Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Life and Death

The Ponds

Here’s a thought-provoking poem from Mary Oliver, followed by my comments.

The Ponds

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them—

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided—
and that one wears an orange blight—
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away—
and that one is a lumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

©Mary Oliver, in New and Selected Poems, Vol. One., pp. 92-93
Beacon Press, Boston, 1992

Of course imperfections aren’t necessarily nothing. Sometimes they’re distress calls. Or signs of neglect.

Still, like Mary Oliver, I also want and need to see big picture beauty in a water lily pond, garden or meadow. Because, as she puts it, “I want to believe [And I do!] I am looking into the white fire of a great mystery.”

The mystery, it seems to me, isn’t simply about water lilies. It’s also about us. Especially now. Not simply because each of us is beautiful, but because taken together, we reflect the light of a mystery beyond ourselves. Something beyond our beauty, our flaws, and our “unstoppable decay.” To say nothing of the muskrats (whose days are also numbered) looking to take us down one by one.

Especially now.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 July 2019
Photo found at pixabay.com

On a walk-around

On a walk-around
In my lofty attic
Sunday morning silence
Permeates the air

My mind and heart
Fly home revisiting
Large and small circumstances
Of my unscripted life

Memories flood back
Unsolicited reminders
Of turning points and
Individuals

Each a small piece of
What feels strangely like
Home away from the home
Of my weathered body

Not as it might have been
But as it was and is
In real time with real people
Some of them jerks

Important pieces
Of a great puzzle that
Still shape and encourage
Me into this —

A real woman with a real
Voice and calling
A disobedient beautiful
Daughter of Eve

Unfinished and sometimes
Impatient I wait wondering
What more will happen
Along the way

This week I’m going to schedule a first meeting with my new palliative doctor. I wasn’t expecting the end of my life to take this turn. Nonetheless, I see this new possibility as a wonderful gift. And yes, it will take significant thought and work on my part. Not just on behalf of myself, but with family members and doctors.

I anticipate getting things in some semblance of order, adjusting my thinking about what lies ahead, and enjoying what I most want and love to do. Which will certainly include writing.

Happy Monday to each of you!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 July 2019
Photo of Tybee Island Beach found at visitsavannah.com

Death and The Kookaburras

First, a poem from me, a few comments, and a poem from Mary Oliver.

One loss at a time
The challenge is laid down
So transparently
The message cannot
Be mistaken

It’s time to let go
To hold each day lightly
To give up great expectations
And the hope of getting
To the top of Mt. Everest
Or even within its foothills

Yet my body and soul
Cry out for more –
More time
More energy
More beauty
More music
As greed sets in
Along with hunger
For what I think
I’ve lost
Or never had

I’ve been unusually restless this past week. It was wonderful to connect with my new palliative care doctor on the phone. Now I’m waiting for my first face-to-face conversation, and find I’m uneasy.

Is this really what my life has come to? Something in me wants to hang on just a bit more, even though I know it’s time to begin letting go and shifting my attention and energy to what’s yet possible. On the other hand, who knows what Mt. Everest I’ll yet climb or even fly above in ways I never dreamed of.

Mary Oliver’s poem “The Kookaburras” has haunted me for the past week.

In every heart there is a coward and a procrastinator
In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting
to come out of its cloud and lift its wings.
The kookaburras, kingfishers, pressed against the edge of
their cage, they asked me to open the door.
Years later I wake in the night and remember how I said to them,
no, and walked away.
They had the brown eyes of soft-hearted dogs.
They didn’t want to do anything so extraordinary, only to fly
home to their river.
By now I suppose the great darkness has covered them.
As for myself, I am not yet a god of even the palest flowers.
Nothing else has changed either.
Someone tosses their white bones to the dung-heap.
The sun shines on the latch of their cage.
I lie in the dark, my heart pounding.

©Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. One, p. 87
Published by Beacon Press , Boston, 1992

That’s the challenge, isn’t it? The struggle between hanging on and letting go of what we were never meant to imprison. Not ourselves, not other people, and not kookaburras who just want to fly home to their river.

I want to let my spirit, my soul fly home. I also recognize the coward and procrastinator in me, wanting to say no, and walking away without unlatching the cage.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 July 2019
Photo found at australianmuseum.net.au

The way from here

 

The way from here
Grows narrow
A finely chiseled path
From this life
To a world as unknown
As life beyond
The womb

When did birthing begin
And when will it end?

