For better or worse, we don't know who is going to be around the Christmas tree next year. So I'll put it to you again: If you knew that everything would change next year, how would you spend Christmas?
Though I had visited him in the hospital last week, yesterday I felt a sense of urgency in saying goodbye to my old friend, Bishop Walter Sullivan. As I drove across Richmond to his home I reflected on the last time I had seen him.
My mother had bought the toy for Jason when he was first diagnosed. He was handmade with felt eyes, nose and mouth, perpetually smiling. Big Jon went with him to every doctor's appointment, slept with him in every hospital bed. He offered so much more than security.
When someone we love dies, it doesn't matter what else is going on in the world. What matters is that your loved one is dying. You have every right to feel upset no matter what else is going on around you.
I love being able to experience the depth and breadth of midlife. I am fortunate to have been able to update my understanding of how powerful the 12 steps can be in my life. I am very different from the 28-year-old I used to be.
In fact, it was I who never, ever has forgotten his face. I had, indeed, memorized it. I close my eyes and I can see him clearly after almost 45 years. I had the privilege of being with him in his last hours.
Healing takes place not when death is forestalled, but when life is embraced and affirmed in its entirety, from beginning to end. When doctors can fully understand the nature of death and dying, they will become the true healers that are desperately needed in this world.
There are many out there who have had transcendent experiences that remain in the closet. The stories I tell are based on interviews with people from diverse walks of life. They are all genuine, honest people.
Try to see yourself as a leader, mentor and teacher. Remind yourself daily that there is no room for shame. You will find allies. We number greater than those who turn away from you and offer no help in eradicating this disease. We will move forward with you.
It is clear that, come the time, I will do the right thing by my Scout. My baby. I will not let her suffer. We are told that we love our animals so much, we know when that moment is upon us. And we do the right thing. But how?
You have introduced the idea of having a family conversation, or a series of conversations, about end-of-life wishes and goals. Mom and Dad are on board, the adult children want to know more, and everyone is ready to take the next steps to ensure wishes are followed. Now what?
I'm saying goodbye to Robert again as I close this series. I will miss writing about him, because in a weird kind of way, I lived our life over again. But it was easier this time. I think I can spread his ashes now.
An end-of-life discussion is not a conversation likely to arise spontaneously on its own. Whether you are an aging parent or a concerned adult child, you must make the first move. Seize any opportunity to begin the conversation.
We seem to think that we need to have the answers for people's pain and sadness. We don't. What we need to have is the ability to sit with someone and not say anything. Nothing you can say will make them feel better.
Even unscathed by the tragedy -- sleeping warm and tight with water and electricity -- you feel the surreal dichotomy of the deep gratitude that you are OK and the staggering pain for all those who have lost something.
My father's voice was like an instrument and I loved it, loved listening to it, especially in the shower when he would catch just the right echo, just the right timbre, the acoustics so perfect that it sounded like he was singing a duet or was on stage in a 1940s nightclub.
Having lived, studied and traveled in Mexico for almost 30 years, I can personally attest to the intimate and familiar nature of death in popular culture. Long before Saint Death's public outing 11 years ago today, images of death personified abounded.
It was only through Joe Carroll's death and dying that I was finally able to draw close to the man I'd long ago fled. Before that, the idea of honoring my father after he'd departed this world would have seemed unimaginable.
I don't remember the first letter I got from Paris. I don't remember him coming into my life at all. He was just always there; a far-away pen pal, a friendly grownup presence who I knew only through letters and one greenish Polaroid of him standing with arms crossed in front of a metal grate.