Friday, December 18, 2009

December 18, 2009:

The memorial for George Stevens
will be held February 14, 2009.

The service will begin at 3pm
with a reception until 5pm at:

Congregation Sha'ar Zahav
290 Dolores Street at 16th
in San Francisco

Valet parking will be available
at no charge

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

December 8, 2009:
Born Nov 15, 1946 -- Died Dec 3, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

December 7, 2009:

We are going to have a memorial service for George in January or February. We will inform people via the phone tree.

If you have any questions please use George's email address which we will keep active until after the memorial service.

George has now been cremated and suffers no more. I will miss him dearly.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

December 6, 2009:

Today, George's body has been taken for cremation. Thank you for all the support you have given George over the last months of his life. His courage, wisdom and clarity inspired all of us. I am deeply grateful that George was in my life.


Friday, December 4, 2009

December 4, 2009, noon

Beautiful, a soft smile on his face, George's body is at peace. Sunlight is streaming into the room.
A vast network of support and love surrounds him now as it did throughout his dying. His strong beliefs that his real journey has only started makes me smile.

Please feel welcome to come and sit.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gentle Breathe

George died this night at 5:20, his last breathe was gentle. His wishes were honored and his spirit is bright. His body will remain at Maitri for three days.


George continues to change and move toward his death, he is comfortable. Now comatose we are following his breaths with love and admiration.

From the bedside

George is peaceful and has entered the dying process. He is not answering phone calls and is unconsious most of the time. He stopped eating on Monday. He is getting wonderful care and we are at the bedside night and day. Please do not drop by, this is George's wishes. Please do not call Maitri as they are busy with 14 people to care for.

We will let you know when he dies, his body will be here at Maitri for up to three days so that you can come by and sit. There will be six chairs available. Hold him in your heart as surely as he is holding you.

Eileen, Gaetano and Wendy

Friday, November 27, 2009

November 27th, 2009:

I am writing this posting much sooner than I would have wished to. The simple fact is that my health is declining much faster than I expected. I am moving into all the expected signs of dying. I have lost my appetite. I have little or no taste for food. I could elaborate on each of these symptoms but why? What I do want to do every day is sleep. Lots of sleep. And then when I wake up, I sleep some more. After a lifetime of spirited living with all of you, it is my time to go. I can't say that I am turning my face to the wall, but I am now finding myself unable to carry on the correspondence. I want to just be with me. That is what I can do now. With some of you I still have appointments, and I shall keep them. Phone calls, yes.

What I can no longer do is keep the blog alive; others will do that. Eileen Lemus will be responsible for the medical information about me. Gaetano will let you know what is transpiring with my physical self. And Wendy will let you know about my all over emotional self. These people will also be sitting at my bedside during my final hours when ever they may start to happen.

It's a big concern that people not start flooding Maitri with questions. To that that end, I have set up a Telephone Tree so that you can get updates regularly from Eileen, Gaetano and Wendy and others that will keep you posted on my health. What I can't do is answer letters, emails and other spontaneous catch-ups about how much we care for each other. Yes we do. I know that and so do you. It's been a lovely life together. Information about my continued progress will be well communicated to you.

I'm sure that you understand that it is my time to just BE. I've talked about this for several weeks now. And now it's happening. For people with air fare tickets, I'll do my best to be alive when you arrive. Thank you, all of you for your wonderful love and support. Yes, indeed, I love you!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

November 25th, 2009:

For the past several days, I have been needing a huge amount of sleep, especially in the morning. I wake up in the morning, have breakfast, read the paper, and fall into deep sleep. At least until noon. Then, I start to emerge from my coma, dizzy and confused.

In this time, I have been conversing with my tumor to some remarkable effect. I've spoken before about how our conversation has been thin to nonexistent. There's been a change recently, where the voice is no longer a voice, it's more like a knowing, an awareness in my body. I started out demonizing this growing mass of tissue as having no nerves, no awareness, no cognition, rather just a selfish, mindless set of needs. Then, the tumor told me that it was fully aware that it would die when I died. It told me that it had intention and mission.

In a way that I'd never imagined, the tumor has a very firm grip on my identity, my ability to create and is in synch with my capacity to express myself. The tumor knows me very, very well. In fact, the tumor came into existence at this time in my life when I could express most fully my thoughts about death and dying after working in this field for the last thirty years. What a shock! It's one of the reasons that the tumor is not associated with a specific organ or tissue mass. It may have metastasized to hasten my death, but it is not a rectal tumor, not a rectal tumor, not a prostrate tumor. It is a discrete sarcoma, rare and self-defined.

Everyone who has learned something from this blog has learned something from this tumor. This tumor has come to life to grow through me to push forth a knowledge about what I know and what I have learned from death and the capacity of people to grow together in love. That's the message of this blog. That's the purpose and the message of this tumor. The knowledge of my learnings, the knowledge of this blog and the knowledge of my tumor are synonymous. Every time you remark on the gifts of this blog, please thank it. The blog is my friend, the tumor is my friend, I am your friend. Quite the dialog--no? It's like my conversation which started in disdainful silence has moved 180 degrees has grown into the richest friendship and joy. Amazing.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22nd, 2009:

Often when I haven't posted anything for several days, it means that a lot is going on. Sometimes not. This time, a lot is going on. Last Sunday, I was shaving at the sink in my room and apparently the tumor had grown so large that I heard a loud SNAP, followed by small pain. My tumor had broken through thigh muscles, tendons, cartilage. Since then, I've had much reduced mobility. My most frequent place is on top of my bed with a pillow support under my right leg. I use the walker to get to the computer across the room. Wheeling in a wheel chair gets my to lunch and dinner. I have now taken to breakfast in bed; it's just easier that way as I'm first waking up.

Curiously, this has furthered a long-range goal of mine which is to have fewer visitors. Along with less mobility, I have also had less energy. I think I've claimed that I have a vision for the end of my life where I spend many hours on the bed, casting about in my mind for places to go, places to land. I want to just BE.

This new solitude will be the opposite of how I've lived most of my life. From a very young age as the healer in my family, I learned to say, "I'll be supportive and protective of you and then you'll love me." Of course, no one ever signed this contract or knew that it existed, but it has served me for six decades. Now, I am drafting a different contract. I've been describing it as moving the battleship 180 degrees; takes time; doesn't happen on a dime. A friend described it as: I am in my bedroom, and I am packing for a very long journey. I have some clothes on the bed and all my suitcases are opened to be packed. I know where all my clothes are in their closets and where other clothes are in chests of drawers. I am the only one who can pack effectively. This isn't about asking for help to get ready for the journey.

It also means that all of us, me and my friends will undergo a deep change of how we experience each other. One person said: " Doesn't matter to me. I have deeply experienced you. I am done. If I never see you again, I have full memories of what we were to each other and how we loved each other. Those are strong memories. More would be nice, but not necessary." There is no right way. Also, there is the vast amount of work and memory that many people are doing off the dying that I face. They are reliving their grandmother's death many years ago. They are reliving not being able to grieve. Many experiences of death are converging at this time, and there's nothing I can do about that other than acknowledge that yes it is all happening and some of it's mine and some of it's yours and it can all be very personal and intimate and unwanted and part of our growth as an extended friendship.

What will it feel like to lie on my bed and roam my mind? I'm curious. Very curious. As I find out, I'll let you know. Certainly it's part of the unique awareness that's shaping my end of life. It's so interesting to find the unexpected shift into new ways of being at the end of my life. But, here we are.

Monday, November 16, 2009

November 16th, 2009:

It's been two days of remarkable synergy and decisions. Sunday, November 15th was my 63rd birthday, and I awoke at 5:49 in the morning with memories of being born some 63 years and 12 minutes ago. As some of you may know, I recalled what it was like to be born in a workshop a few years ago. Memories included, in this order:

1) I felt my body's shape for the first time because the different temperature gave me the sensations of having a head, trunk, limbs which I had not felt in utero. As my body formed in my head like a hologram...