Wondering out loud
I search for midwives
To encourage me now
As in the past
How many and for how long
I cannot say
As I set out on another adventure
Another letting go
Another arrival
Somewhere
Into the waiting hands
And hearts of those
Who love me in life
And in death

How do we learn to die? How do we learn to give birth? How do we learn to say enough is enough? Or no, thank you, I’m not going to opt into our reigning medical model of trying whatever can be tried in order to live a bit longer. Comfort care is one thing; unrealistic hope for healing is something else.

My waking dream this morning led to the poem above. The dream suggested I need help, a midwife or two, to get through the last pieces of my journey on this earth. I might even need to become a midwife to myself. Not just by reading books, but by seeking out professionals to help me navigate what lies ahead.

I anticipate writing and talking about how this works out for me, and commenting on books I’ve been reading. My major guide will be a palliative care doctor I spoke with today. She won’t replace my other wonderful doctors. Instead, she’ll help me work with medical personnel, family members and others. I’m not willing to stay alive at all costs. So how will I get from here to there?

Today has been an up and down day. Lots of emotion about making the telephone call, and huge relief when the doctor said she would take me on. I know this isn’t a very popular topic. So I’m especially grateful if you’ve read to this point.

With hope, gratitude and a teeny tiny sense of adventure for what lies ahead,

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 July 2019
Photo found at bastyr.edu

Great Aunt Eva’s topaz ring

Great Aunt Eva’s topaz ring
Aunt Margie’s wooden jewelry box with drawers
Mother’s dainty embroidered handkerchiefs
Faded photos from years long gone
Fragile connections to my past and present
Links to times and people I knew
Reminders that I’m not alone

And what will remain of me –
What left-behind bits and pieces carry
Hints of the woman I was and now am
Woven into lives of family, friends and strangers
Lives that touched mine giving and taking
Hints of pasts we scarcely remember
Reminders that we are not alone

With gratitude for all who have left marks on my life. Memories, greeting cards, notes, photos, comments on academic papers and blog postings, my piano teacher’s pencil notes in my piano books, a small Celtic cross from a friend when a family member died, and on and on. Each a gem and reminder that we’re not alone.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 June 2019
Image of old Valentines found at etsy.com

Staring at a blank page

Staring at a blank page
Wondering what lies within
This relentless transition
From life on earth to whatever
Comes next

This morning’s air is heavy
With unanswered questions
More waiting in the wings
And the invisible fog of
Not knowing

I hear the clock chiming out
The hour of the day and wonder
What day and hour it is in the
Brief picture of my life
On this earth

Surely this isn’t what You meant
By numbering my days
Though I do sometimes long
To return to the womb and
Start over

Today is already half gone
Never to be relived and likely
Never grieved just forgotten
A small yet significant piece of
Your great puzzle

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 June 2019
Photo found at pinterest.com

Aging Beauty

gnarled, scarred and off-center
rising awkwardly toward heaven
sinking into earth’s riches
the aging wisteria trunk twists and turns

youthful offspring
dance in early spring
carefree and dependent


©Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 June 2019
Photos taken by DAFraser, 12 June and 6 May 2019
Longwood Gardens

The mind is the last to consent

Or, Semi-poetic thoughts about death and dying

The mind is the last to consent –
Alternative scenarios tease us
Surely this can’t be the end
Wispy threads dangle enticements
We could try this or look into that
Prayers for miracles multiply

Cheerful faces mask sad truth —
The patient is dying, yet anguish
And well-meaning hope sometimes
Impede consent to the obvious
Resulting in further digressions
That produce even more anguish

The end is upon each of us sooner
Not later, with or without goodbyes

To ‘give in’ to death may seem to be
Callous dismissal of those we love
Or loss of hope or lack of faith to
Demand of God great things with
Or without the patient’s consent

Worse, if I’m a medical person perhaps
Giving in means failure to do my job
Even though I may agree that this
Dying person is sick unto death and
We were not created to live forever
In these temporary earth-bound bodies

My hero when it comes to dying is my sister Diane. She chose to go on comfort care after living with ALS for ten years. When she learned she had ALS, she worked with trusted people to identify what she was and was not willing to endure, and where she wanted to die—at home.

