slightly without smiling

I turn to see the tall man with the kind face
Smiling as he walks toward me saying
This is a surprise party for me….

Whirling back toward the tall woman
Words spew out of my mouth:
How dare you plan a party that offers
No food I can eat and nowhere to sit
And rest my weary body and feet
To say nothing of commandeering my house
To do something on your own behalf
Not on mine!

I wake up and exit the scene shocked at my outburst
And wondering what this is about

This was my waking dream this morning. I’ll be working on this one for a while. Feel free to comment if you notice anything that stands out or raises questions to think about.

Actually, I’m relieved and thrilled I had this dream. Not because of its content, but because my dreams are returning after months of virtual silence. Not just snatches here and there, but dreams with detail, color and substance. It means I’m sleeping better, and that my body–though fading into the sunset–still has the capacity to surprise and delight me.

Yesterday was all about my regularly scheduled checkup with Dr. K, my wonderful integrative doctor. As always, I came away with a few things to work on. Nonetheless, I’m encouraged by the progress I’ve made, especially in the last several months. Not just in dealing with health issues, but in practicing a small handful of things that bring me joy and calm my heart no matter what its pace.

Happy dreaming!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 April 2019
Harold Gilman’s “Edwardian Interior” c. 1907; found at Tate.org.uk

An Easter Lament and Question

Nothing comes easy these days
Small deaths and large
Gaping holes
Clutter the landscape

Rain falls sideways
Streaking over my back yard
Daring me to will it
To the ground

Out of control and out of time
Bombs tick silently
Within this fragile planet of creatures
And plant life whipped
By gales of political
And personal expediency

So many deaths
Not enough tombs
Or people with vision
And voices to help us
Find our way home

‘Come to me
All who labor
And I will give you rest’
Yet even You were hung
On a tree whiplashed
And left to die

How will Easter
Arrive on this good earth
Not just for the flowers
But for all of us?

Is dying our only option?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 April 2019
Photo found at pixabay.com

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