Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Relationships

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

Baby birds

Baby birds
Wrenched by snakes
From precarious nests
Flutter to the ground
Dead and dying

My first memory of daily life
On this lush planet
Teeming with death by
a thousand lashes of
whipping swords and
razor-sharp tongues
small and large –

Have mercy on us.

Lord, is it I?
The question haunts me

Silence and apathy pile on
Proliferating odds
Of global violence perpetrated
By ourselves against ourselves
Despite Your image
Carried within our fragile human
Bodies and aching souls

Have mercy on us.

It was the early 1950s. I’ll never forget the evening we heard a racket outside a window in the dining room. I was about 8 or 9 years old. A pair of cardinals had built a nest in a shrub outside and just below a dining room window. A first-class seat for the whole  family, as bird eggs hatched and little peeps began their regular cries for food! More food!

On this evening, however, the racket was huge. Way more than babies screaming for food. We looked out and saw a small yard snake attacking the nest. The cardinal mom and dad were raising a ruckus, going at the snake. Too late. Babies were already falling out of the nest.

By the time Dad got there, all 3 or 4 babies were on the ground. Still very young, and unable to make their way back to the nest. Dad got a shoebox, lined it with a towel, put on his gloves, and went out to see if he could help. Just before depositing them in the nest, he let us take a look from a safe distance.

That night we went to bed hoping all would be well in the morning. It was not. The babies were gone.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 May 2019
Photo of baby cardinals found at intothedeep.net

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

Sleep-walking

Sleep-walking
Through another day
Weariness drops into
Dry bones like rain

Eyes mist at the sight
Of old friends making
Music tug at my heart

The clock ticks through
Evening gasping for
Breath undone by the
Speed of life’s descent
Into restless sleep
And premature birth
Of tomorrow

I’ve missed posting for a few days, which feels like forever. Monday was all about seeing my cardiologist, and getting the OK to keep doing what I’m already doing to live with A-fib (atrial fibrillation). Yesterday I visited with two friends before enjoying a quiet, sleepy afternoon at home.

The days are getting longer on the outside, with lots of early morning birdsong. This makes it more pleasant, but not easier to roll out of bed in the mornings. Mother’s Day was quiet, unseasonably cold and rainy. I propose we schedule another Mother’s Day to be celebrated on the first sunny Sunday from today!

Now I’m off to work on that second Longwood Gardens Photo post.

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 May 2019
Misty Rainforest photo taken by Andre Kosslick, found at colorear.myhydros.org

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

Shifting gears

Shifting gears
Uncertain where
When or how
This experiment
Will end

Sitting in my attic
A buzzer sounds
Time Up!
But I’m not yet
Finished

Put down your pen
Search your heart
Love your body and
The grand experiment
Of being alive

I hear cars passing
In steady parade
Like-minded drivers
Trying to get there
On time

Am I on time?
Did the party begin?
Where are the streamers
And Minnie Mouse
balloons?

Today becomes
Tomorrow too soon
For my liking
Will you still be there
To love me?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 April 2019
Image found at prestigepartysupplies.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

Within my Garden, rides a Bird

Here’s a fun riddle-like poem from Emily Dickinson, followed by my note to Emily. Today is the anniversary of my sister Diane’s birthday. She lived with ALS for ten years before dying in 2006. Diane was 61 years old. One of her greatest joys was watching hummers feast in her back yard garden. A garden created in her mind, and in reality by her family and friends. A magical place where anything could happen.

Within my Garden, rides a Bird
Upon a single Wheel –
Whose spokes a dizzy Music make
As ‘twere a travelling Mill –

He never stops, but slackens
Above the Ripest Rose –
Partakes without alighting
And praises as he goes,

Till every spice is tasted –
And then his Fairy Gig
Reels in remoter atmospheres –
And I rejoin my Dog,

And He and I, perplex us
If positive, ‘twere we –
Or bore the Garden in the Brain
This Curiosity –

But He, the best Logician,
Refers my clumsy eye –
To just vibrating Blossoms!
An Exquisite Reply!

c. 1862

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

Dearest Emily,

What a fun riddle! Of course the answer is obvious, at least to your Dog. What isn’t so obvious is how your nimble mind creates miniature stage productions from fleeting, everyday realities.

I don’t remember one single occasion when a tiny hummer elicited in my mind’s eye a complete and detailed account of what was going on before my wide-open eyes—all in the space of 5 seconds max.

I see a gorgeous hummingbird. You see an entire stage production played out impromptu on the canvases of your Garden and your fertile imagination.

Actually, spectacular is too weak for whatever is happening in your imagination. And then there’s your super-observant Dog who figures it all out!

I fear we’re losing our capacity to see things with lively imagination. Not just in the natural world, but on the streets of our towns and cities. And in each other.

What might happen if we could be inquisitive young children again? Or get caught up in the wonder of other human beings, or the keen observational skills of our pets?

Just a note to let you know how much I enjoyed your poem. Happy Wednesday to you from me, your erratic pen pal and sometime follower.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 April 2019
Hummingbird and Roses artwork found at pinterest.com

Thinking about death

A stranger to myself
Thoughts of this and that
Invade my mind —
One insight after another
Offering a panacea
to this earthly body
Plodding on despite
Resurrection of hope
And flashes of insight about
Who I am and why this
Right now instead of that

Yet like a sick rollercoaster
Moments of brilliance
Collide with weary batteries
Unable to keep up with
This ever more distant
Dream called normalcy
That sputters weak as
Watered-down tea in
Tasteless cups of vintage wine
Gone sour hidden in
Abandoned corners now
Littered with the debris
Of forgotten loves and
Laundry not hung out to dry

I’m dying
One breath at a time
Aided by living
One breath at a time
Do I understand this?
Somewhat
Do I like this?
No
Do I accept this?
Sometimes

And there’s this as well –
The daily rescue of my entire being
From the despair of not knowing
Whose or why I am in this world
And why the beauty of staying battles daily
With the beautiful lure of leaving

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 April 2019
Image found at bestwallpapers.in

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