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crestone-eagleMany years ago, a close friend who was a hospice social worker asked me to cover her hospice clients while she was out of town. I told her, “I don’t do death.” She then taught me something that was way beyond my 40 years. “Hospice is not about death, it is about life.” Because I had been experiencing subtle neurological symptoms for years and I feared a degenerative, life-threatening illness building in my body, this concept peaked my curiosity as it assaulted my logic. How could dying be about living? Almost like a Zen koan that evokes enlightenment by showing the inadequacy of the logical mind, I had the next two decades to contemplate this paradox, because two weeks ago I became a client of Hospice del Valle in Alamosa.

When I was considering entering hospice, I received desperate messages from friends around the country who had heard I was actively dying. After all, I must be actively dying if I was in hospice. This is one of the major misconceptions hospice workers encounter. Families usually consider hospice only in the last days or weeks of a person’s chronic or terminal illness, which, in my opinion, does a disservice to the patient and greatly limits the level of care available through the organization. The main purpose of hospice is to provide palliation to chronically, terminally, or seriously ill patients (not expected to live more than six months), which includes attending to their medical, psychological, and spiritual well-being and those of their families.

Living in a culture that is death-phobic, no one wants to mention the H word to a person who still has some life in them. What if hospice involved helping to reduce the suffering of persons deemed terminally ill, but still living for many months? The illness I have been living with is a slow, degenerative illness that has only affected me from the neck down. The effects have been devastating, but from the neck up I have been able to maintain a quality of life that is different, but regenerative in nature. Having been a psychotherapist for thirty years, my work has become more selective but much deeper, given my spiritual growth directly informed by what I consider my “spiritual curriculum.”

I had considered hospice for the last year, but since I was not actively dying, I did not consider it seriously. My most experienced caregiver who had worked ten years in a hospice told me that about 10% of her hospice clients lived an average of two years. Working through the necessary emotional stages, I engaged the closest hospice serving Crestone. To my surprise and tremendous relief, I have received care on every level I could imagine—physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual. They are an interdisciplinary team: MD, RN, CNAs, chaplain, and Family Support liaison. Whereas in home health, improvement needed to be noted, with hospice I could let go and receive care on all levels. This is supporting my dreamtime, depth of meditation, and, I believe, allowing me to begin a conscious death with open communication to my Guides on the other side. Intuitively, I have been able to let go and begin my journey through the Bardos.

I imagine that choosing to work in hospice naturally screens out individuals who are not comfortable “doing death.” My experience with each professional is that their level of skill, compassion, and care have surpassed my high expectations. I now know what my friend was saying; hospice has been about improving my quality of life, even though I can die within days. I can also live months and perhaps a year or so. That was never a possibility before I engaged hospice. I am a natural strategizer or I would never have been able to live alone while quadriplegic, but their expertise has taken this to a new level.

I will likely see 2017, but perhaps I might see 2018! With the help of my care team and now hospice, I can continue to lead my psychotherapy group on Skype, share my growing wisdom gained from living in stillness, and perhaps I’ll live to write another book!

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“… If the earthly and no longer knows your name, whisper to the silent Earth: I’m flowing.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Forgiveness-WebAfter I completed my book, I questioned whether it was time to leave my body, whether my Work was done; I thought about dying. I didn’t particularly want to think about it, it was just there as a viable option. After all, my level of functioning is pretty primitive on a physical level. I have been reading Kathleen Singh’s book titled, The Grace In Dying where she discusses something I had been contemplating, that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of dying, so familiar to the general public, were actually states of ego. And after moving through these ego states, there is a state of transcendence that is beyond the ego. Kathleen goes into much more detail about the later stages, beyond the original five stages. She elaborates that the acceptance stage can include much panic and despair, and it is beyond these five stages where surrender happens. I really couldn’t read much more, because I was experiencing too much panic and despair!

I’m really not sure what my next piece on the path is. This place of not knowing is probably the hardest place to be on the spiritual path, whether one is able-bodied or not. I really don’t know… Yesterday there was much despair present, but today that has lifted to a large degree. I slept eight hours and dreamed a lot. What has come out of it is that I will meditate more. MSNBC has been my drug of choice. Some part of me keeps “hoping” that greed will recede and empathy will prevail. ISIL will “see the light.” And maybe as this story unfolds, I will walk again and then snow ski.

Actually, keeping current with the news and interviews of artists and new films and books, helps keep me relevant while in my physical body, though much of the news can be depressing. In all honesty, I did not turn MSNBC off, it stopped working mysteriously. Sometimes I can’t help from unseen forces. My choices to accept this, graciously. As I turn toward it internally, the panic and despair recede. There is more me available.

After all, this is really no different from any other major transition in my life. Well, maybe it is somewhat different.

Questions about my mortality and my ultimate transition become clearer through self-reflection. I mean, who gets to be with these questions calmly and consciously? Would following the trajectory of choosing palliative care through hospice, thereby employing a medication to increase my respiration be copping out? It reminds me of the personal decisions surrounding childbirth, an apt comparison. Natural childbirth or an epidural? Should this birth be induced? How much medical intervention feels right to me? Is there an undercurrent of political agenda influencing the trajectory? I believe how one navigates these transitions is a personal choice for each individual and their family.

Do I have the courage to do this “birth” differently? Instead of choosing a cesarean out of fear like I did in the past, could I just weather the panic and despair as it arose and move into the transpersonal realms? After all, I am very familiar with the transpersonal; I spent fifteen years traveling those realms in breath work.

Maybe, just maybe, I have the patience and courage to do this Sacred transition using my own internal resources that I have been developing over the thirty years since I birthed my babies. Making this transition consciously would require trusting myself and the Universal Love more than I ever have. As of late, I have begun a practice of creating presence internally, by consistently meditating twice a day with the intention of clearing mental and emotional interference. After all, the practice of meditation by many teachers has been described as practicing the dying process, something we will all do.

I suspect that by continuing my daily practices, I will be supported, living the most satisfying life I could’ve imagined with this curriculum while still in my body. Living consciously, with integrity, can only be the best prerequisite to dying with grace.