Dear Readers, Writers, Thinkers, Feelers.

A name has been chosen (eyes closed, hand-picked) and the winner of the book giveaway is . . .  Lisa Carnochan! 

As always, thank you for reading this blog and taking the time to respond & interact. While we couldn't all win the drawing, I urge you to find, borrow, or buy this book. It's that good. 

Already read it? Consider these other books I've found helpful: 

A Bittersweet Season: Caring For Our Aging Parents — and Ourselves 
by Jane Gross

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gwande 

God's Hotel: A Doctor, A Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet

Bettyville: A Memoir by George Hodgman

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir by Roz Chast

 And now, your turn: What books on the topic — end-of-life, aging, slow medicine — do you recommend?  



Love that line! Win this book!

Dying is hard on the dying.

Death is hard on the living. 


Blending medical history with personal story, writer Katy Butler explores Slow Medicine — a new, yet ancient, way to embrace dying and death. She masterfully integrates a reporter’s skill with a daughter's love and a poet's heart to share the story of her parents' long illnesses and eventual deaths. 


Of course we don’t want to die. We don’t want to say goodbye to those we love. We certainly don’t want to be the one who says to a doctor, “Enough.” In this we are not alone. . . Perhaps if we find ways to make the pathway to natural death sacred and familiar again, we will recover the courage to face our deaths. If we don’t, technological medicine at the end of life will continue to collude with our fear and ignorance and profit from it. Unless we create new rites of passage to help prepare for death long before it comes, we will remain vulnerable to the commercial exploitation of our fears and to the implied promise that death can forever be postponed. 


In the last few years, by chance and later by pursuit, I've read many books in what is known as the "End of Life" genre. The most compelling I've found are Being Mortal and God's Hotel.

Published in 2013, Knocking on Heaven's Door is now at the top of my list. Written with such skill and heart, I'm baffled this book has not received the attention it deserves. But I'm grateful to have found a handbook that reflects my heart and hope. 

In fact, I like this book so much I'm giving it away! No tricks or gimmicks. Just provide your name and contact email in the comment section (for blog readers) or by email (for blog-by-email readers).

I'll close my eyes and draw one lucky name on Sunday, September 3, 2017. 



Thankful Tuesday because we need it now!

It's not even Thursday but this week has been so ugly I'm countering with a gratitude surge. If every day offers an opportunity for thankfulness, let's make it happen now

Please join me for Thankful Thursday on Tuesday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for people, places, things and more. 

As the first chords play, before the singer offers a single word, my face is wet. I'm in an audience of 25 elderly people, and I'm the one crying.

Not Jane who can't hear. Not Shirley who can't talk, not even Martin who is tenderhearted. They are dry-eyed. But me, the happy event organizer, is sitting among wheelchairs, dementia, and diapers, biting back tears. 

I turn to Dorothy, who looks at me with fright and confusion. Her eyes are wide and searching so I tuck a blanket around her and gently rub her arm. We hold hands. She loosens and breathes and in a tone that suggests this is a party and she is the host, says "I'm so glad you came."

The next day, I take a long drive — to lose (and find) myself in an abandoned school, a broken down store, an endless road. I'm driving not to find what I lack but to remember what I have: wide spaces, big sky, long lonely stretches. I travel a bumpy gravel road that does, finally, meet solid ground. In everything, metaphor and message. 

Today, because I'm waiting for the dentist, I count the minutes with agitation. The drill is not on, the dentist has not even appeared, and still I'm near tears because in my fatigue with the world this tooth feels like our collective rot. I'm wearing all the aches, and just want it to stop. 

First, the heat of an unusual summer. Then the smoke and haze of unusual fires. Nothing is usual. The weather is erratic, the sun and moon are in a dance toward darkness, and something or other is in retrograde. It seems we're all spinning, spitting, hurting.  

And in this mess, the dentist brings me toothpaste instead of a drill. I find my way home to a soft bed and a good nap. And Dorothy and I sing quietly together.

Can the child within my heart rise above?

Can I sail through the changin' ocean tides?