2) I remembered how physical it was to be born. I had forgotten the strong flesh sensations of moving my body through my Mom's tissue and the intense work we did right next to each other to exit me from the womb.

3) Once completely out and body-focused, I realized that I had arrived. This birth had been a major goal for a long time, and my mind said, "I got here. This is how you get here, and I got here. Yes, I got here."

Having thought these thoughts, I headed into my first nap.

During the day of my birthday, I spent hours visiting with friends. Beth Pielert and I finalized the CD which will be shown on the day of my memorial service. Gaetano and Wendy and I did a slow walk through the agenda for the same memorial service. Afterward, I rested and felt content.

It was a different story walking into breakfast this morning. As I was moving through the living room here at Maitri a strong interior voice said: "Don't write the book about bringing communal groups together. You don't have time and you don't have the background. If you let this go, you will have more time to die easily and fully. Right now, you are in struggle about sleeping too much and not having enough time to complete this work. Give it up. Let it go." I have to say, that really upset because I have put so much hope and trust in the book as a creative effort. Also, my trip into the dining room was really difficult so I was really aware of how much my capacity to walk has diminished in the past few days. Even diminished from my birthday until today.

When my Social Worker Tova Green came for her visit at 11 this morning, I felt weepy and lost. It felt like I had no center, no creative reason for being. So we talked. I told her how much I wanted to express my knowledge of how communal groups could form energy centers that heightened intimacy and love between the terminally ill and their friends. She asked me what would be the consequences of letting go of this project. I told her that it would be a loss, a sadness that my knowing would not be shared more widely. Back and forth we went, examining the loss.

When it was almost time for Tova to leave, she handed me a book that she had promised to bring to me. The book was titled, Share the Care. As I scanned through the book I realized, this is it!! This is the book I had hoped to write. Only, it's already been written by people who really know what they are talking about. The part that I know the best are about setting up and creating a blog and the creation of a memorial CD. Those are rather esoteric chapters that I have already done myself for all of you. The parts I don't know so well about assembling small groups of terminally ill patients who determine what they want to accomplish and give each other support to complete, well, that's what's in the book that's already been written. I huge wave of relief poured through me from the top of my head through my toes.

Tova wondered what that felt like and I replied, "Relief. Huge relief. Now I can get out of the struggle I've felt for days about not being able to get more done on this effort. Now I can get on with my most important task which is to be released toward dying. That's what I want to be doing. I want to be dying without struggle. Dying with ease. Dying with as little as possible that's in my way." It's been a day where I feel like I've released myself back into quality of life in a major way. I am so grateful, so glad to be back where I can move forward to do my deepest work.

Friday, November 13, 2009

November 13th, 2009:

Three interesting moments in my journey forward that appeared in the last few days.

The first is that I have started to chew gum to counteract the dryness of mouth that comes from using a lot of opiates. Chewing gum stimulates the saliva glands in the mouth so that a moist, even over-lubricated oral cavity results. But, back when I was pre-adolescent, say 8 to 10 years old, one of the most dismissive, even funny expression that we--my pals and I--could ascribe to someone was that they were a drooling fool. This meant that they were old, goofy, out-of-it. They were uncoordinated and no longer held together. Falling apart, and well, drooling. So I've been noticing that my gum chewing has placed me into the category of becoming a drooling fool. I salivate a lot and as the stream of drool starts to creep from my mouth, I can hear my voice from the past say: Drooling Fool, Drooling Fool. Yep, that's me these days.

Over the past days, I've settled into the structure of the book I'd like to create. A book much more focused on how other people can creatively approach gathering together their friends into a circle of support rather than just talk about me. So, first section will focus on the centuries-long avoidance that other people have felt about the dying process. Second section will be about my history as an end-of-life caregiver and the steps I've taken to reach out to other people to bring them closer to me and my illness.

Third section will talk about how large hospitals and clinics can form support groups where people who have accepted their end-of-life status can join together to form individual planning sessions. In these planning sessions, the terminally ill can reach into themselves for finding the new ways to reach out to their loved ones. Reach out and find ways to create intimate circles of caring. Initially, the book was all about me. Now, the book is mostly about others. And, having made this contribution, I will put it out there on the current of trust and send it on its way. I can't create a new movement, but I can help with the call for better communication between the living and the dying. It's significant and humbling to write a book that's immediately handed over to someone else. It's an exercise in trust to write and hand this over to someone else.

Finally, after breakfast on Tuesday, I came back to my room and started reading the morning paper until a nap took over. In the nap, I don't remember the person, I think they were Asian, young, friendly and they held their arm out to me. I held my arm out to them also. In fact, when I awoke, my arm was in mid-air, reaching toward them. I had heard of this gesture from one dimension to another, but I had never experienced physically holding my arm out toward someone who wasn't in the room. It startled me, and I thought, "OK, it's starting to happen. I'm starting to reach toward the next other side."

Drooling, getting myself out of the way so my book has more inclusion and more resonance and getting ready to make early contact with hands reaching out for me. Little steps forward, a day at a time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 11th, 2009:

It's been 14 some months since I've learned about the existence of my sarcoma via the metastases. In that time, I've had very, very brief direct contact with my tumor. I have often described it as an estranged roommate who I hardly ever see; don't know what it eats from the fridge; hear it in it's room although not as direct communication. That's a lot of avoidance considering that it will be the cause of my death.

Now, that avoidance is shifting, and I want to be in direct contact. Since the reason for no contact is that there are powerful parts of my psyche that keep me walled off from being in touch, I am working my way back through the parts of myself that guard me from too much painful information. I have been talking with those parts of myself to get their permission to communicate. What a fascinating process.

From a very young age, there were parts of myself that protected me from trauma. And there was plenty of trauma. Starting with the death of my older sister when I was three months old, very strong protective parts of me stepped in to comfort me. The role of the protector included teaching me how to turn away from getting the help I needed from my parents. I'm sure it never occurred to my Mom and Dad that I was acutely grieving the death of my older sister. I was only three months old! Nevertheless, I was very much aware of my older sister from inside the womb and was anticipating meeting her after birth. I had known her through many lifetimes and was happily anticipating another life with her. So my protector helped me grieve and also taught me how to turn away. Point being, I learned a lot about not speaking out about my feelings.

Now with a cancer that is surely not here by accident, I react by turning away again. All those feelings of grief go somewhere on the inside, but not where I can hear them. The re-wiring I want to learn is about working with my protector to hear those voices on the inside. Hear the voice of the tumor. Hear the voice of the protector. Hear the voices of the other aspects of my personality that surely have been talking a lot for sometime now, but talking outside of my hearing range. It's not as if my body doesn't know there's a tumor inside me. Far from it.

I was talking with my friend Bob Gordon about this on Tuesday evening. I had gotten to the part where I imagined that the tumor would reveal some profoundly benevolent intentions toward me. I suggested that the tumor was in alliance with me to produce important gratitude toward both life and death in rapport with each other. Intentions that have pushed me into a surge of creativity and willingness to express myself at this time in my life. What's it like to die with some consciousness? How do I feel about giving my things away? About being open with my friends about leaving my life? At that point Bob said, "What is sounds like is that you are wanting to integrate your cancer into your soul." Bingo, Bob! What a gift that phrase was to me. So we'll see if that's something I can accomplish in the time remaining to me. It's an important task for my self development, and I am deeply hopeful that I'll be able to re-balance my psyche enough that much of the early coping mechanisms are unlearned and a wider embrace of my reality and my world will be open for me. Yes, I do.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

October 8th, 2009:

After my big sleep during the middle to end of this week, I thought that would be enough event. But no. Apparently, while I was in deep drift, I did some major re-organizing of my book. The issue that I dealt with was how to best communicate my information to the readers. It became clear to me that there are not too many people out there who are going to want to script a summary of their life, hire a film crew and put the results on a CD for their memorial service. Some people perhaps, but not a lot. More people may want to set up a blog and document their daily ups and downs.

