Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pausing on Page 55

(Written on June 11, not posted until today)

A couple of weeks before my mom got really sick, she and Deb and I were talking at her dinner table. I don’t remember if it was an afternoon of coffee drinking or one of her dinner talk-a-thons. She knew she had a surgery coming up and I think that on some level, she knew everything was about to go terribly wrong.

Mom had never shied away from talking about death with us kids. We always knew that death is a part of life. It all fits together into a cohesive, harmonious whole. From as far back as I can remember, the older kids had their names on various furniture, with the understanding that those pieces would go to the designated names when she died. It was all part of the grand scheme of things.

On this fall day ten years ago, the three of us (Deb, Mom and I) brought the conversation around to death and our wishes regarding end of life issues. None of us want long term life support. Mom recalled her days working at St. Joes Hospital, caring for terminally ill patients. At that point, I’d never been in a room with anyone when they died. Mom said that the greatest honor that anyone had ever given her was to ask her to sit with them when they died.

In that same conversation, she said that no one should ever have to die alone. Deb and I promised on that day that she would not die alone, that we would both be with her. We were, and so were many of her other children, children by marriage, and grandchildren.

This conversation and the events leading from from it to her death a little over ten months later, often find a place in the forfront of my mind. Oddly enough, it is not always a place of sadness or grief. Most often, it is a place of grace, beauty and gratitude. I think this sounds odd to most people, but to me, it is a good place, a loving place, a place of peace.

I bring all of this up here because, since I am between semesters and was, until tonight, between books to read. I found myself “shopping” among my bookshelves in the basement for something to read. I wanted something quick, that I’d not read before. I looked in my fiction section with shelves and shlves of books lined up neatly and stacked up haphazardly in front of those rows since I ran out of room for orderliness. There were too many to sift thorugh and too little time before I’d be late getting off to work. So I looked to my nonfiction titles: more orderly and fewer titles to scan. I looked to the small ones. I wanted something quick but compeling. My eyes and hand landed on a book that since it was first released, dozens-literally dozens of people have told me that I MUST READ. I never did. It came out when I still worked at the bookstore, and for a good long time, sold several copies a day. Sometimes several went to the same person so they could give them out to everyone they love.

So now, I pause on page 55 just to write this blog entry to recommend that you read Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom. Even without skipping to the last page, I know how it ends. Morrie dies in the end. And Mitch Albom lives. The story is found in the ways in which they live and die. It brings back Moms two statements: “no one should ever have to die alone” and the greatest honor anyone can give is to ask that you be with them when they die.

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