Even so, in the end she had to consent to the criteria she herself had itemized. She had to communicate to her doctors and nurses, ‘Enough is enough.’ She also had to trust that those with power of attorney would honor her wishes.

So what does it mean for me to ‘prepare’ for death? At the least, it means living each day well, insofar as I’m able. Especially when it comes to self-care.

I wish that were enough. Unfortunately, given medical structures and practices here in the USA, it isn’t. If I want to avoid getting caught in an endless search for ‘health’ or extension of life, it’s up to me to take the initiative. This includes decisions, paper trails, agreements, and work with family and friends involved with my care and wellbeing.

I can’t do this alone. I’m reading books, and have family and a few friends with whom I can talk. Yet it’s up to me. Even so, there’s no guarantee my wishes and directives will be honored. We don’t always get to choose the time or manner of our deaths.

Blessings to each of you, and thanks so much for listening.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 June 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, Longwood Gardens, 12 June 2019

Have we lost our way?

From the corner of my eye
They sailed by just outside
My kitchen window
Brilliant gold bodies rising
And dipping together
Through damp morning air
And today’s rain shower

Yesterday’s sunshine
Brilliant with gold petals
And fine feathers hovered
Gracefully in warm spring air
Drinking in the wonder
Of juicy insects and
The good earth’s bounty

Outside my window I hear
The soft chirp of birds
In earnest conversation
About nothing and everything
In general that birds love
To talk about behind our
Backs and without our consent

Is there salvation in nature?
Are we the only wise ones
Left on the face of the planet?
Or, heaven forbid, have we
Lost our way home to the
Meadows and ponds and
Buzzing of bees and insects?

Yesterday we took advantage of warm sunshine and breezes, and visited Longwood Gardens. This time we focused our energy on the Meadow, walking almost the complete perimeter. D took tons of photos, and I’ll have a photo post later.

In the meantime, I’m pondering how to take more dirt walks, as recommended by John Muir!

Happy Thursday! I’m glad to be back at it. Our granddaughters’ commencement and other wonderful activities here at home have just about sated me for social life. I miss regular writing and posting…..

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 June 2019
Photos taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens Meadow, 12 June 2019

 

Bittersweet

A passage from one of Mary Oliver’s poems came to mind Wednesday evening as I wrote in my journal. On Tuesday we heard our two granddaughters speak to gathered friends and family for half an hour each. They talked about their lives, their dreams, and their experiences in school and on trips here and abroad. Each is sensitive, observant, articulate, and determined to follow her dreams.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal. The passage from Mary Oliver’s poem follows.

It’s all so bittersweet – watching our children and grandchildren grow up – time taken from my life as their lives expand outward – and mine exhales, drawing energy inward – already dying. Maybe becoming elderly is about becoming expendable – moving over or moving on to make room for the next generations.

Mary Oliver says it well – most of our ‘lives’ we’re not even here – the great before and the ageless after of a flash in the darkness.

Tonight I’m weary, and my heart is letting me know it’s running out of steam. Yes, it’s late in the day. It’s also late in my life. Teach me to number my days. To love life, and relinquish what I can no longer carry.

I wonder how my highly sensitive self is figuring into my health as I age? I feel more reflective, and content to do nothing in particular except feel my feelings and rest my body and mind.

It was difficult to watch one granddaughter’s highly sensitive self yesterday as she spoke. I wanted to hug her and tell her how wonderful it is to have this awkward gift.

Here are the closing stanzas from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Hummingbird Pauses at the Trumpet Vine.” She’s urging us to pause and Look! Our time on this earth is short. Pay attention Now! to the hummingbird, the roses, the lilies floating in the black ponds….

Look! for most of the world
is waiting
or remembering—
most of the world is time

when we’re not here,
not born yet, or died—
a slow fire
under the earth with all

our dumb wild blind cousins
who also
can’t even remember anymore
their own happiness—

Look! and then we will be
like the pale cool
stones, that last almost
forever.

© Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. One, pp 56-57
Published by Beacon Press (1992)

Tomorrow is commencement day. I’m getting ready by chilling out, breathing deeply, and taking in this beautiful weather before it disappears.

Happy Friday, and thanks for visiting!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 June 2019
Photo found at georgiawildlife.com

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