Even if there are people who are excited about these forms of communication, my intention is not to write a book that focuses on how I did it, rather, I'd prefer to help people go into themselves and empower them to discover their own creativity. The result would be a book that highlights other people's creative outlets and has as a sub-theme my discoveries about how to reach out and form community at the end of life.

At the end of the last century when the fiber optics infrastructure was being laid out across the world, there was much talk about the "last mile technology." What this meant was the final reach from the big fiber bundles to the desktop PC. I felt like I had to address that issue with my book as well. If I write a book that's all about my interesting ideas and their execution to an audience that won't ever implement those ideas for themselves, well, the book will be tossed. As a reader, I want to be told something that pertains to me. Currently, I don't feel that the book has an encompassing reach that will be riveting to enough people. Again: some people, but not enough people.

So, what will be encompassing? And what I kept coming back to was the issue of tapping the individual's own creativity. Many people are willing to take a look within and make decisions about their commitments to helping build a community at the end of their lives. Many techniques are simple, some more complex. In addition, I think it's easier to make a commitment when you are already part of a support community. When I look at the history of civil rights movements that have changed American culture, there have been many successful models of consciousness raising groups of one form or another. Feminism pioneered the consciousness raising group as a method for creating a safe space for women to express who they felt they were. In this case, end-of-life support groups could empower each participant to face their fears and hopes. There would be issues to resolve. Would the groups be sex specific? Would some groups happily integrate men and women? What to do in those groups that have aggressive men? Who would facilitate the groups?

The latter answer dropped into institutions that are already up and running; namely hospitals and other large clinic settings that have big patient populations with clients who are terminally ill. Here in San Francisco, there are many support groups for terminally ill populations at UCSF and CPMC. There are yoga classes for terminally ill patients. There are cancer-specific support groups, for example, The Leukemia Support Group etc. All of these groups have traditionally stressed treatment. Even if we can't make you better, we can help you to feel better. The Organize your Friendship Network group would be no different. Other than now, it doesn't exist.

So while lying flat on my back at Maitri in the first month of November, I've happened on a largely unexplored civil rights movement that helps people gather their communities to them. Reason to gather in friends is to maximize love and that feeling you sometimes hear about from survivors who say, "Right at the end, there were such special moments. I've never felt such a closeness. It was really beautiful. I felt so much love." The phrases go on.

What an interesting and challenging opportunity has landed in my lap. It feels very satisfying that the book has shifted from a focus on me and what I've done to a larger, community-based movement that allows many people to "come out" about who they are and want to become. Interesting--no?

Friday, November 6, 2009

November 6th, 2009:

I've found out in the past couple of days that even people with terminal cancer can get sick. Seems obvious, but I still have a hard time of thinking of myself as sick. I think it's the high quality of life: active cognition; developing complex project plans including a new book; little pain, etc. What happened in the last two days was extreme exhaustion. I could read a book or newspaper for maybe fifteen, twenty minutes and then I would fall back, close my eyes and be off to dreamland for another twenty minutes or half an hour. And this was all I could do.

Alarmed, I also felt pain in the ribs at the bottom of my lower left ribcage. My first thought was that a new tumor had grown from by bone cancer. More alarming, I wondered if I was starting to develop pneumonia. When I blew the whistle, major events happened. First, I was given a course of antibiotics for possible bacterial infection in the lungs. Oxygen was brought into my room because my oxygen to blood conversion had some low numbers. Everyone triaged: Lisa, my primary care physician; Maitri medical staff; Hospice by the Bay. I was monitored every four or five hours. It was all done with concern and attention, but never panic or excessive management.

In the meantime, I cancelled many visits, my therapy appointment and anything that involved me being in conversation for more than fifteen minutes. My attention span was deeply curtailed because of my tiredness. I slept. Then I slept some more. More.

An anxiety that I surmounted was giving myself permission to be sick for a few days and let my body express its needs. If it needed to sleep, well, that's what I did. What was I anxious about? That I wouldn't get text written on my book. After decades of working in the corporate world, I am still deadline-driven. Turns out that taking a time out from writing has proven to be most useful. I have repositioned myself in a couple of valuable ways. A new posture about delivery of the material has become clearer to me. Also, I've taken a new direction about what to write next. All of this is part of the trust that I am still learning. When I do what my body wants, all parts of me are furthered. Amazing--no?

More to the point, I have gotten excellent rest. I feel much more intact and clear rather than spacey and exhausted. Now, as I go into the weekend, it's with a feeling of ease that I didn't have on Thursday or the first half of Friday. I'll keep you posted about my going forward: that's what this blog can do.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November 4th, 2009:

There's a surprising amount of planning that precedes dying. Yes, there's the option to fall over the edge and leave the undone pieces to my unlucky friends who will get to wonder what I would have wanted. I'd rather look within and ask myself how I want to leave this world. It was that way with distributing my worldly goods. That turned into such a beautiful process with so many people, including myself, satisfied by the results. In the past few days, I've been walking through the steps that I'd like to take before and after my death.

First, I am identifying people who can take over the blog when I am no longer able to type or be lucid enough to express what I feel. There's a spiritual component, a physical portion and an emotional facet of me that I'd like to assign to separate individuals. They will have permissions to access the blog software and tell the reading community about each of these parts of myself. As they speak for me, they will answer all manner of questions about how I'm doing. There may be weeks or days of coma. During this period I'll have the comfort of drawing into myself, but there won't need to be waves of phone calls asking about what's happening. At this time, the telephone tree will move into activity as well. Branch callers will leave messages about my status. With these two sources of info, people close to San Francisco or around the world won't have to feel far away and isolated.

At some point, I will die and that notice will appear on the blog with context of how my passing transpired. In the hours before my death, I have asked that a limited number of people be in my room with me. It is their choice to join me or not. I know that I don't want a lot of people in the room, and that has nothing to do with my affection for all. I just want breathing room. For the three days after my death, it's a different story. One of the Buddhist traditions that I've always appreciated is allowing the body to lie on the bed for three days. During that time, people can come in and say goodbye. There will be four or five chairs in the bedroom. A schedule will help coordinate who shows up so there isn't a traffic jam followed by an empty lot.

Sitting at the bedside can be very healing. It's a time to say good bye and to say thank you. It can help with closure to see my dead body. There's a finality about a body whose soul has departed. Sometimes flowers are part of the goodbye, but not too many. Profound and unexpected feelings arise.

After three days, I will be taken for my cremation. The transformation from an intact body to a sack of ashes will occur. Again, blog entries will inform people not able to be here about the three days of sitting period and the cremation. Next step will be the announcement of the memorial service. Both blog and telephone tree will let people know about when the service will happen.

A big feature of the memorial service will be the CD that Beth Pielert and I have created so that I can be there with you. It's my last visit in your company. I talk about what I learned in this life; how I learned it; what the impact of this learning it meant for me. Initially, I had planned to hand out copies of the CD, but I am now investigating if I can post the material on the net and let everyone download it onto their machines at their will. Either way, the CD will be available for everyone.

Final posting on the blog will be stories of the scattering of my ashes. Currently, I know of four sites: Portland, San Francisco, Glen Ellen and rural New Mexico near Ghost Ranch. The blog will be closed and we will all move forward. This has been such an unexpected and full journey. Like all journeys it ends and it doesn't end. It will be the same this time as well.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

October 31, 2009:

During his visit on Thursday, my friend Geol told me about a rigorous therapy session where his creative self, referred to as The Dancer, reappeared actively in his psyche. Years ago, Geol was a very fine dancer, but time had passed and Geol ventured into arts administration. His creative self went and sat on the bench.