Can I handle the seasons of my life?

- from Landslide, by Stevie Nicks / Fleetwood Mac


And you, dear one, what are you thankful for today? 



Looking for Grief (in all the wrong places)

It started with just three lines: 


Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

—  W.S. Merwin 


Last year I made a file and called it "poems-grief."

Now, as the file grows, I don't know if this brings comfort or alarm. Each addition feels like a weed multiplying in a once-tidy garden. There is too much sadness, too much loss, and not enough blooms.

With each sickness, with each death, I searched for comfort in poems. I wanted someone to know my grief, to speak the words I could not find, to carry my heart in words. 

Much to my surprise, it was difficult to find good poems. I searched for books specifically on grief, and while there were plenty of collections none seemed for me. And I searched online endlessly, and again there were plenty of poems but nothing that wrapped me in comfort.

Admittedly, my criteria was strict:

No sappy or sentimental poems.

No happy endings.

No predictable poems.

No rhyming (which often feels forced)

No hippy-dippy, in-a-better-place, happened-for-a-reason poems.

No old poems, of a "classic" era with thee and thou and dost 

And, oh, no more Mary Oliver.

(Yes, yes, I like Mary. We all like Mary. She's good and prolific and written many good poems that I have loved and shared. But she is also sometimes too known and rote, too nature-is-inside-us predictable). 

Instead, I want real expressions of grief's relentless presence, its weight and fear. I want a way in, but not too much, and a way out, but not too quickly. I want someone to get it

And so my hunting and gathering increased and my collection grew with many good poems. But it was only a few months ago that I found one that really spoke to me. And once found, I sent it everywhere. Copies and copies were shared with friends who had lost a mother, a father, a pet. And colleagues who grieved an aunt, a brother, a son.

This week, I read the poem over and over to myself, for myself. I whisper the lines like prayer, and write them down, word for word copied to paper, as if the ink could bleed itself into my heart to form a pulse I would recognize as my own.


Blessing for the Brokenhearted

There is no remedy for love but to love more.

                                         — Henry David Thoreau


Let us agree

for now

that we will not say

the breaking

makes us stronger

or that it is better

to have this pain

than to have done

without this love.


Let us promise

we will not

tell ourselves

time will heal

the wound,

when every day

our waking

opens it anew.


Perhaps for now

it can be enough

to simply marvel

at the mystery

of how a heart

so broken

can go on beating,


as if it were made

for precisely this —


as if it knows

the only cure for love

is more of it,


as if it sees

the heart’s sole remedy

for breaking

is to love still,

as if it trusts that its own

persistent pulse

is the rhythm

of a blessing

we cannot

begin to fathom

but will save us



 — Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief






No More Narrative

By Matt Groening

At a writing workshop years ago, the instructor provided a list of words to avoid. The list was lengthy and I remember just one: lavender

I loved lavender. The plant, the smell, the emotional elegance of its earthiness. I wanted to ladle lavender into every poem. 

But she was right. Lavender is too expected. Lavender is overused. As much as I adore lavender — the plant and the word — I left it for better, less expected, words. 


Remember when green was used in every-other-sentence as a signifier for good and environmental, and then was replaced with sustainable. And then we suffered a cliche hangover and spoke in plain language that said what we meant?

Okay that last part didn't happen. We may have momentarily come to our senses, only to replace story with narrative and talk with dialogue (it's not a verb!). 

Here's a tip: Using bigger words doesn't work; it just makes you bloated and big-headed. It doesn't make you deep or thoughtful or smart. (I'm looking at you Krista Tippet). 

Just talk to me. In plain language. If you really want to conversate (yuck), just talk — directly in plain, easy language. 


In the spirit of saving us from ourselves, I offer an updated list of words to avoid, in writing and in life: 





agreeance  (the word is agreement; don't try to fancy it up)

muse/musings  (unless you're 12 years old and writing with a pink pen)


moonlight (due to overuse the moon is no longer poetic)



What's on your list?



I miss Matt Groening's Forbidden Words. We need an update!