As we talked, I realized that I had lived through similar patterns. In the mid- 70's I took several months to draft and re-write a short novel--Flying Carpets--that I submitted over the transom to Knopf Inc. It was not published, but I experienced completing a written effort.

In the late 80's I completed a longer novel about the AIDS epidemic. This time, an agent shopped my book to publishers. However, I'd joined a writing group and had started deep re-writes. The agent and I agreed that we could not have two versions in existence: one copy in my computer on the West Coast and another copy moving around in NYC. Within a year, I had strayed from my updates and My Writer within me was back on the bench for almost 20 years.

Now My Writer has dusted himself off and is moving around. It should be noted that I've written a lot during the interim. Every work day. At work. My daily effort isn't fiction, but it is steady, clear communication. Sitting here at Maitri tonight, I realize that My Writer moved from fiction back to corporate-based technical writing and then into the autobiographical blog. After friends started to give good feedback about the blog, My Writer went to the keyboard and crafted the script for my Memorial Service CD. Confidence has been gathering and building without me knowing it.

Now, more challenging efforts are coming my way via the psyche express. The idea for A Guide to Our Dying presented itself last Saturday, and already substantial progress has been made. I have always cherished My Writer. I have often abandoned My Writer. There is such a close rapport between My Writer and my self esteem, my love for myself, my belief in myself....Well, I could go on but I think you get my drift. Suffice it to say that I am very grateful My Writer has returned. I like him, and I love him. He has always delighted me with his wit and search for meaning. Also, I have often projected my expectations for myself onto him. And when I'm disappointed, I blame him. Not very nice behavior on my part, so it's a good thing that he's tenacious and has found ways to express his talents. Welcome back, my creative self.

Friday, October 30, 2009

October 30th, 2009:

In order to get used to the personal time that I've scheduled for two hours each day in the month of November, I started setting aside an hour during the remaining days of October. Last Saturday I lay on my bed for an hour. Some fifteen minutes into that time of rest and no thoughts I quietly heard this phrase: A Guide to Our Dying. When I asked, "What does this mean?" I heard that it was the working title for a book that was available to me, if I wanted to write it. "Tell me more," I said.

Over the next forty or so minutes, I felt a download of information about how people in various stages of end-of-life illnesses can manage their friendship communities. Many of the outreaches are things I've already done: blog, memorial CD, telephone trees, etc. Many of the ideas were not on my list of connective methods. At a certain point, the information suddenly stopped. I picked up a pad and pen and took notes. The next day, I built a file with chapter headings, generated a table of contents and started working on the Introduction as well as some chapter details. It was a LOT of fun to suddenly jump into book production.

A couple of nights ago deep into the darkness of 4:30 a.m., I suddenly realized that I might not have enough time to finish this new book. This thought of being cheated by a narcissistic tumor whose only agenda was to grow and diminish my health filled me with rage against the tumor. After over two months of co-habiting my body with this tumor and having no discernible conversation, I was suddenly FURIOUS that my effort might be taken from me. Stepping back a bit, this is basic bargaining, where I decide: "I'll create a worthwhile book, and I will be given the time to complete it." These contracts are made daily, and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross lists them as one of the five major phases in the dying process.

I realized that I might not only die sooner than I thought, but there would also be time needed to die. I won't be healthy right up to the end. I will need time to decline. As night ended and the day began, a series of visits helped to metabolize this fear and anger. Sabrina, the Maitri nurse gave me valuable pointers about the indicators toward dying. Lack of interest in the newspaper, eating, and other worldly connections. Well, I'm not there yet. My friend Geol visited and we talked about how we set up projects and move into completing them. Then I took the first yoga class of my stay at Maitri. Already, the day is swinging into widening directions. Then therapy with Susan in mid-afternoon.

By this time, I am more settled into my options. I can drop the project and not be disappointed by not completing it. I can move forward and work on chapters because the tasks give me pleasure. If I do move forward, I will remember that I have used a lifetime of doing to avoid the deeper feelings that have been churning through me for a very long time, feelings buried so deep that I did not acknowledge their existence. And probably other options as well. Point being, I have moved back to that freedom: I have options. I am not being cheated by death unless I hold that as my only alternative.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October 27th, 2009:

Tonight was the monthly Maitri board meeting, and since I am still a board member, I offered to talk about what it's like to be a resident here. It's never happened that a board member has become a resident, so this was a unique opportunity to pass along the information.

First, I talked about how Maitri contracts with other provider agencies, especially Hospice by the Bay to retrieve services that we could otherwise never afford. Since it has a much larger number of clients, Maurice the pain management guru, Tove my social worker who helps manage my support system of friends, and Steven my spiritual counselor are all available to help me. I had no idea that this arrangement existed or that it would have such an impact to my care.

Once Maurice and I have made a decision about the direction for my pain management, these decisions are presented to my primary care physician and the medical staff at Maitri. Final agreements are made and I have a new regimen of care. All of this is possible by good case management; everyone knows what's going on and there's no overlap of services. Maitri staff order the new pharmaceuticals and give them to me right on time.

There's also a lot of cultural diversity issues that come up for review and resolution. When I ask for a glass of water, I'm likely to say, "When you have a minute, could I please have a glass of water, no ice, and there's no rush?" I noticed that many of the African American residents will say, "I want water." At first, I was really annoyed at what seemed to me a very blunt, even rude way of ordering the staff around. However, I didn't like having thoughts bouncing through my head about how impolite my neighbors seemed. When I unpacked both of our requests, we were both asking for water. So I asked one of the black residents about this and he said, "No offense. They just asking for a drink." I asked a staff person who said the same thing. As an American citizen, I feel a lot of commitment to cultural diversity. Through this experience, I got to change my mind, drop some prejudice, and reconnect to my neighbors. Good work for one day.

I also appreciate that neither staff nor residents have given me any wide berth for being a board member. In fact, I doubt that any residents know about my other role here, although I might be wrong. The staff treat me as a resident, and that's what I want to be as I live here. Because I've been cleaning out my apartment and my favorite position is to lie on my bed with my right leg propped up, I haven't spent as much time as I'd like with the other folks here. Solution? Invite people into my room for a visit. Still, in the past six weeks, I have consistently felt accepted, cared for and loved.

Finally, I put in a word for the superb volunteers, some of whom I've gotten to know and set aside time for to cultivate a relationship. After the meeting, I spoke with Tim our executive director who suggested that I do a similar presentation next month to offer any new insights into why this place runs well and has such a high degree of self-correcting behavior if something is off kilter.

Friday, October 23, 2009

October 23, 2009:

With the apartment now in the hands of the property management agency, I have mucho free time. I've been filling, no, packing that time with visitors. This week I've had a few days with up to six guests and a couple of hour-plus phone calls. The connections with people are so rewarding, so full of content. Previously in my life, visits had a certain amount of verbal plastic peanuts. No longer. It's as if we get to significance very quickly and stay there through the duration.

However, as my calendar started to fill into the future, I felt a gathering dissatisfaction. I gave time to everyone as quickly as requested, but I did not give time to me. How long could I continue to see so many people with such enthusiasm? And why was I avoiding making time for myself? It became clear that one of my joys--visiting with others--might turn sour if I didn't add some balance to my life. I realized that I was yearning for alone time.

In talking with Steven Grafenstein this morning, he told me of civilizations where initiates to a new life stage--adulthood, marriage, death--would often go into the temple where they worshiped and create a sacred space. They would be alone, and they would invoke their god or goddess to reveal the intention of their next stage. What could they expect? In our culture, people go into the wilderness on a vision quest for this sort of information. Steven suggested that I was setting aside my time to create sacred space in my room at Maitri. In this sacred space there would be no time. There are no projects to do. There is just receptivity.

I've taken my November calendar and for every day, I've set aside two continuous hours when I can be in my room, unavailable to the outside. I will not be using the PC. I will not be reading. I may listen to music. I may be doing yoga stretches for some of the time. But the focus will be quiet time when I listen. Although it's true that I get a great deal of information from good conversation, the most important truth comes from within me when I am quiet. It's that still, small voice that is mentioned and honored across the centuries.

At the end of my life I expect to withdraw into myself and loose many of my communication functions: no seeing, no talk, no acute tactile awareness. Some say that smell is the last sense to ebb away. At that time, I will not return from my retreat. But prior to my final days, I hope to go within during my two hour daily sessions and then emerge intact and communicative. That's one of my most fervent hopes about moving into Maitri, that it would give me a safe space to retreat and return in a rhythm. As a way of easing into this place of contemplation, I'm going to set aside an hour in the next week to practice this in quietude. As always, I'll keep you posted about what happens. In many ways, this is the most exciting step I've taken since moving in here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

October 20th, 2009:

Saying hello and saying goodbye. Now that there is little to no attention focused on my apartment, I move into the next completions. There is finalizing the handover of my property in Glen Ellen to my land partner. There is connecting to people that I know. The latter has several layers. Over the past few years, I've lost touch with several people that I don't want to miss saying goodbye to. Each of them has been a solid, giving presence in my life and it's important to me to connect with them prior to my death.

Last weekend, in a resting moment, I asked myself, "Who do I still have negative energy with? What clean-up do I need to do before I leave this life?" To my surprise, I only came up with two people that I felt conflict with at this point. And one of those people I've worked on quite a bit. I felt like I could make a list of issues that existed between us and then would verify that I'd resolved each of those issues. I'm writing an audit of my stuff. So far, the resolutions have neutralized each of the resentments. With the final person, I need to do some work. My plan is to develop a ritual where I can identify my anger, sense of betrayal, etc., lay that down and step back.

My goal is to leave this life with no lingering bitterness to a person or an institution. What a pleasure to have done all my work and depart with total cleanliness and gratitude. I feel like I'm very close to that now. Of course, this doesn't include all the petty carpings and exchanges of attitude that I've tossed at others. I'm talking about major, unresolved hatred and stand-off with key people in my life. To me, the biggest miracle will always be the work and happy ending I have been able to achieve with my Dad. I never expected to find joy or love in our relationship. Now, we both express our love for each other with great fullness and sincerity. Amazing! This doesn't mean that I don't have a queue of tasks in my next lives. But if I can exit this life with no karmic damage to myself or others, I would be very glad.

Also, the quality of my visits with people who I talk to over the phone or see in my room here at Maitri are very fine indeed. Often when I end a call or walk a friend to the door, I am full of wonder at what we've discussed, the depth of love that we've communicated. This is such a rich time in my life. Because these visits have such power and revelation, I find myself rejuvenated and inspired. Also, I want to have time to integrate our insights. What a wonderful rhythm: connection, pause, connection, pause.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

October 18, 2009:

So much is moving forward in this time: my apartment is poised to be completely emptied and the keys handed over; my tumor grows every day; I am changing in my daily patterns. In the past week, I've been staying in my room for breakfast; it's too painful to sit at the dining room table in the morning. By noon, I'm much more comfortable getting around so I have lunch in the dining room and also dinner. With the easing off of the apartment as my primary task, a new regimen has formed: I have visitors. Lots of visitors.

Staying alert and in the flow of my friends' lives has been one of my favorite ways to spend my time for several decades. This has only increased since I've moved into Maitri. Since there's a lot of shift in my health, it's good to talk about that with people who care. Also, it opens my life and my heart to know what's going on with people I care for. As you can imagine, I don't want to talk about my cancer and my declining mobility all the time. Hardly! Giving my health report catches me up to the immediate "now," and listening to the concerns, hopes, visions, etc. of people I love lifts me out of the possible loneliness of just recycling my own stuff.

New people have come into my life with my open house availability. Each person is stimulating and different. There's Richard Hardy, one of the most enduring volunteers at Maitri, and a man deeply interested in bridging the religious and secular worlds. Even though I've been aware of Richard's presence at Maitri for over a decade, I have never had the opportunity to sit and visit with him. Now, the floodgates are open. He brings up St. Theresa of Avila. I start talking about scholar rocks. So much to share! Tova Green from Hospice by the Bay has also been a rich source of help with organizing my support community as well as teaching me how to use the financial coverage system that's available here.

Steven Grafenstein from Hospice by the Bay brings me a focus on my spiritual self. Who is my spiritual self? What are my fears about dying? Are the people with whom I still harbor resentment? Anger? Sadness? How can I clean up those relationships before I die? All of these questions have answers that lead me forward. At this point, I can happily say that I plan to die with a cleanliness of feeling that feels very light, very clear. Imagine having no lingering "stuff?" Yet, that is my goal, and it feels entirely attainable.

As my body changes daily and my work to finalize my life's relationships comes into final focus, I feel an ease and relief that I never imagined possible. The support to accomplish my final tasks is all around me and within me. What blessings!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

October 15th, 2009:

For the first time in five years, I got together with Marilyn, my past life regression hypnotist, and had a session on Wednesday. We both wondered if the amount of meds in my body would make it difficult for me to be hypnotized and to let the memories come through in my current voice. Turned out, there was one brief time when I became anxious to find my way to the place and time that I would report about, but after telling myself to chill, I realized that I was hovering over the North part of Paris near the road to St. Denis.

Briefly, I spent an hour recalling my life as a furniture maker--specialty was fine chairs--in the late Seventeenth Century. We used to say in our craft, "The rich always need more chairs." I was well-trained and became prosperous, innovative and well-regarded. My wife worked in a store that sold compotes, jams and other foods that had long been produced only in private homes. Although the concept received considerable derision--who needed to buy another person's recipes?--the truth was that most families had little or no access to the exotic fruits and produce needed to make these treats. Although people didn't brag about shopping in her store, it was quietly popular and very successful. It was a life of the senses. Friends and family would talk for hours about aromas, essences, flavors, nuances of food and wood. My hands were incredibly sensitive: I could read wood grains by running my palms over lumber. I loved the workshop's stenches of varnish, lacquer, paints, wood.

When my life was ending, I became very depressed. In spite of my enthusiasm for the church's pageantry and splendid architecture, I did not believe that I would survive death. All the people I had known and loved would be lost to me. When my time came to leave my body, my mother and father appeared and so did my best friend from childhood long past, and my three children who had not survived infancy. Additionally, one of my favorite patrons who had deeply believed in my artistry was there, and he said, "As you rise up, reach out your arm. I'll link the crook of my arm with you. Your mother will hold the other side. We'll all join together. We can move upward together." This startled me because I assumed that my arms would stay with my body which was still on the bed. I looked back and yes, there were my arms, there was my body lying on the bed. But what I felt was a wonderful jolt of living current moving from my companions through me. I understood in that second that no one is ever lost in the universe. You can have solitary time, but there is always a return to others. We are never alone for long. My deepest fears of dying and loosing others was erased by the experience of feeling connected. And then, in a long line, we flew forward into the after death experience.

Before I came out of my trance, Marilyn asked, "Why did you have this particular past life reveal itself today?" Well, I knew the answers to that question. "First, to remind me of a highly sensory, happy life full of productivity, and enthusiasm at a time when I am about to leave this life which has similar features. The other reason is that in writing my blog, I've reached the point where I want to start talking about dying and the after death experience. When I was a french furniture maker, I doubted the enduring relationships between people that connected them across lives. At my death, I had the experience of literally being joined with people I loved. I felt the human connections in my soul as I moved away from my body. By retrieving this memory, I can write about something in the blog that I've experienced rather than just present a speculation about what I imagine to be true."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

October 13, 2009:

As my apartment empties and the bare hardwood floors and walls with no art reveal themselves for the first time in 16 years, I'm understanding more about what caused me to create the apartment and where its vitality came from. When I moved in, perhaps a quarter of the art had already been gathered. The new pieces were found since I started living on Fulton St. across from the park. One immediate influence from the beginning was wanting to bring the green of the park into the front room. Green and landscape were brought indoors via objects that worked with green and one large painting which mirrored the outdoor hill and trees. The bay window's reach toward the park bridged the outdoors and the inside.

There was no conscious plan about any of the apartment's creation. I didn't buy things to support a larger piece. No single piece had clear dominance. The guideline was color: lots of well-defined color. Most of the time I lived there, I would have said that the apartment's task was to contain many types of beautiful objects: glass, rugs, paintings, textiles. Most of the finds, as I brought them home, fit beautifully from the beginning. Very few pieces were taken back or passed on quickly.

This morning in conversation with my friend Betsy, we rightly concluded that the common denominator for all the pieces was that they possessed a vivid amount of energy. These energies reached forth into the room and mixed with energies from their neighbors. Even though you couldn't see the energy, you could feel it. The large red glass plate that Nancy Becker created to more fully understand Georgia O'Keefe's Red Poppy painting came to life at night when the pole lamp underneath was turned on. The lamp shade funneled light up underneath the oval glass and Wow!, it shone. Similarly with the Leon Applebaum bowl that lived on my desk toward the back of the living room. It also slept by day, but at night a track light angled directly into the hollow of the piece so that the colors and the multiple glass bumps and shapes would come to life and be the most exciting activity in that part of the room.

I'm sure that the objects altered their energy in response to support from other pieces. There was also the shifting of the vibe in the apartment because of what happened there. It was a peaceful place. There wasn't lingering ozone from arguments and contention. If there would have been, I would have dealt with that, but from the beginning, the rooms had a serenity that endured. That safety was enhanced by reading astrological charts in the living room. It was a good place to talk, a very good place to talk. Typically, a visit from someone meant that we'd sit in the large chairs at the bay window for a while. An hour or two. Drinking tea. Usually not listening to opera or any other music. Talk was honored as the most important event and distractions were discouraged. But, when I was alone there were many hundreds of hours of listening to music. Astrology readings, the cultivation of relationship, music playing for long stretches when I listened to it and did not talk with someone else. Those were vibes that my friends and I created and gave back to the art that had been assembled to encourage warmth, curiosity, joy.

It all worked. All the parts, living and mineral contributed. Clearly, the apartment and it's dispersion strikes a deep cord with my need to explain what's also going on with my body. Of course my apartment is not dying of cancer. Still, it is being radically transformed, unwrapped and given back to the energy pool. And that's what will happen to me as well. Or, that's part of what will happen.

I find myself wanting to express some of what I think will happen during and after the dying process. In some ways, this is the part of the blog that I thought I'd most enjoy writing about. Those feelings were pretty strong during the first entries of the blog over a year ago. All of those expectations vanished quickly as I began to enjoy talking about what was happening in my current life, not speculating months in advance. However, I still have many of those ideas and I'd like to share them now and again in the time that remains.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

October 10th, 2009:

While I was at dinner this evening, my friend Mimi called and left a message on my cell phone in the form of a poem titled The Layers. The final line was, "I am not done with my changes." Well, yes, I had to agree. I'm not done with my changes.

I've felt a lot of bubbling and churning just below the surface for the past couple of days. I've ascribed this to my impatience that the apartment get cleaned out, keys handed over, and that I fully move into Maitri. I have so enjoyed spending day after day here at the residence. Yesterday, I started anticipating working in the apartment today with dread. "Can't it just be over?" I asked myself. When I woke up this morning, I felt crabby and distant from my old eagerness to pack and move. Then I burst into tears while still in bed. I didn't want to work. I didn't want to be sick. I don't want to die. Every direction felt oppressive, mean, heavy.

Then the great fugue of the day began. Feelings of sadness and drear followed by a friend reaching to connect with me. Down then up. After a darkness through getting dressed and eating breakfast, I returned to my room for a phone call with my friend Laura who lives outside of Chicago. Within minutes of hearing her voice, I was engaged in our conversation, delighted to hear the sounds of her voice, eager to know what she was doing with her interesting life, reaching to clarify my answers to her questions that centered around, "How are you?" By the end of the call, we were both excited from the quality of our communication and the joy of knowing each other.

I've been conscious of remembering to say yes when people ask if they can help out with my moving and other tasks. A couple of weeks ago, Chris Harris volunteered to help me pack the boxes that would be sent around the country to people who couldn't come and pick up their gifts at my apartment. Today was the day when her expertise was needed. And wow, did she show up in many ways. She retrieved me at Maitri, went to the box store to buy shipping containers, and then, with the help of Ken and Gaetano all the various packages were filled, insulated, sealed, labeled and prepped for their journeys to the various directions. I was so grateful to know that they could do a great job. This time I didn't need to say goodbye to the contents. Rather, I let them be handled with skill by other people. I trusted that it would all be done. And it was. Again, my discomfort at being in the apartment was eclipsed by the reassurance from friends that I would be helped, supported, taken care of by their love.

And then, the frosting. My friend Adrienne had come to the apartment from her home in Mendocino. I don't get to see Adrienne often, but today, after retrieving her tansu and two beautiful kimono, she returned me to Maitri and we had lunch followed by a lovely, reassuring visit in my room. What bliss! Another fine time with a person I love. "I am not done with my changes."

These are the touchstones in my life these days. When I visit with my friends, whether on the phone or in person here at Maitri, I am settling into my next phase of life. There hasn't been a visit that lacks a significant revelation. With each person, some gleam of wisdom, some new facet of knowledge is revealed. Of course, I never know what it will be. But it never fails to appear: the nuance or fact or opinion that gives me a new view about my life or the other person's truth. Forward. More. Rearranged significance. And the time to enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October 6th, 2009:

Unexpectedly, I have had my first experience of loss at Maitri. Although this home primarily intends to provide end-of-life care, it also offers respite care. When a person is loosing the ability to provide for their needs at home, they can move to Maitri for a three month, six month stay to build back their stamina. When it's determined that the person is well enough to move back home, they do.

With my new friend Cicero (Chee-Chair-O), it was more extravagant because he moved to the U.S. from Brazil some thirty years ago. When Cheech moved to Maitri last April, he was carried in on a stretcher. He was not expected to live long. His pain was so severe that he openly considered suicide. And then, the Maitri magic kicked in. Cicero stabilized. Then he started to get better. He learned how to walk again. In July his condition had improved so much that he was able to fly to Brazil to visit with his family for the first time in two years. There, his sisters took care of him, and he took care of his mother. Given her advanced age and declining health, it was decided that Cicero would relocate to Brazil to spend an unspecified time with his family. It might be for two months or more. No end date determined.

Since the health care available in Brazil for his multiple conditions was not equal to the care here, Cicero planned to visit at home and then return to the U.S. if his health started to decline. Although he came to Maitri as a hospice patient, he morphed into a respite patient. Early this morning, the respite was over. Cicero loaded up his possessions, called a cab and headed for the airport and the long flight to Brazil.

Of all the losses that can be suffered at Maitri, this is surely the lightest and easiest. No death. A happy family reunion. The beginning of a finale with his family that could not have been imagined a few months ago. Many reasons to rejoice. However, as he became my friend in a dramatically short time, I was caught off guard by my feeling of loss when I realized yesterday that he would leave. And when I woke up this morning, my first thought was that he had left.

Although he was raised in the Brazilian upper class with it's systems of private schools, private clubs, homes behind walls and all manner of protection and sequestering from the larger turmoil of Brazilian society, Cicero had a deep yearning to be free in the world. He wanted to take the cross town bus. He wanted to be mingle in crowds on the street. He wanted to move to America where no one would have any idea that he was of a protected class. So he came North at the beginning of his maturity and lived her for 30 years.

In that time, he became a key member of the hospitality community; meaning, he was a lead concierge at the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square. And he cultivated many other personas as well. A notable equestrian with his own horse. A serious opera, symphony, ballet aficionado. But most important, he developed an integrity and ability to cultivate people that was memorable. I liked him immediately when I moved into Maitri, and, as good luck would have it, our room adjoined each other so we anchored the north end of the garden.

As we enjoyed each other's company more and more, time ran out. And that was the loss that I faced in the past couple of days. Cicero didn't die; far from it. In fact, his plans are to return to the States when his health compels that; hopefully to return to Maitri. We may well see each other again. Here. But for now, he's gone and my inner kid misses him a lot. He was such a companion. So much fun to simply sit next to and enjoy.

As I said, this is an easy loss. But it's a foretaste of other losses. There will be people I know now and dine with and enjoy in passing who will die while I'm here. And, of course, all these losses are paths toward the biggest loss that I am heading toward: the eventual death of my self. I know that's a major reason that I'm here. It's not the only reason because there's also some serious living that I'll experience. But the ultimate intention is that this is where I want to die. Thank you Cicero for your friendship and intimacy. Thank you for reminding me that losses are incremental, not always just sad, sometimes beautiful and able to lead us back to ourselves and our mortality.

Monday, October 5, 2009

October 5th, 2009:

As the apartment empties, my urgency to complete the effort relaxes. The lessons from this part of my illness have been rich and surprising. They include:

It was as much fun for me to give away my things as it was to collect them. Once it became clear that my final task was to find new homes for my treasures, I became unattached to living with them. Centripetal became centrifugal. I thanked all my things for the gift of their energy in my home by searching to find their next place in the world.

I am most adept at dealing with one thing at a time. I've developed my concentration skills by focusing on one event, one conversation, one thought at a time. This last Saturday was the busiest give away day to date. At one point, I had two new people coming in the door, one load going out the door, books being loaded in the living room, three phone calls in under two minutes, two people asking for more tape and bubble wrap, etc. I was totally overwhelmed and confused. In response, I became testy and abrupt. My goal was to queue all these requests into one question at a time. Didn't happen right away. Later that day, when I returned to Maitri exhausted, I knew it was from the multi-tasking, not from the loss of my objects or the dismantling of my home. That amount of churn won't happen again (at least not with moving into Maitri).

Most things I found easy to give away, but there were a few objects I didn't want to give up--yet. I've brought a couple of rugs and textiles to my new home. They're beautiful and they fit well in this room. When I die, they will move on to their next owners, but for now, I still cherish them by living with them. One of these not-ready-to-let-go objects is my stuffed animal, Best Bear. I'm going to give him to my godson Willem. When I went to Portland in early August, I planned to take Best to Willem and make the gift in person. But I wasn't ready to let go. A couple of weeks ago when Kathy Clarke drove up to Portland, I assumed that I'd put Best Bear in her car. Nope. Couldn't do it. Not ready.

Then there's another group of things--mostly my other stuffed animals--which have a different destiny. These are the oldest treasures I have. There's a Mrs. Santa Claus doll from age 3 or 4 and a wonderful stuffed monkey from the same age. I've made an agreement with them over the years that I would always take care of them. And I have. Now they are ancient and frail. Their skins are rubbed raw, seams are threadbare. Across the decades, I sometimes wondered what I'd do with them at the end of my life. Frankly, I don't want to give them away. At some very deep level, they are mine and they have aged with me. So I made the decision to take them apart carefully and release their energy back to the universe. As I opened up their seams, I told them how much I loved them and how much I felt their love and companionship across the years. Carefully, I put their stuffing in a shopping bag, then their empty clothes and fur. Having separated them I put the shopping bags into recycling and felt their love flying through the sky. It was the first time I can remember doing this with an object. For sure, I've written vows or promises onto pieces of paper and released them in flames for purification ceremonies. But the dismantling of my oldest toys was a new experience. I realized how much love had bonded us. I wanted them to be free again. I couldn't just throw them away. There had to be thanks and intention. And there was.

Friday, October 2, 2009

October 1st, 2009:

Every day, I'm settling in more at Maitri and every other day, I give away the contents of my apartment. Gaetano and I have been able to create a rhythm of scheduling people for pickups on alternate days. It's very reassuring to have "a day off" every second day. Frankly, I need the pacing. Showing up to meet people at my apartment is relatively easy. I do virtually no lifting, and I am certainly not running up and down the stairs. And yet, even though we're at the apartment for three hours on a long day, once I'm back at Maitri, an exhaustion kicks in that is fueled by seeing the apartment dissolve before my eyes. I don't have specific feelings of loss, anger, regret. But I do have emotional fatigue. Knowing that the next day I'll be able to stay at Maitri is reassuring. It helps get me through.

The full time days at Maitri are starting to acquire a color and pattern that is very exciting. And I've only just begun to explore the new dimensions of the life I want to move into. A friend wrote a lovely poem that expresses her hopes for how this time at Maitri can be spent. It echos many of my most fervent wishes and expectations. It reads:

With you

I don't want to walk fast with you.
With you I want to stroll and be slow,
To drink you in like a single malt on a fog ridden night

The lazy smokiness of peat fires,
Your smile just a warm honey glow --
A moment sipped to linger on my lips like the sparkle of your light.

I don't want to move fast with you.
With you I want to be slow.

I don't think that anyone has likened spending time with me to savoring a single malt Scotch, but I certainly agree with the sentiment of not rushing, of taking time. That's how I see myself creating closer contact with people who visit me during the next months. As the apartment empties and the once-daunting task of clearing away my contents sifts down to the last big pick up day (tomorrow, Saturday, October 2nd), I'm openly envisioning what's next. Key words are: spacious, slow, reflective, sweet, meandering.

Also, my team of end-of-life professionals are now settling into place in the course of a week. It's amazing what's available in San Francisco. There's the Maitri team of daily care and social work which supports my life here. The nurses and other staff check in regularly to see how I'm adjusting. Am I connecting with other residents? Do I have complaints or concerns? Then there's a contract agency--Hospice by the Bay--that supplies the pain management guru as well as a social worker worker who asks about my support groups and how well I am held by my community. Today a new resource jumped aboard: a guide to explore how I'm grounded in my spiritual beliefs. I brought my own team of professionals: my therapist who visits twice a week; my primary care physician and oncologist who I see on an as-needed basis. Finally, I have a twice-a-month call with a teacher who is guiding me through the meaning of the chakras, and today I set up my first appointment with my past-life regression hypnotherapist. I am quite excited about doing more past life regressions.
Amazingly, there is no overlap between all this support. I am such a lucky guy to have all this attention and help available. To people who reply, "You are the one who creates the luck," I quickly reply, "Sure, Who could resist all this quality assistance? Not me."

Ever since I was in my mid-teens, if someone asked me how I would hope to die, I would answer with absolute clarity, "I'd like to die of cancer. I'd like to have time to be reflective before I die. I don't want to die suddenly in my sleep, and I certainly don't want to die violently in a car accident or war. Cancer would give me time to talk with people about what's happening and summarize what my life's encompassed." Of course, that's just what I want, but I've wanted it for a very long time. It's still the most desired path for me. And, it looks like that's what will happen.

This afternoon, I gave a 30-day notice that I would be vacating my apartment. This is another step into full-time Maitri life. Visits from friends, visits from end-of-life professionals. Less tasks and more open time. I've claimed for months that I plan to spend more time watching TV and DVDs. The plan is to bring a good flat screen TV into my room either tomorrow or Tuesday. We'll see if the new screen inspires me to start turning on the set or if I'll continue in my known path of reading and listening to music. These are nice choices to face.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September 30th, 2009:

Yippie! Connectivity has been restored, and I am now typing this entry on my desktop computer that has been my portal into the cyber world for a couple of years. I am online, in my permanent room at Maitri.

When I started my intake at Maitri two weeks ago, I was given a sun-drenched room overlooking a busy intersection. I enjoyed the room and didn't bond with it at all. I just spent time there. The fact that the pictures on the walls did not appeal to me mattered for not. But yesterday, it was time to move into my permanent room. Suddenly, I felt deep resistance to leaving the temporary room. I was busy in the morning with my social worker and my therapist so I didn't have to move then. After lunch, the attendant who offered to make up the mattress and linens on my bed got called off to another project, and I didn't lift a finger to request that another person get my bed ready. After dinner, I lingered a bit more. Finally, the bed was ready. I had moved all my clothes and papers into my final room. I quickly jumped out of my clothes, into bed and read for a bit. Then, I closed the book and looked around the room. This was it. My final place. I had moved into the room where I will spend the last months of my life. Quite likely, this is the room where I will die. That was the reason for my hesitation to move in and claim residence.

Part of my process of dying involves long plateaus of acceptance punctuated by sudden, abrupt and expansive realizations that my life will end soon. Not next week, but soon. Moving into my final room was such a realization. A connection is made that nudges me closer to my end. The result of the new acceptance is that my dying becomes more real. More inevitable. It may be hard for others to believe this, but I spend most of my time living in the now, in the past, in the future as I always have. I'd say as little as 5% of my time I remember that I am terminally ill and that I will die in the next few months. Point being, I don't think about dying all the time. Far from it. When I do catch up to this part of my overall reality, it's usually an easy segue. Occasionally, if the mortality reminder is harsh or brutal, then I'm stunned or pained which knocks me into overwhelm. Moving into Room #5 is somewhere in the middle of that continuum.

Waking up this morning, after my first night here, I felt more hesitancy. I knew that I'd spent my sleep time reaching my antennae out to the edges of the room. That's one of the ways I move into spaces; I stretch to their edges as if to memorize the container. Early morning light was golden and rich. After breakfast, Wendy came by for a visit and she sat at the edge of my bed. We held hands and talked a bit, but not a lot. That's when I really started to settle into the room. What I felt holding hands was intimacy. Closeness. Comfort and love. If I can create that in my living area, then I'm happy. On the first morning in Room 5, intimacy was created and nurtured. My final room is off to a very good start. The resistance has evaporated. I like it here. There's room for me and my friends to be ourselves.

Monday, September 28, 2009

September 28th, 2009:

This will be a short but important posting. First, I am leaving my land line of many years and switching to my cell phone for staying in touch. The old number (415) 921-1819 will be deactivated in the next few days. Please erase it from your records. In place, you are welcome to use my cell phone number as often as you like: (415) 517-9278. When my number at Maitri becomes available, I'll let you know what that is as well.

Also, my PC is minutes away from being moved. It will take two or three days for it to be set up at Maitri using the wireless network. I will be back online as soon as possible and will continue the blog at that time. I can still access incoming email and send replies.

In a couple of days, I'll be totally available electronically. We'll be in touch then!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

September 27th, 2009:

The emptying of my apartment is happening at full throttle. It's so startling to see vast expanses of wall space for the first time in sixteen years. Places where there were well-known rugs, textiles, paintings are now bare white, highlighting the wall moldings that gave this apartment such a distinctive formality.

What I'm aware of is how much prior anticipation I've done to release my things. This is unique among my community of friends. I started saying goodbye on the conceptual level several months ago when I first imagined giving specific objects to people. As my health declined, my urgency to disburse grew. Now that it's happening, I am reaping the relief that I've hoped for. Things are going to their new homes. As my friend Jackie Udin said at the end of her visit to pick up books, "Have a wonderful rest of the day giving things away!" I get to thank everyone, say goodbye to the objects and experience as complete a closure as I could hope for.

To others, it's not so easy. This apartment grew into a well-integrated space for all the objects that found their home here. The vibe was remarkable: serene, lots of specific beauty, nothing overwhelming, an intuitive mix of interesting pieces. Nothing of great value, but every object made a contribution. Building this home turned into one of the most pleasurable events that I worked on over the past decade and a half. There was never an overarching aesthetic or plan. Other than the repainting and installation of track lights some eight years ago, there was no major overhaul. But slowly, piece by piece, the collection grew into a home that was conducive to visiting over a cup of tea and letting friendship deepen.

For my friends who experienced the joys of this apartment, it's wrenching to see it taken apart. As the objects disperse, the container of our friendship also evaporates. That's a lot to give up. And it's a step closer to the ultimate separation which will happen when I die. I am seeing the end of the apartment as a dress rehearsal for saying goodbye to me. That's why people come here with a spirit of bravery and courage and sadness and poignancy. It's the end of an era in some very real ways. I have to say, it was a lovely time. I feel like I used this apartment well and that it held a great deal of fine energy. Thank you, good apartment. Thank you for your solid framing and your willingness to nurture so much love and beauty for me and my friends.

My last act after the final pieces of me go out the door will be to smudge the rooms with sage. I will let cleansing smoke filter the air of that day. I will thank each room. I will walk to the front door and walk into the hallway. A turn of the key, and I'm gone. Off to my new home.

Friday, September 25, 2009

September 25th, 2009:

It's been difficult to blog over the past few days. I am living at Maitri, and my computer still lives in my apartment. This will resolve in the next few days when I move into my assigned room at Maitri. Currently, I'm in a temporary room. When I move my computer and reduced collection of art, clothes, etc. into Room #5 at Maitri, then all of my daily effects will be in one place. An interesting feature of Room # 5: it faces an inner courtyard with a garden. My current room faces the busy corner of Church and Duboce streets which is a major public transportation hub. I have been enjoying the urban noise and commuter energy that surges up to my current room. However, I can feel my body wanting to move toward a quiet zone. That's why my new room has such an attraction for me. I can feel myself and my new room bonding even before I move in.

As I work with Gaetano to set up a schedule for people to pick up my gifts to them, the task and the managing of all the arrivals both excites me and exhausts me. I spend time imagining how good it will feel when there are no more pickups of gifts. I will be in a room facing the garden. My body can rest on the bed and see out into the plants and flowers. I am envisoning staring into windows that give into a mottled with leafy shade, serene, internal world. Never in my life have I felt such a turn inward. I hunger for it. And, fortunately, it's heading my way.

As the gifts start to move out of the apartment, it's interesting to watch myself be relieved and grateful to see them go. Also, when working with my friends Jeremy and Gaetano this morning as we took pictures off the wall and bubble wrapped them, I found myself becoming curt and tongue tied. I tried to remember the name of the covering on my bed (answer: bedspread), but I couldn't get to that vocabulary word. "Covering on the bed," I struggled. Both guys were wonderfully patient. I realized that I was winging it for wrapping, planning, making decisions. And it all resolved beautifully. Everything was wrapped safely, loaded into my friend Kathy's truck and sent up to Portland, Oregon for delivery. The first day of major divesting passed without problems. A few more of these days and the apartment will be cleared. Gratitude. Anticipation. Relief. Focus.